Sunday, July 28, 2013

Insecure Overachievers

The sky is overcast and there is a mild drizzle, not so strong,  that it would turn the birds away, but enough to dissuade one from venturing out. I sit in my weekend retreat cottage in Lonavala, overlooking the lake and trying to spot the birds in the trees beyond.  The ground is various hues of green, it is as if the earth has come to life. Sitting here, looking at the clouds rising from the valley and trees swaying in the wind, I cannot help but say to myself that this is life. Not the one, a few hundred kilometers away in Mumbai, pouring over an excel sheet trying to make a financial model day in and day out. 

But then, I have had phases in my life, where I have lived the life like this. Be it the four beautiful years I spent in Goa or the annual vacation I used to have at home in Mumbai during monsoons. A few days into each of these phases, I have yearned to get back to " more important and busy" vocations. There is a feeling of inadequacy which steps in and the urge to keep yourself busy, so much so that you start feeling guilty. Looking around, I see that this is the case with majority of people of my generation. We want everything in life and yet there are times that we refuse to take the conventional path followed by our parents. A recent article in Daily mail  called us the 'Peter Pan' generation. I somehow disagree with the term and this broad generalization. I would call ourselves, what a friend of mine termed us - " Insecure Overachievers". A generation which wants to do everything and trying to achieve everything at a very early age. This feeling of not yet reaching or achieving what we thought we would be ( a board member at 25, millionaire by 22, Inventor of the next life changing technology or well a zombie fighting Jedi Astronaut) is what is making us still, neither grow up nor letting us feel adequate with our day jobs.  I tried to ponder of the reasons, as to why this might be the case.
  • We are the first post liberalization generation in India. We started going to school when the economy was opened up. We started college at the time of the start of the great bull run and graduated at the time of the great recession. All through this period, we were brought up on the headlines like India shining. Unlike our parents, who were grew up during emergency and in a neglected socialist India, we saw the growth and the riches. We were fed on the ideals that success meant working hard, getting the right degrees and this eventually led to the riches.  
  • Two things happened when we graduated. Firstly because of the great recession, while we worked hard and got the right degrees, the riches did not eventually follow. This meant not enough jobs or the jobs which we desired or cutting down on bonuses/ growth/ perks etc. Most of the generation compromised/ parked themselves in jobs/ higher education degrees etc hoping for the tide to turn and this made us feel inadequate. We kept on working hard, trying to get the get accolades but still not feeling satisfied, a bit like building bridges to nowhere.
  • The second thing which happened, is something which I find more interesting. While, our parents grew up in a era marked by excessive controls, we were brought up in an area where we had access to everything. For them satisfaction came from reaching a status confirmed by money, houses, cars and all the materialistic trapping. Our generation having seen this things, wants something greater. We want to change the world, leave a legacy. For us satisfaction would be marked by satisfying our psychological needs. Be it working on things to change the world, traveling around the world, pursuing that childhood ambition of singing or well putting our energies to start our own ventures than working for a large corporate. We are at a constant struggle to reconcile the idea of success as a materialistic one, the idea bred into us while growing up and the need to feel contend and satisfied by pursuing more existentialistic pursuits. It is this struggle which keeps us from following the road less travelled and makes us feel guilty whenever we are not pursuing the materialistic jobs. We feel insecure and the try to achieve everything to somehow feel contend.   
  • The big question of settling down and marriage, which our generation is accused of so steadfastly avoiding. I feel there is more to it than us being just an immature irresponsible bunch. We are probably the first generation in India which actively dated before marriage. Unlike our parents, for whom the women or men they married were ( most of the time) the only person with whom they had a relationship. For them it was the person with whom they would have to spend their life, whether they liked it or not. We have met, mingled with and dated more than one person. We were brought up on the idea of ever lasting love. Our various relationships taught that love may not always be everlasting. However, for most of us, marriage, seeing our parents, is still an institution which holds a lot of sanctity. And hence we delay the idea of marriage, hoping to find or be sure of finding the one. Compromise is a trait which most of us still need to learn.
  • We have had many more career paths available than our parents. We have had more options and a sense of security which our parents probably never had. We have seen people being successful pursuing the vocations they believed in, we have seen people retire at 40 and we have seen millionaires in 20s. We are a generation which was able to have dreams because of the environment provided to us by our parents which they never could and most importantly, we are a generation  which, till now never knew what failure was. It is hence, we remain in the constant pursuit of happiness, trying out everything, hoping to become satisfied yet feeling insecure and inadequate of not achieving everything which we hoped for. 

For our parents, the path was set out for them. Work hard, get a job, get married, have children and provide a sense of security and status to your family by working till you retire. We having seen this security in terms of support of people around and the degrees which we collected like trophies want something more. We want the world, just do not know, how and where to find it.

While I write this and ponder over the questions of my purpose in life, the rain has stopped and the sun is flirting among the clouds.The birds have come out, flying over the lake. I enjoy the scene, while I wait for the lunch to be served, for tomorrow, I have to go back to that financial model.

picture courtesy: