In my third year of university, we had an alumnus come in to teach us. I remembered her as a senior as she had only graduated a couple of years ago. It startled me that somebody so young would come back to teach. From where I was – stressed to get through my degree, tiring of the seemingly never-ending four years - I was unable to understand why she had chosen to come back. Didn’t we all just want to graduate and be done with it? Wasn’t this the time for her to be working elsewhere? Gain more experience and learn new things and meet new people? I learnt, in time, that she was sick of the corporate environment, bored to death in what I like to call the ‘cubicle hell’ life where creativity and happiness are crushed on a daily basis. Fast forward four years and I now know what she meant.

My first job as a research assistant was not bad. In fact, it was a pretty decent first job. I mean they had ACs, an attached bathroom and a kitchen that was functional. There are cockroaches everywhere in Karachi so I figured I couldn’t really complain about that. Infrastructure aside, the people were friendly and very encouraging (everyone told me I had made the silliest decision ever by taking the job). Overall the job wasn’t awful other than a few weeks of absolute stillness and reading too many Buzzfeed articles and listening to Bollywood music (this bit was fun). Fresh out of college and being stupidly emotional, I felt that while fun, this was not what I had wanted to do in life.

This is not why I had gone to college, stayed up nights, learnt the correct way to cite references (very proud of this), nearly killed myself trying to learn how to use Photoshop and getting by with badly made tea bag chai in a flimsy paper cup. At that point where opportunities seemed too many, I thought quitting was a decent enough idea because I was not learning anything where I was. What a silly reason to quit, I later realized. When I quit soon after accepting the offer, things were obviously not pleasant. There was the usual drama – you are being stupid, nobody will hire you with this attitude, etc.  However, it was not as scary as the episodes some of my friends had to face. Quitting for them turned out to be nothing short of walking out of a bad marriage with aftershocks every now and then. 

Although brief, my first job environment had almost no office politics (or maybe I was just not aware of it then) and in retrospect, like most things, it seemed to me that quitting that soon, was indeed, not the wisest decision. The bad karma of leaving my first not so horrible job landed me at one of the most mundane, soul sucking and pointless jobs. I learnt that I was working ‘for’ and not ‘with’ people who had hired me. It reminded me of those teachers at college who had a sense of authority and a hierarchy that placed them above students, they liked to boss around instead of discussing ideas and expanding students’ horizons. There were almost no personalities that reminded of those super cool professors who sat with you and had chai, who got excited about projects and cracked jokes. It made me read those quotations on Pinterest that say: ‘do what you have to until you can do what you want to.’  I realized that there was no constructive criticism like there was at college. Instead, there were accusations and dictatorial behavior. I realized that I was expected to feel thankful that I was given the job, which didn’t make sense to me because I had all the credentials required to fill the spot. It made me want to write up a resignation and walk out like people do in movies, and like I had on my first job but having become used to the ‘real world’ and generally living life as an adult, I knew I just had to keep going because what would everyone say if I quit again? I would feel like a failure to myself, embarrassment to parents and the family, blacklisted in the job market, etc, etc. And this getting by drudgery is perhaps important but I still wonder if maybe we would learn more if people were nicer? Would one work better in an encouraging and healthy environment instead of a hostile one? In the many interviews that I went for, I found some interviewers to be incredibly rude. Sure, smiling without reason is not allowed in Pakistan but still? Other interesting incidents included interviewers calling to ask how much money I made on my current job (without any prior meeting), informing me to show up at a certain hour because clearly, I need the job and not them.

Just so this does not sound like a one-sided rant, there were some super nice people that I came across as well but they were just so few. Examples include a CEO of a well-known fashion house laughing with me and making sure it was suitable for me to come in at the suggested time, a woman I had done a project for especially sending a personal message to thank me, a head of a department personally getting me dropped home when I just requested to be dropped till the nearest cab.