“I Tried” – That’s what I think my tombstone should say. I’ll most likely not have a tombstone, of course. My body will be burned in the funeral pyre, according to the Hindu traditions, so my soul can rest in peace. But if I had one, I’d like it to say that. The statement accurately captures how I live, or at that point, how I’ll have lived. I try to do things to the best of my ability and I try to get better, and not only with the things I want to be good at, but also with those that others expect me to do. I care a lot more about what people think than I like to admit. It bothers me sometimes, how much I care about what other people think and want. The conflict between my needs and others’ cripples me at times even. But that quality runs deep. An interplay of nature and nurture has deeply ingrained the value of collective good in me, that makes me guilty of pursuing things that are born purely out of self-interest. And so while I try to strike a balance, I also try to make peace with it.
In the different roles I play – a husband, a son, a brother, a friend, an engineer, a colleague, a runner, a reader, a learner, a writer – and yes, I think of them as roles that I play, I try to perform well. Whether I’m successful in my attempts is a different matter, and sometimes beyond my control, what is though, is trying. And so I do that.
This constant need to get better is also a source of pain sometimes, especially when working with people who I find complacent. I realize that a perfectionist attitude can be a recipe for misery, and I’m guilty of that, of trying to be perfect. Acknowledging that you have a perfectionist attitude seems like self-flattery, but it’s nothing to be proud of, and it doesn’t tell much about how good you are. It merely indicates that you are dissatisfied more often than not. It sounds like a good thing because it has the word “perfect” in it, but it robs you of the little successes you have while trying to get better. Nothing seems good enough. So I’m also trying to learn how not to aim for perfection, or as they say, how to become a friend of the good rather than the perfect.
Children are good at trying. Their curious minds and lack of fear make for a good combination in helping them try without restraints. Not only are they naturally good at it, they are expected to try and fail. We gradually become more set in our ways as we grow old. While it’s partly due to the lessened curiosity, the slowing of neuroplasticity, we blame the making of our brain more than it deserves. Research has found evidence of incredible neuroplasticity even in adulthood given the right circumstances. It’s largely the fear of failure that holds us back. It’s more psychological than it is anatomical. There’s a negative connotation to trying. You are expected to have tried until a certain age and then know enough to not have to try again. And so exercising the mind stops much before we stop exercising the body.
Trying is not assertive enough, not confident enough; it isn’t good enough. Heck, even the tools that help improve your English writing suggest not to hedge, when you use such words. Culturally, the focus is more on the outcome than the means, and so trying is pushed behind the curtains, while victories and failures take the center stage. That’s not to say that mere trying should be rewarded, no. That could inadvertently encourage pretense. But it could use a little good publicity. Trying is good and it needs to be treated as such. It’s challenging but rewarding in the end. You learn things that you don’t expect. Society is better off when individuals try rather than see it as pointless. Trying means to not lose hope.
But trying is hard! Yes, it is. As they say, no good things in life come easy. There’s always a chance we might get lucky, but we will have a better chance of succeeding if we try.
But trying takes time! Yes, it does, but what doesn’t? Not trying also takes time! It’s just spent elsewhere.
There are a few episodes in the series Big Bang Theory where Sheldon corrects people that he didn’t merely try to accomplish scientific feats in childhood, he succeeded at them. Being successful at something brings with it a sense of smugness that clouds our view of the humble beginnings of trying. That’s especially true of people who haven’t failed at things. It’s hard to appreciate the beauty of trying, if all you’ve had are wins at the first attempt. I’ve always admired people who genuinely try to get better, be better. It’s the lack of willingness to try, or feigning to try that I find repulsive.
That happens a lot with the act of listening. People often don’t even try. They merely wait for others to finish so they can speak. That’s probably one of the causes of the majority of arguments and fights – people not trying to listen to others. I’m guilty of it myself and I’m sure most people are. It’s hard to know it at the time you’re doing it, but reflecting on your actions and choices help identify it after the fact. It also helps you rethink, reassess and try other things, in other ways. In this messy, complex and beautiful world of infinite choices, that’s all we can do – try.
I’d like to think that it’s an attempt to make trying look good, but it might just as well be something that I’m trying to convince myself of, a consolation I’m giving myself for not succeeding at the things I try, or a story I’m telling myself to look past my failures. I can’t know for sure but I can hope it is what I think it is.