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So, I Turn 26 Today – The Hamster Wheel Of Doom And Other Lessons From A Quarter-Life-Crisis Survivor.

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25 was the worst year of my life. The absolute worst. And the morbidly funny thing about bad situations? You learn a lot and grow from them. So I’ll begrudgingly take the painful-yet-liberating lessons I learned. And I’ll happily share them with you, dear friend.

Here they are, in no particular order, with all blood, guts, and glory exposed.

1. The Hamster Wheel Of Doom.
Intrinsic motivation has an internal source of power. You do something because you want to do it, screw everything else. You get it done because you love it and you feel pretty good after you experience it. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, has an external source of power. It’s more of an If-Then proposition. If you do this, then you get that. The Carrot & Stick. And here’s what I learned the hard way:

I’m intrinsically motivated. Tell me that I can get this if I do that, I’ll ignore you. But if some animating force within me wants to learn/experience something, I go for it. I don’t care much for the trappings of society that are used for the If-Then scenarios. I’ve learned to set my own goals, for my own reasons, while creating my own world.

Because here’s the thing about carrot-and-stick extrinsic motivation: It may start off as ambition. It may start off as a goal. But after you achieve something someone else sets for you, you feel empty inside. The sudden victory fades into a lasting nothingness. And then, some other bastard has some other “goal” they want you to achieve. And you trick yourself into doing it, vaguely starting to sense that you’re dancing to a tune that isn’t authentically yours. And you still feel empty inside. Those fortunate to escape the experience (alive) get to see the devilish machination in all it’s infamy: it’s a God-damn hamster wheel.

The Hamster Wheel Of Doom.

Run, you stupid bastard, run.

You just keep running and running. And running. Achievement after achievement. Degree after degree. Bragging rights after pissing contests.  Comparing, contrasting, complaining. The fear of a failure that you shouldn’t care about keeps you moving towards the promise of a success that you know won’t make you happy. The trophies that you once craved now sit on a shelf, perched like vultures as they watch you sleep, ready to pick at the rotting carcass of your dreams, deferred. And you feel fucking sick to your soul.

That is…if you feel anything at all.

With the help of many sources, from the sages of the ages to modern minds, I’ve learned that this whole system/society is one big giant fucking hamster wheel. People create their own wheel(or happily accept whatever wheel is given to them), and run on them. They forget they’re on a wheel. Hell, they forget they’re in a cage! But all they care about is the next bigger, better, shinier wheel. And they’ll give you shit for not being like them.

But you point out, time and time again, that they’re deluding themselves. That they’re trapped. That freedom lies in breaking free from the cage of societal & self-imposed expectations, in throwing oneself out through the open door of uncertainty, in moving forward & towards life itself…but they’ll warn you that it’s “not safe” out there. They’ll warn you to be “realistic”. They say “If” and follow that premise with “Then”. They want you to join them on their wheel they think is headed towards “success” because it was “promised” to them, but it’s really destined for safety, boredom, & mediocrity (the true definition of Hell).

Get off of your wheel and run far far away from these people.

Lesson learned: You’re not a fucking hamster. Nor are you the human version of Pavlov’s subjects. Determine your own world. Break free. Run wild.

2. The Hindenburg & The Phoenix.
It started with a woman (I hear all great memoirs start this way too). Here I was at the rock bottom of my quarter-life crisis…this needy ball of emotions, this abyss that yearned for substance, this pathetic mass of cells that lacked a backbone…confessing my love to a woman who wanted nothing of me . Well, I thought it was “love” I was confessing. It was actually my intense need for validation caused by my lack of self-esteem and vitriolic self-hatred. Three things I’ve now come to face and flip around.

“You’re like a brother to me” was the last phrase heard on the Hindenburg’s blackbox & the probable cause of the disaster. True story.

I crashed and burned. I’m glad she shot me down. Hell, I’d hope any woman who knows her worth would’ve done the same. No man or woman deserves to be with someone who needs them to fill whatever emptiness they harbor. It’s a losing battle.

