Don’t ask: “What should I do that people will be proud of me?”
Ask: “What should I do that I will be proud of me?”
Disclaimer: This may not be relevant to a lot of already self-aware people, but I’d like to share it with those who are still looking for answers.
We often, unknowingly, choose our goals and careers based on the perceptions of people around us: they could be friends, family, or simply the strangers on our social media feeds. We often view ourselves from the perspective of the world, rather than the perspective of ourselves, and this is one of the primary mistakes that lead us into making the wrong choices.
The better part of our life is often spent in trying to gain the approval of others.
We do this by enrolling ourselves in fancy-sounding colleges, travelling to fancy-sounding places, getting married in a fancy-sounding destination, and doing fancy-sounding things. We think, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I did a scuba diving course off the Havelock islands?”, and so we do it, and then we wonder why it didn’t make us happy. Or we think, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if I worked at VOGUE?” and we do it, and then we wonder why it didn’t make us happy? Or we think, “Wouldn’t it make me so happy if I won all these awards?” and then we win it, and after the momentary elation we wonder why it didn’t make us happy? And similarly there are a hundred things we do that sound amazing, and as a result make us, momentarily, feel super-proud of ourselves. However, after the initial phase of excitement, when we are back at home at the end of a long day or on a weekend, we feel a void – and we can’t understand what’s missing. We try and talk to others, but they often don’t understand – they either tell us that we are “overthinking”, or that we are “cribbing”, that we need “therapy”, we need to “meditate”, “workout”, “go out”, “get married”, “calm down”, “accept ourselves”, and a myriad other suggestions, that while sensible, may not be an accurate response to our predicament.
So, how do we fight the nagging voice in our head?
It’s definitely not easy as most of us blame ourselves and over-critique ourselves by assuming we are in the wrong. That if people around us are going ooh and aah at our seemingly “cool” achievements, then we ought to be happy. That the dissent is in our heads.
While, we are in the wrong, the reason for it is often different from the ones above, and difficult to place, and stems from the inherent need in some of us to “appear” a certain way, rather than “be” a certain way.
Start by asking:
“What should I do, that will give my life purpose?”
“How should I be, that will make me happy?”
There is no easy way of arriving at the answers. We may take days, weeks or even months to come up with an answer. And even then, we may not be sure.
From starting a family, to teaching children, from social work, to lawyering, from travelling the world, to starting up, from aiming for CEO, to making art, every person has a different life problem to solve – and none of them should be looked down upon. If a person believes shattering the glass ceiling is what will give her a sense of achievement – she should do it. Or, if another person believes shattering the glass ceiling, while “cool”, is not for her: she’d prefer having a simple job while concentrating on her family – that’s great too.
The toughest part is eliminating all the noise, until our true purpose stares back at us.
And even after we’ve figured that out, it’s going to be tough. Easier than before, but still an uphill walk. Our families may want us to get married, our husbands may want us to devote more time to them, our friends may think we’re being childish, our boyfriends may think the path we’ve chosen is not how things should be, and even the random colleague at work may have an opinion.
And we may, at our weaker moments, succumb to the pressure: After all if everybody feels something is wrong with our paths, there must be, right? Wrong. This feeling is dangerous because it leads us to over-critiquing ourselves to the point where we can’t decipher which way is up. Where life seems to be a constant rumble, and we seem to be drowning unaware of the surface.
In these moments, what we need to understand is not everybody is built like us, and so, not everybody can understand the pulse of what we feel. What is just a “job” for the next person, is a “life purpose” for us. Sure, it may seem like a first world problem, and it probably is. For somebody fighting for her survival, her life purpose is obviously different. But for us, who have luckily gotten the basics sorted, we need to do what we can to contribute to the world in a way that makes us sleep better at night. And the definition of this “contribution” is different for all.
A 10-year-reunion at my school where everybody from my batch shared their stories, helped me clarify and arrange a lot of thoughts in my head. It helped me understand the meaning of doing something one genuinely loves, and it’s often not what you think you love – which is often the idea of a certain profession rather than the profession itself – but what you actually do – the difference is massive and often requires a lot of work to decipher.
I am just starting to ask myself the right questions. And little by little, beginning to answer them. However, what I am learning in this process is that I will have to muster all of my strength and go against the wills of a lot of people: to be honest, it’s scary. But I do pray, I don’t give up, and that I continue fighting for what I believe in.
I hope you can too.