Insecurity

I’m a ‘Guju.’ I was born in India and raised by Indian parents (and an awesome but slightly racist grandmother) for the majority of my life. What that means, for those of you who don’t already know, is that academic success was not an option. It was (and still is, really) obligatory. Getting straight A’s. Being cherished at parent-teacher conferences (yea, remember those?). Bringing home fancy certificates and awards. The whole ten yards. My parents ingrained somewhere in the depths of my neural circuitry the importance of academic excellence. Being taught that an education is valuable is invaluable. I really cannot thank my parents enough for helping me cultivate a thirst for learning, a thirst that ceases to ebb to this day. Nevertheless, one of the (I hope) many things I have learned over the years is that dominating the classroom is, well, dominating the classroom. There’s much to life that exists OUTSIDE of the classroom. Much to happiness that shies away from the manacles of competition and modern conceptions of ‘smartness.’ Much to your self that has nothing to do with the numbers on your CV.

My early years were amazing. OK, sure, I knew I had to keep my grades up. But, as long as I did so, all was quiet on the Eastern front. I could play outside until it was too dark to see. I could stay up all night with friends playing NFL Blitz on Playstation 1 or Pokemon on Gameboy; I could go biking and scootering whenever I felt like it. My greatest fear was being verbally obliterated by my mom. And even that wasn’t so bad. I didn’t really give much thought to my identity. Surely there’d be time for that later. Or, so I thought.

Pikachu

High school was about doing anything and everything possible to get into the best colleges. I spent a lot of time thinking, but my conclusions were Impressionistic at best; obscurity from pressure and expectation was inescapable. I am fortunate in that I have incredible friends, and I am thankful for the time I got to spend with them in high school. I had some unforgettable teachers. I did a number of things for the first time. I went to a prestigoius high school, and I was anything but miserable. Nevertheless, upon graduating, my ‘I’ was poorly formed. The inner ball of clay I hoped would take on definite form, alas, remained soggy and squishy. Then, college came around.

For aspiring medical students (like myself), college is a more brutal version of high school. And, the stakes are higher. Volunteer there. Research with this person. Suck up to that person. Don’t take these clases but those instead. Thought and action stream from the coercion of society’s whip. A student born and raised, you know ‘success,’ so you fall back on what you know. The mentality best suited for the classroom, suddenly, metastasizes to all other parts of your life. Thoughts unrelated to polishing your résumé or getting the next ‘A’ are cast aside. Introspection and self-understanding seem trivial. You push forward. Day in, and day out. Meaning loses, well, meaning.

The title of this piece is ‘Insecurity.’ Why, you ask? Well, I’m insecure. No, I am not ashamed to say so. By no means is my lack of absolute certainty paralyzing, but its presence is undeniable. When I tell others I aspire to be a physician because no other profession befits me, an icy voice whispers, “Or is it the money?” When I work out because I think being healthy is a moral imperative, a chill echo sounds, “Or are you defending your vanity?” You get the point. At times, I find it difficult to put faith in MY answers. The thought that I DO know who I am almost makes me uncomfortable. Weird, right? Yet, I don’t think that I’m alone in this regard. I see hesitation and uncertainty everyday. Why do so few people participate in class? Why do personal conversations generate so much unease? Why does the impersonality of social media appeal to the masses? The explanations to these phenomena can all be tied to a lack of self-awareness. It’s just not very fun to share a misshapen, soggy blob, much less claim ownership to it.

Rich doc

Academic excellence, as it is traditionally defined by society, is probably important for most people. Planning on going to graduate school? Asking for recommendation letters? Applying to internships? Your grades, test scores and extracurriculars probably apply in the above cases, in addition to a host of others. So be it. Learn as much as you can, apply yourself – do what you gotta do. But, what is success really worth if you don’t know WHY you seek it in the first place?

Listen to yourself. Feel your intuitions. People, events and memories will always inundate your consciousness. Figure out what matters to you and what doesn’t. Then, act accordingly. Your answers do not have to be ‘right;’ they just have to be YOURS. Do not feel compelled by paradigm, obligated by circumstance or helpless to peers. Live by truth, and live true to yourselves.

If you value learning, you’re already halfway there. You need do little more than just turn your gaze from your screens, achievements and peers – and study yourself. You may be surprised to see what you learn. You may be surprised to see how quickly clay hardens in the heat of scrutiny.

– JiNiT

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12 thoughts on “Insecurity

  1. Alex says:

    Thanks for sharing Jin. I also find myself in this torrent of fitting the mold to reach my aspirations. It is easy to lose yourself. I will be coming back to this post in the future.

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  2. Audrey says:

    So much of this resonates with me because, I, like you, am very hard on myself and work very hard to achieve my goals. As someone studying business, I often find myself reflecting on my motivations for entering the business world, because businesspeople are stereotypically associated with greed. In fact, one of the criticisms that business students at my school frequently receive is that “[we’re] all in it for the money.” I remind myself that I chose to study accounting because 1.) I (believe it or not) enjoy the material, and it makes sense with how my mind works and 2.) I see it as a path to various other positions in the business world. But although I have reflected on my motivations for my academic pursuits many times, I still find myself asking, “Are the money and job security a part of why you chose to pursue accounting?” Like you said, it can be hard to be sure of “your reasons.”

    I think this gets at a larger issue that I started thinking about in high school: I believe it is critically important to figure out who we are and what we want in life. When I graduated high school, I really thought I’d finally acquired a sense of self. But lately, I feel like I’m going through the self-discovery process once again because I am evaluating my future career and life aspirations. I think that the key to being “sure” of our reasons for our life pursuits might simply be having a sense of self-knowledge, because this self-knowledge will allow us to pick a path that is right for us.

