Unlocking Life’s Insights: Reflections on 2023 and Beyond

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As I sat down to introspect on my year, a question struck my mind…Why? Why did I and billions of others collectively chose the new year as the opportune moment to do so? The dawn of the new year has been marked and celebrated through human history all while cutting across cultures the world over. This got me thinking, what are we as a people actually commemorating? Up till a few centuries ago, we thought that the rest of the universe revolved around us. Since then, we have learnt that the truth is the polar opposite, and our home is a mere plain blue dot in the vastness of space.

Despite this revelatory change in our understanding of what makes a new year, we still continue to celebrate it, but why? My belief is, that despite the upending of our beliefs and understanding of the earth’s position in the universe, something that has always remained constant to us humans is the yearly cycle and all that it entails. Every year always brought about periodic seasons, returning harvests, the solstice days and so much more. Throughout history, these yearly planetary cycles have been inevitable, felt by all humans, and they continue to be welcomed by us. Yet as we usher in the next inevitable 365-day global cycle, as individuals many of us take this opportunity to do some soul searching. Ironically, I realise most of our introspection is on how to break free from these very cycles that we celebrate. We aim to rid the shackles that hold us back and use the new year as an opportunity to embrace a new and better future.

Energised by this insight, I look back at 2023, a year which has been a pivotal one of my life…for better and worse. With the benefit of hindsight, I contemplate my biggest take aways from the year, bolstered by some pearls of wisdom from across our world
that struck a chord with me.

“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to
decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is
given to us.” – Gandalf to Frodo in The Lord of The Rings

During the Covid pandemic, there were numerous instances when I wished I was
living in a different time period. A multitude of family health situations dictated that I spent the better part of two years essentially indoors in order to insulate myself and my family from the scourge that is the corona virus. Coming of the back of an active college lifestyle pre-covid, my body didn’t take kindly to this new sedentary routine. I was craving to get out, but alas, when I finally stepped out in late August 2022, I contracted severe covid whose long-term ailments have continued to define and constrain my health in 2023. Many a time I cursed the time I was going through, but what actually helped break free from this duress, was the acceptance of the time the world is going through and a focus on what I can do in this time.

While the long-term effects of contracting covid continued to curtail me, I started to embrace the changes we as a society made as a response to Covid. The pandemic catalysed the cultural and infrastructure development that enabled us to work from home. Conversations around mental and physical health started to gain traction, and the avenues through which we can improve them have increased. The importance of social connections was further recognised during the pandemic. Furthermore, ever since the pandemic, I believe many people including me have become more open to socialising, and the number of inclusive and fun opportunities to do so have increased manyfold. It is in fact the amalgamation of these various forces that has enabled me for the first time in my life to actually sit down, introspect on, write and share my journey through a year. I believe now that a better question is not “what can we do in these times” but “what can we do with these times”.

“When I was holding the cup in my hand, I never asked God, ‘Why
me?’ So now that I’m in pain, how can I ask God, ‘Why me?’” –
Arthur Ashe, American Tennis Legend

As a Novak Djokovic fan, I have the privilege of watching my favourite player win the most prestigious of tournaments with an unprecedented success rate. After each victory the media and fans rave about his incredible skill, tenacity and hard work. While as a fan I partake in that revelry, I am also regularly reminded of Arthur Ashe’s deep words. Just like how we celebrate the achievements of our idols, we many a time gush over and bask in our own successes. And there is nothing wrong with that, we deserve to commemorate and be happy about our achievements.

However, amidst these celebrations, often we lose sight of the circumstances and privileges that made this success possible in the first place. Losing sight of the outside factors can come back to bite us, especially when we acknowledge these circumstances only selectively. Many times, when I wasn’t able to do something I like, or I was feeling particularly unwell, I would bemoan Covid and the illness that held me in its grasp. It was only later that I realised that this continuous thought of blaming things we can’t control leads us deeper down the rabbit hole of feeling helpless. At the end of the day, we are just individuals in a planet of billions of people, and in a universe of uncountable opportunities. There is no doubt that there are many things that are out of our hands, it’s just a question how do we respond and adapt to that. I believe that acknowledging outside factors is easiest when they led us to success, but it pays the highest dividends when getting up from our failures. Once we acknowledge factors outside our control, we realise we that we can leverage them in times of need. Recognising and embracing factors outside our personal sphere keeps us humble at the top and gives us courage at our lowest.

