Stop being your own worst enemy

1:50 PM

Today I want to share what happened to me yesterday because there is a big lesson to learn from it.

I had a coffee morning of one of the group I belong to to attend at 9.30 am, and like pretty much everybody going places at that time of the day in Mumbai, I was down my building, flapping my hand at every empty rickshaws, telling them where I wanted to go, and seeing them speed away.

If you live in Mumbai, 9-10am, and around 6-7pm are the two worst time to get an auto, many drivers finish their shits then, and it sadly coincide with all the people commuting between home and office and back.
So, here I was standing with a crowd of people on the go, trying to find a rickshaw that was willing to take me where I needed to be. The competition can be fierce at time, people will move "upstream" to get first pick at whatever comes empty, and as the minutes and the rejections pile up, people get stressed, angry, and even more determined to get to the first free rickshaw.

I'm usually the patient type, and I don't really mind waiting, but yesterday, I really wanted to make it on time, and the sea of hungry for a rick office goers kept growing.

My first instinct was to just retreat, let them get "first pick". Why? Because I started reasoning saying to myself "Those people are going to work, I'm just going to network"

Fortunately, I stopped myself very quickly in that self sabotaging internal tirade. That innocent reasoning, pretty much was the result of me downplaying myself, and giving people with a laptop bag on their shoulders more importance, and more credit for what they did of their day than I was to give myself.


After all, I was also going to work, I'm an entrepreneur, artist and am in the process of taking my brand and art off the ground. That networking coffee morning was as much as work as any work. I didn't have a laptop in my bag, but a big box of stickers, a stack of business cards and a notebook.
I was on my way to meet people, some of them friends, some of them people I didn't know, and selling myself and my work.
But here I was, thinking that lady who suddenly crossed the road, frustrated at not getting results on her side, moving "upstream" from me had a more valid reason than me to get first dib in the great morning commute rickshaw war.

That's when instead of standing where I was, thinking of myself as a  reject auto scavenger, I made the mental shift of  deciding I was as worthy as anybody down my building to get on the move. I straightened myself up, and walked down that street, past the angry/desperate lady, and toward the main road (upstream from all the office going crowd), a few dozen meters later, I flapped my hand, told the driver where I wanted to go, he agreed, and back toward the crowd I left I went.

My networking coffee morning went well, I made some sales, distributed business card, chatted with the friend of a friend about fabric embroidery, talked about fabric printing with another lady, and ended up spending a bit of the afternoon at the home of another lady to get to know her more.  All in all, a productive day on the work front, and a pleasantly social one.
But, that morning rickshaw ride stayed on my mind, and as the day, night and this morning passed, I felt prouder and prouder for putting an end to a very self sabotaging behaviour before it became an issue.

It's all in the upbringing people! 

A few years ago, I would have let it go to  me, I would have believed the internal lie, I would have downplayed myself, my worth and my strength. Why? Because, let's face it that what we women are taught to do from an early age. And guess what? It's still taught to girls nowadays.

Growing up, not only was I told through countless children books and TV shows that girls are princesses waiting for prince charming to choose them. I was also told that good girls sit a certain way, behave a certain way and avoid making a spectacle of themselves.
This meant that being in the spotlight alone was never an option, even girl centric cartoons from the 80's were teaching us that if we are a rockstar we should make way so that all of our less talented, less hardworking girlfriends also get to share our glory.
As a pre-teen and teen, TV series and novels were teaching me that the go-getter and ambitious girl is a bitch that everybody hates. The heroines were always the ones making way for others to share the glory, and that behaviour would inevitably make the hot and cute guy dump the go-getter for the goodie-girl because in the end, that is what every girl strive to be :

Hard working, pretty, but VERY humble to the point of insanity, and at all cost compromising and yielding to clear the path for another if needed.

And that mindset still prevails today, girls do get exposed to fictional characters that are a bit more assertive and have leadership skills, but again, it's all about being a good team player at all cost.
A few years ago, when Ishita was still into watching Disney Channel, two of her favourite cartoons were Sofia the 1st and Miles from Tomorrowland.

Both had their set of merit and values and were nice cartoons, but there is still one episode of Sofia the 1st that really doesn't sit well with me at all :

In one of the stories, Sofia wins a contest that allows her to be the star singer in an even, as a result she gets her picture painted, gets to try lots of outfits, get gifts, and by the time she is free to go see her friends the day before the big show, she face two bitter losers who can't share her excitement and leave. 
Sofia wakes up the next morning unable to talk or sing without croaking like a frog, we learn that her amulet cursed her because she did something bad. Only she doesn't know what bad she did in the first place. We proceed through the story, and learn that her being excited about singing solo, having won the contest and getting gifts was what got her in that fix in the first place.

Why? Because she didn't offer to feel bad for her loosing friends, and make sure they felt ok. 

The curse is guessed it, only after she announce that she wants her two friends to come on stage and share her big moment.

