Thursday, September 19, 2019

What Motivates Me to Write?

Currently in the process of editing my first Sci-Fi novel, I’ve been knee-deep in random scientific blogs and trivia for a couple of months. And although my own story leans more towards political biopunk than psycho robotics, one of the topics that immediately grabbed my interest as I was doing my research was artificial intelligence (AI), and the ways in which it can affect the future of humanity.
When we think about AI going wrong, we usually imagine megalomaniac supercomputers with a God complex wanting to enslave (or eliminate) humanity. The idea of an AI trying to take over the world never really made much sense to me, though. I don’t claim to be an expert on AI, so I might well be wrong about this (as with everything else scientific).
But common sense tells me that if I was designing a machine meant to perform domestic cleaning duties, I wouldn’t want to give it a wide enough emotional range that it might one day feel the need to marry my partner and sleep on my bed.
An AI is, at the end of the day, a machine. It must originally have been designed for a particular purpose, like all machines. Why would you design a powerful machine (say for coal mining) that had — or could develop — human desires, such as power, love, validation, etc.? What purpose could that possibly serve?
The Paperclip Maximizer and the Mysteries of Motivation
While wondering about such nitty-gritties of common Sci-Fi tropes, I came upon a theoretical doomsday scenario known as the “Paperclip Maximizer”. For those of you who don’t know what that is, the Paperclip Maximizer is a hypothetical AI that was designed for the purpose of making paperclips and enhancing the efficiency of paperclip-making processes.
Over time, this AI would find ways to make more and more paperclips within shorter and shorter time periods. It would enhance the efficiency of paperclip manufacturing processes and learn/invent more ways to maximize the number of paperclips being made.
The Paperclip Maximizer thought experiment posits the possibility that the AI would eventually turn all matter in its surroundings (including life forms) into paperclips. Eventually, assuming the AI was strong enough, it would turn the entire world (or even the galaxy) into paperclips.
This idea fascinated me. For the first time, I was reading about an AI related doomsday scenario that didn’t rely on a random machine spontaneously developing the motivational structure of a generic movie super-villain.
The Paperclip Maximizer would probably kill us. Not because it hates us or wants to rule over us, but simply because we are made up of atoms and molecules that would be better utilized in the manufacturing of paperclips, which is the only thing that it is motivated to accomplish.
So this got me thinking — what is motivation? Where does it come from? Why are we so motivated to do certain things and not others? Why do some people have more motivation than others, and why would the same person have lots of motivation for one type of activity but very little for others?
Underneath it all, I guess I was really trying to figure out my own motivational patterns — to understand them and hopefully to get a better handle on them.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation
I mean, there are of course certain extrinsic things that motivate us, the chief among them being money. We all want money and are willing to work for it, but the extent to which we are willing to do so varies widely.
What is it that we are looking for when we try to earn money, anyway? Not the paper currency, surely.
On a very basic level, money gives us access to other people’s time, energy, and talent. If you have money, you can ask someone else to look after your children, manage your finances, or wash your clothes.
Even when we buy a comb, a video game, or a refrigerator, we’re indirectly paying someone else to design and make those items for us. The more money we have, the more of other people’s time, talent, and energy we can buy, which in turn will make our own life easier and more entertaining.
That’s an understandable desire to have. And yet, we don’t all have it to the same extent. We all know of extraordinary people who serve others for free and even spend their own money to help those in need — with no expectations of reward. But those are not the types of people I’m talking about here.
Everything we do has an opportunity cost. Logically, assuming that money was the primary motivating factor for our actions, we’d plan every step with the goal of maximizing income.
And yet, people write novels in unpopular genres, start YouTube channels on niche subjects that’d never get them a million subscribers, and take up full-time jobs in industries that don’t pay well.
These are not selfless social workers whose only purpose is to serve others. Most of these people are working for some form of monetary reward, so why not work for the highest possible income or reward? Why settle for a genre that’d only allow you to sell a few thousand copies of your book, when you could instead write in one that has a far larger potential market? In fact, why write books at all? Why not use those same writing skills to write copy for brands (a far more lucrative market)?
