Big Picture vs. Small PictureWed, 16th Nov '05, 8:00 pm::
Disclaimer: It saddens me to write this 'blog entry because I know my family will read it and won't like many parts of it. Sorry but you won't be able to use this 'blog entry to show off my success to everyone. I haven't run a marathon today and I haven't written any software this week that'll change the Internet. But it makes me happy to write this because I think it's time for a reality check for myself and for everyone that I love.
The Game: It's a little game I call Big Picture vs. Small Picture. This is not about truth vs. false. In this game everything is true for only true facts are admissible. I can testify that nothing in the following statements is even remotely false. So let's get started.
The Small Picture: Even though I have a great job in US, I hardly have any savings. I can't send any monetary gifts back home to India for my only sister's wedding in January 2006, even though my cousin in UK pretty much paid for his sister's wedding and more. In fact, I spend more money on my cats than I send back to India. Any time my relatives in US ask me to come visit them for holidays, I decline saying I'm saving up to buy tickets to India for my sister's wedding. I admit to them that if I don't save each month, I won't be able to pay for the India trip. Whenever someone suggests that I get arranged married like my sister, one of my first excuses is that I can't afford to marry. Word gets around and now, I'm officially broke in the eyes of my family & relatives.
I wasn't always "broke". In fact, three years ago back in college, I was supposed to be doing pretty well with my high-paying student job. Just earlier this year when I went to India I was even seen as what you might say... "rich!" But for some reason, not anymore.
Immediate Analysis: If you just look at the small picture, and it is in fact quite true, clearly then it would seem that I must be bad at managing money and/or I don't care enough about my family in India to chip in for even a small part of my loving sister's wedding expenses. Somewhere in the last few months I went from being pretty "well off" to living "paycheck to paycheck" and since I am in full control of my fiscal habits, I'm the one to blame. Thankfully, my parents are very understanding and have never demanded anything from me. Never ever. For this and more, I love them more than any son can. Nevertheless, it appears to all that I'm reckless and failing. Hmm. Let's look at this scenario from a different altitude.
The Big Picture: In this round, we forget all the pesky details of day-to-day life and think BIG. A little over five years ago I came to US with a dream... the ever-so-romanticized American Dream. After years of reluctance, my dad finally, at the behest of my lovely sis, told me to go forth and conquer the world. I'm sure he didn't expect me to wage military wars on the entire world, but instead wished me best of luck to achieve everything I wanted in my life. I flew in to the magical land of the United States of America all cheery-eyed and dreamy. My mom and grandma were glad that their kid was finally going to get good higher education - after all who doesn't want an esteemed PhD dork in their family?
I spent four years in Rutgers New Jersey, half of them living with my aunt and uncle who still do their best to support me whenever they can. Two bachelor degrees with highest honors later, I moved to sunny Florida for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to head the IT department of a small-but-rapidly-growing company. Now that I was finally living on my own, I could do things I've always wanted! A three-pc home-network? Check. True bachelor-style bean bags? Check. Cute little pets that my sister and I have wanted since childhood? Check! Everything's great. I go to India in April '05 and everyone is happy for me. I'm a success!
I notice real-estate prices in my area go through the roof, especially the properties near the Gulf. It's either buy now or be priced out of the housing market for decades. Having realized that without physical assets, creditors in US don't care about you at all, I pooled all my resources together for the big buy. In two short months, I bought a cute little house near the beach. Now next year when I try to consolidate my three variable-interest (eeek) student loans, banks will not reject me outright because I shall be in possession of the revered home equity.
