Realisations, learnings, insecurities and questions from 2017 – Self-discovery 101

Sometimes happiness simply means the freedom to be who we want to be.

What indeed is a true test of us being “happy with ourselves”?

Is it being able to be alone, cut off from everyone, with just social media for distraction?

Or is it being surrounded by friends and family who play the role of said social media, filling the gaps in our lives with friendly banter, chatter and one too many tequila shots on a blurry night out?

Or is it the ability to be on our own with no social needs at all?

Or is it having no gaps at all, no spaces in our hearts or minds that need filling from family, friends, social media or work?

But then again, isn’t it “gaps” that make us human? And separates us from machines?

We try and fill the empty spaces in our lives with Facebook and Instagram “likes” and appreciation. And the funny thing is, it actually works!

Disturbing, eh? Imagine being dependent on “likes” and “comments” for our daily dose of ego boost? But, then again, what’s the alternative?

Man is a social animal – we need contact with fellow creatures – be it a flesh and blood human or a digital social media “friend”.

Our mothers spent hours on the phone, discussing everything from outfit choices of the 200 guests at the Delhi wedding, to maids and their “attitude problem”. We do the same, but online. We “heart” wedding outfits of fellow friends on Instagram, and post statuses about our maids. After all, we just want to be heard. Listened to.  Really understood. And social media comes in, where no family or friend can – it gives us a mouthpiece to express. A one stop shop to say what we’re feeling and gauge which of our 750 friends really understands our thoughts and “reacts” to it. It’s almost like an experiment. A hotline connecting us to the universe. And if someone responds out of the digital black hole, we know, deep down, we’ve found an ally.

Sometimes I feel, true happiness comes from understanding and being understood.

Not so much in loving and being loved. Or in being solitary – independent of worldly needs.

True happiness comes when our innermost thoughts and ideas are understood by another being. Doesn’t matter if its a lover, stranger,  parent, friend or acquaintance.

 

We are free to love as many people – men and women as possible, yet restricted to “end up” with only one?

Are we really “free”, then?

I spent a lot of time trying to explain myself, To try and make myself understood. And when I failed, when I began to spend my energy explaining why I was explaining, I realised that the relationship was over.

A little bit of sexual energy is good. Even if it’s in the head. It translates beautifully into creative energy that enhances the quality of our work.

Sometimes our families serve as reminders of all that we are not.

There always seems to be an additional something we need to do to make them happy. An exam we need to pass, a person we need to call, a chore we need to do or money we need to make. And the worst is, these expectations come disguised in a set of words we probably have no comeback to –  “for your own good”.

Sometimes a cup of tea can awaken ideas inside me like nothing else can. There’s an energy that bubbles up after a cup-and-a-half, and then there’s no other way but to ignore all duty and start typing.

My relationships often heighten my sense of inadequacy. I start out whole. But at some point, along the way, I look at myself and wonder what happened?

Each conversation I’ve had with myself over the past two years has revealed some fascinating truths about me. About things I like and don’t like. About what makes me happy and what brings me down. For instance, I took two solo trips this year – both of which were distinctly different from one another. While the first was economical and involved zero sightseeing, the second was luxe, insta-worthy, and beautifully documented on social media. And both these experiences taught me a lot about who I really am; I realised I preferred the first vacation simply because I got to meet a lot of new people – and simply be.

So, does that mean I am not really anti-social like I thought myself to be?

Or does that mean, I simply enjoy the freedom that comes with socializing with new people? The lack of expectation to do a certain thing?

I’ve realized that some of the most fun I’ve had is when I’m with people.  But being on my own helps renew my soul. And when I go out into the world with a refreshed soul, I end up letting myself enjoy each moment in a deeper, more meaningful manner.

I need  solitariness and socializing in equal measures – the alternation between the two extremes keeps me sane. One can’t exist without the other.

2017 taught me a lot about who I really am. It brought the process of self-discovery that began in 2015 to a close. The turmoil in my head reached a head and poof – it was gone. Of course, this is not to mean there are no more lessons to be learnt. But until then, let’s keep it happy and shiny.

XOXO 2017

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If only someone could understand my angst at finding fungus growing on my Theobroma Rye bread – An essay on the importance of Understanding

And the extreme pain I felt while throwing the nearly-perfect loaf into the trash can.

Last night, I got home to find a thin layer of fungus growing on my neatly-stored Rye bread. That loaf was particularly tasty, and my almost-2-hour commute back home had been spent imagining eating the rye bread for dinner with all sorts of toppings – a warmed-up slice with a generous slathering of peanut butter, or a sandwich with hummus, cottage cheese, bell peppers and a boiled egg thrown in.