So maybe extrinsic, reward-based motivation isn’t the only kind we need. After all, the hypothetical Paperclip Maximizer isn’t being paid to turn the entire galaxy into paperclips. So it must have a built-in reward system that makes the creation of paperclips intrinsically rewarding. To use a cliché, it’s something he’d do even if no one paid him to do it. (Yes, the Paperclip Maximizer is a guy now. Deal with it.)
So what internal reward system makes the creation of obscure books and videos, or the performance of low-paid administrative tasks, inherently rewarding for humans — so much so that they’re willing to forgo higher paying opportunities in a different domain?
A Case Study
Well, I’m something of a massive introvert. The last time I had an actual human interaction was in 1997.
So, I can’t speak for you guys. But there’s one case study I do feel comfortable exploring — my own.
I’m a writer. It’s taken me quite a few years to admit that (and that’s a blog post for another time), but now, here we are. I write. And I do so in a variety of ways, for a number of reasons, some more obvious than others.
But what motivates me to write? What do I get out of it? And would I turn the entire galaxy into tropey, angsty fiction if given the opportunity?
Well, that’s exactly what we’re here to discuss today, isn’t it?
I’m a professional copywriter/web content writer by day, freelance writer by night, and a novelist/poet/blogger by midnight. Needless to say, I write A LOT.
Why?
Well, that’s complicated. I have a 9–5 job because it pays the bills, a freelance side-gig because I like the extra money (and hope it’ll replace the 9–5 sometime in the future), and a creative writing hobby/career because I like expressing myself in words and hope to create a source of passive income a few decades down the line.
Realistically, I could earn more from a single job than I do from all the three combined, if I ditched this whole writing thing and got myself an MBA or something. So why don’t I, then? It’s certainly not because I don’t like money. Spoiler alert: I fucking love it!
So, what’s keeping me from ditching this hamster wheel for a “real job”?
Initially, I thought maybe it was because I just loved writing so much! You know, the old cliché about loving your job so much you’d do it for free? Yeah, I wouldn’t.
There are people out there who write high-quality, 100k word fanfics for fun (with no expectation of ever earning a penny out of it). I’m not one of them.
Which brings me to my next point. Writing isn’t always fun for me. Sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s difficult and tedious. It’s WORK. Given a choice, I’d much rather be reading somebody else’s book than writing my own.
I do, of course, have the hope of one day making a living from my fiction. But, at least for now, that’s all it is. A vague hope. I certainly don’t expect to make any significant amount of money from my novels in the near future. The same can be said of my poetry and this blog.
So if it’s not the sheer, intrinsic joy of writing or the guarantee of monetary payoff, what keeps me plugging away at the keyboard, day in and day out?
Well, the answer is that it’s a strange and complex combination of all of the above.
Am I passionate about writing? Yes. Do I want to make money out of it? Yes. Would I do it without one or the other? Maybe. Certainly not to the extent I’m doing it now.
What It Means to be a True Artist
There’s a pervasive myth in the arts (including writing and literature) that if you’re passionate about something, you’ll always like doing it. That if you’re a true artist, you’ll always enjoy the process of making art.
That’s a lie.
The truth is, passion can be a double edged sword. It can put the burden of perfectionism on you, where you get stressed out and anxious — not just about doing good work, but great work.
If I was just writing a diary to pass the time, or writing web copy just to earn a living, I wouldn’t agonize over every line of prose. I wouldn’t spend hours wondering if my message was clear enough, if my language was flawed or my presentation amateurish.
I wouldn’t constantly compare myself to other bloggers, novelists, and poets, only to find myself wanting every step of the way. If this was just a job, I wouldn’t care so much.
But I care with every fiber of my being whether what I write is good or bad. Whether I can connect with readers or not. Whether I can express myself with clarity or not. And this slows down the process of writing.
There was a time when the self-doubt was so overwhelming I couldn’t write a word for days. This is no longer the case, and I have overcome the problem to a great extent. But I daresay a lot of authors would permanently get rid of writer’s block if they could just get their passion (and the associated perfectionism) slightly under control.
I learned this mainly from my day job and freelance copywriting work. The deadlines with these are always tight, and there’s rarely enough time to agonize over the placement of every word and the structure of every sentence. You need to churn out a certain number of words every day and volume is oftentimes more important than perfection.
And yet, there are people reading these articles, typos and all, for the information that they provide and the value that they add. Realizing this gave me the confidence to start approaching my fiction in the same way–
Like I have something to say to my readers, and I’m going to try my best to say it well, but I don’t need to wait until my diction is perfect and my oratory world-class, before I can share my opinion or my story with the world.
