Category Archives: Self Help

Hunger for Approval

I caught myself the other day counting the number of likes on my Facebook page and it looked like I just needed five more likes to hit 100. It was a big thing and I wanted to make a big deal out of it. So I went about looking for images of the like button with the number 100 next to it. I didn’t find any, so I simply posted a message on my page about reaching 100 likes. I imagined that I would get a tsunami of likes and comments and praise.

Next day when I opened my Facebook page I was in for a big disappointment. Only nine people had viewed my post and there were ZERO likes and ZERO comments. My heart sank to the bottom of my soles. Then some better judgement set in and I decided to be happy that 100 people had liked my page – whether or not the 100 people knew that did not matter. It hit me like a ton of bricks that the very thing I despised about Facebook was the thing I too was hankering after. Approval in the form of likes, comments, shares etc. Later that day when R sent me the link to my blog published in the Indian Express I resisted the urge to blow my own trumpet on Facebook. I quietly sent it to my close friends and family via e-mail.

Even before the advent of Facebook, people constantly sought approval from loved ones, colleagues, mentors and friends. If a new haircut did not evoke the right response one would feel dejected. Big project at work completed but boss says nothing. No bonus. No graduation party. No promotion. What? It is as if our whole life revolves around getting, gifts, rewards and accolades for performing duties or jobs. So much so that we rarely enjoy doing anything that has no obvious reward.

As the world gets more connected and souls get more detached, we still cling on to the need for approval. Enter Facebook – where you can post every little triumph and every selfie you click and bask in the admiration of all your contacts. To some extent I justified my need to post on Facebook. As a writer I have to share my writing with my audience or stay a closet writer. Earlier, writers had to wait weeks or months for mail from readers and even to get their articles in print. But these days publishing is done by the click of a mouse and feedback is almost instantaneous. We want more of it and seek it out unashamedly.

I tend to judge my piece based on the response I get, which is quite silly and isn’t the purpose of my blog. What I write may not resonate with all 100 (oops! did I just let that slip again?) readers, but it has its purpose. I recall my early days as a blogger, so unsure of myself, so needy and bashful. I relied solely on feedback from my readers. I lapped up all the praise I could get and that fed my confidence as a writer. I was incredibly grateful for the gift  and I knew every one of my readers personally. All that has changed now. I don’t know half my readers and yet my insatiable hunger for approval remains unabated. More more is the mantra. Never enough! enough! My cup is full.

It is not easy to rid oneself of this disease. As babies we are constantly seeking attention and as kids we are taught that good behavior is approved by authority figures and bad behavior is punished. We get conditioned to expect rewards or at least approval for all the things we do right. Looking outside for approval diminishes the quality of our work because in essence we are trying to please someone else. The joy got from that is fleeting but when we create for our own pleasure it is much more satisfying.

I am not there yet, for the pull of the world and its playthings are strong. But I see the madness and I see the pointlessness. I straddle two worlds, unable to shut the door on one or the other. But someday I will. Someday.

The Energy of Allowing

On my 30th birthday, my husband gifted me Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life Purpose”. This book joined the select list of books that ‘changed my life’. It is not a book you can skim through, with so many complex ideas and concepts that delve deep into the human psyche.

One particular sentence did not make any sense to me when I first read it. Tolle says that we should allow life to pass through us and not be rigid like a brick wall. Now after several failed attempts at trying to orchestrate the events in my life and force a desirable outcome, I finally get what allowing is.

A pattern emerged over the past few months. I would apply for jobs, go for interviews and then wait impatiently to hear from the HR. I would check e-mail three times a day and when nothing showed up I’d get frustrated and antsy. Every time this happened my levels of desperation rose and I would plunge into self-pity mode. Like most things in life, one gets fed up of one pattern and then tries something different. I didn’t like the way I was dealing with rejection and responses that never came.

Years ago I remember applying for jobs and not even getting a single interview. It was downright depressing. I would quit after trying for a month. Then again after a few months the same circus would unfold. After a point I decided that I should simply keep applying and not care about the outcome. I also decided not to quit when nothing showed up. My perseverance and change in attitude paid off and I did land a job, although it was short-lived.

Allowing rather than forcing things to happen seems like a passive way of going about your life, but that is far from the truth. It does not imply that you wait for things to drop right into your lap. It just means that you don’t push too hard and chase outcomes. Instead you patiently wait for things to unfold. Do the work involved and see what shows up.

Allowing is a graceful way of receiving the bounty of the Universe. Much like a river that naturally flows into a valley, allowing is being receptive and open to the flow of the cosmos. A deep peace accompanies this state which involves knowing that the Universe delivers at its own pace. You cannot ask for speed delivery or priority mail. You can’t tame a gushing river nor can speed up a slow-moving glacier. Each has its purpose and rhythm.

