At 31

Saheb Motiani
Sam-The Learner

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I wanted to write this piece at 30 but I never made time for it. Life just flew by. From what I have heard and read, that’s how the thirties are for many people. Before you blink, they say, you are in your forties. I have been feeling like I’m losing control; it’s not my life anymore. I’m still making conscious choices, but my past decisions have predetermined the set of choices.

Is that a bad thing, you might say, the past decisions were yours after all — also, that’s always the case, isn’t it? You make a decision and that has consequences.

Yeah, I know all that, and that’s the fucked up part. There is no one else to blame. In early youth, we could blame our parents for some of the decisions they made. But not anymore; now it’s all on you. And that responsibility is a big one. Why don't you feel in control if you are making all the calls?

Like chess, in life too, we can only look a few steps ahead. We can be conscious of some consequences but not all.

Moving countries was a conscious choice, but how much it’d influence my mindset, my lifestyle, and my values I couldn’t have known. I still don’t.

If I don’t like it, I’ll move back, I’d say to myself. Regardless it’ll be a good experience.

That was my idea of conscious choice back when I was 23. I can just undo my choice. I didn’t think what if I like it? I didn’t think what if I don’t like India later? How will it affect my idea of home?

Just go with it — a mantra I use whenever thinking gets too much. Even now. I’m getting better and better at predicting when I reach that point. When making the decision is paralysing and going for it is the only way I will find the answer.

Ideally, we want our options always open, so we can undo at any point and just trace back to the previous point. What we don’t want is to pay the cost of retracing, of making a mistake. So we stay where we are. Until the feeling of being stuck becomes so strong that we no longer care about the cost, we just want to break free of the constraints.

I’ve come to realise that whenever I notice my life carved out, I begin feeling stuck. Even moving countries' was to get rid of that feeling. I felt if I stayed at Morgan Stanley, I’d end up climbing the career ladder to become a Director in twelve years. That was not what I wanted from life.

What did I want from life? I’m still figuring that out, but it’s better to cross off more of what I don’t want from life. That makes reaching the answer somewhat easier.

roulette wheel focused on white ball at 31

I was lucky to discover writing in college. Thirteen years later, I’m still writing and enjoying it even more now than I could’ve imagined — not that I had the capability of imagining so far ahead, but still. The writing I enjoy the most is when I write my diary, which helps me make sense of my life, and my existence and keeps me calm; it helps me understand myself better. There is plenty of repetition and nonsense in there, but the act of writing my thoughts down clears my head and also helps me think clearly. It’s when I write in my diary, that I understand why I acted a certain way, why I did something that didn’t make sense in the moment. Writing slows down life. It helps untangle the myriad of thoughts. Above all, it lightens my life.

When I began my first blog, I wrote only when the stream of consciousness struck — I would slog through the night and publish it. No rereading or rewriting or any effort whatsoever in trying to make it better. That was a lot of fun. But as time went on, I read better writers and bloggers, I wanted to write like them. Also, my writing improved and I could no longer write just thoughts. I understood what flowed and noticed writing elements like coherence, clarity, and conciseness. In other words, I began developing a taste. Usually at this point, you no longer like your previous writing but you don’t have the tools or skill to write as well as your taste would desire. Overcoming this is crucial for progress. Permit yourself to write shit. Many people don’t give themselves this freedom; some can’t tolerate the ugly drafts and most don’t have the patience to keep doing it. They don’t believe their writing will improve. They stop writing.

“Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar” […]. If you write, you must believe — in the truth and worth of the scrawl, in the ability of the reader to receive and decode the message.

— Elements of Style (fourth edition).

Write. Rewrite. Repeat.

You might never reach the point where you think it’s good enough, but that’s what the writing journey is all about. To live in the hope that someday it might. Here’s a passage that inspires me to rewrite.

In the long run, the revision process feels better if you approach it with curiosity. Each editorial mark can’t register as a “mistake” that threatens the spider ego. Remind yourself that revising proves you care for the reader and the nature of your ambition. Writing, regardless of the end result — whether good or bad, published or not, well reviewed or slammed — means celebrating beauty in an often ugly world. And you do that by fighting for elegance and beauty, redoing or cutting the flabby, disordered parts.

— Art of Memoir.

I still write plenty, but don’t publish most of it. Maybe I will change that this year. I wrote long letters to friends and family that started on a whim when I moved to Manchester in 2016. I stopped in late 2021. In those six years, I wrote 33 long letters that I’m proud of.

Around the same time, in early 2017, I began working on something longer, a memoir, that I still haven’t been able to complete. It’s stuck at 75%, for life came in the way. Here’s me hoping to complete the last quarter this year. When I started, I had thought, I would be able to wrap it up in a year or two. Ah, I miss my old naivety!

