The one thing I regret losing in my pursuit to do something meaningful
Till 2014, like most Indian kids, I had spent my entire life staying in one 3-bedroom flat with my family of 7 in Kolkata. I was always the kind of kid who would jump to do anything that he was told to not do. I was always a rebel against any sort of rules imposed on me. And so, when I left my home for college, in a new city, in my own room, with no one looking over my shoulder, I experienced a sense of freedom that I never had.
Freedom from restrictions also came along with freedom on how I chose to spend my time. As someone with access to my own laptop and unlimited, high-speed internet for the first time, that choice was clear - TV series. I used to spend almost my entire day every day just binge watching different shows - Friends, Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, Game of Thrones - you name it. That, combined with a snack to continuously munch on. I abandoned anything that even remotely reminded me of home - including all the good habits that my mother ever tried to instil in me - like hygiene. I was one of the most untidy people that you could have possibly ever met. You could have only reached my bed from the doorstep of my room after making your way through a flood of biscuit wrappers and packets of chips.
I was fresh off a break-up back at home with someone I really cared about. And all my school life, I hadn’t made too many friends outside my school. I didn’t know how to talk to new people. And so, in my first year, within a few minutes of a conversation with any new person, I would bring up my break-up, narrate the entire story of how things panned out and almost every time, start crying.
Yeah, I am not exaggerating.
I also hated my branch in college and that didn’t help - with my lack of motivation to study coupled with my newly found freedom where I could choose to not study if I didn’t want to. That also seemed like the cool thing to do.
I spent most of my first year the way I have described above. Until I stumbled upon Android app development. I was amazed to know that I could make apps that all of us use in our every day lives too. It seemed too good to be true. To have so much power. To be able to put something that I had created onto the hands of other people and become a part of their life.
Once I dove in, I never came back up.
The tech world became my Atlantis. Being able to build things ignited me with a sense of energy that I had never ever felt before. It made me feel that I, too, can have a say in how the world works.
As I started on this path, I quickly realized the ocean of things that one needs to learn and become good at. I was just preparing for the dive in my second year while so many of my peers were already a few feet deep. This is when it struck me that I have “wasted” 1.5 precious years of my college life and I had to catch up with everyone else around me - which in itself seemed like an impossible thing to do.
But it ignited something within me that made me focus singularly on that one goal - make up for the 1.5 years that you have wasted.
For the next 2.5 years of my college life and for the most part of the 3 years since I have graduated, I immersed myself in my work - making it the biggest part of my life - if not, all of it. I used to slog 16-18 hour days each day 7 days of the week, sacrificing sleep on most days because I considered it an utter waste of my time. I am saying this not to boast about it, simply to paint a better picture. I used to skip most of the events, parties, conferences and fests in my college because I believed that I needed to sacrifice that happiness to succeed in my mission of making up for the lost 1.5 years. I spent every summer and winter vacation after my second year doing internships, even if they were for 25 days in a 30-day break. I didn’t consider spending my vacation with my family as a good use of my time. During the last 5 years before the pandemic, my family barely saw me for more than 20 days in a year.
And I didn’t think it was a problem. In fact, I used to look down upon those who couldn’t stay away from their family for more than 2 months.
When my girlfriend at that time asked me to come back to Kolkata for her birthday while I was in an internship (where I was getting a good enough stipend), I didn’t do it because I wanted to save up that internship money and had “work” to do.
Today, whatever I was working on never made it through. Nor did our relationship.
After many sessions of therapy, countless hours of meditation and a lot of introspection, I started becoming more aware of everything around me. In particular, the people around me. I realized that I am not as invested in my relationships as I would want to be. Even though I don’t want to admit it, the proportion of my everyday relationships which are transactional is far more than what I would want them to be. And through no fault of the other person. I am lucky to have people in my life who stuck with me when I was at my worst - when I myself couldn’t see anything good coming out of me. Not only did those people stay with me, but they also accepted me with all my flaws.
But I know that I haven’t appreciated them enough. I know that I have disappointed them on multiple occasions by not showing up for their most important moments as I had some work-related deadline (self-imposed on most occasions). Because for the younger me, you could never possibly both have fun and do great work. They were necessarily mutually exclusive and I had already made my choice out of the two.
Today, as the world is burning around me, with hundreds of people, many of them related to my family and friend circles, dying every day to an invisible enemy, with an entire nation in trauma, when the cost of human life has become so low, with most of my friends (including me) in a constant state of anxiety and numbness, as I get up in the morning to start working, I cannot help but wonder: What have I done?