Monday, November 9, 2015

Bouncing Back From Failure

Failures are a normal event in most people’s lives, however there are some who seem to get more than their fair share. Each time they ask themselves “why me”? Each time their self confidence takes a battering. Each time the sense of helplessness becomes stronger, and each time it becomes more and more difficult to bounce back. But there are ways to recover even if you have had a series of failures and think you have no energy left to fight back.
Step 1 - Get it out of your system
Keeping it bottled up inside does not help. You end up feeling miserable and making everyone around you miserable as well. Many people especially men are conditioned to maintain a ‘stiff upper lip’ no matter what, but not only does it affect your emotional state your health also takes a big hit. You are of no use to anyone including yourself if your are sick or worse – dead! Do whatever you have to in order to get it out of your system. If you want to cry - do it, if you want to scream – then scream, if you want to put your feelings down on paper – then start writing. Most people secretly blame others for their failures, their friends or family, their colleagues, their stock broker etc. Blame everyone you think is even remotely associated with your failure. But this should be a completely private exercise, it does not mean that you actually seek out everyone and tell them how you think they have contributed to your misery. This may seem a very negative thing to do but believe me it works as it helps you to bring to surface any residual resentment, so that nothing is left festering inside you anymore. One may say that this exercise will make them feel worse, yes it will but you have to hit rock bottom before you can bounce back.
Step 2 – Acceptance
Once you have everything out of your system, then you can take the next step. Realize that you are powerless to travel back in time and change your life. What has happened is in the past, dwelling on it will not change the present outcome. Whoever or whatever was responsible cannot change your present. Your “what if” thinking is not going to have any bearing on a past event – What if you had not listened to x,y,z and invested your money? What if you had taken the other job offer? What if … what if…. Pointless and a total waste of time, you past is permanently part of your history. But your future starts in this moment right now. The choice is yours whether you want to keep thinking of all that happened and ensure that it happens in your future as well or do you say ‘enough’ and put it behind you once and for all.
Step 3 – Get over it
There are millions who are in the same situation as you and there are several millions in worse situations. Big deal! Nobody can make the right choice each time. Everyone ends up at the wrong time at the wrong place at some point in their lives, success depends upon what you do after a choice that didn’t go according to plan. The world is not conspiring against you. None of us is that important! Be thankful that you survived a really bad patch in your life. The act of being thankful is important and extremely powerful. We have grown up hearing that ‘Allah always knows what is best for us’. In fact many religions subscribe to this theory, and when a statement is echoed over millennia by completely opposing religions, then it can be considered as a “universal truth’. So understand the wisdom of this truth and internalize it. Our problem seems to be that we become fanatical about the rituals of the religions we follow and use its wisdom only as quotations which we spout in public. If God does know what’s best for us then He must have purposely put us through this situation to teach us something. What were your most important take-aways from this period of your life.? Did you find out who your true friends were and who were not?
Step 4 – Take responsibility
If you have realized that this failure was no more than a life lesson, then its time to understand what it was trying to teach you. You put the blame on everyone else but what about yourself? What did you do to attract this situation? This is not about beating yourself up and telling yourself that you are a loser. This is about taking stock of your own areas of improvement. Are there any attitudes or beliefs you are holding on to which seem to be at play here e.g. a refusal means that they don’t like you? Do you feel that you were lacking in some key skills which led to this failure e.g planning, budgeting or getting work done from people? Are there certain habits which contributed to this problem e.g. procrastination? By doing this you will be taking a positive step for your future as well as realize that putting the blame on others was somewhat unfair.
Step 5 – Take action
Make a list of lessons learnt and identify what you need to do differently next time. By taking action in the present you change your future. Start working on your areas of improvement. Get ready for the next opportunity and have belief that it will come. The outcome of your future opportunity will change because you yourself have changed, if not history will keep repeating itself.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Courage - the basic ingredient

I have always wondered what is that single most important thing that parents need to teach their children? Seems like a pointless question for someone like me to ponder over considering that I don’t have any myself, but that’s me, always pointlessly pondering over the pointless. One does that when one has all the time in the world and nothing really important to think about.

Like most people I started with a list of attributes that any parent should inculcate in their child. The ability to differentiate between right and wrong was at the top of this list. Obviously if parents don’t teach this to their children, who else will? And where will civilization be without this basic human quality? Confidence was the next item on my list. When parents encourage and appreciate their children even after a failure, children learn to believe in their abilities - such an important trait during their educational years and later and their adult life. Curiosity and asking questions was also very important. If parents try and answer their children rather than shutting them up, the children grow up with a learning mind-set. As they grow-up their curiosity leads them to ever expanding horizons and growth. Of course there were other characteristics as well such as, compassion, faith, responsibility etc.

 But something was missing. I could not put my finger at it but felt that some underlying value was missing, something which was so important that it acted as the foundation on which all other values stood firm. You see experience has taught me that most parents do ensure that their children learn to differentiate between right and wrong but most adults seem to forget that basic lesson. It is not that as adults we become evil or all tread the wrong path, but most of us learn to ignore the wrong around us, hence encouraging it to grow. In our own lives we zig zag between right and wrong telling ourselves that this is being practical in today’s world.

Our confidence also seems to waver depending upon who we are with. With equals and people less powerful than us we are like strutting peacocks ready to display our colours to the max, but when we are with those who are more privileged or powerful we tend to fold into ourselves.

Curiosity and willingness to ask questions also seems to diminish with age.  Let me correct myself, the willingness to ask stimulating questions goes down, our need to know the intimate details of other people’s lives on the other hand goes up exponentially.   

