The news of Café Coffee Day’s Founder VG Siddhartha’s death sent shockwaves through the business community and through the ranks of his own employees. I have often joked with team-mates, about Café Coffee Day being our office because of the numerous meetings and interviews we have had over a cup of coffee at one of their outlets. So, the news felt very personal. His humble and generous nature made the event even more tragic.
While the exact circumstances are yet to emerge, what is clear is that he thought he had hit rock bottom. And as it seems from his letter, took the final way out. It is a sad day when someone so young and accomplished chooses to call it quits, but it is also a moment for us to reflect on how we can handle those times in our life when we feel we have hit rock bottom.
“This too shall pass”
The truth of this ancient quote should help us realise that whether it’s a bad time, or for that matter a good time, it will pass. It is ironic that Siddhartha had just realised over ₹3,000 crore a few weeks ago from the sale of his shares in Mindtree. One would have thought it would have been celebration time. And yet a few weeks later — tragedy. However bleak our situation, it is important to absorb the truth that it will pass. And all we need is grit and faith to survive the bad phase.
The economy moves in cycles, the stock market moves in cycles, sometimes company and individual performance can also have its ups and downs. It is critical to accept that I can bounce back. I’ve often suggested to young friends who think they’ve got into a failure spiral to make a list of all the achievements in their life — big or small, challenges in the past they have successfully conquered, times they felt good about things they had done, times they were praised or appreciated.
A crisis is a good time to pull out this log and read it. It helps us understand that there were times we succeeded, times we exceeded expectations. This should reassure us that those times could come back. The law of averages rarely fails. The good news about rock bottom is that you can’t go down any further — the only way from there is up.
In these times we must rely on what will not pass — our faith, prayer, our value system, our family’s love and support. This should anchor us while the storm above rages and eventually calms.
Focus on the ‘controllables’
Often, our despair when we hit rock bottom, comes from the fact that we feel we have lost control. We focus on all the things outside our control, that now threaten to overwhelm us. As we focus on that, we give power to it — it begins to look even bigger and more threatening. A company-wide job cut that looks like engulfing us, a promised promotion and salary hike that does not come through, a reputational hit that risks destroying our career — in each case the problem looks so large and insurmountable that we feel like giving up. An important step is to break the problem down into small parts. To focus on small pieces of the problem. To attempt to take on the whole, will only lead to further frustration and angst.
Dale Carnegie provided a great formula to deal with our worries. Inspired by that, we teach children and young adults in our leadership courses at TalentEase , the WHIP formula.
- What is the worst that can happen?
- Imagine it has happened and accept mentally that it has taken place
- Begin now to improve on that situation in small practical steps
- Picture yourself successfully overcoming the problem
Once we calmly accept the worst and stop ‘dancing with ghosts’, we can then bring our energy, focus and time to bear on improving the situation. Small, practical steps help, because with each small win, we give ourselves back that sense of control.
The Serenity Prayer composed by Reinhold Niebuhr provides a great way to distinguish between the ‘controllables’ and the ‘uncontrollables’ and a mature way of approaching both.
God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
A crisis is a time of loneliness. We can sometimes feel abandoned, misunderstood, victimised. We must accept that at these times, our judgement may be clouded, our faculties less than sharp. It is best to seek help from wiser counsel and engage calmer minds to support us through this phase. Mentors, real friends, family, a spiritual guide — people who we trust to give us advice without an agenda, who have our best interests in mind. They can help shine the light, that can guide us out of the darkness of our crisis. Often the very act of sharing our troubles, reduces the burdens they place on us. Often sharing the problem, gives us clarity on how to deal with it better.
Our mentors and friends can also help us regain a sense of perspective. What we think of as a major disaster, they could help us see as a minor crisis. We should seek help early and with the right people. It is important to cast aside any cloak of invulnerability that we may have got used to wearing. Our humble acceptance, that what we face is beyond us, should lead us to seek out the help of others. Losing face is the least of our problems. To lose a life because we are afraid of losing face is one of the ultimate tragedies. We give up a treasure chest for what is really a worthless penny.
Much good has emerged from tough times. Famous leaders have often attributed a time of deep crisis as the ground from which their leadership grew and matured; it prepared them for the major leadership role of their lives. Lincoln, Roosevelt, Gandhi, Mandela — all would share, how crisis situations shaped their leadership and made them stronger and, in some ways, actually became a precondition for their future success. From the business world, Dhirubhai Ambani, Ratan Tata, Jack Ma, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs and countless others would say the same.
As Henry David Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” There’s nothing in our professional life that is worth paying all our life with. Our life’s too precious a gift for that. Too many people are counting on us to make a difference. Life is given to us as a gift and we owe life a gift back — to live fully and live well.