Tag Archives: Philosophy

A Life Lived In Forward: The Pursuit Of Inherent Value

By Siddhi:

In the past 72 hours, three interactions with three different people thrust me into a rare and sacred zone of clarity. Each encounter was an observation of happiness- the human soul concurrently in its most stimulated and peaceful state.

The first discussion occurred in the most unlikely of places, as resonant moments often tend to, in the ER. A friend I grew up with but hadn’t seen since we’d left for college, one of the most dedicated and inspiring people I’ve had the privilege of knowing, was volunteering the 9 PM to midnight shift on a Friday. The aspiring physician, who could have been anywhere else but in an emergency room changing bed sheets to kick off her weekend, was doing her rounds in grace. Her contentment was, at the time, jolting.

The second discussion was with a college student who had recently taken a semester off to start a school in India. Our conversation took many trajectories- the state of education in India, legal inefficacy, socioeconomic stratification…but most importantly, the extraordinary scarcity of people willing to pursue what they really want because they’re held back by fear. His contentment with what he was doing- something unprofitable but morally lucrative- was also, at the time, jolting against a landscape of diminishing dreamers.

The last of these conversations happened this morning, as I was catching up with a dear friend on the phone. At the end of our awesome talk, she told me something that resonated so deeply I had to write this post:

“When you die, you leave your money behind.”

We often hear that our entrance into and exit out of life are immaterial. Spiritually speaking, and if you’re not spiritual look at it in terms of the innate human capacity for desire, we are born with a soul and die with a soul. So why is everything in between so often dictated by decisions irrelevant to the fulfillment of our souls? Our desires?

The three encounters got me thinking about what would happen if we started looking at our lives as aggregate symbols of innate value rather than a timeline of disaggregated structural entities, and whether such a shift in mindset would better our understanding and attainment of that elusive thing called happiness.

For a second, and I promise I’m not being dismissive of the sheer impossibility of a life undistracted by financial criteria, pretend that you could stand for anything- for an idea, for a person, for a cause, for an emotion. What would it be? At this specific moment of your life, what do you want your role in that belief to signify, both to you and to someone or something around you (not necessarily society or the world or anything expansive but something, even at the micro-level)?

Now dream. How do you get to that moment you just imagined, where you stand before your collected experience as a fulfilled human being?  It doesn’t matter how lofty you think you’re being. Pretend there’s no such thing as practicality because the moment you start dreaming practically you shortchange yourself immeasurably.

I don’t think the problem lies in people not dreaming or striving towards something they believe in. I think the problem is that people are too afraid of leaving the structure that’s incubated them forever, and the incubators refuse to see that we’re stagnating- culturally, philosophically, personally. My cousin, a sophomore in high school, told her guidance counselor she wanted to be a psychologist, to which her counselor responded: “You need to aim higher than that. A doctor would be better.” So that’s her new goal.

Just within my friend group, four people who for 20 years of their lives knew that all they wanted was a career in medicine are now, respectively, pursuing degrees in history, political science, economics, and math. None, as far as I can tell, regret “wasted time” because what a person finds inherently valuable at a certain stage of his or her life, is despite its current devaluation, a testament to what was once a passion, an impetus, a love. Today, each of those friends finds another province of life more inherently valuable and in line with what they’d ultimately like to be. These notions surely aren’t static. The evolution is eternal.

In my 19 years of existence, I’ve constantly faced an uphill battle between embracing what I’ve been incubated to do – either by myself or the structures around me- and coming to terms with the fact that what I or those structures found inherently valuable is no longer what feeds my soul.

Until eighth grade, I was going to be a doctor. An oncologist. My father’s dreams for his kids before they were even born were that one day, they would do what he wishes he had done if he had the resources to do so- spent life in relentless devotion to the health of humanity. I found in my father’s dreams for me reason and passion, but most importantly inherent value– a sort of belief and faith in what you do so deep that it transcends the power of any social control that could damper its significance.

