My parents are very religious. When I was in school, my friends would discuss where their parents took them over the weekend every Monday morning. Sunday evening movies, new restaurants, a hill station stop, and more. It felt a little weird for me to chip in on the conversation because my mom had an unsaid rule in the house: Sundays we go to Satsang. We would get prasad after Satsang, and would usually be too full to go out after that. It’s not that I did not like to go pray, or we did not ever go out to eat, but I hated the “rule”. Every Sunday evening would be blocked. As a new teen, I tried everything possible to make my mom break her rule. One day I actually sat outside in the car for 2 hours while my parents went for Satsang. Nothing worked. Even today, my mom goes every Thursday and Sunday.
This probably helped me build my faith and connection with God, but little did I realize, it helped me build myself. Today, I am thousands of miles away from home, living alone and without my mom’s rules. But I do not know what force in me makes me go to the Mandir near my house every Sunday evening. I wear traditional clothes, go for aarti, eat prasad and come home.
When I was in school, my parents would take us for one summer vacation every year. I loved the trips and the fun we used to have. My highlight would be shopping and taking pictures hoping to become a YouTuber celebrity someday. What I hated about the vacation was coming back and unpacking. It was such a pain and so annoying because every outfit I unpacked would remind me of the fun I had and that it was over now. Unfortunately, my dad did not agree. He would unpack as soon as we came back. Make sure all his items are accounted for and back in their places or the laundry. He did this within 12 hours of reaching home, irrespective of how tired he was or how late we got home at night. He is a man who teaches with action. He would then walk over to my room, show me his empty suitcase and ask me to unpack too. I usually would give in after he told me at least 3-4 times, and I made sure everyone in the house knew what torture it was for me. “Pappa, I am not as organized as you and it’s okay for me”, “I don’t need anything from my bag urgently”, “the washing machine is running everyone else’s clothes, mine will anyway be done later”. None of these worked with him.
After moving to California, the number of short trips I take has increased drastically. Given the limited items I own here, this means a lot of packing and a lot of unpacking. Now here’s the plot twist. Again, I do not know why, but every time I come home, the first thing I do is unpack. I put everything back in its place, clean my suitcase and run a load of laundry.
In the past few months, I have come to realize that we all experience things and we do not know in which way, it will shape our journey or who we become. I never expected myself to do the things the 15-year-old me hated doing so much. They shape us into a version of ourselves – better or worse depends on us. I have had my fair share of “grab the opportunity” and “take the jump” moments in life. I went to Egypt for 45 days, I joined a startup as a founding team member, and I led a team of over 150 students interested in entrepreneurship and more. When I was headed to California for my master’s, I was scared. I signed up for this big change where I literally disrupted my life and reset it on a new continent, but I was scared.
And then I had a conversation with my dear friend Yukti Gupta. She was probably the first one to accept the fear of uncertainty and homesickness. She suggested a lot of things I could do before I left in preparation and a couple of things that I could do in order to settle in. But one thing she mentioned sounded fun. It was #100dayshappy.
#100dayshappy: Simply find one reason to smile everyday, anything that makes you happy. Take a picture of it and post it on your social media so all your friends and family can see it too. Do this for 100days.
It brought back my previous reflection on my challenges with consistency and helped me uncover things that made me happy. Since the lockdown, I had tried a couple of similar things on my social media. I started a cooking series with my sister, a #30treesin30days to promote tree plantation and a couple of #svaa21daychallenge to promote the product of the startup I was building. Taking up a new social media commitment for 100 days sounded scary. A part of my brain worried about the redundancy as well as the fact that I would take over 3 months of consistency. “What if I do not complete it?”
But when I looked at my life so far, I had proved to myself that I wasn’t afraid of challenges. I shut that part of my brain and jumped into it on day 1 by watching my first Pacific sunset on Redondo Beach in LA.
It was a happiness challenge, but it also made me sad sometimes, it gave me a little anxiety and a little concern about being judged on the internet.
When I wake up in the morning, I usually check my phone and then play my meditation music. My lock screen popped up on my to-do list. It was exam week. I had nothing fun planned, and no time to even make fun things up or even go to the gym. I would be cuddled up all day doing assignments and studying the laws of microeconomics. This weird pain in my stomach arose. What would be my #100dayshappy for today? I obviously cannot not have anything because now there are 900-odd people on my Instagram waiting for me to post something. I cannot break my own rule of posting an old picture because I would be cheating on myself and my challenge.
I decided to continue my day as planned with the faith that I would attract at least one moment of happiness organically. At around 5 pm, the rays of the setting sun came in through the slits in my curtain, reflected on my mirror and my entire room turned golden for the sunset hour. It was beautiful. The gorgeous California sunset had come home to me and that’s what made me happy that day.
I had my fair share of doubts throughout the challenge too. I had just completed 60 days of the challenge, and I got this thought. Am I so dependent on an Instagram challenge, that I cannot find the means to be happy when it does not exist? What am I going to do when this ends?
When I was in the last 10 days, I stopped getting <3s and fire emojis on my stories. I started getting “you need to keep going”, “I love your series”, and “It makes me happy” as messages. Usually, I would be elated, flying and blushing. But the new me did not know how to react. No one knew that there were days when I just wanted to skip. There were days when I worried I had nothing unique to post. There were days when I wanted to stop the challenge mid-way. I had come a long way, more than what most people would have had they taken the challenge. I could stop and still have achieved something.
But, I did not stop.
Just before I wrote this blog, I went through my album of 100 videos and images that summed up my last three months and I had happy tears in my eyes.
I was proud of myself for having made it so far and not giving up mid-way.
I was proud of myself for shutting the voice in my brain that said it was okay to stop or take a break.
I was proud of myself for taking it one day at a time and moving forward.
I realized that when my mom made me go to pray and my dad made me unpack my bag, it built a part of my brain that gave me the ability to say no, even to myself. I fought the urge to quit and give up. I would shut down the side of my brain that asked me to take a break and listen to the other one. My mind has the strength to say no even to myself. Unintentionally, the ability was built due to the muscle memory I had developed over the years. Going to pray every Sunday, unpacking my bag, taking up challenges that kicked me out of my comfort zone, and doing things beyond the orthodox path. Before each of these, I had a choice to make. Should I quit or say no, or take up a challenge and see what this opportunity has in store for me?
Now in any given situation, I know the choice is in my hands. Which part of the brain do I want to listen to?
As originally published on Enterprise India Fellowship on December 10, 2022