Anti-inspiration

I turned 30 a few hours back. This is the proverbial birthday post.

Last week was was one of the more rewarding weeks of my professional life. However, all I could feel was a deep existential crisis. Did it really matter? Wasn’t I getting too old for academic accolades? And to be sure, my family had a similar reaction. They’re proud of me, but they really just want me to marry and just get on with life.

Turning 30 is a pretty big (albeit meaningless) milestone, and I wanted to commemorate it with setting ambitious goals for myself. Maybe I could try and read 30 books every year. Or perhaps try and write one. I could give more to charity. Or maybe I could pick up one of those “non-fungible skills”. However, writing such a post seemed like an exercise steeped in narcissism, and I successfully convinced myself not to write one. Who the heck cares what I do with my life? It’s all equally pointless.

The existential crisis only grew worse over the week. I woke up early every morning and just sat blankly on the sofa, not knowing what’s wrong with me. In some sense of the word, I had lost hope. Life would remain the same after I was 30. I’d do the same kind of thing I was doing right now. My relationships with people would remain the same. And even if things got better, that wouldn’t make me much happier. There was a blackness inside that I couldn’t quite fathom.

A very long time back, Tim Ferris had recommended the book “Already Free” by Bruce Tift. A couple of weeks back, I finally decided to download the audiobook, and was listening to it in the gym today. Tift says that all feelings of shame, guilt, blankness, etc are an attempt by your brain to protect you from something much worse. I tried to think about what my brain may be protecting me from.

This is what I came up with: I see a lot of people around me who have similar personality traits as me (garden variety narcissists). And they don’t have happy lives. Although some of them may be smart, they have alienated a lot of people in their lives, and suffer grievously. My biggest fear in life is that I will become one of these people. Although I try and improve myself, they may have made similar efforts and failed. What if all I have in store for my life is more of the misery I have already suffered?

My body started tensing up when I thought of this. This is really what I was worried about. I am already “old” in some sense, and life may just be downhill from here. It’s completely possible that I lead a mediocre life, hit 60, retire, and then spend all my life on metaverse or something, lamenting about all that I’d lost and all that could be. That mythical world of counterfactuals that plagues us even on the deathbed.

However, it slowly dawned on me that even if I do lead a mediocre life, do worse than everybody around me and then some, I think I will be okay. If I lose all my money, never get a respectable job, and am looked upon as a failure by everyone, I think I will still be okay. Heck, I can read the cheap Hindi comics that I used to as a kid and pass my time. If my deepest fears come true, and I never recover from my ingrained narcissism, thereby having alienated my family and all my friends, I will still be okay. Sad and alone. But okay.

This reminds me of some of the psychedelic experiences that Ava Bookbear writes about. She was suffering from depression and anxiety issues for a long time, which made her volunteer to be part of a ketamine treatment course. Ketamine is, for all purposes, a psychedelic drug, which of course is the sort of thing that Asian parents disown you over. She writes that when her treatment finally began to have some effect on her, she felt deeply okay with all the past and present issues in her life. They didn’t disappear. She still didn’t have a stable partner. She didn’t have the job that she wanted. Her issues with her family remained. But the drug, in some sense, “took the edge off”. It was okay to have these problems. Those issues didn’t have to take over her life. They had lost their hold over her; their “bite”.

My epiphany felt similar. I didn’t have to make goals for my 30s. My self worth didn’t depend on working harder, getting that high paying crypto job, pumping harder at the gym, making more friends, etc. Of course I should work towards all of that. But even if these things didn’t pan out, and I realized at 35 that I was a stupid, friendless, penniless guy on the street, it’d still be okay. I surely wouldn’t be happy. But I’d be fine. People deal with worse and get through it. I’d survive too.

This epiphany caused an insane amount of dopamine to be pumped into my brain all at once. I just sat quietly in the gym for a couple of minutes, with my eyes closed. I wasn’t scared anymore. Whatever happens, I’ll be okay. I’m glad to be turning 30.

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Graduate student

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