The Fence Sitter

Don’t sit on the fence; break it and move out! Don’t be confined to the little things you do; the sky should be below your limit!

― Israelmore Ayivor, The Great Hand Book of Quotes

Too little time and too much to do. The confusion is a ‘problem of the plenty’. I am multiple things rolled into one. What should I do now?  I want to be too many people at the same time. Is there something I can focus on and get on with?  The confusion marauds my conscience.

I want to read. I look at my bookshelf. There are just too many books unopened since I brought them with great zeal.

I have more than fifteen manuscripts open, waiting to be plotted and finished.

The publishing projects are hanging. I am not able to give the time and focus that my editor deserves.

I want to be a writer, author. Period. Novels, short fiction, poetry, poetry reviews, and book reviews. I want to read voraciously.

Then comes the big question – who will pay the bills?  Am I not wealthy enough to take the break? Maybe, maybe not. There are fires to put out and families that demand my businesses to feed. Some investors have trusted my ventures. There are many balls in the air.

The multiple threads in my life have entangled, enmeshed, and finally created a knot that has created action paralysis in my life. I sit on the fence, a proverbial one that I struggle to do what I want to, but what I need to.

Do you resonate with my struggle?

There is another dimension to it. The family angle. If I have to do so many things, what about my family and friends? Do I not spend time with the ones I love?  Of course, yes. See, that splits my hair more.  What would you do if you are struggling with prioritizing between what you have to do, what you want to do, and who you want to be with?

Go With the Flow

One solution to this struggle is to become unhinged. I write about this first because it is the solution that often comes to my mind. I want to float like a leaf in the wind and fall in the stream, and be swept away by the ebbs and flows of life. I don’t want to schedule my day, week or month. Others would do it for me if it is important enough for them. They know me, so they know what to get out of me.

I am a giver, so I am made to give. I become the puppet of others. There are tensions there too, but I forget, for a moment what I want or have to be. It is an abdication of the self.

Imagine how the planets, stars, and the universe as a whole co-exist. They are pulled by weak forces, and they are in constant motion. Yet their lives go on. There is no self-induced action, but a kind of strings that pull and push.

The ‘going with the flow’ becomes the unhinged yet interoperable solution for such a state. Here, I am never on the fence, for I am at somebody’s disposal always and at their beck and call. I blame the others for my situation, and how convenient is that!

Monica, why does everything have to have a point? Why does it all have to be part of a plan? Sometimes it’s best to let things just grow naturally, like wildflowers.

― Clare Pooley, The Authenticity Project

Even when I started writing this piece, I did not know where it could lead me. I just went with the flow. But life is more complicated than this. There is no way going with the flow is going to pay my bills or run my ventures. I got to wear a different hat.

The Safe Harbor:

What about not doing anything at all?  There are people I know who have everything in them, but they won’t do a thing about it. I look at them with jealousy and sometimes regret. But if we have to examine all options, we have to give them a fair chance, don’t we?

Ships are designed to sail, but they have to be built in a harbour. The harbour prepares the ship for a tempestuous journey, but the ship has to leave the harbour to take the journey. To keep the metaphor alive, we have to act to get things done and produce outcomes. But outcomes mean bouquets as well as brickbats, success as well as failures. Deciding not to leave the harbour means deciding not to act. No action, no outcome. No outcome, no failures. No failures, no criticisms.

The fear of failure, inertia, or just ennui could lead to such non-performance of action.

Another form of non-performance is procrastination. Procrastination is deferred action, if at all.  So, between various priorities, the decision of non-action means that the ship can stay in the harbour. This is a decision, unlike going with the flow. Going with the flow is unhinged action, safe harbour is the deferred decision to act or inaction.

One day at a time:

I prefer slow action when I am conflicted with fence-sitting. I prefer to roll slowly and steadily than be stagnant. ‘Rolling stones gather no moss.’ The best bit of this is my intuitive ability to divide any work into a small, affordable bit of action that makes me create small wins.

