For the first twelve years of my career, I believed in the climb. The long, arduous, honorable climb up the corporate ladder, as glorified in the textbooks at my business school and the covers of magazines I consumed day after day.
My life was dedicated to being the go-getter, giddily progressing from my first job as a junior engineer to becoming a technical manager over the years, picking up valuable technical and personal skills along the way.
Promotions were celebrated, achievements were cherished. Until the day I burned out. And stopped wanting the same things I was supposed to want. Long-forgotten dreams of running my own business started slowly surfacing. The lure of having a flexible schedule to unapologetically take care of my children, without compromising on my career goals, also became stronger and stronger, until I had no choice but to take the plunge. With nothing but blind hope and prayers.
It was akin to groping around in the darkness at first. Ideas were formed quickly and discarded just as fast. Several missteps and hard knocks later, as I happily worked on a final idea that had survived several rounds of pivoting, reality began to dawn. I needed to experience the reality of who I was building for. Years of sitting in a cubicle and having conference calls had not exposed me to how a distribution network worked. How could I provide value without really experiencing the challenges and obstacles?
And as fate would conspire to lead the way, I opened up my mail later that day to find a call for newspaper carriers. A perfect opportunity to learn and test my hypothesis, at a time early in the morning before the children woke up. And so started a chapter in my life as a newspaper girl.
Covering the routes in the darkness and tossing newspapers were a breeze. What I did not expect was that it would turn into a social experiment in human psychology. The array of reactions I received were fascinating. There were those who got it, who did not see anything wrong with it. There were those who were aghast and even shed tears about the state I had descended into. There were those who mocked the ‘demotion’ in life, as they saw it.
The lessons from the trenches were valuable enough for me to develop a slightly thicker layer of epidermis, to shrug off these comments, though the encouraging words of a few helped with the whole situation. So, apart from the technical takeaways of distribution efficiencies, what else did I learn?
That there is not much of a difference between being a corporate manager and a newspaper delivery girl. The same set of soft skills and attributes are necessary for both jobs, if you do not consider the specialized technical expertise. That humility is a precursor to achieving anything significant, especially happiness in life. That an education qualifying you for certain jobs does not necessarily disqualify you from others, only your ego does that. That all jobs have equal dignity. And that I need a good set of snow tires to be a model delivery girl during the brutal winters in the MidWest.