How a single gray hair in my beard changed my life forever.

I’ll be turning 25 in a few days. And I found a shiny silver curl in my beard one morning, coinciding my ‘silver’ jubilee birthday.

My first reactions:

For a moment it was an overwhelmingly humbling reminder of my mortal and frail life. It was as if I could already hear the first faint mocking cries of old age and death from the distant future. 25 long years of innocence, anguish, happiness, beauty, and suffering have passed. I’ve indeed learned a lot in all these years. But I have not the faintest idea of what I have yet to know and learn.

Soon, the existential questions surfaced- Where did all those years go? What have I accomplished in these years?

I reflected back on the years I’ve wasted. Wait a minute, wasted? How do I define life being “useful” and life being “wasted? I realized I bought into the idea I often get advised by people around me, who say that if I’m not working a 9–5 job, I’m “wasting my life”.

But how does working for someone not count as wasting my time? What acts in my life would make it worthwhile to be called useful? What would give meaning to my life?

The actions that made me feel like I’ve wasted my time are the things I didn’t really care about but did nevertheless for pleasing my teachers, parents and the society in general.

Most of it was a complete waste of time, including college. I’d have learned a lot in those 4 years of my graduate studies if only I had taken the road less traveled, doing the things I really care about.

The only times I wasn’t true to myself are things I regret the most.

Those are the only times i felt like I’ve wasted my time/life on.

The pursuit of purpose: Defining success for myself.

You have to define what “success” means for yourself first.

These train of thoughts in introspection have led me to define for myself, my own purpose in life.

I’m convinced that the purpose in life is not to just go to college, get a job, earn something, get married, have kids, retire and then die.

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” — Steve Jobs.

Life can be much more than self-gratification and a plain pursuit of happiness.

I guess it’s the opposite for me, happiness lies in the pursuit itself- the happiness of pursuit.

Within the soul of every human being, there is a hunger for one’s purpose. We all want to know, “What is the purpose of my being here?” “What is my contribution to life?”

Ralph Waldo Emerson gave us a clue:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

I’ve trained myself to believe that Impact, any sort of positive impact is a measurement of success.

I often ask myself,

What difference/impact has been made due to my birth? How am I going to leave this world a better place? What can I give back and find meaning and purpose in life?

My clock is ticking away; every second bringing me closer to the face of death — A daunting fact we hate to acknowledge. It’s something we almost deliberately choose to ignore and forget, instead of acknowledging, recognizing and doing something about it.

However, it is not death that I fear:

I’d make a fool out of myself if I don’t prepare for the inevitable destiny that is death. I’ve already prepared my mind for it. What I fear is not accomplishing anything significant before I die.

In fact, the knowledge of an impending and inevitable death is what makes me feel alive. The fear of death is what brings a sense of urgency to take action and do something about it.

A quote from Stanford commencement speech by Steve Jobs.

I subconsciously seek immortality through the impact I make. I know I’ll merely be a thread in the timeless tapestry of the grand design, but I’ll strive to be the brightest thread. The brightest, rarest pixel in the vast and timeless image of life. I do indeed fear being forgotten like the billions of people before me who I’ll inevitably join at the finish line.

I fear not doing something worthwhile and remarkable before I die.

I fear to regret on my death bed about the things I didn’t do.

I fear not leaving a legacy.

I fear not living a life I’d be proud of.

I fear to live a life not true to myself.

I dare not make the labor pains of my mother go in vain. I do not simply wish to be the richest guy in the cemetery. I seek to live a life I’d be able to look back on my death bed — smiling and being content, knowing that I’ve done my part to lessen the suffering of my fellow fraternity. The satisfaction arising out of such an accomplishment is almost unparalleled.

A scene from Shawshank Redemption where Andy smiles as he succeeds in convincing the jailor to get a cold beer to his fellow inmates.
That smile on his face as he watches them feel like free men in prison is something so beautiful and remarkably captured in this image.

And that for me is to have succeeded, and I ought to quote Emerson here:

 

And as Roosevelt said:

Only those are fit to live who fear not death and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the duty of life.

Since no rest is worth anything, except the rest which is earned, before I leave to the place of eternal rest, I want to make sure I’ve earned it. I’d rather die young finishing all the things I’ve set out to accomplish, positively impacting thousands if not millions of lives, instead of living a long, comfortable rich life good for none.

I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves — this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The trite objects of human efforts — possessions, outward success, luxury — have always seemed to me contemptible. — Albert Einstein.

Do your duty and disappear is the maxim that I believe and live by. The sooner I finish my mission, the sooner I can leave.

Passing the baton:

We’re all inescapably mortal, yet trying our best, struggling, to be remembered, and to be in memory of the ones we leave our legacy to. We’re trying as hard as we can to pass the baton with our fingerprints on it. Hoping they will last as long as possible amidst the millions of predecessors’ barely visible if not invisible fingerprints on it. We seek refuge and comfort in rationalizing that ours will, for whatever reason stay recognizable long before we’re gone.

I guess Maslow’s hierarchy of needs must also include man’s need to be recognized/remembered and to accomplish something that gives meaning to his life. Tis’ a subconscious driving force whose strength is often underestimated. Writing for me, therefore, is a form of passing the baton, something I feel urged to do.

So that the baton that has been passed over to me may be forwarded to another before I “run the course”, before “I trip over and drop the baton”.

It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste so much of it .— Seneca

I’m learning to make the most of today while I still have it.

Caution to self: Being busy doesn’t mean being productive.

Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.

You can be busy all your life, climbing the ladder set against the wrong wall, only to realize in the end that it is not what you struggled for.

Therefore choose your battles carefully, define what success is for yourself and then pursue it.

Make sure your purpose , your WHY is greater and worth fighting for.

Go find something worth dying for and then live for it.

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