The Different Types and Sources of Motivation
But despite all the learning and growing I’ve done over the past two years as a full-time writer, I still like ‘having written’ way more than the actual ‘process’ of writing.
Half the time, when I’m writing a book, I push through the most difficult scenes dreaming about what it’d look like as a finished product — on a bookshelf with a gorgeous cover, sitting next to the works of some of my favorite authors. (A girl can dream, right?)
The point is, motivations are complex and multi-faceted. They don’t spring from a single source, and they’re not always ‘pure’ and unidimensional. I don’t write just for the money, but I don’t write just for the love of it, either. The expectation of future income certainly plays an important part in motivating me to finish my manuscripts, approach publishers, write blog posts, etc.
I was super unmotivated as a student, and always saw myself as an inherently lazy individual. I wrote my first full-length manuscript in high-school. And after I failed to find any traction with it (receiving more than 30 rejections from various publishers), I lost all motivation and didn’t do much creative writing for the next 2–3 years.
Then, I graduated from college and got my first real office job. And BAM! It hit me like a train. This was it. This was my life now. This is what I would be doing for the next 40 years.
And frankly, it was quite underwhelming.
I’d spent the first 23 years of my life as a student. For as long as I could remember, there had always been something to look forward to, to prepare for and focus on. Either it was high-school or college or university or — the grand prize — a real job!
There was always something I was running towards, something just out of my reach that I was trying desperately to catch. Hence, it was easy to forget, to distract myself. To tell myself that there’s something better waiting for me just round the corner, and that this writing thing was just a distraction from the ‘real world’.
And then, real world came and hit me smack in the face. And it wasn’t bad. Just…kind of meh.
And it dawned on me that there was no pot of gold waiting for me at the end of this murky rainbow. I’d arrived at my destination, at the promised land of gainful employment that parents, teachers, and sundry relatives had all lectured me about for all these years.
There was nowhere else to go from here. But “here” wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, forty years down the line.
The Urge to Escape Irrelevance
And so, I began writing in earnest. Not because I expected greater success than I’d had before, but simply because failing at this was better than staying stuck and unmoving, with little to look forward to other than the once-a-year vacations that rarely lasted more than a week.
Overnight, I went from being an unmotivated student who barely managed to secure a passing grade most of the time, to a highly motivated professional writer (albeit one who was still making very little money)! And exactly why that happened in the way that it did is still, to some degree, a mystery to me.
What I do know, however, is that writing regularly and calling myself a writer (if only in my own head) has changed my life in a way I’d never anticipated. It’s given me something to look forward to and feel excited about in my day-to-day life.
And that’s not because writing is easy (or even fun) most of the time. In fact, the most fun I have is during the brainstorming/outlining process. The actual writing is often stressful and always effing hard!
And yet, I’m happier and more confident than I’ve ever been before. I now have a general sense of satisfaction, purpose, and wellbeing that I’d never experienced in the first 23 years of my life. It’s not that I was particularly unhappy before. Far from it. I had a blast in college and made some fantastic friends; those will always be some of the most memorable years of my life!
A Reason to Get Out of Bed Every Morning
It’s just that, I have something now that I never did before — a reason to wake up and get out of bed every morning. I no longer have to wait for a vacation or a party to feel excited about my day. I always have something awesome or interesting to tell my readers, and that’s the best reason to get out of bed I’ve ever had!
And then, of course, there’s the more immediate monetary reward associated with my day job and freelance work. That’s a different kind of high, knowing that I’d get paid for every word I write. Sometimes, it’s a struggle not to let it eat into my creative writing time.
I suppose it’s not hard to tell where I get the motivation for that!
And the great thing about it? Freelancing as a web copywriter has taught me how to sell my writing — something no writer today can do without, no matter what their genre or format.
Is it easy trying to balance a full-time job with two side-hustles? Lol, no! And it’s not like I’m doing it that well anyway, which you can probably tell by the epic frequency of my blog posts!
But you know what? We’re all hanging out here anyway, creeping along on a tiny dust-ball suspended in space, waiting to die. Might as well throw ourselves against the wall of impossibility and give it everything we’ve got.
After all, what do we have to lose? Not like anyone’s getting out of this alive anyway, is it?

