An Ode to Supportive Strangers

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As a kid, you’re told not to talk to strangers. But with experience, I have come to the realization that talking to strangers is not such a bad thing after all. In fact, I would say, out with the old “don’t talk to strangers” and in with the new “reach out to more strangers.”

It all started with my first blog. I received the most support from strangers.

Then came my business (now defunct). Again, I received incredible support from strangers.

At each phase of my life, I was indebted to the fact that strangers have always been more kind to me than the ones I personally know. With some observation, I realized this is the story for a lot of people. Strangers often tend to support more.

Is this because strangers are more kind? Or because more strangers than friends/relatives are on the lookout for what you have to offer? Maybe distance makes the heart go fonder, and up-close we are full of blunder? Or perhaps, it’s because strangers know how it is to feel unseen, to be treated like a stranger.

The world is vast, and people are boundless with distinct personalities and mental models. If our content does not cater to the needs of a small group of friends/relatives, instead of sticking to the archaic scripture of not talking to strangers, we should, maybe just maybe, reach out to more. The ones who would eventually become your tribe. The ones who understand your thought process and techniques.

I often feel intensely grateful to the strangers who have taken the time out to support me, often juxtaposed with an uncomfortable question, “Why are the people I know less supportive?

Some of these kind strangers have moved on, but in that short span of time, they have offered me more love and encouragement than any person I know. I am armed with the knowledge that strangers can be beautiful, and probably this is why I am more open to newcomers joining any close-knit community that I am in, whereas others appear to be wary or hostile.

I am convinced that this is why the universe sends us strangers—to play an important but short role in our life. So we don’t lose hope in our core beliefs, the ones we would love to passionately share with the world.

An Ode to Being Aware of the Two Most Unfair (But Less-Talked-About) Comparisons

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His job profile is the pits. He is not earning much.” (Comparing the person’s job to someone else’s probably one’s own.)

I enjoy my work and my salary. But almost everyone I know is changing their jobs, and I am feeling restless.” (Comparing our job to someone else’s.)

The things we get in our country are far better than this.” (Comparing two countries that are poles apart socio-economically.)

My friend is visiting a lot of places. She’s so lucky!” (Comparing the friend’s “travel luck” to your own.)

Comparison is the ultimate joy stealer. And I do not mean just comparing yourself to someone. I also mean comparing others and their situations to our mental model of “the perfect life.” I have seen people comparing themselves to friends, relatives, acquaintances, some random person on social media and making their life miserable. I have also seen people feeling miserable right after hearing someone’s comparison. In the first instance, we are unkind to ourselves. In the second instance, others are being unkind to us. Either way, rest assured, comparisons bring no happiness.

Still, people just cannot seem to stay away from comparing, sometimes unintentionally. There are many types of comparisons, but some of them have been normalized beyond our conscious awareness, so much so that we don’t think twice before blurting them out.

The Most Notorious Comparison—”We Are Better Off Than You”

When we say something like, “The chocolate we get in our country is far superior in quality,” we are not exactly sharing any valuable information with the other person. We only sound like an elitist. It is akin to saying, “I have tasted something far better, and you, my dear, will have no easy access to it.” The info might be accurate. The chocolate might be of better quality. But the person we are talking to might have a reality that is different from ours. For them, this particular chocolate might be of the best quality—because they have no other options to compare it with! In my opinion, to destroy that sense of joy in someone is the most insensitive thing one can do.

Unfortunately, this type of comparison is notoriously common. I am sure we all have heard something of the sort. The listener can only nod in agreement when such comparisons are made. They do not want to be rude by disagreeing, or they genuinely have no idea if the information shared with them is valid.

People pass judging comments without thinking twice about the interlocutor’s feelings. “Would they benefit from this info?” “Would they feel better after knowing these details?” Of course not. Yet, this is a type of comparison that is notoriously common.

Recently, on a news channel covering the unfortunate Ukraine-Russia war, a woman said in a state of shock, “The unthinkable has happened. This is not even a developing third-world nation. This is Europe.” She compared Ukraine’s situation to that of war-torn developing nations. It was a privileged, unkind statement, making it seem acceptable if poor countries face violence and unrest. She might not have intended it as such, but for a person from a “third world nation,” listening to such statements can be a harrowing experience.

Similar types of comparisons include:

  • “{Insert Country Name} has a superior standard of living. This is why I chose to settle there instead of staying in {Home Country}.”
  • “Food tastes better in {Insert Country Name}. In {Home Country}, everything is of low quality.”
  • “The quality of education is poor. So are the wages. I left the country due to these reasons.”

Sometimes, the listener might have chosen a life that is different from ours (like staying back in their home country). For them, these comments may seem like an insult. While advocating for something we believe in, it is equally important to not sound disrespectful (unintentionally or otherwise) of the life choices made by another person.

“I Am Happy, But Should I Be Happy?”

