My defining decade

Saheb Motiani
Sam-The Learner


A decade especially a formative one calls for a reflection. Despite the strong pull of reason and order, we should allow nostalgia, the chaos of our minds, and the bittersweetness of the lost past to creep in. Not all is lost with time, we gain memories, wisdom, a better understanding of life; and above all, a better grasp of who we are, what makes us, us!

I have no doubt life will continue to surprise me but I’d be interested to see if there will be any significant changes in my core characteristics and beliefs — let me complete; don’t judge yet — I’m not a rigid or closed person if anything I believe I’m an exact opposite. I want to forever be open, to an extent that on my death bed, I would like to witness something that would question my entire existence, stare me in the eye with a sly smile, and force me to re-evaluate my life; was it well lived or wonderfully wasted?

Question everything

At the beginning of the decade, I was naive and lost. A sincere student, an obedient son had failed for the first time, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I also didn’t know that I could question the existence of God; I didn’t know I was allowed to go against my parents or teachers; I didn’t know Reason. Coming from a middle-class family my dreams were confined to what my parents considered worthy and useful. I didn’t know I could carve my own path, shape my own life; my trajectory was defined by no-one in particular and everyone in general. I didn’t know it was up to me.

It’s okay to fail

As simple as the lesson sounds, despite it being obvious, it wasn’t taught to me or told; I learned it the hard way. Having learned that on my own I started believing there was nothing I couldn’t learn. Having survived the failure without a scratch I wasn’t afraid to fail again. Over the years I’d understand it was not only okay to fail, but it was necessary.

Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

Start anywhere. It’s never too late.

I have often heard people say, I don’t know where to start, what to do. The blunt answer is, whatever the hell you want. You can write whatever you want, do whatever you want to do. No one cares unless you do. At first, this freedom of infinite choices can freeze you — like me — instead of making you feel powerful, that’s alright.

I was a stubborn topper who never read a novel, only textbooks. I didn’t feel a need for it without even trying. A misconception I believed in was that the purpose of reading was to only improve at the language. I was ignorant of the concept of reading for pleasure. In the early formative years, it’s easy to change your beliefs, yourself, anything, but it becomes harder as one grows older — this is what I have observed; I hope I don’t become a stubborn old man.

Read whatever you like, write whatever you want, start anything you desire; almost always it’s never too late.

What I did: I wrote about myself, my everyday life, start there if you feel that’s easier — presuming fictional stories and characters are not floating in your head already.

Hemingway said it well: So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.

The root problem is most of us don’t know what we really want to do. That’s why the initial bafflement; along with that, you don’t know if it’s worth putting in the effort, you don’t know if you are good enough, and you don’t know if anything will come out of it.

There is only one way to find out. If you are not good enough, be it, but you will have to try to figure that out. Before starting you can’t know. It is not possible to know. No one can answer that for you.

Ask yourself: what’s at stake?

My innate optimism and naivety made it easy for me to get started. Perhaps failure, being at rock bottom, and ignorance helped as well. I didn’t bother considering the scale of the problem, the amount of time or effort, etc. — this has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me on multiple occasions.

Treat your mistakes as medals

Mistakes happen when you try something new, anything; it’s inevitable and it’s good to make mistakes; it’s as real as it gets in terms of proof that you are trying.

If you’re not making any mistakes, it might mean that you are not trying to solve hard problems, or not aiming to learn something outside your comfort zone, or not wanting to master what you’re already good at.

I’m not saying repeat the same mistakes.

Reduce repeated mistakes, and make new ones. Learn to differentiate between the two and most importantly analyze your mistakes, so you can become better.

Stating the obvious, so you don’t forget: you can learn not just from your own mistakes, but others as well. You don’t need to burn your finger to learn that it hurts.

Never rush with fundamentals

Fundamentals are important. I can’t stress it enough; without mastering them, there is no way forward. It’s easy to work around them, or not give them the time they need, but don’t do that. You are making your future life difficult.

The education system I was part of valued memorization a lot. And it came easy to me. So easy that when it was time to unlearn it, I couldn’t do so. Instead of focusing on understanding the fundamentals, I memorized them. As you can imagine, that didn’t work well for me.

