A good life is a life of goodness

I’ve been talking in clear and indirect ways about wanting to get away. In June I declared to VC that the next thing I’d like to do for myself is to take a solo trip. The yearning has been bubbling within for a while now. But between my phase of not working, and VC getting his start-up off the ground, I have felt like this is not the best time for me to up and go.

So, I’ve dreamed about (and considered) holidays that I can’t take at the moment. I’ve worried about why I’m feeling the need to go away when I’ve done nothing to deserve the break. A break from what exactly? My busy schedule chockfull of introspection, navel gazing and self development? I’ve pondered about changing streams, looking at new avenues of work and stumbled at the very beginning, because I don’t know where to make a start. I’ve longed for openness, greener spaces and fresh air, every time I have wanted to get out of my home, even when I’m headed out for a coffee. I’ve articulated how much I long for a life that is mobile, agile, nomadic.

And suddenly, I’m sitting at the brink of two back-to-back opportunities for exactly all of the above. Opportunities that landed in my lap out of the blue, and that took minimal effort to bring to fruition. Opportunities that bring together exactly all the things that I’ve been dreaming about. To get away, be in green, wide open spaces, travel, do some new work, get some time by myself, take that solo holiday.

Opportunities that could be the start of something new.

***

Did you read this fabulous piece in the NYT? It hit so close home, I read it four times over the course of yesterday, and every time I had a different takeaway.

For far too long we’ve been peddled the incredibly restrictive definition of what success and achievement is. Especially in the context of the average middle-class Indian who is a product of the regular education system, the weight of making a living and/or finding a higher purpose in life is heavier than it needs to be. I have many thoughts about this, especially given how I have been a peddler of the there-has-to-be-more-to-your-life spiel at one time. Enough time, experience and age has shown me that this isn’t necessarily true, and not a tenet for everyone to uniformly aspire for. But I’ll save that for another day.

For now, read the piece. If you are a person, woman especially, stumbling through your days constantly looking for ways to downsize everything in the pursuit of simple things, it will definitely speak to you. I’ve written too many things about ambition, success and how I often feel like I am happy with less — whether it is less hard work, less people, silence, less consumption, minimalism, and even less money if it is the logical outcome of the above — too many times before. And this piece brought it all together, while also beautifully pitting it against a current generation of social media bullshitters who seem to be creating a new aspect of that same age-old theory that of aspiring for more — more money, more clothes, more travel, more work — automatically means more successful, thriving and full life.

Having idealistic aspirations is, of course, part of being young. But thanks to social media, purpose and meaning have become conflated with glamour: Extraordinary lives look like the norm on the internet. Yet the idea that a meaningful life must be or appear remarkable is not only elitist but also misguided.

I almost feel like some of the curated social media lives are a front that we need in order to justify so much of the evidence that we are all just pursuing the very simple, basic joys in life. The ones we all want and deserve. Simple joys that we’re trying so hard to give higher meaning to, because it might mean we’re not aspiring for a higher purpose. How on earth could we settle for less?!

Because how can our lives be just a collection of completely vain selfies one after another, or an selection of exorbitantly priced dress, a day of make up for no reason at all, a well-cooked meal, an utterly messy home, a badly behaved tantrummy child, a meal of maggi and grilled cheese, unless we somehow tie it in with a spiel that talks of something higher. Like, say, a superficial feminist message. A lecture on living an organic life. A whole lot of excessive consumption pretending to be a lifetime’s dedication to sustainability.

I ‘ve often looked at posts of the kind this piece describes and winced at the extreme elitism that they exude. Sometimes my mind boggles at the complete lack of awareness of their privilege too. 

Maybe part of growing up and creating this pause, stepping back and re-evaluating things is also about realising that a lot of my own idealistic aspirations from a younger time no longer hold true or serve a purpose. It is sobering and humbling to be able to recognise that and rework them. 

I’ve come to believe this inescapable need to be extraordinary at everything — whether it’s in your job, being a homemaker, a mother, a keeper of pets, or any bloody thing at all — is an outcome of growing up on a steady diet of the message of achievement and purpose being shoved down our throats. So much so that we’re now uncomfortable with the simplest things that are actually enough. And so we cannot admit it to ourselves, unless we package it in a shimmery wrapping of a “higher purpose”.

