Aug 26, 2016

5 steps to come out of self-pity

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I thought of writing about this topic a while ago but I held back as I felt it would expose matters of personal impact to the outside world. But then I felt my experience would be relevant to people who face difficult circumstances, find it tough to come out of it and end up with feelings of self-pity. My objective is to help such people by sharing my experience and how I managed to come out of this situation. Even if this post helps one person, my objective of writing it is achieved.

Before I write further, let me first define this not-so-innocent sounding term - "self-pity".

It is a sad, depressing feeling that one gets
  1. when things don't go as expected,
  2. when people let you down,
  3. when you feel a victim of circumstances that are beyond your control
  4. when you face certain issues while the rest of the world doesn't have to deal with the same. Social media is a major source for this "perceived" feeling.
When I discovered that I was expecting my first child, I was ecstatic, thrilled and a lot scared. I didn't know what was in store for me in the months to come. I neither have a mother to discuss personal issues nor I had close female friends to have a chit-chat.

I lost my mother at an early age. Though I missed her at times, frankly I didn't feel the vacuum until I discovered that I'm going to be a mother. Years 2011-2013 were both happy and challenging times to me as I entered this new phase in my life. The challenges that I faced in those 2 years made me miss her even more, leading to oodles of self-pity and a lot of struggle to come out of it. Thankfully, I have a super supporting husband who has been supporting me in so many ways - by being a soundboard, listening to my worries and anxieties, taking lead in many areas related to raising our daughter, encouraging me to take decisions that I truly believe in etc.

I'm sharing 5 steps that have helped me come out of this self-pity phase, hoping these would help someone who are in a similar situation.

1) Stop sulking over the past
In one of my favorite courses on Coursera "A life of happiness and fulfillment", the instructor lists down 7 deadly sins of happiness and one of them being "overly control seeking". We can't control what has happened in the past. We can't control the thoughts, words or actions by others. There are various moments in our lives where others might have hurt us. It's very easy to press the rewind button often, keep playing those moments repeatedly and feel bad. This is an easy choice and it keeps feeding on itself, making us feel more dejected and depressed. Chances of getting to that state are the highest when your mind is idle. "An idle mind is devil's workshop" - I have experienced this state and believe me, it's very unproductive to linger on for a long time there. When your mind tries to take that route, consciously try to put a full-stop and tell yourself - "I'm not going back there. It's such a waste of my time". 

2) Remove negative influences or atleast stay away
If there are people in your family who are pushing you into that self-pity mode, try to stay away from them. Distance helps a great deal. If that's not possible and you have to face them everyday, try to ignore them and show a "don't-care" attitude. They will eventually get the message and stop passing hurtful remarks/comments.  

Although social media helps us to stay connected with the outside world, sometimes it makes us feel that the world around us is very happy and happening (a quick glance through FB feed is enough) while our lives are dull and boring. In reality, we like to share our happy moments in FB while we are not ready to share the dull, boring, painful, sad, depressing moments of our life to anyone outside our closest family members/friends. You don't have to be always connected to social media, take some time off. Or build that maturity of understanding that everyone faces difficult circumstances in life that is not shared in FB.

3) Take charge / Lead yourself
Getting into a victim mode is easy but the right thing to do is to take charge of your life. Jot down your strengths and interests. Make a list of things/activities that make you happy. Allocate time everyday to do those things. When my daughter was a little baby, I used to take her out for a walk every evening around my apartment. The fresh air and the cozy time between us made me very happy amidst a suffocating atmosphere at home.

When she was in her toddler stage, the atmosphere at home eased and I got some space to breathe. Around the same time, I also started to look for part-time opportunities to get back to work, resumed blogging more actively and invested a lot more time in healthy cooking. 

4) Be physically active / Prioritize your health
I can't emphasize this enough. I can vouch for the benefits regular exercise, especially Yoga has brought in my life in the last couple of years. Mood swings have almost stopped and my energy levels have gone up. Here's an article I wrote on how you can get into the habit of exercising consistently.

Given my interest in healthy cooking, I cook (and eat) healthy, home-cooked food 95% of the time. My physical and mental well-being is very important to me and my family. I try to be physically active (apart from exercise time) throughout the day and accompany my daughter to play area in the evenings to get some fresh air. I stopped watching TV a couple of years back. Though I enable DTH connection for short time periods whenever my dad or my in-laws visit me, I don't sit on the couch and channel-surf like I used to earlier. 

5) Dream big / Set goals
The quote below has changed my life in some sense.
“I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.” —Leo Rosten
I came across this quote while reading this brilliant article by Joshua Becker where he talks about why one should seek a life of significance. Highly recommend you take a look.

Day-to-day responsibilities and routines can be mind-numbing but if you start to seek significance, then days become more beautiful and purposeful. It's not about discovering your life's purpose but creating a life of purpose. My passion for healthy well-being is taking me to different places - books, blogs, cooking, catering, spreading awareness etc. 

Identify an area of your interest that not only makes you happy but makes you want to explore more. How to identify it - simple. Become aware of the articles that you stop to read in your never-ending newsfeed, newspapers, magazines you pick up, books you love to read, topics you love to discuss about. Many of our unconscious choices reveal so much about ourselves. That's the area you will make an impact. That will be the story you leave behind.

Enough gyaan :-) Hope the essence of this post is clear and you are able to get out of the self-pity trap.

