“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.
Here’s why I relate to Girish Karnad’s approach to living – and why I celebrate the beauty and simplicity of his final journey!
Non-worrying is an intelligent choice you can make.
If you are on an Indigo flight the next time, pause as you board and glance at the cockpit door. A little blue sticker advises the crew to leave their worries out of their work: “Flying is a serious profession, do not carry your worries beyond this point.” Even as I shot a picture, our flight attendant and Leading Lady Vaishali said, “I follow this advice all the time, Sir!”
That’s an intelligent choice Vaishali makes. But the sticker’s message is not applicable only to the flying profession. The way I see it is like this: “Living is a serious business. And we must not let our worries come in the way of living our Life to the fullest!”
Worry is a human invention; it is not a part of Creation. We worry only because we are not in control of our mind. The human mind thinks 60,000 thoughts a day. Now, you can’t get rid of thoughts. They will keep arising in your mind just the way waves arise in the ocean. And the nature of the mind is such that, in its untrained state, it thrives in the dead past spewing thoughts of anger, grief and guilt or it races to the unborn future painting dark, worrisome, fearful scenarios that cause you to be steeped in anxiety, insecurity and stress. When you train your mind to anchor only in the present moment, it becomes powerless. In its powerless state, the mind learns to live fully in the present moment. In the now, the past and the future are both irrelevant. This understanding, and a disciplined practice of any form of meditation to train your mind, are what can lead you to be non-worrying.
Simply, there are only two kinds of problems in Life. One kind are those problems that you can solve. So, why worry? Another kind are those problems that you cannot solve. Again, why worry? Either way, worrying is a completely futile activity. Worrying has solved no problem – ever!
Yet, to be sure, you cannot get rid of worries. But you can choose not to pick up a worrisome thought when it arises in you. Only when you attend to a worry, only when you pick it up, does it control you. Non-worrying is when you choose to ignore a worry. So, worrylessness cannot be attained; but you can surely learn to be non-worrying.
To me, the little blue sticker on the Indigo cockpit door is the simplest primer available for Life. It reminds us that Life is a one-time, limited-period, offer. And encourages us not to squander our Life either by worrying or being held hostage by negative, debilitating thoughts.