A journalist reached out to me the other day. She is close to Vaani and me; and so she knows that we have been enduring our bankruptcy for 13 years now.
She asked me: “Dealing with a crisis for a prolonged period of time may have taught you invaluable lessons surely. If you are open to sharing AVIS, I am keen to understand if personal leadership in a crisis situation is any different from leading a team, an organization or a nation through a crisis?”
I liked that question. And this is what I told her.
Leadership is all about accepting your situation for what it is, the way it is, and doing what you need to do, to the best of your ability, in the given circumstances.
So, as we see it, leadership is leadership. It hardly matters what context you are having to lead in. Whether you are leading in a personal, professional, social, sports, political, national or global context, you are leading. Period. The act of leadership does not change even if the context is different.
For over a decade now, in the context of our own bankruptcy, Vaani and I have been leading through uncertainty. In this time, our leadership has been all about deploying the powers of Reflection, Resilience and Resourcefulness. Now, these are three dormant strengths that are inherent in all of us. They are key to not just surviving a crisis, but, as we have discovered, they help you thrive in one.
Reflection is the ability to pause and ask yourself deep, searching, questions: why am I here, what is my current reality and how can I possibly change it?
Resilience is your inner strength. It is the ability to withstand enormous pressure in a painful situation. To unlock your Resilience, you must ask yourself a simple question: what must I do to (and how can I) adapt to my current reality? Resilience, interestingly, is deployed the moment you ask this question and explore the myriad answers it throws up. Resilience, therefore, comes from the path of least resistance, it comes from total acceptance of your current reality.
Resourcefulness is all about making do with what you have. So, it answers another simple question: what is the best I can do in my given situation with whatever I have?
If you look closely, you will observe the beautiful interplay between these three qualities. Each one complements the other. And, important, they are already present in you. All you need to do is to summon them from within you and deploy them. When you do this, you are, miraculously, happy despite your circumstances! Truly, as we have discovered, it is Happiness that is the antidote to uncertainty and the catalyst to High-Performance, particularly in times of a crisis! This awakening in us has made our materially challenging and dark Life very meaningful; which is why Vaani and I are now the happynesswalas and believe our Life’s Purpose is “Inspiring ‘Happyness'”!
So, it doesn’t matter what context you are leading in. As long as you are accepting of your current reality and are deploying Reflection, Resilience and Resourcefulness in a crisis situation, you will always thrive in it. Surely, you may not be able to solve your problems overnight or, as is true in our case, you may not be able to solve them even over a prolonged span of time. Yet, you will be happy, you will be anchored and you will be in the game – no matter what you are going through.
And as long as you are in the game, and, as in cricket until the last ball is bowled, anything – actually everything – is possible!
Note: AVIS and Vaani are the happynesswalas. They believe their Life’s Purpose is Inspiring ‘Happyness’! They are going through a fascinating, Life-changing experience – a crippling bankruptcy!! If you would like to invite them to inspire your team(s) or explore other opportunities, please look up: www.avisviswanathan.in and www.avinitiatives.co.in.
Non-worrying delivers happiness!
“Is there a method or technique with which you can stop worries from arising in your mind,” asked a gentleman over a message to me on my App (“AVIS Viswanathan” – available for free download on Google Play and the App Store).
The simple answer is that you can’t stop worries from arising in your mind. You can only choose to be non-worrying.
Let me explain further what I have learnt about being non-worrying.
Non-worrying means that when a worry arises in your mind, you simply let it pass. Anything that you don’t attend to will not bother you.
Consider this: in some months of the year the population of flies in India usually multiplies – particularly in humid conditions in Chennai. Even the cleanest five-star properties in Chennai will not be spared by the flies in such times. So, if you walked into a swank coffee shop and found a couple of flies on the tables there, you will not make a hue and cry. You will simply ignore their presence thinking to yourself, “well, this is India, this is Chennai, this is common occurrence” and move on. Non-worrying means treating the worry that arises as you would treat a housefly in India. Accept that it exists, accept that you can’t do anything about it and move on.
