When life gives you lemons

I enrolled in grad school a year ago and was all set to spend the next 5 years drowning myself in research when my supervisor decided to tell me she’ll retire. It came less like a shock and more like a quake. I didn’t know what to do.

I started (over-)thinking, whether she’ll postpone her retirement and join another institute or whether I’ll have to change my supervisor and field. Why she agreed to guide me in the first place? Why did I not think of this before joining? Why should I choose between an institute and a subject?

All of this wondering illuminated one truth: everything is temporary, you never know what will happen. I still don’t know how things will turn out, but I’ve made my peace with change.

A change often takes you by surprise and there is little you can do about it. Life just happens and you deal with it.

As I reflect back on a year old me, I laugh at how little she knew about her future. All she knew was that she loved science and that’s all she cared about. It didn’t matter to her where she gets to study, whether she’ll have friends or whether she’ll be able to order pasta at 1 a.m. I am jealous of that girl. She was prepared to plunge into the unknown because she knew she’ll be doing what she loves to do: Research. The current me, on the other hand, is freaking out because she won’t be able to order falafel roll and beer.

To heck with the beer, I don’t even like the taste. I have realized how accustomed I have become to this city and its malls. My dustbin is overflowing with takeaway containers and price tags. I have spent almost a year’s worth of savings and I am ashamed to say that I have 4 “cute” notebooks none of which contain a single drop of ink. I bought them just because they will motivate me to study.

Through all of this, one thing that I miss the most is my passion for science. Don’t get me wrong, it is still there, but I don’t act on it anymore. Even less so after receiving the news. I have been panicking and doing all kinds of ridiculous things to make myself better and silently praying that I don’t have to go. I haven’t read a single paper since. I haven’t done the one thing that could actually help, my work.

When life presents you with situations like mine, the best thing you can do is to do what you love and be great at it. Your work is the only thing you have control over and it is what matters most. So that is what I am gonna do. I am going to write that report on higher order spectra, starting with a literature survey.

It is okay to panic and cry loudly in the street but when the storm passes, make sure you go back and do your job.

Go back to why you are here, doing what you do. Go back to the love and the enthusiasm. If all else fails, at least you’d be content that you enjoyed your work and put your best effort in. Rest is just chaos.

Love,
-Sn

Let the battle go on

I am sitting here in the conflict of what should be and what could be. I always dreamt of a life in sync with my values. I was so sure of what my values were, I thought I knew what I wanted. A partner, a career, and healthy relationship with my family. Then I entered this world. It is familiar in the sense that I had seen it from afar and always longed to be a part but it feels so different now that I am here. I wanted assurance, I wanted to be in my bubble. This world has burst that bubble. It has opened my eyes to what could be and now I can’t seem to go back.

I am stuck somewhere in between with both sides presenting their case, making their point. There is no right or wrong, it is a question of what I really want. I still want the same things, but I don’t know what those things mean, the details. Do I want to live here or abroad? Do I want a career in research or run a business of my own? I don’t know what side I am on. I don’t know how to translate my values to a feasible lifestyle. I could do the traditional, lead the life I imagined before I came here. That has security and I know how to handle it. But I no longer know if I want to. The other life, the one that could be, is also full of things that I have accepted and I know how to lead. It has a wild side to it, it hasn’t been tested. I don’t know how that would turn out. It can damage me in ways that leave me very different person. But then again, the traditional is like a slow poison. I don’t know what to choose.

After countless sleepless nights, I have decided to give up control. I am not in a position to make a decision and I am not supposed to. I would rather sit here in silence and observe, do what I do best. I will take life as it comes. Let life be the endless string of small decisions rather than one big one that paralyzes me. I shall let time decide what course to take. I will let the battle go on.

A note to self before the school year begins

I know you’ve got into your dream school. It is not clear how, and you do not need to find out. It was a collaborative effort by yourself, your family and countless people online who helped you stay on track but there is no need to label anything. Yet, you need to remember that it was a collaborative effort in any case and you are not alone no matter what happens. If you do well, that is great but if you feel overwhelmed, just breathe. It is important to keep your health in check, in all scenarios. If everything fails you can always go back, although I would advise you to keep going no matter what. It is a big achievement nonetheless to come this far and you can only do better.

Here are a bunch of tips for you to live by:

