Friday, February 01, 2008

The Enemy Within

I want to draw your attention to a subtle point I have tried making
many times: "Don't give in to fear." For me, the importance of these
words can't be overstated. How hard I try to stay calm and
composed when it's the question of drawing motivation to work! I have
let go waste tonnes and tonnes of fear which I could easily have used
to push myself into working hard and getting professionally benefited.
I daresay, I would have been able to prove quite a few points had I
let that happen. I have tried very hard to never let that happen
(though I don't always succeed). Same has been true with other sources
of motivation like rivalry, ambition and professional conceit. I have
always shunned them when I could have used them. The central idea was:
"My research is the purest and most beautiful thing I do. I will not
malign it by letting it get driven by things I consider negative." I
mayn't have been always correct in being so pedantic about the matter.
I sometimes wonder if I hadn't looked at certain things like fear,
anger, rivalry and ambition as out and out negative things, I could
have found it easier to get into a habit of working hard. Once the
habit set in, perhaps, I could have worked towards purifying my
thoughts, and then driving myself with purer sources of motivation
then on. Well, perhaps. I will hopefully get a chance to validate that
hypothesis in future. But, let's not talk about that aspect right now.

The above maxim can be partially stated as: "Never let negative
thoughts drive you to do anything good." But it gets completed when we
say: "Never let negative thoughts stop you from doing what you truly
want to do."

That second part of the maxim came to my rescue two and half years
ago, when I had almost got paralysed after suffering nearly 2 years of
fruitless toil on a problem which wasn't moving anywhere. By some
miracle (which is also called 'introspection'), I realised that,
bigger and more immediate than the problem of my research not going
anywhere, it was that deep fear of having to face failure and
disappointment which was my problem. Slowly, I could get clearer and
clearer sight of that 'fear' which used to draw away my energy
whenever I would decide to sit and do something towards my research.
This fear was born and had grown within me; and yet, I could see it as
an external thing -- something which I had cut and throw away from my
system, something I should take pleasure in killing.

When I succeeded in looking at this fear as something not essential to
my personality, but rather something that I could easily throw out of
my system, and survive, I could actually get up and do something about
my plight. I realised that, for the immediate moment, my success lay,
not in doing successful research, but in honestly trying to do so. And
I wouldn't let my fear stop me from doing that.

I think I won that little battle. But the fear is still there and
sometimes becomes overpowering. But, due to that one triumphant
experience during my PhD, I know that it exists somewhere inside me,
am far more capable to identify it in many of its clever disguises,
and with hardly any delay, am able to get up and start smothering it
back to its little dark hole whenever it raises its head.

I do think (may be it's a fallacy) that this tussle with fear is an
essential experience of doing PhD. Perhaps the most important one.
People who have got that momentum right from the first day, due to whatever reason, mayn't perhaps face this problem now.
Perhaps, they already had faced this problem earlier, and have,
consciously or unconsciously, devised ways of handling it. Perhaps, we
haven't been so lucky (or wise) enough to have faced this problem
earlier in our lives. But, whenever someone is trying to do something
non-trivial, I think, this hurdle is bound to be faced. And only when
one learns to combat one's own fear (which is the mother of laziness
and procrastination), one is really going to have a smooth sail to his
or her destination.

All this is not an advice. I just want you to know something now which
I spent an unnecessary amount of time and toil to understand. I don't
know if it's one of those things which can be learned only the hard
way of experience. But, in case it isn't one of those things, I
wouldn't like to miss this chance to share with you this little
thought which was almost life-changing for me.


ruSh.Me said...

Beautifully put, Sujit!!!

most of the time forgo the need to realize that our fear is our most prominent driving force..... we need not get affected by the minuses in us...but then we also need to know that our minuses make us realize about our pluses...!!!

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Hi! You are right in that fear is our most prominent driving force. But it's also true that it needn't be so.

It's easy to give in to fear and let it rule whatever we do. But it's much more difficult to become immune of it in all ways. I think, the biggest sacrifice one must make to free himself from the ill-effects of fear is to give up reaping benefits from it. We mustn't let the dark side rule us. We must learn to be jedis, not siths.

Star Wars and Spirituality

Dheepikaa B said...

Well. I quite don't agree with the 'throwing it away from your system', even though I found that contradictory to your mentioning it lies there in you somewhere deeper. On can not throw it away from one's system and that is what makes it more difficult. And, I think the idea is to attend to it and not combat it.

"Fear builds its phantoms which are far more fearsome than reality itself" - Ernest Hemingway.

I think I take care of it in a way that I do not let it create its phantoms rather than smothering the fear itself. I have found it powerful in not letting the fear pursue the detrimental thoughts for me.

My question to the feeling of fear and the thoughts associated with it (which happen in microseconds that sometimes eludes my control) is, does it really mean to arrive to me for good?

Sharing a poem I wrote about that.