It took me a while, but with the help of chance, I figured it out. My mind was a mess and my past glory on which I stood tall was useless. I stopped trusting my memory, understood how my mind processes things and spent a crazy amount of time on fundamentals.

Your education is your responsibility. I’m sure teachers can’t focus on every student, and parents want their kids to reach the next grade without fundamentals. Needless to mention the stigma of staying a year back. A kid doesn’t have that kind of clarity or courage. They don’t know the importance of being true to oneself, yet. They are more worried about disappointing their parents and tainting the image perceived by their friends and classmates.

Comparing with others is a curse

Comparing is a useful tool, don’t curb your instinct, but understand when and why it can be harmful.

When you meet a new person comparison happens in your mind whether or not you want it, they have different skin, their eyes are different, etc. This isn’t bad, it’s useful to understand the differences. I have nothing to say about that.

When you improve from 40% to 50%, it’s progress, that should make you happy, but in our competitive world that is not considered as important unless you have performed better than the competition. Your rank might not have improved or might have deteriorated, making you wonder whether you have improved at all. This is ingrained in the system, that’s how the election works, that’s how the admission process works, that’s how job selection works, the point being, they are designed to care for the system and not an individual. As an individual, it’s only you who can understand when you have improved and when you haven’t. Comparing yourself with your past self is essential but comparing yourself with others is detrimental.

Don’t chase perfection, chase improvement

Baby steps. One day at a time; one breath, followed by another. Focusing too much on perfection can stop you from going on. I find it better to focus on reducing the room for improvement.

Process is more important than the end result

You got to trust the process. You got to enjoy the journey. You will get to the destination sooner or later; you will get the desired result sooner or later. But it shouldn’t matter if you don’t. As long as you believe in the process, everything else will fall into place eventually. The end result should be a side effect of a well-defined process. Desired outcomes will change, destinations will come and go, all you got is the journey, so make sure you choose the ones that give you joy.

Struggle isn’t necessary; curiosity is

Life isn’t supposed to be hard, and it’s not necessary to struggle to produce anything rare and valuable. What you need though is curiosity, endless curiosity to pursue what piques your interest. If your own curiosity drives you, life will turn into a game; all that’s left to do is play.

Anything worth achieving takes a long time

This lesson usually arrives late in life. In the early years, the goals are definite and you don’t really understand the gravity of what “long term” really means. But sooner or later you figure this out yourself, that whatever you feel is worth doing, takes a lot of effort and time, likely years. That’s when the importance of choice becomes even greater.

Image by Ruwad Al Karem from Pixabay

Life is more than your list of achievements

We get so busy doing this, doing that, making an impact, finding meaningful work that we forget what really matters. I can’t tell what matters to you, but you should figure it out sooner rather than later and then spend the rest of your life living in alignment with that and not chase something you never wanted in the first place.

It’s okay to not achieve anything, it’s okay if you don’t amount to anything, as long as you live well according to your own definition of living well. If you don’t, well… why not?

Don’t forget it’s your life. And you can change it.

Losing is part of life

Most people know this, they just can’t live up to it. A few bad decisions or losses and you become too afraid to start over. The key is to acknowledge your shortcomings, understand what didn’t work and what did work, and try again. We all want to win, but losing is just as important if not more; celebrate your victories and defeats equally. Before you learn to win, you need to learn to lose with grace.

Investing your savings or playing poker teaches this lesson like nothing else. It makes you think, question your choices, and throws your fears back in your face. It shows you your risk appetite, pokes your ego, and exploits your emotions; it forces you to know yourself and punishes bad decisions. Sometimes even fucks up with your good decisions, tricks you into believing that luck has a bigger role to play than you think, that’s when it gets the hardest to trust your process and not the result.

If you can’t handle loss, you don’t deserve to win.

Experience every emotion

I have been fortunate enough to experience a wide variety of emotions in the past decade; from failure to success, from love to heartbreak, from rage to stoic calmness, from joy to sorrow, from friendship to loneliness… I wish everyone can appreciate the emotions life blesses them with. Often it’s not in your control when which emotion rules your present, but you can control how you react to it — you feel it, embrace it, overcome it, or you stop feeling, you stop caring, and you stop living.

The choice is yours, I’d like everyone to always choose life despite everything.

