While a majority of us turn tail at the first sign of adversity, there are a few courageous souls that like to take life’s challenges head-on (And end up with a swollen head from all those head butts. Some swollen heads are also born out of arrogance on successfully taming these challenges). In fact, unlike the majority of us who use these hardships (such as acquired muscle pulls during the first few minutes at the gym, a bad performance during a group presentation in college, being rejected the very first time when asking someone out, falling off a bicycle while learning how to ride, heading into Andheri (a suburb of Mumbai, which is a populous city in itself) traffic, which I admit requires bravado, vacationing with overzealous relatives, finding a fly in the soup at a particular restaurant (like it’s never happened at home) and even being chased by a horde of dogs while walking your own) as an excuse to completely avoid these responsibilities along with a zillion others, the determined few tell themselves that they have had enough coming second to their problems, and intend to address them with enthusiasm, guts, and purpose.
Adopting a mindset that is positive in its outlook and perceives challenges as fun puzzles, is already a massive step in the direction towards success and fulfillment. Mastering our mind is key to mastering our lives.
I’m a big fan of the Rocky movie series (It ain’t over till it’s over), and in its sixth edition, ‘Rocky Balboa’, I was very moved by the spiel Rocky gives his son about life. It’s not about how hard you can hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward (If you’ve been reading my articles regularly, you will notice I find inspiration from anywhere; sports, movies, superheroes, toys, strangers, traffic, perpetual selfie-takers, Chihuahuas, and even my shadow (only at the ‘right’ angles)).
Until my mid-twenties I had a pretty meek demeanor towards everything and I was easily overwhelmed by situations, and more specifically people. As a kid, I have been scolded a couple of times by passers-by aunties in my locality for playing in the sun, while my parents were totally fine with it. I would disappear at top speed if I saw any middle-aged woman henceforth. I would blindly follow certain boys that I perceived as cool in school and take up classes and extracurricular activities, even if I had little interest, just because they had. Despite my talent as a cricketer during high school, I silently played victim to political gambles within our team and ended up with raw deals on multiple occasions. I was crazy about my first girlfriend in my teens and her wish became my command. This attitude of mine ensured that a relationship of equals had become lopsided, as I spent years at the bottom end of the see-saw. I can speak of various instances where I was easily bullied by people. Bosses, colleagues, family, taxi drivers, home delivery personnel, and now that I think of it, even my dogs and three-year-old may have pulled a few fast ones on me. And in defense of all these people, I was a willing accomplice. My demeanor sent a message loud and clear that it was okay to treat me this way. I thought I was being nice, and I cared enough to not fight back. I was just being a scared jackass.
And then one day, after spending a quarter century or more hiding in the shadows, I decided to step out, stand up for myself, and work hard on my confidence and self-belief. In my quest to improve regularly and hone my mental strength and other skills, I became a tougher critic of myself over time. In my quest to prove my mettle, I began to set harder goals for myself and decided to not settle for anything less than absolute success. Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t have my fair share of failures, but with every single one of them, I took a bitter turn towards myself. I set expectations of myself, which were perceptibly greater than anyone else’s of me. And in this pursuit, I probably set goals for myself that were unreasonable (By which I mean that they had to be devoid of mistakes or failures). Despite my diligence, commitment, hard work, integrity, and blatant honesty (fans of which I can count on the fingers of one hand), I didn’t always succeed, and that didn’t go down too well with me. The shortcomings could be very small (like minor errors in my Excel sheet workings, a less than perfectly composed email, or completing my 7-kilometer daily walk 2 minutes slower) or larger ones (like trouble in managing personal relationships, failing to convert every sales lead, and trailing my long term goals), I came down hard on myself.
In my quest to earn self-respect and not be allow myself to be ill-treated by others, I started meting out some really bad treatment to myself. I was no better than the many people I had encountered thus far. My lack of empathy for myself (despite a lot of empathy towards others), was adding to my bitterness, and subsequently showed in my environment, and results in my performances in every aspect of my life. There was a point where I didn’t even smile much or stopped altogether. My behavior was the equivalent of punishing myself for overeating by ordering one more banana split sundae. I lost focus on a basic fact of life that empathy, care and kindness, and not brashness and rigidity, lead to improved confidence, achievement, and true happiness.
I’m learning to not be too harsh (no pun intended) on myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t give everything my best and behave like a bum. It just means that even though the best efforts don’t always result in positive or desired outcomes, I pick myself up with care, and have another go. While, I truly believe that consistency in our effort tends to attract positivity in our environment, and things tend to manifest in our favor, it is a long process and comes without a 100 percent guarantee. The nicer we are to ourselves, and the more we love ourselves, the closer we get to that figure (assuming we do all the other necessary things as well)
Guess who paid the price for being meek and letting go of dreams and goals easily? You’re right, I did. And guess who bore the brunt of a negative mindset by being an overachiever and too hard on himself? Correct again, me. If taking things too easily is detrimental, being too hard on ourselves and not offering any reprieve is equally damaging.
Give yourself credit, time, attention and love, and only then will you truly empower yourself. Stop trolling the person in the mirror (unless your wife is checking her self out while trying on her forty-sixth dress as you look on in exasperation).
Take a break, have a Kit Kat.