Immediate Analysis: Big dreams necessitate disciplined efforts and uncompromising patience. It took some time but it appears to anyone that I've managed to fulfill quite a number of academic, economic, and personal goals. Overall, things are great if you ask me. No bad marriage, no expulsion from college, no criminal charges, no pending lawsuits, no housing troubles, no bad debts, no employment issues, and no chronic illnesses. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping things stay just as good. I'm one lucky son of a gun. So... if everything is this peachy, what's with the pesky details I mentioned in the small picture above? It's all about the proper focus.
a. Focus - Adjustable: You need a telescope to look at distant planets. You need an electron microscope to research how to better fabricate the carbon-nanotube fibers that strengthen the structure of the spacecraft that will get you to these distant planets. Notice the complexities between the two sentences. Dreaming, big-picture satellite viewing is simple. Even though it requires planning, experience, and wisdom, it won't get your hands messy. On the other hand, doing it, living in the nitty-gritties of actually implementing something is a dirty job. We dream in big screen but alas we live in the small picture. And the day you stop adjusting your focus is when you're stuck living a life you cannot take control of.
Very often, people, including yours truly, get so entrenched in one view, that they fail to see things for what they really are. While immediate events have immediate consequences, they also have long-term effects. How we handle situations in the short term impacts what will happen in the long term. My dad once told me that intelligence is the measure of how long does it take a person to walk into a room and understand everything that went on, is going on, and will go on. I propose a corollary that intelligence is the measure of how long it takes a person to switch from small picture to big picture and vice versa. What does this have to do with me you ask? Let's see.
b. Focus - Sticky: The problem with changing focus is that it doesn't want to change. We don't like to see things differently than we already do. It goes outside our comfort zone. You can get a new pair of running shoes today but it's so much more comfortable to spend that money on junk food and sit back & watch TV all evening instead of months of persistent training for a marathon. Notwithstanding my trifling excuses, I can buy a plane ticket to anywhere in the US today and have a great time with my family & relatives. It is so much better than putting $150/month extra towards the principal on my home mortgage. I used to be so free with my money; back in college when my primary goal was getting a degree. But I have to constantly get into the big picture view and remind myself that now I'm in the hardwork and struggle phase of life - these are the years I need to be saving up for the next phase of my life - graduate studies.
Selective Sacrifices: Nobody's saying that I need to give up on enjoying my life in order to maybe some day achieve my ambitions. If you saw me at the BBQ party at my house this weekend, you'd very well know I'm not giving up on any fun. However, I have given up on the extravagant lifestyle that I so lavishly savored during my pre-mortgage era. No more $500 impulse shopping bills and no more $100 on martinis. Just like no more cheese and pizzas till my health is back to my doctor's approved standards.
You cannot sacrifice today for tomorrow and you cannot spend everything today and have nothing for tomorrow. It's a delicate balance between the two and the sooner a person realizes this, the better. For me, a house is an investment. I was more than happy living in the 100 sq.ft. bunker in New Jersey. I don't need a mansion to keep me happy. To me, my house means that instead of spending and giving away like the young grasshoppa, I'm saving like the ant. Adhering to ancient wisdom is a GOOD™ thing.
Consequences for me: It's great that I have a house because when I decide to go for my PhD years from now and devote 5-6 years of my life to science, I will have a pool of savings I can rely on, without having to worry about food and next month's rent. Many people pursue PhDs right after their Bachelors, mostly living like poor college students throughout the course. I didn't want to. I wanted a break between BSc and PhD. I want real-world experience. I want to know that some day my research and inventions will actually make a difference. Hence, I'm glad to have a job where I face production scenarios every single day that demand novel theoretical solutions.
I've said this over a hundred times already that if I cared about money, I'd be selling plastic granules in Kolkata right now. It is a very respectful trade and many people I know back home live happily every after with their families by engaging in wholesale businesses. However, it is just... NOT ME. I'm a student of science, always was, always will be. Till the day I died I would regret the 8-10 hours a day I spent trading because that is not what I wanted to do. My problem is that while I can remind myself this on a regular basis, everyone around me forgets it. Then I get compared to my cousin in UK, whom I love dearly, but have entirely different ambitions in life from. His noble ambition, from my personal knowledge, was to provide the best standard of living for his family. He woke up each day knowing that he needs to make ends meet for his family and that it is up to him now. He is my personal hero because on an absolute scale, what he does requires a lot more dedication and perseverance than what I do.
