25, it is!!!— Yash Agarwal12 minutes
I turned 25 in the week gone by. I have been on the earth for a quarter of a century now, and the feelings are mixed. I love to write about myself, even at the risk of overexposing myself to the general world. This helps me in remembering my younger self. That, I think, is the best yardstick to judge myself against. Unfortunately, while I should write positive things, the tone of most of my personal experience articles tends to be negative. It is instinctive and something that I have not learned to control just yet. Nevertheless, I will consider myself successful when I look back at my life, and the memories make me smile. Some of my previous posts do make me smile.
The last one month or so has been tough on me. Suddenly, all my plans started to collapse, I started feeling depressed, and the feeling of being an imposter hit me hard once again. All this coincided with the second wave of COVID-19 in India, and it is easy for me to blame COVID. But there are certainly other reasons that have been building up for the last few years. The eruption of these accumulated worries from time to time drains me down. This has been the essence of my life for the previous few years since I started having an idea of self-ownership.
Borrowing from future and past #
I see many of my friends and colleagues opting for higher studies abroad or in top institutes of India. While I also had such plans in the past, circumstances forced me to kneel down. I had hoped that I have adjusted to this reality. But a constant wave of social media posts from friends and people leaving the workplace has negatively affected my subconscious mind. Given that I decided with maturity and complete understanding of the situation, I don’t know who or what to blame for my current mental state. I guess I just need to give it some time, and it will subside on its own.
I often tend to compare myself against others and feel low seeing people doing better than me. It is definitely not jealousy, but being competitive has so intrinsically become part of me that I can’t help. Somewhere deep down, I also know that this comparison is futile. Different people can have different life situations, and life is not the same for any two persons. A better option for me is to compare against my younger self and see how much I have changed. That should be easy to do, given my habit of writing my experiences frequently. I don’t know what is holding me back.
When I look back at my childhood, I see a weak, frail boy bullied by good and bad alike. Unfortunately, I never mustered the courage to fight them back. The bullying and my subsequent retreat into a cocoon have had a lasting impact on my life. I am still trying to reverse it. On the other hand, I still think that I am a born introvert. My life experiences might undoubtedly have given my personality its current shape, but it didn’t all start with a blank slate.
The struggles of the present #
One thing I am very proud of myself is that I never lost my curiosity. I am still inquisitive. I love to learn anything and everything that I can put my hands on (perhaps except artistic stuff). But what kills my enthusiasm is the fact that I don’t utilize my learnings in any way. I tend to live my life in the same way I have been living it till now. There is no adventure whatsoever in my life, as I see it. It is as if whatever new I learn doesn’t make any impact on my day-to-day life. When I think about it deeply, it appears to be a very unfortunate aspect of my quest for knowledge.
For instance, let us talk about reading. I agree that we should not read to remember, and that way, definitely reading has given me some new perspectives. I have read anywhere between 90-100 good quality books in the last one and half years. During a typical day, I get many insights related to whatever I have read. But when I sit down to articulate them in the form of a blog post or a personal note, I go blank. According to my introspection, it seems that most of my learnings are just superficial and I suffer from so-called illusion of knowledge. This reminds me of a quote by Daniel J. Boorstin -
The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.
Another thing is my short attention span. I can’t focus on one thing for more than a couple of minutes now. This is one thing that has deteriorated over the years as I become more and more connected. I know that meditation will definitely help me with this issue. Still, I can’t find the motivation to keep meditating continuously. I can start meditating any day. I can continue it for some days by using my willpower, but this is not sustainable. With a limited stock of willpower, I am bound to fail unless I make meditation a habit. I have almost cut myself from social media, instant messaging apps, and all other forms of communication to focus on the important stuff in my free time. Still, somehow my attention betrays me every single time.
For a couple of years now, I have been blaming my undecidedness to write regularly on so-called “writer’s block.” This is a complete sham. It has just served as a cover for my laziness and unwillingness. I often convince myself saying that I should first acquire knowledge. Then, one fine morning, I will wake up and write world-shaking articles. Of course, this is never going to happen, but why not, it is a good excuse to keep me happy with my comfort zone.
Conundrums of asking for help #
There have been many people in my life who have offered to guide me and help me realize my goals. However, my reserved nature and the feeling of being an imposter have stopped me from opening up to anyone. I have been struggling with imposter syndrome for the last 3-4 years. I am not sure about the reasons yet. Still, I think my hesitation in requesting a “familiar” person for mentorship arises from the feeling that I might not perform as they would expect me to do. That would shatter my image in front of them. Therefore, my subconscious mind has decided that it is more optimal to keep the (false?) impression intact instead of getting the required help. That might also answer why I never share my articles with anyone. It is a fact that I don’t feel very confident about myself and my work. It has affected me at the workplace, and perhaps it will continue affecting me in the coming years. The only way I can think of to get rid of this problem is to face it.
I have also often struggled to take criticism constructively. Somehow my egoistic nature and perfectionistic tendencies mixed with imposter syndrome make it challenging to learn from criticism. Just to clarify, I don’t mean that I harbor any ill thoughts for the criticizer. It is something personal, and I don’t have any words to describe it right now.