  1. Study like it is the craft you know and love. Study for knowledge but also for useful skills. It is those skills that translate into action and change the world.
  2. No matter how small, a mystery is still a mystery and your mission is to solve it. Even if it is mundane, small, insignificant detail, it still completes the big picture.
  3. Science is logical. Don’t expect mercy if you put in wrong numbers.
  4. Keep yourself in check. Finish well before deadlines but submit on time (not before time).
  5. Know that the first draft always sucks and thus you need to write it no matter how much you don’t feel like it. Read Mark Manson’s Do Something Principle.
  6. Eat healthy, at least once a day.
  7. Keep only one non-fiction book at a time. You probably wouldn’t have time to read that even.
  8. Remember that your legacy should not be how many clothes/books/stationery you own but what you did with what you have.
  9. Give the benefit of doubt. Don’t jump to conclusions immediately.
  10. Keep your tongue in check, it often betrays and badmouths people.
  11. Never forget where you came from. Help and reach out to those who are still hanging in there.
  12. Build honest relationships. Those last.
  13. Help someone you know can’t/won’t pay you back.
  14. Simplify. Simplicity always helps.
  15. Keep your hobbies alive. Learn that language you find funny.
  16. Nothing is set in stone. You can always steer yourself in the direction your heart calls for.
  17. Life is dynamic. Everything changes and you do not always know why. It is better to let it go.
  18. The bigger mysteries linger in those little details. Pay attention and you might discover something you couldn’t imagine existing.
  19. There is something magical about it all. I’m not sure what, but it has something to do with a state of flow and perfect, beautiful chaos. Pasta comes close, I suppose.
  20. There is no such thing as a vacation. You just decide to do different things.
  21. There is a thing called mental peace. Calm down, take deep breaths and fall asleep watching your thoughts from a distance (maybe that is what they called meditation).
  22. Only keep current journal. Take what is necessary and brings joy from the old one and then recycle it.
  23. Use exercise as an antidepressant.
  24. Look out for love. It comes from all unexpected places and people. If you don’t find it, start radiating it.
  25. Life is an onion. Everything alive is an onion. You can either peel back the layers and get amazed or sit still and make assumptions.
  26. If something unexpected/devastating happens, yield “PLOT TWIST” and move on (quoted from the internet).
  27. It may not be a “general solution” but then again many problems are higher order differential equations that have “particular solutions” and “singular solutions”. The point is, it might be a solution that works only for your problem, but it works.
  28. Set self-imposed limits on hoarding. Be intentional.
  29. If it is made of pure matter, it won’t spoil. 
  30.  It is okay to dive into guilty pleasures. But you can choose pleasures that are “less guilty” than others.

I could ramble on, but you need to get back to work. Come back when you lose touch or just want to refresh why, how and where you are. You’ll be okay.

A bunch of peas and the scary future

We have a kitchen garden at home. We grow seasonal vegetables such as peas, tomatoes, lettuce etc. My mother asked me this morning to go get some peas as they’re about to go bad. I moved, reluctantly (I didn’t want to stop reading what my friends did last night on facebook). Anyway, I went there and started plucking. There were a mix of crops. Some of them were already withered while others were quite young. Some pods didn’t even have peas. I paused for a second; should I leave the ones that are still young and take only ripe ones? Then again,  Who cares? She did say they were all going to wither soon, I might as well collect them all. I did.

She was furious. She said I didn’t have the common sense to leave the young ones, how could I be so careless? I was surprised. But you said they’re gonna wither in a few days. What was I supposed to do? You can guess what happened next. She stopped talking to me for an hour.

At first I thought I was just doing what I was told. It wasn’t my fault that she didn’t clarify which ones to pluck. I tried to justify this thought. I tend to overthink (apparently not about plucking lol) and I went through the whole series of I am right. This is just the way I am to I don’t deserve anything in life, I don’t know anything and I’m gonna die alone.

This pattern of thinking has been repeating in my life lately. I decided to go deep in that. Why is it so? Why do I feel worthless? I thought it is because I don’t have a job (I study and create online content but that doesn’t count right?). Okay but I know I chose this life. I knew I won’t earn money for a while. I do enjoy my work and my folks are good people. Then what is the problem?

The Perspective

The problem is, I think I am worthless. It is not that anybody says it, but I have created this aura around myself that I don’t know anything and I can’t learn. I stop trying early because I think it wouldn’t work out anyway. Why I think this way? Because I’m afraid of the future. Yep, that’s it. When I think about where I would be in 3 years, 5 years or even a year from now, I don’t see anything. SCARY. 

It is scary because I don’t know where I will be or what I’ll be doing in the future. I am uncertain. It is reasonable to think you are not going anywhere if you really aren’t. However, it is not like anyone knows. Nobody can be certain of where they’ll be a year or more from now. We cannot control the future. At the most we have an idea of where we want to be.

For me, it is a bit more uncertain since I don’t have a concrete idea of where I want to be. I have some ideas, but not a clear picture. Since I don’t have major responsibilities, I have more free space in that future. I can fill it up with whatever I want, but I have to take full responsibility for it. I have a blank slate and I get to write what I want but if it goes wrong I can’t blame anybody. But I can take responsibility, at least for myself. I CAN do that. I can decide who I want to be. I’m scared because I have not tried.

It was not an epiphany per se but a change of perspective. All I have to do is get more experience. If I had plucked vegetables before, I wouldn’t have done the mistake. It is true that I don’t know much, but I can learn.

Learning requires association with previous knowledge. Previous knowledge requires experience.

Experience comes when you do things. And we can always do things. It doesn’t matter if we fail, we get experience nonetheless. The key is to get off your ass and start moving in the direction of your goals. You never regret action. You regret inaction. So that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to pluck different vegetables every once in awhile. The worst I’ll get is my mum’s scolding. Not a bad deal. I’m going to try.

As I am writing my post, my mother is mumbling to herself about something. She seems to have calmed down. She is calling me to help her with carrots. Okay bye.

Love
~Sn

p.s. Look what she did. She cut off young pods and added them to the stir fry. I chopped the carrots. Looks delicious right!

If she can make it work with a bunch of peas, I can certainly work with myself.