We’ve all been told ‘don’t compare yourself to others. You have no idea what they are going through’. And as I have listened to friends and strangers confide in me their struggles and problems, I must admit, I have often felt ashamed at having compared my life with theirs and envying their seemingly great lives.
After finishing my masters in Paris in 2012, while my peers were off to different countries, working with organisations like FIDH, Amnesty, UNHCR, and the European Commission, I started working for a small anti-trafficking non-profit in India.
Pictures of my friends’ travels to different countries, meeting people of different cultures and high profile people, and their exciting work, regularly appeared on my Facebook newsfeed while I stared at my computer, struggling to remind myself what I was doing in a tiny NGO that was constantly understaffed and underfunded with office politics creating further divisions.
Still, I consoled myself, I was working for an organisaton that saved lives and what could be more important than that? Plus, this was supposed to be a temporary job – just until I had enough experience working in a grassroot organisation before doing a PhD or working in a more renowned policy or advocacy organisation. So I kept the green-eyed monster in me at bay with an eye on the future.
Somewhere in my three and a half years of non-profit work, I got sucked into the organisation politics, the frustrations and the constant exhaustion that is synonymous with working with a non-profit. Two years of living in Ooty with few people to talk to made things worse by leading to loneliness, magnified mixed emotions and distorted views.
I was frustrated with the inefficiency of the organisation and the CEO’s unwillingness to step in and change things. There was potential to do so much more, yet there was so much division, so much unhappiness, that progress was not possible.
Money was a key problem for most of the staff. Most of us were underpaid and unappreciated. Working for fundraising meant that I knew just how much everyone was underpaid. I also knew that the founders, American expats, received significant funding from abroad in addition to their regular salaries. Enough to buy land, build houses in India and the US, build an apartment building that they rented as a homestay, and a ‘ranch’. They had workers to take care of the cleaning and maintenance of their property. They could fly to the US with their 4 kids and enjoy 2-3 months of vacation each year. On the face of it, they were really living it up.
I thought back to the time when I received a promotion and had to beg and plead with the founder for an additional increase of about Rs. 400. 400 rupees is nothing. It will, at the most, pay for one meal at a nice restaurant. I couldn’t understand why he would grudge me such a small amount. I think I eventually succeeded in receiving that amount, but I know that despite the ‘win’ it felt like I had lost.
I thought of the times when staff repeatedly asked me why the founder wouldn’t increase their salaries so that it was on par with industry standards; or why they couldn’t stay at hotels which were clean; or take a flight instead of spending 48 hours travelling in a train. And slowly, the comparisons of our very different lives awoke the green-eyed monster in me.
I began to look at only the good parts in the founders’ lives and blocked out the bad. I blocked out the huge sacrifices that they would have needed to be make while founding the organisation and the risks and burdens they must have borne. I knew many of the problems they had, how unhappy they were on many fronts and yet I chose to ignore those parts and focus on what they had and I didn’t. Just like a kid, right?
Thankfully in the months that followed, I recognised the jealously, frustration, anger and loneliness that were tearing me apart. But I think it was only after I stepped out of that NGO and took some time off that I realised how toxic I had become.
Maybe we all need time outs every once in a while. Time to re-evaluate our lives, to re-evaluate ourselves and to work on our monsters within. I know that having these last few months of unemployment have allowed me to do that and have left me, dare I say, happier, at peace, and back to being the brown-eyed girl I used to be.