A worry controls you only when you feed it with your attention. It controls you only when you allow it to control you. Just ignore it. Let it be. And you be too. When you make a worry powerless, it will simply recede – the same way it arose in the first place.
Of course, the human mind, like the human body, must be trained to practise non-worrying. And that requires 24 x 7, consistent, practice! When you master the art of non-worrying, you can only be happy!
Never allow yourself to think that you are worthless just because you have been rejected.
We met a gentleman the other day. A seasoned IT professional and a very sensitive human being. In his early 50s now, he has been asked to leave an organization that he had barely joined a few months ago. This was the third job that he was having to quit in the last three years. We were informally counseling him on how he could cope with this phase of his Life. Although his age and experience had imbued in him the maturity to know that such phases do happen to all of us in Life, he broke down a few times during his conversation with us. He confessed that he was deeply hurt by the manner in which some people were treating him. He was suddenly finding that all his experience and professional abilities were being viewed warily. He had been repeatedly rejected by his last three bosses and employers. All this was hurting him and he was finding it difficult to hold himself together.
I can relate to and empathize with this person’s situation. I too have struggled with being rejected. It really, really hurts; especially when you have put in your best, when you are being pushed to a corner and are told – without logic or reason – that you are not good enough. But over the years, through severaI experiences, I have learnt to deal with the grief that follows rejection. I have realized that grief is a very self-serving emotion. All it does is that it makes you depressive. Yes, it is natural that when you are rejected by someone, you will feel sad. And depressive. But wallowing in that depression is of no use. It will pin you down. It is like being locked up in a coffin that’s dumped into the sea. Now, you – and I – are no Houdini to stage a great escape. So we sulk, pine and suffer.
There’s a way to deal with rejection though. That way is to never take the act of rejection or the person rejecting you personally. Let’s understand, accept and appreciate that everyone is entitled to their opinion, their choices and their decisions. If someone exercises their prerogative with reference to you, they have only done what they are entitled to. Their choice need not necessarily be viewed as a judgment of your ability or character. Well, it may be possible that you can learn from the experience of being rejected and you may want to improve yourself. But in any case, don’t let the experience of getting rejected get to you. It is just another situation in Life where you have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate strength of spirit and character. Don’t get obsessed with rejection and use it as a benchmark to measure yourself. What can help you is your moving on and trying again. Chances are you may get rejected again. Then you move on again and try one more time.
All our lives have fragmented phases when things don’t go according to our plans. Unfortunately, there’s no Life Defragmenter that you can run to fix such phases. You have to endure such phases patiently. Feeling frustrated, humiliated and sorry is of no use. Instead remember that what you are going through, whatever is happening to you, is no reflection of who you are or of your ability. With time, every phase passes, everything changes and nothing lasts – not even tough times!
Feeling grateful for what you have helps you to bounce back from no-go situations!
People have often asked me if there have been times when I have felt like I can’t go on anymore; when I have felt beaten and deflated. Of course, I have. I am no less human. I live in the same world as everyone else and I have similar issues that many are grappling with.
Just two days ago, looking at our Life’s design – how every department is ravaged – I was recollecting an old Tamizh song to Vaani: Sothanai Mel Sothanai, Podhum Ada Saami. It is from the 1974 super-hit film Thanga Padhakam that stars Sivaji Ganesan (P.Madhavan, M.S.Viswanathan, Kannadasan, T.M.Soundararajan). The song is a cry in despair of a heart-broken man, an appeal to a Higher Energy, saying, “Test after test, challenge after challenge, oh, can’t take it any more…!” Each line of the lyrics by Kannadasan carries so much depth and meaning – anyone who is clueless about what lies next and feels numbed by an inscrutable Life challenge can relate to every word.