So, while my brain was merely disappointed at finding my Rs. 85-a-loaf bread spoiling, my taste-buds were devastated. They had to settle for oats with milk. And that in itself was punishment – one does not simply swap hummus and rye with oats.

Now the thing with this problem was, if I’d shared it with anyone else, chances are they’d tell me to calm down and just order something. Which, let me explain, IS NOT THE SOLUTION.

I don’t want to order something else. I want my rye bread back, un-fungused. And ready to be heated and layered with peanut butter. But, one can’t reverse fungus-growth, just like one can’t reverse time.

So, let me say it again.

If only somebody could understand my angst at finding fungus growing on my Theobroma Rye bread. 

I don’t want a new rye bread. And I most certainly don’t want to be taken out to dinner as consolation. I just want somebody to understand what I mean when I say I am devastated that my bread has fungus growing on it.

Which brings me to the point of this story.

We all seek someone who understands us without us having to explain ourselves.

There is this powerful quote from Murakami’s 1Q84 – If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”

Let me repeat.

“If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”

Of course there are some things that need explaining. GST for instance. Or the Aadhar card. But that’s not the point of this essay.

So, what do we mean by understanding? Does it mean agreeing, accepting, unconditionally believing?

Not quite.

Understanding is more in the realm of empathy. It’s when you may completely disagree with another’s point of view, but you have the imagination to put yourself in their place, and view the world like them. For a brief moment you’re able to switch places with the person in front of you, becoming them, thinking like them, inheriting their likes, dislikes, and quirks, and therefore being able to emphasize with their feelings – however silly they may be.

Like getting upset about fungus, in my case.

As I meet more and more people, it becomes glaringly clear, that most people are not empathetic. We’re a judgemental class, however much we’d like to claim otherwise. We try and look for flaws in people. And if we can’t find any, we pinpoint the least appealing of the person’s personality (or physical) traits and make it seem worse than it is. Especially when the subject is a smart and beautiful man or woman. Is it jealousy? Is it self-preservation? Is it a manner of boosting our own egos by putting down a seemingly better person?

I don’t know.

But, this lack of empathy is turning us into an unhappy class of people. When you begin to judge people from the place they shop from, the texture of their hair, or the tone of their voice, you’re unknowingly exposing your own insecurities.

You’ll rarely hear a secure and happy person discussing another person’s “disastrous” fashion choices.

Of course, I don’t mean to say, we need to become serial do-gooders, forcing ourselves to feel something alien. Because, that would be dishonest. Sometimes, like in school, or in a disciplinarian workplace, it’s almost cathartic to bond with one’s peers over a particularly tough teacher or boss. Or, with your friends over a particularly horrid ex.

When I say we need to be more empathetic, it simply means putting yourself in anothers’ shoes, understanding their life-experiences, motivations, fears and hopes, and then seeing if you still feel as harshly towards them. Their choice of shoes, style of talking, whatever.

Our opinions of others are subconsciously influenced by our opinions of ourselves.

When we are insecure about certain aspects of ourselves, we unknowingly project these insecurities on the people around us. We disguise our insecurities as their flaws, to make ourselves feel better.

When you begin to empathise with others, you’ll begin to empathise with yourself. And then your own flaws won’t seem so bad either. After all, nobody is perfect.

Understanding helps create stronger bonds.

Ever feel you’re surrounded by friends but can’t seem to discuss your innermost feelings with any of them?

When we empathize and understand the people around us, it helps them break down the walls they’ve built around them. And when they open the floodgates to their honest emotions, that in turn breaks down your own walls. And voila, true friendship is born.

It’s as simple as that.

Today, we are guarded. We are reluctant to share our feelings. We are worried about what others will think, primarily because we, in our heads, have already judged others for those very same feelings we are experiencing. If we don’t judge others, we don’t judge ourselves. And that paves the way for years of self-love and happiness.

So, let us (me included) start understanding others and through them, understanding ourselves.

Enough preaching. Now go have a happy (and judgment-free) Sunday.

Cheers.

 

How having the right conversation can change our lives.

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?

Crazy, right?

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:

  1. 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]
  2. You can deal with a 100 rejections, and yet come back the next day bright-eyed and enthusiastic.
  3. You can say NO to the things you like
  4. You can be positive even when things are going down
  5. You are willing to go the extra mile to read up and educate yourself while everybody is drinking beer and chilling
  6. You become OK with feeling alone sometimes
  7. You can push yourself out of your comfort zone and do things you may hate
  8. You are willing to change yourself to fit the image you want to portray
  9. You can accept that success at work doesn’t always mean happiness in life
  10. 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?

