Monday, 1 December 2014

A note on crashing an MBA class

One Wednesday evening, I found myself crashing a dear friend's MBA class.

I don't have a master's degree, so I don't know what to expect, other than I am going to be entertained for the next few hours of my life. I get that this is not the kind of entertainment most people would go for, but it is for me.

What I got was way more than entertainment; I found out a few interesting things about being human, in the form of really informative graphs that really could've been drawn better (another story another time). There were lessons about how to manage resources (which is what a good MBA program is focused on). There was a lesson about how to manage yourself. More specifically, how to manage your feelings.

(To most people that were in that room at the same time, the take away is very likely not to be the above; it certainly was not worded nor presented as such. And that's okay, because understandably different things would resonate differently to different people, or differently to the same people in different times of their lives.)

As a society, we are obsessed with happiness. Like really, really obsessed. Obsessed like all that we ever want in this life is to be happy kind of obsessed. I know because I have said this once upon a time. And the irony is not lost on me that it was during the time that I was most miserable that I said that every single fucking day. I was chasing happiness, without knowing how, and most importantly why.

After years of futile search and extreme exhaustion that manifested in the form of what I labelled a quarter life crisis, I delved into the topic a bit further. There was a very good chance that I was wrong, and perhaps, I should stop whatever it was I was doing because, well, it was clearly not working.

I said that my take away from that 3.5 hours entertainment was how to manage my feelings because of this one sentence: you cannot be happy; you can be happy about something. And that something better be something you can bloody identify. When I wake up in the morning feeling happy, what I really want to say is I am happy that I had a good night sleep, I wake up feeling rested and ready to start my day. When I say that I want to be happy, what I really want to say is I want to be happy with my choices in life.

Being able to identify specifically what you are happy with is part of being in touch with your feelings. I think this is a very important step towards being able to manage your feelings. I also think that a lot of times, when we discuss how to manage our feelings, most of the time the discussion is skewed towards suppressing the bad and accentuating the good. There is nothing wrong with accentuating the good, I am a subscriber. But constantly suppressing the bad is dangerous and can be detrimental to one's health. Because I do not believe that the good is meant to cancel the bad, the two are meant to exist side by side as part of this thing we call our feelings. It is very possible that you feel good about something and at the same time feel bad about something else. And this is not a bad thing either, it is just what it is.

Upon reflection, I think, the same principle applies for all of the feelings that we have: the good and the bad. We are happy about something, we are annoyed about something, we are excited about something and we are bored about something. Yet somehow, the reason behind our feelings are often left out in our sentences. One of the things that we constantly feel is this thing called inconvenience - like, for example, the rain and how we need to walk out of the house with umbrellas that would then get destroyed by the wind. Or that because of the rain, we could not go running our usual track. Or that the broken treadmill in the gym plus the rain mean we have to resort to the bike or the rowing machine, or whatever monstrous machines that we have to endure for the next 20 minutes or so. And most of the time, we summarise all of these with "ugh, so annoying."

It really doesn't hurt to identify the source of the feeling; in fact, I think it can help us sort out our feelings better. And perhaps, if we get to understand why we feel a certain way, then we would be more open to pause for one moment and feel the feeling, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Because I think, being able to feel a range of your feelings is a part of managing it, and being able to manage this well is a part of growing up.

We are not skilled in articulating our feelings, or even, identifying our feelings accurately, i.e why we feel a certain way, let alone managing them. When we feel an emotion that's of an uncomfortable nature, we tend to shut it off, or ignore it, because (1) we think it is wrong to feel that way and (2) in some twisted way, we believe that ignoring it will make it go away. We forget that to see the rainbow, we have to live through the rain.

We are not bad people, even when we do not feel perfectly content about life 24/7. We think we should be excited, giddy, positive all the time. And this is because, well, a lot of people are uncomfortable when we share some form of painful emotion/experience. I don't blame them, really, so most of the time I don't share these things. When I do share them, I get some judgment - which adds to my pain. Very rarely I would get an ear that would listen without judgment. The worst judgment of all: "wow, you are really negative." Yes, I was. I am sorry that I made you feel uncomfortable; but I sure learn my lesson of not sharing private moments with you. [This is a terrible response on my part, I know. I pick this because this is easier for me than trying to connect on a deeper level with this person. This sounds like a cop out, because, well, it is.]

Why we need to share the good and the bad - especially the bad? Connection on a deeper level. Deep connection that most people shy away from. Including me. Because it takes a lot of time and energy and I only have so much of those.

But it is through deep connections that we find meaning. Finding meaning does not automatically make us happy; we are happy about having deep connections, hopefully with those we love: when we get to share their deepest, most intimate thoughts and feelings, and for that moment in time, we let them know that we love them, and we act on that love.

We may not be able to change what we feel, but we have options on how to respond to those feelings. So, choose wisely.

Every day I make decisions about how I choose to live my life, consciously or not.  These decisions become the building blocks of my life. And when I put off making a decision about something, usually because of paralysis by analysis, I still essentially make a decision: that of indecision, and that's when I feel stuck. Stop thinking, start feeling and go with the flow.  

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