So, when I recollected a memory associated with the song to Vaani, I too was feeling the way the lyrics describe Life to be. (Read more of our story here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). I had heard of this song first as an 7-year-old when my father’s oldest brother passed away suddenly. We were living in Delhi back then. When we arrived in Madras and visited our grieving grandparents and the rest of the family at their home in George Town’s Rasappa Chetty Street, I heard someone mention to my parents that my uncle had last heard this song on the radio late in the evening and told his wife that he could relate to it totally. If my memory serves me right, I think he died in his sleep. It wasn’t until a few years later that I watched the movie itself on TV and then for several decades I never thought about the song. Until, of course, two days ago.
I am not even trying to suggest any parallels here! I am just confessing that we are all vulnerable in the wake of Life’s onslaughts. I have read an interview of Amitabh Bachchan, which he gave sometime in 1998 or 1999, when he was in the throes of ABCL’s bankruptcy, where he recounts telling his God, his version of the Higher Energy that we all look up to, this: “Bahut Ho Gaya, Ab Bas!” It means, “I have had enough, please, please spare me…” So, each of us is vulnerable in our own unique ways. We cannot be immune from fear, grief, insecurity or worry. No one is.
But there’s something each of us can do when we are plagued by debilitating emotions. You can zoom out and look at your own Life as a witness – dispassionately. The moment you do that, self-pity, self-doubt, fear, anxiety, all these wasteful emotions will dissolve. I did just that, yet again, a couple of days ago. When I recounted this song, and I was beginning to tell Vaani that it’s been so, so many years since our crisis broke, I realized that I still had her by my side. And she still had me. And together there’s a lot more we can do. I was immediately soaked in immense gratitude. So, let us keep ploughing on, one day at a time, was what I told myself. That’s how I bounced back. I told her: “Varattum, Pathukalam!” It means: “Let it come, whatever it is, we’ll face it!”
What I have learnt from dealing with cluelessness in an inscrutable situation is that you must never hide from, or fight shy of, your vulnerability. Know that, not just you, all forms of creation are vulnerable. Know also that there is a Higher Energy that’s more intelligent and more compassionate than us humans!! So when you recognize that there are some problems that you cannot solve, just trust the process of Life and let go! This means that you must accept your situation, accept your vulnerability and only focus on whatever you can do. Feel the way you do, but don’t cling on to that feeling. If you feel you can’t go on, explore that feeling. Ask yourself, isn’t that just a way of pitying yourself; does it serve any purpose? When you see how futile your self-pity is, and all the negativity is, zoom out. Look at your Life like a third party, like a witness. And you will always find, no matter what the context is, that there’s so much still to be grateful for, so much to celebrate. The moment gratitude comes in, it drowns self-pity, self-doubt and all the negativity!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
Everything, and everyone, has a place in your Life’s script!
A friend messaged me saying he felt he could have lived his Life differently. He said, looking back, he had lost over 20 years of his active Life to “unintelligent, stress-laded, worry-ridden” living. How do you forgive yourself for having squandered a large part of your Life, he asked me.
I in turn asked him: “How would you say sorry to another person if you wanted them to forgive you for what you have done to them?”
He replied: “I would say to them that I am really, really, sorry.”
So, I told him: “Look at yourself in the mirror and say that you are really, really, sorry! Simple.”
Indeed. There is no other way. You can’t go back and edit your Life. Nobody can. So, anger, grief or guilt over what you did or what has happened to you are of no use. But know that nothing happens in your Life without a reason. My friend may think he squandered his Life. You may think so of your Life too. But the truth is that everything has been perfectly arranged in your Life’s design for you to arrive at the point at which you are at this moment. You miss the magic of this beautiful design because you don’t see the value of what Life has taught you, of how each person who has touched your Life has made you better, stronger, wiser, of how your Life has happened not because of you, but often inspite you!