Universe is not your enemy, your anger and insecurities are.

Rage runs strong in my blood, and my love for emotions makes it harder to control my anger. My old man loves it so much, that he has convinced himself he can’t get rid of it. Watching his rage reign freely it was easy for me to realize that it was a negative trait I was born with.

My love for philosophy and reason has helped me achieve a reasonable balance with my emotional side. Under the influence of negative emotions and being surrounded by suffering, one can get carried away into thinking that the world is conspiring against me, that it doesn’t want me to be happy.

Plenty of references I’ve made and people often make to life, the universe as if it is a living being; it’s essential to remember that life is merely a medium we pass through and nothing more.

Parents’ vision of your happiness won’t match yours. Communicate.

They want you to be happy. You want to be happy. There shouldn’t be any conflict. The problem is they might not understand what makes you happy or what you want your life to be. They might be risk-averse, they might consider job security sacred, they might not understand why you want to climb a mountain. They might understand if you try, be a good kid, and make them understand.

Time is more valuable than money, but money can buy leisure time

Money lost can be earned again. Time lost can’t be brought back. Don’t focus too much on maximizing your hourly rate. Instead, find work that you’d do even if you weren’t paid and develop a lifestyle where you can do what you want. Autonomy is the end goal.

Spend more on experiences; at the end of the day they will come back to you, not how much did you save. Not trying to discourage saving, but encouraging experience-driven life instead of a money-driven.

Juggling two things is tough. Three isn’t sustainable.

I had a weird notion in my head, that I had to quit my job before I could start writing a book. That I can only do one thing. It was definitely misleading, but it was weird because during my college days I did a lot of things and never felt restrained.

It just takes longer to complete what you started, but it’s doable; tough but less risk. It doesn’t go well with the idea “life is too short to not do what you want”. For people like me, who want to do more than one thing, and who aren’t sure if they have one thing they want to dedicate their life, this can work.

From doing a lot of things and not getting anywhere, I have come down to two or three things. With three projects, the balance gets tricky and one of them will suffer inevitably. This lesson is intentionally abstract because it won’t apply to everyone. If two don’t work for you, you have no option but to take a leap of faith.

Image by Theodor Moise from Pixabay

Before you can be happy amidst your friends and family, you need to be happy with yourself. At peace with oneself.

I believe it’s necessary to get away from your loved ones so we can learn to appreciate what we take for granted. It’s hard to learn this without experiencing it first hand.

You can be physically present and eating dinner with them, but if your mind is elsewhere occupied with some inner struggle then it’s worse than not being present. You will raise their concern by not talking about whatever you are feeling — and even worse because you yourself don’t know yet. To sort out your mess, you need to be alone so you can listen to your inner voice. Once you know how you and your inner voice communicates, you can return and be there, for real this time.

What you say and what you do matters more than how you look. Also worth remembering, how you say matters but less than what you say.

My hoarse voice and bluntness make it easy to hurt anyone if I intend to. On the other hand, I need to put in the effort to regulate my tone to ensure what I say still matters more than how I say it. Perhaps it’s true what some say that no one remembers the actual conversation or other minor details, but how you make them feel. I have found it worth my time to develop the habit of thinking before speaking.

I was on the other end of the spectrum where I didn’t care about how, overemphasizing what I had to say, which was not substantial but my unusually high emotions made me believe otherwise. I still believe what you say matters more, but I have come to believe how you say also matters, and it possible to achieve the balance if one intends to improve their power of expression.

Stop finding yourself, start being yourself

Perhaps it is just the modern phrasing that annoys me but it misleads people into believing that they need to go out there and find who they are. That they need to get lost, mess themselves up, and find their way back to who they were.

I often wonder if Socrates or Seneca were angry men in their youth or were they always this wise as their words and dialogues portray? If they had to deal with this illusion of finding oneself or they were just who they were.

We are dynamic humans. We can change. And even if we can’t change we can know ourselves, figure out our biases and prejudices, act accordingly and be self-aware when our judgment is compromised.

For people whose sense of self is destroyed by life circumstances the phrase kind of makes sense. To be themselves, they need to find themselves first.

Did I just contradict myself? I did.

