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.
Beware: “Busyness” is a silent predator. It creeps up unnoticed and ends up enslaving you!
Earlier this month I curated and anchored a very powerful Conversation in our #UncommonLeader Series, hosted by the Madras Management Association. My guest in this Edition was K P Krishnan (KP), co-Founder of Klachak.com and Captr.in, two ventures that are democratizing the visual content creation and management space.
I have known KP for over two decades now.
He started off as a factory hand in his own father’s factory and never let anyone know he was the owner’s son. Then, when someone pointed out that he can never escape the fact of who he really was, he quit. After working briefly as an assistant to an ad filmmaker, and after stints at an internet café and a digital marketing firm, he went overseas. He had a glorious 10-year stint in international sales and marketing that took him to over 40 countries.
In 2011, opting out of a “stagnating career”, KP returned to India to be a photographer. But the fashion and wedding photography scene did not excite him. Instead his sharp entrepreneurial acumen spotted an unstated need in the market: there were far too many talented assistants (to senior photographers) who were unable to launch their careers independently because they did not have the means to acquire expensive photography equipment. Seizing the business opportunity, in 2013, KP co-founded (with his partners) Klachak.com – a one-stop rental portal for all photography equipment and accessories. Today Klachak has 6000 customers across India. Its success led KP to launch Captr.in – a specialist Image Processing Outsourcing service – in 2017. In just two years, Captr has over 600 image processing experts catering to the needs of institutional and retail customers across a diverse spectrum of industries. Between Klachak and Captr, customers can rent cameras, lights and other accessories, shoot images and videos, even rent a studio, and have all their post-production requirements serviced! Simply, KP’s entrepreneurial offerings have democratized the visual content creation and management space. And this has been achieved with a collective, on-board, team size of just 30! (Catch my #UncommonLeader Conversation with KP here.)
Yet, KP’s not the typical, stressed out, forever-running-on-a-treadmill, hyper-obsessed entrepreneur. He’s really a cool, fun, ideas guy! Important, while he invests himself in every idea he conceives, owns and leads, he never gets stuck in any of them. Which is why, despite running thriving ventures, he finds the time to play the drums and jam with his music gang; he cycles and treks, he is an avid wildlife photographer and loves goofing off with his family. To me, he’s able to be this way, only because he is always on his businesses; he’s never in them!
And there lies the big secret to a living full, meaningful, Life. A secret that KP intuitively knows and something that you too can learn.
Which is, at every stage you must pause, reflect and ask yourself these questions: Why am I doing what I am doing? Is what I am doing making me happy despite the challenging, punishing schedule I maintain? Are the outcomes of my efforts flowing freely although there is a lot of hard work involved? Or am I constantly struggling, suffering, harried and unhappy?
Simply, asking these questions help you train yourself in the important skill of being on the business (of whatever you do) and not get mired in it! This means, on a spiritual plane, as the Bhagavad Gita says, learning to live in the world and yet be above it; and as the Bible too says, be in the world but not of it! And in a practical, every day, sense, this means knowing when and where to draw the line between doing something that gives you joy – while engaging you intensely and immersively – and doing something that suffocates you, that drains you of all energy and takes away your Happiness! This further means choosing wisely – choosing not to do most of all that which makes you unhappy.
Beware:“Busyness” is a silent predator. It creeps up unnoticed and ends up owning your Life. It camouflages itself as passion and seduces you with a slew of worldly success measures – fame, money and power. Or it presents itself as seemingly unavoidable social responsibilities disguised as familial needs and cultural values. It often reasons strongly, logically, making you believe that you are doing the right thing by postponing your Happiness. It uncannily keeps warning you that something grave will happen if you don’t busy yourself with more things to do (TTD). And pretty soon, unwittingly, you are a slave of your “busyness”. You keep on doing stuff because you just have to do them; not doing them makes you restless, nervous and scared. Worse, sometimes, you end up doing things only to keep other people happy! Undoubtedly, eventually, “busyness” is an addiction – as ruinous as smoking or alcohol is.
To be sure though, “busyness” is not doing many, many things. It is not about being busy and not having enough time on your hands. It is about inflicting a lot of activity upon yourself without a sense of Purpose, without mindfulness, without understanding what matters most in your Life and why!
