My heart’s desire

What are the big things one sets one’s heart on? Why do we choose them? When it comes to the qualities I think define me as a person or my greatest ambitions – the reasons I selected them are often so trivial that it’s frequently embarrassing, and occasionally frightening.

Let us take 2 examples: How did I get this book-crazy? My parents. When I was around 6 or 7, mom and dad grew bone weary of meeting my ‘tell me a story’ demands and handed over a book. I still remember my first book. It was a story about a kingdom famed for its sweets and which was overrun with rats. The king tries all sorts of schemes to rid his kingdom of these creatures, and finally as the very first illustration of the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ philosophy, agrees to let the rats stay on, provided they stick to the official quota of sweets set aside for them by the citizens.

To think I actually resented my parents for weaning me away from the half-hourly ‘story-time’ ritual… Gad, I can’t imagine how life would have been if I’d simply given up in a huff (yes, we used to huff quite a bit then, as we are still wont to on occasion), and decided to play with toys instead (Egad! Thank you, the powers that be, for saving me from that fate worse than death!)…

Moving on to example #2 – travel. Someday, I plan to visit Norway. Reason: Marco, the linguistically-challenged Italian from my high school French text book (Le Mauger Rouge). The poor man spouted some line about the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’, the idea, in all probability, was to teach us those vital words (land, midnight, sun) that we will no doubt need if we ever found ourselves in Paris and had to quickly find out where the rest rooms were. But I found myself enamored at once. The minute talk of fjords started, I was lost forever. And mind you, this was before any mention was made of aurora borealis. Of course, over the years, I have found numerous other reasons for visiting Norway, similar to the original reason only in the extent of their triviality –SlartiBartfast’s fondness for fjords, Bill Bryson & ‘Neither Here Nor There’, Stefan Edberg (under the handy, if misguided rule of thumb that to see one Scandinavian country is to see them all) and God knows what else.

Now, everybody expects me to have a clear idea of what I want to do with my life. I am expected to have short term goals and long term goals, and short-term and long-term plans to achieve those goals. Having those goals isn’t sufficient. I must somehow explain why those goals are my goals. And sound sufficiently important and earnest when I do the explaining. When I dig into the roots of my single greatest passion in life, and discover neither initiative nor a burning desire to accomplish some inspiring goal, but only my parents’ weariness and my own annoying behavior, the less I explore the true reasons behind my other ‘interests’ and ‘goals’ the better it probably is.

So much for the reasons behind my fondest dreams. What is the likelihood of my achieving these goals? Apparently not much. For, there doesn’t appear to be any such thing as a sure thing. Please remember that this is not about knowing that the sun will rise tomorrow from the east. It’s about finding my one true love, getting that dream job, buying that perfect car, winning the Pulitzer, finding a cure for cancer, or whatever crazy seemingly impossible things which for whatever crazy reasons I have my heart set on. As you can clearly see, these are complex goals, influenced by hundreds of thousands of factors, any of which could go wrong, and are therefore inherently unsure bets.

This is growing into a long post – so we’ll do a quick recap. Even the most important goals are set for random and utterly trivial reasons. The likelihood of achieving those goals is any one’s guess.

Let us move on to the rewards. For whatever silly reason, fact remains that I want to visit the Land of the Midnight Sun. Let us suppose for a minute that I do actually make enough money to afford the trip and have enough vacation time. What is the expected reward? A sense of untold happiness, which I believe I will experience once I accomplish that goal. With some other goals, the reward is not pleasure, but the absence of pain. For instance, my mother managed to keep me studious through my school and college years with one very effective threat – how I would starve slowly to death if I didn’t study well enough to get a job. So, for 20+ years, I toiled on, with the aim of avoiding hunger pangs.

Rewards – combination of begetting pleasure and avoiding pain. So be it. Even if I assumed that I will achieve all that I want to achieve, and get the rewards that motivated me to achieve them, the next question is how much will these rewards be worth, after I’ve earned them?

