Where do we go from here?

You were talented, and you worked hard. From a young age, you were motivated. Everyone expected you to be successful in life and indeed you have had your success. But at some point, you realize that all your hard work, talent and luck has brought you to this point and this is as far as it goes. You can’t go much further from here. People who are getting ahead of you now, are indeed way better than you are. The difference is so obvious, that you can’t even deny it.

I think almost every person has to come to terms with it at some stage of their lives. Does not matter how good you are at what you do, at some point you have to make way for others who are superior to you. You have already reached your potential and you honestly don’t have what it takes to go to the next level. While this situation is not uncommon, different people process it in different ways. I am not talking about those who have given up early and wasted their potential. I am talking about those who have followed through, who have done everything they could to reach where they are now. And their level of achievement is pretty impressive, by all standards. What happens when such people come to realize that they have reached their end of the climb?

One class of people refuse to accept the simple truth. The fight the inevitable by crying foul…..they blame the system for being biased against them, or for being biased towards other people who got ahead. They often turn bitter, negative and one finds them cribbing all the time. My colleague who sits in the next office, pops into my office at least once every day, and unloads all injustice happening with her….how she got overlooked for a certain award, and how a completely unworthy person was the recipient, how she is not being invited to a prestigious meeting, and how some mediocre person got the invitation, etc. etc. If it is a man who is being chosen over her, then she is an isolated woman in this male-dominated field. If it is a woman instead, then she claims this woman uses her feminine charm to get ahead. Every time it does not go her way, it is unfair.

Few people want to counter the truth by putting some distance between themselves and their smarter rivals. They voluntarily climb down one or two ranks such that they can again surround themselves with people who worship them. They attempt to bring back some of their lost self-esteem in this way. Where I work, the ex-director was like this. He used to work at a very big place, and wanted the top job there. When he did not get it, and a much better candidate was chosen over him, he resigned from there and came to our place instead. Here, he easily became the director and never failed to remind everyone at every opportunity what a great place he comes from.

Another class of people accept the simple truth more gracefully. It will be unrealistic to say that it does not affect their pride at all. But they remain collected. They never bad-mouth those who are doing better. They try to satisfy themselves with what they have, they try to avoid comparing themselves with others, they try to find values in what they are doing, even though they have to admit it is not the very best. It is not an easy thing to do. In a professional world, where competitions are tough, where bragging about your own achievements in a subtle way is often considered normal, it is not easy to keep your spirit high and not let negativity accumulate inside you. I have few colleagues, and friends like this. They struggle but they keep it together. With time some of them become quieter and maintain a low profile.

Few others use yet another coping strategy. They trivialize the accomplishment of people who are doing better than them. They refuse to admit that anyone else is smarter than they are. If they themselves are not able to get to the next level, they promptly declare the next level does not matter. They never cared for it anyway. The fact that few people are already sitting there, proves nothing about their abilities. These people are often loudest, and create most noise. It won’t be wrong to say that they also often provide a comic relief. It is fun to watch how they try to bend the reality according to their liking. It is a story they tell themselves, and by being loud, emphatic, they hope others will also buy into their version of reality.

My workplace has people from all the above categories.

From dusk to a new dawn

2019 flew past me. For a large part of the year I had remained much more busy than I would like to be. In my work front, 2019 has been quite productive and successful. But there were far too many travels, far too much pressure, far too high stress levels….although I love my work, I don’t really enjoy this style of working when I am too rushed to even enjoy my own achievements, however small they may be. So I am hoping 2020 brings a more quiet and peaceful time for me, when I can focus on spending some quality time with those aspects of my work that I enjoy. (As I write this, I take a look at my calendar. Next year January second half already seems full and so far I have committed to two business trips on February and March.)

Outside work, my personal life has also been hectic. In our society you are supposed to look after elders. Apart from my parents, I also feel responsible for some of my uncles and aunts, who are old and do not have anyone else looking after them. I am not complaining exactly, I am aware that I am really lucky to have these people in my life whom I love. Still for a large part of this year I have felt that too many people need too many things from me and I am getting caught up in an exhausting attempt to not disappoint any of them. I realize this has not done me any good. This has raised a feeling of resentment inside me, a feeling of being trapped. Not only I was not able to do everything expected of me, I resented myself for my failure and I resented others for their dependence, for their demand on my time. Often I snapped and ended up hurting those I love. In the coming year I want to take things easy. Instead of thinking about what needs to be done and getting engaged in micro-management (it sounds stupid, but this is exactly what I end up doing), I want to focus on how much I can do and let go after that.