I talk from my lived experience. I have lived that unintelligent Life for over a decade. I have forsaken many a family milestone, skipped several school events of my children and have found myself working from cinema halls or dinner tables and even on Sundays and while on vacations. I often convinced myself to be this way with a powerful rationale. I always wanted to grow our business and make it a world-beater. I always wanted fix things at work now, instantaneously. I always thought there would be another day, when there would be no pending TTDs when I could retire, relax and live Life happily ever after. And then the bankruptcy happened in end-2007 – a material state that we continue endure. Thankfully, it jolted me awake up from my stupor! (Read more here in my book: Fall Like A Rose Petal) Else, I may not have lived to tell you my tale, to share what I have learned about intelligent living – from Life!
And this is what I have learned. Your Life is a limited-period offer. Whatever you want to do, must be done in this lifetime of yours. Before it is all over. And believe me when your number is called, you have to go, no matter who you are and how much of your business here, on this planet, remains unfinished. So, don’t postpone your Happiness. Don’t allow yourself to get mired in the business of everyday challenges. Hoist yourself above them all. Review and reprioritize what you want to do daily – surely, choose whatever must be done to earn a living, but please also choose to do all that which makes you come alive! Simply, don’t squander your time here allowing yourself to be held hostage by your “busyness”!
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!! Look them up here: www.avisviswanathan.in and www.avinitiatives.co.in.
“I am a bird. And I want to fly.”
When she was barely six, Nandini Nair recalls writing down this aspiration for herself in a school assignment that invited each student in her class to share what or who they wanted to be when they grew up.
Over 25 years later, Nandini recounted this memory, in a Conversation that she had with me in the second Edition of our Happyness Reboot Series on Wednesday, 4th December. Happyness Reboot is a live, reflective, non-commercial Conversation Series curated by Vaani and me that explores human stories and discusses the opportunities, issues, challenges and emotions that truly impact Happiness at the Workplace.
In this Edition of the Series, we explored “Me Time” – a basic necessity and primary responsibility that everyone consistently ignores!
The truth is that almost everyone, at some point in time, feels like they are running on a treadmill, chasing meetings, chores and deadlines endlessly. They often feel they are sleep-deprived. And even as a sense of feeling incomplete and unfulfilled is gnawing at them, they are searching for a quiet place and time. Some people even feel they are heading for a breakdown!
These are a few reasons why we believe you must create time – your own “Me Time”, for your Happiness, to be you, to lose yourself in whatever you love doing!
Nandini is a fine example of someone who has managed to pull off this amazing feat of creating and sustaining her “Me Time” consistently over the past decade. Here’s why I say this. Nandini is a young, dynamic, Indian Revenue Service (IRS) Officer, who is currently a Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax. But despite her high-energy, high-pressure work routine, Nandini finds the time to immerse herself in art and dance. She’s no amateur; she holds shows and performances as any consummate artist would!
How does she do it, I asked Nandini, pointing out that several people in her position may have well discontinued doing what they love doing citing work and family pressures.
Nandini’s reply showcases the understanding she has about what Life is and what she wants out of it:
- “To me, my art, whether it is theatre or dance or painting, is not just another hobby. It offers me a ‘great escape’ from the stresses of everyday Life. While theatre helps me meet new people from diverse backgrounds and enhances my awareness of the power of community, dance – even as a daily practice – is an opportunity to be physically and spiritually expressive. And painting for me is a private, intensely personal, experience; each of my paintings is a ‘rescuer’ that has helped me during my troubled, anguished times…each work of mine has me, my feelings, deeply embedded in them.”
- “Without my art, I would have gone mad!”
- “I don’t have all the time that people imagine I have to do many things. I am not a very systematic person either. I simply create the time when I have to do what I have to do – whether it is my art or whether I am fulfilling my professional responsibilities.”
- “I don’t like stereotypes. I don’t believe that long hours mean greater productivity. As long as you are completing what you are setting out to do, you are doing great.”
- “Which is why I am not just an artist or an IRS officer…I am clear that I am a bird and I want to fly…if this means I will keep trying new experiences that enrich me and allow me to express myself…I surely will find the time, I will find the means, to do all of them.”
This clarity is indeed remarkable. Nandini refuses to allow herself to be boxed in by society’s views of how people must lead their lives. Society imagines that a working woman will not necessarily be able to do multiple things beyond fulfilling her professional and family roles or that everyday living pressures will suck your Life out so much that you won’t have the energy or time to indulge in immersive experiences like art or music or whatever it is that you are deeply passionate about. But Nandini’s I-am-a-bird-and-I-want-to-fly outlook throws social stereotypes out of the window. So she always finds the time, her “Me Time”, to be who she truly is – and to, well, fly!!!
