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.

Author: Shakti Ghosal

* A PCC Credentialed Executive Coach mentor and trainer for leaders & performance. * A qualified engineer and a PGDM (Faculty Gold medalist) from IIM Bangalore. * Four decades of industry experience spanning Engineering, Maintenance, Projects, Consumer durables, Supply Chains, Aviation and Tourism. * Top level management positions to drive business development, strategy, alliances all around the globe. * A visiting faculty at the IIMs. *A passion to envision trends & disseminate Leadership incubation globally. , * . +91 - 9051787576

34 thoughts on “My Life Sentence”

  1. Hey there, I think your website might be having
    browser compatibility issues. When I look at
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    in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, amazing blog!


  2. The Cherokee story is a wonderful one.
    Yes, the one you feed!
    Your posts — both your grappling on your own behalf, and your sharing on the behalf of others — feed the good wolf.


    1. Thank you.

      Yes, you may be right. I believe the ability to recognise and articulate one’s inner workings provides us the access to start making changes to one’s behaviour and reactions.

      I appreciate your stopping by to comment.



  3. Shakti, this piece you’ve written is profoundly tender and poignant. I very much appreciate it when men share these stories, for I think it difficult, given societal constraints. I wonder if every child goes through these feelings of rejection and isolation – even children who have what might be considered by outsiders as “ideal childhoods.” The disconnection from Source we all feel when coming into this world no doubt affects each of us in our own unique way. I can totally relate to feeling anxious about fitting in, feeling as though everyone else was “getting it” and I was somehow Not. To my mind, you were smarter than me – you simply withdrew. I kept on trying, all the way through high school, feeling rejection after rejection, wondering what I needed to add in order to fill the shoes of the ideal I somehow expected to transform into. Had I honored my authentic self, I, too, would have withdrawn and immersed myself in what I loved most – my studies. I have always loved to learn. I did have my poetry, however, which I showed to No One.

    I have heard the story of two wolves several times. It’s a good one. A reminder to be mindful and kind to oneself, above all. Then we truly do have something of value to share with others; with the world. Although it’s easier said than done sometimes, at sixty-one years of age I’ve got to say that, although life doesn’t often go the way I wish it would, I am happy in my own skin. And for that, I am grateful. I like my own company. I hope you like yours.


    1. Dear Bela,

      Thank you for this kind acknowledgement.It means a lot to me.

      I would venture to say that ‘Life sentences’ are an integral part of the growing up process.As children we are curious,impressionable and eager to belong. So during every moment of emotional stress, what we hear and how things occur, become life sentences for us in some way or the other. Taken together, our life sentences dictate the boundaries within which we believe we can safely operate. We might even be looking back at those stressful situations as ‘learning’ experiences. But in reality, they constrain us from looking at possibilities outside.

      So Bela, why not do a personal exercise and locate the life sentences that you are carrying? Believe me, this work of recognising them itself would empower you.




  4. I think you are far from alone in your experience Shakti .. You call them sentences with your various selves… For me I call them the masks which I held in front of me.. The one that smiles, while inside you maybe crying.. The one that laughs as you hide the hurts.. But each one has shaped me to be who I am today..
    So that when you finally have the courage to take off those masks and face the ‘Real’ you that has laid beneath .. You then have the courage to explore the wounds and hurts and you then nurture and heal that real you into being.. As your raw self is exposed..

    When we each of us reach inside ourselves, and unlock our own prison cells with the Key we each possess… That Inner Knowing is there within each of us, That voice of reason, the Voice of Truth which speaks with such clarity and purpose, whose voice we often ignore and push to one side as we feel more comfortable hiding behind our own self imposed prison sentences, as we hold the masks up, hiding our true feelings, Hiding our true emotions… As we find it easier to conform to the herd around us, be that parents or friends.. Sometimes its easier to part of the crowd even though you understand deep down its not really you.. The fear of being left out or a finger pointed in your direction as being different dictates how we react.

    Learning to ‘Feed’ our own inner ‘Wolf’ is the Key our Native American brothers knew so well… We can either feed Fear, Greed, Anger, loneliness… Or we can feed it love, compassion, kindness and joy…

    The jailer is ourselves.. We need only to learn to look within and see which of the Keys we need to unlock our prison cell.. Often the only one we need is the one labelled Forgiveness.. For we may have forgiven many upon our journey.. But the last one we forget to forgive, is ourselves..

    Next time you hear that little voice.. sit down and have a long chat…I know I did.. And its amazing how far back that conversation leads as we take off our masks, peel back the layers and unlock our hearts..
    Here is a link to a post I did entitled, Finding myself I am.