So what is the magic ingredient that acts as a long term stabilizer which preserves all the other values? I came up with courage. The etymology of the word courage is the old French word corage meaning the heart or innermost feelings. Don’t confuse courage with heroism. While heroism requires courage, courage need not always be translated into heroic deeds. 

Knowing right from wrong is one thing, but it requires courage to stand up for what is right and an even greater amount of courage to be on the right side ourselves and listen to that inner voice which constantly guides us. 

Confidence too requires courage – the courage to brace ourselves, steel our nerves and hold our ground in the presence of others. We know our abilities but it requires courage to keep believing in them when others don’t, that is what confidence really is. One does not have to be cocky to be confident, one can be very unassuming and yet confident. One of the definitions of confidence is ‘assured expectation’ and that assurance requires courage to first know your capabilities, admit what you cannot do and have belief in your abilities to deliver what you can do.

To ask questions is to invite exploration and the trepid do not make good explorers. When you start asking difficult questions you usually end up with unsettling answers. The truth is not always what is familiar and accepting that is not easy. Even more difficult is to adopt your newly discovered truths into your life and change your hitherto familiar life map. So most people give up this quest the moment they hit the boundaries of uncharted territories. Such a shame, because at that moment they stop living and start merely to exist, inside they die early on although physically they may inhabit this planet for another half a century.

 Life has ups and downs and problems are the norm rather than the exception. We each have our share of challenges but to overcome these tribulations requires courage. Living life on your own terms requires courage. To love requires courage. To grow requires courage. To fully explore that adventure that is life requires courage. Courage then is the one thing that parents must teach their children, because this the basic ingredient which makes everything else possible.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

It's Complicated

If God intended our lives to be simple He would have made us earthworms. But instead He chose to make us his supreme creatures. We are by design complex so how can we expect our lives to be uncomplicated? It would be like buying a brand new refrigerator and using it as cupboard! The utility of everything is hidden in its design. There is no waste in God’s design, nothing surplus is added simply because He had the choice to do so. It upsets me so much when people around me pray and expect their lives to be simple and uncomplicated – we are asking God to ‘waste’ His resource, which of course He doesn’t. And that is the source of our unhappiness.

First I think we need to differentiate between lifestyle and life. Lifestyle is the paraphernalia we gather around ourselves to make life materially comfortable and life is the experiences we have as we move on our path from birth to death. Lifestyles should be simple, that is what religions have been telling us all along, but don’t confuse lifestyle with life itself. Our trials, tribulations, gains and losses are all part of the educational syllabus set for us so that we can grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is only by going through our worst phases that our best emerges.

There is an inherent thirst in all of us to search for the meaning of life and most do so by searching it externally and through religious texts. But the meaning of each individual’s life is different and it can only be found in analyzing our own life and trying to understand the twists and turns of our own particular path. Nobody else can do that for us because only we know what we went through.

I never write about anything unless I have experienced it myself, only then do I feel I have the right to try and influence someone else – to do otherwise would be hypocrisy, which I abhor. My life was a true fairy tale. An only child of an only child, I was the centre of the universe for not only my parents but the entire extended family. The magic continued as I grew up, I travelled the world and had experiences most people just dream about. And then it all changed. My mother was diagnosed with dementia and I had to curb all my travels and move my office to my house. The bills kept piling up and my energy kept sapping – care giving for a dementia patient drains us emotionally and physically. Like most people I started thinking that life as I knew it was over. The fairy tale was over and the harsh reality was the nightmare I had woken into. My self-defeating thinking kept growing and I started looking outwards to find the answer to ‘why’? Like most people I started thinking this was the result of something I did wrong. This was retribution for my sins. But I was wrong.

This dark period was not a punishment at all, but  proof that God was really taking a bit of extra interest in my growth. I realized in this phase that I had nerves of steel, even when the mountain of problems grew to a seemingly insurmountable height, I treaded on always knowing that this had to end sometime. I realized that my joy centre was inside me, I did not need people to make me happy instead I could always find reasons to smile within myself.  Many of my friends thought I had become a recluse, but I had found my company in the form of books and writing became my chief form of expression. If I was sailing through life I wouldn’t have discovered the cathartic joy of writing. This alone time gave me plenty of time to reflect and get ‘intuition’ i.e. going inwards for tuition, and I am thankful for this period of my life. Hopping from one flight to another as was my lifestyle a few years ago, I wouldn’t have found myself.

I realized that my life was ready for a leap.  At the moment I have made my mother the only priority of my life, but this phase sadly will end soon, what then? Does my work really give me so much joy that it can fill the void that will be created? The answer was No. During this phase one sentence kept popping up in my mind “connect the dots…” and I began to see connections between seemingly unrelated philosophies, mythologies and events from ancient history. I began to understand that my purpose, my particular meaning of life lay in this phrase. This was what life was training me for, this is why I was forced to go through this period. What I did not really know at that time was the wherewithal  of translating this intangible concept into my physical reality. One day out- of- the- blue that idea came to me that I can’t really go further in my ‘connecting the dots’ till I have authentic knowledge.  And for that I need to get a formal education in history and work to get my PhD in ancient history. The very idea lifted my mood, it made me excited and I knew this was the course I was meant to take. I knew that when it’s time for my mother to make her transition from the physical world this pursuit will fill the void. What the universe requires from me ultimately I don’t know yet, but I am sure that the next stage will also become clear when the time comes.

Each one of us has a destiny but it is up to us to uncover it. If we can’t read the clues and pray for life to be simple we fail to uncover it and go unfulfilled from this world. Not all of us are born to be great philanthropists or highly successful business tycoons, but we are all certainly all born for a reason, a unique destiny which only we can manifest. There is no honour in living like earth worms! The past must be reflected upon to understand the future but wanting the past to return is our biggest source of unhappiness. The job of our past is to shape our future not be our future!