“Magar, aap jo keh rahe hain iss ka hamari company se koi relevance nahin hai,” (“What you are saying has no relevance to our company,” – a participant told me in one of my training sessions a few years back. I had two different ways to respond at that point: 1) to assert myself and explain the context a bit further, 2) step back and reflect on what the participant had said and then pick it up with him at a later time. I chose neither and instead got into a heated debate with him and soon realized that the other participants had also rallied behind him and I almost got booted out of the room!
Later, I recounted the incident to a senior colleague with all the gravity I could muster. He looked at me, smiled and then taking a sip of tea from his bone china cup said, “This is a serious offence that you have committed to yourself.” I was a bit baffled by his response as I expected him to say words that would allay me. Explaining himself further, he said, “Ali, you have done a serious disservice to yourself. You became defensive and your reaction revealed your insecurity.” Suddenly, the edifice of my self-esteem crumbled right in front of me.
That one conversation started a chain of questions and self-enquiry. I was indeed insecure and the need to win others’ approval was a defining feature of my operating system. Upon further reflection, I realised that it was a desire that had stemmed from my early childhood and had played out like a well-written script. I always blamed my background for my low self-esteem. For me, the word “Kaash” had become an existential reality. “Kaash I went to a big ticket school.” “Kaash I was born into a rich Lahori family.” “Kaash I was taller.” “Kaash I was more attractive.” This soon changed into a series of self-destructive actions and I started losing my mind. Then, South Africa happened!
Amidst the majestic mountains of Drakensberg, the world famous trainer Etsko Schuitema conducts a week-long self-development course called ‘Personal Excellence.” My good fortune that I was able to attend the course in September 2016. The calm of the imposing scenery and the slow pace of everything around was enough to challenge my worldview that ‘fast and loud’ was the only effective way to do things. And the Course! It was a Godsend. A true revelation in more than one way, it forced me to explore the darkest and farthest recesses of my heart to find what’s ailing me. The most resonant thought was that we have the ability to rewrite the script we follow on a daily basis.
Let me explain: I was told when I was in college that I was the sum total of my past experiences. But nobody told me about my bias for only focusing on events in the past that beset me. I thus ended up writing and following the same script over and over again, a script that made me the ‘victim’ of my own self pity. I let my past define my present for far too long. Lack of confidence or not being able to accomplish a task was conveniently blamed on my background. There was comfort in that. I did not have to do much. I just had to lay there and blame.
It hit me like a thunderbolt that it is not really our past that defines us but it is through our present that we attach meanings to our past. If I am not giving my 100% or cannot speak in English or cannot win that business contract, I will always find reasons why it did not happen and invariably those reasons would be events that occurred in my childhood. So I decided to put an end to that madness. Enough was enough.
I feel energized and empowered by the fact that I can associate meaning to an event the way I want to, in the present. If I did not win that business contract, instead of wallowing in self-pity, I now try to look at what I did and what I could do to increase my chances at the next such instance. This allows me to improve without affording me the ‘luxury’ of blaming others. Granted, there are times when I feel as if I have hit a stone wall. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t need to break the wall down and go through it. I can turn back and take another route to circumvent it and that will only happen if I do not allow that stone wall to enclose me within it. My circumstances allow me to rewrite my piece and not follow the same routine script that my ulterior self wants me to. It works!
Let me urge you to review the script you have been following all your life. Is it one punctuated with suffering, self pity, denial and rage? Or is it one full of adventure, learning, growth and love?
Interestingly, the events that make up your script are neutral. You assign them meaning. It is upto you to assign either empowering or disempowering meaning to the foundations of your script.