In our fast-paced world where we have instant everything—instant grits, instant oatmeal, instant live streaming, instant pizza, instant gratification—we naturally fall in line and do what we’re supposed to, when we’re supposed to. Rarely do we attack our life from outside the norm.
We often refer to kids who are a bit different as kids who march to their own beat. My own two kids are a lot like this. I want nothing else in this world but for them to continue banging their own drums and marching however they feel like. Adolescence is going to introduce the metronome of normalcy, and I feel it’s my job to distract them from the expectations of mediocre.
Order and structure is good, don’t get me wrong. As a writer and storyteller, I rely on organization of information (rely on it pretty heavily to be honest). But I’ve noticed in my own life that when I don’t follow the stair-steps properly, I may miss the prescribed path towards my goal, but I’ve gained new perspective on many abstract ideas.
Education is one of those areas where you’re more than highly encouraged to follow the rules, follow the path. Stray and you may not find your way back (insert Lord of the Rings reference here). You go from elementary school to middle school to high school to undergrad to graduate to post graduate to specialist to doctorate.
Deviate, and you become a statistic. Deviate, and life gets in the way.
In my talk with Dr. Parag Gupta, his explanations of how he strayed and how he succeeded partially has something to do with him, but the majority of the credit goes to the discipline of his family and the kindness of others.
Raised in America to two immigrants from India, Dr. Gupta had both feet in both cultures. This type of exposure to traditional Indian values and expectations as well as the daily life of a kid in Mississippi. Because of this, his perspective is unique, and allowed him to forge his own path towards his goals and beyond.
Dr. Gupta talks about his round-about path towards completing his PhD. In it he mentions three life mantras that he’s developed through the forging fires of advanced degrees:
Life Mantra 1: Be kind and be genuine.
Life Mantra 2: No zero days (admittedly stolen from Reddit)
Life Mantra 3: It’s okay to make mistakes, but the real tragedy is when you don’t have a point of reflection where you realize that most of those mistakes were your own fault. Take ownership of all those bad things in life that happen to you.
After the hurdles that a doctorate degree present, Dr. Gupta did earn “Doctor” before his name, but he also found some real truths along the way.
- Argon National Labrotories allowed him to work in their facilities as a guest. I have not spoken with anyone from there, but I’m willing to bet they understood the struggles a young PhD student faced—probably because they had experienced the zero-hope of a broke student. Their kindness and generosity allowed him to finish, and instilled a genuine sense of appreciation that cannot be purchased.
- By experiencing the kindness of others, there’s only one reponse: pay it forward. He grew up, finished his degree, and even served as an administrator at prestigious Columbia University where he understood the legitimacy behind the struggles students faced every day. Because he survived with the help of others, he knew it was his duty to help as well as encourage.
Be sure to watch Dr. Gupta’s TEDxNORTHWESTERN talk and glean your own life lessons.