Results. The outcomes of your actions. The products of a chemical reaction, the solution, the hidden X in a mathematical equation. Results can be so many things, but we tend to talk about results as the positive, tangible, visible product of our efforts.
Recurring Dreams about Examinations
I have recurring dreams from time to time. One is me in an examination hall, writing a paper, or completing an assignment when the time runs out, and I either don’t finish what I was writing, or I do, and the examiner refuses to accept it. The other and by my estimation more universally experienced one is that I got the results of an examination and I did badly.
Whenever I talk about these dreams, it seems to resonate with my peers, especially those who grew up in India or South Asia in particular. It tells you a lot about how the education system we were raised in just sticks in our minds and our psyche, never really leaving, but just fading slightly, like an old tattoo.
As a kid who grew up in India, “Results” generally meant the results of examinations, the most important of which were Standards 10 and 12- secondary and higher secondary education. A lot depends on these results, and a lot doesn’t. Going through all these examinations has an effect on all of us, I guess- it occupies a corner of our mind, and the subconscious uses it to communicate – fear.
The fear, of not measuring up to some invisible ideal. Of not having enough time to do the things we set out to do, within the time we were given to do it. An invisible plan laid out by some invisible man. The invisible examiner, pointing at an invisible watch, with his invisible hands, glaring at you with his invisible eyes. It’s all invisible, all in our heads, but all of us feel the icy glare all the same.
This fear then morphs into insecurity and a deep dissatisfaction- in our childhood we’re so conditioned to see letter grades or numbers associated with whatever we do, and with whatever anyone else does, that we feel dissatisfied when we don’t see that tangible, visible product.
Working Out and seeing “Results”
I’ve been working out for over a year now. I started lifting these small weights, then I slowly trained enough to lift these heavier ones, and then I got these, which are even heavier than that. Two to three times a week, I lift these weights, above my head, or off to the side, and I put them back onto the ground. I FEEL better than how I used to a year ago. I eat better, I sleep better, I feel more limber, more lively, all great things. Despite all these things, the first question anyone ever asks is: “What about your results, though? Where are your results?”. Of course, they’re talking about the visible results- where are your biceps, your triceps, why do you still have a double chin, why don’t you have abs, and so on.
Because, if you can’t see a change, a visible result, It’s all for nothing. I might as well have done nothing at all. Right?
I turned 28 this past November. I think all the time about how I’m going to hit the big three-o in a couple of years. I think about how unremarkable my 20s were. How there were so many things I wanted to do and didn’t. Either because they were withheld from me, or because I withheld myself. Just lists of to-dos left incomplete. One of those I remember I wrote as a joke on my 25th birthday. It was a list of things to learn, starting with “learn to talk to adults”, followed by learning to talk to children, infants, animals, and so on. The only thing checked off was the “talk to adults” part. But that’s just among a whole lot of different insecurities.
I got to thinking about this and I realized I felt like I was going into my 30s feeling like I had a blank scrapbook. Just blank pages. No glitter, no sequins, no fancy pictures. Just an unremarkable man who had an unremarkable decade. And that filled me with dread. It was as if someone was going to hand me a report card on my 30th birthday, showing me how I’d failed to get a good grade in all these aspects of life. Or it’d be worse- they’d show me a report card that just said, “no remarks”. Because I’m an unremarkable man who lived unremarkably through his 20s. And that’s just it, isn’t it- the idea that if you didn’t live out all those fantasies, all those frivolities that they said you should have lived out in your 20s, then the time to do so has run out.
And that’s because certain things have to get done by a certain age- right?
Don’t Believe the Hype
Of course not! My answer to those who clamor for visible results, and to those who think everything should be time-bound, is simple. The first thing is that sometimes you should just do things for their own sake. For the fun of it. You don’t need to turn everything into a test, a competition, or a hustle. You don’t need the imaginary examiner looking at everything that you do. The second is that you have more time than you think you do.
When I was a kid in school, people used to make fun of me for “being in my own world”. The more I grow older, the more clear it is to me that it’s the way to be. It’s kind of like the dude from the big Lebowski, and how he goes about his life. This quote by Gwen Ihnat really captures that character and that philosophy, and I’d like to leave you all with this. She says,
“We envy The Dude for knowing himself, for escaping the need to conform, and for rejecting mainstream society for the little one that grows around him.”
I remember a quote from a professor of mine, Dr. Davide Bolchini. He said it in the first ever Human-Computer Interaction class I ever attended, back in 2014. He said, “UX is a field that always looks UPWARDS.” He then went on to recap the history of the field, its origins, and how it was built on the foundation of finding emergent technology and finding ways to incorporate it into a space in ways that utilized the strengths of the technology while keeping in mind Utility (does it meet a need?), Usability (does it lend itself to be used easily?), Desirability, and Brand Experience.