Heck even our selfies are now statements of a higher purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant against vanity or self-indulgence or even presenting every little detail of your life on social media. I love it when people can unselfconsciously post pictures of themselves and their lives, and I really admire an unbridled dose of that kind of vanity. I just wish more people would be 100% true to it, and admit it.

I say admire, because even given my very high frequency of posting pictures on Instagram, there are have been far too many times when I’ve stopped myself from posting some specific things. Part of it is because I always question if what I am about to post is something I really want to share. But it is also because I realise I don’t possess that perfect balance of vanity and more importantly, true self-assurance, to present a completely authentic side of myself. A side that is at times vulnerable and feels inadequate.

It’s work in progress. And no, the goal isn’t likely to be being able to post an unselfconscious selfie, but rather, to decrease how much I subject myself to the lies, instead surround myself with authenticity.

I’ve unfollowed a crapton of handles that are increasingly feel like forced, hyper-curated display that uphold wholly unrealistic standards of purpose and achievement under the garb of glamour. It wasn’t because I wasn’t able to see or digest it anymore, but because I am beginning to see right through it. And I feel terrible about the kind of unrealistic pressure it unconsciously contributes to audiences unable to see through it.

***

To come back to aforementioned dream opportunities that I am on the verge of embarking on: It’s taken a lot of unlearning, and rewiring to recognise that I am already privileged. And that I have enough. I am taken care of. I am blessed enough to probably never be in a state of despair where money will be hard to come by. That I do not have to work hard or be famous or necessarily find a higher purpose to make my life more meaningful. That it’s okay to want less, it’s okay to be looked after, it’s wonderful to revel and find joy in small simple things without attaching the pressure of finding a deeper and higher purpose to everything I do. That I am not letting myself down by changing what I want from life. That surrendering and accepting this truth does not make me small, lazy or useless.

That it is completely possible to live a meaningful life even without any of that. That the pursuit of goodness is enough.

You don’t have to change the world or find your one true purpose to lead a meaningful life. A good life is a life of goodness — and that’s something anyone can aspire to, no matter their dreams or circumstances.

How liberating it was to read the last line of the article.

For far too long I have bought the largely inaccurate theory that as a modern woman I can and must have it all. To aspire for anything less would be a let down.

I have only recently learned to tune myself to the abundance I already have, despite wanting, and doing, lesser to chase after is. It exists in intangible places and forms that I cannot always touch or describe. And it bubbles over as gratitude.

My life is and always has been full of this kind of abundance. I have failed to see it because I’ve constantly been looking for the very staid, predictable and downright cliched markers of achievement, success, purpose, call it what you will. Turns out most times it isn’t in the form of money in the bank, or a dream to change the world, or a life of overachieving.

Some times it is in the form of magical opportunities that crystallise almost as an answer to the meandering, disconnected thoughts I’ve had over a period of time.

I am getting closer to being completely okay with (and so extremely thankful for) that.

Same time, last year: Day 281: A picture

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10 Replies to “A good life is a life of goodness”

  1. Wow. This post has come at a time when I’ve been pondering what ‘success’ and ‘meaning’ mean in today’s society. It’s so hard to disentangle what you want from what society tells you you should want. I’m the first to raise my hands and say I constantly think of the future; planning, dreaming, imagining… but with these thoughts the present gets swallowed and life thunders by without us taking the time to open our eyes and see what we actually have.
    I’d like to remove myself from social media, but it’s incredibly hard. My mentality needs to change first, and that’s a lengthy if worthwhile process.
    Best of luck for your new adventures. <3

    1. I agree! I’ve kind of accepted the place social media has in my life. It does have a purpose, especially because it helps with my work. I’m constantly reminding myself to restrict my usage to what makes sense and is useful for me, rather than random browsing. Thank you for taking the time to comment :)

  2. Concordo, troppo spesso cerchiamo un fine alto, anzi più è alto piu no,i ci sentiamo a posto. Capire che invece la strada è la semplicità, è la ricerca continua del bene e cercare di donare amore, questo è la vera base della .Grazie
    😊

  3. So lovely to read! My husband and I are in the process of getting rid of most of our possessions, ready to hand in our notice and go travelling around India, mobile, agile, nomadic and free! p.s. I am 47, he is 58.

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