My best friend, who’s twenty-six and a self-made small business entrepreneur now, told me that her biggest wish was appearing on the Forbes “30 under 30” List.
Like a good best friend, I hyped her up and told her that it was inevitable – she’d definitely get there.
But then we marinated in the truth that she only has a few years left (now even less) to make it happen … It looked too difficult.
In response, I assured her that we had enough time because I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t have the words that I should’ve used at that time but I came across a stupid LinkedIn post today, which brought back the memory.
The post was from your typical boomer HR recruiter complaining about our generation’s tendency to prioritise all the wrong things. Yes, cue the eye rolls already.
She talked about how buying an iPhone for ₹1 Lakh is okay for us but using that as capital to start our own business feels too risky. How we always complain about salads being expensive but going on a dinner date is okay. How enrolling for a ₹3 Lakh course to upskill feels too costly but we’re cool with spending that amount on travelling/vacations.
I usually just scroll past by, because I can’t take LinkedIn less seriously nowadays – it’s become Facebook at this point – but in this case, I wrote back in the comments.
See, I did go on a fancy dinner date last month! *wink wink*
O.M.G – this was my first date EVER. I’m turning twenty-five soon and I’ve never done something like it because I was always studious in school and then prioritised my career right from day uno of my first job, so I always told my friends that getting into a relationship is something that only bored people do – I said dating is for kids so maybe I’ll look out for someone once I’m well settled.
But I was lying to myself. Of course, I wanted to know and be with someone … emotionally and physically, too. Of course, my body feels attracted to other bodies; of course, my mind craves companionship from time to time.
So I followed through with one of my Bumble matches and we sat down at a fancy café named Eve in Powai – I swear, we talked for three goddamn hours nonstop. I’ve become very health conscious but that day, the person’s presence loosened me up so much that I had fried junk food. I savoured every bite!
Also in passing, they said the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me – they said they could watch time passing by as the Sun sank outside the window but they let it go anyway because they were so lost in me (as I was in them).
Someday I’ll talk about my first kiss because we writers must milk out every opportunity to express ourselves hahaha. But the point is that this goes against everything the God-fearing, traditional mindset-harbouring, judgy, preachy 20-year-old Manik believed in. If he saw this in the future, he’d scold me for wasting my time on irrelevant useless stuff and advise me to focus on myself.
Secondly, I’ve been taking myself out on solo dates over the weekends (still do now … and my partner is nice enough to give me my personal space). I recently fell in love with this gorgeous mall called Phoenix Palladium and I spent three hours walking every square meter it covers last weekend after office. In April, I’m saving up to go on a Goa trip with friends. But the agenda is the same – I no longer hustle on the weekends. I’ll either sleep and do my gym sessions in between, or I’ll get myself out of my room. I just bloody have fun.
Thirdly, I did buy a fancy phone too because it had a good camera. I’m very camera conscious but one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to push myself out of that awkwardness and click a selfie every day – I’ve maintained that streak so far.
I’m saying all of this because it feels great. It feels great to do things that the HR recruiter would call unproductive.
It’s what I’m supposed to do when I’m twenty-four. I’m supposed to fall in love, go on dates, be intimate and get my heart broken just to see how the hurt feels like (although dear partner if you’re reading this, don’t break up so soon please!).
I’m supposed to explore the world while my body can still support me. I’m supposed to spend on clothes, movie tickets, antique shopping, Thai massages and anything else that I like or want to try – whatever I feel is worth paying for is justified because it is valuable to me.
I’m supposed to start understanding, loving and respecting my own body + mind by this time. And I’m supposed to realise that while being healthy and working on fitness is definitely so important, the composition of my physique or the fairness of my skin doesn’t define how beautiful I am so it’s totally OK if I give into my craving and have that pizza one day.
