The Upward Spiral: A shift of even just 1° to break the cycle

Recently, a good friend called me a “loser” and he made a significant observation: that this could be a constructive thing instead of resignation to a permanent state. While the term “loser” is often a definitive, dismissive, and decisive insult, in this case, it implied the infinite possibilities of starting from scratch. Once you reach the number 0, you are then empowered to choose whether to shift leftward or rightward on the integer line.

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Many of us dwell in self-deception, which can carry us quite far–but ultimately hits a wall. There is no progress without brutal self-honesty. So, as an exercise, that aforementioned friend went so far as to encourage me to publish the following post on social media, which was a rather uncomfortable exercise for me, as it is our nature to maintain a public façade of strength and stability:

“Today, for recent events and the caring words of a few friends, I had a moment of brutal self-honesty rather than the self-deception I’ve been perpetuating for years. Some of my actions have threatened to make me a perpetual loser. There is the man I want to be, and I’ve allowed myself to remain far from it all too long. Today I realize that these actions are not permanently shameful unless I accept them as final. I choose to no longer allow my fear, shame and insecurities to lead to poor choices. Thanks for listening and to all those who have actively supported and believed in me, and I welcome your support and accountability.” 

I am loath to attract this kind of attention because I felt it be self-pity with a megaphone. But shockingly, the result was an outpouring of support. I got the most “likes” of any post of mine since I joined Facebook. Many of them echoed the themes of “you’re an amazing person, we believe in you,” “we live and learn, but you’ll be stronger from this,” or “we appreciate your refreshing vulnerability and honesty.”

With that, I shall expand upon this self-honesty. First, a bit about my background, I come from a background of immense expectation of academic and professional achievement. As a South Asian, the table was set for academic achievement. Parental sacrifice allows for a student to have no worry but studies and the extracurriculars toward optimizing a college application. No need for part-time jobs, or any other impediments toward making the grade.

Playing a major part in that setting of the table of opportunity was the strategic residence of our family in Bethesda, Maryland, in the district of Walt Whitman High School, one of America’s best. From 7th grade onward, it was all eyes on the prize–the prize being an Ivy League education. When I didn’t have the metrics for the Ivies and “ended up” attending Georgetown University, I was rather nonplussed. It wasn’t an achievement, but rather an expectation. And to my detriment, I went on to value it accordingly.

When I got to college, I made a tacit decision to stop trying. I stepped off the treadmill of academic competition and achievement. And then, the depression set in. I recall having slept away days on end, blowing off classes that killed my GPA, and not even bothering to submitting term papers. Consequences started accumulating, like being denied the chance to study abroad because my GPA was too low. By my senior year, I found myself fighting to be pardoned from academic suspension, and I was too ashamed to “walk” with my classmates across the graduation stage. I crawled my way out of undergrad the following summer.

All the while, I took comfort in socializing, flirting with girls, and alcohol. And until recently, it seems I’ve allowed my self-esteem to remain so low that those have remained my priorities. Things like depression, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism have been ascribed to my indolence, complacency, and lack of traction in a career. I often lose sight of the great achievements of my life, like having spent significant time overseas, learned to varying degrees six foreign languages, and maintained relationships with an inordinate multitude of interesting people in all corners of the globe. And because of my courage, adventurousness, and open mind, I find myself in a job in Las Vegas (of all places), and dare I say, poised for a career of fulfillment and service. Finally, the square peg has found the square hole.

I write this autobiographical piece both as an unburdening toward liberation and empowerment, and also for the premise that a person’s experience is worthless without others benefiting from it. I am hoping to make setbacks and shortcomings the turning point in my life. And if this has helped anyone in my audience, then this loser is shifting right of zero. Thanks for listening.