Authentic Paagalpan

Does living an authentic life entail being a little crazy?

Authentic Paagalpan
Illustration for “Notes from Underground” by Alexandre Alexeieff

My partner and I went for Karaoke night in Delhi last week. Admittedly, I was hesitant, but she insisted and I budged, on the condition that I would absolutely not sing.

Reader, the condition was overturned. We sang. We chose 'Stressed Out' by Twenty-One Pilots. The energy was fairly sane as we started, but then we arrived at these lyrics:

We used to dream of outer space
but now they're laughing at our face saying
"Wake up, you need to make money"

I could feel, as we sang that last line, people screaming around me. People losing their minds. People feeling less alone. Electric bodies.

It hit me at that moment: we all, regardless of how rich or successful we are, have a shared angst about what adult life asks of us.

It's not just the broke, creative folk. It's not just the social workers. It's also the McKinsey consultants and financial analysts. We're all in this together. Some of us may have found success while tied down to chains, but that says nothing about how we would live without chains.

I think this angst comes from having to do things that are not authentic. As our lives get steamrolled by responsibilities and rational choices, we scream in irrational protest on the dance floor.

This week, I want to think about authenticity with you: why do our lives veer away from our authentic desires, and how might we resist, or make our way back?

'what everyone gets'

I recently found an answer to this question when I walked to an electronics store to buy a new phone.

For a few months now, I've been trying to use my phone less. An authentic life, to me, feels like a life where I'm physically present in my surroundings. So I wanted a phone that did basic things: WhatsApp, Maps, Uber, PayTM.

Inside the store, though, there was so much to think about: 5G, megapixels, battery size, quick charging. There was a hierarchy of features, and I didn't want to be at the bottom. I ended up spending quite a bit more than I'd planned to.

When I walked out, I felt a deep sense of sadness. I wanted to use the phone less, not more. These features wouldn't matter to me, but I got distracted. I got a OnePlus, which is 'what everyone gets'.

There was a hierarchy of features, and I didn't want to be at the bottom.

I feel like this is what happens in life as well. We get distracted and lose sight of our values in the face of 'what everyone gets'. On a random Monday night at Karaoke, it all comes rushing back.

Authentic paagalpan

When we contemplate taking big risks that destabilize our life, this is what our brains, our parents, and maybe even our friends will say, "Are you crazy?" I'm starting to think the only apt response is "Yes, absolutely!"

A question to ponder: wouldn't we rather look crazy than get crushed under the burden of what 'makes sense'?

Right now, working towards financial abundance makes a lot of sense for me, but there's a part of me that just refuses to do it. I want to have the courage to choose that part, to let that part make decisions. Call me crazy.

This Week's Recommendation

"My liver is bad, well—let it get worse!" Fyodor Dostoevsky's Underground Man says, waging a war on rationality. This is one of the greatest essays ever written, and it's about a man who's in the midst of chaos, but is able to refuse the world's rational directions, again and again.

Any sane person would call them crazy, and they'd probably be right. Dostoevsky makes you wonder, though: what's so bad about that?  

I am a sick man ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors... No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can’t explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot ‘pay out’ the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well—let it get worse!