For the longest time I used to think that I was the sum total of my accomplishments. I thought that life was about accomplishments. It was only about reaching the outcome. It was about getting the prize. The journey to get there was largely ignored by me. What I didn’t realize is how empty life had become while I was focused only on achieving outcomes.
This is the story of how I came to understand what it means to just be, or be in the moment, in all situations. This article will give you some insight on why I thought this way in my “past” life.
- Vanity metrics
- Who I am vs What I do
- Showing up in the Wrong light
- Showing up in the Right light
- Letting go
- It’s all hard work, so focus on the right thing
It’s an interesting thing, being measured against something that another person has created (without any input from oneself). It’s not a win-win proposition.
If you measure up, then you will not be satisfied, since this criteria is set by someone else, and there’s no inherent value to you for fitting this mold. Unless you find value in the criteria, they become meaningless vanity metrics once you’ve achieved them.
If you don’t measure up, then you won’t be satisfied with yourself, since this will get you down on yourself for not reaching this arbitrary and meaningless criteria set by someone else. To add insult to injury, you will probably stop trying and stop self expressing if this how you chose to live your life.
Either ways, you lose. This had been my life until about 3 years ago. After experiencing great loss I realized that I am not the sum total of the things that I do. I am the sum total of who I am when I show up in the world. I can’t control how people see me. I can only control what I show people — which is the light that I choose to shine, or hide, on the inside. And that is how I show up in the world — by either hiding my inner light or by shining it brightly (unobstructed by myself). And I have to make this choice in all situations in life (alone, with other people, in any context). And these choices put together is who I am, regardless of what I do.
Who I am vs What I do
It’s not about about what I do, what tasks I perform poorly or well, what relationships I have with people, and what accolades I garner or don’t. It’s not about doing things and being with people and going to places. If I show up in the wrong light (by obstructing my own light by being afraid), then I’m defeating myself in all situations and scenarios. It’s about striving to show up in the right light in all moments. Not just special moments or special places or situations or around specific people.
The difficult thing about accepting this paradigm is that you first have to let go of all the things that you have accumulated thus far. For me, these things were part of my identity — but it wasn’t my real identity. It was a cheap and hollow proxy for who I was! Great loss is what enabled me to see that when I was stripped of all these things. And only then was I ready to understand what it means to be, to understand who I was. Every curse is a blessing, and every blessing is a curse — such is the Tao of the ‘verse.
Showing up in the Wrong light
In most of the interpersonal relationships that I’ve had in the past, I would always make a point to read the other person’s emotional state, and show up in a light in which they needed me to appear. If they were feeling down, then I would be cheery. If they needed support, then I would be strong. I never stopped to think what I wanted to feel, or what light I wanted to show up in, the light that wasn’t influenced by their needs or influence. This thought never occurred to me. This led me to remove my authentic self from situations. And it became about disappearing so that I can fit the expectations and needs of other people. Not only was this a very poor way in which to treat myself, it also consumed a tremendous amount of energy in me (to constantly manage my responses to another’s emotional state), and created so much internal conflict, confusion, and chaos. I was always a distant 3rd and the other person was always 1st. This was also fed by the fact that I didn’t how to be when I was alone — all very bad things. These all led me to the opposite state of “just being”.
Since my reboot, I’ve been cultivating the habit to ask myself what it is that I need, and how I want to be in specific situations and scenarios. How DO I want to feel around people and places and things? And how do I NOT want to feel?
Showing up in the Right light
An example of this is how I mustered up the courage, and put my fear and insecurities behind me, and lead my beloved company (trnql), and be someone that instills confidence in other people (my team, investors, partners, and customers). In the beginning of my startup journey, when I pitched the idea of my company to investors, I was really fixated on what their reactions were, how I was perceived, and what I had to do in order to get them to have the correct reaction. This totally took me out of the moment. Instead of being myself, and just allowing my inner faith in my vision and my mission and my team come thru, it became about reading the other people and fitting their expectations. After a few pitches, I changed my perspective and changed this behavior. I started fixating on who I was, why I’m doing this (starting my company), why I believe in this, and what I aim to do. I was ready to accept rejection (which is totally an outcome that will happen with this approach) and process it and move on. And I was intensely focused on monitoring my mental state, and cultivating the mindset that if I am my authentic self, and someone else resonates with this, then it’s a good fit, and we should work together. If not, then we shouldn’t. It’s not about pleasing other people, it’s about being efficient with time and energy and find the right fit as soon as possible, without distraction, in all situations.
