Lockdown tales – 2

Unable to meet in person, kiddo and her friends created a WhatsApp group to interact.

They had a discussion about something – few agreed and few didn’t. One kid left the group in dissent!

When I heard about it, I was surprised for a while… that’s something I had seen only with adults.

Then I realised, it’s a basic human emotion all the same.

When we used to play cricket, the kid with the bat used to control the dynamics. Offend him and he’d walk away with the bat. Unable to handle that, I pestered my parents to buy me a new bat… and I did my fair share of ‘walking away’ as well.

Amidst all that talk about technology changing lives, human emotions are the same.. and will remain so.

Lockdown tales – 1

The lockdown had been announced just a few days ago. People were still trying to reorganise their lives around the restrictions.

Few apartment complexes formed volunteer teams to deal with COVID.

In one such apartment, a volunteer signed up to help people struggling with grocery logistics during the lockdown. Bustling with enthusiasm, he approached a septuagenarian couple and offered them help to procure daily essentials and medicines.

“Thank you, we’re fine,” came the reply, almost with a pride of self-reliance.

The volunteer was a little unconvinced. “Perhaps they are hesitant,” he wondered and asked them again.

“Very nice of you to ask again. But, no! We’re fine!” This time, the old man felt a little annoyed, and his abilities questioned! He stared long at the volunteer until he was out of his sight.

The next day on his rounds, the volunteer was unsure whether to approach them or not. He paused at their door hesitatingly, stood there for a while and decided to ask them again.

Same reply!

Feeling rebuked, the volunteer walked away without uttering another word.

Few days later, the old couple realised they needed help. However, they were a little uncomfortable to ask him.

“We turned him down several times, how can we go to him now?”

However, the need was such that they decided to ask finally and called him on his phone.

The volunteer listened to them without interrupting and took a long pause as if he was trying to process something in his head.

“Oh, I’m busy today. Sorry, I won’t be able to help!” he quipped and cut the call, abruptly!

Self-confidence vs self-esteem

As a parent, I feel this is not given enough attention to. Self-esteem. And how it is different from self-confidence.

A lot of people can rank high on self-confidence, yet be deeply insecure inside. They may feel worthy and driven when they achieve. The minute they step out of the treadmill of achieving, they suddenly feel inadequate. 

This behaviour is highest in my entrepreneurs circle, but other performance oriented circles are no less different. Driven, highly ambitious and insecure – that’s the concoction. The insecurity is often seen as a motivator.

Yet, it is that very group of motivated, driven folk that succumbs to depression, suicide (V G Siddhartha of CCD is one example) and self-ruin.

They are all products of an environment blissfully unaware of healthy self-esteem. An environment that is obsessed in measuring in comparison to others, immersed in winning and seeped in the “opinion of others”. 

As a parent, my job is to ditch all that and to accept my kid as she is, with all her imperfections intact. And to teach her to accept herself as she is – without judgments or comparisons.

The masks we wear – 3

“Don’t show your teeth,” was the typical instruction to me as a kid during a photo shoot. I would close my mouth thinking it’s wrong to have protruding teeth.

Combine that with comments from bullying friends & cousins about my teeth, large eyes and small size (I was among the shortest in class), at a very early age, I felt uncomfortable with who I was physically. The inability to fight bullies compounded it leaving me feeling like a weakling.

I thought “something was wrong in me”. I was scared that no one would want to be my friend. I felt compelled to be “someone extra” just to be “acceptable”. I pretended to be this rich guy who would give out his pencils and notebooks to other kids. The guy who knew so much about many topics. The guy who was smart. The one who was self-assured and confident about himself.

By age 10, that defence mechanism was firmly in place – and it was all about covering up the real me and putting up a “fake me” the world would accept.

I was scared of failure because it would expose that I was not as good as I pretended to be. How could I allow the world to see that I wasn’t as smart as I pretended to be? So I pushed myself into areas where I won. At some point, I became too obsessed about winning. Being among the winners was a drug that I enjoyed.

Then in 1997, something happened in my life that exposed me to my insecurities completely. That year being my 12th board exam only compounded my problems. I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with it. I didn’t tell anyone. I dropped out.

To come back to school again in 1998, I had to change myself. Unable to cope up, I feigned to be this kid who didn’t really care much about winning because it didn’t matter to him, when in reality, it burned me inside to not win. 1998-2004, I was this “serious, but not serious” kid. Getting into competitive situations opened me up completely to my vulnerabilities – so I maintained low profile and avoided such situations. I never let anyone know about it, and suffered inside.

In 2005, I started facing the reality. I slowly recovered to being the high performer I once was, but I was never able to go back to the pre-1997 mode. I measured myself upto that high performer in me and always felt short, no matter what I did. I turned into a workaholic. I set several goals between 2005 to 2015 – and many of them I achieved. Yet, I felt suffocated and unhappy inside.