Sometimes though, a laser-focus on simply moving upwards is detrimental, and the quick adoption of the Clubhouse app by UX thought leaders is a prime example of that.
What is Clubhouse?
Clubhouse is an audio-only social media app that’s aimed at professionals who want to have constructive conversations with one another. From what I’ve seen of it, it seems to have the structure of a moderated panel discussion: there is a lineup of speakers and an “audience” who can join-in and listen to the discussion, like listening to a podcast but live. There’s also the provision of allowing the audience to chime in, but there seems to be a moderator control aspect to it.
To access this app, you need to have an iOS device (as of writing, it’s iOS only), and you need an invitation to be a part of this exclusive community. If that last part sounds like you’ve heard it before, it’s because you’ve probably already seen other services employ this model (Google+, for example). This article does a great job of explaining this strategic exclusivity: (Creating the Illusion of Exclusivity: The Story of Clubhouse)
Exclusivity and FOMO by Design
As the article I linked to above explains, the exclusivity is on purpose. It cultivates the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) in people who want to get in, sometimes by any means necessary (people are selling invites on eBay, for example: (Clubhouse, a Tiny Audio Chat App, Breaks Through).
This feeling of FOMO lies at the heart of my issue with Clubhouse being quickly adopted by so many in the UX community. Discussions in this field have always had the problem of being too exclusive and too insular- knowledge being locked away behind paywalls, in expensive books, and in conferences. To me, using an app that’s promoting itself on the basis of FOMO and platform exclusivity (iOS only!), is the grown-up, elder millennial version of the “green text bubble” phenomenon that’s observed in high school group chats that use iMessage. There, messages sent from iOS devices are indicated with blue text bubbles, and messages sent from non-iOS and non-iMessage enabled devices appear with green text bubbles. This simple design choice creates a social pressure among school students, who are quick to ostracize or make fun of students who don’t have iPhones, sometimes to the extent that they’re left out of group chats entirely. (Why iPhone users sneer at Android green bubbles in iMessage)
Counterpoints to the iOS exclusivity, and my thoughts on that
The immediate counterpoints are that iOS exclusivity may have been necessitated by the nature of product development. This may be a staggered release -they’ve said an Android app is on the way in this statement, along with some other promises: (Clubhouse — 🎉 Welcoming More Voices)
Of course, developing and deploying products takes time, and there are complexities and considerations on each platform. However, I see no roadmaps, no estimated times of arrival, nothing. All I see are ambiguous promises. There is no way for me to know how many weeks or months I will need to wait to even be in the running to grab an invite thrown at me. Like I’m some caged animal desperately waiting for a piece of meat thrown at me by a zookeeper.
Another counterpoint I see is that it really isn’t that long, just a matter of a few months at most. My answer to that is- it IS a lot of time. As I said before, UX is a field that constantly looks upwards. This field moves very fast, and if I don’t have access to the latest, most up-to-date discussions that go on, I stand at risk of falling behind and being out of touch. Yes, I know it’s called the “bleeding edge” for a reason, I know that being at the forefront of everything puts you at risk, but if I want to get cut by the bleeding edge, I should be allowed to do so.
Conclusion- A feeling I am all too familiar with
The immediate acceptance of Clubhouse as the de-facto platform for UX discussions has left a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not to say that this is something I have not tasted before. Ever since the day I took my first step into the UX business, I saw how many closed gardens there existed. How many small cliques, how much insularity there was everywhere I looked. Maybe in our quest to constantly look upwards, we didn’t realize that the field necessitated looking in all directions.
Leah Symonne wrote a brilliant article about “The Cult of Creativity” (The cult of creativity. UX Design doesn’t have to be your… | by Lena | Feb, 2021) where she talks about how much of the community is an echo chamber, a monoculture of people who all think the same way, who liken themselves as purveyors of some arcane wisdom, shunning all other lines of thoughts, pushing away all those who don’t want to make UX their singular personality trait.
I’ve seen this insularity in the community first-hand, ever since that first Human-Computer Interaction class back in Grad School in August 2014. I experienced the sheer apathy meted out to me by the UX community for voicing ideas that were contrary to the established ways of thinking. I’ve been big-leagued by managers of the local chapters of UX-based community organizations when I expressed interest in helping them out. It’s all reminiscent of high school and college cliques- you are either part of them, or you know somebody who knows somebody that can get you in. They say high school never really ends, and that has been my lived experience. I was the invisible man in high school, they didn’t let me audition or try out for the college rock band because I didn’t know the right people, and now, as a UX professional, I’m being left out of yet another exclusive group just because I don’t have an iPhone and an invite.
