Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The magical power of deep conversations


 Last week I was on vacation with a very dear friend and her teenage daughter. I introduced them to a ‘Confessions Game’- a deck of cards on money, relationships, family and career. The person rolling the dice, answers a question on the card that she picks. The questions were bold and made you reflect deeply on aspects of your life that you may not have revealed to yourself, let alone the world. 'How would you say your parents have damaged you?', 
'Whose contribution in your life has not received its due?' 'Talk about a time when you had been selfish in a close relationship.' There were interesting revelations that we made, some hesitatingly and some quite openly. I was apprehensive about introducing this contemplative activity on a vacation which was supposed to be high energy, but was pleasantly surprised to see how it appealed equally to a 50 and a 17 year old.

So what about this simple game fascinated us?

Our minds are flooded with a multitude of thoughts and feelings- some pleasant and some frightening. The turmoil in our external world has only compounded the state of our inner world. The fear of impending death, loss of a job, the loneliness- the chaotic clutter has its pulls and pressures. In placing them out there, we are lessening the burden of holding it in our minds. A spring cleaning of thoughts and emotions that have been buried in the recesses of our mind, hanging heavy. Vulnerable sharing of our past, particularly our childhood has a certain liberating quality to it. Critiquing our parents’ style of parenting, is not something that’s common or encouraged. Yet in this reflective objective evaluation, we redeem a part of ourselves. The smoothing of the frayed edges is soothing.

“Everyone communicates, few connect.” this statement by John Maxwell, stands out as a stark reminder of our lives in the recent past. An inability to comprehend the embroils of our mind, the hesitation in voicing our discomfiting feelings; has led to stress and anxiety. A growing sense of isolation and solitude is an obvious by product of pent up emotions. Such an irony in times where our lives are getting invaded by new communication technology and social media platforms!

When we share uninhibitedly , carefully examining what makes us who we are, we feel healed and collected.  The hurt caused by betrayal, the guilt of a broken relationship, the crashing of dreams and desires– is yearning for release. With all that’s getting accumulated within, the need to have adequate support groups where there is safety in letting our guard down; is becoming a pressing need.  I see many around me getting crushed under its colossal weight of unresolved thoughts and feelings, leading to ill health both physical and psychological.  They try desperately to put up a façade of normalcy, denying the whirlwind of unsettling emotions that rages within.

As a conversation starter, this game was the perfect medium to dive deep within. My friend and I had a candid threadbare discussion on an argument we had a day earlier. We got to the source of what triggered us and what we need to be mindful of in future. Mother and daughter surprised each other with their perspectives, taking their relationship a notch deeper. My reservations about my friends’ likes, an assumption that this game would be dismissed as ‘too serious or heavy’ was busted all too quickly.

Many of us spend time on social media speaking about what’s going right in our lives. And that’s just a miniscule part of who we are.  In our effort to uphold a social image of having everything under control, we quell our weak and tender side. We need to consciously keep identifying people within our network who we can turn to, to rediscover, redeem and re align ourselves. Coaches, friends, family need to be sought out as our support circle.

When we choose this for ourselves, we are wise not weak.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

2020- A year to remember

 I can’t recall any other year, where the polarity of life’s dimensions have been so stark.  As a year that has been universally classified as difficult and stressful, the minimalist lifestyles added an alluring simplicity and contentment. Even while fear was rampant, we were filled with gratitude for the privileges we so often take for granted. Even as the physical interactions were minimized, I found myself engaging in deeper conversations- not just with folks in my circle but also with myself. Despite the restrictions on movement , the fitness regime intensified. Yoga, walking and my dance routines provided the burst of oxytocins while keeping me agile.

The EUM ( Existential Universe Mapper) is a powerful profiling tool used for self awareness and organization development initiatives. I am attempting to review the year gone by through this lens for 2 reasons: One because I have devoted considerable time this year in understanding its tenets and its nuances. Secondly 2020 has been a year when several existential questions have been posed before us, so it seemed only right to map myself on these fundamental aspects of the human psyche. 