With freshman year of high school came biology and chemistry labs, where the theoretically inherent value of working hard to save lives was, for me, dissolved by an overwhelming apathy for textbook and laboratory science. I struggled to tell my parents, my peers, and most exhaustingly myself that what I once wanted and what others still wanted for me now was no longer of inherent value. Visual media, specifically filmmaking, quickly began to enthrall me. The fervor I no longer felt for science manifested itself in moving images. The camera replaced the microscope as my tool for understanding, and for the next four and half years, I didn’t look back, because I was driven daily by something I found inherently valuable.

Today, as a college sophomore, my goals have, yet again, shifted drastically because I no longer find filmmaking, at least at the professional level for which my education trains me, of inherent value. Yet again, I face the stressful task of justifying to my family, my friends, and myself that who I am is not a rigid label but an amorphous soul, forever adapting to what it finds, at various points in time, intrinsically valuable. Some have called me confused, unfocused, and destined for failure. I don’t care. Because as long as what I’m doing at a given moment in time feels inherently worthwhile, I know I will never regret anything I’ve done. It’s not just living in the moment, it’s making the moment soulful.

Perhaps, if we made “career goals” more synonymous with “life goals”, we would be happier people, especially considering the fact that most people, when asked to describe their fundamental mission in life, answer with “happiness.”

When you have to continually rationalize to yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, maybe it’s time to take the risk you never took because you were too scared of what would result if you did. What’s the worse thing that could happen? You took a leap of faith for something you believed in. That, in and of itself, will always be of inherent value.

Maybe if we stop crafting our life narratives in reverse, stop pursuing our end goals before making sure that each step in the process is a step we find inherently valuable (which is a chronology we can never predict or pinpoint in advance, but a discovered process) we would collectively be a happier society.

Live a life you don’t regret. We don’t have to regret going to the wrong college, dating the wrong person, saying the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong times, if at those specific moments, what transpired felt inherently valuable. This realization has erased regret from my history and instead replaced it with gratitude, because at one point, I believed innately in the decisions I made.

This quest to discover what actually generates happiness in my life has been very sporadic and anything but even keel, but at the end of the day, invaluable. And with this journey, I come to a simple, obvious, but important answer: if we pursue every, single day of our lives doing what we find inherently valuable, regardless of what that may be, life will bring us to the right place.  So close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ask yourself: Is what I want to do next more inherently valuable to me than what I’m doing now? If the answer is yes, and makes your heart pound just a little harder than it just was, embrace what your soul is telling you and live life in forward.

Five Cities and What They Taught Me About Life

By Siddhi: 

Throughout my travels, every place I’ve visited has touched me in some way, making my explorations a constant transformation of who I am and how I perceive the incredible world that surrounds me. This is a list of five cities and what they taught me about life. Although some of my descriptions may seem like generalizations, and honestly may be so, what I’ve written is an attempt to put into words the life lessons I’ve taken away from these unforgettable places.

So, in no particular order, here we go!

1.  New York City

Having completed my freshman year of college in the city with some time to reflect upon the experience, I can say that New York has made an indelible mark on who I am as a person.  Moving into the city, the single song that was played endlessly at welcome week events was “Empire State Of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. Of course, the world knows the Great Apple to be the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothin’ you can’t do.” And yet, I was skeptical. Because beneath every supposed silver lining is a much less appealing truth. Initially, adjusting to life in the city was a bit difficult. I knew coming in that this wasn’t going to be the traditional college experience with expansive lawns (well, except for the greatest one ever in Central Park) and a true sense of “community”. I was quickly hit with the harsh reality that in the city that houses over eight million people, life goes goes on. At first, I approached this realization with a fearfully negative mindset. I was only eighteen years old and needed a support blanket to cushion my growth over the next four years. But with time, the apprehension of a city that wouldn’t wait for me to grip my bearings transformed into something incredible. In New York, you don’t march to the metronome of the majority. You live and dream at your own pace because nobody is dictating what you do and how you do it. The one thing this city has taught me more than anything else is that if you have dreams, there’s a way here to make them come true. Because when you’re dancing to your own beat in life, it doesn’t matter how fast the world around you moves because. If anything, it’s tremendously empowering.

