The first time I ever felt like I didn’t belong was when I went back home to India. Born and raised in Botswana – I’ll give you a second to Google that - in an environment that was never intended to be mine, I grew up only knowing one way of life, my friends, my likes and even my mannerisms reflected my environment – I was at home.
As a youngling, you are rarely swayed by the name, creed or color. There were no allusions, no favoritism and certainly no discrimination. But in a child-like society that thrives off of indifferences growing up, there is a turning point where you notice distinct differences and we, unfortunately, stray down this unforgiving path of cognizant acceptance with “sprinkle” of bias. Why does this happen? Could we all just go back to what it was like when we were kids, please!
To be perfectly honest, our individuality is cyclical, I don’t wanna nerd out, but its sin(x) between 0 and 2π.. because we want our pie and to eat it 2(π) (giggles to self- that would kill at all math conventions, I guarantee it). But let's face it, we start out at the origin, neutral and impassive – we don’t have opinions on anything and it's great.
But as time goes on, we start conforming – its normality by numbers. We do what everybody does, we define coolness on things that are done by masses and for that one kid who comes with a mp3 player when the iPod came out, we as a society cast them aside like the riff-raff they are, its harsh and coupled with teenage adolescence (most likely) it’s unrelenting.
Once we reach the zenith of our powers, we start looking at the other people doing extraordinary things, unorthodox things and we realize that it’s pretty frigging awesome to stand out. Jumping off that high-horse to come back down to earth and understand that we are all different and accept it again. We find ourselves at a net neutral again, but with a tendency to stray away from the norm. We start introspectively finding out what our quirks are, what we’re passionate about rather than what people want us to do (I am personally here right now, thanks, engineering, and Indian parents) and I honestly think people in this overcompensate and go tangentially for a while till they hit that sweet spot.
The only problem with the sweet spot is that you are now alone, unique, interesting, but do you feel relevant? Are there others like you in this space? Just as a jig-saw puzzle piece, you are incomplete without the other parts, and start coming back towards neutrality till you reach a point where you have all your experiences leveraging a positively correlated randomness that essentially is who you are.
The first part of that curve falls under what is loosely termed “conformism”. Let's face it, feeling different can be unsettling in a world that thrives on sameness and can tarnish confidence and bring havoc to your professional outlook. India and its perception outside is a huge proponent of conformism – we become engineers, lawyers, and doctors before deciding what we want to do, almost to a point where we look down on other fields like they’re pointless – I’d scoff if I said I wanted to write to a majority.
This extends to things like physical appearance, activities and even what we deem necessary. We idolize a select community, confer the responsibility of being our guardians and assume they are in a better position to adjudicate what you need. Don’t hide behind the make-up Kardashians, and don’t make others fall prey to your insecurities around physical appearance <drops hair growth cream>
A large part of the time, I feel like we conform because we don’t understand and seek to attribute certain things to a tangible icon (I personally think this is where religion sometimes loses its value, but that’s another discussion altogether)
But even among the masses, there are the dreamers, the people who seem aloof and out there but are the ones making a difference. Let’s be those people, through structured channels, let’s break barriers and bring the world that is spiraling out of control to a uniform halt.
Individuality is as advertised, it’s the sum of everything that makes you different from the rest. This may come in many different shapes and sizes and affects everything we see and feel. To throw random examples out (not mine I promise), let’s look at these:
- Burping the alphabet
- Expressing niche interests – such as being a professional chili eater (it could happen ok!)
- Referring to yourself in the 3rd person – Babz blabz as ush.
- Making facial expressions for everything independent of the situation.
Yeah, I’m a strange one. Oddly proud of it.
Embrace the weird in you!
But now, why is this individuality important to us? One word – Passion. We all have passions, that one thing we want to do more than anything else. Setting your mind free from the shackles of conformism gives you the liberty to explore these interests. What is that you may ask, any god damn thing you want it to be.
You will need to brainstorm a bit, think about what you want to do with your free time, what matters to you personally, what makes you lose track of time. Now, to make it more than a daydream, you’ll need to address if you’ve had experience with it, and equally importantly, are there other “me-s” out there. Finding your niche is half the battle.
