"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone."
—Henry David Thoreau, naturalist
If I told you this story, you wouldn’t believe me, so I’ll let AJ tell it. It will set the stage for even more incredible things to come, all of which you will do yourself.
My Outsourced Life
A true account by AJ Jacobs, editor-at-large at Esquire magazine (ellipses represent passage of time between entries)
It began a month ago. I was midway through The World Is Flat, the bestseller by Tom Friedman. I like Friedman, despite his puzzling decision to wear a mustache. His book is all about how outsourcing to India and China is not just for tech support and carmakers but is poised to transform every industry in America, from law to banking to accounting.
I don’t have a corporation; I don’t even have an up-to-date business card. I’m a writer and editor working from home, usually in my boxer shorts or, if I’m feeling formal, my penguin-themed pajama bottoms.
Then again, I think, why should Fortune 500 firms have all the fun? Why can’t I join in on the biggest business trend of the new century? Why can’t I outsource my low-end tasks? Why can’t I outsource my life?
The next day I e-mail Brickwork, one of the companies Friedman mentions in his book. Brickwork—based in Bangalore, India—offers “remote executive assistants, ” mostly to financial firms and health-care companies that want data processed. I explain that I’d like to hire someone to help with Esquire-related tasks—doing research, formatting memos, like that. The company’s CEO, Vivek Kulkarni, responds, “It would be a great pleasure to be talking to a person of your stature.” Already I’m liking this. I’ve never had stature before. In America, I barely command respect from a Bennigan’s maître d’, so it’s nice to know that in India I have stature. A couple of days later, I get an e-mail from my new “remote executive assistant.”Dear Jacobs,
My name is Honey K. Balani. I would be assisting you in your editorial and personal job…. I would try to adapt myself as per your requirements that would lead to desired satisfaction.
Desired satisfaction. This is great. Back when I worked at an office, I had assistants, but there was never any talk of desired satisfaction. In fact, if anyone ever used the phrase “desired satisfaction, ” we’d all end up in a solemn meeting with HR.
I go out to dinner with my friend Misha, who grew up in India, founded a software firm, and subsequently became nauseatingly rich. I tell him about Operation Outsource. “You should call Your Man in India, ” he says. Misha explains that this is a company for Indian businessmen who have moved overseas but who still have parents back in New Delhi or Mumbai. YMII is their overseas concierge service—it buys movie tickets and cell phones and other sundries for abandoned moms.
Perfect. This could kick my outsourcing up to a new level. I can have a nice, clean division of labor: Honey will take care of my business affairs, and YMII can attend to my personal life—pay my bills, make vacation reservations, buy stuff online. Happily, YMII likes the idea, and just like that the support team at Jacobs Inc. has doubled.
Honey has completed her first project for me: research on the person Esquire has chosen as the Sexiest Woman Alive. I’ve been assigned to write a profile of this woman, and I really don’t want to have to slog through all the heavy-breathing fan websites about her. When I open Honey’s file, I have this reaction: America is f*cked. There are charts. There are section headers. There is a well-organized breakdown of her pets, measurements, and favorite foods (e.g., swordfish). If all Bangalorians are like Honey, I pity Americans about to graduate college. They’re up against a hungry, polite, Excel-proficient Indian army.