The Crossroads of Should and Must — My Journey, So Far

This photo does not belong to me. The credit lies entirely with the creator of this image, whom I am very grateful to.
This photo does not belong to me. The credit lies entirely with the creator of this image, to whom I am very grateful.

Feeling bored one Sunday afternoon and unsure about how to occupy my time, I decided to take a look at the Brain Pickings website. It had been several weeks since I had visited the website so my decision made sense. And it turned out to be a good idea, for I came across an article, on the very top of the home page, titled The Crossroads of Should and Must: An Intelligent Illustrated Field Guide to Finding Your Bliss. Quite an apt read for the overly self-reflective (read: self-critical) phase that I have been going through for some time now.

Ever since I was a child I have loved books. I read so much that it would seem that I was not just reading, but, quite literally, devouring the books every day. It soon worsened to the point that I preferred to spend a major chunk of my time with my books. This occurred, I believe, sometime in Class One or Two. It was so bad that I wouldn’t revise for exams, which compelled my mother to lock my beloved books up in a corner of her wardrobe. Luckily, as far as I can remember, it was the same shelf where Mum stored our snacks for school. Being the sneaky little kids that we were, my sister and I used to spend our afternoons and Saturday mornings gorging on the snacks. I distinctly remember, therefore, that when my mother locked my books in that same supposedly secret place, I went into my parents’ room in their absence, opened that closet, and continued to spend a long time reading my books, not even thinking how uncomfortable it could be to sit on the cold concrete floor for so long. I eventually became more responsible, when I entered Class Three. School, lessons, and all that learning became more enjoyable as I started getting good marks, which was enough of an incentive for me to keep up my academic performance. However, I still preferred to read during study breaks rather than watch TV, the only exception being certain TV programmes that I enjoyed watching. I also borrowed lots of books from my school library, which made me quite a favourite with the librarians. As a reward for my attentions, I was regularly awarded various certificates and recognition for being an Avid Reader. At the start of every school holiday, especially the long summer ones, Dad would get me new books as a way of celebrating the end of exams and the start of the holidays. And, being what I am, I’d be through with them in a matter of days or weeks. There would always be too many holidays left at the end of my holiday to-read list.

Later, in my late teens, I also became interested in writing and studying Literature, slowly growing more attuned to the realisation that this would essentially be the path I must choose. After several false starts, I finally decided that I’d like to teach English during my third and final year of my undergraduate studies. However, there were certain issues regarding how to make the start that I needed. I had been considering going back to the school where I did my A –Levels from and teach there, possibly as an assistant to one of my former Literature teachers. That plan got derailed because I got offered a job by my dad’s friend from university who was running the website of the newspaper where Dad works. As expected, it was a journalism-related job. There had always been one constant in all my years of grappling with the question of my future career: I always knew, instinctively, that I never wanted to be a journalist. Not for a single moment, unless my probable career as a journalist involved reporting on book launches, reviews, literary events, interacting with authors. I could do this, I thought, and I could do it well, even enjoy it. This subfield of journalism evoked in me the same kind of excitement, the same thrill of happiness that I got from being in a bookshop or at a literary event. I experienced this exact euphoria after my supervisor put me on the coverage team for the Karachi Literature Festival in 2014. But nothing substantial materialised on this front. A few months later I decided to give up my steady income that I was getting for doing some very soul-sucking work. I, then, left that job, so graciously offered to me by my dad’s friend, to enter the crazy world of freelancing.

I do not, however, regret my decision to forfeit a steady income. I had a good reason for it: my soul needed rescuing, and I was, literally, the only one who could save it. No one else would, or could, have saved my soul for me. So, if I have to do it all over again, I will still make the same decision, even if the consequences are the same, or worse, as now.

So far, I have been able to acquire a bit of work: reviews, mostly of films, and occasionally of books; a large report-writing assignment, as well as a research article and editing/proofreading assignments. The latter three paid me pretty well, while the money I got from the reviews was better than what most local publications pay their reviewers. I also got a job—an unpaid, voluntary one—as an Associate Prose Editor with Papercuts, a literary magazine published by the Desi Writers’ Lounge, which I enjoy very much. It’s the very job that I needed—a job that makes me happy and provides a steady income. Although it doesn’t do the latter for now, I can, at least, hope that based on this experience I can eventually acquire a similar job that pays well and I am able to independently subsist on the remuneration that it provides.

I have realised, though, that freelancing is an immensely difficult career in Pakistan. I cannot, at any cost, make it my primary career because doing so would be an impractical step on my part. So what must I do, then? Look for jobs that will take me further on my chosen career path, and also be a source of happiness and satisfaction to me. And, of course, they must pay me moderately well, so that I can save up for my postgraduate studies.

It is time, once again, to enter the job search. And I intend to succeed this time.


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