It also helps to affirm daily that you are open to receive your highest good through the Universe. If you can sit quietly for a few minutes each day, breathe deeply and be receptive, you will be more in tune with this energy. Small upsets do not throw you off track. You stay centered. If one opportunity is lost, you allow another to enter your life.

Sometimes allowing also helps you fine tune your senses to the outcome that best suits your needs. If you squeeze yourself to fit into something that is not meant for you it won’t be long before you burst at the seams. You may also miss something that is better suited to your needs. Allowing is a state of alert receptiveness. It is gentle, flowing and peaceful.

I for one flit in and out of that state and long for the day when I will be firmly planted, nay cemented in that wonderful state where life flows and living becomes effortless. So stop fighting life and simply allow. Then watch the magic unfold.

Revisiting a Scary Place

Can’t drive, don’t have a job and hanging on to the last shred of sanity. That pretty much describes my situation today. And I’ve been there before – in some other place, at some other time in my life. And it is a scary place to be. What’s even scarier is the belief that you are helpless and cannot get out of it. The last time I was there I truly believed – this was it! This is how my life would be till my dying day. Which is stupid in retrospect.

This time around I know I can get out of this temporary rut but just don’t know the rules. New place, new rules. Till I master the rules I can’t win in the game of life.

Opportunity knocks, I answer and then the door is slammed in my face. Sometimes no one is at the door and it opens to a blank wall. I just don’t get it sometimes. If you put in the right effort shouldn’t the right results show up eventually? Seems like things have an uncanny way of working in this part of the world or the rules have changed since the last time I was here.

So I slowly drift day in and day out, my energy ebbing, my soul aching for something I cannot articulate and prayer remains my only reprieve. Some days even prayer cannot save me from succumbing to what I call my ‘dark moods’.

Self-esteem issues are intricately wrapped around the work you do and the remuneration you get for it. The last time I was in that scary place it took me nearly a decade to pick myself up and go after my dreams. A lurking fear that I haven’t yet given voice to is, what if it again takes me that long to get out of this situation. I shudder to even think of that possibility. It reminds me of the frog in the well that climbs two feet only to slip back one foot. Only an act of divine grace can send a rope down for the frog to hold on to and be pulled up to safety. For the frog has tried so hard and yet finds itself at the bottom of that impossible well.

My patience has all but worn out in two months, when before an entire decade passed without so much as a whimper. In times like these I wish I had the faith of a mustard seed or a drumstick tree. Drumstick tree you ask? Let me elucidate.

As I washed and prepared a dish of fresh drumstick leaves from our garden, I marveled at the drumstick tree. When we got here three months back, the tree had grown beyond the terrace, with its branches lazily hanging over it. A ladder was all we needed to pick fresh drumstick leaves and tender, sweet drumsticks for sambar.

One rainy night, strong winds lashed outside, making the drumstick tree sway precariously. A strong gust was enough to break it in half. The next morning the entire tree with its drumsticks and leaves lay on the ground. Only a small part of the trunk and the roots withstood the storm. We consoled ourselves saying that its roots were strong and it soon grow back to its original glory. Its roots were indeed strong and in a couple of days we saw sprouts emerging from the knobby trunk. Fresh, bright green, tender sprouts growing with a vengeance. In a matter of weeks we had enough leaves for our weekly meal of drumstick leaves dal. I drew strength from the tree which had lost everything it had worked for. Every single leaf was gone, every single fruit had fallen to the ground. And yet the tree did not whine, complain or get depressed. It didn’t give up and die. It jumped back to life with a renewed vigor. I may be imagining this but it seems to be growing faster than ever before.

After making the dish I went into the garden and stood in front of the tree as if to soak up some of its courage, grit and determination. My burdens felt lighter and I walked back to the house with a smile playing on my lips.

The Escape Artist

Avoid. Delay. Procrastinate. Distract. Quit. Run. This is what I do when things don’t go my way. It’s always easier than confronting the problems. Or so I thought till I learned it the hard way. I ran away to Pondicherry to do my M.S. thinking that my problems would stay behind in Chennai. But they followed me like dark shadows, haunting me and threatening to suck all the joy out of me. Soon all these emotions got transferred to Pondicherry and it became equally unbearable for me. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. I ran back into the arms of my family. For a while things were ok but soon the same issues raised their ugly heads again and mocked me.

This time there was no where to run and no place to hide. I withdrew and my thoughts began to consume me. As my thoughts grew darker it blotted out all the light and I pushed away all the people I used to care about. I also had nothing to do. It was mid-year and I had to wait another six months before I could enroll in any college or university. The only way to escape the pain and misery was to quit this life. As though another better one would be offered to me on a silver platter the moment I exited! If I had waited it out I would have realized that all was not over and that I would indeed go on to do my Masters and get married to a good man.

