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The Beginner’s Guide to being a Failed Wunderkid


This piece has been written by Megha Mehta (Batch of 2019).

All views expressed in this article are tongue-in-cheek and for temporary comic relief purposes only. This article contains several annoying references to TV tropes. The author disclaims responsibility for any physiological or psychological side-effects of Failed Wunderkidness, including procrastination, binge eating, out-of-control spending, alcoholism and subscribing to nihilist memes on Facebook. This article is in no way an authoritative guide to recover from failed Wunderkidness and severely affected students are advised to seek help from experts in this field such as Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Bobby Deol.

If you have watched the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix (SPOILERS ahead- skip to the next paragraph if you can’t stomach) and read the corresponding articles on the net or your Facebook feed, you would know that everyone is majorly dissing Rory Gilmore 2.0. When Season 1 ended, she was the embodiment of a Strong Female CharacterTM  -she had graduated from an Ivy League college, was on her way to being Pulitzer material and she didn’t need a man-though she’d enjoyed many. When Season 2 ended, she was headed down the same path her mom had gone, inevitably doomed to stay in the same small town drudgery and-so angry fans argue -to repeat the same cycle that kickstarted the show in the first place-underemployed, with an instable love life and *gasp* pregnant.

One particularly poignant commentary on the show suggests that Rory actually represents the Failed Wunderkids of our generation. Current millennials are used to being told we are special and destined for greater things; often without there being any sacrifice or loss on our ends. Being a Wunderkid is in essence believing and being made to believe that you are a special person and that your Life is Destined for Greater ThingsTM (See also Jesus Complex). This complex is especially re-inforced if you’re one of the 80 or so prestigious few who gain admission into the hallowed portals of a National Law School.

However, the real transition from adolescence to adulthood is boring. You will not get to decide the future of the wizarding world or govern a nuclear dystopia. You will also most probably not get to make most of the major decisions influencing your life because Trump, Putin, your Best ‘Mitr’, your parents and the next-door Rishtaywaali Aunty will conspire to make them happen to you. The limited areas in which you will get to make decisions are things you have absolutely no clue about-your career choice for instance. Unfortunately, that Hogwarts letter is not coming but your tax statement definitely will. You will be forced to accept, through an arduous and possibly indefinite process beginning in your early 20’s, that you’re actually quite….ordinary.

What do you do then, once you realize you are a Failed WunderkidTM? While there is quite a lot of literature on how to be successful, how to handle success, how to maintain success and take away (from) other people’s success, there is little on how to handle failure. So here is a 10 point guide to help you make that leap to mature adulthood before you drown in the deep abyss of lost Wunderkidness.

(No it won’t really help you…but it will give you some amount of solace for 10 minutes between typing your projects so read it anyway).

1. Acknowledge your fall from Wunderkidness. Acceptance is the first step to dealing with any kind of traumatic event. We’re more egoistic than we’d like to believe and realizing your limitations will hurt. This doesn’t mean you have to develop a perennially low self-esteem and tell yourself you’ll never achieve anything, but you need to stop being over-ambitious.This is easier said than done. The Secret and Om Shanti Om advise you to chase your dreams and not give up. However, for failed Wunderkids it is crucial to realize that-you are not special, at least not in the way you think you are. You’re not going to be the next Bill Gates. If you were you wouldn’t be reading this.

2. You don’t have to develop a perennially low self-esteem and tell yourself you’ll never achieve anything
You don’t have to develop a perennially low self-esteem and tell yourself you’ll never achieve anything. You don’t have to develop a perennially low self-esteem and tell yourself you’ll never achieve anything. You don’t have to develop a perennially low self-esteem and tell yourself you’ll never achieve anything….and repeat ad nauseam.You will be good at something-but maybe not the best. You will be acknowledged for your efforts, but you might not get the Nobel Prize. Setting reasonable goals is the best way to salvage your mental health, even if your fellow Wunderkids accuse you of ‘compromising’. One unreasonable goal you can set for yourself is to ignore them.

3. Most people cannot handle failure either because they think only hard work is sufficient or because they think only good luck or contacts or jugaad with minimal hard work is sufficient. Success is a combination of both, and not in the 99+1 or 50-50 proportion which people throw around like it’s some fixed mathematical value. More importantly, success, especially within the law school context, is not compliant with Article 14. It is arbitrary. You have as much chance of becoming the next Chief Justice as you do of being hit by a bus while crossing the road or getting good food at the mess. Every micro-decision you make up to that point will be relevant but try as you might you can’t analyse every variable or else you’ll go crazy. You need to learn how to decide where hard work is necessary and where it would be smarter to just take the crooked approach.

