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Identity Beyond Accomplishment

Have you noticed how when we move up from one academic year to the next, there’s a bit more expected out of us? From our parents to peers, teachers to tutors, and most importantly—from ourselves. There’s an unshakeable thought always present at the back of our heads: “This is it. I’m going to have to decide what I want to do with my life, what I want to become, what kind of a career do I need to build for myself”. 

You might be coming up on your board exams or perhaps you’re in your final year of a degree. Either way, the seriousness of it all might have, at times, led you to question your ability: “What if I’m not able to pursue science?”, “What will I do if I don’t get placed?” or maybe you’ve even thought of the worst “What if I flunk?”.

There’s so much that rests on our formal education, on our ability to perform well in exams, so that we too can find our footing in the big world, just as our siblings and seniors may have done. So that we too could be counted among the successful ones, seen by our peers and family as a source of pride and inspiration.

“Come what may I cannot fail!” “If I fail? What will my peers think of me? What will become of me? Where will I go? What would be left for me to do?” Have you ever had these thoughts run wild in your head, too?

If you were able to relate to any of what was written above, I’d like to inform you that you are not alone, you are not a “freak”, you are not “weak”, and you are not a “disappointment”. What you are is human. It’s completely natural for us to experience fearful thoughts or even doubt our abilities. As somebody who’s had his fair share of moments of doubt, I’d like to tell you that they are not limited to your academics.

Life is full of surprises and shocks. No single formula or equation assures you a life free of challenges. What that means is that even after you build yourself a successful career, and earn a fair bit of repute and money, life will not excuse you from its ups and downs. So, if we’ve convinced ourselves that all we ever have to do is get the highest scores and land those top-tier jobs, we need to think again.

Now, if you're thinking: “So what, should I just pretend that scoring well, going to a good college, earning a degree, and building a career are all pointless pursuits?” Of course not! All those things are great and aspiring for them is awesome. It’s because our predecessors pursued their goals with such dedication, is why we have amazing things in our lives today. But what is not okay, though, is thinking that these pursuits are all that is to life. 

I say all of this because life is truly uncertain. Somebody once said: god laughs when we make plans. What happens when despite our best efforts we do not achieve the results we sought? Do we become reclusive, shutting the doors on the world and by extension on ourselves? No! Because we are not just students or aspirants, we are sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, we are good friends, we are classmates—we are fellow human beings who enrich each other’s lives.

We seek support from one another, get back up, and try again. Knowing that we are loved and that–no matter what–our life too matters, that we have an equal place upon this earth. We are just as deserving as anybody else, be they a celebrity or a hawker.

Let me paint a small picture for you. I’m sure you have a doctor you consult with whenever you need medical assistance. Let’s say her name is Dr. Smiles. For you, Doc Smiles is an accomplished professional with a recognized degree in medicine; she’s a licensed practitioner who’s earned her name through hard work and thoughtful dedication.

But, it’s most likely that for Dr. Smiles's family, she’s first a loving daughter, spouse, and parent. To her friends, she could be somebody who makes them laugh and genuinely cares for people,  and for her batchmates, Dr. Smiles might be someone who helped them through medical college or was simply around when they needed emotional support.

My point, you ask? Dr Smiles's identity for the people who matter to her is not that of an accomplished doctor. Sure, all of these people are likely to be proud of her accomplishments but that's not the reason why they have regard for her. You too trust Dr. Smiles with your health not just because she is a good doctor, but because she’s a decent human being who listens to you patiently and treats you ethically. If she wasn’t, would any of her accomplishments be enough to bring you back to her?

We must allow ourselves to think about these things because, yes, academic excellence is the stepping stone to a fulfilling life, and yes, achieving success and recognition is something all of us should aspire for, yet is that all we want for ourselves? Life cannot be lived in the future–we cannot hope to live life someday. We must live it each day, every day.

For the little boy on the road with no pants on, you’re unlikely to ever be the one who topped his or her class, but you can be somebody they remember as “the one who gave me a pack of biscuits, with a caring smile on their face”.



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