While I may be disappointingly used to being excluded by a community that ostensibly celebrates different voices- UX is truly a confluence of the most brilliant minds from a variety of different fields, spanning technology, the humanities, and a whole lot more- I am concerned that this is a sign of things to come. A dreadful portent of a future where there are even more subdivisions of this great community into smaller and smaller walled gardens. Where knowledge is locked down even more, and where everyone threatens one another with closed fists rather than welcoming one another with open hands.
I hope we find a way to tear all these walls down before we all end up buried within them.
Hello and welcome back to Shriviews. A lot of you noticed the issue with my last video, with the audio and video being out of sync- that was definitely not supposed to happen, it wasn’t some artistic flair that I added to make things cinematic.
Now, technical difficulties are a common part of video production, especially for me – I don’t have any fancy equipment and I’m just making these videos as a hobby- I have no formal training in videography. This time though, neither the software nor my computer wanted to cooperate with me. The software was choppy and kept freezing on me despite trying all the tricks the different forums suggested online. Not to mention the fact that my computer- one that I built 4 years ago (even blogged about it on my website shriviews.com), really starts hitting the limits of its capabilities when I try to use it for video editing.
I’ve been using the PC that I built for gaming and for work (things like spreadsheets and whatnot) for these past few years without any issues, and I had never set out to build a video editing workstation in the first place so I am not at all surprised that it struggles with that workload, but I’m not frustrated by the apparent obsolescence of my computer on the horizon- in fact, it’s the exact opposite. It has helped me rediscover a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time- the feeling that’s known to many kids in middle-class families who grew up playing computer games in India. The joy you get from getting something to work on a hopelessly feeble PC.
I say that this is a shared experience with some confidence because I knew a lot of kids in the same boat as me when I was in school- we were all trying to get our hands on the latest games, only to settle for bargain bin titles that were years or even decades old most of the time. Even when we did get our hands on the latest and greatest, there was the question of how we would even get these games to run on the computers we had at home. You see, gaming in general was and still is, a luxurious and expensive hobby to pursue in India– enthusiast-level hardware is super expensive, and what’s considered even consumer-level stuff in the western world can get super pricy.
I remember begging my parents for an Xbox 360 when it released and I saw ads plastered all across the neighborhood mall. I remember going to gaming centered cyber cafes and gawking at the PCs with one gigabyte of RAM flat-screen monitors. The one I had at home was a Pentium 4 System with 256 Megs of RAM, positively ancient in comparison. I remember the horror in my mother’s eyes when she took me to one of those and saw a couple of zombified looking guys staring intently at their computer screens playing Counter-Strike 1.6 in a seedy, dimly lit room with the occasional expletive being hurled at no one in particular.
But even if the hardware and the games were more affordable, I have a feeling that most kids would still be bereft of videogame induced joy, because even if you can afford video games, your parents still have to let you play them in the first place. I don’t know about parents these days, but my parents definitely thought video games were unproductive, a waste of time, and in the case of my mom, tantamount to gambling (I think she made that connection from the aforementioned seedy gaming den).
Despite all these obstacles and limitations, we still found ways to find games and make them work on our computers, whether it be by cranking the settings down to their lowest levels or even sometimes messing around in config files. The end result was usually a blurry, pixelated mess with missing textures and all sorts of weird glitches. I vividly remember going through all those things to get GTA 4 to run at 24 frames per second. I even played through the game with that experience- twice! In the end, the experience of playing the game wasn’t limited to the game itself, but the experience of buying the game, getting it to install, trying to get it to work, trying to get it to run at a framerate that wasn’t a complete slideshow, talking about games with your friends and nerding out about them, really wringing out every last drop of enjoyment out of each and every game that we had. I might even argue that the fact that videogames were so looked down upon added to the enjoyment- we fancied ourselves to be rebels engaging in some underground activity, in an age where gaming was starting to grow out of being an underground subculture, a time where it didn’t have the widespread mainstream appeal it has now.
These days, gaming is pretty commonplace- the smartphone has taken over as the device of choice for a lot of people. In my case, I was able to build my own PC after years of dreaming about it. Seriously though, I was lucky to have a computer parts store where I lived, where I got to see shelves full of parts and components and just pick stuff out- something couldn’t even fathom as a kid. In a way though, building a gaming PC and getting all my games as digital downloads took away the challenge of getting a game to work and the weird sense of joy and accomplishment that came with it. This is why, when I started encountering the choppy and unresponsive software, and I could hear my computer’s cries for help as it struggled to render 1080p video, I was transported back through all of these memories- memories of a uniquely Indian PC Experience.
That’s the end of this video- let me know what you thought about my PC Gaming memories, chime in with your experiences in the comments. Thanks for watching, and remember-
There is no I in “team”- but there is an I, in “profit”.
I haven’t been uploading any new videos of late because I haven’t been in the mental state to create things. My creativity was blocked because there were a lot of things on my mind, a lot of suspended particulate matter that makes everything hazy and unclear. I just needed something to go my way, anything at all.
