It hit me one fine day. I had completed 10 years in advertising. A decade of late nights followed by early mornings, Cup’o’Noodle lunches followed by whiskey shot dinners, and 10 years of living with a constant craving to “just do nothing” for a little while.
I looked at my bank account, stared at my portfolio for a little while, and decided: “fuck it… I can afford to take a break.”
The first few weeks were bliss. I slept till noon. I only got up early on Mondays—to go watch a movie. I cooked. I read. I exercised.
And then for the first time in 10 years, a month began without that reassuring reminder: xxxx money has been credited to your account.
I had just about wrapped my head around that feeling when my phone pinged: xxxx money has been debited from your account as payment for XYZ.
Of course, I had planned for this. Even so, when the money started flowing out without any money trickling in, my savings seemed to shrink in substance. I had learnt my first lesson within 30 days.
You can never have saved enough. Make sure you’ll have an income
When you’re working 28 hours a day, it feels like the money you’ve saved is significant. It is not. Every single thing is getting more expensive by the minute. In the nine months I have been on a break, the price of milk has gone up by Rs5. So you can imagine what has happened to hospital bills, tuition fees, etc. Your income could be retirement funds, stocks with great dividends, a house that you’ve given on rent, a book that’ll pay royalties… whatever it is, it should make you money every month.
This quickly led to:
If you freelance, make sure you have the client by the balls
Everyone is eager to get work out of you, but no one is that eager to pay you. If they think they can pay you a little later, trust me, they will try to. Make sure the service you offer is invaluable or find a client for whom your service is irreplaceable. There is no other reason for them to pay you on time.
A few mistakes and I quickly figured out:
Don’t spend anything till you have it
Money is not real till it is in your bank account. A contract, an email that promises you payment by such and such date, your friend’s “I’ll make sure you’ll get it”—none of it translates into cash.
Find something that’ll occupy your time but won’t require money
After the initial thrill of vegetating, time began to stretch out. An hour seemed to last longer than when I was chained to a desk. And with it came the question of how to fill it up. The options are endless but most of them—coffee shops, movies, treks, events—involve money, lots of it.
I started writing. All it required was a paper and pencil (or a laptop). If writing is not for you, maybe you can volunteer or paint or sketch. But find something you have to do. You can only watch TV and read for so long.
Learn how to cook. And then how to enjoy the process
Not just fancy Michelin Star food. Learn how to cook and enjoy the everyday stuff. One: it consumes time. Two: it’s cheaper than eating out or paying a maid. Three: it’s healthier. Four: if you get really good at it, you can call people over and have a great time.
The internet can be your worst enemy
The web is to time, what a vacuum cleaner is to dust. Days flew by before I realised that all I had done was read, watch and share stories about what other people had done with their lives. I had worked hard to take this time off, and I was wasting it browsing. Now I only log on once in three days and I am the better for it. If you aren’t well stocked in the willpower department, regulate the amount of time you spend online.
Find friends who you can share time with
Working day and night, troubleshooting for the company leaves you with very little time to make anything other than work-friends. But make an effort to meet new and interesting people who have nothing to do with your work. When you’re done and dusted, and the years are stretching out in front of you, the last thing you need are friends who have the same stories and experiences as you do.
Never postpone happiness
The biggest mistake I made while working was thinking that I would do all the fun stuff, things I really wanted to do, later in life. When I would have all the time in the world. It turns out, when you have all the time in the world, there’ll be something else that’s wrong. It could be money, it could be illness, it could even be ISIS. When you get the chance to do something, go somewhere or be part of something, don’t postpone. Do it.
Of course, none of this matters if you have just cracked a billion-dollar idea that Google and Facebook are fighting for. If you have unlimited money, you should be able to have a fun retired life (or so I hope). But if you’re like me, a regular guy trying to be the best at his job till age comes knocking, I guess there are some things you can learn from my experience.