I paused in the street for a few seconds on my return from another college drop-off.
The lady who sweeps and cleans the streets was working in front of our drive. Just as she does every day, for the last 3 years.
She glanced up. Noticed my car. Hurried up a little.
I waited until she was finished. Opened the gate. Drove in and parked.
We didn’t acknowledge each other. Not even a smile or nod.
A nebulous socio-economic divide insulates ‘classes’ of people almost completely from each other, more so in my country than others. Apart from transactional interactions, ne’er the ‘twain shall meet.
Yet natural disaster has an equalizing effect.
It rips asunder this false shell to expose – and connect – the human heart that beats under us all.
Unites us in an all-encompassing embrace.
When a terrible storm flooded our city for a fortnight some years ago, this same lady and I had a lengthy conversation about the damage in the area where she lived.
She shared horror stories of shanty towns washed away in the deluge. Of families who lost everything. And of being rescued by lifeboats.
For a few precious moments, we connected – as fellow sufferers of an act of Nature, as co-passengers on the journey of life, as human beings.
And I wonder… why is this connection so rare?
I ask myself:
Should it need a disaster to make us recognize our mortality and connectedness?
P.S.: On December 8th, 2015, I had posted this after chatting with her:
“The lady who sweeps the roads had her colony submerged in Vadapalani. Relief workers provide food that is meager in quantity. Only yesterday, she got a tasty plate of biryani. All her clothes are wet and unwearable. No place to cook, even if she had rice and pulses. And the mosquito menace is intolerable. Just a conversation, lasting 5 minutes, threw up these priorities – clothing, food, mosquito repellant, cleaning up houses. Go out and TALK to people. See what they need. Then do what you can to help. #ChennaiSpirit”
It’s Muffin‘s trademark position. Sitting on the windowsill, gazing out into our backyard.
Since her operation, we’ve not dared let her upon that precarious perch. Today, as a stop-gap solution, I pulled up a chair and lifted her onto the cushion. Watchful of any misstep on her part, I sipped my coffee.
The little one settled down – and then remained motionless as a statue. After a while, I set down my empty mug and glanced into her face.
And saw contentment, satisfaction, bliss.
Curious, I lowered my head to her side, trying to see the world as she did.
For a few minutes, I too lost myself in the tranquil view out of our window.
Enjoyed the silence. The lovely, soft green of leaves, dazzling brightly as they caught the sun. The occasional waft of a cool early morning breeze.
And the close companionship of my dear friend, Muffin.
“Sister, the potassium level is 6.1 in this blood sample!”
It’s a medical emergency. But the senior ICU nurse, bent over paperwork at her desk, didn’t even raise her head.
“Recalibrate the machine and repeat the test.”
The process takes 3 minutes. A chastened junior nurse returned with the second blood report.
“It’s only 3.5 now, Sister.”
Her senior just smiled.
It was a familiar problem. After a certain time, the analyzer used to measure blood levels of vital chemicals had to be reset. Several minor tweaks and drifts happen. Collectively, they can skew a measurement – sometimes badly. And that could even create a pseudo-emergency!
It happens in other areas, too. Even with people in our lives.
Lately, I’ve noticed this effect in a few of my relationships. Some of them are 20, even 30+ years old.
At first, I was surprised and upset. But then, after thinking it over deeply, I realized something.
We tend to do two things to people:
affix a label (e.g. “friend”)
assign a set of attributes to it
But over time, things change.
Suddenly, one fine day, it appears as if the attributes don’t quite match the label… and you’re shocked at how everything’s now ‘different’.
Like a blood gas analyzer, our relationships also need to be periodically recalibrated.
“Know what you want – and get it” – Sushmita Sen, Miss.Universe, 1994
‘Take what you want, and pay for it’ says God – Old Spanish proverb
I’m going to tell you a little story.
It’s about a man who wanted to know the secret of success, and decided to find out from a Guru.
