The Price of Ambition

During one of my travels, I was seated next to an elderly Indian couple. They seemed to be in their mid fifties and they were in US to attend a wedding. As our flight was a couple of hours long, we spent the time, talking to each other about ourselves. So after the customary interchange, the conversation went like this.
Before I begin, any Indian person who is 10 years older than me is considered an uncle/aunty. Jokes apart I quite like this cute avuncular culture !

Uncle: So, how old are you?
Me: I am 27.
Uncle: You are married?
Me: Nope
Uncle: It is the right time, you should get married. What are you waiting for?
Me: I still have some distance to go before I think I am mature enough for that.
Uncle: What nonsense, you seem to be in the IT industry. How much do you make?
I disclose my salary after which he felt sorry for me and suggested he will put in kind words to his nephew who owns a start up company in SF.
Aunty interjects: What is your caste, beta?
Me: Uhm, I am not sure.
Aunty: Well, what is your last name? I can deduce your caste from your last name.
Me: Mind – Blown!
So here is the thing about Indian Aunties, they come pre-programmed with “ancenstry.com” database. So they can spell out your ancestors, what they did for a living, where they lived etc… all by just learning your last name.
I personally think they would have made very good Nazi’s as racial profiling comes easy to them. Don’t be offended, in India, ethnic cleansing looks something like this:

ganga_snan

I watched an interview of George Harrison, the fabled Beatles man. When asked about his cult status in the music industry, he said how he felt trapped under the limelight. Everyone around him thinks that he is a genius, but he alone knows that he has no idea what he’s doing.
I am officially an adult and I am really not sure how why this is the case.

Growing up, I was very excited and looked forward to the day when I would become an adult. I wanted to do what the cool people did, like go anywhere they want, eat anytime they want and talk to strangers as if they knew each other.
But more importantly as a career move, I never knew how people figured what they wanted to do. I mean, I am okay with computers I guess but I never understood  why would anyone pay me to do stuff which seems fun and quite easy?

So I asked a friend who went to IIT because I thought that he would surely know how to decide on a career. He said something brilliant.

The world loves mediocrity, if you are average, people aren’t threatened by you. So they would accept you, as a peer. And you would never be over-qualified for a job. So you can gradually make progress and be at a stage in your career. I mean imagine, if you were a genius at an entry level job. Wouldn’t that guarantee depression?

We all adore people who are brilliant but I feel most of them lead turbulent lives. Especially the ones who made an impact in history. And I am not talking about insecurity, I worship intelligence. When I listen to a Brahms composition, or read “Edward Bernays “Propaganda” or watch a performance by Martha Graham, I go numb. I am awestruck but at the same time sad that I would never be able to reproduce that. Ever.

I hope I didn’t come across as a douche with my choice in entertainment. I just wanted to sound eclectic! I am a regular guy with regular choices. And I think I am comfortable with that, because I know things that I am not.

Which brings me to another theory that I find fascinating -Peter’s Principle.

Peters principle: “Members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability”.
What it means is say you are an excellent programmer, you’d be promoted to an average senior programmer, then if you do stick on and hit the targets, you’ll become a manager. But since you were promoted for your technical skills and not people management, you’d end up becoming a terrible manager. But you can’t work on the same pay check years after working in the team. So getting promoted to a job you’ll be terrible at, seems to be the only logical way!
This might have been a demotivational article so far but look at the bright side. I think there is a reason why Indian and Asian students thrive in the western economy.  We are number one in IQ and intelligence and shit last in self esteem. So we ride this hamster wheel of hard work without realizing that, we have achieved our goals.
We seem to have an enforced sense of humility that prevents us from selling ourselves. I am tired of smart people complaining that “I do my job and expect rewards. I can’t go around prancing and announcing how terrific I am at what I do. That is just not me”.

And don’t even start about the inflated self purpose that us STEM folks have. We are just more relevant at the current time stamp in history that is all.
I would really recommend everyone to watch “Dirty Jobs” produced my Mike Rowe. He educates us about vocational education and it’s relevance in the job market today. You don’t have to cut it out as a marketing manager or a software analyst or an investment banker to become financially independent.
You could still lead a comfortable and a fulfilling career while being an electrician, crane operator or even a plumber. Those jobs won’t be automated. At least not in the near future. If my parents waited for their perfect job, they would never have provided me the opportunity to pursue what I wanted to do.

During my time in the middle east, I came across a lot of immigrant workers from Nepal, India, Philippines and Sri lanka. They would scourge and live minimally and send all the money back to their homes. And hopefully channel those resources to pay for their kids tuition’s. Unfortunately, due to their poverty they don’t think free will exists for their children.

They won’t allow their kids to become electricians or plumbers or a mechanic. They want them to be engineers and doctors. And if chips don’t fall the right way, they are just carving a very expensive tomb for their children in the form of student debts.

I am still trying to understand why paychecks are seen as a barometer for ambition? I just don’t get it. When people my age push their limits to get a better job and an upgrade in quality of life, I get it. Totally, but what is the answer to the question , what’s next?
Surely it can’t be just a better car, an expensive house or an exotic vacation. It just seems stupid and narrow to me.

In my own naive opinion, I feel we should measure our lives by experience rather than achievements. I am 27 now and frankly I have no idea how I got here. And I am pretty sure that when I become 40, I still would not have a clue where to go.
But I don’t want to extinguish this stupid addiction I have for experiences. I may change my opinion in the future, but isn’t having an evolving concept of what I want, an experience in itself?

But at present, I am comfortable with ambiguity. It doesn’t keep me up at night 🙂

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