Monday, July 8, 2013

Do You Know Your Worst Opponent?

While we are on the topic of overcoming challenges, it would be logical to give a thought to the origin of all these challenges. Not all of us are celebrity cricketers gearing up to face a stadium full of audience and a vicious bowler, like Virat Kohli does in the Cinthol commercial. Most of us don’t have grand challenges like that which exhilarate us enough to scream “Alive is Awesome!”. The majority of us are average people, with average lives and our battles are as small as our lives. For a housewife in a small town, a challenge would be to convince her in-laws to let her work, whereas for her urban counterpart the challenge would be to handle her infant baby while still managing to get that promotion she has been eyeing.

If you get into the depth of it, you will see that a “challenge” is hardly anything tangible, unless it is a maths exam of course! Challenge is in fact just a plain normal situation, to which you give some significance and whose consequences will matter to you. So if this situation is not the challenge, then what is?

You need not go far. The only thing you ever do challenge is yourself. You are your only best friend, and you are your own worst opponent. You will never achieve anything if you fail to move yourself towards getting there. Situations are same for everyone, its the effort they demand from you that gives them the magnitude. Again the focus comes back on you. You challenge yourself to perform better, to change your ways, to muster up the courage to do something crazy. It’s always you.

Challenges come when you become comfortable and settle into one thing. When the tide of change comes, it will be your inertia to change that will slow you down and increase the struggle of movement. When you want to change your life for good, it is this inertia that will stop you and you will have to challenge yourself to up and get a better life for yourself. If you give in and stop moving, you will become like a rock at the bottom of the ocean.

So challenge yourself. Challenge your fears and overcome them. Challenge your limits and reach for excellence. Challenge your insecurity and explore all that life offers you. Challenge your courage and take risks once in a while. There is nothing called an easy life. That which is easy, is not life. Life is climbing the sea side cliff only to jump off it from the peak, right into the bliss of flight. Talk to that one person you always were too nervous to approach. See where it goes. Challenge your scared, conventional and narrow-minded self, and open yourself to limitless living. Challenges are the reason to live, because it just goes to show that there is always a new frontier to chase. Life has a meaning, and it is to find the scale of it. How far can you go? 

(URLs lead to Cinthol's Alive is Awesome campaign. Story courtesy: SS)

Swimming Upstream

Everyone gets bitten by the self-discovery, self-realization bug once in a while. The last bout that I had left me with a very strong thought, which I don’t really believe is entirely an original of mine because it has been said over and over again since the stone ages.

Meek is the existence of those who float with the flow. The mighty ones challenge the tides.
If you come to think of it, the word “challenge” can be a very relative concept. Different things become challenges for different people. Some love talking, some are painfully shy. Maths comes easily to some, and for some it’s a slow bleeding death. It’s also a national and cultural thing. For instance, in an individualistic society like the US, you are free to practice your own choice and challenges come in the shape of fate and chance. Here in India, whereas, asserting yourself is a challenge in itself. I think it sucks, but that’s the way it is.

The entire society is built on such deep rooted foundations of socially-interdependent systems that it is scary for a person to even think of being entirely on his own. To think of breaking away from the line and setup one’s own shop and sing one’s own song. Imagine a typical Indian life timeline. You are born in a traditional, religious family. You are raised to be an obedient person who is an advocate of his culture and blindly follows all he is told to do by elders. Blindfolded, you go through the motions. School, engineering/medical college, job, marriage, kids, retirement, death.  It’s THE life plan. If even one step goes wrong, people go into panic mode. It’s so automatic that nobody realizes that the life they are living isn’t there’s.  Nobody realizes death was never the last step. They’ve been dead all along. How can this be called life?

Being alive is being in control of your own destiny. Being alive is LIVING your life, not going through the motions that have become a standard because million other did it. Being alive is giving your life the dimensions that you want to, not downsize it to fit someone else’s plan for your life. And I admit, it is lot easier said than done. It’s a daunting task.

You just have to do what you want to. What YOU think is right. 

It’s so amazingly simple that nobody has any idea how to do it. You can begin by stopping whatever you are doing right now, and just think whether what you doing is what YOU want to do. It’ll be the biggest revelation of your life and it will change everything. It will change you. You will clearly see what you want and with time, you’ll figure out how to get it. But the most difficult part comes after that. Standing up for yourself. You will face resistance everywhere. The security and reliance you have become so used to, will vanish. It will be replaced by constant transience and uncertainty, maybe like the cold turkey phase for drug addicts. But ultimately, when you have fought everyone off and found yourself, that addictive aftertaste of smashing a challenge and proving yourself. Believe me; it’s like nothing on this planet. People end up leading wild lives just to taste this feeling over and over again.