 

  • Universe of Belonging and Protection (UBP): The first 3 months of a full lock down turned out to be such a blessing. Time which in my mind was always in short supply suddenly stretched itself to include all that's warm and comforting in its embrace. Watching a treasure flower go from bud to full bloom in under an hour, delectable food experimentations, poring over old letters and reliving sepia tinted memories captured in photo albums. There was time and space to fully savour these soul nourishing activities. In February, Nelson and I decided to formalize our relationship of 3 years. The celebratory mood filled my home and friends and family got together to have the time of our lives. With a full house, it looked every bit a 'shaadi ka ghar.' The kitchen was running round the clock catering to everyone's tastes, all the 'gaddas' and linen were pulled out, music and conversations had the house buzzing. Soon after the lockdown separated us in two cities. I was able to get to Bangalore after 3 months. Crossword, cooking and conversations over umpteen cups of masala chai gave us much cheer in these times. This was the first time I was spending so much time with Nelson, his daughter and his mother. I had apprehensions of how it would turn out but the time spent together only strengthened the bonds. A few moments of exasperation are an exception that I am happy to let go off! As someone who’s comfort space is the home, there was something very therapeutic about spending such long stretches of time tucked into favourite corners of both my homes. Being safe at home from the menacing world outside, was reassuring. 

  • Universe of Strength and Desire (USD) : This has been my Achilles heel till now but I think 2020 saw the lifting of the veil on this one. I find myself speaking alot more about what I want- whether its on the work or on a personal level. With age I have come to unapologetically express my desires- I have become more acutely aware of this in my marriage. Authentic communication whether unpleasant or complimentary has been the mainstay of our relationship. What I want to enhance in the coming year, is  visibility wrt to promotion of GLOW’s work. 

‘Rasa nubhava’ was experienced in ample measure too. A plenitude of scintillating dance performances, dance film reviews, BIC talks fuelled my creative spirit. This year I was introduced to the magical world of Kabir through Shabnam Virmani’s soulful renditions.  Not to mention the joy in decorating my home in Bangalore. The touch of colour and warmth added by lamps, paintings, linen, plants. Re starting my dance classes was another highlight of 2020. Online classes were unthinkable till a few months ago. The rigor of not just practice but also vocal music and theory is a space where I completely lose myself.

  • Universe of Roles and Boundaries (URB): In my new avtaar as a wife, a step mother and a daughter in law, I am proud of how I eased into each of these roles without much fuss. Despite the travel restrictions, I am happy to have divided my responsibilities suitably in both my homes. 

  • Universe of Purpose and Achievement (UPA): None of the tangible goals at GLOW (www.glowforall.com) were achieved. While this was a let down, the circumstances challenged me into doing what had been unthinkable till now. That of preparing full fledged programs online. The excellent feedback received was reward enough for the hours that went into content preparation. The research on a ‘Mindset for Marriage’ was heartening and I’m hoping Nelson and I are able to run several impactful coaching sessions for millennial couples starting their life together. In a pandemic year, a few unexpected remunerative engagements dropped like manna from the heavens!

  • Universe of Meaning and Intimacy ( UMI): At the start of the lockdown, the migrant labour situation was deeply disturbing. I felt very guilty about sitting indoors enjoying a life of privilege while millions suffered for basic food and lodging. Even though it was a small effort, I am happy to have assisted Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Maanch in providing food and rations to the needy. Later in the year, Gayatri’s admission to college and listening to her speak excitedly about online college life; was fulfilling. This year at GLOW foundation we commenced our 3rd cohort of the mentoring journey with 17 bright and aspiring college girls. A small drop in the ocean but definitely a step in the right direction. 

  • Universe of Duality and Simultaneity (UDS): The year ended with a thought provoking read on dharma, titled ‘Maryada’ by Arshia Sattar. A few aspects that stayed with me and will guide my action when in a dilemma. 1) The quest is in asking the right questions rather than being obsessed with arriving at the ‘right’ solutions. Dharma is ‘sukshama’ and needs to be evolved rather than follow it as an edict.  I have earlier chided myself for not taking a definitive stance on any matter and for running the risk of being seen as wishy washy. I have come to appreciate my own balanced view ( as opposed to a unifocal one) whether its politics, child rearing, marital relationships, attitude towards work. 2) Arriving at dharma is when ‘svadharma’ aligns with ‘sanatan dharma.’When what serves me also serves a larger good, I am living my dharma. This sits well as a guideline when making a decision from multiple options that presents itself in every situation. 

