What do you find out about yourself through suffering ?
April 2004, Mumbai.
The day I had been waiting for. My first ever medical check-up result. All four eyes are not on me, but on the medical results. After report cards, it is the first time after years that my mother was so anxious. Those days when I got my report card, the only questions my mother used to ask was “who came first? What are Baiju’s and Anish’s marks?” Today it was different. I was curious what questions she will have for me, now that I am matured, old enough to handle any challenges in life (at least that is what I was thinking!)
On the right-hand side of the report are the desired levels and ranges. I was happy that at least these were not absolute numbers. Then I understood why we hate reports, all my levels starting from Cholesterol to Sugar were in Bold and Red. It was a bolt from the blue for me.
I turned to my mother and said, “yes I am fat!” She said, “You are not fat, you have fat and that is the fact”.
That was the day of real suffering.
I was pushed to see the doctor the next day, who recommended me to cut down food, spirits and start walking. I was fine with the first two but not with the last one. Reluctantly I purchased a pair of shoes and tried it on. After that effort, I slept for 30 days! My neighbour persuaded me to join him for a run and I tried to walk. He decided to quit after seeing my walking speed. No sunk cost fallacy. I never took walking / fitness seriously for the next 3 years.
Time passed, I was in Rome and one evening while I was coming back from office I saw an elderly couple, who were in their 80’s, cycling. I was comparing them with my grandmother and thinking wow! They are leading a different life. They were so happy together. They were so healthy
One day I happened to meet them in our neighbourhood and I was curious. They said that each day they like to live on the other side of comfort.
Live your life on the other side of comfort? Sounds good but why should I do it?
I was in search of why? Now it seemed that I had asked so many people that there was a cosmic reaction.
Steve Job’s said, “our products are meant to give you an experience.” Well I had one when got an iPod in 2008. I found my “why.”
It did not come in the form of a direct answer. It came in the form of a very positive feeling that I was experiencing through that iPod. The iPod gave me a channel to try out new things. It made me realise that sometimes you need an external intervention to shake you off and it helped me see somethings from my childhood.
Childhood experiences are sometimes very profound and that led me to go to some dark places. During my school days, when I used to participate in running races I used to participate in the sprints-100 m, 200m and maximum 400m. But one occasion I tried and participated in an 800m race. I could not finish that race and the images of myself failing, struggling and facing frustration was appearing in front of my eyes. It is said that runners sip half lemon to keep them strong and give them that extra energy for pacing forward. That image also kept coming back to me.
I was always trying to prove people wrong. I should prove to myself that I can better that 800m. I wanted to prove myself right.
That was the real tipping point. I struggled initially, but I was willing to go through the pain as I wanted to sustain. At the other end of comfort is suffering and that is what I realised.
To finish a half marathon race in 2012, I had to rely on 7 support Systems a pair of sunglasses and cap, bottle, blackberry (yes the phone), lemon , Shoes , Garmin and of course my Apple iPod (see picture). Running with the iPod was a very different experience and it made me enjoy suffering.
What determines your success is “What pain do you want to sustain?” and run with all the support systems. So, you can beat anything you set your mind to with your mind, body, heart and material support systems. In life we need this support system in the form of family , friends, books , coaches , colleagues and material things.
The more voluntary suffering you build into your life, the less involuntary suffering will affect your life. The most interesting part of overcoming this running limitation was a firm understanding that I wanted to go through this suffering knowingly and I developed a ritual and it started changing my behavior.
In the past, I would have considered these shortcomings as personal. I would have thought that I want to prove people wrong. Not anymore.
In this case it was about the inner voice which kept telling me that I could not do a long-distance run. We all have those voices.
I have run a few races and today I am happy and contented with less than 10k races.
This made me realise that if you have any doubt, fear and uncertainty in any area of your life: –
- First put it out into the world.
- Once you get the answer, keep it going forward until you get that “why” cleared
- Lower your expectations,
- Make a demand and get out of your own way.
The only question you must answer is this: