This Indian life by Shoba Narayan: Letter to a child who is leaving home
Sweet child of mine. Right now, you cannot wait to leave home. You are sick of parental advice, however well-meaning it might be. You feel like an adult and cannot understand why we impose curfews on you still. But I am your parent and giving advice is a perk of parenthood. So here goes. A lifetime of experience distilled into 10 pieces of advice.
Say yes more often than you say no. Saying yes – to dinner with friends when you have a paper due, to coffee with an acquaintance you really don’t like, to a professor inviting you to a lecture – opens up possibilities. Saying no may help you with current tasks, but not with the expansion of possibilities (which is really what life is all about).
Choose to be uncomfortable. Take classes in subjects you dislike, like maths or statistics or even graphic design. You are young. This is the time to explore and a function of adventure and exploring is the possibility of failure. The way you know that you are growing is to fail – often and fast. Get comfortable with the feeling of being uncomfortable, because guess what? In life, you will encounter scores of situations where you will be uncomfortable, nay terrified. That first job interview, a horrible boss who shames you, a new project that you are underqualified for. When you are familiar with fear, you can overcome it faster.
At least once an hour, practice the 5-2-7 breathing technique. Inhale for five beats, hold for two, exhale for seven beats. When you are walking to a class or are on the subway, just pause and breathe. Notice how tight your shoulders are and relax. Most of us store tension in the shoulders. Just that mere act of noticing your shoulders will help. Visualise them expanding them to fill the world. You may not have time for meditation, but you can pause.
This may be hard to do, but don’t make your phone your friend and comfort zone. Since you will be so busy studying, the reflex is to check your Insta feed when you have a few minutes. Which is fine. But consciously try to set aside some time without your phone. Ideally when you are outside. Because you see, walking and daydreaming have been proven as fountainheads of creativity. It is not a waste of your time to sit in the train and daydream (i.e., not check your phone). It is a way of letting your brain feed you ideas. Which leads to…
Pay attention. To your thoughts, emotions and body. The human instinct is to suppress everything that feels uncomfortable. But that leads to all kinds of volatile eruptions later. When you feel bad or sad, don’t run away from that feeling. Ask why. Become your own therapist in a way. It is the first step to self-soothing. Children rock back and forth as a way to calm themselves down. Figure out your way to address your emotions. Self-regulating is about addressing the problem in a constructive way. Once you self-soothe, you can go talk to that friend who betrayed you, or the study mates who don’t pull their weight. If you are seething, you may explode. If you are calm, you can tell them exactly what you feel in a way that conveys the message. Play to win, not just on the field, but in emotional battles too. Because the emotional struggles will also leave scars.
Keep in touch with people who are different from you. The great thing about India is that you are forced to deal with relatives who irritate you and people who you don’t have anything in common with. That’s life. College is a bubble and it is easy to fall into the trap of hanging out only with PLUs (People Like Us). But talking to that bus conductor or the person who cleans the classroom will teach you many things, including humility.
Expand your circle of friends without an agenda. This is not about networking, but in a way it is. When you are an adult, your career choices and a lot of where life leads to will depend on who you know. It is not even your close friends who will give you job contacts or an interview in a hard-to-reach company, or even an introduction to the person you will marry. It is your network: your second and third and fourth circle of acquaintances. How do you achieve this? Very organically. People can smell out transactional “matlabi” people. College is a great place to meet people who will end up in places different from where you are. Expand the surface area of your friendships.
Know your limits. Binge-drink if you want the buzz, but figure out what your body can handle – with booze, weed or whatever it is you want to experiment with. Know when to stop.
Make playfulness an attitude. Everyone says “have fun,” but in college it is linked to partying, which is linked to drinking. If you figure out how to be playful at work, or in life, you can have fun anytime and anywhere.
Go embrace the world! And we are waiting for you to come back home.
(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents and other unique facets of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)
This Indian Life appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, July 21, 2019
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