My Life Sentence


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself’.

Leo Tolstoy, Russian mystic & novelist. 1828-1910

jail_life sentence

At the age of ten, I had the first realization of what a gang was and what it could do to me. I do not recall how it started but one thing led to another and soon all my neighbourhood friends and playmates had ganged up against me. One evening, I had climbed up on the roof of our house with our servant as he was fixing the radio antenna. I saw my ex friends and playmates holding hands, dancing and skipping together and then with a shock, I heard their voices mocking, mimicking and making fun of me. In that moment I heard an inner voice saying, ‘There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with me.’

I remember telling myself, ‘I don’t belong’. I became a loner, did things on my own and showed up with a ‘I do not really care to belong’ persona to my erstwhile friends and the world. Even after a few weeks when all became well again and I was back with my friends, my self imposed life sentence ‘I don’t belong’ continued to reside inside me.

I time travel a few years ahead to when I am in my mid teens. I see myself having a great time with a bunch of friends at school. Sharing books and comics, watching movies and developing views of the world together. Being cool was all about hanging out together; classes and the need to master what was being taught took a back seat. I justified to myself, ‘I am smart and I can always make up my studies before the exams’. So it came as a shock when my final examination grades plummeted. That inner voice returned, ‘There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with me.’

I recall my father telling me, “You have become a mediocre. Mediocre people do not succeed in life”. In that moment of humiliation and self-doubt, I said to myself, ‘Life success depends on scholastic success.’ As this got ingrained in me as a life sentence, I got back to being a loner and focusing on scholastics. Over the years, as I went on to achieve one scholastic peak after another, to the outside world I was smart and successful. But somewhere inside, those vestiges of childhood humiliation and self doubt remained and my view of the world and behaviour towards other people continued to be guided by ‘Life success depends on scholastic success.’

Today as I think of myself, I sense how the life sentences I had imposed on myself during moments of shock and bewilderment those many years back, have so become part of who I am. It is as if there are several ‘me’s enacting different roles here. There is the judge ‘me’ along with the jury ‘me’ who have sentenced the accused ‘me’ to live out my life in a cell. A cell whose walls, ceilings and floor are composed of my own life sentences. Like inmates of an actual prison, I have devised my own winning and self-serving formulas to cope with the constraints of my prison life. Ironically though and unlike the actual prison inmates who try to get out into the free world, I don’t see the need to do so as my life sentence created prison bars have so become part of my persona and who I am.

And so I continue to go through Life carrying my life sentences. In many situations, I cope and come out the winner In others I feel like a ‘thrown dice’, caught up in unfolding events, clinging onto the ways from my past but yet failing to call the shots. I am left wondering who or what is leading my life.

Can I presume you, dear reader, also feel the same?

So how could we build our lives around our ‘real’ self, free of our life sentences and the persona we have created to cope? In their path breaking book, ‘The Three Laws of Performance’, authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan deep dive into this aspect. They point to a way of overturning our life sentences to free ourselves of these.

We need to start by showing compassion to that little guy within each of us who has been carrying the burden of the life sentences all these years. That guy who did his best to cope with life and produce results by trying to make up for what we have perceived as wrong with us. By hiding from others, even from our own selves. By conditioning ourselves to be different from who we think we are.

The authors then recommend that we create a crisis of authenticity within ourselves. A crisis of the real ‘we’ against the persona created by our life sentence. To create such a crisis ‘we need to locate where our foot has got nailed to the floor’. We do this by engaging ourselves with the following queries:

•Where in your life is something not working or not working as well as you want?
•In what areas of your life do you feel a loss of power, freedom, fulfillment or self expression?
•In those areas of life you just identified, how are you being inauthentic- what are you pretending, avoiding, not taking responsibility for?
•What can you see has been the impact, the limitations, of your having been inauthentic in those areas?

Dear Reader, are you ready to overturn your life sentence?

***

Two Wolves – A Cherokee Parable

2 wolves
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life…

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness,
benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed…”

***

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the future of your organisation and your life by Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan, 2011. Chapter 6, Pages 143-168.