I can almost physically feel the urge of slowing down now, a craving for a downtime. For the last couple of months this urge has grown stronger and stronger. And I don’t mean taking a trip where I eat, drink and try to relax. I have taken enough trips this year and they also come with their share of stress because lot of planning is involved. My downtime is staying at home, doing nothing, waking up when I feel like, cooking if I want, eating whatever I want, sleeping whenever I want, reading a book or going for a jog depending on the mood of the day. That is spontaneity….unplanned, unstructured time that makes way for unbridled joy. In 2020 I want to gift myself a healthy dose of downtime.

This post reads like all I had done in 2019 is rush-rush-rush. Of course that is not true. I have many good memories too. I will end this post with some heart-warming moments I had this year. They are private, small moments and brought me profound joy.

1. Few months back, I was taking my evening walk. One child (about 7 or 8 years old) was riding a bike. He stopped, dismounted, carefully leaned the bike against a tree, stepped back, made sure the bike is quite stable and is not going to fall over. He even gave the bike few small pushes and ensured it goes back to its equilibrium position. I was watching him and my first thought was “Now that is a careful child”. After he was satisfied with the stability of the bike, he started climbing the boundary wall of our complex…a quite high wall and any fall would break his bones. My second thought was “so much for carefulness”. I reached over and told him to come down. He reluctantly climbed down, rode off in his bike….I am sure planning to come back to complete his mission (8 years old boys always have a mission) when this nosy lady is gone.

2. This year I visited an old friend after many years and met her 5 years old son for the first time. The boy was initially shy and was not talking to me. His parents were encouraging him to talk to me, to play with me. Finally when he felt comfortable around me, his first sentence to me was “all my teeth came very late”. For some reason, he thought that is the first thing I need to know about him if we are planning to become friends.

3. Sometimes I have recurring nightmares. Many people do. These are scary dreams which I have been having for many years. Recently I woke up after such a dream and was feeling scared. It was early morning, I knew my husband would now go out for jogging. I asked him if he can go after sometime, not immediately. I did not want to be alone. He assured me and I fell back asleep. After I woke up again, couple of hours later, I found him lying by my side. He chose not to go for his jogging at all! This is a big deal because he is very regular about his morning walk. He has a long commute and can only manage time for jogging in the weekends, and never misses it. That day was a weekend and he still did not go because he wanted to protect me from whatever irrational fear I was having in my mind. This gesture of love kept me warm throughout the day.

I wish all of you a very happy new year. Exactly one year from now, may you look back at 2020 as a year full of amazing memories. Live a rich life, and I look forward to read about your beautiful journey in your blog. Many of you offer a glimpse of your life through your gifted writing and I find that immensely enriching, engaging. Keep sharing. As always, I will post my comment on your blog, if I have some worth-while comment to make. Let’s all stay in touch and step towards a brand new year.

On a perfect day

On a perfect day I wake up early in the morning, refreshed after a good night’s sleep. My mind is calm because I am well-rested. I am eager to start my day’s work. I take a shower and drive to work. The traffic is smooth and I reach my office early….almost no body has arrived yet. The place is quiet. I enter my office, open the windows and fresh morning air fills the room. I never turn on the air-conditioner in the morning. I am focused and feel motivated to start my work. After checking emails, glancing at the news for few minutes I am all set. I am able to concentrate well and the day turns out to be quite productive. Every hour my fitbit signals me to take 250 steps and I walk around the corridor or go to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and these breaks help me to stretch my muscles. I finish work and drive back home. Again traffic is peaceful. I call my parents to check on them and everything is fine. I get ready for my evening walk. One or two of my neighbor friends join me and we have animated conversation. We don’t even realize how one hour gets over. My fitbit count is significantly higher than 10,000…something around 12000 or 13000. It feels good. I come back to my apartment and cool off. I take a shower and there is still some time before it is time for my husband to return home (he has a long commute). I spend few minutes on meditation, I practice my music or read something. My husband comes back. We spend some time talking about our day. Just being in each other’s company is what we need to unwind and this has not changed even after eleven years of marriage. Finally it is time for bed. I read some more and drift to sleep.

Over the past few months I have not had a single perfect day. Is it too much to ask for?

On love and empathy

 A perfect whirlwind…..that’s what it is. For the past few months, my life has been totally spinning out of control. I was not living, I was just rushing from one day to the next, one hour to the next. I don’t like this mode of fast paced existence where I don’t have time to pause, time to breathe. One after another thing kept on coming and simply overwhelmed me. There were times I felt desperate, lonely, inadequate, impatient, angry and some other times when I felt excited, proud, accomplished. Almost all the time I felt tired, stressed and rushed. Needless to say I had no time to blog, because I had no time to pause and reflect. I don’t want to go into details of what all transpired that threw me into this vortex, but I do want to share some lessons that I learned, out of first hand realizations that I had during this time.

