Many years ago, in 2011, I met a friend, Vishy, in a Mexican restaurant in Chennai while I was running around organizing the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra’s first-ever performance in the city. (Oh yes! I have had a wonderfully diverse career!). As we spoke over tacos, I told my friend that I want to live my life with these two values: honesty and harmony. It’s something that he remembers even now.
Now, seven years later, I no longer organize music concerts. But my life has its own beautiful music. I wrote a post on Instagram the other day – typing on the phone is one of my pet peeves – but after I finished that post, I read in more depth what I had written hastily. I wrote there that if we lead our life with courage, honesty, and love, our lives would be simpler, more beautiful, and infinitely more blessed.
I thought then of that conversation back in 2011. Have my values changed? No. I have added more, and I realized that our life would really be happier with these three values.
Let me go through these one by one over the course of three blog posts and how we can use these values to lead a life of joy.
“How do you define fear?” my friend asked me, as we drove back from Kerala. “I don’t have a definition but I visualize fear as this dark ball lodged in my chest. Every time I act from fear, I add more skeins of dancing, pulsating threads that build up that darkness. And every time, I act from a place of courage, more of those threads fall away,” I told him.
And this is my life when I think in terms of ‘courage’ so far.
Every time, every single time I have acted from fear, I have been miserable. Trust me on this. Every. Single. Time.
Take our careers, for instance.
I have always abandoned jobs if they didn’t serve me. I have taken teaching breaks. I have taken a sabbatical. I never thought twice about leaving those jobs because I was always so sure of getting another one. It wasn’t arrogance. It was a quiet, overblown confidence. I am good at what I do, and the people who hire me know it. I have no lack of courage there. And the Universe always helped me when I acted from courage. Employers would ask me about my short tenures but would hire me anyway.
Then, when I was working in Bosch, I was struck with fear. I thought that it is about time I stick around and do what everyone seems to want to do – steady income, climb up the managerial ladder, lead teams, buy that house, and start producing children with the ‘decent’ husband. That job would become one of the most stressful ones I had had. Not just the work, which I could handle despite dealing with CEOs and their egos the whole day, but the sheer, enervating drama from people around me. I lost weight, my health, my peace of mind, yet I clung on for more than two years because I was scared. It would take me years to recover from the pounding I then gave my body, and I know I still haven’t. When I finally left, all I could ask of myself was, “What took you so long?”
And I was then immediately rewarded with a wonderful job with a team I adored. Fear drained me. Courage gave me life.
When I was negotiating a new contract with a client this year, I demanded more money and lesser number of billable hours. In short, I was asking for more while doing less. It sounds ridiculous. But I wasn’t scared of losing that client. The client was scared of losing me and they succumbed. I charge them now for my commute, enjoying reading on the train while I bill hours away.
When I started Life Wordsmith and Trippin Traveller with Travelling Birdy, we weren’t scared. We were so excited about doing something, which regardless of success or failure, we had the courage to try. And no one can take that away from us. In that, there is no success or failure.
You win any time you choose to be courageous.
Courage in relationships
And how do we extend courage to relationships? We build relationships on fear. We are scared of what others will say. What others will think of us. We are scared of our own reaction to others. Of others’ reactions to us. We are scared others won’t accept us. That people will leave us. We are so scared of that we leave them before they have a chance to leave us.
We fear commitment, and then fear the loss of that commitment. We fear promises. We fear rejection. We fear hurting others. We fear hurt from others. We fear every single emotion except comfort, and even then, if we are comfortable, we are scared of losing that comfort. And above all, we are scared to look at ourselves in the mirror.
Wow. How do we live like this? How enervating it seems, doesn’t it?
We know it. We all know what we do. Yet, why do we fear happiness? Why do we sit miserable, coiling our life around fear? I am there. I am still there, but now I look at my self and laugh. That dark ball of fearful threads winds tighter in my chest. Here’s the thing:
I have never been happy any time I have acted out of fear even in relationships. Fear can break you, but courage does lift you.
Last year, my friend, Birdy, and I had a fierce long-dragged-out fight in May. It involved one thing: Me asking her to come to India to work on our business for a period of two or three months and her refusal to do so because she thought that a long break like that would ruin her marriage. I was scared that our friendship and business won’t survive unless she does this. She was scared that her marriage can’t take that strain of long-distance. Only one person acted with courage. “We are here in this for life. Nothing is going to happen to our marriage. Go, be with Smitha now. You need to be with her now. Take as long as it takes,” her husband said. What our fear was destroying, his courage lifted. Nothing happened to their marriage, in case you are wondering. And we loved our time together, which led to amazing memories that light up my heart even now.
When you start acting from a place of courage, old patterns ingrained in us from childhood start to fall away. Since the time we can remember, we are told that if do we something not ‘acceptable,’ something will punish us. Conform and you will be fine, you are told. So you go around life thinking that it is okay to be fearful and to even start accepting that kind of life as normal. We think that others will accept us only if we fit the pattern THEY have in their minds of YOU. How dangerous is that!
But when we apply courage to relationships, we become warmer human beings, opening ourselves up to the possibilities of life. If you don’t have the courage to be honest in your relationships, then ask yourself if that relationship is serving you well. You will see Internet memes that say, ‘If you love something, let it go.” Usually, these memes are talking of letting go of people who no longer serve us. I prefer to think of it differently. If you have loved fear all your life, let it go.
Just let it go.
Have the courage to open your heart to love. Have the courage to love yourself and others. Have the courage to be ready for happiness and the courage to say no to misery. Have the courage to reach for the beautiful in your self and others. Have the courage to be rejected. Have the courage to love till it hurts. And then, love more. Love again. Have the courage to forgive and the courage to ask for forgiveness. Have the courage to have your heart broken and the courage to have it repaired. Have the courage to reach for the stars and fall in the gutter.
Have the courage to value relationships. Have the courage to value time. Have the courage to say ‘yes’ to people who enrich you and the courage to say ‘no’ to those who don’t value you. Have the courage to accept life as it is now – messy, incomplete, chaotic, splendid or blessed. Have the courage to accept others’ flaws and your own.
Take that job. Get on that flight. Ditch that job. Dump that friend, girlfriend, or boyfriend who doesn’t value you. Laugh more. Dance on the street. Embrace strangers. Tell someone you love them. Call that friend you stopped talking with five years ago for reasons you can’t even remember. Give up some dreams if they are no longer serving you. Talk to your nightmare. Just do whatever fear had stopped.
Have the courage to leap and find that the net will always appear. I know this. Of this, I know.
The net always appears.
Courage is beautiful. It’s a warm light that can enrich us.
Have the courage to live.
Fear drains you of your joy for life. Fear is a beautiful darkness. I say beautiful because fear is teaching us. It shows us that happiness doesn’t exist there. It points the wand to another magical place where courage can bloom with honesty and love. And not one of those three values can be applied alone.
Every time you feel you are in a place in life where you are stuck, ask yourself: Am I acting out of courage? Am I allowing others to be courageous in their relationship with me? Am I being honest? Am I accepting honesty? Am I acting from love? Am I being open to receiving love?
Those questions will answer most of your questions in life. Those answers will show you if you are choosing happiness or misery. And you are one courageous step away, one small choice away from leading a life of happiness. Don’t fear happiness. 🙂
In my next post, let’s talk about honesty. Till then, be a warrior. Just like this song that I love.