Vaani and I totally relate to Nandini’s outlook. We too have evidently busted stereotypes by being the happynesswalas even though, in a worldly sense, we are failed entrepreneurs! On Wednesday evening, I also shared why we both completely understand and champion the value of “Me Time”.
To be sure, in 2004, when I was 36, my diabetologist had served me a wake-up call – my sugar levels were horribly high, my cholesterol was showing a worrisome spike too, I had a tobacco habit, I was drinking daily and, at 95 kilos, I certainly was over-weight. Shaken up from my stupor, I embraced a meditative practice called mouna – observing silence for an hour daily – which helped me drop anchor in a time of great stress and strife. Mouna transformed me. Physically, it helped me focus on my health; I lost 22 kilos in six months back then! It was mouna too that helped me and Vaani understand the transient nature of Life and helped us learn the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. It is through learning this art that we discovered the ability to be happy despite our circumstances.
And it was mouna that brought me back to writing. You see, I am first a writer; I have spent most of the years in the first decade of my career as a journalist. But the lure of worldly success, the challenges of entrepreneurship, the tribulations of trying to save a sinking business – all these had weaned me away from writing for almost 15+ years. But as we descended into our bankruptcy in 2007, when fear and darkness engulfed us, mouna reminded me of what I was missing – writing! I found writing therapeutic and a deeply immersive daily practice. I started with writing this Blog, which I sustained daily for 10 years on the trot, without missing a single day! I still maintain much of that prolificity though I do take reflective pauses. My return to writing led me to publishing my book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, in 2014. And through doing all of this, Vaani and I awoke to our Life’s Purpose – Inspiring ‘Happyness’!
So, simply, “Me Time” has changed the game for us. It introduced mouna to us, it is our anchor, it inspires us to Happiness, it sustains my daily writing and it has truly aided and abetted our survival through this enduring, tumultuous, 12-year phase of our bankruptcy. It has helped us stand in the midst of the everyday battle of Life, in the whirl and madness of the chaos that surrounds us, and has taught us the ability to be unmoved.
Which is why, I concluded Wednesday’s Conversation by sharing a key learning from our own lived experience. I said that intelligent living simply means recognizing the perishable nature of Life and choosing not to postpone Happiness. It means focusing only on what matters most to you, on what you love doing. A simple beginning can be made by investing in your “Me Time”, in one hour on yourself daily – start with your health and with what you are deeply passionate about, what makes you come alive! When you do create that one hour for yourself, you will, magically, see how you gain control of the remaining 23 hours of the day!
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!! Look them up here: www.avisviswanathan.in and www.avinitiatives.co.in.
Life’s darn simple. Don’t complicate it with theories, methods and mantras.
I chanced upon a Facebook Live video yesterday. A gentleman made three points before I turned off the video:
- How much money you make in Life is directly proportional to your leadership (potential)
- If your leadership (potential) is low, you make less money; if your leadership (potential) is high, you make more money
- Your leadership (potential) is directly proportional to your karma
I turned off the video at this time because that’s not the way I see Life. Interestingly, however, if I were to go by the theory put out by the gentleman in the video, Vaani and I lack leadership, and that is why perhaps we don’t have any money! (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) Or perhaps it is that we lack leadership because of our karma. Interesting. Very interesting.
From what I have experienced, know and understand, Life is very, very simple. I feel people make Life unnecessarily complex by bringing in religion, karma, money and, now, as I see it, leadership! I wonder why?
The only definition of leadership that works for me is management thinker Noel Tichy’s. He says, “Leadership is the ability to see reality and mobilize the appropriate response.” Tichy defined leadership in a management context; to remind organizations and managers that anyone, irrespective of where they are in the hierarchy, can be a leader. I have always been captivated by the profundity of Tichy’s definition. It is so simple, so beautiful, and if you think about it, this definition is applicable to leadership in Life too. Consider these:
- The most important, evident, reality about Life is that it is a soon-to-expire, limited-period offer.
- And the most appropriate response is to live it fully, happily, doing what you love doing.
So, anyone who can internalize this definition of leadership, and live by it, is a great leader! Now, this is how Vaani and I have learnt to live our Life to the fullest – despite our circumstances. I believe we are facing Life stoically, looking it squarely in the eye! Yes, we don’t have money; but that does not make us lousy leaders. And, to be sure, there are so many, many, many people out there who face Life courageously, who live dangerously, without money. Clearly they are great leaders. I simply don’t understand how anyone’s fiscal circumstances can be used as a denominator to determine their ability to lead in Life.
