The Art of Contentment: Live as You, Forget Others, and Be Happy

by Harshita Ganesh – Follow @harshikapoor17

Every morning at around 8:00 AM, I walk into a white spiral building with cold mechanical architecture, burdened by my backpack holding my books, my laptop, and my heavy expectations for what the day holds. As an engineering student, there is no competition as to who looks the best, who speaks the best, or who presents themselves with honor and dignity, but rather who is the smartest, brightest, most innovative in the class. Regardless of the day, I haul my ass up the stairs to my classroom with an attitude that can be described as nothing short of determination. Determination to be the best in the classroom. Determination to be the most innovative. Determination to shine the brightest. But that determination is the biggest burden I carry around every day. And for some godforsaken reason, I cannot figure out why.

Ever since I was young, I have been well aware of my shortcomings, honestly so well aware that it became crippling. I knew I was not the brightest child in the classroom. I knew I was nowhere near the smartest child. I knew I was never going to be an Intel science fair winner. But that crippling self-awareness was the reason for my determination. I constantly strive to be what I know I clearly cannot achieve. So when I went to study engineering at one of the most intense universities in the world, I was determined.

Now, it is important to clarify that I was never the best at math and science. I was good, maybe if I may say much above average, but I was nowhere near brilliant. My parents were astounded at my decision to study engineering and hesitant to allow me to pursue it, due to their awareness of my shortcomings and my forte in writing and politics, but nevertheless agreed with wholehearted support and blessings.

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I worked hard, harder than I ever have, bonding with my books for hours on end and never allowing anything to get in my way of studying. Painfully, I did awfully my first semester. I was heartbroken…so heartbroken, I could not even cry. I just stood there in shock as my heart collapsed into my stomach. I mustered the courage to tell my parents, shaking, terrified of hearing the words:

“We told you that you were not fit for engineering.”

Instead, they told me it was alright, just let yourself adjust to the system and give yourself another chance. So I taped my broken heart back and faced the next semester with the same level of determination and strength as before. When I spoke to my parents about my well-intentioned determination about working hard to be the best in my class, my parents reminded me that, because of my shortcomings, I should just aim to do well enough to make the cut…no need to set extraordinary expectations. For some reason that hurt. I was reminded of my shortcomings once again. That fueled a fire inside of me that pushed my determination into overdrive.

The burden of my expectations weighed heavier on my heart and mind than ever expected. And the burden of my expectations led to fear. The fear of failure. The fear of humiliation. I spent many sleepless nights making sure I was preparing well to be the best. To my utter disappointment, I did not do as well as I should have the second semester either. Fear paralyzed my body and mind for many weeks. Failure plagued my thoughts and pushed me into a dark place. I became angry and frustrated at my inability to exceed expectations, the expectations of my parents, the expectations of my peers. Almost everywhere I went, I felt painfully ashamed of how badly I did. The fear of possibly becoming nothing scared me so much that I was ready to throw my cards in and say:

“God, I give up.”

But something changed.

One day I woke up, slumped against my pillow, and just looked out the window. I was so tired of being angry and frustrated. At that exact moment, I asked myself why I was so angry and unhappy. Was it because I was not doing well in school? Was it because I was not doing better than my expectations? What the hell was it? After a while, I realized I was asking the wrong questions. What I should have been asking myself was, why do I set such high, never-ending expectations for myself? I realized it was because my determination and expectations were not based on what I wanted, but based on what others wanted from me. I always set such high, burdening expectations because I wanted others to think I was better than everyone else. What I strove for was the approval of others. The fear of what others thought of me consumed me so much that it clouded my purpose and what I even wanted. The thought of having to explain my failures to others paralyzed me so much that it changed the reason why I worked so hard. Coming from a South Asian family, we are all way too familiar with get-togethers where adults talk about whose child is doing what. We are all too familiar with the feeling of drowning in pressure of doing extraordinarily well for bragging rights that we forget why we should work hard.

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Like a puzzle, it all just came together. I realized that the more I burden myself with the thoughts of others, I will forget that I have thoughts of my own. In an instant, I decided to let go. Let go of the expectations of my peers. Let go of the expectations of my family. Let go of the expectations of other people. Suddenly I felt something I had not felt ever before in my life: contentment.

In that instant, I decided to stop burdening myself with the expectations of others and instead gift myself with my own expectations. Instead of walking into class every day with the determination to be the best, I should walk into class with the determination to be more proficient than yesterday.

It is important for people of our generation not to get bogged down by the expectations of others and the fear of failure because of the intense competition we face every day. Our parents have good intentions in pressuring us to do well, but it is having a negative impact on our minds. Instead of encouraging us to be successful, the pressure makes us fear failure. Even the mere thought of failure has the power to take away our happiness and, for many of us, our lives.

Instead of the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of success and money becomes our goal. In this shitty rat race we call life, we forget our purpose to be content. My biggest fear for my peers and the future generation is that the determination that we intend to instill in our children and ourselves will have consequences that are irreparable to our personalities. Determination is important and so are expectations, but if we do not aim them towards the end goal of personal contentment, we will never be able to live peacefully and will always be unhappy when we open our eyes in the morning. So I say, from today on, live as you. Forget others and be happy because, at the end of the day, that´s all that matters.

