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!
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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!
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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!
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