Here’s a little exercise you may want to do. Take out an hour today. Sit back and think about your Life. Can’t you connect the dots, the events, the people, the milestones, backwards in your Life today? Could you have connected them when an event was happening in your Life? Can the Scene 32 of your Life’s script ever have been possible without your Scene 12? Didn’t person X, who you disliked so much, teach you the art of living, even as person C, who you met so very briefly teach you how to give selflessly? Doesn’t, when you look back, everything in your Life seem so well ordained, so well fitted in its own place – like a beautiful jigsaw puzzle? This is why I truly believe that the Masterplan has no flaws!
So, reflect on the past, only to learn from it. The past always teaches you – something about you and about Life! The past can also hold you hostage, if you get trapped in asking why, why me and feeling angry or guilty over what happened. It is entirely up to you whether you want your past be your teacher or your captor!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
Be ready and willing to go through any situation, experience everything, in Life!
“How do you console yourself when you don’t get what you want; when your Life doesn’t go the way you planned it?” This question came to me yesterday from a lady I met at the Help Yourself to Happiness Talk I delivered at a Rotary Club.
The answer I gave the lady is that you must not try to console yourself. Consolation has an air of mourning, of grief, inherent to it – that you tried for something, you did not get it, so it is ‘okay’! There is no ‘okay’ status that works in Life. The best state to be in is to be unmoved. There is no need to either exult in Life nor is there a need to brood or mourn. You must taste, you must experience, everything in Life – success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow – and eventually you will realize that they are all imposters. You will discover that neither the state when you are exulting nor the one when you are brooding is permanent. So, don’t credit yourself for creating contexts where you exult at your achievements and don’t discredit yourself just because the context is one where grief is gnawing at you, over what you lost or what you didn’t get. Just learn to be unmoved. If you can be unmoved, then everything, every event, calls for a celebration! Then every moment is a celebration!
The lady urged me to explain my point with an example. I shared this story from my Life that I had also recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve.
I took my first flight in my Life at the age of 10, in 1977, from New Delhi to Madras. I loved the experience. And resolved that I would only fly when I grew up; also I because I find train journeys very boring, very uninspiring. To date, I prefer a flight over a train! My second flight was the one I took at the age of 23, in 1990, from Madras to Bangalore. I was flying on work for India Today magazine and was on an assignment to report on Veerappan, the dreaded sandalwood smuggler. It was a big moment for a young, ambitious lad – flying on company expense. I saved the Indian Airlines (now called Air India) boarding passes of both my onward and return journeys from that trip. I reckoned that when I became ‘very famous, very rich, very successful’ I would display these boarding passing proudly in my office or home, as a trophy of where my ‘high Life’ had truly begun. Soon, I was traveling more and most of my trips were by flight too. And I started collecting my boarding passes. I extended my idea of the saved boarding passes to reflect the number of air miles I had logged in all my active Life. For the longest time, I had this vision of me sitting in my private study and bar, smoking a cigar, and having an entire wall done up with boarding passes from all my flights in my Life. Soon the collection grew. I now have a whole mound of boarding passes saved up – I don’t really think I have lost a boarding pass or missed saving one in my Life. At one time I was taking even three or four flights a week, and traveling 21 days each month. So the boarding pass collection really swelled in good time. Within India I was loyal to Jet Airways and was their Platinum Card holder for several years – in all those years, our family of four, always took vacations on free tickets purchased with my miles! My boarding passes collection reflected the Life I led – busy and flying around! For someone who came from a middle-class background, this was exciting stuff, a sign that you had arrived, in style!
And then, as I recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve, 2016 has turned out to be the year of no flights for me. No flights taken in an entire year. Even in the past decade, owing to our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) my flying has shrunk considerably. But I never bargained for a flightless year, that too in what should have been the 28th year of an active, professional Life!
So, that’s my example, a story from my Life, I told the lady, who asked me to explain my point about being unmoved. Surely, I am not citing that I have traveled more than anyone else in the world. In fact, my story showcases how such a personal collection of boarding passes appears so vain now in the wake of Life’s larger design and Purpose. I am not even suggesting that I will not fly again or that I will not have that wall in my private study and bar. All I am saying is that I am no longer impacted by whether I am flying or not. It has ceased to mean anything beyond a data point to me. In the last quarter of a century, I flew a lot, then I flew less and last year, I did not fly at all! Simple!
