Nature vs Nurture

Urvashi H.V.
7 min readNov 5, 2023

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Photo by Google DeepMind from Pexels

As a child I considered myself something of a minor polymath. There was nothing I that tried that I couldn’t really do. Nothing felt difficult or challenging . I never felt dumb, I never had to really work hard or stay consistently focused in order to get good at something. And it ruined me.

I overconfidently decided to go to the most challenging college I got into. Georgia Tech. Known for its extremely rigorous coursework and boasting child prodigies, Rhodes Scholars, and cutting edge researchers. My major was Computer Science. Why? Because it was the easiest class for me in school. I had no doubt in my mind that I would be just fine. Among my own people, if you will. LOL NO. That is not what happened.

Aside from the expected challenges of adjusting to living alone, living in a different country, a new education system, etc. the real challenge was that my lifetime of effortless learning was falling apart. For the first time in my life I was FAILING classes, or just passing, bombing exams, and crying to professors for extra credit options. For the first time in my life I had to put in effort, I had to try more than once, I had to ask for help. The conclusion my eighteen year old self drew from this was “I’m not good at this”.

To be honest, I only managed to graduate because American undergraduate degrees are 50% core classes and 50% other stuff. Thank goodness for the other stuff. It was my humanities, social sciences, and elective classes that had nothing to do with my major that got me through and padded up my GPA. So the other conclusion I drew was “Maybe I’m good at that. Maybe I chose the wrong major.”

After graduating and getting a job I felt a little better. Real life was actually easier than college. Maybe I wasn’t as dumb as I thought I was. But what if I had chosen a different degree? Would I have been a lot better at my work rather than being not-that-dumb? Would my life have been different?

Post college I spent most of my time outside of work reading about culture, society, and women’s rights. Every now and then I would scroll through the course lists of Liberal Arts colleges and salivate at Gender Studies degrees, Sociology and Anthropology courses and wonder if I might have been better off there?

You see, the Indian education system has its own internal (dare I say) “caste system”. The “smartest” study sciences and engineering. The next step “down” is studying finance and commerce. The “bottom” rung is Arts i.e. Social Sciences and Humanities. We were divided into sections in school for 11th and 12th standards accordingly.

A few years after college I saw the utter stupidity of this system. Some of the Science girls** had gone into Economics. The Arts girls were getting research papers published and starting businesses. The Commerce girls were lawyers. A ton of the smartest Science girls disappeared into jobs and family life. The “smartest” girls weren’t “winning”, or they were shining in completely unrelated fields. The girls in the “bottom” rung were making headlines. Nothing made sense. The system was broken.

**I was in an all girls school from 5th — 12th standard

I was a “smart” girl in school so science was the obvious next step. What if I had broken the rules and studied Arts? I could have made a career out of everything I loved — Literature, Society, Culture. I had to give it a shot. I could learn on my own. I had to try a life where I played to my strengths and interests. At age 27 I quit the tech world.

For six years I worked in the performing arts. Script readings were followed by discussions of culture and society, about subverting the status quo, about political commentary. I was out of my depth but I was so so happy. I soaked in every conversation, every play, every reference. I didn’t know how starved I had been for this until I tasted it. I had found my life’s calling. I wanted to be more than an actor. I got a job in a theatre. I wrote a few monologues to perform. I worked with Directors who pushed my understanding of intelligence. It was so much more than being good at math. I was in heaven.

During the pandemic I was in year 4 of my new life and I wanted to start creating my own art. I took a playwriting class, a screen writing class, got myself dialogue credits in an independent feature film that I also acted in. I feverishly documented ideas for plays, for books, for essays. I wanted to go beyond Instagram captions and blog posts and be a “real” writer. I wrote an opinion piece here and there for small online magazines, gave interviews, had my name quoted in culture pieces, but I wasn’t yet a “real” writer.

Over the next few years I built a cemetery of ideas in my Google Drive. Half thought out loglines and synopses. Pages of dialogue that didn’t fit into anything else. I just couldn’t get past those few monologues I had written. My lack of training in this field was showing. With the encouragement of a friend I applied to a Masters in Fine Arts Program in Performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and I got in to do a Post Baccalaureate Certificate after which I would be eligible to apply for the Masters Program. I was relieved to have the option.

In year six of my new life I was becoming frustrated with working as an actor. More experience didn’t seem to add up to more income. I was still bargaining for pennies and dimes. The real money was in the ideation, the technical work, the masters degree was seeming like a more and more obvious next step. Until a few things happened in quick succession:

  1. I found out that I had been grossly underpaid on a very large project
  2. My best friend paid for us to holiday in one of the most expensive resorts by the beach. The number on the final bill was dizzying to me.
  3. I met my college friends at a wedding and sat quietly during conversations of buying homes, caring for aging parents, stock market ups and downs, and the latest features of the latest Tesla.
  4. An actor friend who had studied acting, who worked obsessively on his craft, was telling me about his upcoming projects with the biggest filmmakers in Bollywood
  5. Some other Film Industry acquaintances were announcing directorial debuts and screenwriting credits

One night in early 2023, a few months before entering year seven of my new life, I broke. I felt exactly how I felt ten years ago after college. I wasn’t good at this. I had made the wrong choice. I had been mistaken to think that my interests were my strengths. Being interested in something and being good at it were completely different things. Being good at something and being good at the business of it were also different things. A masters degree now couldn’t fix all that, and if it could it would take another decade or so for it to show results.

I quit the Art world. I retreated to the safety of what I had been trained in, what I knew at a deeply fundamental level, so deeply fundamental that I didn’t know how I knew it, it all just made sense to me. I felt like that school kid again, who could just make sense of things and not know how, who could learn things with very little effort. Today, almost six months in to my new/old life I know that I am playing to my strengths again. Things are easy. The pay is excellent. The stability is calming. The luxury is delicious.

With my new/old life there is clarity in my work. Either it works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, you fix it. Now you have version 1. Then you make it better by adding another piece to it. You work on the new piece until it works. You add it to version 1. You make sure they work together. Now you have version 2. The creativity is in how you make things work. The business of it is in how you decide what version 1 is and what version 2 should be. It all makes sense to me.

With my old/new life there was no such thing. I could write a draft, but where does version 1 end? How could I build version 2 without knowing if version 1 worked? Hows would it play into the business of art? Or business be damned and it gets done just for the art? There were too many open questions. Too much subjectivity. It overwhelmed me. I ended up with 15 different not-yet-version-1s without ever getting to a version 2.

And so the same question from ten years ago creeps back in. “Where would I have been if I had taken that other road all those years ago?” Or rather, a newer question emerges. “Is it nature or nurture?”. Am I just a “naturally left brained” person whose core competencies are in logic? Or do I just not have the right training, guidelines and frameworks? What if my brain had been set up differently to begin with? What if I had pursued that degree? Would it have given me different skills or would it have pushed me further and faster back into my world of logic? Is it possible to re-arrange nature with nurture? Or does nurture itself establish nature?

I’ll never know, because open ended questions with subjective answers overwhelm me..

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Urvashi H.V.

Tech Marketer, Mental Health Advocate, Body Acceptance Struggler