That is the taste of life. That is being alive. And being alive isawesome.

(URLs lead to Cinthol's Alive is Awesome campaign. Story courtesy: SS)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Leaving Temptation Behind, One Day at a Time

Sometimes, it is not the miraculous, law-defying achievements but the little, everyday victories that put us on top of the world. Here's a little story about the guy next door and his "ordinary" achievement.


I see people talking about great things that they have accomplished, milestones they have achieved and triumphs they have earned. The one good thing that I have ever been a part of was a blood donation drive back in college. I’d like to believe that I am an achiever of great feats, but the truth is I am just another ordinary woman, barely keeping it together while living an ordinary life.

Ever so often, we get so caught up in looking for greatness in great things that we miss the greatness in little every day things. Maybe I never achieved something magical or socially acknowledged but I have learnt that achievements aren’t just that. They can be incredibly simple and deeply personal and yet, the impact they have on a person can be very profound. Wondering what’s making me say all this? I’ll tell you what. A person, very close to my heart, has undertaken a task that is very tough and excruciating for him. And I see him standing up to it every day. Its not a one-shot to glory. It’s an everyday duel and I am proud to say he’s never faltered.

No, this is not some big dramatic life event. My boyfriend and I have always been food freaks. Hard core foodies, we barely ate at home. We just had to be out every day, checking out some new restaurant, searching for the new favourite thing we like to eat. For me, it was just something that we liked to do together but for him, it was an addiction. As expected after we were past the crazy college days and settled into our jobs, the lifestyle began to take its toll. He gained weight, and kept gaining weight till he barely resembled what he was. Since it did not affect us, neither of us thought we needed to change.

One night we just decided to go out for a walk by the beach. We were walking our way to the water from amidst the crowd, and suddenly he accidentally bumped into a guy carrying a camera. The guy fell, dropped his camera and yelled, “Watch where you’re going, FATTY!” The words left a mark on his mind. He fell quiet and kept brooding for days to come. About a week later, he comes home and tells me, “I am gonna lose 15 kgs in a month. I’m going to get back in shape.” I told him there is no need, but he just said that he needed to win this thing.

I had my doubts about the diet until I saw him saying no to cheesecakes, giving up butter, walking to his office, walking some more, running in the park and even give up sugar. It was tough for him, I could see. Acceptance is no encouragement. I never motivated him to keep this up, instead I asked him to give it up and eat all he wants! Even I couldn’t break his resolve. It wasn’t that he wanted to be thin. He just couldn’t see himself not being able to do what’s good for him, his health. And he couldn’t take the feeling of being helpless in front of food. He would see something that he loved eating, and I could see a giant balloon of drooling temptation forming in his head. But never for a moment did he give in to it. He steeled his control even further and shunned everything out. Every day. Throughout the day.

Gradually he started getting fitter and his strength to say no to food grew. We now take walks around malls where I try to tempt him into eating something really fattening, or any junk food and believe you me, he ENJOYS saying no to things now. He has this new thing now, this sense of triumph over temptation, and he keeps putting it to test just to see how far he can go. He says he feels better than ever. He’s fit and in control. He feels in charge and it reflects in all things that he does. He says he actually feels alive now, and I quote him, “Alive is awesome”.

I would agree. We’re happier than ever.


(URLs lead to Cinthol's Alive is Awesome campaign. Story courtesy: SS)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fighting to Keep the Spirit Alive

Right next to building in which I live is a very small chai shop. Being the tea addict that I am, I literally haunt that shop. I am always there. When you are alone, you tend to observe things and people. I saw how people talked animatedly about latest news and religion. I saw how couples quietly enjoyed their cup of tea together. And I always saw a middle-aged woman, who came there around 5 pm for a cup of strong tea. Over a period of time, she noticed me noticing her. I think two women, out alone, share a bond that only they can feel. One day she smiled at me, and called me over. And just like that, a friendship sprung up. I began to cherish that time with her simply because she stimulated the thinker in me, and believe me, such people are RARE. As we talked more and more, I found out things about her that changed my admiration to respect, and later awe.  

Nimisha comes from a very rich Gujarati family and was a gold medal winning law student when she completed her degree in law. She got a job in a major law firm and raked in lakhs every month. She had a lot of money, and was soon going to be married to an even richer guy. But, as she describes, that life was empty. Until one day that completely changed her life.