The goals of life, 'kama’, ‘artha’ and ‘dharma’ were fulfilled in reasonably good measure, this year. So despite the apocalyptic nature of 2020, I am filled with gratitude for all that it has offered.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Mid Life Marriage Musings

As a young girl, one of my most cherished dreams was that of an ideal marriage and the joys of motherhood. Believing every bit of the fairy tales I grew up reading, I knew Prince Charming would appear in due course. One only had to be a good girl like Rapunzel, Thumbelina, Cinderella to deserve one!  This vision of a perfect life was demolished cruelly at the age of 28. My husband was not what I had imagined him to be. The crashing of my dreams was devastating. The solitude even more painful.

Not just the loss of companionship but also that I won't be a mother was terrifying. All my friends were bearing babies and posting cute cuddly pictures of their chubby infants.  Pangs of envy and self pity would ever so often consume me. As my biological clock ticked away, the desperation got even more intense. I was willing to make compromises as long as the comfort of being ‘attached’ and the promise of children was provided. I signed up on very possible dating portal in the hope that something would click soon. Anyone who was even remotely amiable seemed like a possibility. I had strange conversations with people and I kept assuring myself that in the larger scheme of things, a few aberrations were acceptable. But destiny kept prolonging the wait. The more I pined for it, the more it eluded me.

I don’t know at what point I gave up and reconciled to my circumstances. As other aspects of my life took center stage- my career, classical dance, community work, social life; marriage and motherhood got relegated to the background. I learnt to savour the freedom of singledom, even chuckling with excitement to not have the trappings of family responsibilities that my friends complained of. Engagement with children came through my NGO, DEEP Foundation. DEEP works on inculcating life skills for children from lesser served backgrounds. When someone asks me about how many kids I had, I proudly say 55! As a ‘masi’ to my friends’ children I love being their confidante and mentor. These cherished moments continue to nourish my maternal instinct completely.

Three years ago, when I was least expecting or wanting any change in my life, I was introduced to someone who fitted my fairy tale hero image. His calm and compassionate demeanour was alluring. I became aware of what I had been missing all these years- the comfort of care and companionship. I felt the weight of the fiercely independent streak I was wearing with vanity; drop with a thud. The thought of knowing that someone has your back was soothing. With no cloud of desperation looming over me, I took my time to get to know him better.  It felt right to tie the knot for a second time at the age of 48.

In the last 2 decades, experience and perhaps maturity have brought to light illuminating insights. 

a)      When the jigsaw puzzle doesn't fit naturally, Step back: There is no ‘right time’ for anything in life. It is right when it feels so. Sometimes pressing the pause button on critical decisions is much better idea than forcing it to happen. Slowing down helped me pay attention to subtler messages in my environment, those that helped me either pursue or withdraw from a prospective relationship. The gnawing unease when something's not right even though you can't articulate it, synchronicity of events, a surge of strong emotions; were pointers that found place in my decision making process. 

b)     Do I know what I'm seeking?:   Would someone with a fat paycheck but no emotional sensitivity fit the bill? Or someone who's an adept diaper changing daddy but not so ambitious? Or perhaps someone who regales me with his wit and humor but believes strongly in preserving traditional gender roles? What was I willing to negotiate  and what would be a deal breaker? Taking time to evaluate these qualities took a long time. In the process I got to meet myself- I realized I was following a socially acceptable paradigm of relationships which didn't fit with my list of wants and desires. Two decades ago, my checklist just stopped short at good looks, a stable job, fluency in English and a top of the line college degree. Such a contrast to my current ask of alignment in values, vulnerability quotient, emotional intelligence, childhood role models.  

c)      Self growth interventions: As a coach and with the several investment in personal transformation programs, I can clearly see how my perspectives have seen a dramatic shift for the better.  Strong judgments held earlier have been discarded, replaced with an acceptability of diverse views. A careful observation and analysis of the layers of my personality has definitely helped in building a flexible approach to situations. The narrow critical approach has given way to a wide angle viewing lens- bringing more prospects into the fray than before. 

If the wisdom of what I have today was available to me earlier, the probability of striking right the first time round might have been higher. A generation ago, domestic roles were starkly demarcated across gender; leaving little room for conflict. With expectation shifting towards a balance of roles, there is greater pressure on relationships to sustain themselves. We may want to question our  reliance on social beliefs that marriages are made in heaven and fate decides the choice of a partner. Perhaps its time for us to acquire a changed mindset , learn practical skills for connection and adaptation. With some conscious effort we may be better prepared to engineer our relationships to work for us. 

