Arjun

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State of the Individual

August 02, 2015

As I sit in the the cool shade of the backyard at Saturday’s Surf Cafe, SoHo, NYC, on a sunny Sunday, I can’t help but look back at the steps that led me to this place ( not literally but figuratively ) and where it will take me from here henceforth.

I have distinct memories of wanting to be a software engineer from the age of 10. It is kind of bizarre to have such a nerdy goal but that is the way it turned out to be. Sure, there were thoughts of wanting to be an astronaut but I had a weird presence of self-awareness even at that age which made it apparent that it was too lofty a goal for me.

As it turned out, there was a collusion of events that eventually resulted in  me becoming the software engineer that I am right now. Perhaps it is a case of the grass is always greener on the other side, but I am of the opinion that there needs to be something more than writing application code. Do not get me wrong. I still think having the logical bent of an engineer is of critical importance for application in any life situation. There is also no denying the fact that there is a dearth of good software engineers at this point, so it is definitely not a skill to be laughed at.  I like being a software engineer, it is really the only thing I can do well ( moderately so, for those who are appalled at the lack of humility ). Sure, I can do a bunch of other things moderately well too but there is no way I can earn a living off of that stuff. Unless there is a magical place on earth, where being a below-average gym enthusiast pays millions.

It begs the question, which I hope sparks something similar for you as well, “Given that money were not a consideration, given that you can choose whatever you would ever want to do, given that you are at time T=0 with the conscious ability of choosing how your life should shape out, what would you choose to do?“. I feel that across the board, people gravitate towards things that will make them earn more, make them more successful, and that is not, by any means, a bad thing. This is only meant to be a thought experiment which I am, myself, going through. It is fascinating to me that society as a whole ( for the most part ), compromises on what they actually want with something that gets them to a preconceived place in life, monetarily.

It was a conversation with a friend that I was having one day, that made me realize one of the biggest flaws of our society today. It is the setting of expectations in our day-to-day as well as long term goals. In our youth, we are told that we are the best in our studies in our school , the best athletes, the best poets, the best scientists and that in the future we should aim to be the best in that field. However, no one talks about the fact that it is okay to be Mediocre. I really do not mean mediocre with a negative connotation. To clarify, when I use the word mediocre, I want to quasi-adhere to its dictionary definition “of only moderate quality; not very good.”  To dispel any sense of arrogance on my part, let me make it perfectly clear, I consider myself a mediocre software engineer. This has nothing to do with any lack of confidence on my part, it is just the way I set the bar for myself and the world.

Mediocrity is the driving force of our civilization yet it is treated like a taboo word. Our food is grown by farmers who are mediocre, our goods are transported by drivers who are mediocre, our entire society is choc-a-bloc with mediocre people.  Imho, it is totally ok to use that word. Before you hastily go out of your way to avoid associating yourself with this crowd, I do humbly request, honest introspection, whatever the answer may be for yourself.

Yes, there are the Einsteins, the Tolstoys, the Confucius’ of the world and there is no doubt we need them. They are the ones that set the sights and plot the destination of the very fabric of human society. Do not, however, discount the importance of the countless millions who are mediocre as it is them, who push the fabric to that destination.

To give you an analogy, lets take the iPhone. When the iPhone first came out it was a sensation because it showed billions of people something they had never seen before. It was absolutely critical that the iPhone was created because it kickstarted a whole generation of ideas, something that wouldn’t have been possible without it. However,think about the  incremental updates that happened to the iPhone ever since. Every minute update has brought so much more to the table that wasn’t there in the first release. In Peter Thiel’s words, the iPhone was the Zero to One, the updates to it were the One to Infinity.

I hope the analogy loop that I was trying to get at with the mediocrity is complete and apparent. I might have digressed from my original train of thought, but it was necessary to bring this up since it weaves into the image I am trying to portray to you.

There is definitely a common theme running through all the things I deem important and I leave it to the reader to interpret what that might be. I will talk about those things in more detail in an upcoming post since smooshing them into this one wouldn’t do them justice.