To this date, I still don't know what was wrong with Sofia being excited and sharing with her friends. The show is trying to teach girls that it was a type of bragging, and that Sofia should have felt sorry for her friends not to win in the first place. It's the same old "You can't be a rockstar unless you share the spotlight with your less talented friends" all over again people!

With Miles from Tomorrowland, the thing that annoyed me mildly, is that the big sister, the brainiac, is also portrayed as frequently nagging and annoying, because clearly, a girl being smart has to still be downplayed as a flaw. She can't be as loveable as the main character because a) the show isn't about her, and b) she is a girl, we wouldn't want her to shine with her brains while her little brother has the whole package.

it doesn't seem like much, but we constantly, in a near subliminal way remind girls that they will never be enough, that they constantly need to binge on very unhealthy  amount of humble pie.

Conditioned to settle for second best, we also are told what is work and what is not. 

After we grew up to always play it safe and not shine too bright, we enter adulthood with a severe inferiority complex we don't even think we have. 
We are also conditioned to think that unless we are 100% perfect (and can prove it) for a job we should not bother applying. Men are far more likely to apply even if they fall short qualification wise and then sell themselves more aggressively during an interviews, because risk taking is a highly praised behaviour trait in boys...from an early age.

The only place where we still more or less fall equal with men, is in what society at large consider work. 

I, like many, grew up with the idea that work is something you do for 8+ hour a day, comes with a long commute often, a set amount of paid holidays a year and more often than not, ask you to spend time in an office, in front of a computer, where you crib about how much you hate what you do, grab your pay cheque, crib about the cost of life being too high, and then crib some more about the fact your 10 days holiday to the beach is still 4 months away. 

Apparently, if you love your work, have fun doing it, and don't crib about anything there is only three reasons for it : 

a) You are not working hard enough and are kidding yourself. 

b) You are lying and making everybody look bad with your happy-go-lucky attitude, so you should stop that and get real already (and crib about something...anything about your job)

c) You are a lucky bitch/bastard and we hate you for it. 

Raise your hand if you have felt like a a) of b) person

Chances is that the instant you "bragged" about loving your job, whatever that job is, you have either felt guilty about enjoying it too much and felt like an impostor not deserving your position. Or you immediately come with a completely made up reason what you dream job actually suck, simply because you have been conditioned to think that being happy is a flaw in a world of neurotically stressed and grumpy people. 

If you've been told to your face that you are a Lucky Bitch or Bastard and you replied by saying "Awww thank you", CONGRATULATIONS! You are living the life and you are awesome. Life is too short to feel you constantly need to level down so that unhappy people feel better about themselves. 

Other people's feeling about how you live your own life is none of your business or responsibility

This is a truth I have been working on for myself over several years and still have to work on. The good news, is that in the past 2 years since I really decided to do what I want career wise, I have gotten a lot better about this. 

I still have to remind myself regularly that just because I don't lug around a laptop doesn't mean my work is less important. 
That just because I work from home and don't do crazy commute doesn't mean I am not working hard. 
That because my business meetings include talking with people over coffee with a box of sticker and a phone loaded with Instagram worthy pictures it's not frivolous and useless. 
And, that just because I seriously could never work a 9 to 5 routine but safe job in an office it doesn't mean I'm lazy, dumb, or kidding myself. 

If people want to think that way, fine! It's their problem, not mine, I'm not responsible for them feeling the way the feel about my life. They chose to feel that way themselves. 
If I buy into their thinking, and validating whatever feelings they might have about how I live, I'm essentially slashing my own personal worth in half and I am responsible for the harm discounting myself as second graded person might do to my own health. 

Once you realise that, you stop destroying yourself, and you can work on building better foundation for yourself to grow on. I've now come to a point where I really don't like the idea of being my own self-sabotageur anymore. 
I became a grown woman who played it safe, displayed the right code of conduct advocated in all my childhood books and cartoons. What it brought, is a Vanilla life and I'm a girl who loves decadent chocolate with marshmallows and sprinkles on top. 

I made my first move away from vanilla when I decided to sell and donate all my stuff, give back the key to my studio apartment to move to India in 2003, but it took me a lot more many years to find myself and take a stand against everything I have been raised to believe as true as far as career, life and risks are concerned. 

Adulting has so far been a process of starting as my own worst enemy and working toward my own best friend. 

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  1. Hi, how are your doing?

    I suggest that you get a scooter especially for such situations. I know I have made the suggestion earlier. The uses of one’s own vehicle gradually becomes evident as one discovers its immense potential.

    You have touched upon a very important topic. There are so many aspects to it. All around I see men stumbling through life irresponsibly since they got unconditional love while their more than competent female siblings got married off because they had to be married off. All that these men needed perhaps was a hard kick on their backside early in their lives. Parents are often irritatingly callous about the potential of their daughters. Thankfully, times are changing.

    I also agree with you opinion on self-worth. My wife often lament the fact that she left job for domestic compulsions and perhaps presently not good enough. I tell her that her contributions are no less significant as a homemaker since she is looking after the household and our son with special needs, all at the same time. She is equal to anyone doing his/her stuff with a laptop in a posh office.

