I was listening to one of my relatives tell me how her daughter was unnecessarily anxious of her future and desperate to be the best in others’ eyes. I was thinking of my trainees when she talked. As a trainer who has come across thousands of youngsters and interacted very closely with them, I can say with complete certainty that out of all the trainees I’ve had, only less than 10% were really happy with what they were doing. The rest were there for an array of reasons – compulsion from family, anxiety about future, not getting a job they wanted and hence settling for something, and most of all, proving to the entire world that they were doing something and not wasting away their life. None of the reasons came anywhere close to really wanting to do that particular job or pursuing a career in that field. And the result was inevitable frustration, right from day 1 – crying, fuming, hating and regretting.
I can understand how some of them were left with no option and joined because they had to take care of financial responsibilities at home. I will never blame them for getting into a job, even if they were not completely happy with it. But what about the rest of them? It was that thought that made me start giving them a talk on the very first day of my sessions with them, from my sixth month as a trainer. I tried telling them that letting go of everything they want in their life in the name of “sacrifice for parents” is not really something that works out in real life, as the more frustrated they became with what they were doing, the more they would drift away from their parents too. I tried telling them that trying to be happy by doing what they loved was not selfishness; it was something that could make others close to them happy too – if not in the short run, at least in the long run. I tried telling them that wasting even a single minute of their life was a huge crime, as they would never have the chance to turn back time and redo everything. I tried telling them that they would love coming to work no matter how unbearably irritating their colleagues and supervisors were or how bad things got, only if they really enjoyed doing what they did.
All of them listened, all of them nodded, most of them agreed that they were not there because they wanted it; but only 3 or 4 of them had the guts to walk out and pursue what they really wanted in life. I am happy that I could influence at least those 3 or 4, while the others went on with the frustration in an effort to prove their worth to the world and ended up losing themselves, in their quest for external validation.
I wouldn’t lie; after living all my life doing things that I felt were right, I faltered very recently, if only for a few hours. I guess it was the Facebook influence. While photos of mine which reflected only my smile were getting 400-500 likes, my blog posts which reflected my work were getting hardly any. My blog hit, which had shot to an all-time high when I moved my blogs to my own site, started dipping drastically. There was hardly anyone sharing my posts. And I let it affect me for one day, when I sat down and cried. I wailed in front of Hari saying how the response was cold even when I was writing the same way as I was before, how no one seemed to care anymore, how it looked like a futile effort sometimes with almost no appreciation, how there were only less than ten people who were sure to read everything I wrote, how I was scared to write a story that I always wanted to write although it would be a trashy novel, how I knew people would laugh at me for writing something that dumb if my story ever came out, and how I was worried if the reason no one wants to read what I write is that I am really bad at writing.
He kissed me on my forehead, wiped my tears and told me what I knew in my mind, what I wanted to tell myself – to write because it made me happy, to write because it was what I wanted to do, to write for myself and not for others, the way I have always done it, and that whether anyone else read it or liked it, he and I would always love it, trash or not.
Listening to him brought back a picture that one of my old colleagues had posted on my Facebook wall a while ago. It was about a woman who is unapologetically herself. She had shared the picture with a caption, “Yours was the face that came to my mind when I saw this”. It made me happy and quite proud too, because that was what I have been almost all my life – “unapologetically myself”.
I was looked at as a rebel by quite a lot of people, including my family at one point. When I fought at home at the age of 16 against my family’s and the society’s wish to see me pursue BTech and become an engineer, when I put my foot down and told them I was going to join an arts college to do my B.A. in a dual course of Literature and Administration, I was told I was ruining my life. When I decided to leave my first job as I didn’t want my career being shaped as a Sales Manager, when I kept looking for an HR job and ended up becoming the HR Executive of a small company, getting 7000 rupees as salary against the 19000 rupees at my first job, I was told I would be looked at as a failure. When I kept laughing about profiles from a matrimonial site and declining marriage proposals at 26 because I was not ready to get married to someone I didn’t know or love, when I said I didn’t mind staying single all my life if I had to, I was told I would end up alone and regret what I was doing. When I left my job in the corporate world after 6 years of doing things that I loved and had secured a not-so-bad bank balance despite a long run of below-average salary, when I decided to stay at home and write as that made me happy, I was given looks that clearly said “Another bimbo wasting her degree and feeding off her husband”. Every time I spoke my mind and stood up for what I believed in, every time I refused to go with the flow just because everyone else was doing it, every time I said I wouldn’t do something that I felt was wrong, I was looked at as an arrogant, outspoken snob.
When everyone was busy telling me how the society would perceive me and how the society would judge me, I was busy living my life on my own terms. That was not me being a rebel, that was not me being unorthodox or progressive, that was not me doing something great; that was just me being “unapologetically myself”.
I am sure at least some of you would be thinking “She could do all that because she could afford it.” To an extent, yes, that is true, at least for the time when I was doing my studies. But it wasn’t that way all my life. If I have made hard decisions on my career choices, that was only because I was willing to sacrifice a lot on account of a lower salary, not because my Dad would pay for everything. And trust me, all those decisions which were frowned upon by others were the ones that ultimately made my family happy too – my studies, my job, my marriage – everything.
That day, listening to Hari tell me to just be who I have always been, I realized how lucky I was, that I could live a life of no regrets, devoid of any efforts to prove myself to anyone, being “unapologetically myself”. Try that, you will live a fuller life and die a happier person!