So, before pitches, I go on walks. And I put my fears and insecurities aside (you can read my mind hack here). And I think about all the impossible things that I’ve accomplished already (in a really short amount of time and without really knowing the exact how, what, and when). With very few resources, I’ve been able to create a product that is starting to get traction. I’ve been able to heal and been able to reach a place in my life where I can write articles like this in public. And on and on. Then I always ask myself — who and how do I want to be. If I could be seen, and wasn’t hiding, what light would I shine from within? What light would I want others to see me in. And then I shine that light, and stop thinking about the molds that other people might want me to fit in, and what would please them. And everything stops being about pleasing others and instead becomes about finding win-win scenarios quickly!
In doing so, something amazing happened. By cultivating the habit to show up in any scenario, and being the person that I wanted to be in that moment, people responded! The right kind of people responded very positively, and the wrong people were turned off pretty quickly! And this was wonderful. I started to get good or bad feedback fast!
I had successfully started to stop the waste of my energy in so many situations around people and places and things. I was able to quickly weed out the wrong audience and find the right one. More importantly, by cultivating this habit of being seen, I was able to really start dealing with rejection, instead of hiding from it, behind the veil of changing who I appeared to be, to please others. This has been incredibly liberating.
It’s been a journey to get this type of habit applied to every aspect of my life, not just fundraising, or leading and running my company. I’ve taken my learnings from being a new CEO and have applied them to my personal life — and I wish I could have done this sooner 😀.
I’ve found that it’s in the quiet moments, when I’m alone and have some time on my hands, that I really have to think about what I want to do, then the question arises — what would I do, if there was no fear involved in the decision? This is where instilling the habit (of showing up in your light) is so important, because soon it will become the only way to be… and the old patterns become an exception, and this the new norm.
I used to think that to achieve outcomes you have to figure out the who, the when, and the how. Being an engineer, I have a bias to fixate on the how 😀. Now I’m learning that you just have to know the why and what (which is not easy, especially since you have to be crystal clear about these things, and you have to know what you want first). How do you find what you want? You have to try and you have to fail fast, and learn, and then make some new mistakes and stop repeating the old ones. Eg: I was so clueless about what I wanted that I ordered a Porsche Cayman R once, and then at the last minute after it arrived, decided to get a used Porsche 911 Turbo. Well, I hated the turbo. I was so clueless about what I wanted, I didn’t even know which car would make me happy. Well, I’ve learned since then, and I’m super happy with my Porsche Cayman GTS… and I lust after the Cayman GT4 and the McLaren 570S. Make an effort to know thyself, is what I’m saying 😀. And this is an iterative process, as our needs might change as we evolve, so have patience with thyself 😁.
Once you know what you want, then just show up in every moment, in every place, and around every person, doing things in the light that you want to be seen in. You are the creator of this light. And you have the choice to do this, or not. And if you do, it stops becoming about the things that you do, and it starts becoming about who you are in all situations. It’s about overcoming your fears and insecurities, and getting out of your own way, and accepting the unknown — which is that the who, when, and how isn’t known at first, but once you set the why and what, they will be revealed over time. Easier to type this than do it 😀. Easier to think it than be it 😀.
You don’t have to try so hard and find people and situations and tasks to do, so that you can be seen by others, in a way that they will like you. If you stop looking for this and start focusing on who you want to be, and be that person, in every moment, and let go of your fears, then you will have really good outcomes. You just have to accept that you don’t know the how or when or who anyway (and this isn’t easy).
It’s all hard work, so focus on the right thing
You’re working hard either way (by being someone you’re not, or by letting go and being someone you are). It’s not any easier to be yourself at first. So think of this as shifting your focus from trying hard to be someone that you think others want to be in a situation, to just being yourself. If you’ve conditioned yourself to not be yourself and be seen in your light, like I had done over a long period of time, it will take some effort to overcome that inertia (and great loss helped turbocharge that for me). By shifting your focus, you will actually get results for the hard work that you’re putting it — that’s the most important difference in the two approaches.
So whether you are going on a walk, or you are walking to your car, or you are alone at home, or you are walking around in a mall, or at a networking event, or sitting at a coffee shop, or at a job interview, or on a date… in the most mundane of life situations and in the most significant moments of truth, the habit is the same. Strive to show up in the world in the right light — in your light.
You don’t control how people see you. You only control what you show people, which is the light that you choose to shine or not, to reveal or obfuscate, what's on the inside.
To being the most authentic, reduced, and awesome versions of ourselves!