The essence of intelligent living is that you must experience everything in Life. You must be ready and willing to go through any situation. Don’t ever expect Life to only be a particular way. Recognize that what goes up comes down. And what goes around comes around. Life is always flowing and you must learn to go with Life’s flow. This is the way to be unmoved, to celebrate Life’s every moment, no matter what you are faced with or are going through! This is how I celebrated my flightless year – 2016!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries
In a crisis, take it one moment, one step, at a time!
Yesterday, I delivered my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk at a large IT company where I was invited as an Author to speak to about 200 managers. A member of the audience wanted to know what methods we are employing to go through our enduring crisis.
Vaani and I looked at each other and smiled at hearing that question. People often want to know if there are methods and mantras to live Life. In fact, a publisher friend who went through the first draft of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal told us that it would flop if it did not have a list of To-Dos at the end of every chapter. We ignored that advice, with due respect to our friend, because we have learnt from our experience that there are no methods to live Life. Each one of us has to live through our stories in our own unique ways. Every moment has to experienced fully, unconditionally, no matter what the circumstances are. This is the only way you can be free from suffering even when you are in the throes of pain.
However, a deeper awareness of Life immensely helps in going through it. Just know that, no matter how ethical or compassionate you are, no matter how hard you pray, no matter how much talent or wealth you possess, there will be times when Life will be very, very challenging. You will feel defeated and deflated in such situations. But don’t despair. Because the entire essence of Life is to face whatever comes your way. Think about this – did Life promise you a turbulence-free ride at any time? It is your conditioning that makes you want only what you want. You want comfort, care, compassion, love, good health, money and, perhaps, an easy Life. But there are no guarantees that Life’s going to grant you all that you want. So, often times, you will have to encounter neglect, hatred, misunderstanding, cashlessness, worklessness, disease and a very, very tough Life – a Life that you don’t want! You will believe that it’s impossible to live such a Life. You would want a way to end all your suffering. And the way to do that is not to give up on Life, but to give in to it, to accept the way your Life is, face it and live in the moment.
So, especially in a crisis, you take one moment, one step, at a time. Life’s pretty much like the headlights of your vehicle. You know where you want your vehicle to go. You know the destination. But in the darkness of the night, the headlight can’t get you to see the destination. Yet it can light up the distance, a few feet at a time, and as you make progress you get to see what lies ahead. This goes on, until of course, it is daylight or you reach the destination you were driving toward. Life works exactly the same way. The night, the crisis, is not going away immediately. A new dawn awaits you, but it is never dawn until daylight arrives. So, in the darkness of the night, follow the headlight principle. Don’t expect the entire road to be lit up. Be content with being able to see just a few feet at a time. In Life, therefore, don’t expect clarity and answers to what lies a week, a month, a year down the road, or in the distant future. Just know that you will survive, that you will get all that you need, that you will be cared and provided for. Know that you will ultimately prevail.
I am reminded of a lesson that my guruswami (the one who leads a group of pilgrims) shared with me on my first pilgrimage to Sabari Malai (the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Kerala) years ago. He said that the climb was going to be very grueling – it’s a distance of 5 kms up very steep (at one point up an almost 75-degree incline) hills, to be covered by foot. We would all suffer, he said, if we kept thinking of when the climb would end. “Instead keep your thoughts on the destination, with wanting to see the Lord. Feel the air in your lungs. Enjoy the scenery. Don’t think about the climb and you will be able to make it with great ease,” he advised.
In any challenging context in Life, all your suffering comes when you think of what you are enduring and wish that you didn’t have to go through what you are going through. Instead experience whatever is. Feel the pain, the sorrow, the uncertainty, the fear, the anxiety – feel everything without wishing it away. Through this continuous feeling, your ability to withstand anything, and endure, will be greatly enhanced. Your problems may not go away. But you will be able to deal with them better.
