Remember: you always have the choice to step away from whatever is making you unhappy!
As I sat down to write my daily Blog this morning, I was notified of a newsbreak on my phone. Vishal Sikka has quit as MD and CEO of Infosys. While his resignation letter to the Board of Infosys is detailed, his decision appears to have been driven by the fact that he was “unhappy over baseless, malicious, personal attacks” on him.
I am not going to opine on the business issues that led to Vishal’s departure. In his email to the Infy Board, Vishal does indicate having discussed his decision with his wife Vandana. And I believe that the couple may have talked at length about how the “continuous drumbeat of distractions and negativity” at the Board-level, over the company’s recent actions and performance, were impacting Vishal’s inner peace and happiness. Possibly, his final decision may have been made on wanting to be free from all those factors that made him unhappy.
Even if there were other considerations, I feel Vishal’s choice to walk away is a mature one. I would like to share here what I am learning from his decision.
Often times in Life you may find yourself in situations when you are answerable to people around you. However much you may try to explain your position, you may not be able to convince everyone – especially those who are either constantly asking more questions or those who are keen to interpret than understand what you are saying. At such times it is really not about who is right and who is wrong, or what is true and what is false. What really matters is how you are feeling in the midst of all the acrimony. If you are feeling pinned down, unhappy and wasted, remember, you have a choice to step away. Stepping away is not failure. It is not defeat. It is an intelligent choice. You can still fight the good fight from a distance. You can still, if you are keen, prove yourself. Stepping away from a fractious environment, however, helps you preserve your energy and keeps you anchored.
So, Vishal’s choice, to me, is worthy of respect. It reiterates my belief that if something – or someone – makes you unhappy, you can always say no, and walk away. That’s one way to preserve and protect your inner peace and happiness.
Life is too precious to be spent massaging someone’s ego or pandering to another’s whims.
There’s a wedding coming up in my extended family. And as it often happens, no TamBram affair is free from its share of bruised ego and petty politics. In this wedding story, the mother of the groom is a single parent. So, she invited her older brother and his wife to solemnize the wedding. Her daughter’s husband meanwhile has got offended because he was not invited to preside over the ceremony. So, hearing of his stance, the groom’s uncle (the older brother I referred to earlier) offered to step aside. But the lady’s daughter’s husband is still not happy. He is of the view that the opportunity to preside over the ceremony was given to him only after he demanded it. He feels that he and his wife have been “ignored and insulted” by his mother-in-law. So, he and his wife have chosen to “boycott” the wedding. Hearing of all this ruckus, all this tamasha, the groom, is threatening to call off the wedding – I guess he just wants to be free from all this drama!! I hear that his poor mother is busy running between him, her brother and her son-in-law trying to manage expectations and massage egos.
All this may sound juicy. And I am sure you too can relate to such behavior among your immediate family. I remember when Vaani and I got married in February 1989, several members of my family, both from my maternal and paternal sides, created so much fuss over non-issues. Someone or the other, I recall, was always sulking and Vaani’s brother had such a difficult time trying to please everyone. I am appalled that almost three decades on, nothing much appears to have changed in our society.
At the core of all such family soap dramas is ego. And gender bias. If you are the girl’s family you are expected to pander to the whims of the boy’s side. Else the boy’s (side’s) hurt ego will manifest itself by childishly sulking and throwing tantrums.
Change can happen only when the bride and the groom treat marriage as a celebration, as a joyous union of the two of them. The couple alone must have the right to how they want to host their wedding ceremony. Currently, as I see it, the couple hardly has any say in what’s going on – a wedding is typically a pompous ritual that parents undertake, in the name of love for their children, to show off their social, familial and financial muscle. Additionally, as I have observed on this Blog in the past, marriage itself as an institution has become irrelevant. It is the loving between two people that keeps them together and not necessarily their being married. So, my unsolicited advice to young folks who plan to marry will be to take all the money they have, including the budget that both families plan to spend on the wedding, and travel the world. Enjoy yourselves, explore each other and the magic and beauty on the planet. Make beautiful memories than make insipid wedding albums and videos, full of people who are either pretending or are sulking, which you are unlikely to revisit too many times in your Life.
And if you do plan to have a wedding, and don’t know how to deal with all those who try to control and torment you, by either sitting on an ego pedestal, or by throwing tantrums, or by doing both, well, just let them be. Only when you give such people attention do they begin to demand more. Instead, just smile and walk away. Let them kick around, rave and rant. In some time, they will tire themselves out and fall silent. Don’t analyze or fret over such behavior – by being the way they are, such people give you a great spiritual opportunity to evolve, to ignore all those who are irrelevant in your Life and to learn to focus only on what matters to you. Life is too precious to be spent massaging someone’s ego or pandering to another’s whims. Remember: you live only once. So, live that Life well – happily – and live it your way!
When you tell people ‘look at me’, you must also be prepared to hear what they think of how you look!