A while later, after reading through religious and secular texts (and licking my self-inflicted wounds), I’ve come to this conclusion: True love comes from within.  Moreover, true love is a force that’s ethereal yet so wedded to the human experience. True love is universal, transcendent, and somehow intensely personal. Most importantly, true love is unconditional.  You don’t need an If just so you can Then receive it. Conditional love is the worst thing on the planet. It’s controlling & destructive.

When you realize this…when you realize the source of a unique yet universal power that can & has changed the world was within you the whole time…you realize that you’ve got so much more to give than to take. You realize that all the issues you forced were to make up for a lack of compatibility & commonalities. You realize that your “confession” was more of a cry for help, and that the feelings involved were raw & genuine towards the context, not the poor person caught in your emotional puke. And you learn. And grow. And rise up from the ashes of your mistakes.

With a renewed sense of self…you learn to give freely, to laugh deeply, to make someone’s day a bit better, and to crave to leave the world a better place than you found it. All by taking care of you, first.

Lesson learned: True love is unconditional. Love & forgive yourself first and the rest will fall into place. Never ride in a blimp.

In Conclusion…

So at 5am when I wrote this, I could come up with only two solid lessons. But after reviewing it this afternoon, I realized I packaged a whole bunch of things into them. Let me sort this out –

This quarter life crisis was a storm, but I came out the other end of it alive. Smarter & stronger. And for whatever storm you’re facing, you’ll come out alive and with a few sick battle wounds. Remember, you got this and I believe in you. Just consider these:

Do & Enjoy v. If & Then
Abundance v. Scarcity
Hope v. Despair
Love v. Hate
Unconditional v. Conditional
Win-Win v. Zero Sum Game

Before my quarter life crisis, I internalized the ideas in the right column. While I was going through that version of hell, I realized all the ideas I believed, all the ideas that other people and society like to promote, are so unbelievably cancerous. I lived & died by factors outside of my control. And continuing to believe those ideas will keep you on your wheel, running in place, going nowhere fast. Like a demon hamster straight out of hell.

Let me be clear: I’m not telling you what to do. I hate being told what to do(another lesson learned). I’m just sharing my scars. Take from this what you want. All I’m saying is that my quarter life crisis forced me, through pain & tears, to think differently. I experienced a mind-shift. And I now internalize all the ideas in the left column.

Life isn’t a mindless or soulless 9-to-5 exercise that’s determined by Ifs and Thens, the carrot-and-stick. It is an enthralling, spontaneous, interesting journey. And love isn’t about conditional wants & needs, it’s about giving unconditionally and enjoying the experience of having that returned to you.

I’ve realized that the best things in life are the things you can’t win, earn, or buy. Spiritual proprioception & incandescent lucidity are what I now crave. And if you place happiness in the hands of someone else, you’ll surely be miserable. Control what can be controlled, and choose not to be affected by those things out of your control. Anything than can be taken from you is something that shouldn’t be endowed with meaning. Value trumps status. Experiences are everything. You’re important. You’re worth it. You matter.

These are the truths I’ve come to learn so far.

And I’m only 26.

Written by Varun

March 22, 2012 at 11:35 am

Posted in Lessons Learned

One Response

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  1. Years ago, one of my managers said something that really bothered me:

    “I’d rather be feared than love.”

    It made me feel sorry for him, really- but strangely irked at the same time. Irked because I knew this was a skewed view to walk through life with, but I couldn’t vocalize exactly why that was. It bothered me the most that if I got into discussion with him about it, I knew I couldn’t REALLY articulate why this was an unfortunate outlook to have, I just knew it to be true. This was especially difficult to justify because it was obvious that his hard ass and heartless approach to some extent got results and was why at such a young age he was climbing the corporate ladder very quickly.

    Looking back, I think it’s all rooted in motivation and what you define as results. Were more people on time out of fear of reprisal? Yes. But truly motivated to do their job well and to go above and beyond? Nay. Isn’t there something intrinsically rewarding about making a difference in people’s lives and cultivate them to be the best they could be? If you don’t inherently understand that and crave it, I really don’t think there’s any explaining in the world that could translate past that kind of negative filter. That just made hime a really good babysitter, but a terrible leader.

    But you, you were able to put into words what I could not do at the time. And I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate this into anything, but your wording of “spiritual proprioception & incandescent lucidity are what I now crave” is absolutely delicious.


    July 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm

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