When I was in school, my mom wanted me to be a Dr. Don’t think it was driven by an assessment of my skills, or even career prospects but by her unfulfilled desire for herself. When Namita left her job in Delhi because I got a better job in Mumbai, and again when I shifted to Hyd, she was doing it to help me fulfill my aspirations, not hers. And she justified it to herself by saying that what is best for me is good for her. How often are we doing things and leading a life that is not ours.
I became an engineer because I was told that smart students became engineers or Drs. Choice by elimination. I majored in marketing in my MBA because I didn’t understand finance. Choice by elimination. Ironically, when I look back at 20 years of work, many of my career choices have been driven by elimination or chance rather than choice. Margaret Thatcher took this concept to another level when she won the UK PM election on the back of a slogan… TINA – “There is no Alternative”.
But there is an alternative. We have a choice. We have the choice to decide whose life we lead. We have the choice to select, not reject.
And yet, we don’t exercise our choice. Is it because selection requires courage ? Is it because to lead our own life we need to be able to define what is our life ? I was speaking to my sister today and she asked me whether in 30 secs I could articulate what I wanted to achieve in the next 30 years? I said No. She asked what about 30 months ? My answer was still a No. She asked the next 30 mins, and I could answer that. What’s the difference in these 3 time periods? I believe the answer lies in the degree of uncertainty, in the risk in making a choice as the time period becomes longer. It is about having the courage to say something that we may not have control over today.
But, isn’t this the choice we need to help our children make today. For Mihir, the choices he makes in the next 10 years will define what he becomes in the next 30. I need to help him make these choices, and yet ensure he is not making the choices I didn’t or couldn’t make. I should not push him in sports or music because I have 2 left feet and understand music only over many a glass of glenfiddich.
So, how can I help Mihir live his life, and not mine. How do I lead my life for the next 30 years and not somebody else’s ?
I don’t have the answers, only the questions at this stage. But, somebody once said that asking the questions is the first step in finding the answer. Is it ? Do I have the courage to hear the answer when somebody tells it to me? Do I have the courage to see it when it is in front of my eyes?
And when I do find my life, and try to lead it, how will that impact the lives of those around me? I was arguing with my sister that the fact that 80% of Indian women lead their husbands’ life after marriage may be reason why our divorce rates are lower than the U.S. But her counter was, is our happiness quotient higher than the U.S. ?
A fatalistic answer to my questions is that we all come to this world with our destiny written. Some say it is in the lines of our palm, some say it is in the stars, some in our numbers ? We rationalise our lives’ choices, or lack of, with this fatalistic answer. Yet, we push our kids to study, to goto classes, to participate in activities because we think it will help them in the future. And still we say that destiny, theirs and ours, has been written at the time of birth. Isnt this a contradiction ?
Today morning, me and Namita were talking about Sridevi’s death. She said 54 is not an age to die. I said we all come with our days numbered. When mom passed away, and I could not do anything about it, I rationalized it in a similar manner. But am I not contradicting myself now ?
Did I not try to build a case to make choices ? To lead my own life and not somebody elses’ ?
Contradiction seems to be the constant here. We accept these contradictions because they are convenient. Any other way would require courage. I would have to accept that I did not spend the time with mom that fateful morning to see that she needed urgent medical care. I would have to accept that the last 20 years of letting chance and providence take precedence over choice is what has brought me to this crossroads today.
I simply continue to ask the questions. I don’t seek the answers from anyone else. I only seek the courage to confront the answers when I find them.
I want to help Mihir lead his life, and not the one I never lived. I want Namita to find the life she wants to live, and then live it truly. I want to lead my life.
As all of us lead our own lives, I want that we lead them together, and move ahead without conflict. I want that we all go our own way, and that we don’t chose the others’ path. When the paths don’t meet, how does one avoid the conflict? This is the fear of every teenagers’ parent.
Choice. Courage. Contradiction. Conflict. When I come to terms with these, I will lead my life.