2. Rio de Janeiro

If there is one place that has completely altered the way I perceive life on a day-to-day basis, it is Rio. I learned here that no matter how one-dimensional something may appear, there is always a hidden soul beneath is surface. The luxury beach lifestyle that defines the city to most of the world is exactly what a tourist experiences when they step foot onto Brazilian soil. There is little reason to venture outside this bubble of beauty and pleasure. But a spontaneous decision to do a tour of Rio’s favelas completely shattered my previous acceptance of surface level understandings. Rio had a troubling, difficult life that roared beneath its deceptive exterior. A life subdued to the public by the utopia the city is often marketed as. After witnessing the poverty that plagued millions in the City of God, I could never see the beaches, luxury, and beauty of the place in the same light. Yes, they undoubtedly existed. But they were also misleading illusions that tried to trap a city of emotional and historic depth into superficial characterizations. Rio de Janeiro taught me that there is always another meaning. One that we can find if we just make a conscious effort to look just a little more.

3. Tokyo

Tokyo taught me that serenity can exist in chaos. Even on a weekday morning in a crowded subway station, the commuters on their way to work weren’t rushing. Or maybe they were, but their faces seemed at ease. The stark contrast between the way the Japanese approached life in the city compared to New Yorkers was jarring (this is in no way to condemn the New York lifestyle, which I absolutely love. It’s simple to notice how two cultures in similar environments can approach life so differently). Although clichéd, thisphrase best describes what Tokyo embodies: life is made in the journey, not in the destination. The effort made to savor life in between Point A and B means more to people than getting to wherever they have to be. The ultimate destination is subsidiary to everything there is to cherish on the way there. We hear that this is the way to live life all the time. But it’s easy to ignore until we see enough people following that philosophy. Tokyo made me feel at peace while still embracing its identity as one of the biggest metropolitan zones on the planet. And for any city to do that is just an incredible statement on the humanity that inhabits it.

3 & 4.  Amsterdam and Rome

European lifestyle in general has been a very compelling testament for the need to love life. From the North Sea to the Mediterranean, so much of what I’ve encountered in Europe has been framed by a willingness to just be happy. But this ethos was especially captured in my visits to Amsterdam and Rome. The former city is probably the most powerful attestation of the tried but true philosophy “carpe diem”.  There was this universal need to juice every moment of life to its ultimate capacity, and when that had been done, to find more. It was one of the only trips I’ve been on where I felt the same leaving and coming back to my hotel everyday: content and smiling because the people around me just loved life so much. I experienced a very similar approach to living in Rome. On our daily strolls through the streets of the marvelous Italian capital, I saw business executives taking lunchtime naps at roadside cafés after a cappuccino or gelato. I saw people searching for love and people living the love they had found. I saw more people laughing than I had seen in any other city I’d visited (alongside Amsterdam). Both Amsterdam and Rome to me epitomize that you’ve only got one life and there’s no point in putting off living it.

5.  Hong Kong 

To this day, Hong Kong ends up battling with a changing set of others for the number one spot on my list of favorite cities. Why? Because Hong Kong represents how commercialization doesn’t have to entail a loss of beauty in humanity. Despite the massive corporate presence that makes the city one of the most densely populated places in the world, walking through the streets of Hong Kong is a wholly different experience than walking through New York or any other city that acts as a significant commercial hub. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Hong Kong multiple times, and each time my plane scrapes the runway and I walk into the city streets, I feel a tremendous sense of belonging. There is a natural beauty and spiritual thread that unites all of Hong Kong in an almost inconceivable sense considering the financial and social stratification of the city.  Yet, no matter where you are in Hong Kong, there is this inspiring kinship that seems to bind together the people and landmarks of the Fragrant Harbor (the meaning of Hong Kong). We are able to see the fascinating spirit of life trump over the dollar sign. Something I will never forget is driving down from the Victoria Peak in a light drizzle as all of the New Year’s Eve lights came twinkling on in the city. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of “togetherness”, one that is foreign to many city-going experiences.