The truth about our lives is that it is inscrutable. Period. Therefore, let us not try to make sense of it. Life happens through us. Not because of us. So, in some situations, if you can get what you want, if you can make money, celebrate that phase of your Life. But never imagine it happened only because of you. And when you don’t get what you want or get what you don’t want, when you can’t make money despite your best efforts (like what Vaani and I are faced with), celebrate that phase – with faith and patience – of your Life too. And don’t blame yourself for that phase. This is how Vaani and I are living our Life. We have learnt that no amount of religion, no rituals, no karma theory, no method, no mantra, can prevent you from going through what you are going through or what you have to face, and endure, in Life. You have to go through what’s in store for you in Life.
So, does prayer help, you may ask. And my answer is yes, prayer, helps not so much to resolve a problem situation immediately, but to help you cope with it. Faith in your creation – that if you have been created without your asking to be created, you will be looked after, cared for and provided for – and prayer are great coping devices. When I pray, I offer myself to Life as a student and ask for being handheld daily. I wrote this prayer some years back and use it to anchor myself in my mouna (silence period) sessions every day. It helps me renew, repair and revive myself daily. It helps me keep my faith.
That’s all there is to Life, I believe. Do what you can in any given context – that’s what true leadership is all about. Then, pray, let go, eat, sleep…repeat. All else, including money, always follows.
The very uncertainty that we fear is what makes Life magical and beautiful.
At a learning forum for managers the other day, one of the speakers championed the need for today’s business leaders to develop the ability to lead through uncertainty. He said that most decisions have to be made today not knowing what will happen. Some of those in the audience disagreed with him. They argued that decisions cannot and must not be made when you don’t know what will happen. The debate continued well past the keynote presentation and spilled over into the drinks and dinner conversations as well.
A senior business leader who was next to me said leading in uncertain times was a very scary experience. “Not many can do it,” he observed.
I disagreed with him. I pointed out that fearing uncertainty is never the appropriate response. I believe that not just managers, everybody on the planet is (and must be) capable of dealing with uncertainty. Uncertainty is unfolding afresh in each new moment and we must face it by looking it in the eye.
Why are we running scared of uncertainty when the very nature of Life is impermanent, fragile, uncertain? In fact, there’s a certainty about death – if you are alive, you will die, for sure, some day. But just because you are born – and alive – does not mean you will go on living. There’s no certainty about Life! From the time you came out of your mother’s womb your entire Life has been a journey through the uncertain. It’s your upbringing, your education and your reference to economic parameters (read a pay check and/or a bank balance) that makes you believe that you are secure and can be certain about the way your Life will pan out. Because you have been raised in a protected environment by your parents and family, because you have been progressing through your academic career in a linear fashion – moving from class to class in a predictable manner – because you got employed soon after you graduated from college; for all these reasons and more, you have come to believe that Life’s happening the way you envisioned it for yourself. You have almost concluded that Life is a straight line! That’s when Life socks you with a pink slip or with a heart attack or a break-up or a death! That’s when you wake up, shocked and dazed, and begin to “fear an uncertain future”.
When you live out of fear, resisting the uncertainty that surrounds you, you will not grow. You may grow older. But you will not grow from within, you will not evolve. Because fear debilitates. It limits. Every aspect of Life is uncertain, unsafe, dangerous – there are so many diseases you can contract and die or your house can be burgled and you can be murdered or you may meet with an accident on the road or your plane may crash mid-air or someone could hack your bank account and siphon off all your hard-earned money…Anything can happen if you actually consider what all can go wrong with your Life. But if you start letting the fear of uncertainty rule you, you can be sure to have ruined your Life.
There’s hope though! You can let go of all your fear and embrace uncertainty. Since uncertainty is the essence of Life, when you embrace it, you are actually uniting with the Universal Energy. That Energy empowers you and gives you the true sense of security – which no insurance scheme, no amount of money and no amount of physical protection ever can. Then a pink slip will not torment you. Then not-knowing-what-will-happen-next will be part of the game, of the adventure called Life.
So, I believe that anyone can lead through uncertain times. Anyone can take decisions even when they don’t know what to do – because leadership is really about seeing what is and mobilizing an appropriate response. All you need to be able to do this, lead through uncertainty, is to understand Life better. Yes, uncertainty can be unsettling and scary when you first notice it. But if you drop the fear, the same uncertainty becomes beautiful – you will realize that Life was always uncertain. This awakening is what makes Life magical. To experience this magic you must learn to live in the moment, soaking in whatever the moment has to offer, in a “not-knowing-what-will-happen-next” mode!