“What do you do besides science, Vidhu?”, the professor asked. I couldn’t say anything, not even a word. He asked me if I like travelling or reading or some hobby, and I had nothing to say. I was thinking that why on earth he had to ask me this fucking question when I was expecting some questions on science, for I was sort of acing the second round of my PhD interview at the Department of Genetics, IISc. The interview was in 2010, and I had no hobbies then. I used to be just a regular person — thinking like what the society thinks. I guess I never cared about hobbies or anything since I was under the notion that it doesn’t get you anything that would improve my life. The idea of living is to study, get good grades, get a job, get married, reproduce, and die. That’s it. Nothing else matters. But, if you want to become a photographer or painter or writer, you should have that innate talent; otherwise, you shouldn’t even bother to try as it would be a waste of time. I was following the same idea until I was asked that question.
If you are wondering about the result of that interview, I didn’t qualify it. I don’t know if it was because that I didn’t have any hobbies or anything. But, when I went back home what bothered me was not the result of the interview, but the question which made me not say a word. It touched a nerve. For a few days after that, I was thinking about starting a hobby of some sort. But, even then, I was under the impression that since I didn’t have an inborn talent or skill at anything, I couldn’t get better at those things. But, anyway, I decided to start a new hobby.
I googled and made a list of some doable hobbies. I started philately, but it was not an engaging hobby (although it has been going good since then. I have collected stamps of 65 countries and 350 different varieties of Indian stamps. Next, I tried photography. I thought I could get myself started by taking some shots with my mobile phone camera, and I did. I compared the images with the ones I see on the internet; the results were crap — absolute crap. I was discouraged and gave up on the whole hobby thing.
I tried photography again when my sister lent me her camera. It was better than the mobile phone camera. But, I had no idea how to operate it, let alone take good photographs. I googled and found out that it was a point and shoot camera and how to hold it, focus, and take photographs in the right way. I followed all that and the results were much better than those taken with the mobile phone camera. Within few days, I learned everything about that camera (its pros and cons) — thanks to Google. I started taking more and more pictures like I was possessed or something. I remember that my dad got worried, because he [really] thought that I was going crazy.
Later, I bought my Canon 1000D (until that time, I had no idea what a DSLR was), but it was very difficult to get some decent shots. I got discouraged at first, but I got back on track and started learning photography systematically. I haven’t given up on photography after that. It’s been almost 5 years, and I am confident to say that I take decent photographs. I got featured in Bing, Yandex, and two of my photographs had been selected by National Geographic Magazine editors. I am not bragging. You can check out my portfolio here:
Besides taking good pictures, what was liberating was the realisation that you don’t need to have a born talent/gifted skill for you to do something. It is just a fucking myth. After that, I decided to do something new every year. In 2011, I worked hard and learned photography; in 2012, I started my digital photography blog Shutterstoppers; in 2013, I started learning pencil drawing and digital painting; in 2014, I started developing reading and writing habit. I have been learning all these and trying something new ever since I had realised that there is nothing like a born skill; my life taught me that. You see, it is not your genes that are preventing you from becoming a photographer/artist/writer; rather, it is believing in some crap like you need some inborn talent to do or get good at something. It is absolute bullshit.
By showing you all these, I am not singing my own praises here; instead, I want you to see, through these images, that this is a pretty good job done by someone who didn’t born with these talents. Also, I started my hobbies when I was 23, so your age doesn’t matter.
Let me explain all this in a philosophical (or boring) way.
What prevents most people from becoming an artist/scientist/athlete/photographer?
If a man has a desire to become one (or all) of the above said, he asks a question to himself first– Do I have the talent or the skill to do this? Is my purpose to become the above-said? Man thinks that, to achieve something or to become skilled at something, he has to have the innate ability to become an artist or scientist or anything he desires to be. But it contradicts reality. He thinks like that because he is under the illusion that he has to be gifted the particular talent he wants to achieve. Then he convinces himself that unless he is gifted, he cannot achieve something. His mind gets crippled by this illusion of innate endowment.
You might ask, how do I know that it is an illusion?; that, how do I know that there is nothing called an innate endowment, but it is all about our consciousness. Humans have the power of volition (and that is the only power we have). To become something you desire to be is up to our volition. Volition is an attribute of the faculty of our consciousness. It is a fact that humans do not fully understand about our consciousness or how the mind works. But, at the same time, he does not want to believe in uncertainty either; for uncertainty intimidates him. So he relies on mysticism. He believes in a supernatural being. And the whole idea of innate endowment is just an extrapolation of that.
When man tries to learn something, and when he makes mistakes or face failures in the beginning; self-doubt breeds in his mind. He asks himself, I am good for this? Am I talented for this? But, he never asks what can he do to negate these mistakes? He simply gives up by thinking that he is not gifted to do these things, instead of trying hard for it.
The only thing that is preventing you to become something is you — your philosophical view of life, your beliefs, etc. I still don’t have any regrets that I didn’t qualify that PhD interview. In fact, I am glad that I didn’t qualify; otherwise, I shouldn’t have had this realisation. It helped me to diversify my identity and improve myself. If I had qualified that interview, I might not have that realisation and you wouldn’t be reading this now. You see, roadblocks happen in our lives. But it is up to us to respond to those roadblocks; you can either blame your life, or do something to change it since you have the power of volition. I believe that every fucking person has potential inside him to become anything he wants; he just have to bring it out. All you need is the strong desire, time, perseverance to acquire a skill, not the some “inborn talent”.
Suggested reading: Philosophy: who needs it, Ayn Rand