That breakthrough came in the form of me finally getting my driver’s license for the state of Tennessee after 5 months of moving to the state. After 5 months of being stuck in red tape and having no choice but to wait, I can finally officially say that I’m a resident of this new state that I reside in. I talked about how car ownership and how the ability to drive is at the core of the American experience in a blog post I wrote a while ago. I can finally say that I’ve settled into my new place of residence, even though I have been living here for over 5 months now. I can finally say that the new chapter of my life has begun in earnest.
This saga got me thinking about the long and short of settling into a new place, a new chapter of life. It took 2 days to set up my living space. But it took over 5 months to get my Driver’s License- the key proof of residence, the key to mobility in this car-first ecosystem where pedestrians are an afterthought, and foreign passports are somehow unacceptable as proofs of identity nearly everywhere.
In the interim, my mind was full of thoughts about all the plans, wishes, and fantasies that have gone unfulfilled so far. You see, ever since I moved to the US in my early 20s, I heard the usual off-hand comments that implied I was on borrowed time, and that there was an eventuality waiting for me as I grew older. There were these unwritten deadlines written by society, by ancestors decades or centuries ago. These forces pulling me in some direction because it’s “what’s best for me”.
Living in the USA as a financially independent 20-something, I have the most agency I have ever had in my life, and yet, I am powerless in many aspects. I mean, think about it- I am living in the US on a work visa right now, and I have a long way to go when it comes to really settling here, owing to a bunch of factors beyond my control.
The lyrics to Riders on the Storm come to mind:
“Into this house we’re born, into this world we’re thrown”.
That concept of being thrown into this world, born into conditions beyond our control. These conditions affect how we live and experience the rest of our lives.
I couldn’t control where I was born, and how I was raised. When I moved to the US, I looked at it as an opportunity to start afresh, to make mistakes and learn from them on my own accord, without judgemental eyes stalking my every move. Moving halfway across the world brought its own challenges with it though- having to deal with red-tape all by myself was one of them.
As I saw myself being trapped in this red tape, I began to see all the other ways in which I hadn’t really escaped the circumstances in which I was born and raised. I began seeing those deadlines again. I began seeing those existential dead ends that society has ordained to be the ideal conditions, the happily ever afters that you aren’t supposed to question. You know what I mean- having a wife and kids, living in a house encircled by a fence and a back yard, having cordial relations with neighbors and some kind of social group that you’re a part of only to satiate your social needs and sense of community, a group that runs purely on quid pro quo but tries to convince itself that it’s formed on some deep connection.
Is that really all there is to life? Wife, Kids, Social Groups? Well, yes, that really is all there is. There comes a time where you come to terms with the inherent absurdity of the universe, and everyone’s silence on the matter. It is at that point where you either take refuge in the belief system of your choice, or you accept a nihilistic approach. Or, you decide to rebel against all of it- against both the absurdity of the universe and the world’s silence on the matter. To decide to live the way you want to live, and to give in to neither ends of this problem, just because you can.
That’s the sense of agency that I want to exercise through the videos that I make. To exercise the right to talk about whatever I want to talk about, instead of simply talking about things that people want to hear, or the algorithm wants to push, or anything else will make this video go viral- whatever that may be.
In the end, with my driver’s license finally approved, I want to revel in this sense of closure. Of finally feeling like I’ve embarked on a new chapter in my life. Maybe I’m still hurtling towards some eventuality, or maybe it’s all unknowable and absurd, but I feel like I bought myself some time, and regained a sense of agency and control in my surroundings.
I had these thoughts circling in my head for a while now and I needed to talk about them before I went about with the regularly scheduled programming. Life is weird in general these days, and my ruins with bureaucracy and subsequent intrusive thoughts only serve as a microcosm of life: the fact that this small thing was resolved but so many questions still remain is in and of itself what life is all about. About how you decide to live it, given the things you can’t change. About the journey, and not the destination.
Thanks for watching. Like this video if you liked it, share it with someone if you think they’d like it and remember:
“The difference between marketing and propaganda is ______”
Today I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback. When I first set out to make this video I wanted to talk about a couple of life experiences and what they taught me about giving and receiving feedback, but I soon realized that the subject of feedback has a lot of nuances that I couldn’t do justice from my own experiences alone. So I decided to get some, well, FEEDBACK from a few people, and I got a lot of different perspectives from them.
First off I realized I have to define the scope of what I’m about to say. I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback on someone’s creative expression. I’m not talking about getting feedback in a work environment. I’ll tell a story about it- I wrote a blog post about something I learned in grad school called self-determination theory and sent the first draft of it to the professor who taught it to me. I was expecting some criticism of what I’d written, but in the email, he sent me he started off with the sentence “Your writing needs work”. He then proceeded to completely eviscerate my writing. I mean I hadn’t seen that many red lines since I was in elementary school. He did, however, say that he really appreciated the amount of thought I’d put into the piece.