Now this was a wise, old sage who knew every secret of Life. He lived in splendid isolation on a mountain-top. Our hero set out on his difficult journey to meet this wise man.
He was determined to reach the top, and so he got over many obstacles on his way. Fighting through thick forests, scaling huge boulders, escaping from wild beasts, at last he clambered to the peak and lay on the ground, gasping for breath.
A few minutes later, he sat up… and beheld the Guru seated in deep meditation.
We’ve heard the sage advice to fake it till you make it.
We’ve also seen devious ways it has been abused to manipulate people and events, to the point that it almost sounds like bad advice. But wait! Before you condemn it, listen to what I have to say about this ‘fake it till you make it’ gag.
I’m all for it – but not in the way you think!
No, I don’t mean that you should pretend to be a doctor without going to medical school.
Or play lawyer before you clear your bar exam.
Or offer financial advice without becoming a certified consultant.
That’s just faking it.
What I’m talking about is how you play games – with your own mind!
“Failure is not an option.”
Optimists believe in the future they want to create.
They are convinced that the world will become a place they conceive in their minds. That’s what gives them the determination and confidence to keep going in the face of difficulties, overcoming one obstacle after another.
No journey to an ambitious goal is ever easy, effortless or smooth.
Things go wrong. Often. Goals aren’t met. Targets aren’t reached. The graph of your upward journey isn’t a slope – it’s a jagged see-saw, going up, then down.
Up, and down.
Over and over.
What gets some people over the hump and soaring higher towards success is their ability to persist. To keep on keeping on. Get going and stay moving, despite the obstacles and problems.
Once you start looking on ‘failures’ as little more than ‘temporary setbacks’ which teach you lessons about what doesn’t work, you begin an exciting journey that’s guaranteed to end in success.
There will be a lot to overcome along the way.
Including some disasters. They’re like terrorist attacks on your hopes and dreams.
The biggest damage from a terror attack is not the horrendous loss of life and property. It’s the destruction of a people’s confidence.
The worst impact of an economic recession is not the amount of money lost. It’s the shattering of hope.
Think about what would happen if you lost everything you had tomorrow, and were forced to rely on social services for survival… but you retained your hope and confidence.
Within a short time, you’ll be able to rebuild whatever you had before – maybe even better.
You have precious assets – knowledge and education, skills and training, years and years of experience. Bringing those to bear and rebuilding your life is child’s play – when you believe you can do it.
Yet what happens when you’re sacked from a dead end job that pays you a pittance and sucks all passion and excitement out of you?
You hit the panic button!
You agonize over the lost income.
You worry if you’ll be able to replace it.
You become desperate for something – anything – instead.
It’s almost like a knee-jerk reaction. A reflex.
And that’s because you suddenly become fearful.
“After all, things went wrong once. What if it happens the next time? And the next? Can I take it? Will I always be able to overcome?”
The negative spiral just gets worse and worse – if you let it.
But when you overcome that instinctive fear and embrace the opportunity to recreate something special, magic happens.
That magic is driven by a force within you.
It’s called optimism.
“Dreamers see the world, not as it is, but how they want it to be.”
Optimism isn’t just a character trait that some are born with. Anyone can acquire it. All it takes is a firm, unshakeable belief that the future you imagine can be created.
Maybe not all alone, maybe not by tomorrow evening, but eventually.
That’s what keeps optimistic people going and going and going – until they succeed.
I read this in a book called “LEAPFROGGING“ by business strategist and innovation coach Soren Kaplan.
An interesting scientific experiment compared two groups of people (one of predominantly optimistic entrepreneurs, the other of rather pessimistic folks) by giving them problems to solve.
On average, the optimists spent 20% more time trying to solve them.
But this wasn’t the most interesting result of the study.
One of the problems they were given (an anagram, mixing up letters which the subjects should form into meaningful words) was UNSOLVABLE.
That’s right. It had no solution.