I read somewhere that men and women tend to overestimate future happiness as well as disappointments. I suppose that’s true. Indeed, I know this to be true from experience. At 8, my big goal in life was to become a scientist (the word was always uttered breathlessly, think Marilyn Monroe in Seven Year Itch). I was going to wear a white lab coat, work in a lab, and be surrounded by multihued test tubes. And oh yeah, wear glasses. A nice specific, tangible goal if there was ever one, wouldn’t you say? In my third year of undergrad, I was doing precisely that. The moment I realized that I was living my childhood dream, what do you think resulted? Tears of joy and smugness? If you ask my classmates, they will tell you a different story, one closer to the truth. The peal of my hysterical laughter still lives on in their memories, triggering the occasional nightmare. Did I mention men and women overestimate future happiness? Amen to that.

Another recap. Goals are random and trivial, set for equally random, trivial reasons. The likelihood of achieving those goals is slim. Once you’ve achieved even complicated, seemingly impossible goals, there is a real possibility that you’ll feel no different from say a week before you achieved these complicated & seemingly impossible goals.

I performed a highly unscientific poll around the lunch table today to verify these conclusions. Out of 5 including self, these were some of the disclosures:

a) X: My uncle talked me into majoring in electrical engineering because he saw a bright future for me in Tamil Nadu Electricity Board.

b) Y: I was specialized in high voltage engineering. Am still not sure how I ended up as a software engineer.

c) DoZ: Once upon a time, I wanted to be a scientist. Boy, am I glad, I am not.

d) X: Amen to that. Before I wanted to be an electrical engineer, I wanted to be a doctor.

e) A: I wanted to make movies, but parents wouldn’t let me apply to film school. I almost became a civil engineer. But boy, am I glad I am an electrical engineer.

f) X: I was positive I did not want to move to the US. That’s why I married a desi from India (as opposed to Jersey). Did not plan on said desi moving to the US.

All 5 agreed that their presence in said lunch room / current job was no cause for either great happiness or utter despair.

(Note from pollster: There is no double counting – we just have a surfeit of lost electrical engineers).

So, it would appear my conclusion stands. Life happens.

And now, the clincher: when you’ve acknowledged the above, what does it do for your sense of commitment? How can you put in the sort of blood, sweat and tears that anything worth having seems to demand? Will as many poems get written or movies made about love after one knows that love most probably isn’t as great you imagined it would be? Will Devdas or Romeo or Juliet have made the crazy decisions they did if they knew that a few weeks or a few months after they broke up, they’d have picked up the pieces and simply carried on? Aren’t Parvati and Joan Didion the characters / personalities we should truly celebrate? After all, they not only moved on, but married rich men or wrote best sellers from their passing phase of despondence.

Moral of this overlong and winding post: The heart desires. But in life, there may be rich men & bestsellers even the heart doesn’t know about.

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4 comments so far

  1. Zero on

    As the now-hackneyed-but-beautiful line goes, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”…
    True, every human being picks the left-over pieces of thread and moves on.. like us all. With only due respects to dreamers-and-“achievers”-of-the-same the average joe dreams something and does something else (which itself should be the reason why the former phenomenon is called “dreaming”).

    But, some choose to cut all the threads off and are somehow justified in their own way, though they themselves might be aware (lurking somewhere in the heart) that they might be able to pull it over and move along too; but they choose not to.

    “Moral” of this overlong and winding comment:
    1. Paro deserves a celebration (and am able to identify with her); but only as much as Devdas deserves (whom am not able to connect to).
    2. I am a nuthead.

  2. DoZ on

    2. I am a nuthead.
    I wish I’d thought to add that to my own conclusion 🙂 That’s the only thing that’s been consistent with me – in life, in dreams.

  3. The soliloquist on

    Cool Post.. though was intially intimidated by the lenghth, guess life so destined me to stay on till the end.. And reap the rewards as well.. M glad i got to read this post at this point of time, cos the past few days have been a major pondering session for me on how directionless my life has been so far… But one cant always be a dead log, to be carried by the river’s current.. Its only a boat, made of the same log, steer its course through the same current with a rudder..
    But, life (or whatever it is) does go on, no matter what.

    Thanks again for writing this.

  4. DoZ on

    Wow, Soliloquist – Thank you! That is the best compliment I have ever received 🙂 I am in the middle of a ‘re-examine life’ process myself… Difference – I see direction in my life, perhaps too much. This post was my lame attempt at trying to steel myself for a potentially devastating heart-break, in case that all that direction leads nowhere… If it conveyed something more positive to you, I am so very glad.


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