Don’t try to escape your reality. You simply can’t.
I read a story on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, in TIME magazine recently. I liked the way TIME’s presented her story, of how Sheryl’s coped with her husband Dave Goldberg’s sudden death in May 2015. I haven’t read Sheryl’s book yet but I love its title and its focus. Basically, I understand that her book is an attempt to encourage people out there to talk about grief and to “change the conversation about adversity”.
This is what Vaani and I have done too over the last 10 years.
When we were first struck by the horrific reality of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) in end-2007, there was so much guilt, grief and shame in me. I would go into the bathroom, so that Vaani couldn’t see me, and cry. I would look into the mirror and insanely ask myself “Why?”, “Why me?” Over time, I realized asking the “Why?” question was futile; Life had to be faced. No matter what your situation is, it is always what it is. You cannot escape your realities in Life. Whether you are bankrupt, like me and Vaani, or whether you have lost a dear one, like Sheryl has, or whether you have a debilitating health challenge, like a cancer or depression, or whether your career has plateaued or whether you are having a relationship issue – whatever it is that you are dealing with, you have no choice but to face Life. And the only, practical, way to face Life is to accept and embrace your reality. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily change your reality. Your problem doesn’t go away. But your ability to deal with your situation is enhanced immeasurably. Look at our story – for Vaani and me, our bankruptcy – read prolonged spells of worklessness and moneylessness – endures. It’s been a decade already. But we have only grown stronger through the crisis, from our experience.
And that’s something very true about us human beings – the more we deal with any problem situation, the stronger we emerge from it. To be sure, we are all endowed with inner strength. But like the Bluetooth feature on your smartphone, you must activate the resilience in you first for you to deploy it. For me personally, the activation and deployment happened when I simply told myself this: “This is it. We are bankrupt. We have a mountain of debt to settle. We have no work. We have no money. We have two teenagers to support. We have Vaani’s dad to look after. Now, what must we do to face this situation and survive it?” That’s really what resilience is all about. Asking yourself the now-what-must-I-do-to-face-this-situation-and-survive-it question activates the resilience feature in you; in anybody.
In our case, over the past decade, we have often times, hit situations when we don’t know what to do. But each time we faced a no-go, we did the next best thing. Which is to live in the moment. That’s how we trained ourselves to be in the present and, over time, we understood happiness as being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. Someone recently asked me, whether I am bitter about Life – especially after “being a failure and being unsuccessful for the longest time”. The truth is I am not bitter at all. Why will I be bitter about a phase that has taught me so much about living – about living purposefully, about being happy and about knowing how strong I really am?
For Vaani and me, like it is for Sheryl, our raison d’etre now is to encourage people to face Life and not to be snowed under the weight of their problems. We are, every waking moment, Inspiring Happiness among whoever cares to pause and reflect. Our crisis has given our Life a Purpose. If you can relate to and internalize what I have shared here, your Life situation can help you discover your Purpose too.
And that brings me to a very powerful, unputdownable, insight I have gained about Life. All our Life stories are unique but the learnings we pick up are often similar. So, each of us will come to our Option B points in Life and each of us will embark on our own Fall Like A Rose Petal journey. Adversity always brings in its wake shock, grief, guilt, fear, insecurity, anxiety and a whole host of debilitating emotions. But they will torment you and hold you hostage only as long as you resist adversity, as long as you run away from it. Once you turn around and face your Life situation, when you look Life squarely in the eye, you only emerge stronger, wiser and – believe me – happier than ever before!
You have greater inner strength than you imagine you have.
A CEO we know survived fourth stage colon cancer and is now leading a global corporation. When addressing his team recently he advised them to look within, not outside, for strength: “When the doctors first told me that I have only 3 months to live, I looked at my daughters who were in high school then, and told myself that I must stay on till they were young adults. So I meditated on my resolve to fight my disease. Of course I had the best of treatment and my family’s love and support. But I kept reminding myself to go on. It’s been 12 years since I was told I had only 3 months…”
This quality to demonstrate great inner strength is called Resilience. I am intentionally spelling it with a capital ‘R’ for emphasis. Each of us is endowed with this quality. We just need to activate it. Many people ask me and Vaani how we manage to survive this bizarre, prolonged phase of intense pain (Read more in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal ) that we are going through. And I always say, never in jest though, that we have activated our Resilience mode. To Vaani and me, Resilience is like the Bluetooth feature on our smartphones – it must be activated to be used, to be deployed!
Being resilient means to know that no matter what the circumstances are, you must face Life. It means that you don’t have the choice to cop out or run away from a challenging situation. It is your lack of awareness that makes you imagine that you are not resilient. All of us are equally strong – that’s the way we are created and engineered. To let your resilience – your inner strength – surface, you need to be more aware of your true Self.
What we have learnt from experience is that our circumstances can constrain us physically but nothing – except our attitude to Life – can cripple our spirit. Think about a wild adult elephant. This elephant can easily uproot trees that have been standing for years and that weigh tons. That’s how much strength an elephant is ordained with. Yet a temple elephant, through its conditioning from the time it is a calf, thinks it is incapable of breaking free from the iron shackles that a mahout has imposed on it. So it is with us humans. We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations. We are who we think we are. If we think our circumstances are so challenging that they are insurmountable, we will forever suffer from them. But if we decide to face our challenges and rise above them, whatever be the context, a way will emerge, a solution will be born.
So, when you are faced with a crisis for the first time, and you think you can’t survive it, just turn on your Resilience mode. If we can do it, you too can! Surely, your problems will not vanish, but your ability to deal with them will be enhanced substantially!
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