Do The New: Rewriting the rules and redefining success —Elita Almeida's Dysco Diary
In keeping with our theme of Rethinking Work, the writer and writing coach reflects on the joys and woes of being an independent professional in the new economy

Elita Almeida is an expressive writing facilitator, coach and the founder of Be You For You. She also works as a freelance writer and travel blogger.

For a brief, really brief, moment in time, in the not so distant past, I toyed with the idea of finally designing my own business card. Despite no design background, I was convinced I’d nailed the typography, right down to the colour scheme— except (and I ran this by a few folks) ’a girl has no job title’ didn’t quite make the cut for the job title. And so, with neither job title nor business card yet, I am happy to announce that I’ve remained buoyant over choppy waters of the Freelance and Self-employed seas for the past five years. Should anyone ask for my job title, I respond by saying: ‘writes and makes people write.’

If not now, when?

I’d quit my desk-bound salaried existence in favour of something ‘more’. The 2014 version of me didn’t know specifically what this ‘more’ encompassed. But she knew this much: the cubicle life didn’t cut it for her and she wanted out. ‘If not now, then when’ – was an oft heard chant inside my head. While I certainly had no Plan A, I definitely knew two things: a. I didn’t have financial liabilities, and b. I was aware of my privilege, i.e. no student loans or EMIs to pay off nor obnoxious Mumbai rent to cough up. Travel, both, solo and otherwise and mostly within the Indian mainland, in its pre-Instagram avatar, had been the catalyst spurring my then ambitious mind. Be it a weekend getaway or a fortnight of O.O.O. (out-of-office), I’d almost always return transformed, exposed to my own ignorance and this in turn, inspired me to write. Amusingly enough, though, this was unfolding at a time when the I-quit-my-job-to-travel became the rage— something hashtags and clickbait content would keel over and something I was certain I didn’t want my narrative to be indicative of, despite the allure. Why? Because travel was the catalyst, a means, not an end for me.

Participants from one of Elita's workshops

If I knew then what I know now

The risk-averse person that I’ve known myself to be, I am mind-blown that I was able to bid adieu to the stability and comfort that came with a job. So what if it wasn’t a cushy corporate job; it was a decently paying non-profit sector job. But not one I could have saved up enough from, for a proverbial rainy day. So in a very Spiderman-esque manner, I’d reckoned with myself that with my power to quit the job that didn’t seem fulfilling, came the responsibility of supporting my lifestyle a 100%, without relying on pity, mercy or even concern— yes, not even from the parents! That meant throwing myself into the deep end of seeking work from all and sundry. When I got lucky, I landed opportunities that seemed designed just for me. And when I didn’t, I scavenged for work and took on gigs that would allow me to get by.

Who am I kidding? Of course, there were more misses than hits. And with those misses, accentuated by a shrinking bank account, I found myself with a fractured mind in need of professional help a.k.a. therapy. In retrospect, it wasn’t just the lack of finances but the abundance of time, which I didn’t know what to do with, that compounded the issue. If I wasn’t doing something and if that something wasn’t productive, i.e. income generating, then woe was me. This was a side-effect of the salaried existence that no one had warned me about. Year One of winging it on my own had allowed me both: the highs of combining my love for travel, along with my love for writing, through projects I’d serendipitously stumbled upon, as well as the lows of not knowing how to nurse my fractured mind back to health. It was time to prioritise my mental health and wellbeing; without which there’d be no professional milestones to bag and celebrate.

If not me, then who?

Through therapy and the courses in counselling I’d signed up for, I began to notice a perceptible shift in the language I was using while journaling. While I’d been catharting on paper ever since I was a 15-year-old making sense of herself and the world she inhabited, it was only now that I found myself making concerted efforts at being more solution-oriented and constructing redemptive narratives, instead of merely shrieking noiselessly onto a sheet of paper. That’s when the dots not only made themselves visible but also began to connect.

Why did my love for writing only have to remain confined to pieces I wrote for digital platforms or my own blogs? Could I not combine writing with a few constructs from counselling into a self-designed workshop on self-expression, where writing wouldn’t be as elitist and mental-wellbeing wouldn’t be as intimidating as they have been perceived? But with no academic or professional background in neither writing nor mental wellbeing, it wasn’t long before my imposter syndrome came calling. It has been a slow but gradual walk from self-doubt to self-assuredness—one that spanned many months.

It included baby-steps of researching and reading up everything I could lay my eyes and hands on that would validate the idea of writing as a tool to:

  • Enhance one’s mental wellbeing,
  • Improve one’s intra-personal (a lesser known topic) as it impacts one’s inter-personal relationships, and/or better one’s professional performance (written business communication and branding).

It included re-writing the concept note many times over and eventually giving it a name, thereby uttering ‘Be You For You’ into existence. It also included designing my first workshop session and piloting it at two separate intervals with friends to get their first impressions before finding the nerve to put myself out there and hustle so that the first ever open-call expressive writing workshop would enlist its early adopters. It has included incrementally tweaking and adapting the session plan to cater (to the extent possible) the preferences of introverts and extroverts, writers and non-writers, corporates and homemakers, those studying and those pensioned, English and non-English conversant folks, nine and fifty-nine year olds, and many other diversities. This has been nurtured independently and not in a room full of mentors and advisors. If anything, every single participant has fulfilled that role with their candid feedback— and not just immediately after a workshop but oftentimes weeks and even months later.

Elita facilitating a workshop

Bottomline: No Ifs, Ands or Buts

In hindsight, I believe that ‘passion-project’ is a misnomer and instead is best summed in the words of one of my favourite illustrators, Adam J. Kurtz: ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life work super hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally.’ Where Year Two saw me launch Be You For You into the world while struggling to nurse my own mental wellbeing back to health, Year Three and Four saw me hustle like I never had-– except that I had for my previous employers. It took repeated reminders-– of all the times I’d sent cold-emails and made cold-calls to prospective clients on behalf of bosses in the past-– to realise that I could and rightfully deserved to do the same to promote Be You For You too. Over time, I’ve learnt to be my own fierce, unapologetic cheerleader. But more importantly. I’ve learnt to walk my talk. There are moments where just when I think things are picking up, I am sitting from across my laptop hitting the refresh button hoping for workshop sign-ups. Likewise, there are moments when amidst twiddling of thumbs, a global design and manufacturing company, enabled by a Google search, asks me to facilitate a workshop session for its employees.

In a nutshell, being self-employed and a freelancer is teaching me that:

Swinging between euphoria and desolation will not help but persistence is an indispensable skill, regardless of the outcomes.

  • I can multitask between writing and making people write when I take on multiple and diverse projects that meet not only my financial goals but also satiate my creative energies.
  • I can assert myself and the value I bring to the table.
  • I can unlearn measuring productivity in monetary terms as the lone indicator of ‘success’.
  • Prioritising my mental and physical wellbeing is an everyday choice I proactively make while paving a career pathway for myself on my own terms, especially where no like-for-like precedence that I know of exists.

I didn’t stumble upon my ikigai overnight. Neither did the shoe fit as perfectly and as immediately as it did for Cinderella. But Be You For You allows me to hold space in a non-intrusive and non-judgmental manner for several folks across the spectrum – while teaching me to extend the same to myself in every sense of the word.

One of Elita's writing workshops is underway

All images courtesy Elita Almeida

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