A few years back, as my younger son, Bonny, moved into the higher classes in school, I noticed he would often be pensive, and remain preoccupied in the evenings. I would ask him what’s bothering him, and after some prodding I would gather there are far too many assignments to complete. At that age, he had a deadly mix of two traits. One, his interests were diverse – from games, fiction, and quizzing to academics, mathematics and programming. Two, he needed to be perfect at anything he attempted. While I liked the first trait – at a young age one should be open to variety of interests, I was concerned about the second.
The desire for perfection is a happy trait to have, but it becomes a burden whenever it leads to results-anxiety and consequent stress. Equally bad, at times it prevents us from even attempting. Fortunately, Bonny was attempting all right, but the desire for perfection in multiple areas caused avoidable anxiety. On probing, I also discovered the fear of admonition from teachers also added to the stress, even though the teachers seldom rebuked him.
I realized I have to create a formula for living – something that keeps alive his desire to explore multiple interests without fear of not performing every time he attempts something. The formula should be easily understood for a ninth grade student, so I concluded on something simple. I told him there are three simple rules in life, “work hard, be honest, and love others – and so long as you practice these three, you need not be worried about anything on earth.” The formula seemed to work in all situations, not just for a fourteen-year-old, and I myself kept repeating the same whenever I would be unhappy. And I would tell this to anyone else who’d seem unnecessarily stressed.
Last year, however, this formula was challenged. 2008 was a particularly difficult year, specially for those students graduating and looking for jobs. They were ridden with anxiety and uncertainty, and asked questions for which I had no answer. I realized a large number of students were studying computer science or related subjects with no real love for the discipline. Many wanted to be in here either in expectation of easy money or because someone pushed them into it. Often I’d question a computer science audience, “how many of you are passionately looking forward to software as a career”, and not more than one-third of the hands will go up. I am disappointed with such response, as there’s no greater tragedy than being stuck in a career one has no passion for. If the only reason for me to go through four years of drudgery is to find a well-paying job, and I do not find that job, of course I’d feel cheated!
My three-step success formula thus needed to expand, and I added three more:
4. Dream big
5. Avoid greed
6. Focus on action, not results
I am aware the scriptures teach us the same, but if these are the simple rules for life, so be it! Intrinsic traits of human society probably haven’t changed so much over the millennia that the basic rules of living must change.
We need self confident children in our society, who are not driven by the sole aim of finding a well paying job. We need children with a variety of interests, and passionately driven by some of these. If as a society, we must grow into a more confident and happier future, the younger generation must be driven by big dreams and a desire to realize these. When such goals drive us, temporary setbacks like not finding the job of my choice are occasional hurdles along the way that will challenge our resolve and our creativity, and we will not merely wait for the sun to shine in our direction. Often, despite the best efforts, we will not find immediate returns; that’s when we need faith and conviction, that we have chosen the right path, and the humility that not everything can be within our control.
Postscript – the expanded list seems to work for Bonny, too; big dreams create the magic of responding to current setbacks with equanimity. We understand there’s life beyond this hurdle.