Consequences for my family: If my parents wanted the same thing from me as my cousin, they would have made it very clear from day one that my aim in life should be to send $x to India every single month. But they didn't. They told me to get the best education I could and fulfill all of my dreams. They supported me throughout and I'm happy that they did. Yet, every now and then, people question if they did the right thing, if I am doing the right thing, if I still love my own family, if Brazil is going to win the next World Cup Soccer. People question, people talk, people raise unfounded doubts, and above all, people make mountains out of mole hills. That's what people do. And that is when things go sour. And that is why I feel so compelled to write a pretty revealing personal 'blog entry like this one to make things perfectly clear.
I feel like I've always been lucid and honest to my family and relatives, in fact, to pretty much everyone that asks me a question upfront. I never lie about serious issues though I may lie about how many girls I've kissed ;)
Honest Ramblings: I feel excited to tell my family every other day that OMG I LOVE YOU. There is nobody else in the world I love more than you guys. If something unfortunate happened tomorrow and my family needed anything, I would take the next flight to India to help out (after notifying my work of course; not gonna run away boss man! Don't worry). But I wonder, since when did I become a BAD son? I thought I was doing everything right in life - in the big picture sense. I never said I was perfect and I was pretty much pathetic during the months of August-October this year when I was down with god knows every illness known to pirates in the 1700s.
Penultimate Moanings & Whinings: It's no surprise that a single person living alone, far away from all family and friends, will get pretty down and depressive when faced with prolonged chronic illnesses that prohibit all forms of social interactions. In English, that means hell ya, I was sick, alone, and did I mention sick?! Of course, I was sad and weak. I couldn't even hang out with my friends! I'd have to be pretty crazy in the head to actually enjoy any of that. Worst of all, I spent all my savings on medical bills and ended up breaking my promise to my sister that I'll do my best to send her a small gift soon. I'm sad that I broke a promise but I'm crushed that people treat me like it's my fault that I had all these medical expenses. Ok... so I don't have an extra $1000 lying around anymore. Does that mean I'm a loser or a weak person altogether and need support from every person who walks by just to hold myself together in life? HELL NO!
The Winner: Life's a game. It's a balancing act - between truth and false, good and evil, right and wrong, big picture and small picture. Who's the winner in the match Big Picture vs. Small Picture? Neither side exactly. Only the ones who can juggle the two fluently will "win" the so-called game of life.
Sometimes, people stop juggling. If the people who love me the most, don't stand back and take a look but instead suspect my intentions, capabilities, and strength, it's gonna be an uphill climb. I can never stop loving them but I'm kind of disheartened that the ones closest to me assumed that I've somehow forgotten what's important. I don't think at this age and stage in life I have to give any explanations on why I spent $300 treating my cat's bleeding foot. I don't expect anyone to understand WHY I like my cats, but I do expect them to not to criticize me for the day to day decisions I make in my life.
It comes down to the classic "I'm old enough" debate now. I'm old enough to know what I'm doing so please stop judging, taunting, and sneaking in remarks about what I do or not do. If I'm about to make a major decision, I will always ask the people I look up to. For instance, I had a long chat with my dad late last year about buying a house. Taking his advice, I didn't buy a house then. However, I revisited the issue a few months later when my situation had changed and ended up buying a house that I realize is an even better fit for me. I'm not saying I made absolutely the most perfect decision ever (man... my roof still needs repairs). I just like to think that I made the most sensible decision given the circumstances and stood firmly by it after weighing in the positive and negative consequences. The positive consequences being that I'll build equity that will help me later in life and the negative being that I won't have lot of free money lying around every month anymore.
If you've read this far then it's only natural that I thank you for paying attention and listening to what I had to say. Know in your heart that I love you more than anything in the world and that I will do anything possible when the need be. But if there is no crisis, then why not let me pursue my dreams and have some fun on the way? And for flying spaghetti monster's sake, stop worrying about me! I'm doing pretty damn well.
PS: Please send me money. I've been eating cat food for two weeks and have no money to feed myself or my cats now.
PPS: Just kidding about the cat food. I'm still a vegetarian :)
PPPS: Don't forget the money!