Friday, April 5, 2019

Expectation, Aspiration, and the Meaning of Success


I’ve been thinking a lot about success, lately. About what it means to be successful, or to fail. Is there really such a thing as objective success or objective failure, or is the experience of success and failure inherently subjective?

I mean, there are some people whose names immediately come to mind when we talk about success. The rockstars, the famous actors, and the tech billionaires who seem to be making millions on their way out of the womb, for example.

Likewise, there are those who are almost universally considered to be failures. Beggars, unemployed and/or homeless people, and depending on where you live, even people working in certain industries which are known for providing low-wage, dead end jobs.

But as we all know, the problem with this assessment is that the same person may be successful at one point in their life and unsuccessful at another.

An employed person may lose their job and fail to find another one for a variety of reasons, including technological advancement or an economic downturn. Likewise, someone who was unemployed for a number of years may find a job due to a proliferation of employment opportunities in the area, even if nothing about that person has changed fundamentally.

On the other hand, you can be both successful and unsuccessful at the same time, in different areas of your life. Say you got a divorce and landed a promotion on the same day. Would you then feel like a success or a failure? Or some unfathomable mixture of the two that is the human experience in a nutshell?

The Three Types of Success

From what I can tell, there are three main varieties of success. You can have all three at the same time, of course, and then you’d be in an enviable position indeed. You could also have one or more of them, but not all.

The first type of success may be described as social success, in that other people (the society) consider you to be successful. This is the most objective type of success. When Mark Zuckerberg became the youngest self-made billionaire in his twenties, more or less everybody agreed that he had achieved some level of success.

Not that success always needs to be that spectacular, of course. Most eminent lawyers, doctors, businessmen, actors, and various other professionals have some level of social success, in that most people in the society would consider them to be reasonably successful individuals.

This is the type of success teachers and parents tell us we would get if we study hard and score well in exams. And for the most part, they aren’t wrong about that.

And then, there is the more subjective type of success, which we may call personal success. This is what you get when you achieve a goal that you had set for yourself, whether or not the external world places any value on that goal. This is the type of success that is the most emotionally rewarding, though it may or may not be especially lucrative.

Obviously, the two can overlap. If becoming a doctor was your life-long dream, then you will achieve both personal and social success when you finally get a hold of that medical degree. You will get the sense of euphoric satisfaction from having achieved your most cherished personal goal, as well as the social validation of having a respectable and well-paid career ahead of you.

But that needn’t always be the case. You can achieve personal success even without any external validation. Imagine you've been trying to master a particular recipe, or organize an event which has proved to be particularly difficult.

When you finally manage to make that perfect dish, or the event goes smoothly without the slightest hitch, you would still experience that rush of euphoria, that feeling of accomplishment, although society at large may not consider it to be a grand achievement.

For me personally, I was happier when I sold a copy of my book on Amazon for the first time, for a little less than a dollar, than when I got my first salary around the same time, which was a lot more money for a lot less work.

So personal success is determined more by your inner compass than any external benchmarks.

And just as they can often overlap, personal and social success can at times be almost antithetical to one another. For instance, I left a higher paying, more prestigious position in another city for a less lucrative job in my hometown, because that allowed me to accomplish a personal goal that I’ve had all my life: writing novels.

Had I chosen to take the better job offer, I would’ve had to sacrifice that personal ambition, or at least put it on the backburner for the time being. Hence, I had a choice to make...between being successful in the eyes of others or doing the thing that made me feel successful and accomplished in my own eyes.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer to this. There are just choices to be made. And the right decision for me might not be the ideal choice for someone else. Only you can decide what is right for you, depending on your own desires and circumstances.

And now we come to the third aspect of this elusive thing called success – circumstances. When we overcome the particular adversities of our life and improve our own condition, we have achieved circumstantial success. This may have nothing to do with what society views as success, or even our own passions or ambitions.

For example, I have struggled with chronic procrastination throughout my life. So, maintaining a semi-regular writing habit (for over two years) feels like a huge success to me, although it may be no big deal to most people. Getting a passing grade on a paper you thought you’d fail is success, while coming in third when you were aiming to top the class is failure.