    Blessings.. Sue


    1. Dear Sue,

      At the outset I my sincere apologies for not responding to you earlier. What has never happened in the past but it somehow happened this time is that I missed seeing your response! For some strange reason, the WordPress alert which I get every time there is a comment on the post never came! Could it have been a software glitch somewhere, I remain unsure. I just saw your response when I was commenting on my new post…

      I love this comment of yours. Yes, we do wear masks in an attempt to show up different to who we actually are. The effort here is to show up as the person who, as per our perception in that moment, has a better chance to be liked or loved, to be seen as successful and so on.And yes, over time, we become so adept in doing this that we start confusing our own self with the ‘mask’ persona we have created and worn over time.

      I had in fact dwelled on this aspect in one of my earlier posts:

      Life sentences, on the other hand, are the “jailers within us” as you have explained so well. These therefore do not lead to any masks being put on by us but otherwise constrain our way of being, our behaviours and the possibilities that may show up for us as we go through life.

      Thank you Sue, for your very detailed and thoughtful musing which I truly appreciate. Do see my current post ,’My Already-Always listening’ which is one more deep dive within myself and I would love to have your comment on that.




  5. I was enthralled in every word. Your insightful and thought-provoking words are inspiring. Many of us have lived lives with the hurtful words thrown at us as children. Words shape who we are. Negative words put us in directions that can destroy us or push us to greater things to prove the words wrong.
    Well written … I must read the book you have in your post. Thank you posting.
    Namaste 🙏


    1. Hi,

      Thank you for this wonderful acknowledgement in your comment.

      Indeed, while many of us tend to use words impulsively, it is these words, or the overall language we use and face , both said and unsaid, that plays a critical role in shaping our thoughts, beliefs, biases, prejudices and unexplored assumptions. This leads to how we view a situation and circumstances and how that occurs for us. It is this ‘Occurring’ that shapes our way of being and how we act. In other words, how we show up in the world and for others. This in fact is the essence of the “Three Laws of Performance”, the book I have referenced.

      So, where in your life are you prepared to create a crisis of authenticity? Where do you see things not working out the way they should?

      Thank you for your visit and taking the time to comment.



  6. Shakti … At times, I have felt like an outsider. It can be isolating. But, I found that I can also turn it around and use that time to determine what makes me happy. It’s not the quantity of friends that is important, but the quality of their friendship. Those times off by yourself can be used to recharge and reflect. Then, I join my friends and am energized by their company.

    I do love the Cherokee parable about the two wolves. 😉


    1. Hello Judy,

      That’s a great perspective. What you are saying is to use the consequence of our life sentence to re-energize and then re-engage. I am sure that would support us so long as we use our time to reflect to confront our life sentence(s). It is important that in all our actions and endeavours, we shift away from our inauthenticities to a space of authenticity. This can give us sustainable joy and freedom. I suppose that alone is a worthwhile goal, all else but a means towards that.

      Judy, thank you again for the comment, I truly appreciate.



  7. The truth of many lives! Brilliantly articulated! Many people can’t find the right words to convey what goes on, deep down in their minds and hearts, how they are coping with the life sentences they devise for themselves…you have offered some real life strategies to liberate and soar out of those self-inflicted caverns! Thanks for sharing.


    1. Hi Balroop,

      Delighted to see you back!

      You have used a great phrase, “… coping with the life sentences they devise for themselves….”. How many of us have the awareness in this manner? For most of us, as we go through life, thinking, acting and articulating as dictated by our life sentence, we keep on reinforcing our life sentence inflicted persona and that increasingly becomes who we are. The only way to shed this burden and regain the ‘authentic self’ is to create a crisis of authenticity as mentioned in the post.

      So Balroop, are you ready to create your own crisis of authenticity? What support do you need to do that?



  8. I have asked myself similar questions. Every year I feel myself getting stronger, getting rid of the old things in the past which shouldn’t define me, and becoming less fearful. I want the real me to shine through.


    1. Hi Medeia,

      That’s an empowering awareness and a great intention to hold. Clearly you have embarked on a transformative journey of your own self and I acknowledge you for that. Very few people really muster up the courage to do so as it requires one to confront uncomfortable truths about oneself. That is why one needs to create a crisis of authenticity for oneself by ‘ locating where our foot has got nailed to the floor’.

      I wish you great success in discovering the real ‘YOU’. On this journey, if you need any support, do let me know.




