This place needs more original thinkers and less blind followers. More entrepreneurs and less office slaves. More Calvins, less Charlie Browns (our supreme leader is exempt of course, for he can’t help the Charlie Brown resemblance).

Maybe then things can start to work out. Because the problem (one of many) is that the current state of affairs sucks ass. The system is broken, the machine no longer provides for us citizens, and we’re going to have to start taking care of ourselves.

The system of which I speak – adopted as is from the Fahaash West – is as follows, at least for us fortunate ones: Wake up early, wear a uniform, go to school, sit behind a desk – one of many, arranged neatly in grids – listen to a teacher spew forth as much knowledge as his shitty salary incentivizes him to accrue, learn to shut the fuck up, learn to do what you are told, learn to obey the rules, learn to compete with your friends.

Then go to University, supposedly to ‘expand your horizons’. But really in Pakistan all that means is study more, study harder, study longer, all the while continuing to obey/cheat/bypass the same rules of conduct and picking up niftier tricks to do the same.

Then you graduate, celebrate, act like that piece of paper means something. Get a job. Continue to apply what you have learned: wear a ‘uniform’, sit in an office or a cubicle from 9-5, listen to a boss chew you out, learn to shut the fuck up, learn to do what you are told, learn to obey the rules, learn to compete with your coworkers.

And eventually, if you have been a good little boy or girl for enough years, you will get promoted to head drone, where you can chill a bit and supervise the minions and take out the frustrations of your past by making their lives more difficult.

Clearly, I am not a fan. For this system comes with some twisted mathematics built-in:  do mind-numbing chores for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for a bullshit salary, sometimes in a field that you don’t have much interest in, all in the hopes of that promotion in a few years for which you’ll have to battle your colleagues every day. Those are your best, most productive daily 8 hours, of your best, most productive years, that you are giving to some job for monetary compensation which it is difficult to argue is compensation enough for even half the time you are relinquishing. Throw in ridiculously involved office politics, shitty, egotistical bosses, and a soul-sucking conformity enforced by HR regulations, and you have the ecology within which you will spend many of your best hours. And here’s another factoid which nailed it for me: Monday mornings record more heart attacks than any other time of the week, due to the elevated stress associated with returning to the workplace after the weekend.

Sounds like a real fuckin’ dream.

I’ve been off the grid and out of the system for over a year now. And in the words of the great philosopher Borat Sagdiyev, “Is nice!”

Right about now the Sceptical Saleems are wont to speak up. You just want to bum around, they’d say to me. You want to waste your life and are now trying to get others to do the same. Kya beghairti phela rahay ho, haramzaday, etc etc. 

Far from it. I’m more productive now than I ever was doing engineering, mainly because my heart wasn’t in it. All I’m saying here is a simple, obvious little idea, which is this:

The system is not good enough. We have to recognize this truth, and we have to stop making do with mediocrity. Sceptical Saleem may bring forth the argument that yes, it is broken, but the only way to fix it is from the inside. I say fuck that, the way forward is to develop alternative systems, better systems, more up to date systems not tethered to the previous century. More entrepreneurship, more businesses, more internet, less office work for multinational corporations. More Calvins, less Charlie Browns. Think outside the machine. Actually contribute instead of just clocking in every morning and being patient for 8 hours.

The best way to ensure that you make a contribution of worth is by doing work that is personally meaningful to you.

Obviously, it’s not that easy. What is one to do until he finds his life’s work? Who is going to pay the bills? After all there is cable to pay for, CNG to buy, jalebis to eat. One can’t just bum!

If it’s all about making money and saving time, here are a few off-the-grid alternatives that have served me very well:

Think Outside the Office: Or, look for jobs online. The Internet has torn a hole through conventional ideas of making a living. Some of us have woken up to this, but more of us can easily jump on. Anything from writing (technical writing, search-engine-optimization, content writing, etc.) to art (graphic design, illustration, web design) to computer programming and development (insert nerdybabble here), are now fairly lucrative income streams that offer the chance to work from the comfort of your home.

And the best part is, once you factor in the conversion rate from $ to Rs. (currently 1:107.5), even an extremely low paying job will pay your bills, and then some (a $5/hour job means a monthly income of Rs. 86,000).

I write technical articles online for a Canadian firm for about 4 hours a week. That is my main source of income, simply because of the ridiculous conversion rate. A friend of mine offers computer programming skills to international developers, and he makes $60/hour, whilst sitting at coffee shops and other places of poondi. You do the math.

But if it’s so lucrative, asks Sceptical Saleem, then why isn’t everyone doing it?!

