Now many youth face this apparent problem: their heart pulls them in a certain direction but their resources, their “ATMs (Anytime Machines)” called fathers want them to go in another direction. For example, many engineering graduates don’t want to become engineers but their “Anytime Machines” – fathers, mothers and well-wishers — want them to become engineers and hence the youth have a miserable time. They constantly face conflicts within themselves. It becomes a bitter experience for them. How do we handle it? But first things first, let me clarify the reason why I call this an apparent problem. So why is it apparent? Assuming the same external circumstances, if those circumstances create the same impact or same inner experience in each person’s heart then it is a real problem. But this is not so. Given the same institution or the same setup the inner experience of each person is unique. What is the cause of tremendous happiness for some is actually the cause of tremendous misery and bitterness for others! Hence it becomes very important to understand how this inner experience works. Hence I call this apparent problem, but it is nevertheless a problem because it is there. It is quite a sticky problem! It sits atop one’s head and makes one miserable, often with sleepless nights! It does not go away; not very easily.
So what we call a problem depends on the nature of the lens through which it is viewed. You might have over a period of time acquired this desire — “I want to be a cricketer”. But parents, neighbors and elders might have felt that it is not a good enough occupation for you — “Let me tell you what is good for you, you just listen to it”.
When we were very young, we were led by the hand to cross the road. Nowadays even toddlers don’t want to be led! But earlier this used to be the phenomenon. Now, if we look at the social phenomena, something has happened to this earth: some parameters have changed. So even toddlers don’t follow the phenomena of the earlier days! It is like the law of gravity. When you were young, you held on to your parents’ hands, but these toddlers of today don’t obey the law of gravity. They don’t hold on to their parents’ hands; they just shoo their parents away! So one might observe that something in the quality of the environment has also changed. This is something we should acknowledge, first of all. It is not just a personal phenomenon but a collective global phenomenon. For example, the phenomenon of boredom: wherever we go, we find that people are bored. They are frustrated, and they try to occupy themselves with this and that, but no! Everything seems to enlarge the gap of this void that they feel within themselves. So these are not just personal phenomena, there are globalized phenomenon, or at least widespread phenomenon that we encounter. Something in the nature of the quality of the environment has changed, no doubt, and we need to acknowledge this. Coming to the individual, one is advised, “This is right for you”, but one wishes to decide what is right for oneself. You feel you are old enough decide for yourself. So that is where our self-image conflicts with image of others, especially our nearest and dearest ones: parents and elders. The way they view us comes in direct conflict with the way we view ourselves, especially in a culture like ours, where even a grown up man is still his father’s son, and the father has a say in the son’s life. This is because the image that the father has of him, however old he may have grown is that he is still his son. It is as simple as that. The father has seen his son from the time he was a child and has led him step by step. It is with good intentions and the thought that they have seen the world more than we have, that parents instruct us. But we have grown up, and we need our personal space as well! Sometimes parents’ image of what we are now is anachronistic – they hold on to the image they had of us in the past and try to superimpose that image onto us in the present.
This becomes a problem because we are not exactly the way they imagined us to be. There is a huge gap. This creates a problem. As we grow up this gap is bound to widen. This creates apparent conflict. One will have to take steps to bridge this gap; to whatever extent it can be bridged, to that extent one must try to bridge the gap. So certain things — small things- which parents ask of you, can be listened to, to the extent that it does not harm you. But what matters to you, and matters to you seriously, should be held on to, and should never be given up. And that’s where you will need to learn how to learn to get the support of people around you, of the society, and of the universe. Everything requires support, as without support it is not practical.
So how does one earn that support?
You earn support through your actions: you display tremendous qualities like sincerity, learning how to be successful, learning how to maintain a balanced state of mind, consistency in action. Consistency in action is a major trait that elders look for: are you consistently successful? Do you take up something and then just drop it later? If you do that you are considered inconsistent. The elders are not wrong, because this is generally considered a youthful phenomenon. You take up a new venture at the spur of the moment and later it is dropped. Now in their eyes, they might feel that this might affect you, and they are not wrong, because they are your well-wishers after all. They want you to be happy and successful. That’s all they want. It is just that their image of you does not match with what your current self-image is.
Is your Self-Image accurate?
Talking about self-image, it is also important to introspect whether your current self-image is accurate — is it what it is? It should not be projected imagination; you may imagine, “I would want to be like that” and then imagine that to be your self-image. That is not you! You need to know what you are, viewing yourself from a realistic frame of reference. Only then you will be able to see your strengths and weaknesses in a balanced manner and be able to perform your actions in such a way that you increase your strengths, decrease your weaknesses, convert opportunities into actual success stories, and consistently show success — not just verbally but actually through your actions and non-verbally as well. You actually communicate non-verbally much more than you do verbally. When parents and elders see that you consistently perform well in whatever you have chosen to do, then over a period of time, they gain confidence in you.
Parents are your well-wishers
Parents have seen you fall down multiple times, from the time you took your first steps. They have been a part of you from that stage of life; in fact, from even before that. Hence it is not very easy to change that image they have of you. They will definitely want to give you a helping hand — “No, no! you are my child!”. And that is not wrong. In their actions intended for your own well-being, they create hurt for you, because you think “No! I am a big guy!” This seriously hurts your self-image — the concept of yourself that you have in your mind. It hurts because you want to prove yourself in the world but you think that they are obstacles in your path. They will never be seen as an obstacle if you have this breadth of understanding. Then you will see that you can be reasonably sure of yourself, stick to your path, and also accommodate your parents and their wishes. Hence it takes time.
Holding on to your dreams
Sometimes you will need to compromise. In Tamil, we call it vittu pidikarthu. Vittu pidikarthu does not mean giving up, rather, it is like a temporary loosening — loosening of the reins. You loosen the reins temporarily, only to tighten later. Although to parents and elders it might seem as if everything is fine, in your inner experience, the purpose or pursuit for which your heart feels strongly does not vanish; it is very much present. (Actually everything is fine anyway!) But through this process you come closer and closer together, earn their support by displaying such wonderful qualities, and they become confident that you are capable of handling yourself properly. Then you will see, they will be alright with who you are, and they will not interfere in what you do or pursue. They will just support you silently. It is a great blessing to have well-wishers around us. Our parents are our primary well-wishers. When we understand this, then we see how to balance it. They are not our enemies. The attitude of enmity creates lot of animosity and is not required. But sometimes you need to be strong and firm also. These are all tests of inner strengths. It is a process of growth, learning and further growth. And it is an awesome life!