A teacher from her law college, an old lady that Nimisha dearly loved had a heart attack. Nimisha rushed to meet her as soon as she heard. She found out that the teacher’s husband had passed away a couple of years ago. The insurance money that her husband had saved never came back to her. She filed lots of petitions and claims, but she never could manage to rise above the mess of paperwork. Finally the stress got to her and she had a heart attack. Nimisha resolved she wouldn’t let the insurance sharks get away with it. She took a leave from work, and prepared to sue the insurance company on her teacher’s behalf. They filed the case, and she fought with all her might against the insurance giant. It took months of hearings, but they finally won. Nimisha gave back to the teacher what was hers.

Word got around about this, and shortly after this case, many people started contacting her to help them with similar cases. People who were wronged and helpless. Some were cheated by the system, some couldn’t afford paid help. What started as freelance odd jobs, turned into a calling. Nimisha quit her job, postponed her wedding and set up her own practice. She gave up all her luxuries and took up the challenge of fighting for what’s right, entirely on her own. It was tough for her, in a male dominated court room. She struggled each day to adjust to her new lifestyle, to build up cases entirely on her own. Contrary to the apparent distress, she says it all filled her heart with joy.

The entire path that she has chosen is challenging, not just her cases. She barely makes enough money to survive. She has no fixed working hours. She has lost all touch with the world she used to know and live in. And she is anything but scared. You can see by the glitter in her eye that she lives for the moment when the gavel strikes in her favour. She lives for the challenge of defeating big names and big corporations. She gets nothing as reward, no recognition but she knows what difference she has made to the lives of those who she represented. She lives for that.

I asked her, “What makes you go on with this life?” She said, “Everyday is a new fight. And I am truly in my spirit when I am fighting. I live for the moment when I win. I will be dead if I stay still, stable. As long as I fight, I do not exist, but I live.”

Awe-inspiring. Right?

She truly is alive. And that seems to be pretty awesome!   

(URLs lead to Cinthol's Alive is Awesome campaign. Story courtesy: SS)

Friday, June 14, 2013

180-Degree Ride

Now follows the inspiring story of a corporate cog turned dreamweaver:

I was what you would call a corporate cog. I went to work every day at 9:00 am, and sat in my chair till the clock struck 6:00. Ten minutes later, I would be on the train home. A couple of hours later, my wife and I would be done with dinner and back on our laptops to finish more work. And repeat.

Life was different when I was young. Back in my graduation days, I was a very active student and was perennially fighting for some cause or the other. I dreamt of being a journalist, of bringing the perpetrators of crime to justice and helping the wronged. In fact, I met my wife at one of those college rallies! We were so brave, yet so naive back then. We thought we could change the system.  But the very things we never thought mattered stopped me from becoming what I wanted to. Our families revolted fiercely to the idea of me becoming a “reporter”. While my family was worried about journalism being an ‘unsafe’ profession, her family was sure that a journalist cannot run a household even for a month on what he gets, let alone support his own family. If I had to be a journalist, it would have to be without her.

I gave on journalism and took up a managerial job. I worked hard. Earned enough to support another person and got married. After that, life barely changed. I was married and had a job then. I was married and had a job now. An year ago, I evaluated my life, and I realized I had accomplished nothing significant other than making money. I was bewildered. When did I become this?, I thought. This is not something I can keep on doing. I need to work towards a meaning, not a number. That was when I decided, I will become a journalist. It was not easy. I was settled. I had a regular income. I had my wife to support, and soon there will be kids. But I just couldn’t have lived that life any longer. 

It was a life-changing decision, and a challenge that I faced in form of so many things every day. I enrolled myself in a media college for part-time diploma. I had to attend classes every day after work for an year. There were times when the sheer physical fatigue would take its toll and I would spend my entire Sunday in bed. But now, I woke up every morning knowing, that I had a long day ahead and I loved it! I was getting closer to my dream one day at a time. Life was as hard as it could get, and it was also as good as it could get! I persevered for an entire year, working and studying. I was running all the time, and studying when not doing the latter. It took all my physical and mental strength; it drained me of all my energy. But it was the happiest that I had been in years! It was as if I had come back to life, and however tough it was, being alive is awesome!

The course finished in its due time. I quit my job at the corporate. That day was a symbolic victory which represented the end of my life’s greatest, and longest, struggle. I had done it. I had put an end to a charade. It was daunting at first, but the goal kept me going. It took an year and endless sleepless nights, and today, I am a reporter with a national newspaper.  This is the life that I wanted. And I worked to get this. My career switch has given me tremendous confidence in myself. If I can go from being a manager to a reporter, there is nothing that I cannot do! I am in control of my destiny, and it’s a terrific feeling.

(Courtesy: Ms SS)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Overcoming Acrophobia and Relishing It!

A challenge remains one only till you face it head-on and show it who's boss. In this post, guest writer, Shivani Sharma, talks about how she literally took the plunge to overcome her morbid fear of heights. If you share her acrophobia or nurse other irrational fears, read on and get inspired!


If we get talking about challenges, boy, there will practically be no end to it. Every day is a different hoop you’ve got to jump through in order to just survive, let alone enjoy your life. But there always is, for everyone, that one hurdle that is the mother of all challenges to you. For me, it was heights.

I have been terrified of heights ever since I started walking. I won’t go on rides, swings and I never, ever jumped! The phobia survived through my childhood and piggybacked through my adolescence as well. I refused to even set my foot on an airport, let alone take a flight. There came a time, when this phobia wasn’t just a fear in the back of the mind, but a very real problem which was hampering my functioning. I would waste a lot of time travelling, all my activities and sightseeing were limited to the ground level. I couldn’t take the stairs anywhere if it did not have a balustrade.   

One day, just out of nowhere, it hit me. That I am losing to my fear. That I have to fight back, and win. Live better. Not be afraid. Two days later, I had a bungee-jumping trip planned out in front of me. And did I get the jitters! I contemplated cancelling the trip even as we boarded the train to Delhi, and the bus to Rishikesh after that. I contemplated feigning sickness to avoid going to the Bungee-jump venue. I was looking the biggest challenge of my life right in the eye, and I was the one blinking too much. I was scared, but I refused to budge.

Finally, the moment of truth came, and I stood of the edge of the platform, all tied and geared for the jump. The instructor asked me to look down. I couldn’t. She understood my fear and said that I can back out if I wanted to. I almost said yes. But I just couldn’t accept the defeat. The fear transformed into a steely determination. Let’s see, once and for all, how bad can it be? Let’s get this over with and never be afraid again. I looked down, and my head spun. I stepped back. The intimidation of the height shook me, but only made my resolve stronger. I braced myself, took a long deep breath, gave an imaginary figurative tight punch in the eye of the challenge, and jumped.

If I could ever describe that feeling in words, I would say I felt alive. In that moment, when you are free falling, in the air, flying, all your problems seem so petty and your life back home seems so ordinary. As the wind gushes past you at crazy speed, the bliss, the taste of victory and the tremendous pride for overcoming the fear engulfs you. All those years of being afraid seemed silly. That was a cage. This is life.

That feeling, of taking the challenge down, is an addiction in itself, and ever since my jump, I have found myself eager to experience that feeling again and again. Challenges thrill me now, and when I win over them, it makes me feel what that free fall did. Alive. And alive is awesome.

(Note: The hyperlinks lead to Cinthol's Alive is Awesome videos, which encourage us to relish challenges.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Sense of Achievement ;)

As a thank-you for blogging about their Alive is Awesome Campaign, Cinthol sent me a really cool hamper! I'm loaded with six super-fragrant soaps, a large deodarant and an MP3 player. Check out its latest offerings below:

The joy I felt on receiving this hamper and the way I was showing it off to the family got me thinking. On the surface, the hamper obviously wasn't extravagant. Its value lay in that it was a gift, a surprise, an acknowledgment. As a writer, I create a lot of content in return for fees. This gift is the first "in kind", and it feels good to be appreciated for my work!

In fact, this same sense of achievement is a large part of the thrill one feels when playing indulging in adventure bathing. For instance, if you are one of the mere 100 people who get a pass to slide to the bottom of the Tallulah Falls; it isn't just about the sheer exuberance of making the slide, it's also about being amongst those lucky 100!

For those of you who aren't quite certain what I am referring to, look up the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia, USA. This deep gorge features amongst the world's natural wonders. The falls are actually a combination of six separate waterfalls, gushing into one. Make a (not-for-novices) descent down 590 stairs and clamber over some very slippery rocks along the Bridal Veils Falls. This strenuous 3.5-mile hike  brings you to the floor of the gorge.  

If you fall amongst the Lazy Human Beings Club that I chair, you would probably wonder why you should make all this effort. Well, my friend, the key to this mystery lies in the smooth, scary, slippery rock that you encounter right at the end. Because it is on this 17-foot-high rock that you tentatively place your toughened, tired body. And then you let go of your inhibitions and - SLIDE! Yes, you actually get to swim at the bottom of this wondrous gorge.

And this experience will leave every tingling pore of your being screaming, "Alive is awesome!"