Privilege and Success

For a person born into a poor, working class family, securing an entry-level, white collar job may feel like success, although a data-entry clerk or call center employee may not be society’s definition of a success story.

Much of the time, it’s not a job or a salary package that makes us feel successful, it’s the circumstances surrounding it. For the child of an illiterate laborer, landing a clerical office job is a huge success. The same job may feel like a huge failure to the child of an affluent lawyer or doctor.

Which brings us nicely to one of the biggest points of contention in any discussion about success. The idea that only the children of the rich can be successful; that privilege paves a direct path to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy.

And there are essentially two camps when it comes to this topic – let’s call them the ‘luck camp’ and the ‘hard work camp’.

The luck camp believes, more or less, that birth is destiny. If you’re born to rich parents who can provide you with a world class education and the best mentorship and opportunities, you’ll be successful. If not, you’re pretty much doomed, save for a few rags-to-riches type outliers who are the exception rather than the rule.

And then there’s the hard-work camp, which believes that people can achieve anything they want if only they are dedicated enough and work hard enough, regardless of their social or financial background.

And while both of these positions have some merit, personally, I don’t think either of them is true.

Simply because I don’t think there is any one thing labeled ‘success’ that some people get and others do not.

Because the exact same thing can be one person’s idea of roaring success and another’s notion of abject failure. When we say that only the rich and privileged can be successful, we assume that success means the same thing to everyone.

It doesn’t, though. Let’s take a bit of an extreme example as a case study, to illustrate my point.

Let’s think for a second about one of the most prominent political figures, from one of the most eminent political families in India – Rahul Gandhi.

Had a random person managed to become the president of one of the two largest political parties in the country and run for Prime Minister before fifty, he or she would most certainly have been considered a success story, even if they didn’t manage to win the election.

However, nobody considers Rahul Gandhi particularly successful for having become the president of the Indian National Congress, because everyone (including him) knows that he pretty much inherited the position.

For him to be considered a successful politician, he would (at least) need to become prime minister. Why? Because his father, grandmother, and great grandfather were all prime ministers, and anything less would be seen as a failure for him.

For most people, including politicians, prime ministership is not the minimum benchmark for success. I certainly wouldn’t think of myself as a failure if I’m not the head of government by the time I’m fifty. And I’m sure most people reading this feel the same way. (And if you’re the one person who doesn’t…Hi Rahul! Gimme a government job, pretty please?)

I’m not saying any of this because I have an axe to grind against any political party. In fact, I think Mr. Gandhi’s come a long way since his last electoral defeat in 2014. The point is, success and failure are fluid concepts, determined mostly by our own expectations and aspirations.

Aspirations, Expectations, and a Subjective View of Success

If we can achieve that which we aspire to, we feel successful. If we fail to get that which we expect, we feel like we have failed. And that, in turn, affects the way we are seen by society at large.

Of course, what we expect and what we aspire to are heavily influenced by our background and experiences. The child of a millionaire may expect to drive a Ferrari and aspire to the prime ministership, while the child of a middle-class professional may expect a desk job and a 2 BHK flat, while day-dreaming about Ferraris as he sets up his side-business.

This is because we aspire to the things that we do not see in our day-to-day life, while expecting (and taking for granted) the things that we do.

I grew up in a two bedroom, 900 sq ft apartment. So, if I suddenly had to live in a tin-roofed shanty, I’d be pretty bummed about it; and equally thrilled if I ever got to call a mansion my home. ‘Cause the former is less than I expected, and the latter more than I aspired to. 

The same 2 BHK flat can look like success to a slum-dweller whose kid has secured a government job, and failure to the millionaire whose offspring has blown his inheritance. The slum-dweller had gotten what he aspired to, while the millionaire had failed to get what he expected.

Privilege can certainly get you places, and get you there faster; but if you were born into privilege, you’ll have to go much farther to feel like a success (or for anybody else to consider you one). A clerk is successful if he was born to a sweeper and a failure if he was born to a doctor. ‘Cause success isn’t really about where you land; it’s about how far you flew.

So it’s silly, in my opinion, to say that only the children of the rich can be successful.

Is it likely that you’ll become a tech billionaire if you were born to illiterate indentured laborers? Nope. Do you have to become a tech billionaire to be considered a huge success, and to feel like one? Again, nope. Not unless you’re Zuckerberg’s kid, that is. Now that’s what you’d call a tough act to follow.

