Growing up in an Indian household and in one of the most diverse states/towns in the US, it’s not easy to avoid the competitive stress that derives from first generation families.
From test scores, which classes I take, SAT scores, college admissions, sports performance, internships received etc., the first 22 years of my life have been filled with constant competition with others. As a result I’ve turned out to be a pretty competitive person - if there was anything that I liked, I not only wanted to be good at it, but I also wanted to be better at it than others.
Something happened right around when I graduated college and joined the workforce. My Saturdays were totally free and weren’t consumed by an all-day track meet where I would compete in the 800m and gruel over two laps trying to edge out other people over the finish line. After work, my weekday nights consisted of me making dinner instead of living in the library and taking caffeine pills to study for a test that I’ve been procrastinating to study for.
For the first time in my life there was no clear next step in what I had to do, and there was no clear competition that I could engage in with peers. It was a dramatic change and something that I refer to as my quarter life crisis. It’s not well documented in many places, but it’s a concept that I think is picking up steam in recent years.
I think there’s one song that really encapsulates this feeling, The Beatles’ Nowhere Man. The opening lines go:
He's a real nowhere man. Sitting in his nowhere land. Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
In fact, the song is what inspired me to name my blog post Nowhere Plans. John Lennon was 25 when he wrote this, and I think he really captures the general feeling of this time in one’s life.
Back when I was in college and high school I was really competitive with other people, whether in academics or sports, and I felt I had a strong purpose - anything that I did was to get further in these pursuits. It was a nice and easy framework to live life by. Decision making was incredibly easy.
Fast forward to work-life ~> I felt that I couldn’t really relate much to my work peers, and all my college and high school friends were vibing and doing their own thing in their respective companies. I spent my nights binge watching shows, my weekends binge watching movies, and my free time working or hanging with peers talking about the binge watched shows/movies.
The isolating and incredibly gray city of Seattle didn’t help not feeling like a nowhere man in nowhere land.
Maybe I’ll get a cat? Will that help find some purpose to be doing something? I’ll download some dating apps and try to get a girlfriend, hopefully that should bring me closer to my next stage in life of marriage right? Should I go to grad school? I have to, no, I need to do these things now! 😬
I was truly lost in what my next steps in life were going to be, and felt that I was just aimlessly swimming around in a sea of uncertainty.
When 2019 had come, I knew I wanted to do something different. I made a list of things that were important to me and that I wanted to achieve. Visiting friends more, learning to play the piano, getting back into running races, fixing my posture, volunteering etc.
But the biggest shift in my thinking during this time was to try to bring back competition in my life. No, not competition with others like I had previously experienced all my life, but instead with something much easier to think about. Myself.
There’s a saying that you should “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today”. People always say that you’ll never find happiness comparing yourself to others, and that competitive stress is really bad for you. While that is true, I also don’t think many people advocate for competition against yourself. It’s possibly because of the stress and anxiety induced from competition, but if you’re anything like me, it’s necessary to find some purpose and bring back a fire in you to go about and live life.
In 2019, I had worked on things I had never done in my life in order to be a better person than who I was in years past. I’ll probably never be as fit as I was in college on the varsity XC/T&F teams, but hey, in 2019 I set personal records in the 10 mile and marathon (granted it was my only time running them but that’s besides the point).
I also had an entirely different view in perceiving others. Anyone who has spent 5 min on LinkedIn can describe this feeling - seeing other people who are really successful and do the things that you’ve always want to do is disheartening to say the least. You feel like somewhere along your life path you made a wrong turn which didn’t lead you to where that other person is. But, at the end of the day, that’s just life - there’s always going to be someone better than you at everything you do, you just have to find solace in that you’re better than who you used to be.
This past year has been wild. It felt like a decade fit into 9 months so far, but with all the major events and uncertainty happening, I’ve never felt more certain about myself than I have now.
I try to focus on things that I really enjoy, and try to be better than my former self. I stopped going to my piano teacher because of COVID, but still try to play the pieces that I remember learning every now and then while also trying to learn some more music theory. Writing and deep diving on topics that I find interesting have always been a favorite past-time of mine, why not start a blog and have others critique me to become better? And finally, if I’m going to make a career out of my current profession, why not be the best that I can be in more ways than programming. I’ve engaged in more leadership opportunities to mentor younger engineers and also participate in the daunting interviewing process but this time as an interviewer.
Through this process I’ve grown to know that I really enjoy helping and teaching others - it’s something that has helped me envision what I want to be doing as I grow.
I don’t advise many people to live life with this much analysis on your past self, but if this story resonated with you I encourage to try it out! It’s helped me get out of a quarter life crisis and will hopefully keep me going until my inevitable mid-life crisis. Stay tuned for that post.