Choose your Ladder Wisely

Hola folks!

I’m blogging after more than an year. There’s a reason for this. I wanted to post about this topic a long time ago but I thought I wasn’t qualified enough to write something like this. Even now I think I’m not “qualified enough”, but I can’t keep putting it off forever. The desire to share it with you all is just too strong. When I first had the idea, about an year and a half ago, I instantly started writing and prepared a rough draft for the topic. I have since lost that first draft but the idea has stayed with me. The idea was to write something about interests, passions, careers and how to go about discovering them.

But it didn’t feel right to be writing about such a topic without first trying my hand at a field other than my own, which is Engineering. To do justice to the spirit of the post, and to test my hypothesis, I had to try to learn something new. Now, I have always wanted to explore music and ever since I moved on campus, there’s been a guitar lying around forlornly in a corner of my room.What happened next you’ll only come to know at the end of the post. For now, let me go into my thoughts and reasoning about interests.

There’s no one definite interest for most of us at an early age. We are all grasping, trying on different hats and struggling to pick a favorite. One needs to be very fortunate to find their calling nice and early in their lifetime. Since most of us aren’t so fortunate, I want this post to shed some light on how you can go about finding a real interest.

We all know how drastic and downright villainous schools can be when it comes to prioritizing studies over other activities. Studying, I’m not denying, is integral to building a good career in a developing country like India but does it have to be at the cost of killing individual interests? Can’t we have the cake and eat it too?

When you don’t even bother to discover where your strengths and your weaknesses lie, is it any wonder you aren’t satisfied down the line? Socrates said more than 2,000 years ago that an unexamined life isn’t worth living, yet we insist on leading unexamined and consequently uninspired lives. At the macro level, this translates into mediocrity. As a country we’re good at only a handful of fields. We need to change this and change begins at the level of the individual. For now, let me digress a bit and narrate a short little all-too-familiar story of an individual, Ms. X. Following the story, I’ll shed some light on an analogy I have with regards to exploration, experience and interests.

Usual Life 

When X comes of age, X’s parents -wanting to ensure a bright future for their daughter- enroll her in a school with the most rigorous curriculum. They painstakingly compare different schools and pick one where most of her time goes into attending mandatory classes, listening to endless lessons, and coming home utterly exhausted. Learning should leave one exhilarated, not exhausted. This should be the basic rule of thumb for education, and yet. Once at home, she has home-work and test preparation – and everyday is the same song and dance. Ironic choice of words since there’s hardly any time for song and dance, I know.

Every year, she is subjected to three to four major exams and an endless stream of minor ones in between. Every year feels like a fresh beginning but with the same old schedule. Parents often decide on her behalf what she’s going to become in the tenth grade, and more often than not they decide in favor of Engineering. In their calculation of the future career of their daughter, they take into account a whole lot of variables but none of them pertain to what she might actually want to do and where her interests lie. “She’s just a kid after all, what does she know?” The next two years of her life are saturated with books and exams, and unbelievably, more books and exams.The coaching institutes of our time seem to have gotten their blueprint from the American meat industry. Just think about it. The way the big meat producers treat their livestock is exactly the way we let our coaching institutes treat our children. Crammed into tight spaces- both physically and intellectually. Check. Limited exposure to sunlight. Check. Life spent cooped up in a corner and denied the pleasures of outdoors and open spaces. Check check check.

If she’s able to grin and bear these two years of internship as a bovine animal like a champ, she gets rewarded with a seat in a decent engineering college. Now she’s 17 years old and on the cusp of experiencing the heady feeling of freedom for the first time in her life. She gets to explore other areas having escaped the watchful eyes of the near and dear, but at the end of the day, Engineering is the priority and damned if she doesn’t show more dedication and pick up those flagging grades. The years roll by – years in which freedom was tempered by academic expectations, the story of her life – placements season rolls in, and unaccustomed to doing things anything but well, she secures a decent job. She works at this job for a couple of years before the society decides she’s of age to get married and before you know it, you’ve completed the circle of life. Mazel Tov! Uncork the champagne! Switch the gender of the protagonist and what you get, at most, is a few more years of bachelorhood, that is all. No where in this whole arc is passion ever felt.

Exploration and Experience

Now, let me discuss the importance of exploration and experience. I may not be an expert in brain theory but I do have a few not completely implausible theories as to what makes the old grey tick. Each individual is special in the way their brain develops. It may at first look like a random network of neurons but this random network of neurons is built so that with enough training, it can be moulded into whatever you desire. I believe that one’s special talent is determined by the way the initial structure of the brain gets formed in the womb. That’s how an individual gets to be quick at learning few things and not so quick at learning others.

It really helps if a person is given a chance to explore all areas at an early age and they get to decide which fits them the best. This way the person gets the chance to discover the field most in sync with their strengths and gets to spend time wisely on activities that’ll help him develop abilities at a faster rate. This way they’ll not only contribute more to the society but also lead more fulfilling lives. Exploration, as any expedition, is seldom boring- and as a kid everyone enjoys exploring. In the case of Ms. X, the only area she got a decent chance to explore was engineering. Had she been given a chance to explore other areas, she might have found something that fit her better. In the end, she became neither an expert nor an abject failure. She turned into a mediocre achiever.

I would like to make an analogy with regards to exploration and experience with climbing ladders with different slanting angles. Let a ladder define an area of interest and let its angle define how easily one can be trained in the area. More the angle, more time it takes for the person to climb, which means more time it takes for them to be good in the field. I hope you won’t disagree with me when I say that each individual has different set of inclinations (slanting angles) towards different areas (ladders).

Experience is nothing but how high one climbs up a ladder. If a ladder is very steep (remember that steepness depends on an individual) and one is forced into climbing it, one may either stop in between or spend more time and energy to reach the top. Interest is like energy, which one may lose very easily in climbing a steep ladder. Making a stop was exactly what happened in the case of Ms. X. She stopped exploring the field of engineering after she got married.

One can climb different ladders at the same time (think of the person getting divided into different individuals with distributed energy), but with reduced overall energy, taking more time to climb each ladder. If one spends more time climbing one ladder, one loses time for climbing the other ladder. The time taken again depends on the slopes of the ladders.


Like different inclinations, different individuals are blessed with different energy levels. Time to climb up to reach a particular level also depends on an individual’s energy.

Here, I gave only two examples but we can extend this to anything with regards to exploration and experience. The importance of exploration at a very early age is evident with the above analogy. One needs to start exploring as early as possible to find one’s inclination towards different fields, since time and energy are limited resources and one needs to be given a chance to choose a ladder as early as possible. This post may serve as suggestions to parents and schools of this and coming generations. Please do not force your kids into something they don’t like.

Music

To ground this post in practicality was a major reason why I learnt to play the guitar. I started learning it about an year and a half back and now I’m climbing up the ladder of music slowly- slowly because the ladder that suits me the best isn’t one called music but the one tagged ENGINEERING. Along the way I found that I could sing too.

I wanted to prove to myself (confidence gained from the ladder theory) that I could do something that I always thought and heard from people around me that I was (really really) bad at, even if it took more time for me than for others more naturally inclined towards music. The video posted below is the evidence of my slow progress. It’s from an event I participated in and I hope you’ll like it.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my dear friend Rahul for the time and effort he has put in to get this post into the current shape keeping my thoughts intact. Wherever you find beautiful construction of sentences or historical references, blame it on him 😉. He in fact added few more lines to make the post complete. You can read his blog posts here: https://arcticmonkey.wordpress.com & https://rauldegr8.wordpress.com , which I always find interesting.
Adios.

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