On Seeing the World through Unfamiliar Eyes

Which brings us to the next important question that crops up in most discussions about success. What if you’re the only child of a self-made billionaire and you find that you really, really like sewing scarves? Would you then be a failure if you followed your scarf-making dreams, or if you pursued your parent’s footsteps into a business you couldn’t care less about?

The problem with trying to measure success objectively is, of course, that not everybody wants the same thing.

This can be hard to grasp, sometimes, simply because we can only see the world from our own perspective, only think from inside our own head. Which makes it hard to believe that somebody could have goals and priorities that are fundamentally different from ours, and to then measure their level of success in respect to those goals.

So we opt for the simpler option instead. Which is to measure everybody by the same standards; or to be more precise, by our standards. It’s easier to believe that everybody thinks like us, than to try and think like other people and see the world through unfamiliar eyes.

So those who are very passionate about their career might believe that everybody needs to find their one true passion in order to be successful, and that anyone who hasn’t found it must be unfulfilled in their job or career. I know I’ve fallen into this trap in the past.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer; that writing was the one thing that brought me joy, fulfillment, and confidence.

That passion was such a significant part of my personality and worldview that for the longest time, I couldn’t understand how somebody could not have a passion that they wanted to pursue throughout their lives. I never really understood my fellow students, my classmates, who said they weren’t sure what they wanted to do after graduation. For me, that had never even been a question.

It was a long time before I fully understood and internalized the fact that you can have a perfectly satisfactory, fulfilling, and successful career without having an all-consuming passion for one skill-set or profession.

Many of my friends who are strongly romantic, keep telling me that the only reason I’ve never wanted to be in a relationship is because I’ve not met the ‘one’ yet; that mythical male (or female) who’s supposed to sweep me off my feet and complete my fragmented soul. You know, my soulmate.

Even today, after twenty-four years of unwavering singledom, I keep getting told that there will come a time when I’ll find the ‘one’ with whom I’m meant to spend the rest of my life, and fall head over heels in love with them. ‘Don’t worry, he’s out there somewhere. You won’t be alone.’

It’s said like a reassurance, as if ending up alone is something I’m afraid of. It’s not. I think I’m awesome company!

And I never understood the point of wanting to share your life with one particular person anyway, and still don’t. I mean, I obviously want to have people around me whom I love and want to spend time with, and who hopefully feel the same way about me. But I don’t see why that person needs to be a romantic partner. I could just as happily share my life with a bunch of friends and family members.

But that’s just me, and I’m happily weird that way. Hell, I never even understood how going on a date was supposed to be different from going out with a friend, or what you were supposed to do differently or why (well, apart from the end result, I suppose). I still have a very fleeting grasp on the subject.

The thing is, though, I don’t think any of the people who gave me all those reassurances about the inevitability of romance in my life had anything but the best of intentions, even though it did tend to get annoying every now and then.

After years of chafing against those presumptions, I’ve come to realize that the idea of not wanting someone to spend your life with is as foreign to them, as the idea of not knowing what you’re passionate about is to me. It almost doesn’t compute.

Which means that anyone who doesn’t feel the same way – who doesn’t feel that urgency to get what we so badly want – must be missing some essential ingredient to the recipe for success and fulfillment. Something that they should try and find as soon as possible. Ergo, anyone who has all the things we want, must be successful. And anyone who doesn’t has obviously failed.

Because that black and white worldview is simpler than trying to accept and internalize the fact that not everyone wants the same things.

The person stuck in a boring, dead end job may not be there because they have no other options. Instead, they might just care more about living in the same city as their friends, than having a higher income. The quiet, middle-aged man living alone may not be a bitter loner left behind by his loved ones. He might just really like his own company. Someone living in a tiny flat might be incapable of buying a larger one, or they might just be too lazy to do the housework needed to maintain a big living space.

People want different things from life. Not everybody has (or wants) a soulmate, or a passion, or a lot of money. You could want all of these things, or none. But then, is somebody a failure for not getting something they never wanted in the first place? Or can we call someone a success for having something they don’t particularly want, but which others would kill for?

Without any clear goalposts, how can we know when someone has scored a point in the game of life? And when someone has achieved true success?

