Ever since I read this post by Dawne, I have been thinking about the ideas expressed therein and our subsequent confabulation on the ideas. It has also made me re-evaluate how I look at other people particularly because, for a change, I find myself on the other side of the fence. ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ (I think therefore I am), a phrase coined by Rene Descartes, has always been a motto of mine. However, I don’t think I have ever truly understood it- until now.
As of this moment, I have been unemployed for 14 months. I left my job last year in August for what was to be a 6-month sabbatical and has still not ended. Fortunately. One of the most annoying questions, I am asked repeatedly is “What are you doing?” When I say ‘Nothing’, people tend to look at me with disdain especially those who know that I used to be a lawyer. When I say, “Nothing”, I am usually lying. I spend a lot of time reading, writing, ideating and learning. Unfortunately, since I do not make any money out of any of these activities (yet), people don’t tend to take me seriously. For them, anything I am doing which is not making me big bucks is pointless. They dismiss me and in most cases, either do not bother to have a conversation with me or try to convince me that I should start doing things which make me money. Fair enough. I get their point.
Until, I found myself in this situation, I have also been guilty of judging people on the basis of what they do. Depending upon a person’s chosen profession, I automatically attribute certain qualities to them. For example, I automatically assume that an investment banker is great at math or that a lawyer is smart (despite knowing several lawyers who are absolute morons). In most cases, I have also assumed that we would not have anything to talk about as they are either ‘beneath’ me or way ‘above’ me for any meaningful discussion to take place. How foolish I was!
A part of this mindset has to do with the fact that money has become so important nowadays. It explains why we spend so much time, energy and money in learning things/skills we are not interested in. It explains why people constantly tell me that I should learn Chinese instead of Japanese. It explains why sitting in office reading, writing, learning and ideating is ‘work’ whereas doing the same at home is not ‘work’: simply because there is no paycheck at the end of the month. It explains why most people think I am throwing my life away while I think I am building an exciting life for myself. It explains why children are going for coaching classes at the age of 4 and teenagers are committing suicide because they did not do well in their board exams. It explains why parents tell their children to become lawyers, doctors or engineers and not artists or theatre actors. Our childhood, teens and the early part of the twenties are just a preparation for what we are going to be doing, preferably for the rest of our lives (God forbid you decide to switch tracks halfway through!) and how much money we are making at the end of it.
My whole life has certainly been a preparation for my life as a lawyer. Ever since I decided to become a lawyer, my whole life has been moulded around that one particular decision. Fortunately, my parents gave me the freedom to choose what I wanted to become. However, I wonder if I would have had the same amount of support if I had told them that I want to become a professional dancer or a bartender. For the longest time, I waited for someone to ask me what I did for a living;I wanted them to. I loved the look of respect in their eyes and how surprised they were. I could see that they were making some very flattering assumptions about me.
Cut to the present and it is the one question I dread. Every time I meet someone, I fervently hope that I will not be asked what I am doing or when I am getting married. I really don’t know how to explain to anyone what I am doing. I know they are all wondering why my parents are not finding a suitable boy for me considering I seem to be doing absolutely nothing worthwhile with my time. The look of respect has changed to one of utter bewilderment and one of those ‘you foolish girl, why are you throwing away your life’. Everyone wants to give me advice and question me on what I am doing. Over time, I have become better at fielding these questions- I, now, answer with a very ambiguous “I am exploring opportunities.” Of course, that is not more respectable (judging from the looks I get) but it is closer to the truth than ‘Nothing’.
Fortunately, I now understand that what a person does is not necessarily reflective of their qualities or traits and definitely not a reflection on their intelligence. As a result, I no longer ask people what they are doing or what they do or where they work; instead I ask them what they think about something- I pick a topic and ask them for their opinion. Using this method, I have had more meaningful interactions with varied people. It is, in my opinion, a better judge of a person. Many times what people do is not necessarily something they want to do or something which matches up to their skills or level of intelligence; their profession could just be a product of the circumstances they have found themselves in or simply because they were ill on the day of a particular entrance exam.
While it is still something I have to consciously refrain myself from doing, I have realised that over time it has become increasingly easy for me to focus on the thoughts of a person as opposed to their profession. It has led to a lot of meaningful interaction and I find myself judging people on what matters and what doesn’t. I have been testing it out for a couple of months now and it has been wonderful. On a personal level, I find myself a lot more humble, lot less judgmental and way more open-minded towards other people’s choices.
(Thank you, Dawne, for the inspiration. Looking forward to a lot more confabulation with you! Cheers!)