“Death can have me when it earns me” – Kratos in God of War

While quite a dire quote from the eponymous God of War, in the context it resonates with me even in my earthly human life. He says this as he heads to his greatest war yet, with the prophecy of a seemingly inevitable demise hanging over his head. Yet despite staring at the face of defeat he shows defiance to the naysayers and assures his son that he is not done yet and will not down easily. By doing so, he showed resilience, backed himself and didn’t let circumstances under value his worth and capabilities. While I hope we don’t have to stare death in its face like this mythical
God of War, most of us would undoubtedly feel at times, that we have come face to face with seemingly unsurmountable forces. I had this feeling several times, when fighting the seemingly unending long covid symptoms. It is through times like this that I realised the worth of truly valuing and backing yourself. There are an infinite number of possibilities that could have happened in the universe, and yet, you are, in the here and now, against all odds. There will undoubtedly be numerous obstacles throughout our lives, but challenging the obstacle, instead of questioning ourselves may just be the thing that gives us the strength we need.

“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for,”
John A. Shedd

Without a doubt keeping a sailing ship safe is a paramount duty of a captain. Yet, that’s not what why we remember the likes of Columbus, Magellan or James Cook. Their legacies were created because they and their ships explored uncharted territory far away from the refuge of their harbour. They did that in an era, where their sailboats were at the mercy of the wind. Luckily for us, since then, perhaps as an apt reflection of human progress, the ships nowadays run under their own power no longer beholden to wind through which they fare. Through much our history most
people’s lives were defined by confines of where they were born and lived. Nowadays we live in a globalised, interconnected and fast-moving world which enables us for so much more as individuals.

This year, I personally found myself at a pivotal crossroad in my professional journey. I was in a cushy job, doing work I was good at and with people I was familiar with. I was going down the path we are supposed to…the safe path. And yet down this path, which was safeguarded by society’s approval, my health was suffering. I had to make a decision on what to do, it was not an easy decision, but it was a necessary one. I took the call to resign from my job, to take a break from work, all this without a concrete plan for the future. This was my moment to leave my cozy sanctuary and voyage into the wide open and into all that our world has to offer. There will undoubtedly be troubled waters through which I will have to wade, but gazing from the shore, anchored to shelter, is not what I live for.

“Variety is the spice of life”.
Depending on the circumstance and location, the world can be described as many things: lush or desolate, pristine or besmirched, inspirational or bleak, paradise or dystopian. Within the whirlwind of adjectives that describe our earth, I believe that there is one we can avoid… boring. The possibilities to experience are limitless and at times even daunting, but they are very much worth it. Nowadays people and different parts of the world are connected in so many forms our biggest barrier to experience the new, is our own inertia. In our fast-paced life we have so much momentum in going one direction, we are rarely able to stop or take a detour to explore.

Furthermore, we are so exhausted making a living we end up too tired to live. This is where I believe we end up with a chicken and egg conundrum. Many a times we are too tired to do something fun and that something fun is exactly what will energise us to get up and try something new. In other cases, we honestly didn’t think that the new thing would actually be fun. Perhaps a way to address both of these would to be start small and to mix it up with something you like, that certainly worked for me.

I’m an avid gamer, but also someone with two left feet who never had any prior interest in dancing. I was really excited when I tried VR gaming for the first time,
so I then took a leap and bought a VR dance rhythm game called Synth Riders in the name of exercise. I ended up loving the game and it helped shatter some of the inhibitions I had towards dancing. Few months down the line, I am taking a three months long Salsa class, something which I would never have imagined a short while back. This also helped scratch the itch I had, about always learning something new. That something new for another person could be as simple as watching a new genre of TV, reading a new author, trying a new game, talking to a new person or anything else among the boundless possibilities. “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, why not let that step be in a new direction. “Finding your whole self in search of your better half” – A quote of attempted profoundness by Yours Truly.

Is it irony, or is it inevitability, that the eminent love stories we have heard are either the most heartwarming of tales or the greatest of tragedies. In situations of love like these, we witness the full extent of emotions, emotions that bring out the best and worst of us. There are many parts of us that exist and combine together to eventually make us up as a whole person. It is when we are pushed to the limit, especially internally, that we further reach into what actually makes us. The right partner would surely help shine a light on many of our hidden parts, but perhaps we overcome part of our blindness as part of the journey to reach there through the unknown.
Personally 2023 was a start of these thoughts and this journey, but it clearly is still a journey with a long way to go. Perhaps though, this journey does have to be long and arduous to overcome the fated destiny of a mechanical engineer such as myself. The journey may be testing, and even the time at the terminus could be proving, but then again diamonds are only formed under pressure. “We must accept the end of something in order to begin something new”.

I started this writeup with the thought of, why? As I wrote, it became clearer why people chose the new year as a moment of resolutions, it also became more apparent what this year meant to me. As I ponder over what I’ve written, the transcendence and transience of each year continues to dawn on me. On the one hand, it astounds me to think that an unknown stranger in some other corner of the world would have had a year that resonates with me, on the other hand the next year I may face new situations which force me to completely reassess my learnings of this year. But then again that is the cycle we live in, it’s just a question of what we make
of it.

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