In 2016, I set out to exploring why. Things were hardly as clear as you read above. When something is uncomfortable, your brain simply shuts it off and you forget the details. To dig it out is a lot of work and a lot of pain. I wouldn’t recommend doing it until you have built-up some mental immunity to what you will surface.

Initially, I only went in search of reasons why I couldn’t be like this pre-1997 person and why that single year impacted my life so much. Details were easily out there, but my brain would simply refuse to look at it. It took several attempts to connect the dots. Yet, resolution was evasive. Until I found Dr David Burns’ books in 2018.

Suddenly, I could connect dots. Not just back to 1997, but to much earlier.

I was “uncomfortable being the real me” and wanted to be a version the world would accept. That inner fear of rejection was covered up with “reputation” of achieving. That reputation gave me relief from the drudgery of being an inadequate weakling. Whenever that reputation was in danger, like it did in 1997, I choked. I was scared people would find out about me and sneer at me. Or worse, reject me. I was scared of rejection.

Once I knew what was really behind my miseries, I was able to work through it and make peace with myself. It did take time, serious honesty and effort. I’m glad to have done this workout.

Here’s a picture of mine from 1986. And a page from my journal from the week when I first connected all the dots backwards.

PS: Friends ask me why I felt that way because don’t look that bad in those photos. Well, circumstances, the subtle comments, bullying and certain environments can do that to anyone.

The masks we wear – 2

Here’s a personal story to highlight how innocuous incidents shape our lives. How we succumb to our own expectations, unknowingly suppress our inner emotions and create a rift between who we are and who we want to be. Multiplied over a lifetime, it suffocates.

I was 7 years old and at my grandma’s. It was evening and I wanted to go back to our home (those days, taking bus alone was perfectly safe in a town like Ooty).

Right when I stepped out, my aunt, who I loved, picked a fight with a tenant at the gate and it turned pretty vociferous. I was mildly scared and couldn’t bring myself to go through the gate.

I waited for a while, but the fight only worsened and few others joined in. 

My own home was a 1 km walk from the bus stop and post 6pm, would be pretty dark. While alone, I always ensured I hit it before 6pm. That day, it looked like I would be delayed. That scared me more.

I somehow brought courage and managed to walk to the main gate, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone. But managed to bump straight into my aunt. In that moment, without knowing what to talk, I mumbled – “aunty, what is happening here?” 

She told me to go back in and I did. 

After some time, the fight subsided and she came in. By now, I had decided to skip going home and was playing with cousins.

She walked straight to me and said it was **courageous of me** to check if she was okay in the fight. And **she berated** my older cousins for not caring to even come out.

Here I was feeling scared inside, worried about that wooded path to home and yet, the person I admire is **praising me** for something I didn’t mean to do. Not just that, she is berating my cousins for the very same thing I too felt inside.

What did I do? I took credit for it. I wanted her appreciation and I simply couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I too was scared.

That incident didn’t make me feel like I won her appreciation, but it only made me feel like a fraud and a coward. 

I suppressed my true emotion because truth was painful and this was an easier escape. I continued that habit well into adulthood. Of suppressing facing the inner reality and taking the easier path of an outer facade. 

This wasn’t the only incident – there were many.

I knew it all along and chose to sweep it under the carpet for long. Sometime in 2016, I decided to face the inner skeletons. 

I took a look at suffocating emotions and dug out past incidents to release them. In the beginning, I didn’t have the tools to handle it without choking. 

I never went to any counsellor. I turned to books. 

I looked for answers to facing deeply uncomfortable emotions and self-defeating belief patterns. It took time. Thankfully, I did find answers. These books helped me immensely. In taking a look at my relationship with myself. In my relationship with others, esp the closest. And in my relationship with my own body (not in the fitness sense, but in terms of muscle memory of painful events).

2019 has been liberating for me. Not only am I more comfortable being myself, my relationships feel more genuine and I feel safe and comfortable being myself, in my own body. Not only it lets me be more of myself, but I can take a honest look at my own fear of failure, fear of being rejected, or that of why I am a workaholic and so addicted to proving things all the time. 

It feels like air is cleaner these days. It’s still an ongoing journey. There are still more chinks in the closet. At least, I now know they are there and have the tools to handle it head on.

PS: I really really recommend Dr David Burns’ books!!

The masks we wear – 1

I don’t recall when I first read this article. But at some point in 2016, it became important to me. 

I started playing cricket in 1991. The 1992 world cup was a massive event for me – and Martin Crowe was my hero. Sachin too. 

I wanted to be like Martin Crowe. Not necessarily a cricketer, but a high performer. I wanted to be respected and admired. Being competitive wasn’t enough – I had to be at the top. That kind of thinking caused much stress and angst in my life all through.

Fast forward 24 years. Martin opened up about how he struggled to cope up with having to perform all the time. 

He spoke about how stressed he was and how he felt like wearing a pretenders mask. 

By then, I had recognised my own flaws, anxieties and had started working on myself. Everything Martin wrote about, I could relate to. It was a relief to see him open up. I spent the next 3 years working on myself. 

