The last post about being the captain of your own ship related to professional endeavours. But what about your life choices? A dear friend of mine recently said, “You are the dancer of your life, you wrote the steps, and you know how it goes…” Seems like a simple statement but actually it’s quite profound. If it’s a solo show and you’re the dancer, then no one else should really be able to tell when you’ve ‘missed’ a step right? Then why is that everyone is so focused on telling you what you’re doing wrong? It’s as if you’re a contestant on India’s Got Talent and the key authoritative figures in your life (parents / in-laws / community/ relatives/ boss, whoever) are on the judging panel just waiting to call you out. If you screw up, you won’t make it to the next round. Even when you do something awesome, like that twirl in the air that no other contestant has even dreamed of trying they serve you a measly score with a derisive comment on the side “Not bad. 7/10. Could’ve been better… timing was off.” But who are they to comment on the timing of your twirl?
When we were children, how many of us knew exactly what we wanted to be when we grow up? If we did know, how many of us actually stuck to that aspiration? The only example I know of is a close friend who knew by the age of 7 that she wanted to be a lawyer. She chose subjects at high school and university that would lead her to her path. She spent her entire summer studying for LSATs (entrance exam) and then completed Law School and became one of the youngest lawyers to graduate at 25. After working as a lawyer for about 2 years she quit her job. She hated it.
I was never the kind of kid who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. In fact, the mere question seemed like a trick one. “What do you mean, why do I only have to choose one thing?” I used to say. I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this. At university, I couldn’t decide on an area of specialization so I chose International Relations which allowed me to dabble in Economics, Political Science, History, Sociology without having to focus on only one of these subjects. To be honest I couldn’t imagine being immersed in only one thing. When I sat in Economics class, the viewpoint was so entirely contrary to what the Sociologists firmly believed in and vice versa. If you didn’t know the other side of the argument, how would you possibly come to an informed decision?
As ‘confused’ as ever, I then went on to work in a variety of different fields before finally settling on being a ‘Management Consultant’ for several years – the most vague career that exists! A position created for individuals like myself who love being a Jane of all trades but master of none. Though I’m no longer in this field, to this day if someone asks me what I do, I don’t have a one-word answer. My cousin illuminated the issue once saying “Is there anything you don’t do?”
So concerned with my apparent ‘inability to make a decision’ a relative of mine pulled me aside at a party, seriously perplexed. I thought he was going to confess some deep dark secret to me in a moment of weakness like “sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you’re actually adopted.” In fact, all he wanted to do was express his concern that I didn’t seem to “be focused.” By the way, I attended this party immediately after I had received an award for my contribution towards raising awareness for Domestic Violence in the community. I’m not bragging. I’m just putting things in perspective. Typical Indian-relative mentality right? Rather than offer hearty congratulations and continue the party, a silent and somber mood arose. As if I had announced that I am leaving everything and moving to the Himalayas to live in solitude for the next 6 months.
Relative: “So… what is it exactly that you are doing”
Me: “Me? Oh well having just won one beauty pageant and have been placed in another, I am also working as a Director with the first online marketplace for health. Oh and I also want to really focus on Domestic Violence issues. Plus I have a few modeling assignments here and there. You know, nothing much.”
I can imagine his anxiety. Is this girl on crack he must’ve thought?
Relative: Long pause. “I’m worried.”
Good thing I didn’t tell him I was also part of a theatre group and we had just performed a play. He might’ve alerted the authorities.
He felt I “needed to focus” and choose 1 or 2 things or I would “lose out on the real opportunity before me” Umm…what opportunity? I think I was doing a pretty good job at this carpe diem thing so far.
Me: “Nonsense. I’m perfectly fine.” Smug smile to self. Walk away.
Now, that’s what I should’ve said. Sigh. Alas, my respectful-Indian-girl- who-shouldn’t-snub-elders mode kicked-in. (Sometimes it feels like auto-pilot) and I started nodding my head in agreement and saying, “Hmmm, yes yes, you are right.” The worst part is that I actually started believing it!
That nasty little pest self-doubt had crept into my mind. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
I came home seriously troubled. My husband asked me what was wrong and I started explaining the problem to him. “I’m not focused. There’s no direction. I need to decide. I don’t know what I am doing. Where am I headed? What if I’m missing out?” He just glared at me as if I had told him that I’d been abducted by aliens. I think my brain had been at least. “Why do you let people get to you so easily?” is all he asked. He then calmly explained to me that I was getting worked up over nothing and I settled down a bit. To be honest, it continued to bother me for several days afterwards (though I didn’t admit it to him). Now I think it was a classic case of someone trying to limit your twirl. The relative in question’s intent may have been good, but the point is, whose performance (e.g. life) is it anyways? And whose rules had I been living by this far? Certainly not his.
Luckily, times are changing and so are the categories that define us. We just need to remember this and do away with destructive mentality. Why are we still holding onto the stereotypes? Just because you’re a wife and a daughter-in-law it doesn’t mean you can’t also aspire to be a model and a beauty queen. Just because you are a model and beauty queen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to be taken seriously as a professional in your career. Just because you have kids, doesn’t mean you can’t act like one at times. Throw out the silly categories and associated expected behavior. They have governed our lives and thought process for too long.
We are also much luckier than our parents because we have a lot more options to choose from than the standard doctor/lawyer/engineer checklist they had. People are doing lots and lots of different things. And with these new career options comes a new work ethic where individuals who come together for a common cause are treated with respect as valued contributors. Just yesterday I was working out of a café and overheard the girl at the table next to me tell someone how she had started her own clothing line about a few years ago and was spending 3 days in Delhi and the other 3 in Agra. Though her mom wasn’t happy that she was avoiding the subject of marriage, she was too focused to care. She was only 27. Oh and by the way, the person to whom she was speaking was applying for a job with her. It was an interview. It was remarkable because this woman was so honest and forthcoming. It could’ve been a conversation with a friend. From the tone of the conversation, I could tell that she wouldn’t be the type of boss who would make this girl ‘fetch her shoes’ (see my previous post). She wanted someone passionate about her designs who was willing to work hard and lend a hand in lot’s of different areas, not just one. Aha, so maybe it pays to have generalist skills and not be focused on one particular area.
To an elder generation it may seem like we are ‘confused’ and ‘non-committal’ but actually we are exploring our potential to the fullest. And carving out your own path doesn’t mean you are any less dedicated and hard working. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Why do we need to colour ‘within the lines’ or dance according to a particular sequence of steps? I’ve never been good at following steps in the first place. (Anyone who has tried to teach me coordinated dance at a wedding, can attest to this). I like creating my own moves. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Make your own rules. You have one life and no one to blame but yourself if you don’t live it exactly the way you want.
I’ll twirl when I want to.