Ever been to a reunion? What do you think people say about themselves when they meet after a decade? Chances are, more people than not, talk about their achievements. “I did this and this, went to so and so university, work at so and so, won X number of awards, and here is my website and contact details if you want a customized outfit.”
And there’s nothing wrong with this. Firstly, it’s “networking”, and secondly, as friends and batchmates, we are all interested to hear about each other’s journey to the present.
So, yes, this is an essential conversation to have. Though not necessarily, the only one.
Last weekend, I went back to school for our 10-year-reunion. Some of us met each other after 10 years, others I’d bumped into a few times in between, and a handful had been in constant touch with me over the years.
Between catching up and listening to each other’s fascinating, and sometimes transformative journeys – the quiet girl – a tough lawyer, the science geek – a costume stylist, the backbencher – a successful entrepreneur, I had a conversation with someone about battling depression. It was a short conversation, which in itself was pretty regular, but it sparked in me a crazy idea – what if we were all to sit in a circle and talk about the 3 most challenging periods in our lives?
What if instead of rattling off our awards, we spoke about our fears, our troubles, our battles, and our failures? What if we spoke about the things that keep us up at night, the monotonous job we struggle to maintain, the abusive partner we managed to shrug away, and the ongoing battle to get paid the amount we deserve?
But think of it this way. We have all heard that “hard work”, and “believing in yourself” and “fighting for what you believe in” and “following your passion” are the “secret” ingredients to success. But have we ever spoken about the challenges that come in the middle of an all-nighter at work, the doubts that come in the way of self-belief, and the various everyday circumstances that distract you in your fight towards your dream?
Imagine, you’re sitting in a circle with your classmates. A girl who looks “happily married”, speaks about how she maintains a “happy” marriage, even when 5 out of 10 days she has doubts about her partner. She speaks about how, no relationship is as “perfect” as it seems, by giving real life examples from her life – of good and bad moments, of things that reiterate her belief in her marriage, and things that make her doubt it. And then she talks about how she deals with it.
Next, imagine a girl who has recently started her own company. It seems glossy with all the features in newspapers and blogs. What if in addition to listing all her achievements, she talks in detail of the challenges she faced while starting up, and the challenges she still faces. She talks about the emotional impact, the physical impact as well as the financial impact of starting up.
Or, imagine a person who is employed in a regular job with regular hours. And she talks about the feeling of monotony that often haunts her daily life, and the occasional desire to pack up and leave. She then talks about the techniques or methods she employs to keep herself motivated on the drabbest of days.
Think about it.
Won’t these conversations actually help us in learning from each other, and possibly change our lives? Won’t it equip and inspire in us the skills to deal with real issues? And, fill us to the brim with the fuzzy feeling that says – “you are not alone”?
It’s radical, yes. And most people will be reluctant to “air their dirty linen” in public – yes. Some may argue that we should inspire each other with positive stories, rather than dissuade with the negative. And, there may be some who are extremely uncomfortable with the idea.
But, I believe these conversations are important and the learnings indispensable.
Don’t we, as a community of women, deserve to know about each other’s struggles as much as about each other’s achievements? Won’t it help us all grow if we pool in our individual learnings and use it to help one other? And, isn’t awareness and preparation far better than rosy-eyed ignorance?
Most of us fail in various aspects of life because we go into it expecting it to be perfect.
Because nobody ever specified the challenges in a happy marriage, a successful business, or a white-collar job. We’ve all heard “marriages” are tough. Or start-ups have challenges. Or jobs are boring. But, nobody ever added body to the words “tough”, “challenging” and “boring”.
Words without description sometimes lose the power of meaning.
Especially when the voice that says these words, in the next breath, follows it up with – but “nothing is impossible”, and “be passionate”, and “it’s on how you make it”. And this is problematic because the slightest hiccup in a marriage, job or business causes us to blame ourselves.
Because didn’t they say ,”It’s possible and if not – you’re not doing it right?”
We are so scared of scaring our children that we tell them fairytales.
Sure, we should inspire each other by saying “everything is possible”. But we should ground the fairytale by adding a “when”.
We should say “everything is possible when you...”, and then list all potential challenges and potential solutions to braving those moments of despair.
I have worked in 5 jobs and lived in 5 cities. If there are a few things I have learned, it’s this.
Any thing is possible when:
- You know what you have to give up to achieve your goal, and you’re willing to part with it. [for example: parties, friends, family, popularity, sleep]
- You can deal with a 100 rejections, and yet come back the next day bright-eyed and enthusiastic.
- You can say NO to the things you like
- You can be positive even when things are going down
- You are willing to go the extra mile to read up and educate yourself while everybody is drinking beer and chilling
- You become OK with feeling alone sometimes
- You can push yourself out of your comfort zone and do things you may hate
- You are willing to change yourself to fit the image you want to portray
- You can accept that success at work doesn’t always mean happiness in life
- You are able to decide whether your sacrifice is worth the gain
For me, personally, I believe in being true to myself. So, I made my choice – I am willing to accept points 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and to an extent 7. But not point 8. So, for me, my dreams are stuck at that – and I am OK with it, as for me, happiness lies in being true and honest to who I am.
For you, different principles may apply.
If we all share our learnings, like I shared mine, I believe our conversations would be far more empowering.
What do you think?