Everyone seems to be in the midst of a job change nowadays. Pay packages are on the rise, especially in the IT industry. This is inspiring a lot of workers to make that much-needed career shift. And why not? Without an iota of doubt, people should chase their dreams—we have only one life after all.

But then there are people like me, who are happy with their jobs, doubting their happiness, because everyone seems to be in a rush to exit their current companies.

Are you still working for the same company?” asks an acquaintance. It almost sounds like I have sinned by staying loyal to the company that I’ve enjoyed working for so far. This made me doubt my happiness—another unfair comparison.

In all aspects of life, and not just work, the happy wayfarers eventually start comparing their life decisions with the next person’s ambiguity, wondering, “Am I truly happy? Is this really what I want?” The hysteria around can make you question your well-thought-out decisions.

This is a type of comparison we should be wary of. We are getting swayed by someone else’s dreams and ambitions—and forgetting our own goals in the process. Your dream may not be another person’s dream and vice versa. Sometimes, we make impulsive decisions based on external factors and end up regretting them. It helps to double-check yourself whenever you face such doubts. Outline your core requirements (necessities that can make you unhappy if absent) and ask yourself whether the new path fulfills each of these demands. This self-questioning helps to build more clarity and to confirm whether you are following your own dream or someone else’s.

Let’s Take a Step Back..

It helps to take a step back and introspect our opinions before dishing them out to the next person.

As Haresh Sippy said, “Comparison is the root cause of all evil. Why compare when no two people are alike?

My Perception of Money Has Changed Over The Years

I decided to go through an experiment to see if it would add any value to my life. I have had heard of minimalism and seen a couple of videos. Though I was not ready to sacrifice every bit of materialistic pleasure in my life, I was willing to start small to see what it would do. It became an epiphany of sorts.
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I remember feeling ecstatic whenever I bought an expensive dress.

I remember feeling accomplished after buying an expensive laptop.

I remember feeling disappointed when my fiancé gifted me inexpensive jewelry.

My happiness was derived from things. I was money-minded. And quite disgustingly so.

For me, happiness was directly correlated to the brand and the cost of the product. If someone didn’t gift me something extravagant and expensive, it meant the person didn’t love me enough.

That was me in my 20s.

Now I am in my late 30s, and things have shifted. I am no longer the person I used to be. People change over the years as they come across new life-changing experiences, perspectives, and emotions. It is practically impossible to stay the same throughout your life. I would even consider a comment like “You haven’t changed at all” an insult because that would mean I haven’t evolved with the times.

Over the years, I understood that expensive things only brought me happiness for a while. After that, I was on the lookout again for my next purchase, thinking it would bring me everlasting happiness. When I figured out what was happening, a lightbulb went off.

I decided to go through a self-initiated experiment to see if it would add any value to my life. I had heard of minimalism and seen a couple of videos. Though I was not ready to sacrifice every bit of materialistic pleasure in my life, I was willing to start small to see where it would go. I started cutting back on my purchases, not looking at shopping sites, seeking solace in the simple pleasures of life – like reading a book, going for a walk outdoors, engaging with nature, and enjoying fresh, clean air.

It was an epiphany of sorts.

I never knew so much of happiness could be derived from so little – from things that cost so little.

The little things in life that do not cost much, yet have the power to bring pure happiness. Why hadn’t I indulged in life before? Why did I only indulge in things? If I had not deliberately cut back on my purchases, seeking elsewhere for my joy, I might not have discovered the inexpensive side of happiness.

I second guess all my purchases now – I look for things that are bang for my buck. I compare prices and choose products that are the most cost-effective. I ask myself a couple of questions before spending my money on anything – “Am I buying this for myself? Or to show someone else that I can buy it?“, “Do I see myself using this product 2-3 months from now, or is it just a fad?” “Do I really need this product right now? Will my life become easier with this product?” If the answers are positive, I go ahead with the purchase without hesitation.

Life has a way of grounding you. It teaches you ultimately how important it is to save or invest and not spend unnecessarily.

With minimalism came the change in thought process. I do not wish for anyone to gift me anything expensive anymore. I instead wish people gifted me something handmade. I realize now that the most valuable thing anyone can gift you is their time. And what better than a handmade gift to beautifully represent time – the time that the giver graciously spent on making the gift for you. Time is beautifully unique. Each second of your time is a part of your life that you will not get back. It becomes even more exclusive when a person dedicates it solely to you. When someone’s time is spent on you, with you, or making something for you – that undoubtedly becomes the best one-of-a-kind personalized gift that anyone could offer.

This realization about handmade gifts made me recommend the same to others. To my surprise, I found little takers for handmade gifts. This lack of enthusiasm might be because it is not easy to gift someone your time. I am a sucker for handmade gifts, though. I get misty-eyed each time I get one – this precious time wrapped with a bow.