I’m supposed to be doing goofy things. I AM SUPPOSED TO BE WASTING THIS TIME OF MY LIFE PRECISELY BECAUSE I CAN AFFORD IT. I want to do silly stuff. I want to fail and make silly mistakes so I can learn from them and pass the lessons to the next generation.
Why should I feel guilty about having fun and doing things that made me happy? Why should I always take life so seriously? Where has that gotten me so far?
I lost my childhood because I was always focused on growing up. My parents first, my teachers next & my friends afterwards – everyone has had these unsaid expectations from me that I’ll become successful in life. And I’m grateful that they believe in me.
But I was talking to one of my interns and was telling her I had a wild Friday. She said that she couldn’t possibly picture me partying and dancing because I’m always so serious at work. And she wasn’t exactly complimenting me. It hurt me that people can’t imagine Manik Rege being a party person. And I don’t like that.
All my hard work has always been steamrolled with obstacles politics and failures anyway. Life has always pushed me down on the floor and laughed as I mustered the strength to stand up again and start from scratch. I have rebuilt myself a thousand times but now I’m done with the hustle.
No, this is not to say that I’m not giving up on my dreams and ambitions.
I’m just throwing away the “sand glass” that was always threatening me to empty itself at the mark of me turning thirty years old. I’m just teaching myself to enjoy this present life regularly alongside pushing myself to build a better one. I’m learning to strike balance, calm down and meditate on the fact that I’ll be just alright.
I didn’t confess this to my best friend back then but being featured in Forbes was my biggest dream too and not reaching there in time to qualify was my darkest fear. Still is, kind of.
I personally know people who’ve seen their names in the magazine. I’m happy for them. But admittedly, I also felt jealous because that was my idea of being successful too.
My idea of success, as fed to me by others, was having a well-paying job, a wife, a kid and a house in the next decade. My idea of success was fame, money, stability and career growth.
So every time someone asked me to do something that didn’t directly contribute to those holy goals, I used to back out out of those plans. I didn’t realise how much happiness I was missing out on. Because I thought having fun was pointless.
Almost every fourth Reel I see on Instagram is about some entrepreneur regurgitating my uncle’s wisdom about how I shouldn’t waste this time of my life in anything else apart from building my career.
And I respect that but I’ve also secretly just wanted to be a teenager doing teenage-y stuff for once.
Why did I always feel guilty about it? Why did I regret having junk food once in a while? Why did I feel bad about wanting to find someone good on dating apps? Why was I ashamed of exploring the city on my own? Just because these things didn’t make me successful?
OK you know what I’m going to list down things that I personally think make me very successful. These are my achievements in the past few years:
(1) I battled a severe health crisis and basically came back from the dead. I was 108kgs, now 84kgs and the transformation has given me so much physical confidence. I now love the gym, look forward to trekking in the monsoon and feel good about my own body. How nice is that?
(2) I made peace with my parents. They’re lovely and have always loved me but like any parents, they’re flawed and sometimes irritating too. But we talked about our differences in opinions and perspectives and agreed to co-exist. We worked on our past trauma – stuff we never had the courage to discuss because I felt it would make me look like an ungrateful kid. But we apologised for what we know was wrong and we’re slowly healing.
(3) I had sex.
(4) I made a few new best friends who have become the strongest support system I’ve ever had. We have so many beautiful mature conversations and always hype each other up so much that it looks cringey and overdramatic but we love each other painfully to shreds.
(5) I lost my well-paying job abroad because of COVID and had to take a year-long gap. Yet I fearlessly fought my way back into the industry. I’m three years behind if I consider the original timeline that I used to worship when I was twenty. I don’t even earn half of what my friends do. But I now have a job and am figuring out my career all over again despite having faced such deadly blowbacks early on in life.
There are so many other stories but my point is that I never stopped to congratulate myself on these achievements. And they are achievements.
Finding so much body confidence and having the courage to fall in love with yourself is an achievement. Because I know so many people who struggle with it all their life.