Yet those in the ‘optimist’ group spent FIFTY PERCENT more time on it than the ‘pessimist’ group!
Yes, even when faced by problems with no known solution, optimists try their best to solve them.
It’s what makes them what they are.
So… what if you’re NOT (yet!) one of them?
Is it all over for you?
Are you condemned – like the pessimists in the study – to just throw up your hands and give up each time you’re faced with a tough problem?
No. Not if you ‘fake it till you make it’!
“Come to the edge. We might fall. Come to the edge. It’s too high! COME TO THE EDGE! And they came, and we pushed, And they flew.”
– Christopher Logue
We all know of con artists, scammers and downright delusional folks who try and pretend being someone they’re not. You probably have a justified revulsion about trying anything like that.
I’m with you.
Faking success or wealth or connections or influence – or anything at all – to fool people or take advantage of them is not right.
But what if you use the principle of ‘fake it till you make it’ purely on yourself.
More accurately, on your own mind.
To try and make yourself behave in a different way. A way more likely to bring you real success. A hack to program your brain, in a sense.
Let me explain with another interesting study.
Two groups of volunteers were asked to adopt one of two different types of postures for a few minutes.
The first group took up ‘power stances’ – to stand leaning forward with hands resting on a desk, or to sit back with feet on the desk. The second group took up ‘cowardly stances’ – sitting with shoulders hunched forwards, or standing with arms folded, almost like they were hugging themselves.
After some time, they were given tests that studied their levels of self-confidence. To the researchers’ surprise, those in the first group behaved uniformly more confidently – while the other group was hesitant and nervous about everything.
And here’s the clincher.
The study participants had their saliva collected before and after the test to measure levels of 2 hormones. Testosterone levels go up when people are aggressive and confident. Cortisol levels increase when stress is high.
In the first group, testosterone was high and cortisol was low. The hormone levels were reversed in the second group.
Brain chemicals don’t lie!
The group adopting confident poses were actually more confident. Those who took up weak stances grew weaker.
So what happens when you fake it till you make it?
Believe it or not, your chances of “making it” GO UP!
It stands to reason.
Who do you think will get something done? A person who approaches the task confidently, with energy and passion, determined to find a solution to any problems that may arise? Or the guy or gal who sets out diffidently, nervous and scared of failing, but secretly convinced that’s what will happen?
If just the act of standing or sitting more confidently can make you seem invincible, what if you extended that way of thinking and feeling… to everything?
Which do you think will be more fun?
Which kind of person do YOU want to be?
New years are about new beginnings.
What’s happened in your past is over and done with. What lies ahead is exciting, ripe with the richest potential, eagerly awaiting your energy and passion, lusting for your enthusiasm, drive and optimism… to bring it to life.
Embrace a ‘fake it till you make it’ mindset internally to give yourself the boost that will carry you ahead of the competition and closer to those hopes and dreams lying locked inside your heart.
Let them flower and flourish, and nurture the world.
The universe needs you, and your dreams.
Step up to the plate with optimism and confidence.
In my new book “Knife At A Gunfight – 5 Easy Ways To Transform Your Life“, I dive deeper into the subject of making magic happen in your life by developing positive habits.
If you want to build new habits that stick, this book will transform your life… in 5 easy steps!
As I decided to write this, I saw a post on a popular discussion forum.
It was from someone who had invested quite a bit of time and effort into building his online business, was nearing the point where it could start being profitable, but was running short of energy and inspiration to keep going.
I’m never giving up. But I need some motivation. Please help!
…was his plaintive cry.
I responded briefly. But that reply got me thinking about how to address a similar problem that every entrepreneur faces at one time or another in their own online business.
That sickening feeling of burn out.
Go Back To Your Roots
I’ve fielded this question several times over the 15 years that I have worked on my online projects:
How do you fit so many things into your schedule? Isn’t it hard? Don’t you feel like giving up sometimes?
