I had a very interesting train ride recently. Travelling is boring if we are into reading, listening to music or watching movies during the journey. What makes travel interesting, especially by public transport, is the diversity of people who are part of the journey. We can engage in conversations with people and experience their experiences, and we can also do non-verbal understanding of people by picking up cues from their behaviour.
A girl was sitting diagonally across me, and she was sitting beside an elderly couple. My initial impression was that she was travelling with them. But that changed quickly when I realised that she was never part of their conversation. They both seemed free-spirited and were chatting on animatedly, but this girl was keeping herself away from all of it. She looked very young, and it looked odd because young people, especially girls, get into conversations quickly with such elderly people.
When they tried to strike up a conversation with her, she spoke a bit, then took out a book to read and eventually went off to sleep. Years of observing and understanding cues from people told me that something about her was not right. Even the way she was sleeping didn’t feel right. After she woke up, I started talking to the elderly couple and slowly dragged her into the conversation. After they left, I continued the conversation with her. That’s when it all came out.
She is employed in a multinational company and was going on a short vacation to her parents’ home. A bit more soul searching and it turned out that she was stressed from work and was running away. To add to this, she was 23 years old. I was astounded. Stressed at 23? That is an age when we adapt to life in a jiffy even if it is on a remote island. We don’t even know what stress is at that age. That’s when I realised there is something different about her.
She realised that she is stressed and she decided to do something about it. 99% of people at her age wouldn’t have managed to do both. I have been through all of this, and I am well aware of what was bothering her. She was not stressed due to work, she was stressed due to the urban life.
They say to become successful if you can do something, do it yesterday. This is how the corporate world works and is reflected in every aspect of urban life. In the morning, everyone wants to reach office faster, and in the evening, everyone wants to reach home faster. Even travelling by public transport is stressful because everyone in the bus or train is stressed about reaching their destination faster and the effect spreads to everyone. Then there is stress from work, stress about household chores, taking care of kids, the list is endless. Cities have become huge stress engines. There is something else going on, apart from this, that we are conveniently choosing to ignore.
Normal working time is nine hours which can extend to 10 or sometimes longer. What people don’t do is to add their travel time to working hours. The travel time means the time taken for them to go to their workplace and back so that time has to be added to their working hours.
From the time we wake up in the morning, everything we do is oriented in such a way so as to make sure that we start travelling to the office at a particular time. We even wake up at a set time to accomplish this. Our goal from the moment we wake up is to reach office. After we finish work, we get back home, get our household chores done and go to sleep, only to repeat the same thing next week. So what is our agenda for the week? Reach the office.
Week after week, month after month, year after year, ‘reach the office’ is our agenda for five days a week. When life becomes this monotonous and when the stress of life in the city gets to us, who wouldn’t burn out after some time? People who force themselves to carry this for longer duration often end up with diseases, especially cardiovascular ones.
The question is, how do we pull ourselves out of this hole? Our focus has been oriented towards the same agenda through years of following its schedule. It’s time we tamper with it. Form a habit of doing some activity we look forward to doing in the morning or evening, before or after office. Going into nature is the best way to beat stress, but in the urban world, there is not much nature left to savour.
In physical activities, dancing is a great idea or a good game of badminton or table tennis. Dancing releases our good hormones which keeps us happy and confident throughout the day. Nature walks and bird photography is another great way to increase patience and focus which can help us significantly in our professional life. Such activities also help us to reduce stress.
Another idea to reduce stress from this mundane urban life is to go on trips away from the bustle of the cities. But there is a little twist here. Do the planning in the preceding weekend for the trip in the next weekend. That way, you have something exciting to look forward to, and this excitement would drown out the stress of working and travelling in the city for the entire week. There will be a countdown, and with each passing day, we will be preparing for the trip. Our mind is now not focused on the ‘reach the office’ agenda, but it keeps on working because it has become a mechanical aspect of our lives.
The most important thing to remember here is to not run without a plan. We can only run for so long and so far before we have to return to our regular lives. Running away without doing anything and returning will make life even more arduous and painful and the stress will accumulate even more. So run with a plan. Do whatever your heart desires, expend all the pent-up energy, go to the mountains and rivers, the blue and the green colours. They can absorb our negative energies and replenish us with fresh energy.
The worst thing happening to us now is that the urban life we are leading is limiting us from exploring ourselves and pushing our boundaries. Our daily lifecycle is being controlled by money based on time. Long hours in the office chairs exhaust our minds which is slowly culling our other abilities. We are falling sick because we are not listening to voices from within us and we are not giving the rejuvenation our mind and body is desperately asking for.
Finally what we need to realise is that we are all going through phases of life. This corporate phase will run its course with time, so will the time to raise our children which runs in parallel. If we exhaust ourselves in this phase of life and do not figure out our abilities and passions, we wouldn’t know what to do with our lives when this phase of life ends, and we are out of work and our kids have left us. The older generation is already suffering this fate. Ours will be disenchantment to much higher levels.
There was a Malayalam movie released two years back called “Charlie”. There are very interesting and important takeaways from the movie. The female protagonist in the movie called Tessa becomes disenchanted with work and urban life and quits both. When she returns to her ancestral home, she gets hounded for marriage and a life in the US.
She bolts, and that’s when she comes across the free-spirited Charlie. He keeps delaying having a conversation with her and when his father asks him why he replies that it’s not yet time to meet her. The reason is he wants her to first understand what she is looking for in life and why she is interested in meeting him. Without clarity in our thoughts and actions, our lives become meaningless.
I told the girl from the train that she is half Tessa now. Unless she understands herself and stops the urban life from bothering her, she will never find her Charlie. If she runs with a clouded mind, she may not even recognise her Charlie if she comes across him. Hopefully, this will motivate her to find herself and figure out her life.