Aug 23, 2016

Book Review: The Cozy Life by Pia Edberg

With my new Amazon Kindle and a Kindle Unlimited plan, I have finally started to explore books for their interesting title and synopsis. So far, I've only been reading bestsellers and books recommended by friends/social media/bloggers etc. "The cozy life - Rediscover the joy of the simple things through the Danish Concept of Hygge" by Pia Edberg belongs to the former category. I found the concept intriguing and it aligns with my belief of leading a simple, happy life without materialistic pursuits.

As the author defines in the very first page, Hygge is the Danish concept of coziness.
"the art of creating warmth, comfort and well being through connection, treasuring the moment and surrounding yourself with things you love."
It was a pleasure to read this book and it gave me the similar feelings of coziness and warmth that the author wants us to embrace. It starts off with the origin of Hygge at Denmark, one of the happiest countries in the world. The author goes onto explain the importance of slowing down, connecting to your own self and with others, enjoying simple moments of life, creating a warm, cozy atmosphere at home and at work etc. She also gives practical, easy-to-follow tips to embrace Hygge wherever you are. A few examples I loved are
- Sip your favorite hot beverage slowly
- Have a relaxing picnic at the park
- Curl up and read a good book on the sofa
- Surround yourself with things you love
- Create simple rituals that help you relax and unwind
- Take the time to have deep, meaningful conversations
- Give the gift of time to those who we love
- Light candles, instead of lamps
- Make a list of everything that makes you happy

Many examples in this book took me back to my childhood days when days weren't rushed. I was outdoors most of the time - playing and enjoying the sunshine, eating a meal together with family, watching the stars at night, sleeping on the terrace during summer nights, celebrating festivals in a simple, traditional manner etc.
"Being constantly busy actually hampers our imagination, while boredom and idleness actually help invite inspiration, despite what society may tell us"
If you are looking for ways to slow down, relax and enjoy life outside the digital world, I highly recommend this book.

Aug 17, 2016

What is ambition?

Off late, I've been hearing this phrase (or similar sounding ones) quite often in various forums/blogposts - "women who seek work-life balance are less ambitious".  I fall into that category of women for whom work-life balance is very important and so it made me think about this basic question - What exactly is ambition? Why do we equate it to climbing up the corporate ladder, grabbing fancy job titles, jumping across various organization hierarchies, increasing your pay 10X, having a team of 50+ (or 500+) people to manage, buying a fancy house, driving an expensive car etc?

In the initial few years of my career, I was like anyone else - promotions mattered, job titles were important and so does the company names where I worked for. But after my daughter was born, my priorities shifted and I started to rethink about what I need from my career and life in general. None of the above listed criteria mattered anymore. I decided not to be a part of the rat race.

My ambition or expectation for myself is that I want to do meaningful work, have plenty of opportunities to learn and explore new avenues, be significant, make a difference, stay relevant in today's continuously evolving world and basically, embark on a career where I set the bar for myself - not the society, HR, peers, managers, friends or family. These goals are not simple or easy to achieve. They require time, effort, focus and perseverance.

It doesn't matter whether I work for a big MNC, startup or for myself. There are 6 values that are very important to me - excellence, accountability, continuous learning, punctuality, humility and simplicity. I want my work to be a true reflection of these key values.

Ambition is not about the outcome but it's about the journey or process - the decisions you make, the impact you create, the values you stand for, the legacy you leave behind and the people you inspire along the way with your little actions.

Aug 2, 2016

Book Review: Faster, Smarter, Higher by Utkarsh Rai

When I came across this title, I presumed it would be on the lines of "The Goal" by Eliyahu Goldratt or "Ready to lead" by Alan Price. Career-related challenges covered through the life of a working professional, followed by actionable insights and framework for the reader as the protagonist solves these challenges - I prefer such story-telling narrative to talk about serious issues pertaining to career management. But this book addresses these issues in a simple, straight-forward manner.

Faster, Smarter, Higher is very relevant for people in their early-to-mid stage careers. The author has covered all important facets of managing one's career - yourself and other stakeholders who play a vital role (your manager, your peers, your team, your manager's boss, your manager's peers etc). For each stakeholder, he has clearly explained their role and importance and concrete steps to manage the different scenarios that get played out as you climb up the corporate ladder.

A leader needs to exhibit different leadership styles based on his team members' personality, strengths and work style. Similarly, the author has provided ways to slot managers into categories. He has also given actionable pointers on how you can work with each of them. The quote that we are familiar with - "People leave managers and not companies". This classification of managers is helpful in understanding the respective managerial traits, how to adapt to them and deal with common workplace issues. 

Some of the key take-aways that I found relevant in today's context are (quoted from the book):

1) Never ask your manager 'when can I get promoted?'. Instead, the right question is 'what skills do I need to demonstrate to move to the next level?'
2) You need to subtly beat your own drum without being pompous about it. The best way to increase your visibility is to interact with more and more people, especially those high in the hierarchy
3) As a manager, the more you empower your employees, the more they take their job seriously and deliver with full accountability and responsibility
4) As a manager, earn your respect than demand it. Respect is directly proportional to a person's behavior rather than their position
5) It is very important to increase your interactions with stakeholders of the next level and to make them aware of your contributions, skills and your capabilities

I felt the last part on how one should prepare for the future could have been elaborated - career progression, mid-stage crisis, continuous skill development, changing work dynamics, evolving value prioritization etc. I see a need for deep coverage of these topics as I notice contrasting perspectives that unfold between people in their 20s and 30s.

Though the narrative was simple and easy to follow, the tone felt a little monotonous. A few case-studies, anecdotes from the author's professional life, interviews from people who have faced such challenges etc would have made the material more impactful and captivating to read. Nevertheless, it is a relevant book for those who have just started out their careers and also for those who have moved from an individual contributor to a people manager role.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback of the book.

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