 

 

 

How asking the right questions can change your life.

Don’t ask: “What should I do that people will be proud of me?”

Ask: “What should I do that I will be proud of me?”

Disclaimer: This may not be relevant to a lot of already self-aware people, but I’d like to share it with those who are still looking for answers.

 

We often, unknowingly, choose our goals and careers based on the perceptions of people around us: they could be friends, family, or simply the strangers on our social media feeds. We often view ourselves from the perspective of the world, rather than the perspective of ourselves, and this is one of the primary mistakes that lead us into making the wrong choices.

The better part of our life is often spent in trying to gain the approval of others.

We do this by enrolling ourselves in fancy-sounding colleges, travelling to fancy-sounding places, getting married in a fancy-sounding destination, and doing fancy-sounding things. We think, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I did a scuba diving course off the Havelock islands?”, and so we do it, and then we wonder why it didn’t make us happy. Or we think, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if I worked at VOGUE?” and we do it, and then we wonder why it didn’t make us happy?  Or we think, “Wouldn’t it make me so happy if I won all these awards?” and then we win it, and after the momentary elation we wonder why it didn’t make us happy? And similarly there are a hundred things we do that sound amazing, and as a result make us, momentarily, feel super-proud of ourselves. However, after the initial phase of excitement, when we are back at home at the end of a long day or on a weekend, we feel a void – and we can’t understand what’s missing. We try and talk to others, but they often don’t understand – they either tell us that we are “overthinking”, or that we are “cribbing”, that we need “therapy”, we need to “meditate”, “workout”, “go out”, “get married”, “calm down”, “accept ourselves”, and a myriad other suggestions, that while sensible, may not be an accurate response to our predicament.

 So, how do we fight the nagging voice in our head?

It’s definitely not easy as most of us blame ourselves and over-critique ourselves by assuming we are in the wrong. That if people around us are going ooh and aah at our seemingly “cool” achievements, then we ought to be happy. That the dissent is in our heads.

While, we are in the wrong, the reason for it is often different from the ones above, and difficult to place, and stems from the inherent need in some of us to “appear” a certain way, rather than “be” a certain way.

Start by asking:

“What should I do, that will give my life purpose?”

“How should I be, that will make me happy?”

 

There is no easy way of arriving at the answers. We may take days, weeks or even months to come up with an answer. And even then, we may not be sure.

From starting a family, to teaching children, from social work, to lawyering, from travelling the world, to starting up, from aiming for CEO, to making art, every person has a different life problem to solve – and none of them should be looked down upon. If a person believes shattering the glass ceiling is what will give her a sense of achievement – she should do it. Or, if another person believes shattering the glass ceiling, while “cool”, is not for her: she’d prefer having a simple job while concentrating on her family – that’s great too.

The toughest part is eliminating all the noise, until our true purpose stares back at us.

And even after we’ve figured that out, it’s going to be tough. Easier than before, but still an uphill walk. Our families may want us to get married, our husbands may want us to devote more time to them, our friends may think we’re being childish, our boyfriends may think the path we’ve chosen is not how things should be, and even the random colleague at work may have an opinion.

And we may, at our weaker moments, succumb to the pressure: After all if everybody feels something is wrong with our paths, there must be, right? Wrong. This feeling is dangerous because it leads us to over-critiquing ourselves to the point where we can’t decipher which way is up. Where life seems to be a constant rumble, and we seem to be drowning unaware of the surface.

In these moments, what we need to understand is not everybody is built like us, and so, not everybody can understand the pulse of what we feel. What is just a “job” for the next person, is a “life purpose” for us. Sure, it may seem like a first world problem, and it probably is. For somebody fighting for her survival, her life purpose is obviously different. But for us, who have luckily gotten the basics sorted, we need to do what we can to contribute to the world in a way that makes us sleep better at night. And the definition of this “contribution” is different for all.

A 10-year-reunion at my school where everybody from my batch shared their stories, helped me clarify and arrange a lot of thoughts in my head. It helped me understand the meaning of doing something one genuinely loves, and it’s often not what you think you love – which is often the idea of a certain profession rather than the profession itself – but what you actually do – the difference is massive and often requires a lot of work to decipher.

I am just starting to ask myself the right questions. And little by little, beginning to answer them. However, what I am learning in this process is that I will have to muster all of my strength and go against the wills of a lot of people: to be honest, it’s scary. But I do pray, I don’t give up, and that I continue fighting for what I believe in.

I hope you can too.