I have discovered that while there is a long pipeline of commitments – personal, professional, family, and other types, it turns out we can do only so much in a day without losing our marbles. There are unexpected events and unscheduled stops, but keeping the focus on the must-dos works well. Here is a quote I believe in:

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

– Francis of Assisi

This is how I win my bad days.  If I could make my bad days count, the good days will take care of themselves.

Let us look at this another way. However prepared we are, we live our lives one day at a time. So it is easier to act on what we must do during the day and move to the other things, we could have seized the day.

But… what makes the day? We have ‘office times’ and ‘weekends’.  How do they come in the way of ‘one day at a time?’

The 9-to-5 and Weekend life:

I wriggled out of the 9 to 5 life a decade ago. It has stunted the ‘work-life balance’ that I used to think I could get if I had worked with a certain ‘key result area’. Setting goals makes life easier. But those goals aren’t mine. I am just contracted to work my bit to achieve others’ goals.

The growth and security 9 to 5 give are interesting. I could grow only so much – in a large corporate, beyond the middle management, there were different sets of skills that I had to possess. But my interest was to discover my ground, rather than playing with others.

I had stupendous success as a consultant, but the stress of being one – working late evenings, early mornings, and weekends, and achieving success because I was measured on outcomes and not outputs. Employment was about outputs, self-employment was about outcomes. Outcomes matter, output is more vanity metrics. We can cloak the success of the ‘performance of a KRA’, but unless the outcome is visible, it is just an exercise in vain.

Success as a consultant led to stress. From avoidance of action, I had gone into ‘outcome-driven action.’ I could see my ex-classmates and ex-colleagues driving BMWs as they climbed their corporate ladders, and living the 9-to-5 plus weekend gig successfully.

The biggest support during this stressful breakaway from 9-to-5 is from my family. My family is not the perfect one, but it has sacrificed itself – my wife and son for my erratic work times. The idea of being an ideal spouse and parent on the one hand and being a successful consultant on the other had its repercussions. Mental health issues cropped up, forcefully slowing down this unbridled career focus and leading me back to the fence.

Sitting on the fence:

Sitting on the fence is not fun. It is a ringside view of the piling work and challenges on both sides of the fence. Add inaction to that. Decision-making has come to a halt.  The one-day-at-a-time method helps me focus and make little progress, but in many key areas, I am paralyzed in prioritization.

The dichotomy of the situation is that I want to soar high in the skies with a ton of lead tied to my feet. Neither I can get rid of the lead, nor can I curtail my ambitions to fly. So, I sit on the fence, with folded feathers and the lead resting faithfully under my feet.


Ashok Subramanian
Ashok Subramanian
Ashok Subramanian is a Poet and Fiction Author based in Chennai, India. Ashok has been writing blogs and content since 2011. From technology and management articles, and to website content, Ashok has written articles on businesses, finance, funding, capital markets, management, strategy, and sustainability over the years. His poems and articles, which were published in blogs got a publishing turn when he had time in hand to put together his poetry and short story collections. He publishes short stories and poetry reviews regularly in his blog. His published works so far: a) Maritime Heritage of India - Contributing Writer - b) Poetarrati Volume 1 &2: Self-published on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback; Ranked #8 in Amazon Hot Releases in May 2020. c) A City Full of Stories: A Short fiction Collection based on people and events of Mumbai: Self-published in Amazon in Kindle and Paperback. d) Poetarrati Ponder 2020 - A collection of Poem Reviews He is currently working with his creative advisor and publisher on his next poetry collection. His second short story collection about Kolkata, India, and his first novel are in the manuscript stage. He is a graduate in Engineering from Madurai Kamaraj University, India, and a post-graduate in Management from IIM Calcutta, India. He currently runs Strategic Advisory and Investment Banking companies headquartered in Bengaluru. He lives with his wife Gayathri and son Anirudh in Chennai, India.

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