However corny it may sound, it really boils down to the basics. Love more openly, laugh whole-heartedly, stay curious, poop out the negativity and keep forgiving yourself
With 2019 coming to an end, I was all set to write a memo on what I’ve learnt this year. But then I met a friend who reminded me of the quote, “People Tend To Overestimate What Can Be Done In One Year And To Underestimate What Can Be Done In Five Or Ten Years”. Soon, I found myself scurrying down a rabbit-hole of memories that’d been lying untouched for a while now. Analysing and understanding moments that stayed, thinking about what they taught me. To my surprise, the quote held true and I realised just how much had I’d changed and evolved over time. The following observations are one person’s account of how the world works for her. But of what I’ve observed of people, I thought some of these might resonate with you too:
1. If you really want something and work towards it, you will get it
Now, I know how general and oversimplified this sounds. But it is that simple. If you strongly aspire to be or do something, you’d do everything in your creative and material capacity to make it happen. If you don’t get it the first few times, you’d keep trying until you do. You’d amend tactics and change strategies, but you’d keep at it. And if you don’t, you probably don’t want it anymore. You might decide to want something else, which you’d then work towards and get, sooner or later.
Understanding that desire and directed effort can get you what you want, was liberating for me. Until my early twenties, I felt limited by who I was and what I could dream of: I was doomed to stay fat forever; only women who were rich or tall or had an enviable metabolism could have the amazing body I craved for. Or I had to keep my head down and go do a technical PhD, after all I wasn’t born crafty enough to be on the business side of things or earn the big bucks.
But I really wanted to get fit. So I starved myself and lost weight. When it all came back, I learnt kinder ways to lose it again. I started running regularly and learnt to love food again; I went for Yoga classes and did strength training. And I really wanted to work with people and not machines. So after spending 2 years hating my engineering jobs and realising it, I took the first exit option I got and tried starting my own company. Bad idea, great experience. It got me into talent acquisition, a job that relies heavily on my ability to influence people.
2. Multiple realities can exist at the same time
Human beings are complex, motivated by a variety of desires and emotions that might make their actions hard to understand. As a kid, I knew a friend whose Mom ran away. We were so quick to dismiss her as callous and unloving: how could a mother abandon her children? Does she not love them? In hindsight, she probably did love them. But she could have been so unhappy in her marriage that she felt compelled to do this for herself. In fact, things must have been really bad for her to leave them and go. Who knows if she suffered way more than they did?
It also came to my notice how misleading certain situations could be at first glance. It would turn out that the very people hugging each other tightly in a photograph happened to dislike each other. Or people known to be best friends would be found criticising each other when their friend wasn’t around. This baffled me to the core. Did it mean that these people were not friends or didn’t value each other as much as they said they did? Were they being two-sided?
I don’t know, but I now believe that people aren’t two-sided; people are multi-sided. It’s possible that in the moments that they criticised their friends or vented about it, their frustration was real. But it’s also possible that they still considered them just as close as they said they did, despite of it. Accepting multiple realities is both confusing and uncomfortable. But it is often the case, and once you come to terms with it, it helps you understand the world so much better.
3. Less is more is great advice, but it depends on how you interpret it
My interpretation of less is more is simply this: the fewer the things you do, the more time and effort you put into each of them. And if you’ve chosen fewer things to do, they’re probably the most important to you. So you end up prioritising what you want, and gain most out of it. This applies to your profession, your hobbies, your activities and even your relationships.
It took me a long time to internalise this. At school and college, I dabbled in music, dance, acting, public speaking, writing, swimming, badminton, art, olympiads and what not. Guess how many I got good at? None. The dopamine that kicks in when I recite this list to people makes up pretty much most of the value I got out of doing it. What about the lateral skills I gained that made me who I am today, you might argue. Sure, but do I think picking one or two of these activities and doing them well would have given me the same lateral skills? Sure.
Another interpretation of less is more is physiological. Doing nothing but breathing (meditation) slows down conscious activity and lets our body and mind take over to work their magic, as if on autopilot. Despite multiple failed attempts to sustain a routine with meditation, I believe in its potential. I have been acquainted with cousins of meditation, like journaling and active listening. In fact, some of my best conversations have been ones where I haven’t spoken at all, just listened as closely as possible.
4. Collaborate with, don’t compete against
Collaboration with signifies co-creation and synergy. Competition against indicates a zero-sum game, it’s destructive. You vs. Me, as if it’s the Hunger Games. Put it this way, it does feel more intuitive to be more collaborative rather than competitive.