4. You need to learn how to decide. Wunderkids fail not because they couldn’t realize their potential but because they didn’t want to realize it. At some point you were too scared of the options so you just decided to go with the easiest one available or unnecessarily put yourself through hard rigours so that you would feel like you made the right choice. Like Dr. Jugs said in Dear Zindagi (This is not my SRK bias speaking), sometimes you make the hard choice even though you aren’t equipped for it simply because you’re trained to think that success requires making hard choices. Conversely, sometimes you pick the easy way out because you’re too lazy or too scaredy-cat to follow a path you know you’re absolutely perfect for. No Hagrid is going to come and tell you that you’re a wizard-you’re going to have to realize your inner magical potential all by yourself.

5. Learning how to decide requires you to recognize your limitations. This is not the same as No. 1 because No. 1 requires you to accept that you have limitations in the first place. Assess whether your perception of your talents is self-inflated or externally imposed by over-ambitious parents/over-enthusiastic friends. If you can see that certain skill sets aren’t working out for you, devote time to developing new ones. If you still want to stick to the same path you were following, you need to dedicate time to self-improvement. Again, if you were Mozart or Beethoven, you wouldn’t be reading this. Non-prodigies cannot afford to be complacent-you’ll have to take the effort to cultivate your skills, or give up and ‘opt for the easy way out’ at the risk of forever being that ‘X Didi/Bhaiyya who is the black sheep and who fell into the wrong path’ to your entire extended family.

6. This is slightly harder than the earlier 5 things, but you need to be told this again-You just ain’t that great. It’s not that you really aren’t that great, but for some people you will never match up. To use legalese, your worth in a relationship is always a subjective standard with respect to anyone, be it your parents, friends, lovers or professors, and never an objective measure of how good/smart/talented a person you really are. You cannot expect them to be ‘reasonable men’. It’s not really something that ‘gets easier to accept with time’ but you’ll have to learn how to deal with it if you want to recover from the failure of your Wunderkidness.

7. A Wunderkid’s biggest fear is that once they stop being a Wunderkid people will stop loving them. Hence there is the constant need to achieve that perfect CGPA or win Jessup or get a corp job or be waxed and have your eyebrows plucked and wear the latest fashions 24/7 and do other things that are irrelevant in the larger scheme. Unfortunately, there will be people who will lose interest in you if they see your Wunderkidness receding because even after several millennia we haven’t let go of our ape mentality and continue to stick to the fittest in the pack. Even worse, there is no guarantee that there will be that one magical person who will continue to love you no matter what, and you might just end up as a crazy cat lady/eccentric bachelor. So if you are a failed Wunderkid, you have to learn to love yourself for being one and stop relying upon the parameters which the world formerly pointed out as qualifying you for greatness. This is again not something that will necessarily develop over time and you might end up with an irretrievable dent on your self-esteem.

8. The One Magical PersonTMHe or she does exist for some people, but not necessarily with respect to you. You cannot expect one person to be your best friend, soulmate, harbringer of your deepest erotic fantasies, shopping partner, source of gossip, pseudo-parent etc. rolled into one. If you do have that person, congratulations, you are a lucky b**** who should not be reading this article, have been watching too many Karan Johar movies or are suffering from severe delusions.The converse of this thesis then, and the one advantage of acknowledging it-is that you don’t have to be the OMPTM to someone either. Wunderkids often feel this unreasonable burden to constantly emotionally satisfy the people around them, either to prove that they are the real All-RoundersTM or to justify why they’ve been bestowed with such great talents. As a Failed Wunderkid this burden actually increases because you feel the need to compensate in your personality what you’ve been losing out on professionally or academically. Part of the transition from a Wunderkid to a normal human being is that you don’t have to live up to other people’s expectations all the time.

9. People will stay with you depending upon what they are looking for at that stage of their life and you will do the same. It logically follows that when they stop looking for whatever it is that they were seeking from you, or when your interests diverge, or they simply get bored, they will no longer hang out with you. At that time it will seem like an unbearable heartbreak when actually it’s just a blow to your ego and your belief in your Wunderkidness. You will have to accept failures and path-divergence in your relationships with as much equanimity as you do in your professional career. This does not mean posting a constant barrage of ‘I’m such a nice guy, but still she won’t be my gurlfrnd’ memes on Facebook but having the maturity to accept when people move on to more interesting arenas in their life.The converse of this is that you also have the freedom to explore what you like and are not doomed to build your life around another person’s choices (So what if I’m not a professional wrestler, at least I avoided the *cough* dangal *cough* of a helicopter father trying to fill the need for a son and heir by stealing my feminity).

10. As much as the prospect of not being a Fortune 500 CEO who’s pals with the President of the U.S. and lives in a 5 bedroom penthouse may hang over your head, it’s actually okay to be a failure. It really is. It’s another thing that coming to terms with the fact that you might live a mediocre life, personally and professionally, will be an awful experience. Self-actualization and inner peace are lot harder than passing DPC or securing the prized internship. However once you realize you no longer have the burden of living up to other people’s expectations, life becomes a lot easier. You will learn how to love yourself, stop stress-eating, take pride in being as much of a horrible person to others as they are to you and ultimately end up alone and crazed in a flat-or maybe not the last two. Hey, it’s still better than running for the elections!

Published in Gyaan


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