Readers Write In #469: Random Ramblings of a Mediocre Mind

Posted on June 20, 2022


By Severus Snape

I am 18, a college fresher, and I like to be cool. I like to have people praise me; I want to stand out from the crowd. I want to participate in several clubs; it sounds cool to say, “Oh, I made a clock using Arduino and designed an app to display our timetable”. The literary society of my college announced a scrabble tournament. I never played this game, but I looked up a few videos, and it seemed easy. I gave my name. I won the group stages and made it to the quarter-finals. I got a couple of bingos (scrabble equivalent of a home run) in a game, and I was happy.

I haven’t been a happy person for a while now. No, not that I was sad, I did laugh at a few awesome memes and jokes, but when I go to bed every night, there’s no feeling of “Yes, that was a good day”. There’s no feeling of “I’ve done something useful today. I’ve completed all my pending works, and I’ve achieved something.” I count all the pending tasks I’ve written on a piece of paper. I remember the first time I used this technique. Apart from the obvious benefit of keeping track of the day, it felt satisfying to check the little box beside each task. I would complete about 90% of stuff(related to math, physics, and chemistry) back then and sleep with a grin; the other 10% about a subject taught awfully, one could study a day before and get a 99 out of 100. But now it doesn’t happen. The boxes are unchecked, apart from a couple of rare ones. I’m embarrassed to show it to anyone, but it’s on my table and catches the attention of classmates, who see a printed template I had created so proudly a couple of years ago.

Anyway, I digress. I think about everything I’ve done till now, and then I think about what others have done(or are doing). One guy knows how to play the guitar; another one figured out how to solve a mind-numbing problem related to wires. A girl’s passion is computer science, and she aims to do her masters abroad. A couple of friends have worked on a project that they’ll submit to the electronics club of the college. At the same time, another guy who doesn’t particularly like the stream he chose(like me, we’re supposed to become electrical engineers) is trying to make an app for the software development club. I remember him telling me he had to fix this, but that is working perfectly, but all I understand is that he is doing something. And then, there’s me.

I have no distinguishing talent, no passion for doing anything. I’ve never played any sport or instrument. I wish I could sing or write, but I just can’t. I never found the time to learn to do so; all I know is to sit in front of a desk and study. That’s what I’ve done my entire life, trying to hit(and successfully hitting) academic milestones. “Topper of the class” “Full marks in Math” That’s all I knew before 11th. I was a sincere school boy who felt disgusted by the thought of academic dishonesty. The last few times I slept with a satisfied smile was when JEE results were declared a few months ago, and I could go to one of the most prestigious engineering institutes in the country.

But I’m not passionate about engineering and not electrical engineering at all. It was a crowning achievement, something my parents could feel proud of. My dad was a little disappointed I chose electrical engineering instead of the much-coveted computer science, but not because I like CSE. He wants me to do an “easy” IT job(it’s still possible to shift from EE to CSE, though) and get paid in lakhs rather than living a modest middle-class life like him. And to see people talk about it as something they would love to do made me think, “What am I doing with my life?” I’m reminded of that scene in the Tamil movie VIP, where a drunk, unemployed Dhanush tells the heroine he’s absolutely not jealous of his brother(who bought a car with his hard-earned money). Then he pauses for a moment and admits he’s slightly jealous. I’m not jealous of my peers at all; it’s just that I feel like I’m doing nothing.

And yes, I can no longer do what I did best before. I’m unable to understand almost every course, and I’m relying heavily on last-minute studies to keep my grades up. I see people making a squarewave generator, moving a wire here and there, trying to cancel out the noise in the oscilloscope. I’m unable to do that. I look at the resistors, the capacitors, the wires, the breadboard, and the oscilloscope, and I want to run back home and never return. I can’t understand concepts in the classes, and I’m bunking them so that I don’t feel screwed by the end of the class. I feel painfully mediocre, and I have nothing to make me unique. I want to cry as loud as I can, but tears don’t flow, possibly because these aren’t real problems. I guess it’s also the fact that I’m an introvert and can’t tell all these “problems” to anyone. Yes, I know there are people with far worse issues worldwide, and there’s possibly no reason for me to write this whine-fest.

I don’t know what to talk about when I sit with my classmates for lunch and dinner; I haven’t seen many movies. I love reading about films and songs and watching cricket as a layman(A guy who often sits next to me is a wicketkeeper-batsman), but I can’t translate any of this into conversations. There are a few conversations here and there, but most of the time, I sit in a group of people talking to one another, with nothing for me to chime in. I’m afraid of being left alone. A part of me says why should I care about their attention, but I don’t know. I like people noticing me in a crowd. I know I’m probably an attention-seeker, but I guess I am.

I just listen to songs and play a couple of mobile games to distract myself from my “problems”, but they come back to haunt me like ghosts at night. At this point, the Scrabble tournament was announced. I gave my name. It will be a fantastic achievement if I win this. And then, a mischievous thought came. The tournament was online, so I could simply use an anagrammer. I dilly-dallied this thought, “Am I that desperate for attention? In a tournament filled with experienced players, is it necessary to win and deny the rightful winners their prize?”

I cheated.

It looked easy, this thing. I played my way through the group stages. On the other hand, I loved the game. I saw a fascinating video of professional scrabble players talking about their best move, worst move, improbable move, etc. I wanted to be like them. I played a few games without cheating, losing most but slowly improving. I made it to the quarter-finals and was supposed to play three matches. I won the first one and then lost the second one. Both my opponents were terrific, and I respected them for their skill. And the day I played my second match, I got two bingos without cheating in other random games. I can’t express how happy I was to get them; it seemed like I could do it without resorting to using an anagrammer. And then, I got a message from one of the organisers.

He said it was pretty evident that I was using help and asked me to confess or prove otherwise. I was shell-shocked, and I didn’t know what to do. I reached for my phone and started typing my confession. I searched for reasons to justify myself, and the whole validation thing hit me. I started sobbing, not only because I was caught but because I stooped to this level to look cool. Every dormant thought I had in my mind came to me, and I felt horrible that I had done this. The weight of everything I had done had suddenly become apparent to me. I cheated; I denied chances to deserving people; I became the person I would have hated in my school days. I didn’t know what to expect but was scared. And then, he responded. He said it was fine.

He told me that cheating was unacceptable(of course), but I had four years and more to figure out everything. He said everything would be fine, and I didn’t have to resort to cheating to look cool. He allowed me to play the last match and reduced my score in the other two as a penalty. He told me that scrabble is fun once I get the hang of it. I didn’t expect him to be this polite. He understood my feelings more than I did then and showed me mercy. If I’m allowed to be corny, I felt like Valjean after his interaction with the Bishop in Les Misérables. I messaged my classmate about this, and I expected him to laugh at my “emotional” state, but he didn’t. He told me there’s no use in looking for validation from others. And I found the root cause of all my “problems”; I cared more about others’ perceptions of me than what I thought of myself. Of course, I still hate being mediocre, but it is in my hands to change that. I have to stop thinking about others and simply improve upon myself. While I couldn’t sleep well last night, I hope I’ll soon sleep with a grin, counting all my tasks and thinking about how much I’ve improved.