#7 Focusing on what matters

How the pandemic helped a techie clarify his priorities and invest in his future

Srinivas*is thirty and works in a payments company in Bangalore. He lives in an upmarket neighborhood right at the heart of the city with his parents and sister. Srini sees himself as a people person. He has a large circle of friends; schoolmates, collegemates, office colleagues, and ex-colleagues. Work, biking, and partying were what really mattered to him. Every weekend he would ride out with his friends to a farmhouse or a resort outside Bangalore and party all night. Srini is part of a fourteen-member biker group. And trips used to happen all the time. Planned weekend ones and unplanned impromptu ones. Solo or in a group.

He chose science and mathematics at school. Wanted to pursue engineering but ended up graduating in economics. After graduating Srini enrolled himself for a master’s degree in clinical psychology.  He did not complete the course though. He wanted to be financially independent, so he got a job in a BPO and started concentrating on his career.

There were many things that Srini wanted to do in 2020. A longish trip to the NE was right on top of his to-do list. He and his gang had just completed a South India trip, now they looked forward to exploring the North-East leisurely. April or May would be a good time they reckoned. They had planned the whole trip down to the tiniest detail. On the career front, Srini was aiming to get promoted in 2020. He was looking for larger responsibilities. He saw himself as a team leader. There were two more things on his agenda. He wanted to replace his old car with a new Tata Hexa. And 2020 would be the year when he finally got married. He’s very particular that his future life partner shares his interests and is as outgoing as he is.

Srini’s lockdown experience

In early March Srini and his gang had just got back to Bangalore from a trip to Valparai. The first thing that he saw when he got to work was a notice. It asked people who had returned from international trips to get checked for COVID-19. He had heard and read about COVID but suddenly something that had seemed distant was now quite close to him. He found the whole experience quite surreal. Things moved quite quickly after that. His company announced its WFH policy even before the lockdown was announced.

And that – WFH – was a terrible thing for Srini. He had always been on a night shift. This got changed to a daytime shift almost immediately. Maintaining regular hours of work and sleep became difficult. Getting even routine work done was difficult. People became unresponsive. Most would not log in to work on time. Lame excuses about poor connectivity became par for the course. It took a lot longer to get things done. Srini missed the usual office banter. He missed the coffee breaks and the informal discussions. He felt that all of this was so vital. It dissipated any tensions and always managed to perk everyone up. WFH had an even more telling consequence – his personal hygiene went for a toss. There were times when he would wake up late in the morning, wear his glasses, and log into a call. A while into the call he would excuse himself and take a shower. WFH demolished the walls that separated work time from personal time. It was just awful.

Being around at home all the time was a good thing initially. Srini’s mom for once stopped complaining about not getting to spend enough time with him and his sister. But a few weeks of being cooped up at home changed all that. Everyone started getting on each other’s nerves. Personal space as a concept just about ceased to exist. Srini tried to get around the challenges caused by WFH. He tried working from the terrace, then the stairs, and then even from the bathroom. The theory was that a change of location might just change the work atmosphere. It did not. Soon a neighbor got infected. The civic authorities sealed off the building. Nobody could step out now. Not for a minute. Not for anything. This even got to Sandy – his pet dog. He could no longer take her on her morning walks.

A month or so into the lockdown, many of his friends who used to work in other companies lost their jobs. There was a lot of tension. His company though was very supportive. The management assured them that there would be no layoffs or pay cuts. A helpline was set up for emergencies. OT could be claimed for WFM.  This meant a lot to Srini and his colleagues. They could just focus on work and their families without worrying about anything else. Things got better on the home front as well. All chores got divided between the four of them. All of them also decided to cut down on TV, mainly to stay away from all the depressing news about COVID.

Unlock experience

This was a harrowing phase for Srini. His mom and sister got infected. The doctor who he contacted through the Apthamitra app was very helpful. No hospitalization was required. The doctor was confident that theirs was a mild case and with medication and self-isolation they would be fine. What hurt Srini the most was how his neighbors reacted. They practically shunned him and his family. Srini and his father got tested for COVID. The tests came back negative. Despite this, they continued to isolate themselves. They started to step out of their homes only after a month.

This was the first real crisis that Srini had to deal with. This was also one of those rare occasions where he had a lot of time. There was no biking or partying. In fact, he had to cut down on work as well to take care of his family, do all the chores, and rustle up something edible for everyone at home. Srini used this time to reflect on his life. He started to think about the kind of future he would like to have. He had begun to understand what really mattered and what did not. Completing his master’s in clinical psychology mattered. So, he finished his internship at an NGO. He finished his viva. Many, many years after he had enrolled for this course, he finally finished it. Srini enjoyed that experience. Not just finishing the course and getting the certificate but the work that he did at the NGO as a trainee counselor. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of taking up counseling full-time. He now plans to become a counselor by the time he turns forty. He then decided to sharpen his knowledge about the subject – he acquired a diploma in counseling and then enrolled in a course in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Meanwhile, a tenant who had lost his job vacated their ground-floor apartment. Srini, having realized the need for personal space through his WFH experience and the time when his mom and sister got infected decided to move into that apartment. He bought himself a new smart TV, a PS4, and two guitars – an acoustic guitar and an electronic guitar. He then started learning how to play the guitar with the help of YouTube channels.

From October Srini started to travel with a vengeance. He wanted to reclaim that part of his life that had been missing ever since the lockdown. At this point, he believed that the worst was over. He first did a trip to Tirupati to thank God for taking care of his family. He then went on a trip to Gokarna. Nobody around was wearing masks. The owner of the resort where he stayed was confident that Gokarna did not have a single case of COVID. And when he partied with his friends on New Year’s Eve everyone drank to celebrate the death of the virus.

When the second wave hit it was a shock. There were no warnings and there were no preparations. The chaos that took over Bangalore was something he had never imagined. The government seemed clueless. The system had just collapsed. Or maybe the second wave just proved that there was no system in place at all. Hospitalization charges skyrocketed. Oxygen cylinders were being sold on the black market. Cremation charges had also gone up considerably. This worried Srini a lot. He realized that it was important to have cash on hand. He, therefore, discontinued a SIP and liquidated a few FDs. When the second lockdown was announced, the only solace he had was that his parents had got both their vaccine shots.

A learning experience

In the last fifteen months, Srini has learned a lot. He learned to cook. He learned to play the guitar. He completed his master’s in clinical psychology. He got a diploma in counseling. He enrolled himself in a course on cognitive behavioral therapy. He worked with an NGO as a trainee counselor. He then put to practice all that he had learned by helping his friends deal with their anxieties. Apart from behavioral sciences, Srini also learned something more practical. He learned that when it comes to clothes comfort matters a lot more than fashion. His wardrobe has changed completely, it’s now full of tracks and T-shirts.

The deep life insight that the pandemic gave Srini was to focus on what really matters. This changed his priorities. He now wants to indulge in meaningful experiences. He has cut out many ‘not so important things in his life. So out went the plan for that new Tata Hexa. He would rather indulge in smaller pleasures. For Srini, his guitar experience is a good way to understand how the pandemic has changed him as a person. Before the pandemic, he would have joined a guitar class and probably would have discontinued it mid-way. The pandemic taught him to be invested in everything that he does. So, he bought the guitars even though he did not know how to play them. He told himself that he would buy the guitars and then learn. Which is what he did. He has now invested in a good microphone. He wants to buy a good amp for his guitar. And he plans to start podcasting soon.
Despite all the chaos and the tragedy, or maybe because of all the chaos and tragedy, the pandemic helped Srini focus on what really matters.

*All names have been changed to protect privacy

About the author

Suresh Mohankumar

A seasoned strategist with 28 years of experience conceiving, launching and growing some of India’s biggest brands, Suresh, has worked as the head of Strategic Planning in large advertising agencies.

He is known for breaking down complex situations to bring meaningful insights to the surface in order to arrive at a water-tight strategy.

He has handled a variety of categories like Automobiles, Jewelry, FMCG, AlcoBev, Leisure, Food, Fashion, Retail, Technology, New Media, etc.

By Suresh Mohankumar

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