I’d like to pause the story here to talk about some lessons that I took from that experience. The first lesson, keep in mind the relationship between the feedback giver and the receiver. In this case, It was between my college professor (giver) and his former student (receiver). Second, context is key – he was giving me feedback from an academic perspective, thinking from the mindset of writing a paper or academic piece, while I was writing from a personal perspective. With that in mind, we discussed it over a few emails and hashed it out.
But I remember being very shaken by that experience. For the next several months I felt terrible about it. I’d created a sense of self-worth around being a writer and that was my self-identification, and it was all shattered by four words – your writing needs work. I introspected and realized that maybe I really wasn’t looking for feedback; maybe, I was looking for validation. That’s what really happens these days- you post something online, you wait for the validation from social media- you have the words “feedback welcome” in your post but you really just want people to encourage you, and when someone does the opposite, you entrench yourself further into your own mindset and try to find things that support it (Confirmation Bias). The important thing is to understand this impulse and curtail it.
How I got out of that negativity was by trying to improve myself- I began working on my public speaking skills through Toastmasters, and I found a club that gave me feedback but also gave me a whole lot of encouragement. It also opened my mind up to different avenues of expressing myself. Maybe if it weren’t for that email my professor sent, I wouldn’t have been here making videos!
Speaking of videos, I also realized that it’s important to have a thick skin when you put yourself out there on the internet and to anticipate and prepare for situations where people are being especially mean or hateful.
I’d like to talk about another story that happened recently, where I had a completely different experience with getting feedback. I made a new banner for my social media and posted it online mentioning that it was my first attempt at creating one. Check out my website, my twitter page, and subscribe to my youtube channel while I’m on this topic. I got some feedback from my peers in the User Experience biz, telling me about things like the contrast ratio, font size, and other things about the visual design that I could tweak to make it a more effective banner.
I felt the impulse of retorting, of defending my design, but I realized I’d been in this place before. I decided to look at their feedback objectively. I thought about the goal of a social media banner; it’s about spreading the word, making sure people get the information on it as quickly as possible. I realized that if peers in the User Experience business are giving me feedback about a design I’ve made, they’re taking time out of their day to look at what I’ve created and suggested ways in which I can achieve the goals of the design in a better way, then that’s a good thing.
So I took their advice, made some tweaks, and thanked them for their feedback. To my surprise, someone told me that it was a pleasant surprise for them, and that people tend to stick to their guns and be very defensive about things, and that it was a breath of fresh air to see someone being receptive.
This whole thing was a complete 180 from the time I felt a shattered sense of self from four words by a professor.
All in all, these were two life experiences and two completely different approaches to receiving feedback. I feel like I grew as a person in the interim of the first experience which was a few years ago, and the second experience which was just a few days back.
We live in unique and interesting times. One of the effects of the times we live in is the need for working from home. While it looks pretty straightforward on a surface level, there are certain implications on productivity and creativity, that need to be discussed.
I talk about these issues in my latest video. To summarize it briefly:
Since there is no spatial separation between the home and the office (they are both in the same place), there needs to be a temporal separation (you need to separate work and non-work hours)
It’s perfectly fine not to be able to be creative in times like these. The current times are on everyone’s minds, and there’s an innate expectation in a lot of people, that staying at home will usher in a creative renaissance, an expectation that isn’t coming to fruition, which leads to frustration
The key is to know to give yourself time. Staying at home gives you the illusion of having more time for yourself and your pwn personal endeavors than you really have. So go easy on yourself, and cut yourself some slack
If you liked this video, make sure to hit like, and subscribe to my channel.
I uploaded my first video on February 9th, 2019. In the year that followed, I’ve learned a lot about the process of video creation, and it has influenced my creative process in more ways than one. In this video, I talk about the main takeaways from a year’s worth of videos.
One takeaway was that only 30% of the people who watch my videos are subscribed to my channel. If you’re reading this and aren’t subscribed, please go ahead and hit that subscribe button!
The top 2 countries where my viewers reside are India and the United States. It is tough to think of topics that both audiences can relate to, but I try to mostly talk about my experiences living in the United States as someone who moved here for higher education and to begin their career. I am open to more suggestions though!
Related to this point is the fact that different audiences want different forms of content. Some prefer longer form (20 minutes and above) content, while a lot of others prefer shorter content (3 – 5 minutes). This is corroborated by my retention statistics. On average, people tend to view about 3.5 – 4.5 minutes of the video before they tune out. The solution to that, of course, is to make the videos engrossing enough that people stick around and to ensure that the videos don’t go on for too long.