    Admittedly, acquiring self-knowledge is deceptively difficult. We are constantly changing, and sometimes we are ignorant of qualities that define us the most. So how do we figure out who we are? Honestly, I think I am still figuring out the answer to this question. In my experience, I’ve found that surrounding myself with people I am truly comfortable with and participating in activities in which I find enjoyment have helped me identify characteristics that are most fundamental to who I am. And once I figure out what characteristics are most fundamental to me, I think I can make the right life decisions. But that’s all I have so far. I imagine my process of self-discovery will be lifelong; I only hope that I am aware enough of the discovery process that I will be able to make the right decisions for me… And for the right reasons.

    Keep writing Jinit, you’re the man. :)

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    • Sorry for the delayed response, Audrey! But, here it is.

      Self-discovery is a process that should continue until the end of your days. As long as you remain a learner, you are bound to come across ideas that seek a crack in the smooth walls of your values and beliefs. Doubt and reflection are important, I think. They are signs that the waters within have not grown stagnant, indolent. As you are well aware, friend, stagnant waters are dirty waters. Dirty water is hardly an abode for the mind, hardly a bath for the soul. As you so aptly put, it’s important to purposefully engage in this process of self-discovery. Do what makes you happy. Spend time with your loved ones. And, every now and then, listen to yourself. Observe the cognitive phantoms that come and go, and seek to understand. I’m not sure much more can be asked of us :) .

      Ah, and you keep doing you, Audrey. You’re going to rock the accounting world some day :) .

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  3. “The thought that I DO know who I am almost makes me uncomfortable. Weird, right? ”

    No, not weird. :) This thought is rich. I spend ALOT of time sifting through the cauldron of my desires, motivations, thoughts and feelings. I eventually realized that this sifting is meaningless if I am not honest regarding what I see or if I conveniently overlook some things.

    There are realizations that I have written in my journal or admitted to myself in thought but have trouble actually vocalizing. So uncomfortable and ruthless are these discerning moments. When looking deep brings forth uncomfortably honest thoughts, I force myself to say them out loud (alone of course haha). Once it’s out, its not festering inside of my head I can start dealing with it. Honesty and kindness to the self create the best furnace that I have ever found for turning putty into concrete.

    Perhaps we should choose to look at the best version of ourselves. The one too often crowded out by parodies of self born from insecurity.

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    • Hi, Dorothy!

      Beautifully put (my praise may be slightly redundant, but I can’t help but give credit where it’s due) :) . Lol, that’s an interesting idea. I reflect upon the churning waters of my thoughts, emotions and values (relatively) frequently, and sometimes, be it ensconced in the waves or buried leagues below, I come upon unpleasantness. I often talk to myself in response, but the dialogue is usually internal. Perhaps I shall try to vocalize the creatures of the deep whose eerie, penetrating stare manifests as that twisting discomfort that boasts of its place in the chest. Nonetheless, you make a good point about digging, and digging deep.

      Honesty and kindess. I’ve valued those words for some time, but talking to you and getting to know you have redefined them for me. Kindness is irreplaceably healing, and I appreciate the standard you set for its natural proximity to one’s being.

      The best version of ourselves is an ideal. I think a good place to start is merely to FIND every version of ourselves. How we go about congealing and polishing the various parts of the whole, then, constitute the choices that must be made.

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  4. Elise says:

    I really enjoyed reading this! Self-awareness is definitely an important issue in regards to development and happiness and finding out who you are. In some ways, it requires a degree of courage because, just as you said, it may make one feel “uncomfortable.” As of right now I’m experiencing the pressure to apply to internships and to find research positions because I see other people attaining these successes. A pang of insecurity is always twisting inside my stomach, and I feel the need to maintain my high standards of achievement.

    In regards to GPPA, I personally find that this innate sense of insecurity also drives a persistent competitive behavior. For some, academic success is their only source of security and, when put into a pool of other successful people, it’s hard to discern where one stands. Some feel threatened and deal with this in ways that make them come off as arrogant or offensive.

    Confessing this recent observation may be offensive in itself, but I find no real harm from being honest in regards to the “social issues” of GPPA students.

    Even writing this makes me feel insecure. I’m so afraid of saying something incredibly stupid but #YOLO

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    • Hello, Elise :)

      I appreciate you taking the time to formulate an articulate and well-thought-out response. For most of our lives, we are taught how best to deal with information, knowledge, understanding and so on and so forth. Being taught how to step fully and sincerely into one’s skin is left for the student to figure out on their own. In some senses, this is a good thing; self-discovery makes the fruits of the search genuine and meaningful. But, likewise, sometimes the search DOESN’T go so well. Sometimes, little searching is done in the first place.

      I agree with you in that there exists a degree of social dissonance within the collective GPPA body. I think of other groups of students united by a ‘higher cause,’ such as those that are part of a team or members of a fraternity/sorority, and I find it difficult to NOT notice the presence of group ideology and interpersonal cohesiveness. GPPA is certainly lacking in these respects. We don’t really care about the group; we are hardly a ‘family.’ In part, I think this may very well be result of a culture infused with an achievement-orientatated upbringing and the lack of self-reflection that usually follows, but also, we simply are without a body of shared experiences. We’re individuals marching along a bunch of parallel paths separated by the opaque thickets rising from a soil rich in intellectual and emotional disconnect.

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      • Elise says:

        I’d never really thought of looking at it that way. Lack of a higher cause combined with individuality could definitely be the reason for our group dynamics.

        Like

  5. Mit says:

    I have to say, not my thing really to comment much, but I think this was pretty great. I don’t think many people, myself included, are open to admitting they’re insecure. I don’t know what makes it so difficult to say, but you’re dead on with everything here. Keep it up!

    Like

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