Personally, I have found that I like writing, helping others go through things I have already gone through, and sports. How I realized this, was that after I get home –these are the 3 things I’d do without thinking twice (laziness doesn’t count as a niche interest sadly). Although I wish I could do the same with the gym.
In the interest of getting to get to know Babz a bit more, and hopefully find out more about yourself. I’d like to take you on the journey I had taken to reach where and who I am today. I’ve been incredibly lucky to live all over the world, meet people and learn from all wakes of life.
Starting with Gaborone, Botswana, immersing myself in a culture that was foreign, yet homely. My parents inculcated traditional values through cultural and community services. They taught me my native language Tamil, encouraged me to learn Setswana, the local language, and French. A sportsman at heart, I played cricket for Southern Botswana at the under 15 level where I was ingrained with discipline and humility, in victory and defeat. I also learned teamwork where 2+2 always equals 5.
Leaving the tranquility of Africa for Dubai, UAE. I went to a local school where I was shocked that boys and girls were completely segregated – there was literally a wall between the boys and girls in the same class, with the same teacher. Perplexed, to say the least, I took the time to be educated on why this was the situation but grew to appreciate the cultural diversity I was witnessing first hand.
From there to Manipal, India, where I was taught many of life’s lessons. I was home yet felt alienated. In freshman year, I struggled to adapt to the demands of the educational system coming from UK’s to India’s – I failed 5 subjects, I DON’T CARE ABOUT LEIBNIZ THEOREM OK.
Stressed out, I joined the college cricket team where I became captain, learning to not only cope with expectation, but to excel. More than the academic distinction I eventually achieved, I relished my adaptability and nerve to handle pressure. The transformation through college is unparalleled, but in an all new environment was another beast. I was blessed to make some truly remarkable friends who helped me through everything. I’d always had faith, but now I’d developed hope.
Onto New Brunswick, USA. I finally felt a little bit like I was at home, but something was different. Others were feeling my alienation, and I saw signs that I had seen all too many times. I chose to do something about it and joined the Graduate Students Association and took it on myself to help people acclimatize to these conditions. We worked together as a community, we laughed and we played. It felt good to be the rain rather than the drought.
Finally, Houston, USA, where I’ve worked on oil rigs throughout the USA with an array of amazingly unique individuals from the other end of the spectrum. Being purely academic till date, I was honestly only used to a certain type of scholar, and this opened my eyes. Former convicts to high school dropouts, haunted by their past but driven by their future. I learned that adversity is all mind games, you can be the change you want to see in the world. These were fathers and mothers who wanted a second chance and were taking life by the scruff of the neck – some a little too literally, but it's excusable for this post.
Through all this, I realized that I had met amazing people everywhere, I’ve walked a mile in their shoes and back with aplomb. Why can’t I use these experiences and help others going through the same or something similar? How many people can genuinely say they’ve had a similar experience? Would people be interested in correlating where I come from and what I’ve done to help their own lives?
“I think there could be potential – let’s start a blog “ Bharat, March 2017
In summary, it’s the passion and willingness to be different that really set you apart. Wanting a change is great, but it's not a substitute for hard work and dedication. I’d like you all the think long and hard about what makes you special, if you could share one thing from your life, what would it be and how would you do it. Show the world who you are, and like my homeboys from Fort minor say – Remember the name.
- Don’t let other people tell you what you need to be doing all the time.
- Take pride in being different from the pack.
- Leave being a conformist to the hippies
- Don’t be a hippie!
- I’ve said it before, but be you – ain’t nothing as beautiful as who you are.
- Use your powers for good – looking at you Voldermort!
The most important thing I’ll say before signing off, is be yourself. There is nobody better than you, there is nobody who understands what you need better than you, and there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it!
And just like J-lo, no matter where she is, she knows where she’s from – She’s still Jenny from the block- don’t ever forget your roots, because that’s who you are and unique to you!
Till next time y’all !