I can say I am much more accepting of myself today, more at peace than ever and more happy just ‘being’ instead of ‘becoming’. It’s still a journey though.

Once I opened up with close friends, many of them have gotten back to me with surprising revelations themselves – that life is no less hard for them too, again, largely self-created.

Over the next few days, I’ll share more of my journey and how I coped/am coping with it. My intention is to make it useful for someone going through a similar journey. I don’t need a ‘take care’ message or sympathies. I believe I have done alright inspite of the battles I have created for myself.

For every Dravid or Sachin out there, there’s a Crowe or worse, Vinod Kambli. Oh, you never know until Sachin and Dravid open up too.

Parenting and education

What is the role of parents in the education of kids?

To me, as a parent, my role (and that of the school) is to help the child to:
– learn acceptance of who he/she is.
– not to get sucked into “identity games” of pretending to be someone the society expects him/her to be, when they are not!
– build a sense of inner-worthiness not tied to social status, job, money, rank, etc.
– pursue her/his own curiosity and enthusiasm.
– be independent.

However, all said and done, not everything is in our hands. We are merely facilitators, not enforcers. We need to learn to let go and trust the child to follow her/his own path and make her/his own life – whatever that is.

Finding yourself. Losing your ‘self’.

For the last 2-3 years, I have been trying to be more of myself.

I used to live an outwardly driven life where others’ perceptions and opinions of me mattered… a lot. I wanted to achieve things, be respected and admired.

For some reason, since childhood, I’ve felt like an inadequate guy. Scared that our unforgivingly judgmental society would find out my inadequacies and reject me, I covered it up. With accolades, achievements, pretence and other props that made me ‘look good’ on the outside, but mattered less deep inside.

Those insecurities were my driving force.

Life was one goal after another!

I felt elated when I reached my goals and broken when I didn’t. The recognition I received when I reached my goals pushed me hard. That double edged sword also crushed me in my failures.

I couldn’t enjoy my successes because I couldn’t afford to stop. I couldn’t share my failures openly because I was scared of being judged.

Life was one stage play after another – I was an actor pretending to be an achiever. Never myself, never relaxed. Maintaining the house of cards was taxing.

Tired of running, I started looking inward.

I didn’t know much then. The first couple of years were empty, dull and depressing.

At that point, I didn’t understand why I gave so much importance to others’ opinion of ‘me’. My insecurities were embedded deeply inside and like most uncomfortable things, the mind buried it deep enough so that one doesn’t have to deal with it daily. It took a while and a lot of digging into to uncover the built-up anxieties and insecurities.

It became clear that I had bottled up childhood insecurities and was very uncomfortable in letting the world know of my shortcomings. I was scared of being rejected. That fear of rejection made me conform.

And when you conform so much, you stop being yourself. You chase the facades the society values – status, jobs, money, praise, etc. You essentially live other people’s lives rather than your own!

It became clear that my facades weren’t helping me in the long run. I had to discard them.

Discarding such facades is a deeply painful process. You have to open up unpleasant things about yourself and accept them yourself first, without judging. You have to be your own best friend and it is not easy.

Years of conditioning don’t go away immediately. There’s a lot of internal resistance. I think it is important to build mental immunity first before doing this. Without the mental immunity to handle it, one can drop straight to depression or even suicide. I credit my stint as an entrepreneur for having helped build a bit of mental immunity to handle this reasonably alright. I had two people with whom I could discuss nearly everything without filters, my wife and a close friend, and that really helped.

Once you cross the valley of facades, you’d think things would get easier. Nope!

As I kept peeling the layers of outwardness, hoping I’d find the ‘real me’, I didn’t find a ‘real me’, but only nothingness. The nothingness was extremely unsettling.

All those things that meant so much to me suddenly lost their importance. There was nothing to hold onto – to anchor my life and strive for. Seeking of any kind, the very thing that gave my existence so much meaning until then, turned unimportant.

When you seek, it means you have somewhere to go. However, when you introspect deeply, you realise your seeking is just a facade for your inability to just be yourself. Your facade is your uncomfortable-inner-self trying to be someone else.

When you become comfortable with yourself, you don’t need the facades. Without facades, suddenly there’s no need to seek. It’s as if I spent a lot of time shedding my outer-self in pursuit of a true inner-self, only to discover there’s no such thing.

It’s been a year now – and I am a bit more comfortable with the nothingness or whatever else you could call it. It’s still uncomfortable at times, but then it has helped me shed baggage and travel lighter these days.

Baggage of dreams

It was his first TEDx speech.

He rehearsed yet another time on the way to the venue. A lot of people already knew about his achievements. This was his chance to let them know the story behind it all – the pain, the hardships he had endured to make it all happen!

“Dreams don’t just fructify out of thin air! They need intense effort, discipline and dedication! They need a lifetime of sacrifice!!!” A sense of pride creep into the corner of his lips as he rehearsed his lines. Continue reading