Haunted by the idea of success, I found self-help writing
I grew up with three defining beliefs related to myself and the world around me, based on the dominant family business environment and my response to it: First, to be successful, you had to be an entrepreneur or a man business, not just because of wealth and lifestyle, but reputation, reputation, lives at stake, contribution to society, assets at disposal… the general importance given to well-to-do people, especially in a developing country. Secondly, that I was destined for this type of success because of my intelligence, my family background and my willingness to work hard, and thirdly, that personal identity and professional success were closely linked, that is- that being successful meant being someone and vice versa. As naïve or inflated as they may seem, these were key principles for my younger self.
I soon discovered, however, that I wasn’t necessarily cut out for the kind of professional success I had always taken for granted. It was for many reasons – my personality, my inclinations, my family circumstances and considerations, and my mental and emotional health. I had to go through an “inside-out change” – to find a profession that matched my abilities and interests, and eventually landed on writing and journalism.
So how did I become an advocate for professional reinvention when it was something I previously feared and resisted? And how can this be relevant to other people who may not be part of a family business?
find your purpose
The shifting nature of identity, purpose and meaning, which has haunted me for years, is universal. Many of us, regardless of profession or career, struggle to find purpose or meaning in our lives, with or without mental health issues. The lesson I have to offer, after so long, is unique. What matters, I believe, is the conversation you have with yourself, the story you tell yourself, the story you tell yourself about who you are – your self-therapy. And it’s a trip. I tried to share it in detail just to show how relentless self-questioning can be. Certain moments in time, in particular, set the stage for my self-therapy.
I lay on the floor, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, monitoring my breathing, as my yoga teacher, Atmapadma, guides me through my practice. She is patient, warm and gentle. We finish our yoga session and I start talking with her about my departure from the family business and my uncertain professional life. And then she recites a single shloka from the Bhagavad Gita that changes my life. She does not immerse herself in explanations but leaves me to meditate on them.
Better is his dharma, even if it is imperfect
That another’s dharma, followed perfectly
Better to die following one’s own dharma,
For another’s dharma brings danger
She distinguishes between the normal struggles one may encounter during one’s life journey, when trying to be true to one’s path, from the “insecurities, fear, anxiety, neurosis and psychosis” that arise when one deviates from one’s dharma. “It’s very elusive, because at different stages, what my dharma is in different situations, what my dharma is, is sometimes fluid. And it’s very tricky to be aware of that something at the moment. inside, rather than what has been defined by something outside,” she points out.
My thoughts on the shloka can be found in my diary, a few weeks after Atmapadma recited the shloka for the first time. I still needed to find a way to turn my intellectual interests – writing, film, design – into something that had value, and that would also meet my needs to earn the respect of my peers. It’s both exciting – because there are so many options, and the road is wide open – and terrifying, because of the uncertainty.
I suspect that when I think of myself as the child or heir of a promoter, I put pressure on myself to accomplish a lot in a short period of time, or equally, get carried away by my own “credentials” and “position”. “. I feel validated and affirmed, I see myself as an achiever, because that’s what society expects of me.
However, when I consider myself a writer/thinker, the emphasis is much more on means than on ends. The journey is the pursuit of excellence, the competition with oneself, the good work: it is perhaps something that corresponds better to my personality, its strengths and its weaknesses. There is much less assertiveness, the territory is unknown, and therefore the possibility of not being an overachiever is exorbitant. But it is intellectually richer, and more honest. Maybe it’s something that suits me best? What story of my life am I comfortable with? And will finding the answer to that prevent these “manic” episodes? »
This was the beginning of a long line of journal entries on the subject of identity, dharma and purpose.
Tara Mahadevan, counseling psychologist, dictates a few lines to me. She presents me with a series of affirmations.
Can I be free from stress and anxiety
Can I be comfortable and balanced
can i be happy
Can I be free from my past
Can I accept and choose myself as I am because I’m good enough
Can I still go towards the light
May I be happy and fulfilled
I jot them down on index cards and put them neatly in my purse. They accompany me wherever I go, to this day. She makes me put a reminder on my phone, to tell me, at 6 p.m. every day. (The reminder still exists, although the ritual may have expired after the first year or so).
Not feeling good enough invaded every cell in my brain, though it might only be visible to discerning friends like Tara. Coming from a high achieving family and having studied in elite educational institutes, I never thought that my “achievements” were enough, especially considering my mental illness. The combination of excessive ambition and increased insufficiency, while probably familiar to many CEOs, is not a recommended recipe for achieving emotional and mental balance.
For Tara, affirmations were essential to my well-being. “Affirmations are a really powerful way to rewire us. The way the brain works, or the way it’s designed, is that the more we tell ourselves something, the more we believe it’s true. And we live in a world that constantly gives us messages consciously and unconsciously, that we’re not good enough, we’re not thin enough, we’re not rich enough, we’re not successful enough, and that becomes the story we live by Affirmations are a way to plant new, more useful seeds of thought Repeating them over and over creates new neural pathways that get stronger over time, and then we start to focus and believe in them, instead of the old thoughts that no longer serve us,” she said.
She understood my need for success – and even my need to often overcompensate because of my illness – and pushed me to look beyond that.
I was looking for a definition that I had in my head of success – that I would reach a particular point, and then I would know that I was good enough. It becomes this constant feeling of emptiness inside me, that nothing I do is good enough, because the more you achieve something, there is always this thirst for more, which is then fueled in the external environment.
Simply affirming to return within is also connecting with your spiritual practices, because what our spiritual practices say is that the answers are not found on the outside, the answers are found within. inside, peace is not outside, peace is inside. It’s going to realign you with your spiritual self, which goes within, and then seek that peace within, seek that security, and create that space for yourself with that.
July 19, 2016:
What made me feel bad? The post-holiday blues, but beyond that – a lingering sense of insecurity or inadequacy at not being successful enough, not talented enough, not smart enough, not informed enough, not hardworking enough. I am still haunted by the specter of success, by the promise of talent and its rigorous pursuit. This sense of inadequacy is reinforced in conversations with high-achieving friends and mentors in the UK, whose intellect and success are reinforced by their values, especially compassion and sensitivity, which I would like to emulate. And so the easiest thing I can say to myself: I’m still not good enough. What am I doing to make a dent in this universe? Look at XYZ and see where he stands, as a writer, as a thought leader, as a creative artist.
Yet when I think about it, as Sandhini said, creative pursuits are about looking at your own yoga mat and not being distracted by perceived harmony in someone else’s mat. I need to find the balance between movement and stillness, acceptance of both alignment and friction, bricks and emptiness, within myself.
So what is my purpose and meaning? Even though I feel like I got hoarse on this topic, I still find myself going around in circles on it. Being able to make a dent in the universe – however small – is part of my DNA.
The discussion with Atmapadma launched me on a journey to find my own path, independent of the family business. Tara’s affirmations made me look within and be kinder to myself. All of these exchanges have been vital in getting me to have deep conversations with myself; my self-therapy on the subject of purpose, identity and meaning.
(Read more about Piramal’s journey in Chemical Khichdi: How I Hacked My Mental Health. Published by Penguin Random House India)