An effect that making videos has had on me is that it has rejuvenated my creative process. Writing for videos requires a directness that the written medium doesn’t always need.
Those are the 3 major talking points in the video. I hope you watch it, and I also hope you suggest some topics for me to talk about in the future. Here’s to more years of making videos and writing blog posts!
It’s the start of a new decade (unless you want to be pedantic about when decades begin), and what better time than this, to look back at the 2010s, a decade when I stepped into adulthood, got a couple of degrees, and began my career. I’ve broken it into chunks delineated by the aforementioned academic and professional milestones.
2009-2010: The Entrance Exam Gauntlet
Although the decade began in 2010, I want to include 2009 here as well, because that was a crucial time in my life. Crucial, because 2009 was when I began taking the steps towards who I am today.
Of course, at the time it felt like walking barefoot on a gravel path to no destination or jumping headlong into a dark maelstrom of confusion, but I digress.
Some background- I was a teenage kid in Junior College, in the “science stream”, working towards the end goal of a degree in engineering and a career in the tech industry. I was just one among thousands, lakhs, even millions of kids in their late teens, going through the meat grinder, or the sugarcane juice machine if you will.
This two-year period is one of the most mind-numbing periods of the aforementioned teenagers’ lives. All you’re expected to do is pore over textbooks, the only thing anyone ever asks you about is how your studies are going. It usually feels like you’re being pushed through a current having no control over where you are heading- most of the time you do these things because that’s the ordained way of things, the only realistic and practical way of ensuring financial stability in the future. Whether that is right or wrong is another matter- on the one hand, the kids themselves aren’t allowed to explore what they want to do in life, but on the other hand, securing financial independence allows for a better standard of living.
At the end of this period, lies the final challenge- a gauntlet of entrance examinations, the culmination of every academic effort in life up until that point.
Of course, I ran the gauntlet, along with scores of other teenagers and to cut a long story short, let’s just say I managed to earn admission into an engineering college.
Physically and mentally, I was a hormone-addled teenager. Emotionally, the situation was like a bandaid being slowly ripped off- the realization that there was no “set for life”, that there was no “it’ll be easier after you just do this one thing”. An understanding that from then onwards, I would only have more work and less time, that there was no real respite from the “rat race” as everyone likes to call it. You may come out of the meat grinder that is life as a junior college or higher secondary student a fine, stringy, homogeneous paste of a human being, but the real change is the one that lives forever in your brain.
Until very recently, I used to look down upon this time as being one of the worst and most traumatic times of my life, but being ten years(!) removed from it, I can sift through the mud and gravel and cherish the nuggets of gold: the friends I made during those times. Friends who are there for me to this day. The traumatic and stressful times may have served to forge the friendship well enough to see me through the decade and beyond.
2010-2014: Engineering College
A large chunk of the past decade was spent in securing a higher education. Engineering College was a highly regimented affair but a lot of things stand out to me even still. First and foremost, is life as a student at Mumbai University. The university was trying new things at the time, changing things about the way exams are conducted, and to say that they sprung a few surprises on us would be an understatement. I’m grateful for that experience though- it taught us to deal with unforeseen situations in a way that would have taken us decades to learn otherwise.
Another major thing I did at Engineering College was becoming the co-editor of the college magazine, and the co-organizer of literary events. Experience organizing events was a stressful but rewarding experience that involved dealing with bureaucracy, getting the word out, and getting people to attend, among other things.
However, the key thing I always take away from my years in College was how they shaped my tastes. This was the time when I began listening to music for long stretches, whether it be the long walks to and from college, or just long walks around my neighborhood to clear my head, I began forming the habit of listening to whole albums rather than just a song or two to pass the time.
This was also the time I began writing things for the sake of it, writing that wasn’t just for an examination. Shout out to “The Collegian World” and another website that was a football blog whose name I don’t remember- they were my first forays into writing about things that interest me.
Feelings wise, I started to get a grip on my emotions by maintaining a journal. I still believed that feelings had meanings in and of themselves- I kept thinking about what I felt like over and over again and kept coming back to the same spot. The listless and mostly routine life probably kept me in the mindset of doing the same thing over and over again and somehow brute-forcing my way into a breakthrough.
As far as friends go, I think I made some good ones. This was the time I began understanding that the older I get, the less dense the ties of friendship would get. At least in college, it was a lot more of “we’re all in this together” and less of “but what can you do for me, though?”
All in all, I’d describe my days in Engineering College as rowing a makeshift raft, traveling to islands of activity on a mostly still, yet unpredictable ocean. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2014-2016: Grad School
As the decade rolled on, my overall life experience kept going up. It all reached a crescendo between the years 2014 and 2016 when I entered grad school in an attempt to get a Master’s degree. I took an elective called “Human-Computer Interaction” in my final semester in college, and I liked it enough to spend another 2 years making that my Master’s degree specialization.
