In this video, I talk about validation, vindication, and victory over external pressures in the seven years that I’ve lived in the USA. It took a while to gather my thoughts on this one.
Here are the key points I discuss:
Life after school
My time in the USA can be divided into two distinct phases: the two years I spent in grad school, and the 5 years spent working post graduation. The key question I had to contend with after I graduated was- “What are you if not a student?”. For about two decades of my life, the primary objective had been to get educated and get degrees. My entire routine revolved around it.
Even activities outside of studies were viewed through an academic lens- they were called them “extracurricular activities”. In my opinion, pursuing those activities was still tied into the overarching goal of looking good on a resume.
Trying to find the answer to that question leads me to the next point.
Creating an identity
I got into the habit of journaling my thoughts in a diary, and writing blogs about my experiences when I moved. Over the first few years of my time in the US, I started developing a sense of identity around being someone who writes. I wrote on my blog, I wrote for pocketnow.com, I wrote for grad school… it was the one thing I was confident about being good at.
My sense of identity as “the writer” was challenged when I got some very critical feedback from one of my professors. It took a while to cope with and get through the turmoil that caused me, because it challenged one of my core beliefs that I held on to very strongly. I wrote a few things thinking through that whole ordeal (I even made a video about it), and over time, I started looking to improve other aspects of my life, like working on my public speaking.
I look back at this time fondly, because although it was challenging, it led me to develop other facets of my life and personality. I would even go as far as to say that the impulse to start making videos had its origins in that “critique event”.
Validation of my personality
I’ve always been an introverted and reserved person. Growing up, I always heard from my parents, my teachers, and others around me, that I needed to have “smartness” and that reserved people never get ahead in life. They always implied that being reserved and introverted meant you were a moron or a simpleton, whereas being extroverted meant you would be a “go getter” and that extraversion was the key to success. My personality was always invalidated. It’s a societal issue- you don’t need to look further than to see how many “personality development classes” there are in India. The implication that there were no personality types, just “acceptable personality” and “bad personality” pervaded my mind space throughout my life.
The fact that I went to another country, got a master’s degree, and found a job in the field of my liking all while being true to myself the whole time was the biggest validation of my personality. When you’re not burdened by the yoke of putting on a persona for the world at large, you can really focus on achieving what you want.
Being okay with my life choices
This was the point that took a long time to come to terms with. Everyday in media and on social media I see a vision of the ideal life being marketed to me, and it’s almost impossible to escape its hold. One of my biggest lamentations in life used to be how I didn’t go through the life experiences that a lot of others had. All the fun and frivolity that I was supposed to have, or that I should have had. I came to this country in my early 20s, and my peers kept telling me how I had the best opportunity to “enjoy my life”.
In a sense, the words of my peers simply echoed the arbitrary milestones that society lays out. As if life stops when you turn 30, and all of a sudden you are too old for those frivolities, and that you will never be able to experience that in your life past that age. As if I was to be handed a report card on my 30th birthday showing me how badly I had done in my personal life in my 20s. As the years wore on, that internal deadline approached closer, and that made me more and more despondent. I was a loser. I had failed in achieving those fantasies laid in front of me by others, by social media, by movies, and TV shows. I couldn’t make that happen for myself. I couldn’t manifest it into reality. I had neither the internal drive to seek it out nor the intestinal fortitude to see it through.
It is true- I didn’t take any chances. I didn’t take many risks. I can call that making a sacrifice, or I can call it wasted time- either way, that time is gone now. It can be a lifelong regret, or maybe it’s just a matter of getting old enough to be able to view that time with rose-tinted glasses. But the fact is- if I had fully internalized it and made it my life goal to be that kind of person- a player, a risk-taker, a Casanova, a whatever you want to call it- I would have made the effort towards achieving it. It wasn’t my life goal, though. I just wanted simpler things, like fulfilling the dreams of my childhood. I wanted to experience my surroundings and find a group of friends, a tribe, someone who I can confide in and talk to, an inner circle if you will. I wanted other things, like wanting to establish myself in my career, wanting some certainty on the professional front, things of that nature, very boring, mundane things. I wanted to spruce up the apartments I lived in, with posters and books and other small trinkets. I wanted to spend an entire weekend playing video games. I wanted to go to local breweries and try out their seasonal brews. I wanted to go to local cafes and restaurants and have coffee or meals by myself as I people-watched. I wanted to clean my house slowly and methodically while I listened to music or podcasts. I wanted to take long walks in local parks just to breathe freely and think through things. Things to do by myself, alone, to charge my internal battery up.
I did half-heartedly try enjoying those frivolous things here and there in these seven years. It always felt like I was fumbling around like a blindfolded four-year-old with a baseball bat in hand trying to swing at a hanging piñata. For seven years I have been swinging aimlessly, and for seven years, I’ve hit nothing but air. I have yet to make it rain candy from the piñata’s papier-mache belly.
There are only two paths this train of thought can lead to. On one hand, I could blame myself for not being able to play “the game”, for not being the kind of person that fulfills those societal milestones, or for at least pretending to like what most people seem to like. Or, I can accept that all of this is just a matter of time and a matter of luck. That there’s a fundamental absurdity and meaninglessness to everything, and that nothing is owed to me. The latter is the more relieving of the two, to be honest. It takes the burden of performance away from me and allows me to believe in myself, to stay true to who I am as a person.
In the end, I did what made me happy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can relate to everything you’ve talked about here.
Societal pressures exist in probably every culture, and from every age group.
I remember how fake and unnatural it feels to try to match up to these expectations. It feels more wholesome to be who you are, even if it draws unsolicited advice and commentary.
Glad to hear this resonated with you. Dealing with the unsolicited advice and commentary you mentioned can be difficult, but I guess the key to that is to have a good group of supportive people around you.