Poker is another hobby I discovered during my college days. I still enjoy it but struggle to make time for it. The pattern holds for any hobby, to turn it into something serious like a job, you need to put in a lot of effort and time. From unpaid labour to paid work, from amateur to professional, from a fun pastime to a desirable skill. Playing poker is a lot of fun, but I get a lot of resistance from my conscience that it has zero utility. A part of me keeps wondering if pursuing that means I’m wasting my life. It gives me happiness, isn’t that a good enough reason to continue?

Moving on to computer programming, the skill that pays the bills and enables me to do everything I desire. I earned my first dollar when I was nineteen and since then I have always had more than I want to spend. Earning your own money gives you a sense of independence that I don’t think anything else can. Money makes you feel valuable. You have something that the world wants, you are in demand. More specifically, your skill is in demand. But in your head, it’s the same thing. We tend to attach our Self with our Skill. If the skill is no longer in demand, we begin questioning our self-worth.

Don’t go down that path, skills come and go, self stays. Also, don’t care too much about demand-supply, just keep honing the skill that you enjoy.

You always need to believe in yourself that you will be able to learn another skill. That you will be able to earn a living one way or another. It will all be fine.

Like writing, programming is fun in itself, but making good software is difficult. It requires a lot of effort and tedious bits like rewriting.

The world values software, not programming.

Software that solves a problem. Software that enables businesses to accelerate. Software that enhances human life.

Making good software is hard but rewarding. Building something tangible based on a fleeting thought or idea in your head is a satisfying endeavour. More importantly, this ability to turn an idea into a product is worth pursuing. This is what keeps us going.

That’s the ideal version, but in reality, most programmers sell their ability to build software for well-established businesses. Myself included.

People who love programming make time for the idealised version after doing their day job. I am not sure I love it that much to pursue it after the work day. In addition, I have other hobbies that I’d rather spend my free time on.

Dreams, goals, and plans are great, but how do I feel at 31?

Like an old man trying to hold onto youth but failing.

When I think of taking my wife to Ladakh on a bullet, my first thoughts are can I still do it? Won’t it be too uncomfortable? The lure of beauty, excitement and adventure I felt in my early twenties is gone. Perhaps I have seen too much now. Or maybe my old body is placing comfort over living.

I’m still finding it difficult to accept how fragile my body has become; a few days of aggressive running tears my knee, dragging or lifting a heavy suitcase damages my shoulder joint. These isolated instances force me to pay attention to what my body is saying — if you won’t take care of it, it won’t take care of you.

So yeah, it’s time to put my health first.

The ten-minute stretching is not sufficient. I need to dedicate an hour to keep my body functioning and prevent my muscles from becoming stiff. Otherwise, I won’t be able to enjoy activities I love — hiking, skiing, cycling.

Physical health affects the mental health, and vice versa. Taking too much stress can have a physical impact on your body — that wasn’t intuitive to me. Fortunately, I haven’t been at stressful demanding jobs so far.

The world is more aware of mental health now. I feel like I have always been self-aware and conscious of how I am feeling. I’m also becoming better at expressing my feelings —

That’s not completely true. Sometimes I fail miserably.

Anger continues to be the emotion that brings out the worst of me. I thought I was better at it — detecting rising rage and not speaking when I’m angry. Turns out, not really, definitely not always. I had merely distanced myself from people and things that could have triggered it. And now that I have a new person who has the power to hurt me, I need to work harder to keep the anger in check. Getting angry is normal, how I deal with that feeling makes all the difference. Swallowing it in silence is the best medicine I know of.

I feel grateful for the friends and family I have in my life, without whom life would be far more bleak and lonely. Talking with them, travelling with them, and laughing with them are the things I live for.

Here is the incomplete draft from a year ago

At 30

When I was twenty-five, I felt like I had completed a quarter of my life.

When I am thirty, I feel like I have completed one-third of my life.

At forty, it seems I will feel like I have completed half of my life.

And at fifty, I shall feel it’s almost over.

You see, as I age, I feel like lowering the final number

100… 90… 80…

I am not doing it consciously; just what it feels like.

I do believe that age is just a number and all that, but I also like the symmetry of numbers. That’s why I have indulged myself in the above calculation a few times now.

One might wonder that optimism and zest for living reduces as one ages so the feelings make some sense. That might very well be true, but there is an alternate easy explanation. It’s just harder to divide 30/100 and not have a well-rounded figure like one-third or one-fourth. So to achieve that symmetry, why not just lower the final number? 90 is also a good number, that shall be sufficient to achieve whatever I do desire.

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Saheb Motiani
Sam-The Learner

A writer in progress | A programmer for a living | And an amateur poker player