Studying in grad school was so different from whatever I was subjected to up until that point- the weekly assignments were intense, but there was a degree of “freedom within the framework” that I wasn’t able to fully exercise up until that point. There were rubrics, of course, but there was also a degree of autonomy which made me apprehensive at first but was something I learned to love as time went on.
I also lived with roommates in an alien country and culture half a world away from where I was born. A lot of the real learning stemmed from this experience. The first of which was being extracted from a sheltered, privileged existence, and being forced into a kind of semi-autonomy, or controlled autonomy. Just enough autonomy to learn basic things like taking care of myself, while still being largely financially dependent on my parents.
While my friends in college gave me a feeling of camaraderie; the people I met at grad school were a lot less interested in any form of “stick-together-ness”. Most of the students in my class were older than me and were a lot more jaded due to their experiences in the corporate machine. They often chose to keep their professional and personal lives separate, and were unwilling to let me, a bright-eyed fresh out of college kid with “naive” notions of companionship, into their lives in any earnest way.
I used to get very peeved at this cynical and transactional approach to life. I just wasn’t used to it. Perhaps if I had more people close to my age and experience level, I would have had a different experience. I did learn to deal with it after a conversation with other people in similar situations. I realized I couldn’t continue being mad at them for wanting different things and going about things differently- their moral compasses were pointing in a different direction to mine, and their destinations were different even though they appeared to be the same at first glance. Grad school was just a stopping point along the way.
Despite how purely transactional my experiences with fellow students may have been, I’m glad my roommates were the polar opposite. You have to meet the right people at the right times as they say, and my roommates were exactly the sort of people I needed to experience to fully understand the gravity of my life situation at the time.
I shared a 2 bedroom apartment with a few people in my two-year tenure at Grad school. I experienced people from surprisingly different backgrounds despite usually being from around the same age and backgrounds. It was their lived experiences that I was able to learn a lot from. A lot of my roommates had lived through the struggles of finding a job and keeping it- whether it be dealing with corporate culture in the workplace, or being able to think on your feet as a traveling engineer tasked with solving a whole host of technical and people-centered issues; they had a lot of stories to tell.
It wasn’t just the stories, though- a lot of the things I learned were from simply observing their lifestyle. The urgency when it came to applying for jobs or internships. The waking up early every day to catch a bus and go to work as an intern just to get a foot in the door in the industry. The networking with colleagues and professors to ensure they knew about every opportunity. It was witnessing these everyday actions that spurred me on to act on my career, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
Otherwise, I continued getting better at dealing with my emotions through journaling, continued getting better at being more affable to people, and had just the right amount of challenges and struggles in life to grow as a person. The best years of my life so far.
2016-onwards: Employment and “The Routine”
At the end of my time at Grad school, I was fortunate enough to land a job opportunity to begin as soon as I graduated. There is a huge difference between life as a Master’s student and life as a professional. Life in Grad school was a mile a minute- a lot of things were happening at once, and the frequency of experiences and achievements was very high. Life as a professional, however, is a lot less eventful and varied. Not that that’s a bad thing- having a routine and an occupation is just a part of adulthood.
The thing with having a routine set in life is that a lot of the days just go by really quickly, and before you know it, you’ve been working for over three years. That’s just the thing isn’t it- the routine is just so all-consuming, that you don’t think about all the good things that have happened to you or the challenges you’ve faced. It’s all just one strong current that washes over the rocks and slowly grinds down all the facets until all you’re left with are smooth pebbles.
I am thinking about all the little things now, though. A lot of good things happened, albeit they weren’t landmarks of personal achievement. Met some good people. Formed some connections. Kept putting one foot ahead of the other, and just kept on walking. A lot of the time, that’s all I did, and that’s fine. If you keep looking for the big wave to surf, you miss the hundreds of gentle ones that barely tickle your feet.
That’s the major theme of this, the current period of my life. Mindfulness and gratitude. Being mindful of every small thing. Being grateful for everything I’ve received and earned up until this point. The concept of gratefulness is hard to fathom when you’re going through a rough patch in life when everything seems like it’s going against you. The funny thing about it is that beginning to fathom it is in and of itself a key step towards knowing that the bad times and bad mindsets are beginning to change.
I won’t mince my words about it- in 2019 I faced and overcame, some of the biggest challenges I have ever experienced. I learned a lot from them. I found out that I am a lot more resilient than I thought I was. That I am a lot more loved than I thought I was. That I wasn’t as lonely as I physically appeared to be.
I was able to find a group of people facing similar life situations and find support in our common challenges. I was able to make life more comfortable for myself, by moving into a nicer apartment and buying a car. For all these things, I am grateful. In fact, I am even grateful for the challenges I have faced. As the saying goes,
“Adversity introduces a man to himself.”
Lessons for 2020 and beyond
Looking at this past decade, I’ve learned some things by living through them over and over again. Most notably, that tough times don’t last, and that you shouldn’t miss out on being mindful of the small things that bring you joy while you search for that big surge of dopamine to hit you like how your brain reacted when you experienced eating icecream for the first time. Pure, unbridled joy is an amazing thing, no doubt. Remembering to note every small nice thing is sometimes what you need to do, though. They’re like little matchsticks you can keep in your back pocket. Sometimes a little spark is all you need when darkness envelopes you.
Another thing I’ve learned is that financial independence really gave me a place in society that makes all the struggles worth it- for me at least. A lot of people reminisce about old times and how it was simpler back then and always dream of going back to when they had fewer responsibilities. I don’t mind the responsibilities, at least at this point in life. The independence and sheer amount of agency that I have in life negate any of the desires to go back to a time where I had fewer responsibilities.
Also, I re-framed my mental image as someone’s idiot brother or someone’s disappointing son, or someone’s weird cousin. I was finally able to truly imbibe that fact that I’m loved by my family despite the mistakes I may have made, and that they’re truly proud of what I’ve achieved in life.
All in all, this decade was all about getting an education and a means of gainful employment. In achieving all those goals though, I lived through a whole host of different experiences. I grew as a person, into whoever I am today. I went from being a hormonally charged teenager to a pretty chill but somewhat impulsive adult. I went from being engulfed in emotions to learning to give them their time in the sun while also finding and dealing with the root cause. I went form taking friends and family for granted to understanding that the ties of blood and friendship are so much more important than chasing pieces of paper or numbers on a screen.
The 2010s were a decade where I really grew into my own. It was less of metamorphosis and more of a mundane transition, but sometimes the biggest changes are the ones you don’t outwardly see. Here’s to more growth and change in the years to come.
As a video content creator, I’ve always been interested in trying out new things, and dabble in new formats. I felt like it was time to explore interviewing someone. I had a discussion with my colleague Shasank “Shank” Nagavarapu, where we discussed the latest trend in the US Car Market, which is the trend towards buying Crossovers or SUVs instead of traditional family Sedans.
You can view the playlist here, or you can click on the links below.
Let me know what you think in the comments! I would appreciate any constructive feedback.
As always, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, and follow Shasank’s work on his website, nomadunplugged.com.
I achieved a significant milestone this month— for the first time in my life, I am a car owner. It’s yet to sink in, to be honest. After years of searching, window shopping online, years of research and years of back and forth- I found a great car at a great price, and I had the means to procure it. I even made a quick video about it.
I’ve talked at length about how my thinking about cars changed when I moved to the Midwest. I’ve talked about how having a car unlocks a new level of “American” experience that is totally hidden from view otherwise. I have just started to witness this experience unfold. I’ve been to places new and old in these past few weeks. New places, like the tire shop, to the title agency, to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles… but I’ve also revisited familiar places to experience them in a new light. The parking garage at work. The grocery store. The park. The library. The places are the same, but every time I go somewhere, it feels like I have arrived.
I’ve also talked about the different schools of thought when it comes to cars— cars as an appliance, and cars as an aspiration and a lifestyle. One of my biggest fears was that I would buy a car that was nothing but a daily driving, point-a-to-point-b taking appliance. The mental image is clear as day. A beige Toyota Camry, with faded cataract headlights, and a dirty, brown interior. As dreary as flavorless cornflakes with cold milk for breakfast on a dull, rainy day.
The cars I am lambasting are great machines, no doubt. Marvels of engineering, even. But my problem is what they stand for. To me, they stand for a resignation to one’s fate. The acceptance of a stereotype. The submission of my personal agency to the all-powerful forces of nature and society. The forces that tell you to do things a certain way, at a certain time, and just because that’s the pre-ordained way of things because they said so.
I remember what was on my mind when I made my video about cars. I was dejected. I had been looking for “fun” cars, namely the Toyota 86 and the Golf GTI. However, I was unable to find good examples online despite messing with umpteen filters on umpteen different car-buying websites.
But as they say, good things come to those who wait, and boy did I wait. I waited as good listings came and went because I was waiting for the perfect one. The perfect confluence of the car that I want for the price that I want. When I did find the perfect one, I didn’t hesitate to get a test drive and make an offer. At the end of all of this, I became the proud owner of a 2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
I wish I could go back to the past and tell myself I don’t have to worry about giving in to the “car as an appliance” mindset. I feel like I won a round against an undefeated “heavyweight champion” that goes by many names— time, fate, societal norms, the inherent absurdity of the universe. He may be destined to win in the end, but right now, at this moment, I am looking him right in the eyes and going, “Not today, champ. Not today.”