It was a conversation with a friend, about the delay in completing her PhD that sent me digging for similar instances in the recent past. There were at least three people that I knew of, who were trying hard not to buckle under familial pressures of getting married and settling down. There was another who was trying to start a new career in his early 30s, and an older neighbour who was contemplating going back to college after a gap of nearly three decades.
The problem, the symptoms, and the eventual doubts were all similar. And these were friends, close friends and acquaintances scattered across the globe. Time has always been such a crucial factor in deciding the way our societies will mould their thinking and pass the same on from one generation to another, sometimes with a gentle caressing touch and at other times with a harsh scathing command whispered into the ears.
You are expected to clear your board exams by the time you are 15, expected to enter senior college by 17 and then graduate out by the time you are in your early 20s, depending upon the course you are pursuing. A couple of years later, marriage and children must follow, to complete the societal ritual of settling down. This is what the obedient children do. This is what an obedient society does. And this is what is drilled into our heads in the name of education or moral conditioning since the time we are born. Any aberration to this thought process is an abnormality that has to be tackled with swiftly. Anyone standing up to this kind of forced conformism has to deal with intense guilt tripping and in ways more than one, it leaves the person scarred permanently, making them question even those decisions that they had been sure of.
The truth however is far from this force-fed conformism. A person always has time and chance to do that which his/her heart truly desires. Doing things differently and at a different pace may open you up to societal ridicule and familial castigation. However, during times of severe transition and change, these obstacles are not only necessary but also help define your focus and life goals.
‘The trouble is, you think you have time’, goes an old saying. If you delve deeper into its meaning, it rather bluntly states that you will always have the time to pursue the goals that your heart desires, but will not have it if you keep postponing your dreams for tomorrow.
Our lives, if we choose to look carefully, is full of examples like these. It could be people who make headlines the world over or keep flitting in and out of our lives innocuously, sending us discreet signals. They serve as a constant reminder of how liberating it is to follow one’s true calling, no matter what the obstacles are. More importantly, they offer a beacon of hope almost as if it were saying, ‘You are taking time to do things your own way, and that is okay.’
No matter what the world says, it is far better to take time to accomplish a task, or ready oneself for it, on your own terms rather than keep at something that doesn’t agree with your core beliefs and ends up making you miserable.
Perhaps the next time one is faced with a quandary like this, related to personal life decisions that do not conform to a societal standard or norm, rather than feeling hurt or bad about it, it would be wiser to use the situation to strengthen one’s belief towards a goal or a destination that only you can see and makes sense only to you. Everything else, will always be secondary to that.
(Rohan Swamy is a former journalist, writer, photographer, now working at Trinity College Dublin)