    1. Dear Diana,

      Thank you for dropping in and commenting.

      I would love to have folks applying my post to empower themselves in their life journey. Should there be aspects where you need clarity or support, do let me know.




  9. I think this rings true for so many of us.
    The other physics teachers too are loners, we work well together, support each other. We find more loner students gravitating towards us, perhaps because they see support & kindness that’s offered & needed.


    1. Hi Lucyann,

      Delighted to see your comment.

      Do you see this ‘being a loner’ way life manifesting in the teachers and students as life sentences they have imposed on themselves? If so, how do you see this tendency to gravitate towards each other as a support? I remain keen to know.

      I appreciate your presence here.



      1. I see it more in gravitating towards each other for support. Often students will not commit answers written in a book until it’s perfect. Perhaps it’s the life sentence of being a perfectionist, followed by the feel of not quite being good enough.
        But then physicists & engineers like to think outside the box , is it in this loner time that we find our answers? We also tend to be free thinkers with a little rebellion.
        I’m sure the students look to us adults for support.


      2. Hi,

        That’s a great perspective. Indeed life sentences do support in situations similar to the one in which they got created. For the physicists and engineers you speak of, being a loner and a perfectionist might be supporting their creativity and performance. So that is fine. ( I should know for I am an engineer myself and have similar traits!) The problem occurs when folks need to cope with a changed or an alien environment in which the thoughts and actions dictated by the life sentence are no longer appropriate. It is at such times when there is the need to confront the life sentence and loosen its control on us.

        Thank you for this engagement.



  10. Ah my friend….You rang my bell in every sentence! I have been doing battle with my life sentence forever it seems and especially in the last year. It can be exhausting and demanding but fight we must to regain that ‘me’ of who we truly are. It is stunning to think the world is filled with people dragging a life sentence along with them and down right frightening to think of our Government leaders carrying the same sentences. It is no wonder the world is in the shape it is in, and now we are breeding whole new generations of life sentence people because of bullying and judgment….The world as a whole has a great deal of work ahead of them still to sort through. We wish the change would come as we are all tired, but it will never come until we all do the work to turn things around….Thanks for the heads up on the book and thanks for sharing your true self! I send you blessings and prayers to you for your success in moving forward….VK 🙂


    1. Dear VK,

      It is such a delight to have your presence here and reading your insightful comments. You have once again brought in great thought and perspective.

      Yes, it can be disconcerting to visualize how each one of us, our leaders, our opinion makers, our elders and our children, are burdened with individual life sentences. And how these constrain and shape the way of being, thinking and acting. But we need to also appreciate that the life sentences got created by that ‘little guy within’ during moments of stress and as coping and supporting mechanisms. Chances are that they served a purpose and got us to where we are today. So I believe, the path to access our life sentences is not by being critical but being compassionate.

      You speak of the world and all of us needing to do a lot of work to shift away from the space of judgment, coping and inauthenticities and into a space of authenticity. Why should we feel apprehensive and tired of this? In my post, I have pointed to a simple way for each one of us to move forward. What is stopping us from disseminating this to others, through sharing, coaching, counseling? I declare that I would be delighted to support anyone in this regard. Do pass this word around.

      VK, as always, your words have made me go into an empowering thought train and I thank you for that.



    1. Hi TBM,

      Thank you.

      Indeed life is not easy but why should that stop us from moving forward? And it is not really about learning. There is already too much of information and data out there. What is needed is to embark on transforming oneself. That can never come from learning ‘new skills’, but to look inside and confront one’s own inauthenticities. In my post, I have provided a simple recipe to ‘locate where our foot has got nailed to the floor’ and how to free it.

      So TBM, are you ready to create your own crisis of inauthenticity? Should you or any of the other readers decide to do that. I would be happy to support.




  11. Thank you. A very powerful and touching piece. I have same thoughts. Fear mostly. I could see myself as I read your words. Often people describe me as “bold” and I think I am merely showing the opposite or, perhaps it is because of the opposite that I seem fearless.


    1. Hi TBM,

      Your thoughts relating to fear are but a doorway to that authentic ‘You’. Each one of us have these fears- the fear of rejection, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of something being wrong with us and so on.

      So how could you now create that crisis of authenticity for yourself to regain the freedom you would like to have?



    1. Dear Monu,

      My posts are never really about finding any answers; they are more about looking inside our own selves. So when I do see someone finding an answer, as you have, my question is, “How would you use that answer to serve you going forward?” Merely declaring that one knows the answer is just the first step.

      Thank you for commenting.



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