Making attempts to heal difficult relationships for your own sake is an achievement. And being able to talk about such mature themes so openly is an achievement.
Experiencing real intimacy is an achievement.
Failing in your career but not giving up is an achievement. Regardless of whether your attempts are showing results, regardless of how slow the progress is today. Changing professions and following your passion or simply mustering the patience to hold on to a toxic job until you have a better offer. It all takes balls of platinum, honey.
Gathering the strength to make your bed in the morning when you’re so sore and hurt. Or just keeping the pillows correctly. Or making yourself breakfast or cleaning your room. Or just smiling when everything is going wrong in your life. Or facing your anxiety by placing your own order at Subway in person.
These wins look trivial but I promise you, they’re very difficult. And for once, I just wanted to tell YOU specifically that I’m so proud of you. You’re doing amazing sweetie. Because having the courage to live, breathe and exist is an achievement.
Having the courage to live, breathe and exist is an achievement.
I want my friend to know that she’ll always be the most awesome entrepreneur I know. Because she’s the first friend of mine who had the guts to step out on her own.
While I hope she does get into the Forbes list, it’s nowhere on my list of priorities or expectations for her or myself now.
Because I know her story. I’ve seen her struggle. And the fact that she carried on is reason enough to say she’s worthy of the title.
I also want her to know that she was the first one to take me clubbing. And I don’t want all this hustle to destroy that special part of her personality. She’s a party person. Now so am I. And I hope that both of us continue finding happiness in that totally unproductive space.
I want us to be happy about doing something without calculating how much better it might make our lives in the future.
If watching Netflix, for example, is your sin, please do enjoy it. Reading books isn’t the only way to learn. Nor should learning from books or pointless online crash courses become everyday define your life.
Taking time off to travel is also a form of learning and growth. Talking about your problems, seeking help and working on yourself is also learning and growth.
So pursue your ambitions with all your grit but do not let anyone guilt trip, gaslight or shame you into thinking that you must constantly be at it every single day.
I have been through multiple burnouts. I have seen others burn out too. It’s not pretty trust me. It’s not at all worth it. Sure, your job is your survival but please treat it only as that. It is what you do to afford the life you like or want to build. It is not the definition of your worth and talent because baby that is infinite.
Screw this, I no longer care about competing. I want everyone to be successful and I’ll be successful in my own way. I am so done with this third-class tuition class mentality where they used to separate us into classes/batches of smart kids and the less-smart kids.
I was in the smart class but now I realise how toxic that distinction was. Insecure adults do this because they love watching us fight with each other. They’ve always made us all compete against time because they don’t understand the repercussions of running too fast or being too selfish.
I am now realising how powerful I become when I stop trying to win all by myself and reach out to help others from the bottom of my heart. Let me lift you up and I’ll tell you when I need you too. Let’s support each other. Let’s communicate our needs and figure out how we can work together rather than fighting to step on each other.
And let’s work together on the Forbes list. If we make it, fantastic. If only one of us does, fantastic. And if we don’t, that’s fantastic, too, because then we can finally realise that it means absolutely nothing.
We are tiny specs of dust in an infinite universe of mind-shattering scale – everything we crib and cry about is so unnecessary. We have focused on running so fast and so hard that we’ve forgotten to stop, look up at the stars and enjoy the little things in life.
Like going out for dinners. Bonding with your friends. Loving our parents. Exercising and feeling lovely after the workout. Doing yoga. Being kind to strangers. Helping animals. And above all, breathing. We need to start breathing consciously more.
So if you’re going to turn thirty in five years or less, understand that it is not the cutoff.
If you’re going to turn thirty in five years or less, understand that it is not the cutoff.
You are on time. You have ample time left. You are on track.
And you deserve to have fun. Thirty is actually when you start growing. Thirty is when you build on the foundation of your positive habits and systems. And so is sixty – there is no such thing as being late.
Thirty is only the beginning. Are you excited about it?