The illusion of competence #
While reading has given me new and unique perspectives to think about the world, it has also given me an illusion of competence. I feel like I know a lot, but when it comes to utilizing the “earned” knowledge, I cannot interconnect my thoughts. I have seemingly different areas of interest, and that is reflected in my reading habits. My expectation is that diverse reading habits will result in a future me who will gather ideas from multiple fields and interconnect them to build a novel abstraction. I am not sure if this is a far-fetched desire and even possible for an average human. But I can’t push myself away from this thought. Over the years, this has become one of many ambitions to get to that state. I don’t know if I will ever reach that point, but I don’t see any harm in keep trying. My only worry is how to stay away from the illusion of expert-level competence in a field, while I don’t know actually have any expertise.
The political me #
Those who know me in my personal life will attest that I am not able to stay loyal to any one side of the political spectrum. I have always see-sawed between left and right. Of course, this see-sawing has subjected me to “gentle” bashing from my friends adhering to either ideology. Famous Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh Dinakar very accurately points out the situation -
समर शेष है, नहीं पाप का भागी केवल व्याघ्र, जो तटस्थ हैं, समय लिखेगा उनका भी अपराध।
But then, he says -
जो सत्य जान कर भी न सत्य कहता है, या किसी लोभ के विवश मूक रहता है, उस कुटिल राजतन्त्री कदर्य को धिक् है, यह मूक सत्यहन्ता कम नहीं वधिक है।
Now, this is one of the paradoxes that troubles me quite frequently. While taking sides mean losing some of your individuality, not taking sides is also equivalent to not having a clear goal in mind, in a way.
Since when I started reading profusely, I have tried to keep this balance intact. I have made conscious efforts not to form strong opinions and not adhere to one particular ideology without looking at facts and data. The engineer’s mind weighs everything in terms of data and facts and filters out personal opinions.
I read a lot about foreign policy, society, culture, caste, religion, economy, history, and the constantly evolving political structure of India and the World. But, unfortunately, most of the quality media is dominated by the left. I don’t want to engage with keyboard-warriors on Twitter, WhatsApp, and elsewhere, so that leaves me with significantly less material to know the genuine viewpoint of the other side.
Over the years, I have realized that socially I tend to be on the center-left and economically, on center-right. But sharing political views in the public domain without proper research is not ideal. I want to consolidate my learnings and form well-informed and well-analyzed opinions on happenings in the world in general and India in particular before I participate in political discourse. It does not mean that I don’t have any political opinions. Most events cannot be categorized as good or bad; it is just how one wants to perceive the world. Therefore, I constantly try to avoid getting influenced by what a random journalist with certain motives, sitting in a high-rise AC office, might want me to believe.
The CS guy! #
Though I hated Computer Science a couple of years back, I have worked on my fears. Now, at least I don’t have any understanding issues with the core CS subjects (except DBMS, perhaps. I don’t like it; at all!) I didn’t focus on understanding whatever CS theory was taught during my undergraduate (again, a lack of proper mentorship.) Although this doesn’t harm me in my professional life, I want to get some kind of research experience at some point in my life. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely for me to enroll in a full-time graduate program in the foreseeable future. So, I am weighing my options to go for a Systems course via online studies. Assuming I get admission, one option is a sponsored graduate program (such as this one offered by IISc.) Another option is to go for an online MS degree provided by some US universities. I will surely miss the unique campus experience, but I hope it will still quench my intellectual thirst. I currently have some other stuff on my plate. I will try to finish them before deciding if and when I should opt for these options. I hope to make a call in the next two years in the worst-case scenario.
By originality, I mean a way to build upon something existing — some kind of improvement upon an already existing thing, idea, or abstraction. Almost everything humans have created has been an improvement over something preceding it, either man-made or natural. In my opinion, originality is a creative process to generate novel ideas improving upon existing processes, things, tools, and knowledge systems to make them more desirable, optimized, user-friendly, and insightful. Original need not be “original” in its literal sense.
While I have been working on my CS skills, it is not the field where I get my most original thoughts and ideas, despite being the subject where I spent 4 years of my life. I have met many amazing people in Cisco over the last 3 years. I am often awestruck by their ability and passion for continuously generating new ideas. Whether it is a Hackathon or a Patentothon, I have been fortunate to team up with people who can generate exciting ideas with surprising depth. However, I have thought about it and realized that I am not yet at that level where I can generate original ideas worthy of patenting or publication. Some people are just born with that kind of talent, and some acquire skills superior to any talent. With growing experience, I might get to that level someday, but currently, I am yet another average Indian software engineer. Read the last section of this article to know why I am content with this situation for now.
On the other hand, the fields where I tend to get many ideas nowadays are religion, politics, and history. One possible reason behind this might be that these subjects are my area of interest nowadays, and I read related books during my non-work day. So my mind gets a lot of time to consolidate this stuff.
It is such a contentious issue for me that I feel embarrassed talking about it. In fact, this is the first time I have actually given any thoughts on this topic. And I am glad that I did it. I wrote above my initial impressions about an issue I was unaware of until a few moments ago. I hope to get more clarity and insights into the real reasons behind my lack of enthusiasm to produce new ideas in the coming time.
Even if not entirely by choice, I am trying to embrace the slow-growth mindset, taking short-term hits for long-term gains. I hope this gamble will pay off, as I think it will be the right approach. Long-term gains far outweigh short-term benefits when it is a matter of whole life.
While I keep whining about my future and past and try to piece together my present, this quote sums up the way forward succinctly —
Until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words — ‘Wait and hope.’