1. Power of love. Love is the most important thing to feel, during this limited time we have in this wonderful world. It does not matter who loves you, and how much. What remains with you is how much love you feel in your heart for others. This love that resides in you, gives you strength and assurance. In some difficult times that I had to go through recently, I surprised myself with my own strength. In an emergency (in the true sense of the word) I just needed to realize that somebody I love, is in a difficult situation, and needs my support. Rather than getting paralyzed with worry (which would have been the common response of most people in similar situation), I stopped thinking ahead, stopped thinking “what if” and focussed on what was unfolding before my eyes and what needed to be done at that moment. On retrospect, it turned out that I made some pretty crucial decisions during that time which took things in the right direction. I shudder to think what would have happened other wise.

Was I stressed? Hell, yes. I felt a tight knot in my stomach (really I could put my hand on it and feel the tightness) and totally dried up throat pipe…..these are physical symptoms of stress. But my mind was working with precision and never for a moment my mind allowed me to feel confused or scared. In that emergency situation, I felt in control. It was possible because of love. Nothing else mattered at that moment, just the simple truth that this person I love is in distress, and I just have to rise to the occasion and take charge. Because I can not bear to see someone I love, beaten down…nope…no way…wait for me, I am coming to stand by you, shoulder to shoulder, and we will deal with it. This love urged me on, gave me courage even when I should have been scared, kept me focussed in the present moment. After all was over, I marvelled at the limit to which our abilities can be stretched by this powerful emotion called love.

2. Many people we see around us, appear to be too full of themselves. They seem to be always after their own interests, and completely insensitive to the needs of others. I know many such people among my colleagues, my neighbors, my relatives, my other acquaintances. These people are all the time preoccupied with their own lives and just do not bother about anyone else. I never wanted to live like that. I always want to keep one part of myself ready for listening, helping with, taking interest in things that others may want to tell me. But in this last few months, I was so overwhelmed with things that I realized I am not left with anything to offer to another person. On multiple occasions it happened that when somebody is telling me about their own problems, I am thinking “I don’t want to deal with your negative emotions right now. Stop bugging me.” I was being selfish I know, but I was also feeling helpless about it. One day I was taking my brisk walk in the evening and one neighbor joined me on my walk and soon she was talking about some issues she was facing in her family. I listened to her but was resenting that I have to listen to this after my own long and hard day. I felt she was (unknowingly) drowning me with her own negative thoughts, as if I did not already have enough on my plate. I am not proud of these thoughts but they did cross my mind.

I know I don’t want to be like this. I want to step out of my own little world and actively communicate with other people. I want to actively feel what another fellow human being is going through, I want to listen with sympathy and kindness when someone is narrating me their problems. The impatience or irritation I felt was hopefully temporary and I am now consciously trying to get over it. I believe if a suddenly increased stress level has caused this response, then it is really temporary. I also believe that if I am thrown into this crazy whirlpool too often, again and again, then I will soon get the hang of it. I will learn to deal with this one-after-another-after-another… chain of stressful situations and still live my life where I am able to save a part of myself to respond in a meaningful way to what others are telling me. Most importantly, I realized that I have no right to judge those people who I think are “just too full of themselves”. I don’t know enough about their lives and what they are going through. May be they are so overwhelmed that they are unable to look beyond themselves.

3. I strongly believe that universe has a way of teaching us what we need to know. May be over the time I was slipping into a mode of being too judgemental? Then my own life started this crazy dance and I caught myself doing the exactly same thing as what I resent in others. I harshly judged some people as selfish, callous, insensitive and here I was, behaving exactly like them. I hope I never forget this.

When grief comes…and then comes again

I don’t know her so well….just greet her when I pass her on the street. She stays in our apartment complex. She had a husband and two young children. She seemed like a really competent mom, taking good care of all needs of her children, and she seemed like a very good wife also. She was a housewife and was fulfilling each role with sincerity, authenticity, efficiency, hard work. Then suddenly she lost her husband. In a heart attack, while he was working at office. Her life turned upside down. The life she had built on love, trust, hard work, the life that she was so happily living, suddenly seemed so hard.

People visited the family, offering condolence, offering help. Everybody told her to be strong, everybody told her she has to raise two children all by herself now and she has to be strong for them. The children look confused, both are still at school. One is as young as 7…does he even understand death? Why does he have to understand that at this young age? This child who just learnt to ride a bicycle few days back, now stares at all these visitors with wide, scared eyes. He had never seen so many visitors at their house and he had also never seen the house so quiet and silent. The elder child, who is about 13 or 14, seems stressed, zipped up.