A celebrity performer, who is also a close friend, asked me the other day if I had downloaded the Sarahah App and tried it. I told him that I was not interested in the Sarahah experience. (If you are uninitiated, Sarahah is an App through which people can give each other anonymous feedback.) But he quickly added that people are already depressed using Sarahah because they are unable to “digest the feedback” they receive. I told my friend that one reason why people are likely to feel depressed is that while they are asking for feedback, they are actually seeking validation. They are expecting glowing tributes and fan mail and when they are not getting it all the time, they are feeling depressed. I am not against using a tool like Sarahah – but if you are using it, then you must be prepared to receive all the feedback that comes your way. Simply, when you tell people ‘look at me’, you must also be prepared to hear what they think of how you look!
Hearing my perspectives, my celebrity friend confessed that he found Sarahah very “unnerving” He said, “I know public opinion is fleeting. But I am constantly driven by this urge that people must appreciate me. When they don’t offer an opinion, I feel sad and when they criticize my performances, I feel miserable. So, essentially, I am always seeking validation of who I am from someone or the other. I thought Sarahah will help me but it has only made things worse.” He wanted to know how he can let go of his desire for validation.
I told the gentleman that the very fact that he believes he must rid himself of his desire to seek validation is very positive, very progressive. In order to reach a state of total detachment from people’s opinions of you, the futility of seeking validation must be first understood.
So, I asked him: “Do you perform for your inner joy or do you perform for public approval and acclaim?”
He replied: “I love performing. So, I do perform for my inner joy. But I also feel incomplete without public approval and acclaim.”
“When you perform and you seek public approval and acclaim and you get it, you think you deserve it, don’t you?” I asked.
He said he believes that he deserves it.
“Then why do you think you don’t deserve critique or criticism for your performances?” I further asked.
The man thought for a moment. And then he said, excitedly, “I get it. If I like being appreciated, I must be prepared to accept criticism too!”
I commended him on quickly grasping the learning there.
And that really is the point. If you are doing something that is visible to others, and you like hearing good things about what you are doing, then be prepared to receive the brickbats too. You can’t choose and claim to be deserving of one and undeserving of the other. To be detached from both the accolades and the criticism, you must learn to do whatever you do as an offering to the Universe, as a prayer to a Higher Energy. Then you are doing what you are doing only for your inner joy. Then who says what about you, what others think of you, none of this really matters.
I have learnt from Life’s experiences that seeking validation is a zero-sum game. Instead, if someone praises me, I am grateful – for their kindness. If someone ridicules me, I am again grateful – for their honesty, which is, they are being honest about how they feel about me.
Even so, no Sarahah for me please, thank you! I just do what I love doing and take any feedback that comes my way as constructive critique and move on. I have learnt that not seeking validation and choosing to be unmoved by what others think of you is a way to evolve spiritually. It takes time to attain this state of detachment. But once there, you will love the inner peace and equanimity that it offers.
When you make choices based on what makes you happy, you can never go wrong.
I was waiting the other day to record my Podcast at a studio. One of the visitors there got talking to me about Life and relationships. She asked me if it is okay to be “blunt” with people, especially with those in “close relationships”.
I told her that it’s a personal choice. Now, there’s nothing wrong in being nice, being accommodative, adjusting and understanding. But if you try to do all of that at the cost of your inner peace, you will end up feeling miserable. So, it really is a decision you have to take – do you want to be happy and peaceful or do you want to feel unhappy and suffer trying to please others?
I shared with the lady an experience I had had earlier in the day. My cousin had called Vaani and me. She was inviting us to play godparents at her son’s engagement ceremony coming up later in the month. She is a single parent and her own father is no more. Her brother is not likely to attend the ceremony and so my name, as a male member of the family, was proposed. While I was humbled by her invitation, I was very clear, even as she proposed the idea, that I was not going to sit through any rituals. Besides, I had issues with any ritual or tradition that accorded men special privileges. All her Life, she had raised her two children, but just because she is a woman and she is single, “tradition and culture demand” that she could not be leading the engagement ceremony? I found this idea both regressive and lacking empathy. I told my cousin that I was not going to accept her invitation and instead advised her to lead the ceremony herself.
In taking this decision, I employed my time-tested principle of asking myself the following questions: 1. Do I believe in what I am being asked to do? 2. Will I be happy doing this for myself? I have noticed that whenever I weigh any option based on what gives me joy or makes me happy, I am a lot clearer with what I want to do. Or I am sure about what I don’t want to do. So, appraising any situation on the happiness question is an important and efficient way to make choices.
Over the past few years, I have become very distant from rituals – and religion. I have also stopped seeing marriage as necessary for people who want to live together. So, I was clear that I was not going to play godparent to my nephew to “simply perform some rituals that are meant exclusively for men”. I told my cousin exactly that. She respected me for my forthrightness and left the matter at that. I appreciate her understanding.
So, as is evident from my experience, conversations must be honest – you need not necessarily bother whether you are being “blunt” or “rude”. Being honest is more important. Your being honest may make the other person uncomfortable but it will always leave you peaceful. As I said earlier, it is always, finally, your call, a personal choice.
Whenever in doubt, whenever you are unconvinced about doing something for someone or even for yourself, ask yourself – will doing this make me happy? If the answer is no, simply don’t do it. There are no two ways to be happy. Choosing to be happy is the only way. And you can never go wrong with being happy!
In this Podcast I make a case for how you are the happiness you seek.
Listen time: 3:46 minutes