Before the discussion, agree on assumptions and definitions.

I have had my fair share of futile discussions where I felt we were speaking in different languages — and definitely not having a conversation where you feel you are talking about the same thing, and if not, you at least know that you are not. Not all futile discussions are annoying, but when you can’t figure out what you are disagreeing about are the ones that get to me. Because of them I have developed a sense of anticipating when the discussion is going to end up in semantic mismatch, and I have learned that is useful to interrupt and short circuit — agree on definitions and then start again from the beginning.

A newfound appreciation for Plato and his dialogues was born this way. Back when I read them the first time, I couldn’t help but feel that is this wordplay, why is Socrates focusing so much on semantics and going round and round, as if trapping his interlocutor. He was trying to teach us one simple thing over and over again, how difficult it is to know anything.

Don’t lie to yourself, be brutally honest instead

It’s easier than you think, lying to yourself. You tell the lie to yourself first, then to others, and soon you start believing it. No one else knows it, so you find it easy to overwrite truth with the new truth, your lie. If this continues for long, you can no longer differentiate between the truth and the mountain of lies. So be careful.

If you don’t like anything about your life, be it your job, your partner, your family, or friends, the first thing you got to do is admit the truth to yourself. Once you are comfortable with what you feel, you can take action, make decisions, and try to make your life better.

Love truly, care deeply, and forgive easily

It seems I have copied lyrics of some song, doesn’t it? Often a line in a song or a poem contains more wisdom than a novel, so don’t hesitate to grasp the learnings from anywhere you can find, don’t feel embarrassed by the source of your teachings. A minor problem is those seven words don’t need further explanation, taking away the opportunity for me to say anything from my experience; I shall try anyway…

Life is too short for holding grudges or feeling hatred. Speak up, either fix your relation or let it go. Not everything can be fixed and sometimes it’s necessary to let go. Making the right choice takes a lifetime to master.

Don’t forget to include yourself in your list of loved ones.

It’s not about being right, it’s about doing the right thing

To remain open, you should be okay with being wrong. Plenty of people confuse being right with doing the right thing. The former is rooted in ego and the latter in your moral conscience.

What is the right thing to do? It can’t be generalized or defined. It always depends. But, we can choose how to act when we are right or wrong — that matters more than being right or wrong.

Often, the right thing is to accept that you were wrong, that you had an incomplete understanding of something, that one of your assumptions was faulty. This can only happen if you know what you believe in, what you consider to be true, and more importantly, why you do so.

It’s easy to spot closed people, observe how they defend their beliefs. They get angry, they diverge, they stop listening. If you find yourself in such a circumstance, the right thing to do is stop speaking. Even though your intentions are good, you want to understand their reasoning, they don’t see it that way, they see it as an attack; not on their belief but them as a person. Yes, they resist change and they don’t like being wrong.

Open people welcome change and are happy to be wrong because they seek such discussions where they come out knowing more than what they did before the discussion.

Past is gone, future is unknown, present is all you have

A bad choice of the past shouldn’t force you to make a bad choice in the present. Don’t stick to your decision because you made it. Swallow your pride, don’t care about people will think, and correct your choice instead of compounding it with another bad one.

Plan for the future all you want, write down the path if you want, but you got to live each day, each moment well to make it work. That is the process I have been blabbering about. You got to trust, each moment counts and adds up. One sentence joined with another makes a paragraph. Paragraph with another makes a chapter. So and so forth.

Past can dictate the present if you allow it to. The present will dictate the future always. There will be setbacks, there will be bad days, that doesn’t mean you have to turn your okay day into a bad one. One small choice can turn it into a good day.

Nothing lasts

Don’t hunt for lasting happiness, there is no such thing. I won’t delve into the definition of happiness, that is beyond the scope of this post. I quite like Epicurean’s (lack of pain) and Gandhi’s (harmony of thought, speech, and action) definition; I’d urge you to define your own or find one that works for you.

Life can be overwhelming sometimes, our petty problems make us miserable however hard we try. I find it comforting to zoom out, look beyond myself, and realize how brief our existence is; soon, everyone I know will turn into dust. Revisiting this fact reminds me again, there is no reason to take life so seriously.



Saheb Motiani
Sam-The Learner

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