 

 

Aparna Mathur is a leadership coach and co founder of Growing Leadership of Women (www.glowforall.com) She believes that a family, anchored around the woman as the primary caregiver is a fundamental unit that enables joyful communities and successful corporations. Her husband, a fellow coach and she are launching a webinar series on acquiring a Mindset for Marriage. If this interests you do write in to aparna94@gmail.com

  


Monday, June 1, 2020

Lessons in Leadership- Reflections as an RWA member


In the last two years as a member of the resident welfare association (RWA) of my condominium, I have been privy to several highs and lows in its functioning. As a team we have battled several challenges with possibly more incidents of despair than cheer. It’s a perfect testing ground to assess one’s leadership skills- of decision making, team building, emotional resilience, communication. If you thought the corporate world was tough, this one will make it pale in comparison. Maybe HR heads should check in on an RWA experience to assess the leadership potential of a candidate!

How do you get a random group of very diverse people to work with no established hierarchy, nor remuneration to come together for a cause that’s selfless?  This article is an exploration of what are the basic building blocks that would help such a group to work effectively as a unit.
It turns out that the answers lie in lessons of leadership that we hear so often in our corporate circles.

Building a team: One hoped that as the group got busy in the deluge of responsibilities, it would somehow organize itself to function as a well oiled machine. Given that human behaviour is more complex, this needs to be designed by conscious and sustained effort . The work goes beyond pleasantries to understanding each one’s background, context, eccentricities, inner motivations so as to connect at a deeper level. For the enormity of the tasks that are undertaken, trust based on strong connections becomes paramount. Its naïve to expect a blanket sanction of trust at the outset. With little emotional glue to bind us, skirmishes of varying intensities were bound to happen.

Aligning to our Purpose: The answer to the big ‘why’. Why am I here and what’s in it for me? Given that this is a thankless responsibility to bear, what’s going to be my payoff? This may invite a question mark, since on the face of it everyone’s purpose seems obvious. Fuzzy and abstract as it may sound, the responses can be very layered offering a greater opportunity for members to be aligned towards the overall group objective E.g One may look at his contribution on setting a process where the reliance on singular decision making is minimized. Someone else may want to leverage their professional skills in running the affairs of the condominium. For some a desire to stay busy would be of significance. In a curious discovery of every member’s orientation of purpose, power and passion; a stronger bond can be forged as a unit to take on a mammoth task that lies before us. 

Conflict handling: Conflicts are natural and to an extent dissent is very healthy for the functioning of a team. Our working edicts speak very little of how disagreements in a group should be navigated. Many of the issues are either left simmering below the surface or live in the hope of it being resolved by another. This is a skill needed not just for the team to work efficiently but also to deal with the barrage of complaints that pour in from unforgiving residents. Since difficult conversations are not surfaced the pool of engaged members keeps shrinking as the others sit on the fence looking at everything with a critical eye. 

 Shared decision making: Keeping accountability intact, critical projects like exterior building maintenance, fire safety upgradation, response to covid are best handled when more people are involved. Shared decision making with resident subject matter expertise; mitigates the risks involved with such decisions; especially since many of the projects were being undertaken for the first time. It’s a great way to take the pressure off the RWA, not to mention allowing for transparency; a constant ask by most residents.

No matter what the objective and how noble the intent, the role of these behavioural aspects cannot be undermined for any team. One may argue that with time constraints this kind of alignment or training may be a luxury. However its benefits outweigh its demand on our time and benefit. Perhaps its time, even bye laws of society get modified to include this in their guidelines.



Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Women Rising


The challenges and opportunities for Women in a male dominated industry

At a recently concluded leadership engagement I had the opportunity to engage with aspiring high potential women at a leading engineering company.

Interacting with them reminded me of my days as a young sales executive. Almost 2 decades ago, I had joined Schindler, an elevator and escalator company as their first female employee in sales and project management. Needless to say, the entry barriers in an all male territory were very high. There was scepticism and sarcasm of all kinds, leaving me to question my decision on several occasions. In the initial days, I must have looked like a deer in the headlights, with fear and self doubt looming large on my mind. Sensing my plight, an elderly male client of mine, counselled me that sales of an engineering product was not for women and I should actively consider a job change. With no diversity and inclusion initiatives to lean on, the journey was difficult but an equally enriching one. As I look back I can say with certitude that those 6 years were the best part of my professional career.

