Today I complete 35 years.
Every year, my birthday is the usual mix of activities – acknowledging birthday wishes over phone, whatsapp and other social media, dressing up in a new apparel, cake cutting, receiving birthday gifts from loved ones and having a special lunch or dinner out.
I am sure most of us spend their birthdays in similar fashion.
This year’s birthday feels different.
We are going through a global pandemic. We have either lost our loved ones or know people who have lost someone close. Our lives have turned upside down irrevocably. Our habits, rules, norms – everything has completely changed.
Better or for worse, our lives will never be the same.
Our birthdays will never be the same.
There was a time, when I used to write posts like ’30 things to do before I am 30′ or ‘note to my younger self’, on my birthdays.
Wishlist, bucket list, dreams to achieve and aspirations used to be the motto of my birthdays.
What more can I achieve?
What else do I want to do?
It’s different now. This year, I reflect on the past 35 years of my life and pen down 5 lessons which I have learnt from my journey.
Mental Health is Wealth
We all have been unhappy at some point in our lives. That unhappiness may have stemmed from certain failure or situations in our lives. It may have led to anxieties, panic attacks or sleeplessness ultimately leading to deteriorating physical health.
I have been extremely unhappy four times in my life so far. They resulted from different incidents or situations, but I have undergone that sense of ‘nothing is right’ every time.
My mental state led me to lose all zeal and enthusiasm towards my day-to-day life. I would just go about the chores in my day, but not live my days.
Every time, I took specific steps to come out of that state.
First time, I spoke to my family about what was making me unhappy. It immediately helped me to relax, knowing my close ones are there to support me.
Second time, I went out and made friends by taking part in some new activities. My mind got occupied and I got over that feeling.
Third time, I had a conversation with myself. I locked the door to my room, cried my heart out, told myself all will be okay and gave myself credit for enduring the pain for so long.
Fourth time, I wrote everything down to pinpoint the exact reason behind my mental state, what steps to take to improve it and made a step-by-step plan to implement the steps. After that, it was easy to just follow my plan.
We all go through low phases in our lives. It is next to impossible to remain happy and enthusiastic every moment. When you do, don’t blame yourself.
Remember, you are not the only one.
It’s okay to go against the tide
Peer pressure is the culprit for so many of us doing the same thing as our friend or our neighbour.
Appearing for JEE.
Sitting for campus placement and vying for the limited number of jobs.
Buying a car and house.
Getting married and having kids.
We never stop to think what would happen if we did not do what the society expects of us.
What if we take a gap year post class XII Boards and travel?
What if we try out an unconventional career?
What if we volunteer for a non-profit?
What if we start a side hustle while at college?
What if we try out a bunch of different jobs in our 20s?
For me, taking up law was definitely going against the tide for me.
Remember, this was 2004 and law wasn’t the first choice for straight A students with Science background, from a middle class Bengali household.
Oh the jabs I heard from my extended family and well-wishers! But, I know this one decision changed the course of my entire life.
Joining the dispute resolution team of a law firm was the second such event.
I will be honest and admit that it wasn’t a choice for me then. It was the first offer in my campus placement and I had to take it up. However, the learning that happened in those 3 years, have benefitted me in my professional career till date. So, you see, you will connect the dots only in hindsight.
Going against the tide opens up vast and unthinkable opportunities. You just need to be a little brave and have faith in yourself.
The most underrated skill is the ability to handle your own money
We all aspire to earn money, but we don’t learn to manage it ourselves.
It does not matter how much you earn. What matters is what you do with it.
There is a pervading limiting belief in our culture – that money is evil.
Anyone who has a lot of money is considered either crooked and dishonest or vain and unworthy. People have a tendency to look up in awe of wealthy people but look down on wealth. It’s so strange.
In fact, we have a saying ‘money is the root of all evil’.
Children are never taught personal finance and are made to depend on their parents for their expenses. This habit continues well into adulthood. I have seen many adults just sitting around while their fathers pay the bill at a restaurant, or at grocery shops.
Indian adults living with their parents, hardly contribute to family expenses. This is more so if the parents are well-to-do.
Not generalising, but I am talking from my observation and experience around me.
This is because we are never made responsible for our own money.
So, at whichever life stage you are, be responsible for your money and learn the ropes of investing. Will it not be smashing if you can convert your monthly 5K stipend into much more, just through sound investments?
Do with your head, but listen to your heart
For the longest time, I took pride in always doing things with my head.
I considered myself skilled at not taking any decision under the influence of emotions.
But as I grew older, I understood the value of listening to your heart.
You cannot choose one over the other. You must balance both.
If you have a decision to take and you are tugged in opposing directions, sit down and think calmly. Weigh in the pros and cons of the two options (doing with head) and at the end, ask yourself what you exactly want (listening to your heart). Your decision making process will become much smoother and easier.
There’s no straight jacket formula in this.
Sometime, it will be a hit; other times, it will be a miss. As long as you have taken both your head and heart into consideration, you will be fine.
There’s no bigger virtue than honesty
If you ask me what is that one virtue that you value the most in people, I always say honesty.
It stems from my own rigid principle regarding being honest. I am not claiming that I have not fibbed in my life ever; but when it comes to issues that matter, I am never dishonest.
Many times in my professional life, I have been caught at a wrong end. I might have forgotten to do something important or not handled an assignment as well I should have. I might have discovered a mistake of my own later. I might have made a mistake in my opinion to the client.
Every time, however much I feared for the retribution (scolding from the boss, shouting from the client, adverse order from a judge or unfavourable remark in the appraisal), I have owned up to the wrong.
Usually, I have not faced the retribution. If you say upfront that you are sorry, no one can blame you any more, can they?
Every sphere in your life, personal or professional, you might feel the strong urge to fib your way out of a trouble. I suggest you don’t. Apologise and face the music.
Over time, people will regard you as an honest person. Isn’t that a pretty good tag to have?
Everybody admires an honest person, regardless of any other negative trait he might have.
I apologize if this post turned out to be too preachy. Getting older has definitely earned me the right to tell you a thing or two.
Your life is your own.
It does not belong to your parents (not after schooling and college is over).
It does not belong to your partner (unless your decisions adversely affect him or her too).
It surely does not belong to your boss.
On an average, human beings live for 70 years now. I am halfway done already. I plan to live the next half without any regret.
I plan to do things I love.
I plan to prioritize people who matter over people who don’t.
I plan to put self above others for times when my need is greater.
I plan to worship my body and take the best care of it.
Above else, I plan to live the life I want my daughter to live, so that she knows that it is okay to want more, live more, be more and not be afraid of anything.
What is that one lesson that you have learnt in your life and you would like to share? Let me know in the comment box.