I’ve spent way too much time trying to understand if I’m a radical nonconformist, or just a misfit and a dropout. I wish I could say I didn’t care. I wish I knew for exactly how long does patience remain a virtue, and how long before impatience stops being whimsical. Do I have to build a Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook for “dropping out” to be okay? When does my risk-taking, entrepreneurial self become a reckless and irresponsible being?
It’s only recently that I stopped trying to figure this out. Working for large organizations like Cognizant, with more than 200,000 people around the world, mostly of Indian origin, a culture that teaches conformity and adjustment, has been a very hard emotional experience for me. Trying to adjust to such cultures meant I either snapped, or stopped caring. Fortunately for me, neither of those outcomes really happened. I think I eventually just zenned out of that struggle.
Took me some time to realize though what a fool I had been! How could anyone be labeled a misfit or a free spirit?! A great white shark captured from the depths of the ocean obviously struggles in captivity, but, its captive-born offspring can die back in the ocean. This is so obvious to me now, Duh! Of course, Fish don’t see water, they only see what’s in the water. In his famous commencement speech David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College on May 21, 2005, he talks about the “the importance of being well-adjusted”. I agree with him, it is important to be well-adjusted. I don’t believe that the struggle of not belonging is worth the perceived autonomy. But, the answer can’t always be in conditioning a shark to live in a pond. The big wide ocean is a beautiful place after all. Yes, you have to find your own food, migrate thousands of miles twice a year, you will not have big crowds in the pavilion cheering you on, nobody petting you and feeding you when you behave well.
What I ask myself now is not just whether I am “conscious, sympathetic, and well-adjusted” as David Foster suggests. I’d rather ask “Am I conscious of the environment around me, can I be sympathetic towards people around me while trying to adjust”. The answers to these questions are a lot more meaningful and useful to me than trying to figure out if I’m a misfit or a free spirit.