Success and the Education System

Perhaps one of the reasons why there is so much confusion about what constitutes success, is that we are never actually told how to conceptualize, define, or identify it. We are always told, from a very young age, that success is something that we must achieve. However, we never learn what exactly it is that we are supposed to be chasing.

Can you visualize success? What does it look like? A sleek car and a large house? Cocktails on a beach? No alarm clocks on your bedside table? Personally, I’d take that last one over anything else in a jiffy!

But the point is, most of us don’t know the answer to that question. But how can you find something when you don’t know what it is you’re looking for?

We know we need to study hard and work smart in order to be successful. But what happens when we finally find that success? How would we even know if we’ve found it, when we don’t know what it looks like?

Or is it that there is no finish line after all, and success is always just a little more than whatever you happen to have right now?

Schools and colleges do an excellent job of teaching us how to be productive wealth-creators. Maybe because productivity and the resultant money are the only measures of success we really understand, because they are the most easily measured. 

On Prioritizing Well-being

After twenty-plus years of education, most of us know how to go about getting a job. What we often don’t know – are never taught – is how to manage our own emotions, our relationships, or even our day-to-day lives. Why? Cause no one thought those were subjects worth teaching in a forty-minute class.

Parents will pay huge amounts of money to hire private tutors who’ll teach their kids about set theory and the history of medieval Europe. But many of them wouldn’t spend a dime to teach the child about mental health, self-care, or relationship building.

This is not to say, of course, that Pythagoras' theorem and Napoleon’s battle at Waterloo are unimportant or should not be taught at school. But that knowledge is only useful when it builds upon a foundation of intellectual clarity, emotional stability, and effective self-management skills.

Because to be successful, you have to first understand what success means to you, how to go about getting it, and how that journey will be affected by your personality, circumstances, and relationships.

Neither Pythagoras nor Napoleon will come to your rescue if you reach the end of this arduous journey only to realize – too late – that the destination isn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Poetry: Populist Prejudice – Politics in the Land of Automation



What’s an ideologue without an ideology?
The populist messiah of a jobless democracy.
The man of the people rages against the corrupt elite,
We’ll march against foreigners, ’cause we can’t lynch machines.

They hate us, we hate them, there’s not much else to do;
When the employment exchange closes shop, ’cause employers are too few.
He can’t offer jobs, but at least he’s found us a cause,
Policy drowns in a sinking economy, sentiment swims on fiery applause.

A dictator in the making, or a martyr for the cause,
Sacrificing immigrants on the altar of the automation gods.
Who wants mechanical enemies, when you can have flesh and blood?
Brown skin, blue eyes, all dying in the mud.

First they came for the factories, next they’ll come for the cars;
Universal basic income, but your basic is my farce.
Newsmen say the youth are rioting for their rights,
Might a charismatic demagogue lead an army of Luddites?

Can a dictator be elected, deception legalized?
If robots serve at diners, can prejudice be enfranchised?
A system fueled by the desperation of the masses
If there’re no jobs to be had, we’ll buy a war with our taxes.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Poetry: Of Public Buses and Rainy Days



Lightning split the sky and thundered,
Electric blue the gray clouds sundered;
The rickety minibus skidded on wet concrete,
Weaving through rush-hour traffic on city streets.

It smelt like wet leather and misery,
Dripping seats and handholds slippery;
The crowd converged as the tires screeched,
They pushed and they clawed till the door was reached.

The rain beat down on fatigue-bent shoulders,
The burnt out faces of overtaxed householders;
Boots stepped on sandals and cheap heels broke,
The vehicle lurched forward, the engine belched smoke.

A briefcase-wielding pensioner came running after,
Waved, shrieked obscenities, bellowed at the conductor;
Hanging by the door, the young men laughed,
Time’s up, they conveyed on the conductor’s behalf.

He yelled, he ran, he lunged for the door–
The steps had been rained on, mud-slick the floor;
Fingers found the handlebar, a boot touched the metal step,
A single slip, lost footing, a tiny misstep.

Run over, roadkill, accident case,
All that remained – bones jutting from mangled flesh;
Crimson rainwater clogged the gutters,
Onlookers gathered, heads bobbing, prayers muttered.

The bus sped away, the next due in five,
The crowd will be ready when this one arrives.
Some flesh under wheels is the price we pay,
For four walls, four meals, and a salary day.
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