You ever wanted to become an astronaut? I think we all did. At some point in our childhood. Back then, the stars and moon felt so close. Power Ranger transformations looked realistic. And getting an A+ was just a matter of focusing on your studies one week before the exam.

But above all, life was fair. You work hard, you get rewards. I remember teachers telling me how I was going to be so happy and successful after my 10th board exams. Of course, they postponed that promise until after my 12th, then my graduation, then my MBA … and now they joke about how marriage is the true final test.

Part of me wants to believe in their simple idea. But it’s starting to crack. Because I know for sure that I gave my 100% at the job. I was still fired. I know for sure that I wrote those blogs and manuscripts with all my heart. They were still rejected. I’m confident that I gave that relationship all the time and love I could’ve given. It still ended.

All of a sudden, I don’t feel like I’m the gifted kid they told me I was. I’m no longer a topper, a front runner, a prodigy with all the potential, or an obvious winner on my way to conquer the world.

It’s not like I’m a complete mess or failure, mind you. It’s just this uneasy and sobering discovery that I’m actually average in many areas, and even terrible at some things that come easily to my friends. It’s the discomfort of realizing that lagging behind somewhere is inevitable.

It hit me when an aunty asked me about what I’m up to nowadays, and I felt afraid to tell her that I’m taking a break to figure out my next steps. I guess I didn’t want to show that I’ve burned out, lost my way, or worse, extinguished my ‘spark.’ I guess I didn’t want to look like a disappointment.

But I really do. I feel like I was slowly climbing to the top of this roller coaster and now that I’m here, all I can see is a plain straight line for a few miles ahead. No ups and downs. No crazy loops. No thrilling adventures. Instead, a patch where I’m supposed to stumble and fumble. A middle that just doesn’t seem to end. Between being a carefree, city-roaming, movie-going, third-year student … and a responsible, settled, balanced adult. Just between these phases, you get it?

It gets complicated when I look around. Just yesterday, we were all skipping class to catch ‘Endgame.’ And now everyone’s on their own trajectory, spread across the world, chasing different dreams and goals. I see friends getting excited to announce their milestones on LinkedIn. Getting hired by big fish. Securing scholarships in Ivy leagues. Launching their own startups. I mean, how the hell is everyone getting featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30?

Look, I really want to be happy for all of them. But at some point, we all start to compare a little, don’t we? Especially those of us who’ve always been a little competitive.

When I was reflecting on these feelings last night, I thought about how the problem started in statistics class. When Radhika ma’am drew a straight line pointing upward and forward from 0 to 100 on the graph. And we were told: “This is how success looks like.” A steady consistent burn towards status, security, fame, and money. And until recently I didn’t realize how much that model was hurting me (well, I’ve always thought that math is shit anyway).

Because if I look back at myself and people I’m proud of, our growth has been anything but linear. Sometimes you take a step back, sometimes you go in circles for years, sometimes you say “screw it” and abandon the axes to run away into some other dimension. Growth is not always beautiful. In fact, it can be very messy. It hides in pain, dances behind self-doubt, smiles in suffering, and celebrates obstacles. Which is why we don’t always recognize it as it’s happening.

Growth is also seldom tagged on Instagram or vlogged about on YouTube, only its end products are. We don’t see the hardships, the mistakes, the pressures, the embarrassments, the anxiety, the stress, and the crushing disappointments that come hand in hand with shining ‘talent.’ Tweets and Stories are too short to fit all this heavy baggage that’s part of everyone’s journey, my dear.

Lastly, growth is also very unfair. It doesn’t always lead to meaningful or positive results. Sometimes its only job is to make us hurt. You don’t always become stronger or better. You don’t always come out smiling. You cannot have full control. You can do everything you possibly could’ve done and still lose. You can try, try, and fail in spite of all your attempts. Shit will just happen for no reason, serving no purpose. Not all dots will connect.

And that’s one reality I’m learning to make peace with. I’m learning to normalize:

  • Not having a plan for everything
  • Messing up even when I was prepared
  • Needing help or guidance from others
  • Taking a gap year for my mental health
  • Not only depending on my ‘strengths’
  • Being just another guy in the crowd
  • Letting others take center-stage
  • Helping others without feeling threatened

So here I am. Excited to announce something, too. Excited to announce that I’m currently not doing, winning, or being great at anything. Because there’s nothing wrong with sitting out a match every now and then. A hunch tells me that I’m going to hit the ball out of the park when I get back.

Hold on, Manik. Hold on.