You are unlikely to find the perfect Life that you want. Even so, you can live fully with what you have, with what you have been given. And you do that by looking Life squarely in the eye, by facing it and by accepting what is, by learning to be happy despite the circumstances.
Young model and designer in the AR/VR space, Ranjani Ramakrishnan, who is just 21, has learnt this precious Life lesson early on in Life.
Ranjani was diagnosed with vitiligo – a Life-long condition where the skin loses color in blotches – when she was barely 11. She grappled with shame, the “why me” question and a lot of insecurity for several years. Then, when in college, she “made peace with her imperfections” and modelled for a Visual Communications assignment! That decision changed her Life! Today she “embraces Life’s adventures fearlessly”, even as she champions “acceptance” and “living fully with what is”!
Last evening, she was our guest on the happyness conversations – a live, reflective, non-commercial Conversation Series that Vaani and I curate and anchor. This Series explores the lived experiences of invited guests, it inspires people to be happy despite their circumstances! While celebrating imperfection and impermanence, it invites people to embrace their Life for the way it is and implores them to never postpone Happiness! The underlying theme of the Series is that Life can, and must be, faced stoically – no matter what you are going through! This Series is sponsored and hosted by the Odyssey Bookstore in Chennai.
It was a full house in yesterday’s Edition of this Series despite the rains and more inclement weather forecast for the night. And all those who attended the Event loved the way Ranjani’s lived experience helped them glean key Life lessons.
Her authenticity and her quiet, rare, courage shone. Here are some profound perspectives she shared:
- “It is very liberating when you let go of your fears,” she said, referring to her first photoshoot as a model, when she was in her first year in college. This photoshoot was significant – the decision to do it had come after several years of trying to cover up her patches, of crying herself to sleep, of asking her mom, “why me?”.
- “I have made peace with looking at myself in the mirror,” she told us stocially in the context of acceptance and moving on.
- “But I am still tired of answering random people who come up to me wanting to know why my skin looks different or when they have unsolicited advice to give me. So, I am a bit wary of going into unknown environments and meeting people.” she confessed, adding, “I have, however, for the most part, learnt to take Life as it comes and find Happiness in the company of family and friends who love me, who value me.”
This ability to take “Life as it comes” is a blessing. This wisdom can only come from having experienced pain and from understanding the power of acceptance. This is what makes Ranjani special. As Vaani pointed out, Ranjani, literally, does wear her vulnerability on her sleeve. This is also why her outlook to Life is invaluable, unputdownable and inspiring.
Consider this: How many people can gracefully accept their unique condition, particularly one that affects how they look? How many of them can actually come out and talk about it? How many will be able to expunge all the bitterness, grief, frustration and anger – at having been dealt an unfair hand by Life – and truly move on?
To me, and Vaani, Ranjani embodies the spirit of being happy despite the circumstances in the way she carries herself and expresses herself. This was evident in the Conversation last evening – she showcased with her simple, genuine, replies to our questions, by sharing her feelings authentically, that she is not the vitiligo that she has. “Vitiligo is only the condition that she has.” She is Ranjani – she is beautiful, confident, forthright and authentic!
Sample her take on what kind of modeling assignments she is looking for: “I love modeling. But I want people to invite me to shoots where I am a model who incidentally has vitiligo and not because I am good to be used as a vitiligo model.”
That’s amazing clarity and an awakening profundity from a 21-year-old!
Which is why, in closing, I leaned on my favorite, the 13th Century Persian poet Rumi: “What hurts you blesses you; your darkness is your candle!…Don’t run away from your grief, o’ soul, look for the remedy in the pain!…”
Pain is not a monster out to annihilate you as is popularly believed. Pain is a great teacher. While you can’t avoid pain, it teaches you, through your acceptance of any Life situation, that suffering is optional; that there is a lot of Life during and after a crisis. Indeed, acceptance of a painful situation is its only remedy.
Which is what Ranjani has done. She has accepted who she is, the way she is. Which is why she has been able to understand the art of living. She knows that living is always in the “present continuous” – not in the past, not in the future, but in the here, in the now, with “what is”; she knows that living is in thriving, in being happy despite the circumstances!
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.
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!