Simply because people are unaware of this alternative to office drudgery. Also, it’s kind of anti-establishment, quitting your job and working at home without trousers on, so of course it’s not going to be publicized. And it requires a decent amount of effort to set up right. But it’s worth everyone’s while to look into online income streams, even if on a part-time basis.

A good place to start is Odesk and Elance. Google how best to utilize your individual skills, and have at it. It’s not an instant cash-cow, there will be a learning curve involved, as well as a few months of low-income work, but freedom comes at a price.

If you can make a decent living working just a day a week, you have the rest of the week to do whatever the fuck you want. Then the possibilities for what one can accomplish really get interesting.

Optimize Your Office Work: Or, if you absolutely must work at an office, learn to most effectively utilize your time. Let’s face it, we don’t actually work 8 hours a day in 9-5 jobs; a big portion of that time is spent on Facebook, gossiping with co-workers, waiting on some lazy bugger, or staring out the window daydreaming about another reality. Especially here, where the system is slow, inefficient, and bureaucratic. That is all time you won’t be getting back. If you learn to optimize the work you do, that is time you can then redirect to more meaningful pursuits.

I teach at a University, and it didn’t take long to realize that all the work I have to accomplish can be taken care of in two full days. So I managed, with the help of a totally awesome department chairman, to set it up so that I’m taking classes on two successive days. I am available to the University beyond my classes whenever they need me, for meetings, seminars, events, and whatnot, but it turns out they don’t really need me that often. Two full-time workdays is all I need to take care of my academic duties, leaving the rest of the week free for my own pursuits.  

Do What You LoveI keep coming back to this, but since it’s changed my life, I can’t stress it enough. Do what you love, start moving towards that as a career, even if it’s in baby steps at first. Too often we sideline what we love to do just to do what is considered conventional. But conventional is not always the best way (over here it’s often the worst). Do what you love instead, give it your all, and eventually you will reap the dividends. Your future self will thank you.

I have just recently started earning money off of my artwork, and it’s awesome. It doesn’t pay as much as Engineering, and I don’t know if it’ll make me super wealthy, but the feeling of getting paid for doing something that you enjoy: priceless.

Start a Business: Maybe you make the best gulab-jamans in the neighborhood, or have found a way to run generators on gobar. Whatever your major brainfart, take that next step and make a business out of it. Maybe it fails, maybe it makes you the next Steve Jobs, but regardless, there is no greater teacher than getting bitchslapped by life as you try to steer your own ship. It’s tough, especially dealing with flaky clients, vendors, and service providers, but it’s well worth it in the long run. You will learn valuable lessons that will hold you in good stead for the rest of the ride. And you might just make a difference.

Take More RisksTrust me, you won’t die. The cost of living here is ridiculously cheap (a scrumptious breakfast of Halwa-Puri and Channay costs Rs. 30) ; cheap enough to provide adequate cushion for some good ol’ experimentation. Jump into the unknown. Take paths others are unwilling to try. More Calvin, less Charlie Brown. Go against the conventional nonsense which is being propagated as the best life path. It really isn’t. 

Right now I’m engaged in all four income streams described above. And although I started off with the intention of being an off-the-grid happy-yet-poor bum, it turns out that I’m making pretty decent money this way too. I’d love for more of us to do likewise.

Because the system is broken, this much is fact. You can either continue playing in it, hoping that it pays off someday, or you can detach, and blaze forward on a trail of your own making, learning as you go, holding yourself accountable rather than relying on a boss to tell you what to do. We don’t need more cigarette, soap, or cell phone chip makers. We need more Calvin. We need more Edhi. 

Of course there is risk involved with jumping into the unknown and going against the grain, but to paraphrase Steve Jobs, what do you have to lose? You are naked anyway.

Might as well enjoy it, Charlie Brown.


3 thoughts on “FTS

  1. its awesome that you have defied the system and won, I similarly made a decision three years back that even I would cal stupid, but it opened pathways I could only imagine. So glad I did.. With regards to your artwork, I think u could be part of some thing reallly awesome, sumthing that’s a cross between working out of the system and from within..but requires some other skills other than art as well, … Should change the world for the beter, and is big time calvin… Who ever that was…wil share with u in time

  2. Thanks bro! I was actually just researching freelance technical writing. I quit my job last year to do nothing and it’s been great. I am now looking for ‘jobs’ but people find it very hard to understand why someone who’s 31 needed to quit their job and spend a year doing nothing. So I’m going to give freelancing a shot. I just did some contract work recently and it was great – no office BS, just doing some work without getting emotional about it.

    • You’ll be the better for it Amna. Freelancing is great. Even if people don’t understand it initially, once they see you’re doing alright they’ll come around. Good luck !

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