And to be honest, it isn’t always easy juggling parallel careers, each of which could be busy full-time jobs. There are often periods when I’m tempted to scale down, to take it slow, to reduce responsibilities – until I ask myself that magical question.
“What Made You Do This?”
Thinking about the answer to your deeper ‘WHY’ is always illuminating – and inspirational. Fame or money, curiosity or circumstance, whim or worry… something pushed you into building an online business.
What was it?
For some entrepreneurs, starting a business was a career decision.
They saw an opportunity in the marketplace, seized upon a chance to profit from it, and ended up building a business that grew rapidly and made them rich. But in many instances, if that was their sole motivation, the sense of satisfaction and thrill they gained from the venture is transient and unfulfilling, at least after the initial rush is over.
That’s why some of them become serial entrepreneurs, creating one start-up after another, well beyond the point where they need to do it from a purely financial standpoint. The thrill and excitement of building something keeps them going.
For others, the stimulus to build a business is rooted in a deeper passion or desire. It may be selfish – or selfless. It may be relevant to many others – or only to themselves. Whatever their motivation, it is often powerful enough to get them to overcome inertia and take action.
Purpose Overshadows Risk
Launching a business, even an Internet based one, carries a certain degree of risk.
There is financial risk, for sure, and there is risk of failure, of time invested into the project, and of not picking the right choices. To overcome all these risks and plunge ahead takes some courage and fortitude, and that’s often provided by one’s passion or sense of purpose.
A person appalled at the state of cleanliness of his neighborhood may launch a garbage hauling business to fix the problem.
Another who sees the daily struggle of her handicapped parent may invest into building a company that manufactures wheelchairs or other aids for elderly folks.
And online, too, the business one builds can be related to a real world problem or opportunity that can be leveraged on the Web.
My own information marketing business, for instance, grew in part as an extension of my love for writing.
But the driving force behind it was the desire to generate enough profit from it to pursue my true passion to carry out life saving heart surgery for children from under-privileged families who couldn’t afford the cost.
So while every business is not directly connected with the purpose behind it, it’s often true that successful small online businesses are run by people with a passionate purpose.
How Does Passion Help?
Does being passionate really matter for business success?
Some would argue that it doesn’t – and maybe they’re right. I don’t believe, however, that working on a business you’re not passionate about is as deeply fulfilling – and even as likely to succeed – as one where you are.
The reason is simple.
Any venture, no matter how small, will bring with it some attendant hurdles and obstacles that you must overcome. As your business grows, these challenges multiply, grow bigger, and take more effort to work through. During these times of challenge and struggle, the one thing that will keep you constantly motivated and focused is the purpose behind the venture.
Why did you begin?
Why did you stick with it?
Why do you want to keep on?
Why does it matter if you fail?
Why are you afraid?
… and above all else…
Why MUST you succeed?
You’ve probably read about the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortez scuttling the ships in his fleet during an attack on the Aztec empire, leaving his army no alternative but to defeat the enemy.
It’s a similar attitude, one that leaves you with no ‘out’ or ‘escape’ but to succeed, that will ensure that you stay on course despite rough weather.
Your equivalent of “scuttling the ships” must be your driving purpose.
An accountant who works with non-profits once taught me a valuable lesson. He said:
When I total up figures in rows and columns for my clients, I don’t see numbers. I see the faces of the children I’m working to help!
Learn to keep your purpose clearly in mind all the time.
See beyond the day to day challenges to the results of your hard work, sacrifice and struggle. Dream and visualize the changed reality that you will be creating through your business.
No matter if it is mundane or world-changing, your personal purpose matters greatly in keeping you motivated and engaged. That’s why its so helpful to keep asking yourself:
What made you do this?
If I asked you that question, what would your answer be?
In my new book “Knife At A Gunfight – 5 Easy Ways To Transform Your Life“, I dive deeper into the subject of developing positive habits.
If you want to build new habits that stick, this book will transform your life… in 5 easy steps!