As I engage with engineering organizations as a leadership coach, its heartening to see the concerted efforts being made by them to attract, retain and grow women leaders as part of gender diversity initiatives. Over the last twenty years, the working climate has definitely become more conducive for women.  However, women in male dominated industries such as engineering companies still continue to face greater hurdles than their counterparts in other sectors such as IT, BPO and BFSI. Some biases may have shifted to more subtler forms but can still be challenging to deal with on a continuous basis.

The challenges, to name a few: 
  •    Women find it difficult to keep long hours and feel their male colleagues are better appreciated for their hard work. “I want to tune off after I leave office but this has an adverse impact. My boss is positively biased towards my colleague because he is always available,” complained a young woman unsure of what she should do.
  • ·  They rarely receive direct and constructive feedback from their managers. Many male managers have never worked with women before and are naturally very awkward in their interactions. A young engineer in one of my sessions, shared her upset when a feedback from her manager came through one of her colleagues.
  • ·   Men are still wary of buying from a woman. Clients often feel the need to validate technical specifications with their male counterparts. I recall how a client, in a techno commercial negotiation meeting; kept looking expectantly over my shoulder in the hope that some ‘knowledgeable’ man had accompanied me since a woman was incapable of having such discussions. A young sales executive from field operations in Bangalore, felt her client was hesitant to engage in a tough negotiation in the fear that she may be brought to tears. She of course refuted it vehemently and continued the protracted negotiation with greater energy.
  • ·   A woman who questions status quo is very often tagged as being aggressive. Being submissive and compliant is a conditioned expectation for most men and any change to this invites critical comments. When women stay true to their stereotype of being agreeable they run the risk of not being seen as a leader. This double bind is more pronounced for women in teams where the gender ratios are skewed.
  • ·    With the rising decibel levels on increasing gender diversity, peers feel they are getting preferential treatment. Upgraded accommodation and travel for reasons of safety; are being seen as unfair privileges; sparking sarcastic comments.
  • ·   A low gender balance creates an unequal environment. Women feel the added pressure to be recognized for their accomplishments and be seen like their male counterparts. Many fear that even a slightest mistake would cast aspersions on their performance owing to their gender. 

The opportunity:

Surviving and thriving in male dominated industries is like a double edged sword- it can be challenging but also presents a tremendous opportunity for learning and growth. With the qualities of diligence, people management, win-win solutions that come naturally to them, they are in an advantageous position to gain a step up. A woman hire in the site installation team received generous compliments for coping with a physically demanding job. She spoke with quiet confidence that demonstrated her readiness to handle its complexity. Having seen her on the job, her manager’s initial apprehension turned to glowing appreciation for her commitment and ability to multitask. The pride in his voice was unmistakable.
I overheard a female engineer speak very proudly about how she had learnt to ignore some comments and carry on with confidence. Several of her colleagues nodded in admiration of her new found winning strategy.
What sets them apart is a certain mental resilience that is needed to go past barriers to prove their mettle. The trying circumstances, if one is able to tackle, accords a tremendous sense of accomplishment. It’s a high that makes the journey worthwhile.
As more women move into roles that are traditionally male oriented; they become exemplary role models, inspiring other women to bite the bullet. With diversity and inclusion initiatives priming the cultural environment; building a gender balanced workforce in such industries is not such a distant possibility.

Sunday, June 23, 2019


An eternal quest


My reflections post reading ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama

 How can you ask a child what will you become when you grow up?” Michelle Obama remarked, on an Oprah Winfrey show. “Life is a journey about who you are becoming, not a destination to get to.” Of all the autobiographies I have read, this one struck a chord with me the most.
Her book speaks to every woman- as an inspiration to find their unique self and flaunt it with style.  “If there is one thing I’ve learnt , it’s the power of using your voice” she remarks with a sincerity that is heart warming. And yet to get to this authentic space of being yourself, of speaking your mind for what you believe in; is fraught with struggle. For a life that may seem like she has it all, her fears and doubts are those that every woman goes through. “ Am I good enough?” ran through like a leitmotif for a large part of her early life. One would imagine that a woman with a double Ivy League degree would not have such thoughts plaguing her and that her career path would be all sorted out. Driven by the desire to pursue something meaningful she gave up her career in law; even without an inkling of what she would do next. She found a job at Public Allies after a relentless search.    
A vulnerable expression of her doubts and dilemmas make her real, relatable and even more charming. She navigates her many roles, with deep seated conviction, remarkable candour and courage that most of us aspire to possess.  A spouse who stood shoulder to shoulder by her man, a mother fiercely protective of her children, a professional determined to contribute to the world meaningfully.
In her childhood, I found many similarities with mine. My parents provided love and care in ample measure but balanced it with discipline. They were directive when they needed to be but also encouraged independent thinking on several matters. Contentment was in the small joys of picnics, a chilled Thumbs Up on a hot summer afternoon, the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls wafting through our home. The invaluable lessons learnt, the love received will always hold me securely in its embrace. Its comfort gives me the strength to push boundaries and experience the joy of uninhibited expression.
The unfolding of  Michelle Obama’s love story had me excited like a teenager. In Barack she found a perfect match-an intelligent , sensitive man, much sought after by law firms and firmly rooted in his values. His impish wide grin only adding to his irresistible charm. The romantic bended knee proposal at a routine dinner date is the kind of stuff that all girls dream of. Its wonderful to see how they make adjustments to accommodate each other at different stages. Barack managed two jobs when Michelle chose meaning in her work over money. When he was campaigning for Presidency, she realigned her work schedule to support him and the kids. And just as every love story is not perfect, dark clouds of despair shroud their relationship too. She makes the effort to seek support to bring harmony and love back into the relationship.
While she reluctantly supported her husband’s decision to join politics, she not for once shrunk in his shadow. Her ability to hold her space as a woman of substance is worthy of deep admiration. With all the demands on her that the run up to Barack’s presidency brought in, she fought to pursue her career. On one occasion she didn’t find childcare but was determined to attend an interview for the job she so wanted. She boldly walked in, placed her 3 month old on the table claiming confidently, that she is best suited for the job and her child came with it.” Now that’s definitely what a woman with a voice would do!
At the time when Trump was campaigning, Michelle didn’t hesitate to speak against his misogynistic comments. “When they go low, you aim high” was a mantra that she and Barack followed not because they looked good while taking a higher moral ground, but because they believed it was the right thing to do.
It’s the underlying thread of optimism that is so palpable in the story of her life. There is no alternative but to have an ‘Audacity of hope’( borrowing the title of Barack Obama’s book).  The faith to keep persisting and trumping fear.  It’s what gives us the power to keep discovering our unique story. In what one does, who am I becoming- is the real question one should be asking.



Monday, April 22, 2019

Transitions- An opportunity for reinvention


A young acquaintance of mine, recently married, kept complaining about persistent headaches and low physical energy. By terming it as hereditary, she sought sympathy as a hapless victim. On further probing she narrated her in-law woes and an unsupportive husband. With her dreams being dashed a feeling of being trapped for life was crushing her completely.  Even though she did vaguely acknowledge the correlation between her anxiety and ill health, her only solution was to keep consulting more doctors.
Having worked for 52 long years, my father hung up his boots last year. At 78, he by no means was willing to slow down but since his company was shutting down, it left him with no option. For someone who has borne the trials and tribulations of life with considerable grit, dealing with retirement has been the toughest - a transition that he is ill prepared for. When an entire life has been defined by the work you do, the absence of it rocks your very core. Time has suddenly stretched to terrifying proportions. Filling up a day with engaging activities is a mighty task. In the absence of a spouse and a dwindling set of relationships, the isolation makes the twilight years even more painful.