Harshita Ganesh is a South Indian-Bollywood enthusiast; a princess who is here to fight patriarchy; a dancer; a pianist; and an explorer. Her main love is writing scripts on topics regarding empowerment and hopes to one day have one of her films made. She is currently an undergraduate engineering student in Europe and hopes to get a law degree soon after.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Book Review: The Freelance Mindset by Joy Batra

“What you do is not who you are. Our capitalist society spends a lot of time trying to convince us that we are our work, but we don’t have to fall for it.” 

When I first met Joy Batra, she wasn’t an author. She was a multi-hyphenated individual who floored me with her charm and her aura. Joy not only had gone to business school and law school at one of the most prestigious universities in America, but she also valued her hobbies and her passions that were completely extraneous to her working persona. Her nontraditional career path was one that, at first glance, confused me. “I’m a dancer and freelancer,” she had said, and I batted my eyes as if she was talking in a foreign language. What’s a freelancer? Why and how did she come to identify herself as a dancer, when her degrees all point to business and law? 

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Joy Batra’s therapeutic and timely book “Freelance Mindset” provides relevant stories, guidelines, and motivation to take ownership of your career and financial well-being. Particularly, the book is centered around the pros and cons of life as a freelancer and practical advice for how to get started as one. At its core, the “Freelance Mindset” encourages diving deep into the relationship between career and identity, and how the balance of both relate back to your life view.

In the words of Batra:

“Freelancing is a way to scratch a creative itch that is completely unrelated to their day jobs…Freelancing harnesses that independent streak and turns it into a long- term advantage.” 

Batra’s older sister’s advice is written with forthright humbleness and glaring humility. Batra leads us through the fear of facing our existential fears about careers, productivity, and creativity. She leans into the psychological aspects of how we develop our careers, and reminds us to approach work not just with serious compassion but also with childhood play: 

“You are naturally curious and passionate. As a child, before you needed to think deeply about money, you probably played games, had imaginary friends, and competed in sports. Those instincts might get buried as we grow up, but they don’t disappear altogether.”

[ Read Related: Learning How To Freelance in a Cutthroat Industry ]

Batra also provides us with a diverse cast of inspirational freelancers who provide their honest perspectives across a wide range of domains from being a professional clown to actors to writers. Especially noticeable is the attention paid to South Asian women through notable interviews with Vyjayanthi Vadrevu, Saumya Dave, and more. On social media, it’s easy to find these women and immediately applaud their success, but behind the scenes, it takes a lot of grit, persistence, and determination to reach the successful level of freelancing that you see. Batra encourages a spiritual way of thinking that is marked by rational needs (ex. Maslow’s hierarchy): not to seek immediate gratification and corporate climbing, but rather to view life as a “jungle gym” as coined by Patricia Sellers. Taking risks is part of life, and just like entrepreneurship, freelancing is just as ambitious and off-the-beaten path, despite stigmatization.

“One of the strange paradoxes of the working world is that entrepreneurship is fetishized and freelancing is stigmatized.”

I recommend the “Freelance Mindset” to anyone who is starting out their career in these economically uncertain times, as well as seasoned workers who are looking for inspiration or a shift in their career life. Whether or not you are considering becoming a freelancer in a certain domain, this book is the practical wake-up call that workers and employees need in order to reorient their purpose and poise themselves for a mindset of success. I view this book as a “lifer,” one to read every few years to ground myself and think critically about the choices I make and where I devote my time. 

I leave you with this quote:

“We can adopt the new belief that no single job will meet all our financial, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs…We have one self, and we must figure out how to integrate it into the various situations we find ourselves in.“

You can purchase a copy of the Freelance Mindset here. Follow Joy Batra on Twitter and Instagram for more content!

By Anushree Sreedhar

Raised in Edison, NJ Anushree is an avid reader, imaginative creative writer, dramatic storyteller, obsessive shopper, experimental yogi, and a … Read more ›

Moving on After Breaking up With Your Cat

“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.

Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.

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Take what you want//Take everything

I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.

A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.

It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.

Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.

I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.

I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.

She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.

I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.

I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.

Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.

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By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

The Pressures of Being the Perfect South Asian Woman

NAKED: The Honest Musings of 2 Brown Women was born in the autumn of 2018, when Mimi Mutesa and Selvi M. Bunce began sharing their poetry collections. It was scary, beautiful, and terrifying when they decided to trust each other with their most intimate thoughts. Not only did they feel relieved after doing so, but Selvi and Mimi also felt more seen as women of color. They embarked on their publication journey, so others may feel as seen as they did on that fateful autumn.

“Ingrown Hair” deals with the themes of societal and family pressures that are reflected throughout NAKED. Mimi and Selvi have always written for themselves. They see poetry as an outlet, and their poems exemplify their personal frustration and vulnerability. “Ingrown Hair” speaks to Selvi’s experience with the societal pressures of South Asian women, such as getting married, being a good wife, becoming a good mother, and leading a certain kind of life.

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Ingrown Hair

There is something strange beneath my skin
telling me to build a house,
make a home,
mother children.
I am not sure how to reconcile it.
My mother was strong
and a mother after all.
My philosophy has been to spend my time
on myself and the world.
I have always thought
I could simply address the thing under my skin
when it finally crawled out.
But when my family starts guessing
who will get married first, and my father
has been saving wedding money for years,
I begin to wonder
if I will have to pluck it out.

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You can purchase your copy of NAKED on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Bookshop, and The Black Spring Press Group. Follow Selvi on Twitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to check out her project, Brown & Brazen.

The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Selvi M. Bunce

Selvi M. Bunce (she/they) has written for academic and creative journals and spoken at diversity conferences and TEDx. Selvi currently … Read more ›