Five years ago, as the prime years of my youth were starting to wane, I suddenly realised that most of my life had been an endless parade of missed chances, lost opportunities, what ifs and could have beens. I realised that there was precious little I could do with what I had learned from them, because life never gives you a second chance. So I chronicled those lessons I learned from life in the form of 33 things I learned from my life till then, with a hope that maybe someone would find those helpful. Now that I have gotten older and wiser (or stupider), I further realised that the learning not just never stops buts gets more and more profound and even life-changing as you get older, teaching you lessons that would’ve saved you a lot of grief earlier in life. You realise these things only late in life, by which time you will have spent too much time and energy fighting unwinnable battles. Here are some of those learnings.
Your Insecurities and Fears Will Never Go Away
If during your younger years you thought that you would one day “grow up” to conquer all your fears and overcome all your shortcomings to blossom into that perfect individual worthy of world conquest as depicted in pop culture, corporate folklore and fancy English serials, you were terribly mistaken. Your insecurities and your fears, all your personal demons which had been a part of your journey since your earliest days, will continue to torment you and you will battle with them for all of the rest of your days. Most people make peace with their demons, succumbing to them or joining them, accepting them as part of their being, aligning their lives with them. However, a rare few keep fighting all their lives trying to overcome their fears and “improve” themselves, a minuscule percentage of who might actually succeed at it because they can afford to buy their way out of their tribulations. For the rest, if you ever thought that you will ever get over your demons, over the scars that were embedded deep inside your soul since childhood, you won’t. All those dark feelings of crushing despair, of terrible loneliness, of rising anxiety, of sad helplessness, of emotional fragility, of social awkwardness, of lost passion, of debilitating self-doubt, will all follow you to your grave. Sometimes, for a minute, you might even think you have won your demons over, but they have only withdrawn into temporary slumber, waiting only until the time they can be reawakened by the right person or event.
Join hands with your demons, it will only make you stronger. Accept that you will not get better at some things no matter how hard you try. Accept that you have failed at many things. Accept some things just aren’t for you. Accept that you will never realise many of your dreams. Accept your insecurities and fears as part of your personality, just like how your more “positive” characteristics are, instead of trying to overcome them. Those parts are still parts of your self, only not favored by the state of society as it exists right now. Stop trying so hard, it will only make you look awkward and artificial. Let it flow. Make peace with yourself. You might still look weird and like an outcast, but you will be strong and will not care about what others think about you.
Hush little baby, don’t say a word, And never mind that noise you heard
It’s just the beasts under your bed, In your closet, in your head
Metallica, Enter Sandman
You Have No Control Over What Happens in Your Life
Do you have a vision of how your life is going to be in the future and what the trajectory it is going to take? Do you believe you have it all sorted and figured out? Do you have a vision, a long term plan? Good. Now, chuck it. Tear it up, shred it, incinerate it. What if I told you that you have no control over what happens in your life? There is no way everything will ever go as per any plan, because if you leave life to its own devices, what you though would be, will almost never be. I have heard countless people say, rather darkly, that “I can’t believe where I have reached today in my life“. This expression of disappointment arises because they falsely believe that they are in control of their lives. They think that as long as they live by a code of set rules they will be delivered to the destination they were aiming for. It does not work that way, because you cannot control things that you have no influence on. Life cannot be expressed by a neat equation of constants and predictable variables. This equation is rather an infinitely ever-changing expression into which unknown variables keep dropping in and out of at random, making it impossible to predict its output with any degree of certainty. This is why as soon as you think that you have finally realised the answers, life changes the questions. Your life is not controlled by you but by forces beyond your understanding. The sooner you accept this fact and stop struggling, the more peaceful your life will be. The vast majority fail to achieve most of what they set out to, no matter how careful they are and how hard they try. The few lucky people who do and say they “set their own luck” and “chart they own path”, are only victims of the illusion of control, only incredibly lucky to be at the right place at the right time, leading to overconfidence and ultimately, blowouts. Things change, always change and keep on change. Nothing is constant in the universe but change.
You were sure the Btech/MBA would land a job as you thought it would? You were sure you would make a career in the IT industry? You were sure you would stay and settle in that city? You were sure you would get/stay married to him/her forever? You were sure you would never return to that place, no matter what? You were sure you would grow old in that house? You were sure you would sell that car in two years? You were sure shifting to that other city or country would bring you contentment? You were sure you were destined to an average middle class life? Were you? Everything changes. The rules of society, of the world, of life, of education, of careers, of industry, of relationships, of marriage, of parenting, even your beliefs, your values, your ideologies, everything will change as time goes on. So much so that the rules and values you thought to be immutable and sacrosanct today will look ridiculous and absurd only a couple of years later.
You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,
What tomorrow brings is still the unknown.
Turisas, End of an Empire
Do You Really Want to Know the Answers?
Everyone seeks answers. Why did or didn’t all those events happen in your life? Why did you meet certain people? Why did you behave in a certain way in those situations, some of which were life-altering? Why didn’t you do what you knew you should’ve done? Why did you end up where you are now? Though you might think you will never find the answers to these and many other such questions, you will. Life will eventually answer all your questions, sometimes at times the least expected. All you have to be is patient. However, the question here is not what the answers are per se, but it is if you really want to know what those answers are, because the philosophies of reason functioning behind these events can turn out to be too much to handle for most human beings.