Transitions are a reality of life. However not all of them happen smoothly. Marriage, divorce, retirement, illness, single parenting, career change, motherhood, loss of a loved one, change of location can take a toll on us both emotionally and physically. We are living in times when our propensity for anxiety is heightened. We are digging into our reservoir of emotional energy a lot more than we did earlier. Transitions are times for us to stop dead in our tracks and reflect. Its an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, by refuelling our emotional energy.
The rising number of people grappling with their changing circumstances makes on wonder if the act of building our emotional potency is keeping pace with the rate at which it gets depleted. In conversations these days, words such as depression, tension and stress have become the new normal. Last year, the World Health Organization ranked India and China as the most depressed countries in the world. An India Employee Survey by HR tech start up Hush, reported, that as many as 22% respondents felt that their productivity is low due to overwork and stress. For a country that is essentially collectivist in nature where tightly held relationships extend beyond the immediate family; this is a shocking statistic.
Sadly, our education and upbringing have always relegated it to the background, leaving many of us incapable of dealing with emotions that cause discomfort.  We expend our energy in quelling uncomfortable emotions such as hurt ,shame, guilt and jealousy. In a bid to uphold a socially acceptable image these emotions never get fully acknowledged, expressed or resolved. As a child I remember being told by an elder, “Don’t talk about unpleasant stuff, only share what is enjoyable". Coping by suppressing is seen as a sign of courage. I wish to challenge this paradigm in the context of our current times.  Vulnerability has a gentler, more humane power in alleviating the pain, rather than a heroic denial of it. When emotions get masked and not released, it leaves behind a residue that keeps building up till such time as it explodes in the form on bitterness, uncontrolled anger, vindictiveness or depression.
As we make our way through life’s varied experiences; some that have either been consciously chosen and others that we have been thrust into, can we take a pause and contemplate on the multitude thoughts and feelings we experience. Can we find the courage to ask some uncomfortable questions of ourselves?
• “How will my failings show up in my marriage and how will I cope with my partner's eccentricities?"
• "Coming back to work after maternity leave, how am I dealing with the guilt of leaving my child behind?
• "Now that my children have flown the nest, what new purpose do I create for myself?
Emotional literacy doesn’t come naturally, it’s a skill that needs to be developed. As we dig deeper to explore the intertwining of our emotions with that of our thoughts, needs and values; we start building a relationship with them. “I am envious of the way my friend’s husband cares for her’ is a far more accurate description of one’s predicament than a mere “I am not feeling good.” When I am aware and can describe the specific emotion that I am feeling, even when there is social abhorrence towards it; I take a step towards being authentic; leaving me feeling light and spirited.
With the rise of artificial intelligence and the increasing outsourcing of services to bots, the isolation felt by reduced human interaction is going to rise. In a Facebook post I read recently, a woman reeling in agony over her despairing situation wrote out a lengthy post sharing her plight. The sympathy poured in, in ample measure. One can only imagine how intense her pain must be for her to seek solace from strangers, over a digital medium. Moreover, did it really address the cause of her pain?
The pain of life’s whiplashes will not vanish but it can definitely be alleviated. By taking charge of our emotions we are building an arsenal of effective response strategies. 

I suggest 5 steps that we could consciously engage in:
  1.        When in a crisis, seek help: Outpouring oneself to friends and family is cathartic but that’s just a temporary addressal of the issue. A more recommended option would be to get a life coach who will get you to dig deep and de weed the issue from its root.
  2.            Journal your thoughts and feelings. Writing down your feelings in a book or an app, is a great way to ventilate our pent-up thoughts.  Like the whistle of a pressure cooker, this provides the release of pressure from time to time.
  3. .     Invest in self-improvement courses each year. – I echo Socrates’ view that, ‘an unexamined life is not worth living.” Self-discovery courses facilitate the much-needed shedding of some restraining mindsets and a re-cataloguing of our thoughts and feelings. It’s like an Intel Pentium processor upgrade that helps us work more efficiently with our emotions. 
  4. .      Get Curious, go behind the scenes: When you find aberrant behaviour, dip into their life journey. It’s easy to label a person as “Oh he is such an angry man.” A more appropriate question would be "What incidents have made him so angry?" When you understand the triggers and the motivations of another, you build a lens to evaluate yourself too. You may even see a bit of yourself in the other, enabling you to be a little more compassionate rather than judgmental.
  5. .     Seek diverse perspectives- Polarity of perspectives draws defined boundaries allowing little space for a genuine dialogue based on facts. Currently our political affiliations (or even the lack of it!) triggers extremity of reactions; ones that are not just limited to raucous TV debates but even drawing room gatherings. Building an appreciation for an opposite view enables us to hold multiplicity of perspectives. When dissent is welcomed instead of it being feared, extremity of emotions gets levelled out.

Our emotions is a compelling force that determines who we are and what we do. Experiencing and exploring its breadth and depth is the only way we can be better prepared for the transitions that life brings us to. Its about time we gave this part of ourselves far greater attention than it has received till now.

The magical power of deep conversations

  Last week I was on vacation with a very dear friend and her teenage daughter. I introduced them to a ‘Confessions Game’- a deck of cards o...