Updated: Oct 11, 2022
I grew up being a high-achiever and an excellence-seeker. I believed that one can and should do everything to attain outcomes. Planning, execution, ambition, logic and control were important to me. My world, including my choice of friends and role models, reinforced this thinking to the extent that I believed it was the only way. By my mid-20s, I had the societally approved recipe of success - cognitive intelligence, hard work, a degree from a good institute and a well-paying job. This way of being and doing things served me well. Just when I had assumed I had figured life out, everything changed. In hindsight, the change was positive and essential.
Beginning of the Realisation
In 2013, I began teaching children from an underserved community. Given the resource-constrained, challenging environment, I failed for many months.
My initial response was to analyse my performance, plan better and execute more meticulously, but nothing worked. I was forced to consider other possibilities, like the role of relationships and my interior condition.
After researching and considering some inputs from my coach, I decided to bring intentional micro-shifts in my approach.
Instead of making decisions for students, I asked them what they would like their classroom to be.
Rather than focusing on teaching, I shifted my attention to creating a sense of belonging.
I started modeling the behaviour I would like my students to show instead of preaching about it.
These small things began to work and influenced my confidence as a teacher. However, I was still rooted in my left-brained, masculine thinking style. When another crisis hit our school team, I defaulted to my automatic response.
The crisis was prolonged, so it took a tremendous toll on me. I did not feel joy in my work. I was irritable in my interactions. I felt fatigued and low. The situation got so bad that it took me to a full-fledged burn-out. As a result, my classroom also lost some of the joy and energy I had brought to it.
The crisis was a wake-up call - I could no longer pour from an empty cup. I cared enough about something to want to change my way of being. I started exploring wellbeing from the lens of self-care.
The Inward Road
I did the small things first - daily gratitude, labeling my emotions and grounding using my body. My resilience grew. Everyday fires and minor crises did not rattle me anymore. But I was only at the cusp of a transformational journey.
Every subsequent adversity pushed me to look deeper within. Any situation that made me feel I was going to crack became an opportunity to shed more light on my beliefs, values, and conditioning. I discovered myself in my many challenging life phases - turnover in my team, a family member's terminal illness, an organisation-wide crisis, and becoming a new parent.
Looking inwards, I discovered some of my beliefs [I am not good enough] and how they shaped my behaviour [being risk-averse or controlling]. I understood where these beliefs came from [experiences of seeing a loved one hurting in my childhood and feeling the burden and helplessness of it as a child; assuming the societal role of men as a protector was true]. I became more accepting of myself [it is okay to want control] and found alternative supportive perspectives that helped me heal [it is impossible to control everything all the time]. With increasing acceptance, I could create space for other beliefs in my life [there is beauty in emergence]. I also learned to accept people who were different from me and held views contrary to mine.
The Change Within
At this stage in my journey, I feel a shift in my ways of being. I live with a conscious awareness of my inter-being with everyone and everything. As a result of this inner work, I can better balance many dualities. I can nourish myself while working on social change. I can tap into my masculine, left-brain orientations (being goal-oriented, rational, structured, assertive, etc.) and my feminine, right-brain orientations (being collaborative, intuitive, creative, relationship-oriented, etc.) without guilt or shame.
Not only has the journey changed me, but it has created ripples of change in my personal and professional relationships because my presence has shifted. For example, I can appreciate the inner and outer forces shaping my being, so it has nurtured compassion for others without feeling an undue burden for their emotions.
The shift has been so profound that I have made wellbeing my work. Today, I weave communities and learning experiences to help people find learning, connection and support for thriving and flourishing.
The words make my journey sound linear and straightforward. The truth is that it was not simple. I wanted to share a few critical factors about the process.
There is a time gap between knowing and embodying. Many of these shifts I have captured have taken 4-7 years of deliberate work. With some practices I started back in 2015, I am still learning to apply them in life consistently. Even today, in adversity, I occasionally forget to respond using a wellbeing-centred approach.
The journey is iterative and spiral. There are many ups and downs. For every two steps forward, I take a step back. It has required me to trust the practices and be self-compassionate with myself.
The impact is slow but exponential. The more I understand and embody different perspectives and practices, the more they impact my wellbeing. To notice the shifts in oneself requires mindfulness. Often the changes are below the surface first, with the intensity and frequency of unhelpful behaviours reducing first.
A community matters. I was able to bring alive changes fastest when I worked with a community. My wife and I do a gratitude practice and workout together every day. The CBCT community helped me deepen my understanding of compassion. The Regenerators group reminds me that I cannot heal the world until I heal myself. The Wellbeing For All group encourages me to label my emotion daily.
Privilege plays a role. I am an able, cis-gendered male born in an educated, upper-caste, middle-income household. My journey would have been more challenging, and I would have required a lot more professional support if the effects of intersectionality were at play!
Closing Gratitude and an Invitation
I have had the privilege of listening to many of our community members share their stories with me. Thank you for trusting me with your stories. I felt called to share my story because of you. I was particularly inspired to write this piece because our community member, Tanushree, wrote about her journey on our blog.
My story is my truth, and it lives alongside the realities of 300 others in our community and 7 billion others on the planet. I welcome your stories with open arms. Please get in touch with me if you want to share your journey on our community blog! It doesn't matter where you are and how long you have been on this path of wellbeing.