As you move on in life, you will suddenly, when you least expect them, encounter situations often so enigmatic and obscure that will shock you into realising the answers to those vexing questions. These events often happen when certain entities arrive in your life and touch you deep inside in ways you no longer thought was possible, unlocking doors you never even knew existed. You will realise the answers you were grappling with were within you itself all this time. They will come tumbling down, overwhelming you and leaving you breathless. You will suddenly know everything: why things happened (or didn’t) they way they did (or didn’t), why you did what you did (or didn’t), why you are where you are. You will be able to visualise how your life would’ve been if you had made some choices differently, while also realising that you have no choice but to live with the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. You will find that the fantastical mindscapes you once created, all that you once so desperately searched for actually existed, but were never meant to be for you. You will see that world play out behind a glass pane like a television show, one you can only see but not touch, a universe that belongs to others, which you can only wistfully wish you were part of. This experience of loss and would’ve-beens will hit most people hard, pushing them over the edge, sending them plunging down bottomless pits of deep depression from which they might never recover. Only a few will see this as a chance for great personal liberation and as a euphoria of a battle well fought. Do you really want to know those answers?
I see the land of fading sun and rising mountains, And I finally feel that I ́ve found my home
But oh, how it feels so cold when my dreams wither in fragments of time, revealing that this land will die
Wintersun, Sons of Winter and Stars
Deception and Pretension Matter More than Authenticity
This one does not need explanation as it is widely seen everywhere. In today’s hedonistic world, It does not matter how good you are, how hard you work or how good your work is, but only how grandiosely you present it. The bigger the words, the grander the tone, the flashier the images, the fancier the car, the hepper the house, the hipper the bars, the fancier the gadget, the more exotic the vacation, topped with how shamelessly you brag about all this, will you be accepted as a “great success”. The question of any moral stigma about the source of your wealth does not exist anymore. It does not matter how dirty it is or how many lives you destroyed amassing it, as long as you have enough money you are respected, period. If you do not have the money, you should at least pretend you do. Unbridled consumerism and capitalism have today stripped us of almost all humanity. And how do advance in life? You smile at the right people, you buy out those who matter, you exchange favours speakable or not, you cheat, double cross, back-stab or quell peers, you play the game. You can’t win the Hunger Games by being nice. And those who do the real, honest and countable work? They of course rot at the bottom of the pile, unloved, unrecognized and unappreciated, and mostly even derided and punished. I’d be rather that than sell my conscience.
And yes, this needs to be put out bluntly. There will be people who will look down upon you and even refuse to be associated with you because you, simply, are not or do not appear to be as “rich or successful” as they are, and do not indulge in the same “successful people activities” as they do. Some of these people would’ve even previously “close” with. And there is a simple solution for this, which is to ask them to fuck off. Do not entertain people who judge you on your food, clothing, transportation modes, etc. This propensity of looking down upon fellow travellers because they do not confirm to their entitled, oh-so- definition of a facebook-Instagram-picture-perfect life of new toys, happy faces and photos is the worst imaginable manifestation of the human tribalist nature. You do not want to carry that burden of negativity. Be happy.
There’s a lady who’s sure, All that glitters is gold, And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, If the stores are all closed, With a word she can get what she came for
Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven
A lot of people reach a point in their lives when it becomes senseless to stay where they are. When it becomes obvious that a better life can be had elsewhere at a fraction of the cost, hanging on fighting the odds to justify some arcane rewardless rationale becomes pointless and punishing. Get out. Cut loose. Leave. Transplant yourself. Seek new fortunes elsewhere, even if it means leaving behind everything you have worked for and in some cases, most of what you have known. Start over from nothing. It might work out, it might not, because as we already know, life is unpredictable. However, what you will never know is what would’ve been if you don’t take the plunge. Life is not lived by staying in one place. I left the city when I realised that there is no future there to be had among all that concrete, dust, debt, pollution, traffic, water shortage and toxic materialism. There might be no future elsewhere as well, but I can at least have the peace that I tried, and that I choose the lesser evil. And if nothing else, this move helped me realise the answers to a lot of questions that were tormenting me for years and helped me to make my peace with a lot of my demons.
You have come a long way to find what you really left behind
Megadeth, Dread and the Fugitive Mind
Once upon a time, you were the coolest, happiest go lucky kid in class. What happened to you? Life happened, didn’t it? Nothing worked out, did it? Nothing you hoped would occur in your life transpired, did it? Unfortunate, it is, you are. You know there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot change the future or your destiny. However, there are still some things you can do. You can continue to do the things you love to do, all that you always wanted to, things that you know will make you happy. Dress up and show up no matter what. Feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. Cut out materialistic rabble-rousers and exhibitionist windbags from your life. You maybe can be content with what you have, at least you have realised that the world you once dreamed of actually exists, even if you can’t be part of it. You will also realise that all you should’ve done is to listen to yourself and your mother. Maybe the sun will shine brighter one day, maybe it won’t, but until then, count your little blessings and soldier on, find happiness in little things, the big ones will follow. Be thankful for your present.
So understand, Don’t waste your time always searching for those wasted years
Face up, make your stand, And realize you’re living in the golden years.
Iron Maiden, Wasted Years