With wedding bells came another chance to get out of Chennai and go to the U.S. Life out there is hard especially if you don’t know anyone and don’t have a career to drown yourself in. So the urge to escape back to India and to the life I knew grew stronger in me. But the thought of whisking away my kids from the comforts of the U.S. kept me from acting on it. Also my husband was not ready to move back – yet. So I gritted my teeth and went on.

But old habits have a way of resurfacing and soon I wanted to escape the cold in Boston and go to a warmer place. Like say Florida. But again in Florida things were not exactly as I wanted them to be. My obsession with having a perfect life kept me unhappy no matter where I was or what the circumstances were. It was only in Seattle that I finally made peace with the fact that nobody has it perfect (even though they appear to be so).

Life in Chennai is very challenging given that we lived a pretty easy life in the U.S. Yes, there were no maids but I had appliances to do everything. The house never got this dusty or messy. The weather was good as opposed to the blistering heat here. Some days I want to run away to the U.S. like the escape artist that I am, but I can’t. Because deep inside I know that it is not the outside environment that matters but the one inside. Easier said than done especially if you are living in Chennai!

If there is one thing about the U.S. that I really admire, it is the never-say-die attitude of the people. They don’t quit very easily no matter how tough things get. They don’t ignore problems but actively seek solutions. So I feebly hold on to those lofty ideals.

It’s tempting to run away and be rid of mosquitoes, ants and heat waves. Seems like Chennai will be the ultimate test for me. Will I stay or will I escape? Only time can tell…

Coming Full Circle

“Almost all your blogs talk about work,” my daughter declared a few weeks ago. I mildly protested but then it struck me that she was right. The years since I started blogging have been devoted to finding work, finding my passion, quitting jobs, moving and trying to find work again. At times I was under employed, stressed out at work or totally unprepared for the job. I persevered because for me it was work (with all its problems) or no work at all. It wasn’t exactly raining interviews and offer letters.

When we moved, Seattle definitely had more opportunities than Florida but that didn’t equate to a job for me. Frustrated, I applied for a substitute position at the school district. Several months of subbing did not fetch me a regular job. The new year came and went with the promise of regular writing work that pays. It lasted a month and then I heard nothing. The first few weeks of February saw me grappling with issues of self-worth and it all came out in my blog – In the Brink of a Mid-life Crisis.

The very next day after I published my blog, a long term subbing job became available. I decided to take it up. It was a full day assignment and the work was challenging at first, but I fell into a rhythm. The people I interacted with were wonderful. It was perfect. So when the assignment ended, they wanted to extend it and they wanted me back. All the years I struggled with feelings of worthlessness melted away. I did amount to something. Of course I knew that and I had learned that lesson sometime ago. But to finally have the outer world reflect that was like a resounding YES!

When you know your own worth you stop putting yourself last and you stop putting yourself down. You value everything you do even if the rest of the world doesn’t. I stopped being invisible and stopped hiding in the house thinking I had nothing to offer. I started loving myself more and making time for things I loved to do. Instead of always serving everybody else’s needs, I started serving my needs.

In the beginning it all seemed like a farce. It was as if I was putting on a show pretending to know what I was doing. When actually I was scared as hell, just waiting for someone to call out my bluff. I was a nobody strutting around all confident and knowledgeable. But that was just the ego in me that hated being pushed out of its comfort zone. My comfort zone was a bundle of low self-esteem that kept me stuck in a rut without the courage to chase my dreams. So I ignored that little voice and showed up and did the best I could. And it paid off. Time and again people acknowledged my presence or appreciated what I did. The tiny voice stopped trying to discourage me and I got bolder and bolder.

Once you step out of your comfort zone, you create another comfort zone where you can stay stuck unless you push yourself again. For me it was this feeling of discontent that kept pushing me. Some need inside that wanted to be filled. It just wouldn’t go away. No matter what I did. I volunteered – it didn’t go away. I blogged – it didn’t go away. I subbed – it didn’t go away. I wrote every day in January and got paid – and it didn’t go away.

This job I have now somehow filled that empty space inside of me. A space that had been aching from within. A space that marked the years of giving and giving of oneself till one became broke. A space that was open to receiving a kind word, appreciation or gratitude.

It is as if I have come full circle from a bedraggled housewife who spent her days serving her family while ignoring her own needs to a woman who is perfectly balanced and perfectly at ease at her workplace and perfectly at ease doing dishes (who am I kidding!). But jokes apart, I have come a long way. I know when and how much to give of my time and resources and when to receive. I know when to stop giving before I reach rock bottom and burn myself out. I have learned to honor myself as much as I honor others.

It is always tempting to do too much, give too much or take too much. And we are all walking a tightrope, flitting between balancing everything and falling flat on our faces. At some point we get it and our inner compass leads us to balance and happiness.

I would love to tell you that my work saga that started in 2012 has concluded, but such is not the case. Then again that is fodder for another blog.