The woman has to be strong. She has to be strong for her kids. She has to now fulfil the role of both parents, and she has to be up for the challenge. She perhaps has to find a job now. A career she had already sacrificed for her family once, now she has to build a career again for her family. People begin to notice her getting out of the house for buying grocery, for dropping the kids at school, for waiting for the kids at the school bus stop. She seems to be getting stronger, she seems to be taking charge of her life again.

But did she grieve? Did she get enough time to process her pain, her loss? Right now she is being strong, everybody is also encouraging her to be that way. She has to work hard to make things as normal for the kids as possible. It seems she already has been making some progress in that direction. Weeks have already gone by, months will go by, years will start going by. The kids will adjust, their life will be going on again. The younger one will perhaps not even remember much of these days, few years down the line.

But does she know, when she least expects it, after few years may be, she will suddenly be paralysed with grief all over again? It can come in the form of a dream, or some small incident, or some seemingly insignificant association, and it will simply take her down in its sudden and raw attack. And after all those years, she will be completely alone with this flood of grief. Right now she is moving on, trying her best to move on, trying to find her new normal and this uphill task is just keeping her busy. She is holding the position of strength for the kids now. They need her, no time to be weak now. She is helping everyone to tide over their grief. But her own pain, she has to handle completely by herself, when the world around her has truely moved on.

I know this because I was that woman once. After losing a very close family member, I became the most able person to take care of everybody around me. I was a source of strength for them, they counted on me, they could not go on without my constant assurance. While everybody was processing the grief in their own way, my level-headed behavior, my objective thinking helped them to anchor their lives again. I did not allow myself to be broken down and I was actually appreciated, praised for that.

After many years, the dreams started coming. They were based on something small but unmistakably connected to that person. These dreams jolted me and raised emotions in me which were shockingly intense. I was not aware that I had so strong emotions stored inside me, I thought I had moved on, I thought I had overcome the pain, only to realise that my wound was still so raw. But the hardest part was dealing with it alone. All others have (seemingly) moved on, managed to come to terms with the loss, except me, who was peering into the raw open wound for the first time and realising nothing has healed. My surroundings had also changed a lot by this time, I had moved away from my hometown, and was not staying with my family any more. My new surroundings were not connected at all to this family member I lost. This also made me think that the whole world has moved on without that person and I became even more lonely and isolated in my grief.

It took me a very long time to understand this pain, to admit that it is not perhaps going to go away completely ever, and finally I was able to release part of this pain through those dreams, those moments of vivid and paralysing sorrow. I came to realise I was at last grieving, and allowed myself to do that. I was able to accept those nights when I would wake up from a dream in a flood of tears. Slowly I learnt to get through those moments, when out of the blue something would remind me of some small details from my past along with the thought that since this person left my life, this is the First Time I am thinking of that particular detail. One would expect that when enough time has passed, there won’t be such “first times” anymore….but apparently there is a non-ending sequence of such “first times” and each stabs you sharply in your heart. But I finally learnt to take these moments, these thoughts head on and while they remained painful, I became okay with that pain.

I don’t know this woman in my neighborhood so well……I certainly can’t share these deeply personal things with her. But I silently wish her all the strength she needs to tide over this delayed grief that she may have to experience many years from now.

That connection I felt

Last night something woke me up. I realized it was some loud conversation right below my bedroom window. It seems in our apartment complex someone had a party and the guests were leaving. It was 2:30 a.m. and this group of people were not even trying to keep their voice down. They were saying goodbyes, they were making plans for the next gathering, chit-chatting, completely oblivious to the fact that it was late at night, that it was a residential complex and people are sleeping. My initial urge was to get up, walk in the balcony and sternly ask them to keep it down, reminding them the time of the night. And in most cases I would have done just that. But for some reason (may be because of the cold), last night I stayed in bed and tried to calm myself by actually listening to their conversation. Okay, I grant that these people are perhaps being inconsiderate right now, but how different they are actually from me? Turns out, not much. True, I can’t see myself making noise in the middle of the night like that but these people also are going about their lives, making plans with friends and family, urging people to visit again, accusing some others that they do not keep in touch often enough. The glimpses of their lives I could see (rather hear) is something so familiar, so wholesome, so lively, that it soothed me, it reassured me. It filled me with a sense of peace and love, with a sense of belonging. The thought came to me that I don’t need to be anywhere else right now, this is exactly where I am supposed to be at this moment, with this flow of life going on around me. The life that so many people have built on love, on companionship, on kindness, on eagerness to hold onto each other. I felt at peace with everything.