    Your point about the good girl/bad girl set me thinking. Though out 1950-1980, bollywood created two parallel images of a woman. One the heroine, who was virtuous, wore Indian clothes, sometimes western too, and the vamp who smoke, drank, danced and spoke her mind. The heroine gets the hero while the vamp often got killed, since she has sinned. Thus, we got the idea who is good and who is bad. It continued into TV serials also. Assertive women are home breakers while suffering women are good. Women go through untold hardships to finally win over their families. We like these stereotypes because secretly we like to believe in them till logic makes us think otherwise.

    It is strange how every society behaves the same with minor variations as far as gender roles are concerned.

    1. Doing good despite the heat.

      Getting or driving a scooter is something I refuse to do, I know how easily I get stressed and aggressive in traffic and I don't want to inflict that upon myself and others anymore, not in a city where I have other transport options. It's really just in the morning and evenings that getting an auto is a tad bit difficult in Mumbai, the rest of the day I get one on the first try.

      I think the way women are supposed to be portrayed and act is universal and why feminism is still the need of the hour. In Europe you could attribute it to Christian values, but then it exist in other religion and cultures as well.

      I seriously think that the idea that what women do or wear is what gets them into trouble, or makes them a "sinner" has to stop once and for all. Fortunately, I see a wind of change in movies. Last month I took Ishita to see Captain Marvel, yesterday we saw Avengers Endgame, and it really good to see female superheroes that are equal with their male counterparts, with Ishita entering the pre-teens years, those strong role models of women doing their own things and not being thought less for doing it is paramount, especially in movies that are targeting both genders. Girls are taught it's ok to be strong and assertive, and boys are FINALLY shown that it's ok for women to be so and at par with men.

      Because in the 90's when the "Girl Power" movement started to kick in, it was all about "Girls you can be everything you want to be" but nobody really thought that maybe boys should stop expecting women to be at their service.
      Until recently, we had movies that were "girl movies" that no boys would want to watch which where all about empowering girls and women, and there were "boy movies" which typically were action packed, had one token strong female heroine that acted more as hero support than anything. In the end, the hero saved the world, and the strong lady would fall in love with him for his exploit. This pretty much tells boys that no matter what, you still get the girl as a prize at the end.

      Now we are seeing action movies that are no longer boys movies, and female leads who save the world without dragging romance, love or what not as a reward for doing so. I think it's a very refreshing idea.

    2. The winds of change are blowing in bollywood as well. Recently, I saw the movie "manikarnika- the queen of jhansi" based on the life of rani lakashmibai who fought the british. A queen, mother and widow, she gave the british run for their money. A female warrior was a strange thing for the british in those victorian times. She fought with her son tied behind her back. Her story is well known but it was good to see it on big screen. The last movie on her was made sometime in 1950s though she was immortalized in the hindi poem "khub ladi mardani woh to jhansi wali rani thi" (she who fought like a man is the queen of jhansi) which every indian of my generation knows. Her valour got passed down the generations through this legendary poem. I recommend that you read its english translation. Quiet wonderful. I don't know whether they still teach it in school these days.

      Interistingly, when the trailer came out, many people reacting to the trailer went all the way back to "joan of arc" since there are no well known female warriors in history. Then there was one queen of britain called boudica who fought the romans.

      The good thing is that bollywood is now warming up to the idea of making historical movies with strong female characters.

  2. Hi Cynthia,
    The problem of autorickshaws is a pan-Indian phenomenon, I think. Bengaluru is no exception.
    Though there are differences between the genders, nowadays very few people expect us to conform to gender stereotypes, meaning we are not forced to behave in a particular manner because of our gender. We are individuals first then everything else. The world is changing, may be slowly; but surely it's changing.
    The point about self-worth is a good one. We have to believe in our ourselves and our potential.
    All work done by all of us is equally important; and we need to respect the work done by each one of us.
    I remember a movie (forgot the name) in which there is peon of a high-ranking government official who runs errands and does jobs like carrying files etc. In one scene he says what he does is his contribution towards running country. How true! Everyone in the world matters.

    1. True, I think the rickshaw problem is worse in Bangalore though. I rembeber constantly arguing with these guys and getting one to agree to go to a specific location AND turn the meter was an utter nightmare.

      They are far better in Mumbai, the only time it gets challenging is in the morning and evening peak hours, the rest of the day I get one on the first try, they turn the meter without questions, and most will give the change back, I even had some forgo 2-3 rupees on a fare when I would hand out 40 rupees for a 32 rupees fare. In Bangalore the guy would have taken the 40, not given the change back and whined about how I could have paid 50 rupees instead.

      I think the gender stereotypes are disappearing, but as a woman raised by a feminist I still notice how much the cultural environment still plays a role, as tacit as it can be. It' not pointed out clearly that we women should refrain from taking risk, it's just that we aren't really shown many example of it turning out for the better if we do, in a very subliminal ways, we are still trained to think being nice, playing it safe and sharing the spotlight is the way to go.


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