Life, I have understood, is just a string of experiences, from birth to death. As long as you do not impose conditions on what you are experiencing, at any given moment, no matter what it is, you can always face it.
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
When you don’t like what is being done to you, turn around and say NO!
A conversation we had yesterday with a young lady led to a question: “Why do some people hurt, harass and victimize others?” And to another, more important, one: “Why do the victims often suffer in silence?”
Vaani and I have experience of dealing with a long period of emotional strife with my own mother. So we know how it feels to be the victim.
We know of a lady, our age, who is married into a large, well-known and revered, business family in Chennai. Her husband abused her physically for 25+ years. It wasn’t until her son, who went to school with our son Aashirwad, stood up for her that the lady even realized she could say no, that she could walk out, that she could stop being the victim. Until then she suffered silently.
I have also been harassed and bullied at work for over 18 months by my former employer, a billionaire dealmaker. I had met him as a journalist when I was working for Business Today magazine. And I had written about his then-proposed foray into the telecom sector. I later joined him, on his invitation, as his traveling Executive Assistant and was based out of Singapore in the mid-1990s; I was part of his crack team that introduced cellular telephony into India. Over time, I noticed that there was a pattern to the way he was treating me. He was harassing me. His style of harassment was personal and abusive at one level and physically exhausting at another. He would call me names and would keep me unsettled for 20 hours a day, constantly ensuring that I was either traveling across continents, or running between the floors in hotels we stayed in doing petty errands for him. I was always backlogged on my Things To Do and therefore I was stressed out at all times of the day. Further he would not allow me to travel back to India to meet my family on short vacations (even at my expense) for birthdays or for a wedding anniversary. One day I asked him why was he doing what he was doing to me. He replied saying he was avenging an article, which critically examined his chequered past a businessman, I wrote about him when I was working with Business Today magazine. He said he employed me so that he could make me his ‘white-collared slave’. I resolved to quit; but I decided I would quit only when I had become totally indispensable to him. So I worked hard to achieve that goal of mine in six months and I left him when everything in his multi-million dollar business empire and Life depended on one man – AVIS!
I learnt a lot about being victim, closure and moving on from that experience. As I lay in bed last night, preparing to sleep, I thought about the conversation over coffee, and the two questions that came up – “Why do people hurt others and why do victims suffer in silence?” – in the backdrop of my own learnings.
First, I believe people who are causing pain – physical, emotional, whatever – to others are actually suffering themselves. Their behavior mirrors what they are going through within themselves. My mother browbeat us perhaps because that is what she had experienced – as a child, as a daughter-in-law and maybe emotional strife is all what she had seen. My former employer harassed me because maybe he was intrinsically insecure. Despite all his wealth, he was always chasing his tail making more money and had no family Life for himself, and all his time he had spent check-mating people to make business deals; so he was continuously wary of being check-mated himself! I am not trying to justify people’s behaviors here. I am just saying that this is one possibility why people bizarrely end up hurting others.
Now, we end up suffering as victims when people harass us because we are so shocked and numbed by their behavior when it all begins. And by the time we realize that we are being exploited, we have become a victim – cowering in fear and wallowing in self-pity. The only way to stop being a victim in any situation is to say no. When you feel uncomfortable doing something or in the presence of someone or when something is done to you, just say no. Each of us has the option to say NO – all the time! And only when we utilize that option, we stop being the victim. When you stop being the victim, even if the pain endures, even when the perpetrator continues to try to harm you, you don’t suffer. And in most cases, when you turn around and face your perpetrator, or what you fear, in the eye, the victimization stops.
It is only when you are facing Life and saying no to what you don’t like done to you that you become stronger. And Life is all about getting stronger at dealing with situations, becoming courageous by looking what you fear in the eye.
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!