I came to recognize boredom as an enemy to my wallet. Retail therapy happened whenever I got bored. To get rid of this habit, I began learning new, interesting things. I learned from books, classes, online videos  – again, stuff that did not cost much money.

Human beings are adaptive creatures – so adaptive that our desires can expand manifold if there is enough space to accommodate them. Consider a room with furniture and décor filled up in each and every corner. The room would tend to look stuffy and closed. The room is your breathing space. The furniture – your desires. The more furniture in the room, the more stuffy it gets, the more difficult it is to navigate without tripping over something. This room is magical and will try to expand itself to bring in more breathing space, but we tactlessly keep stuffing it with more inessential things to fill the space up.

How to unstuff a stuffy room? Very simple. Remove some of the furniture. In other words, reduce your desires.

Desires can be trimmed by steering clear of things you are most likely to splurge on. For example, if you tend to spend a lot of money on shopping sites, the simple remedy is to stop browsing shopping sites. If brands tempt you, stop visiting the stores that display those brands. It might seem difficult at first, but over time, you will master the skill of avoiding materialistic temptations. Delayed gratification will become second nature. You will become a pro in saying “no” to things that you are not ready for or do not add any value or meaning to your life.

This strategy worked well for me. I can now be happy with little. I have no intention of going back to my old self. If happiness is so cheap, why even bother looking elsewhere?

This behavior is not akin to being a miser. It is about finding a way that is more sustainable. A route to happiness that anyone and everyone, of any income level, can attain without emptying their pockets.

An Ode to Staying Unmarried Forever

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I am in my late 30s, and I might never get married.

Initially, I wanted to. I terribly did. When I was in my teens, I never pictured myself as an unmarried woman with no children. In my dreams, I had a dashing husband, the cutest of kids, and all the usual, regular mush coated with a sugary sweetness that had the full potential to make anyone diabetic.

Then life happened.

Life happens for everyone of course, but for me, my journey took a complete U-turn from what I expected.

I did not get a dreamy husband.

I was not a dreamy wife.

I did not get any dreamy children.

My fairy tale turned out to be a horror story in disguise.. and I got divorced.

I thought my life was going to end. How is a woman in her late 20s going to live without a husband? It used to hurt a lot initially. The thought that life would be so unfair, blessing others with the good things in life while I was left with nothing but despair, was too much for me to fathom. A desolate soul in search of a deeper meaning in the form of marital status – that was me.

In hindsight, I never enjoyed my marital life – if you take away the husband part of it as well. The regular chores, the responsibilities, made me think, “Is this what I am going to do the rest of my life?” I had no time for hobbies, things that mattered to me, my work, or anything that kept me alive, active, and fulfilled. Marital life is indeed a busy world, and you should not step into it unless you are ready to take on the responsibilities, compromises, and adjustments that come with cohabitation.

I was never ready for it.

Within a few years of my unmarried life, I realized how much I was adjusting and compromising in my married life. When I left the relationship, it was as if a chain was broken, and I finally attained wings to fly. This freedom felt like finally finding water in a desert. My thirst, however, did not get quenched. Instead, I found it ever-increasing. The thirst to enjoy the things I want, the thirst to not be answerable to anyone for the first time in my life, the thirst to just be. It was liberating, it was extraordinary, and it felt like love. I never knew love in the form of freedom. I thought love could only be found in people. It took a break from one kind of love for me to discover another. The type of love that I had never experienced before because all through my life I was told: “marriage is important.”

I never realized a woman could live without getting married. I have seen others living a content life without tying the knot, but I used to look at them with compassion. The thought that marriage is mandatory and the only thing that can make a woman happy was so ingrained and indoctrinated in me that any other way of living was callously dismissed.

Why did it take a divorce for me to find freedom? The answer might be that the people in my vicinity finally stopped pressurizing me to get into something I was not comfortable with i.e., marriage.

Note the usage of the word “unmarried” instead of “single.” A good relationship is like a cherry on the cake. It is a bonus—a plus. But I feel if a relationship is what makes you feel “complete,” then it would mean that you are lacking otherwise. This is far from the truth. We should celebrate individuality as much as coupledom, if not more. In the end, it all boils down to choice. There is never really one single right path. But you should have the complete freedom to choose the path you desire.

My dream is no longer marriage. It feels like I have seen the other side, and now I choose the other side – the path less taken. My dream is now to selfishly enjoy my freedom till the end of life. To those wondering how the path is – it is not easy. It is definitely not easy. You always have this big FOMO because everyone around you is following a path entirely different from yours – they find someone they love, they marry, and they live happily(?) ever after.

What happens when you don’t marry? For a reclusive person like me, it is a journey of self-discovery, freedom, and fulfillment. For another, it might be that of melancholy. It truly is subjective. But it is a life that is definitely worthy, liveable, and sustainable.

To end this with the ever-famous lines by Robert Frost:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.