I sometimes wish I had my own self from the future walk back into the past and become my teacher, my mentor. Oftentimes at work, and even otherwise generally in life, I have felt that I lacked that one insight into a problem, which I only gain after having battled through it. I only wish that I could have lived through life’s and work’s gauntlets in style, and I could have enjoyed the process more, had I know what I ought to have known.
For an educated person like me, who has had a decent college education, life’s quests are never about telling the right from the wrong, white from the black, yin from the yang, high from the lows. They are often about the decision of telling the more right from the less right, the more evil from the less evil, and the gray from the not-so-gray. When I look back at my life in the past eight to ten years, which is the whole of my work life, I feel the most tumultuous of times have been when I had to make such decisions – to see the one amongst the many cohorts of choices, or to see the many in that one.
It always feels like you walk several times into a stage called “life” to take a pick that will decide your fate forever or, if not forever, for the next few years, or months or weeks. You are being watched – watched by your bosses, your peers, your families, and strangers. You can hear whispers. You can’t tell if they’re telling “he will make a mistake”, or if they are praying for you to make the right choice, or if they are just gaining voyeuristic pleasure out of your helplessness and confusion. All you can hear is whispers, and sometimes nothing – just faces staring at you. You can’t say whether those expressionless faces are staring at you with a hope that you can make the right decision, or with a sense of trust and confidence that you will make the right decision, or with an unconfessed guilt that wants to admit, ‘I couldn’t make the right decision when I was in your place, I hope you too don’t and suffer the way I am suffering’.
How often have I lived the epiphany of having discovered the hidden simplicity of things around me? I laugh at my own futile attempts of over-trying and making things more difficult than they were. Life has taught me a lesson that if I am trying too hard to get something done then either I am doing it wrong or it’s just I who is doing it and no one else. Only that which is simple and ordered in its existence sustains the test of time and the wear-and-tear from human follies.
Life throws, and keeps throwing, newer challenges at me. It’s the same for everyone. And I often wonder the silliness of the utopian world I dreamt about as a boy, where I would imagine a teacher, a mentor, a guide showing you the path. I imagined that work will come disguised in many shapes, sizes, forms and lengths of time. That which appears on the outside is not what the work is about. The real nucleus, or crux, is that which the “work order” doesn’t state, or the timesheet won’t ask you to account for. It often takes a lot of demystification, analysis, disintegration, explosion, and dissection of a task to know ‘how it is to be done, and done once only so that you don’t have to do it again’. I dreamt that a mentor or teacher will show the path.
Well, much of what I imagined is true – that work does come disguised the way I have described above – but not entirely. Because there is a void in the place of the “mentor”.
If you encapsulate the entire time you spent working on a problem from the minute it was assigned to you, through the times you tried to read about it, understand it, talk to people about it, introspect, simulate it, make models of it to finally resolving it, you will realise how you have descended down a vortex of thought-webs. You traversed down all through not knowing the shortest route, but most importantly, the right route. Its only when you have finally managed to resolve it through disputes, quarrels, sweat, blood you realise something: that you were foolish. The tide has receded and you realise you have been swimming naked. Look back on your past, now. I can assure you no one is spared of this.
When I start on something that presents itself to me for the first time, I have two views. One is clear while the other one is hazy or sometimes visually unimaginable. The first view is of its physical manifestation – the way it is in its present state, untouched and unaugmented by external influences of solution. The second view is that of the “crux” – what it will become when it’s down to the bone, after all the illusive flesh and flab is taken out. That is what everyone needs to see but no one will tell, no one will describe. A problem is but a dense cobweb of unwanted perceptions, viewpoints, views, figures, charts, emotions, tears, wrath, complaints camouflaging that which is the solution – the truth. Most problems, if not all, have the solution hidden in them. We – whatever our professions are: consultants, doctors, engineers, technicians, plumbers, beauticians, or even poets, writers – spend a lifetime unravelling through all the unwanted accumulation to seek that which ‘is’.
I trust my problem solving skills; it’s just that it comes hard and comes with time. I can’t jump to the future and grab myself, have a cup of coffee while discussing the problem with my future-self, get a ‘Eureka moment’ and appear silly and over excited of having learned from my ‘future-self’ on how he solved that problem in the past or what he thought about it while my future-self chooses to ignore the frivolity of my excitement, and then I travel back in time to apply the solution to the problem on hand. I wish this were possible. But it isn’t.
Life will be a lot simpler if I am able to find that one person who is “me” but a more “learned me”. And then I can ask him to show me the path, to show me how to do it once and do it right. Books, Wikipedia, Forums – none of these can equate the efficacy of having my own future-self as my personal valet.