Culture of Extremes

Today I dared to face the dreaded blank canvas once again.

More than a year later. 11 months to be exact. 2020 completely omitted from the history of this blog.

Did that joke really work on the readers though? Well, I didn’t get any ‘just checking in’ messages but I don’t see anyone leaving this space either. Did the Goodreads widget give me away? Anyway, I guess we are good, so thanks for sticking by!

Nearly brushed up with death there, didn’t we? Atleast, that’s how it felt like in the beginning. Uncertainty is as good as our fear, both pumping one another up till either of them becomes a catalyst for an untimely end. I know it’s been tough but we are surely overcoming it one day at a time – by understanding this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon a little better, by acknowledging the nuances of this pandemic and acting accordingly, by adapting to the ‘new normal’ or simply ignoring this whole hullabaloo and living in our bubble. But the whole negative outlook aside, this was a huge opportunity for self-reflection and self-improvement in the hindsight. It’s what I kept telling myself and my loved ones. I am sure my fellow blog-mates put this time to good use as well.

Coming to the post, there is this thing I have been wanting to write about for a couple of years now. I have realized its growing profundity with my growing age and I insist this year, it finally needs to be written. It’s about fostering a culture of extremes – going to great lengths in order to achieve or prove something. For a person who has unfailingly chased perfection and finesse, I have not been the one to stick with one thing with steadfastness. I have dabbled into multiple skills, continuously seeking novelty to keep the ennui at bay. No way I was at a nascent stage but I did not go all in either. And to be honest, it has hurt me. I feel like it hurts me to not be the very best at one thing and know all the other. Jack of all trades, master of one.

Now it seems like a trivial thing to write about – yeah, you need years and years of practice to best at something. Yes, you need a lot of hard work, perseverance, and undaunted determination to be at the apex, then why do I need to write about this at all? Well, that’s where the culture part comes in. You see, and I am going to be brutally honest here, the kind of learning environment that our Indian society has so consciously created promotes mediocrity at best. You oscillate from ordinary to mediocre to extraordinarily ordinary, only to be pulled back to the mean of mediocrity. To break off this harmonic motion is one consistent struggle, an unnecessary one. With time, it infuses complacency, the reluctance of being in the comfort zone continuously seeking an easy way out, barely surviving this precious privileged life that many of us have been given.

So when I hit my quarter-life crisis and learned my lesson from failure, I set out to build my expertise. To leave the burden of mediocrity behind and bravely resisting the gravity of general expectations, I commenced my mission to the extremes. I narrowed down my interests in order to pursue excellence in them with reasonable grit. It’s hard for me to focus on one particular skill for a long time but I have been trying. I am committing to things as a daily habit nor a chore. Now few skills have come to be regarded as basic in modern times (mostly my opinion) like fluent communication, effective writing, basic graphic design and video editing, elementary understanding of computer gadgets, etc. These will come in handy no matter what you delve into but other than that, it is about conscious learning and being mindful of your improvements.

We need to instill the fearlessness of experimentation and the courage of making mistakes. One of the biggest realizations from my recent trip to Grandma’s place was how unafraid we used to be of doing something new. We were undaunted by the risk of trial and error, undeterred by the fear of getting hurt and it turned out to be fantastic. Some of the important life skills that I learned like riding bicycle, building stuff of utility or general MacGyver is the product of that support that said – ‘It’s alright. Let’s do that again.’ It made learning fun.

My own home, on the other hand, was a safe place. We were made cautious of wandering to the extremes and a fixed path was laid down to follow. With time, I could clearly see where it leads me to and I dreaded it with all my guts. Being from a lower middle-class family, the infliction was rational – prevent us from wandering to the irrational extreme that is deceptively incorporated in the fad of YOLO, cover us from being the subject of Schadenfreude. But the constraint was a double-edged sword. We were not free to explore and experiment either. It was a set mold we had to fit into. How glorious could that mold be was left on us.

It’s almost ironic that just this morning I was reading about the concepts of ikigai, hygge, and lagom but if we get over the notion that I clearly do not mean to endorse compromising on your mental health through this post, we could understand my real implication here. The detrimental effect begins when you let the external factor control your actions. The culture of extremes encourages one to take control in own hand and pushing your limit because you want more of yourself. It’s consciously putting in effort because you know you can do better. I am not social-media savvy by any measure but I do follow some people on YouTube who epitomize this very sentiment. They are artists, makers, scientists, sportsperson – from all walks of life who choose to continuously one-up themselves. Occasionally, I get blown away so many times successively that it starts hurting my brain but that’s excessive consumerism, a topic for another day.

‘Space’ and ‘Finance’ were two things that I consciously focused on throughout last year. While one was this larger-than-life passion for exploration of the cosmos that put things into perspective, the other kept my feet grounded to tackle the everyday reality well. Each is essential in its own right. After all this time, I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface. There is a long long way to go. For once in life, I dare to tame the behemoth knowing at all stages that I will be belittled by the vastness of existing knowledge. I am defining this culture of extreme for myself in the hope that it will all be worth it someday.

P.S – Feature image is one of the streak shots from SpaceX launch showing the pitch-over maneuver. I have a growing collection of such photos 🙂