Experience vs Achievement!!
Every moment in life we make infinite choices which lead us on paths where we again make infinite more choices. None of these are good or bad. Being an optimist I would say there is nothing called a bad choice. How can you say what you did 5 years ago was wrong, when the very life you have right now is a result of that. How do you know that something else may have led you to a better state than what you are currently in? Sometimes the biggest mistake we make in life is in simplifying things. In looking back or ahead, we take many of the intermediate steps for granted and concentrate on the milestones, when actually even a simple variation in the intermediate occurrences could change the way we live. A person gets into a college and starts visualising himself as a businessman 10 years ahead in life. He clearly sees the kind of house he lives in. He fantasizes a beautiful wife, a lovely dog, and an awesome car. He could see himself retiring in 20 more years and settling down, in a nice cottage in the countryside, the dog still by his side, the wife though missing (which 20-year-old wants to imagine an old woman as his wife!!). Why is this pattern of dreaming so predictable? Even when we have an infinite canvas at our disposal in our dreams, why should the overall content remain the same for most people?
That’s because, this is the idea which has been planted in our heads (maybe inception wasn’t that far-fetched after all). This is our idea of success and happiness, though people who do achieve these stages are still looking for the same further down the line. Let’s analyse our life-styles in more detail and try to find where the problem lies.
From how I see it there are two ways of leading one’s life and most people are following one way or the other. One is the “experience” route and the other is the “achievement” route. A person following the experience route lives life as a string of experiences. For him life is a movie, where he is both the hero and the director. He wants it to get as gripping and fun as it can. He wants to cover as many locations as possible, meet as many people as he can, possibly cast multiple heroines (if lucky). The experience route is awesome for someone who has the mindset to take risks. Here again risk is as defined by the society. Let’s come to this in a while.
A person following the achievement route on the other hand sees life as a collection of milestones which he has to achieve at various stages of life. These milestones are in most cases defined by his environment. Even in cases where he thinks he is setting targets for himself, it’s rather the environment which is making him do so. A so-called independent, elite person sets as targets for himself what he feels would be a respectable thing to achieve for a person of his talent. Respectable here is defined in accordance with existing societal norms.
This brings us to the part on society. So what exactly is this society and how much does it influence our route? How does a person choose a route to follow? And what if he wants to take a different one?
Society is the brain which makes all our decisions. At least the most important ones. And the beauty of this brain is that it makes us believe that all these were our ideas in the first place. Consider a management graduate in a top B-School. The person aspires to be a banker, a marketer or a consultant. While someone of his calibre has too huge an ego to admit that any decision he has made is anyone’s but his own, the thing remains that he couldn’t choose any other alternate path as then the society doesn’t deem it right. Society curtails the options available to us and in this way makes us take decisions which are actually not decisions but different proxies to the same mundane life.
In general, it is seen that Europeans and Australians are more inclined to follow the Experience route, while Indians, many other Asians and even Americans for that matter, abide by the Achievement path. In India, you as a person at 30 years of age aren’t defined by the number of countries you have visited, but rather by the number of promotions you have got, the kind of family you have managed to marry into, and the number of dingy little apartments you own. Marriage is not an option, neither is it a convenience, but rather a compulsion. The way you marry matters more to your family than the actual person you marry. The size of your house is way more important than how much time you actually get to spend there. You would be happy even with a crappy job as long as the title they give you is sexy. If the above statements ring a bell, congrats, you are a victim as well.
So then, how to lead a life where you get to decide for yourself? What can be done to break out of the societal assembly line? Simple, run away.
By running away I don’t mean literally running away from home, though of course that still remains one of the best options available. By running away I mean, break away from what you are ‘supposed’ to do, and do what you ‘want’ to do. Clichéd statement, isn’t it?
Everytime I have heard someone say the above line, and that’s actually a lot of times (its classic graduation-day speech material), I have felt really motivated and all, but at the end of the day I don’t know what I actually want to do. That’s where society has played its best game. By having our entire life sculpted to fit in and conform, we have never thought outside the mould about what our true passions are. Taking my own case as an example, I don’t even know whether I have a passion and even if I have one, I don’t know whether I can make a living out of it. So what can I do? I don’t want to conform, but neither do I have something solid to do otherwise. So do I have an option at all on how to lead a life driven by experiences?
There is a way. Do what you are trained to do, but outside your comfort zone. Get a job in a far away continent, get to know new people, change your life setting. Of course your degree may not fetch you the salaries there which maybe possible closer home, maybe the people there speak a different tongue, maybe the food is vastly different. But what the hell! What’s the fun in playing the same game on the same pitch. Move on.
Again I don’t know how many of you may take the above advice (if it is indeed a good advice in the first place). I don’t even know whether I would follow it myself. Society is a blackmailing bitch. It has multiple ways to make you conform. It pits your own parents, your girl friend (even the imaginary ones) and everyone you love against you, just to make sure you don’t deter from the path. A few years down the line I may or may not live the life I envision here. But it does feel good to document something like this online, at a time when I am still a rebel, when I am young and still have the world at my feet and my future is still undecided. Just so that a few years down the line, I can at least feel that I did give a thought to non-conformance, even if I didn’t (or couldn’t) follow it up.
This isn’t a mainstream article. It was never intended to be one. But if it did strike a chord in someone’s heart, then please do go ahead and live your life. After all, you just get one chance.