And yet, it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn. Because right from the start, we’re incentivised to compete. First for grades and ranks, then for jobs and promotions, then for wealth and social status, it just goes on. But the funniest bit is, the most notable things I’m proud to have accomplished have been results of teamwork, not beating someone else. Working together has been far more rewarding for me, than against.
Winning alone isn’t lonely, it’s impossible. You think you’ve won, till you look around you and there’s no one left. You’ve defeated your opponents, some of whom were your friends, and now there’s no one left to celebrate your victory with. What about those who weren’t in the race to begin with? Your family, friends and well-wishers? Sure, they’d celebrate for you. But would they truly be able to understand or relate? Would they be able to celebrate with you?
Next time, try including people in your journey. An exam, a job interview, or a wedding. They’re probably in the same boat as you, tackling the same issues. Address them together, learn from and build upon each other. Regardless of who wins in the end, it’ll feel like a shared victory because you were in it together.
5. Learn to make your own decisions, and own them
The decisions that I regret making weren’t those with the worst consequences, but those that I let others make for me. Too often, I’ve based my choices on others’ opinions. The uncertainty was painful, and it felt good to have someone else remove it swiftly. But I could never seem to get rid of wandering feelings of regret (What If…) about the alternatives that I could have chosen. Because then I’d know why I chose them when I did, and be able to make peace with the outcomes.
Don’t get me wrong, listening to opinions of well-wishers is a fantastic thing to do. In fact, do more. Gather information from more sources, do your research, speak to experts and people who’ve made the same decisions in the past, understand the consequences. But then consolidate all of this and use your own judgement to make the final call, because you know yourself better than anyone else. And once you’ve made a decision, own it completely, knowing you did the best you could.
6. Most things that make you happy don’t cost much
I speak for myself, and what gives you joy could be very different. But somewhere along the line I started making a mental note of things that regularly made me happy. And most of them seemed downright silly. Laughing raucously with friends over something we found particularly amusing, enjoying a steaming cup of coffee on my balcony, playing with other people’s babies (promptly taking a break when it was time for a diaper change) or dogs, running on an open track with a cool breeze caressing my face, playing with children’s toys or giving warm tight hugs to people I love.
Yes; getting a new job, or a pay raise, or my wedding ceremony made me happy too. The rush is undeniable! But they created peaks of ecstasy that soon subsided. Sometimes, these were followed by peaks of misery. The pain that came with the rejections was just as undeniable! Through the ups and downs, it was the little things that kept me sane. Regardless of time and circumstance, I could build my own happiness. I could still sip my coffee on the balcony or go for a run in the cool breeze.
7. Most good things come with time. So learn to be patient, remind yourself of the positives and learn diligently from the negatives
None of the things I’m grateful for today, came easy. For me, I don’t recall anything that seemed like a quick-fix or dumb luck to have lasted. Some things do seem to happen to us overnight, without any effort whatsoever. In fact, I like to believe that everything – all the effort we’ve put in thus far – comes together for us to be able to achieve them. Was it just dumb luck that the first guy I met at college happened to become my partner of 7 years and eventually my husband? No. It took 7 years of wanting to make it work. It took a whole lot of honest conversations, learning from our mistakes and dedicated effort.
As a child, I used to complain about how I never got lucky at Bingo. I felt that it was unfair how some were just plain lucky while I always had to work for it. Well, Thank Heavens it turned out that way. Imagine how dull it’d feel to win something not knowing why you won. If you’re like me, it’d feel odd and undeserved. It’s like stepping up on the weighing scale a day after stuffing your face with pizza and brownies, and finding out you haven’t gained any weight. Relieved, but undeserved. Thank God I got away this time, I promise to never do it again.
At a later point, I found myself constantly worrying about not achieving goals that I’d set for myself. And I’m not alone in this; I find an increasing number of people joining me in this nerve-wracking worry party. Why am I not married yet, why didn’t I go do a MBA, why haven’t I started my own thing yet, my career hasn’t quite shaped up the way I wanted it to by now, why don’t I have more likes on my profile picture…goals are good. Goals are symptoms of desire and desire is proof that we’re alive and wish to grow. Amidst all of this, we forget an important dimension: time.
Set all the goals you want, be ambitious and dream big. But remember that these things take time. When I look back to think about the things I’d hoped for 10 years back, I have most of them today. They didn’t come overnight, or in 5 days or 3 months or even a year. But gradually, one by one, they came.
And I do believe that they will come for you too. You’ll see.