LOMYS #1 - To be or not to be, content
The year is 2011, the one in which India won the Cricket World Cup after 28 years. You’re in Kolkata, studying in your 9th grade. Your life revolved around a few things:
School: being the timid and shy boy you’d been all your life. Do you remember the first time when you heard that word, “timid”? Right, your 4th grade class teacher literally wrote that as a part of your overall review in your report card. You were always told that you had to follow all the rules. That those who didn’t abide by them were “bad boys”. You had a lot of friends who would fall under this definition of a “bad boy”. But you couldn’t be one of them. How could you?
Playing cricket with your friends: There was something so primal about the competitiveness of each game. Every day, you dreamt of being the hero for your team. You would imagine all the vivid possibilities for how the team would be at the brink of a loss, until you stepped in and saved the day in the last moment. Every game was an opportunity to prove yourself. Your worth. A justification for your place in anyone’s team. Every time you’d lose your wicket cheaply, you’d start questioning if you even deserved being in the field. Wondering if others were tolerating your presence just because you were a friend. Eventually, you’d start connecting some imaginary dots in your head to question why did they even have you as a friend in the first place. You were never the cool one. Was it because they had to see you everyday in school and they had no other option? You were always looking to impress everyone so that they had an objective reason to like you. So that they don’t abandon you, one fine day.
Watching TV: As you were coming back home from school, you used to feel super excited by the thought of watching the new episodes of all your favourite TV shows while eating your staple and favourite dal, chawal and aloo ki sabji. Even in your food choices, you were never the explorer. You were happy to stick with the particular combination that you ended up liking. You preferred eating the same meal every day because you didn’t want to risk spoiling the experience of watching each of those TV shows. CID, Hero, Hatim, Sonpari, Shaka laka Boom Boom, Karishma ka Karishma, Shararat, Pokemon, Doraemon (Zindagi sawar doon), ShinChan, Perman (Sooperman se Soo hata do toh Perman ban gaya) , Adaalat, WWE, you used to watched them all. In one way, they were your mirror into how the world is and what is out there. There was always a hero who was striving for justice. Who was doing the right thing. The thing that most around him were unwilling to do or were simply unlucky to not receive the power to do. The characters from these TV shows were a big part of you. They almost felt like your true friends. You actually cared for what happened to these characters. You wanted them to succeed. You were curious to see their story unfold. You even did your homework in the company of these characters (not that it required any focus or attention anyways). You were always afraid of people. You just wanted to be in your room, away from all the attention or Q&A about what’s going on in your life. But, somehow, these characters made their way past your defences as if there wasn’t one in the first place.
Family: You were always hard to manage as a child at home. Once you made a demand, you just wanted it handed over to you in a platter. You wouldn’t take no for an answer. Every morning, as you woke up, you would go to Baba and sleep on his legs. It was like a ritual. He seemed to enjoy it too. A couple of hours later, you would tie his shoelaces, kiss him on the cheeks and bid him goodbye as he set out to go to his office. 9AM was such a rush hour. Everyone was hustling and bustling to get going with their business for the day. There was always a little pain in the middle of your chest when you had to bid goodbye to mom.
Ik baat honthon tak hai jo aayi nahin
Bas ankhon se hai jhaankti
Tumse kabhi, mujhse kabhi
Kuch lafz hain woh maangti
- Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Till the 8th grade, you never considered yourself to be excellent at academics. You were an average student. And so, it was quite easy for you to feel extremely happy on the days that you scored really well, even on something very simple like a class test.
One such day, you noticed that the teacher was about to distribute the results of a test she’d taken some time back. You were quite excited to see your marks as you felt you’d done quite well. Your eyes lit up when you received your answer sheet - 9.5 out of 10. “That’s amazing”, you thought. You were excited to share this with mom and dad, hoping for them to reciprocate your excitement. Mom, as usual, was supportive and encouraging. I don’t remember how she reacted specifically. It didn’t leave a strong enough impression for me to remember, I guess. But when dad saw it, the first words out of his mouth were:
“But what about the 0.5 marks that you couldn’t score? Why did you miss out on that?”
That marked the beginning of a long journey. A battle, that I continue to fight till today. A quest for seeking perfection and raising my bar for what is enough.
I see his intention. He obviously meant well for us. He wanted us to learn from our mistakes. He wanted us to keep aiming to improve. After all, if we became completely satisfied with who we were, we’d never look for areas that we needed to work on, right? We’d stagnate, as a human being, no?
So, I understand that he meant well. But, without any acknowledgement of what you genuinely considered an achievement, your mind interpreted that you didn’t deserve to be happy until you were perfect.
And then, you worked even harder. You wanted the perfect score. And the day arrived. You got a perfect 10 out of 10. That day, you felt, “Surely dad would now feel excited and pat me on my back”. As you shared the news of your victory with him, his response was:
Just that. There was no patting on the back. The tone wasn’t really celebratory. It seemed like it wasn’t a big deal. Test after test, milestone after milestone, you kept seeking for their approval. All you got was, either “Why couldn’t you score more?/you made a mistake here/you could have done better” or “Good”.
And so, this was the conclusion that you arrived at:
You should not make any mistakes and get things in the first go. You need to be perfect.
Achieving anything is not really a big deal. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Move on to the next goal.
Sirf main hoon
Meri saansein hain aur meri dhadkanein
Aisi gehraiyaan, aisi tanhaiyaan
Aur main, sirf main
Apne hone par mujhko yaqeen aa gaya
- Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
I know now that that is not objectively true. But that doesn’t change the fact that I still continue to feel the same thing. However, a lot of progress has happened over the last few years on this front:
I’ve tried doing a whole bunch of things with the hope that achieving the milestones attached to them will give me the satisfaction that I’ve been looking for. The contentment that is missing from my life.
As an outcome of this journey, I’m grateful to have become aware that this exists within me. That it exists within you.
I’ve been able to trace the source of this void.
I’ve learnt about a lot of things that don’t work.
But the question still remains:
What is enough? When can I start patting myself on the back? When can I be proud of myself?
This is the first volume of a new series that I’m starting - Letters tO My Younger Self (LOMYS). Every time I used to make an observation in the past, I had to add several disclaimers to state that others could have a different experience and that, this is just my own. Whenever I wanted to share a few learnings, I found it hard to avoid coming off as if I am prescribing. Knowing how different people are coming from totally different places and can have completely different needs, I find it hard to prescribe anything anymore. The one person I can advice with any sense of authority or share stories with without the need for a disclaimer, though, is my younger self. There is a lot that has remained unsaid between us. It’s time to start clearing the air.
Let the healing begin!
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