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The Trap Of Ordinariness Is Killing Our Imagination

This was first published on Huffington Post India on May 25, 2016.

I often meet young writing enthusiasts who do not write, singers who do not sing, and music and sports lovers who do little about their passion. When I myself started writing seven years ago, I found it disturbing that most of us are comfortable being perpetual “consumers” and rarely try to “create” something.

After all, everyone has a creative hobby – books, music, sport, movies, food, and so on. The unwillingness to create and explore, despite having hobbies and interests, comes from an ingrained belief: education should lead to career, not creation.

It takes a good amount of dedication to go head-over-heels for Game of Thrones and memorize the latest music track, or to sit and watch an entire IPL match out of sheer passion. But to be able to survive a life that doesn’t come even close to taking initiative to create and innovate is a failure of education.

Even kids love drawing on sand and making toy houses. Humans naturally want to use what they know and feel, to create ideas, value and products. But this urge is culturally suppressed as we grow up, even though age makes us more capable of finding long-lasting hobbies which could have inspired useful creation.

This lack of initiative in even activities of our own choice is so widespread that we don’t realize it’s scary. The highest level in Bloom’s taxonomy of educational goals – “create” – is a stage teachers often do not know exists.

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Very few of us take initiative to create because we do not value our areas of interest enough. We like to treat academic and professional work as more sacrosanct than our own hobbies.

So sacred in fact, that such work seems larger than daily life. Those who accidentally love such work are called “nerds” – somewhat socially disrespectful.

A guitarist, for example, is always cool for social circles. But he would be a nerd in a guitar school if he fondly reads a book about guitars: because at a guitar school, guitar is “academic work”, not “hobby”. Similarly, a writing enthusiast who spends the day writing would invite admiration or mockery, depending on whether he is a student of engineering or journalism.

Distinguishing so regularly between “work” and “hobby” is easy because very few of us get to do activities that can qualify as both. Not just the “nerds” who bother to convert hobbies into creation, each of us always has an ambition – a goal to create value for self and others. Still, most of us end up leading quite ordinary lives: doing work we don’t really find happiness in, for someone and with people we don’t like, often looking forward to the weekend rather than Monday.

We are socially trained, firstly, to dislike work because it must be uncool and joyless, and secondly, to let go of what we like most because it’s too lowly to lead you to your career. When this happens, there’s nothing left to actually love enough to be able to create and innovate.

The result is the first line of this article: young writing enthusiasts who do not write, singers who do not sing, music and sports lovers who have let their passions go.

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We want life, but we need work. If we could find the kind of work that we want as much as we want life, we wouldn’t end up looking for that elusive goal called “work–life balance”. We are never taught that when work and hobby combine, creation happens, and life can be great fun.

Personal ambitions – which can actually drive us to take initiative – are always in conflict with the need to seek acceptance among peer groups. Ordinariness, after all, is “cool”, and taking initiative to come out of that trap is “nerdy”. It’s cool to use Facebook to show you checked in at an airport and to post a selfie when you meet a friend. But in my early days, for running a satirical website that entertained thousands of readers, and for writing posts that generated great discussions, I have been called “idle” and “jobless” by people who spend their day scrolling down the Facebook news feed or doing random YouTube searches.

Make no mistake, scrolling down the news feed or watching movies all day long are pretty much creative activities. Consumption is the first stage towards creation. But the big problem is that creation isn’t really on the agenda for most people. (Often, their statements reflect that even consumption isn’t on their agenda: “I feel so bad I did nothing today, I watched this TV series the entire day.”)

Being ordinary all the time, yet ambitious, is not really a clever combination. The comfort with ordinariness is dangerous, as it results in low productivity and self-initiative among youth.

Our education system is creating ambition, but our education culture is not teaching us how to fight ordinariness to manage our lives, be in control. Our education system is giving us content, but our education culture is not giving us the power and imagination to create and come out of the ordinary.

Creators survive because of their own perseverance, not because their immediate social circles make their life easy. It’s easier to conform to the curse of ordinariness, than to discover the glory of innovation and initiative.

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To fight ordinariness requires us to look within and not blame the system. Everyone has a creative hobby or academic areas they truly love. “Hobby” and “work” can always come together seamlessly, if only one shifts perspectives.

Today, with the option to create a website if nothing else, the first step to create value is easier than ever before. The social media and the internet are a brilliant platform to convert passions into popularity, satisfaction, social impact, money, or whatever else one wants.

College students doing something about their interests, or doing volunteer work – not for certificates but because they love to do it – are always heartening to see.

With proper intervention at school and college level, more people can be motivated to create value out of hobbies, and feel accepted for doing the same. Taking initiative needs to become cool. Academics and hobby must mix seamlessly, and career should be seen as what you love, not as a sequel to academics, not as work that must be joyless.

Published inFeaturedHuffington Post India

2 Comments

  1. Hi Tanay,
    This was a nice article and for a while it led me into deep thoughts.You are so right when you say, ” there are writing enthusiasts who do not write……”; the education system (and the society) that teach us to build our careers to get good acceptance in society and then better partner is the way of life.
    Moreover the fear of failure hampers the creativity. We are taught to think practically about life, where money becomes the most important agenda. And obviously the importance of money cannot be denied. I don’t say that writers or guitarists or singers or dancers don’t make money, but in a society like ours where being doctor or engineer (or being teacher for a girl) is sure idea of sucess, people trying to work on their creativity are forced to face criticism not only from the older generations but from the contemporary generations as well.
    Of course there are some brave among us who try to experiment with their hobbies, try to make their hobbies their jobs so that there is nothing like work-life balance in their life because they are doing what they love to do. But these start with hard deadline of time from their parents, going against their wishes, hurting them and the so called society usual set rules. After all this, If the person is lucky to survive the harshness of the path they have chosen and hurdles of their career road, its good :else one has to come back and take back the usual road again facing the entire society cruelty who consider you a rebel. The situation becomes worse for girls.
    But it’s good that our society is growing in thought. With so many reality shows on tv and thanks to Internet, so many artists, dancers and singers are getting recognition. Although the top few survive and the others though equally good diaaapear or are forced to live a less than normal life because the dream of sucess haunts them more. Still it can be said that atleast compared to earlier times parents still have grown enough to send their children to dancing or singing class. But I think sports and writing still need a lot of recognition.
    Anyways for me the best part about your article was that it forced me to write, because like many others I think of writing many a times but don’t write. THANKS A TON

    • Tanay Sukumar Tanay Sukumar

      Hi Shrishti
      Thanks a lot for the comment. I think it’s fair to think of the money. There are often families where the child genuinely needs to think of the safe and tried-and-tested career options to be able to support the family asap – I have written about this in the past.
      However, I think I failed to make one point as clear as I wanted to: my article is a comment on the education and not so much on career paths, as it seems at some places. The point I want to make is fundamentally this: we all have our areas of interest, but we are not being creators in even tho se fields. And the underlying cultural reason is the focus on career. I do not necessarily mean that we let go of hobbies because we cannot afford to take those risks; I definitely mean that we let go of hobbies because we are not given the kind of education that leads us to take initiative – whether for career or just for personal life.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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