If it wasn’t for my CA degree I would not have enjoyed a flexible work life, says this CA turned mountaineer

Chartered Accountant living a flexible work life pursuing passion mountaineering

  • From our very childhood, we are told that we need to have a stable job, get married, and have kids, but this was not Hiren’s story.
  • CA Hiren Gada got his dream Big 4 job, yet it did not give him the satisfaction that he got from climbing mountains.
  • In 2019 with his CA degree as his backup, he quit his job to pursue mountaineering.
  • Today Hiren juggles between mountaineering and taking CA-related work on an assignment basis. 

Pursuing CA and finding a dream job at a Big 4 firm

I grew up in a middle-class family in Mumbai, India. 

While trying to figure out my career path I found out that Chartered Accountancy is one of the most prestigious and cost-effective professional courses.

After my father confirmed that he would be able to afford the course fee, I went and filled out the ICAI (Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) Application Form.

Fast forward, after a lot of hard work, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant (CA).

When I had just started my CA course, I vividly remember passing by this big building, it looked marvelous. I thought to myself “Imagine working here. The view from up there must be fantastic”.

By a stroke of luck, I landed right in that Big 4 firm after becoming a CA.

Life seemed great. 

QAPITA

Never knew what to do on weekends

For a middle-class boy like me getting into a Big 4 firm was an achievement in itself. There was newfound energy in my body to show everyone that I too can fit in in the corporate environment. And so I did, by working 12-13 hours a day.

Even though it involved long hours, every day was a new day to learn and advance myself.  Also, financially it was very rewarding which gave me the freedom to do things I could not do earlier.

For instance, earlier due to financial constraints, I could not go out with my friends to 5 Star Restaurants or splurge on the things that I loved. But now it was time to see what it feels like. 

So, on weekends, I started going to parties with my friends but much to my surprise the crowd and the loud music was not what I was looking for.

I also did not want to just sit at home and do nothing. That would drive me crazy.

What should I be doing?

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QAPITA

Trekking

While browsing the internet, I came across a trekking advertisement. It piqued my interest.

I thought maybe this could be my “thing”. 

In the middle of December 2015, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime; my first Himalayan trek.

The cold refreshing air hitting my face, the thrill of taking every step carefully was more exciting to me than those boring parties. There was an unreal sense of satisfaction.

I decided that this is quite interesting and I should go on a trip once a year.

2016 came. However, throughout the whole year, I focused on advancing my corporate career only. I had partially forgotten about the whole trekking thing.

One day I stumbled upon a post by the Himalayan club (popular in the Indian mountaineering community). An Indian guy named Kuntal who had recently climbed Mount Everest was going to share his journey in an event organized by the club.

The event was scheduled to start after my office hours, so I decided to check it out.

Kuntal was an Engineer working in the USA but one day he left his job to achieve his dream of reaching the top of Mount Everest.

I was inspired by his journey.

Scaling peaks; One difficult step at a time

Towards the end of 2017, another trekking opportunity came, and I went back to the Himalayas. This time there were no signs of vomiting or an uneasy feeling.

It boosted my confidence, so much so that I was ready to climb the next mountain peak.

Fast forward to a few months later Kuntal announced that he was going to arrange a 15-day mountaineering expedition in Ladakh, and climb not only one but two peaks.

I was thrilled to the core. But then I found out that one expedition costs around ₹1 lakh (almost USD 1500)

Coming from a middle-class family it seemed odd to spend a ridiculous amount on one activity but I wanted to know what it feels like to be a mountaineer. 

In spite of getting into an accident and tearing my ligament a couple of months prior, I was able to go on this life-changing journey. 

Words cannot describe how breathtaking the view was from the top.

QAPITA

Hiren Gada chose a flexible work life to pursue his passion

Resigning from my Big 4 job to become a mountaineer 

After returning to Mumbai, I found it difficult to adjust to normal life. I wanted to be in the mountains. I did not want to live a stereotypical life.

Kuntal and I had become friends by now, so I decided to discuss my dilemma with him.

He advised me to first get financially stable and then maybe when I am in my late 30s I should consider my dream of becoming a full-time mountaineer.

However practical his advice was, my heart kept telling me that the time to pursue my passion is “now”.

What was holding me back? Of course, Money. The entire journey of climbing mountains is very expensive and requires lakhs of rupees.

After a lot of contemplation and analysis, I realized I would never be happy if I did not take the risk and give myself a chance of becoming a full-time mountaineer.

What I needed was some thrilling adventures in my life.

I was in my mid-20s with no additional responsibilities holding me back at that time. Even with a decent income, I could live a comfortable life.

When it came to convincing my parents, I told myself that even if it meant going against them, I would follow this path. Not everyone is going to have the same opinion as you, and that is okay.

Thankfully my parents were not dependent on my income, so, that was a relief.

After going back and forth with my colleagues and friends I finally resigned in February 2019… and my journey began towards a new life.

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Adjusting to the new life was not easy

It was strange going from slogging literally 12-14 hours a day at my corporate job to all of a sudden having plenty of free time.

I decided to join the gym and concentrate on my fitness.  Activities like hiking, trekking require great physical strength and my fitness level was not up to the mark.

I was enjoying all of this but then one-day realization struck that I had no job, plus my funds were going to run out soon.

I started calling everybody I knew, and asked them frantically “Can you find me a job?” “Can I work from home?”  

Around the same time, someone who arranges our logistics for Ladakh expeditions informed me that in a few months expeditions were going to begin and I could be an assistant guide there.

All I had to do was work with the guiding team, but I would not get paid though.

Seemed like a good deal and I went for it.

Flexible working... thanks to my CA degree

After my stint as an assistant guide in Ladakh, I returned to Mumbai in a few months.

Instead of sitting at home, I started looking for a job that gives me flexibility.

Thankfully I found a job at a mid-sized firm but had to take a big cut in my salary; big as in 30% of what I used to earn in my previous job.

But the beauty of it was that I would have to work only three days a week and the workload was also not huge. It was the perfect balance of work and free time.

I told them right off the bat that I could only work for 3-4 months max as I would have to go back to the mountains. They agreed and I joined the firm. 

March came in 2020 and brought Corona with it.  A guy who was born to explore the mountains was literally confined to a small room.

That was my biggest nightmare.

Luckily the assignment went on. The firm needed me and I needed them, therefore I was somehow able to survive 2020.   

You can always restart your career with a CA degree

Had I not pursued CA, I would have been earning a very small salary struggling to make ends meet.

This profession not only helped me make a decision to pursue my passion but it always gave me the assurance that I can get back to my old way of working anytime I want.

People often ask me, “Are you not afraid that something bad will happen while trekking and you will die?”

My response to that is “The only thing I am afraid of is not being able to climb the mountains, and getting stuck in a monotonous life.”

 My future goal is to become a cutting-edge mountaineer and acquire terrific skills so that I can climb a mountain all on my own without any support from a guide or anyone else.

 

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