Why We Do Things We Dont Need To

We all have been there. We chase opportunities we do not really require. We apply for that job, give that exam a shot, all because it is just an option available. This kind of action is justified when we are perhaps dreaming of a career in that particular field, or even when we haven’t really decided our path in the near future. But no, the majority do not fall into either of the categories. We come under the category where we already have a fixed path ahead of us all set and ready to be taken – hopefully, the path we choose to go in – but still we attempt all the other stuff irrelevant to us. In the Indian context, we try our odds at exams like CAT, GRE, GATE and Civil Services, even after choosing one particular path beforehand. I have seen people taking a CAT coaching and simultaneously giving the GATE exam as well, just because they want to experience how the paper is. That is still okay, its just a normal exam after all. What is even more surprising is the lengths we go to with the same kind of thinking.

People spending a couple of thousands to see how another exam will be can be justified. But what about those spending 15-20 thousand on exams like GRE or GMAT when they are actually seriously planning to go for an M.Tech!? What’s the point in taking a GRE exam, when you are fixed in your mind that you want to pursue an MBA in India? But that is still far better when compared to people who try their luck at the Staff Selection Board for the Armed Forces, especially when they go for such a tedious and stressful process while they are actually in bad health. Dude, do you even know what you are getting into!?  Sure, just saying that the person is going for an experience, much like we go for fun experiences, is on the surface a reasonable excuse. But when you are really weak and ill, you feel like going for such a stressful and even physically demanding experience? Seriously!? Whom are you kidding? Such an action is commendable when we are actually struggling for any opportunity available to leverage our career, but otherwise, it is not.

We all want to have exciting experiences, and when we have the money, it is even more easy to have them all. We need not justify how we spend our leisure time; what experiences we indulge in. It is very normal to want to experience new things, although we do not want to make those experiences a regular thing for us. For instance, we might be an Engineer, and want to experience something as out of our path as flying a fighter jet. Abdul Kalam has done it! This is a wholly different scenario from what we are focusing on right now. The previously discussed instances do not fall into this category. They cannot be treated the same way as we treat our day to day wishes for experiencing something like a long ride or a trek. Why? Because more often than not, they hint at something much larger than a trivial wish. These instances are much different from the decisions we take to go after certain things due to peer or parental pressure. These are completely voluntary decisions, and we take them intentionally with no intent of following them through, if we happen to get through the first few hurdles. In fact, we want to get through the initial barriers, that is specifically the reason why we go after them. We would love to say proudly that we have cracked both GRE and GATE, and boast that we now have the choice to choose our path more freely, while the truth is no more further apart – we have chosen our path much before! So then, why do we do this? Sure, pride is a good factor, it definitely does give our egos a little boost, but that’s not all about it. Pride is something we feel for ourselves, it is not something other people give us. Respect is something we crave from other people, and the prospective of getting that can also be a significant driving factor. But more importantly, the largest share is occupied by our insecurities. We view these as challenges, as opportunities to prove ourselves, and thereby subconsciously overcome our insecurity that we are not good enough! 

Does this help? Of course it does, provided we manage to cross the barriers and overcome the [unnecessary] challenges we set for ourselves. But what if we do not manage to do that? We fall deeper into the spiral and keep telling ourselves that we are not good enough to overcome even this challenge, and that we have always been like that – unfit for everything! (Note how we generalize). That is even more detrimental as we keep lowering our self worth consciously with every such attempt. And this directly affects the way we tackle future necessary challenges as well. We justify to ourselves the way we are being ill-treated by people, and we become mentally powerless to strongly speak up for ourselves when the need presents. This is a downward spiral, and we keep going down in it, unless we happen to overcome a challenge.

Now, is the situation any better if we do overcome any of the [unnecessary] challenges? As discussed earlier, it feeds our ego a little bit, and it helps overcome our insecurity by a significant measure. Unfortunately, this is temporary. We do feel elated with a boosted self esteem, and we feel confident about ourselves. But that is not the end of it. This self-esteem will only last a little while, as long as our recent victory is still floating in our conscious minds; as long as we keep remembering it, and telling people about it. And after a while, as the charge slowly settles down, we go back to our previous selves. We again look for opportunities and challenges where we can prove ourselves, perhaps to a new set of people, but most importantly to ourselves! We are all prone to this kind of behavior, it is in fact ingrained in us to a large extent, but unfortunately we do not realize it. This is not going to change until we consciously change our way of thinking and the ideologies we hold. So now that we know about it, and acknowledge its presence in us and the detrimental effects it can bring to us, what can we do?

Fight the battles you really need to. Not every battle is your battle! 

It is a sheer waste of your resources to set unnecessary challenges and to go after them. Choose what you want to pursue. Opportunities are vastly available. Select your battle, prepare well for it, and fight it. Even if you lose, it will still be a worthy battle in the sense that you have given your best, and have gained crucial insights from it. On the other hand, going after all the available battles, with little to no preparation, is at the most going to leave you beaten and dejected. Following this will help you focus on what is necessary for your benefit. But our problem is not yet solved.

We need to know that we are worthy of the things we deem ourselves worthy of! There is absolutely no necessity to prove yourself to anybody else.

If you cannot get this down your throat, then you are living a life controlled by others. You need to reassert to yourself that you are good the way you are. You can be better, but you are still good enough. There is no point in trying to do something to raise your worth in the perception of other people, be it even your parents or your closest relations. Worthiness is just a subjective term that has nothing to do with practical reality. Its just that – a conceived concept born out of one’s condescension and another’s self-doubt. The faster you can incorporate this understanding, the better. You deserve what you tell yourself you deserve. Let nobody tell you otherwise. Let nobody hold the reigns to your inner life.