I wish I could write that I finally drifted back to sleep, my heart overflowing with love and gratitude but unfortunately that did not happen. I could not sleep at all afterwards and for the whole day at work today I was tired and miserable, could not concentrate at the task at hand.

But I wish to experience such moments again. When I am able to feel connected with everyone, when I am able to see how little difference is there between all of us….I wish I could put myself in this frame of mind more often. I wish I am able to do this when I feel angry at a driver who cuts be off in traffic, when I feel impatient with a colleague who complains about everything, when I feel annoyed with a stranger for taking enormous amount of time at the supermarket cash counter…i.e. in many situations in life when I feel “I deserve better than this” and hence immediately disconnect myself from the ‘living’ that is taking place around me. I wish I could fall back on this mindfulness, on this conscious choice of connected-ness at those moments.

Childless-Childfree

I don’t have children, and I am in my early forties, which means I don’t plan to have any either. No, this does not mean I am a child-hater or some such thing. I love children, and actually I am the most favorite aunt of many of my friends’ and cousins’ children. It is just that I never felt any urge to have my own. People talk about ticking biological clock….somehow it never ticked for me. As a result, having a baby never seemed like a natural thing to do in my life. I am career-wise quite successful and being a mother would have meant making some big adjustments in my priorities, and I found no reason to do that. I was perfectly happy with my life and lacked nothing. And thus I reached my forties, without creating a “little me”.

However, the problem comes from the society. I am based in India and in my country the society is a conservative one. So “childfree” is actually interpreted as “childless”. And immediately you are flooded with sympathy from people. When I was younger, many people, after learning that I have no children, would encourage me to get medical help. Some relatives would even pass me contact details of some very good gynecologist they have heard of, who have helped lot of women like me. Yes, in a conservative society, where assumptions are rigid, boundaries are often not maintained. As I became older, thankfully these advises have stopped. Now I just get sympathy, heart-felt sympathy from people. I have actually learnt to accept it gracefully. I don’t feel any need to actually explain to these sympathetic and kind souls that I am really happy and miss nothing in my life. They would think I have gone crazy (for failing to become a mom by a certain age) or I am outright evil.

Having or not having babies should be an entirely personal decision. Specially for women, whose body is going to be affected by this decision in a major way. Even if there is no other reason, I can simply choose not to put my body through this extremely uncomfortable and painful process. Unfortunately, most people do not look at it that way and would actually find this point of view quite shocking. But in my opinion that is sheer ignorance on their part. I am not the only one, there are lot of women like me who feel no maternal instincts and would like to opt for a life without children. But they are often not taken seriously. Imagine a college-going girl, who announces that she would never ever become a mother. Elders are always telling her in a loving way, knowing way, that she would change her mind someday. Or suppose you try having a sterilization surgery when you are well-within your child-bearing age limit, and when you have not had any child yet. No doctor would do it for you.

It is funny that how reaction from the society would make an issue a big one. In my life for a long time, I have never really thought much about being or not being a mother. I was a very bright student all along and from a very young age I was completely focussed on my studies. Yes, I was a nerd. If I will get married, what type of husband I want, or if I will have babies, etc. were not the questions that would bother me even when I was in my early or mid twenties. Rather, I would sweat about my career options, whether I am making good use of my potential, how to move my position up the success ladder etc. I had lot of friends, had good amount of fun, but all along I was looking for a solid ground beneath my feet, just like other male friends I had in my circle. I met my husband while pursuing my career. However, as I reached my late twenties, early thirties, mid thirties, I was having to face questions like when I am planning to have children, if I already have any…..and slowly this became an important thing and my views on this issue became an important part of who I am. Funny, isn’t it?

My childfree choices allow me to live the life I want, I am able to travel, I am able to focus on my job that I am so passionate about, I am able to spend quality time with my husband. For many many friends of mine, whenever they land in this part of the world, their default place to stay is our home, because we have time for them, because our schedule is flexible. Particularly, those friends who have small kids, will definitely not stay anywhere else since the kid is so fond of us. In our extended family, if anybody is faced with some kind of medical emergency, we are the only people they can count on, since all others are so busy with their children. I am not trying to argue that my choice is better than somebody else’s who has children, I am just pointing out how this works for me.

I hope you are also happy with the choices you have made in your life. Those choices may be acceptable by the society, or may be frowned upon, but what matters is you are happy with your choices and don’t feel burdened by them, what matters is these choices are working out for you.

Please share your thoughts, your comments  below.