Err…it’s been a while since you last heard from me. Yes, I’m alive and well. I quit my corporate job in Austin, TX about this time last year and moved back to India for good shortly after. What have I been doing you ask? Prepare for an entirely more detailed answer than you were hoping for
- Went on the Jayamoorthy Fam’s All American Summer Vacation of ’22. Austin, Colorado, New Mexico, New Orleans, New York and San Diego in 3 weeks!
- Moved back to Chennai and stayed with my family
- I travelled to Kochi and Bangalore for about a month and made some new artist friends
- I was briefly in a relationship
- I did a Vipassana 10 day silent meditation course.
- Made friends with an outdoor cat called Ashi. Nursed her back from a nasty fracture and got her back into the wild
- I moved into an apartment by the beach in Chennai and set up my art studio/office space
- I’m done with the bum life and am now ready to work
Why did I quit?
People tell me that it was a courageous thing to do, to leave behind a life of comfort and stability in America and voluntarily come back to India to live a life of uncertainty. In my mind, it wasn’t really a choice. It was inevitable.
By most measures I was doing well in the corporate world and in life. I had a good job, I led a group of smart and motivated individuals at Walmart, had power, money was never a problem, I got to travel quite a bit and get into hobbies I’d dreamed about since I was a kid, lived in one of my favorite cities in the US and got to be around cool, sexy and talented people. I had however, been getting a little restless. I’ve done data science long enough, been through enough cycles of projects and jobs to feel a little disenchanted about spending the next few decades doing what seemed to me fairly repetitive work: a few months getting excited about a new problem or domain -> prototype solutions -> roll out and testing -> maintenance mode -> rinse and repeat. Switching jobs could shake things up for a bit, but would only postpone the inevitable boredom and ennui that had set in in my career.
Large corporations tend to take a portfolio approach to their ventures, they may have 50+ plays going on, and need only a few of them to succeed. Their scale makes it so that the few wins they get can still generate tremendous value. And they can absorb the remaining losses in ways that individuals or small businesses just can’t. As an individual however, this means that not all projects I’ve worked on ended up seeing the light of day. I guess I could say I have a hit rate of ~30%, meaning of all the projects I’ve worked on about 30% of them actually turned out well and I think that’s a relatively good number. What of the remaining 70%? That’s years of my life force spent on what? I figured if I was going to tie up my time, emotion and energy in something, it might as well be something I really cared about, and had real stakes.
Why art? Honestly, this is hard to rationalize. “Art” is the only label that is permissive enough, expansive enough to let me do the things I want to do. What exactly those things are is a subject for another day. But it’s something I dabbled in as a kid and got back into a few years ago. And in 2019, I audited a community college course in Arkansas. The rigor of a course also got me thinking about art as less of a nebulous thing that one was either good at or not, and instead a skill that could be worked at. It also happened that my professor was as much of a nerd about comics as I was. In the coming years, I would amass a wealth of visual inspiration through animation, comics and museums, to the point where on some days I could close my eyes and have a stream of images running through my head . I spent enough time working on my craft that I could now direct my own learning and I’d developed an overwhelming feeling that if I were to go all-in, it’s something I could be really good at.
Why did I leave America?
The work visa (H1-B in case you’re wondering) was like a sword constantly dangling over my neck- I would think most immigrants can relate to this feeling, especially after the last round of layoffs. Nothing like losing a job to needle them existential anxieties amirite.
You always, ALWAYS need to be employed. You get 90 days (or less) of cumulative unemployment after which you’re given the boot. And since I had gotten to the US for a Master’s in Data Science, I had to maintain the position that any job I worked at was related to my degree, and I’d always need an employer to sponsor my stay and do the necessary legal work. Needing to always be gainfully employed makes it hard to take risks. At best, I could be a co-founder until I got a green card or a citizenship (which I’ve heard can take 20+ years). In my entire time in the US, there was a nagging feeling at the back of my brain that felt like I always needed to prove my legitimacy in a way that I’d never have to do in India.
And even if I could legally stay in the US without a job, America is an expensive fucking place to be unemployed and “figuring things out”. I’d be burning through my runway 3-5x faster than if I were living in a place like India.
Where did I find the balls to leave?
The exact timing of the move had to do with two factors.
First, I’d been saving up a little nest egg that would let me coast on little to no earnings while I bootstrap my art career. Around June last year was when I hit the magic number- this would let me survive for 3-7 years in a country like India. The wide uncertainty band has to do with my lack of knowledge of living expenses in a now new country as well as well as the lack of self knowledge around how much I’ve grown to be dependent on “the nice things”.
And second, I visited India for about a month in 2022 to get a sense of what life could look like over here. And it convinced me that it was the right move and the perfect time. There was nothing left to do but give my notice, travel some, make my farewells and fuck off already!
What am I going to do?
Over the next year I’d like to get a portfolio up. I want to shift away from doing solely sketchbook work to finished pieces that I can sell either as merch or use as evidence that I’m not totally incompetent, to get professional comic book/storyboard gigs. Eventually I want to publish my own stories.
On speaking to a number of artists in India, I had come to the conclusion that doing art can also feel like a J.O.B. It was a little humbling to find that the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. The gripes I had heard of were to do with not enough autonomy, bad work culture, long hours, projects not being satisfying, low/no pay; things I could relate with at various points in my DS career. Most of these issues stem from having to work for someone else and having to put to put food on the table. I’m fairly certain I want to work for myself and be in it for the right reasons. I don’t want to have to take on projects I don’t want to just to make ends meet.
I also got the sense from reading books about the publishing industry and meeting an industry veteran that financial success is no guarantee, you need to be in this for the long haul. Journeymen artists and writers usually have a second job that provides them the stability they need while they try and make it. So I’m spinning up a retail quant trading practice as a money play. I like the intellectual challenge, it’s something I feel I could be good at and provides nice perks like flexible hours and scalable income.
Who are you?
Maybe you’re considering quitting your job to live the bohemian life and are gathering your resources and wits for the long road ahead. Maybe you’re already adrift at sea and want to hear from others who are equally marooned. I want to share things I’ve found the hard way. At the moment, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing much that’s technique related, it would feel disingenuous. I can however, share my journey from being another cog in the software machine to being a self-employed artist. I get the sense that a lot of people out there are on the fence themselves, have watched enough motivation porn on Instagram and Youtube and now want to hear the straight dope from the trenches. Whatever the case may be, buckle in and join me on this perilous and exciting quest!