Rejection

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Rejection Story 1: For one hour I was debating: Should I put my arm around her? Should I not put my arm around? There were only 20 minutes left in the movie — I knew I had to make my move! She was really sweet, interesting, smart and attractive. I kept shifting myself closer to see if she leaned in at all… Alas, no such luck. I thought to myself:

What the hell…I got nothing to lose. What should I do?

Go for a kiss? Nope, she didn’t lean in. And, let’s be honest, I was too scared.

Hold her hand? Nope, you are not in first grade anymore.

Put your arm around her? Ehh, why not? What’s the worse that could happen?

15 minutes left in the movie! I slowly raised my arm and put it around her shoulders…

She leaned forward away from my arm. My arm was hanging in the air. #Rejected.

Rejection Story 2: “Mom, I really want to play baseball! Can we find a team I can play on?” I was 13 and all the cool kids were playing baseball in the Babe Ruth League. The season started two weeks before, but my Mom talked the heads off the coaches until they let me play.

New baseball glove. New baseball bat. New track suit. I went to the first practice. I was the lone tall and lanky Indian kid amongst future baseball stars. While the future Hall-of-Famers were staring at me, the coach said, “Go to Right Field.” So, I went to Right Field.

The coach hit a pop-up straight to me… I ran towards it. It went over my head.

The coach hit another pop-up straight to me. I ran backwards. It fell five feet in front of me.

The coach hit another pop-up straight to me. It hit my glove and bounced right out.

It was like a scene from The Sandlot. My ego was battered and bruised. The rest of the day was a blur of baseballs flying past me and swinging through air. The coach was kind and didn’t ask me to quit, but I quit. I rejected myself. #Rejection

Rejection Story 3: Almost 8 years ago, I read about the One Laptop Per Child, a project by the MIT Media Lab, to supply every child in the world with a laptop. I thought of this was the equivalent of what Andrew Carnegie did with US public libraries but for every child in the world. 7 years ago, I read Tracy Kidder’s Mountain Beyond Mountains that describes the plight of Paul Farmer to heal the poor. 6 years ago, I read Muhammed Yunus’s autobiography and became passionate about microfinance and questioning the economic models we collectively have put in place.

All of these books stirred something in my stomach to figure out how to do good and earn money. My vision to make this a reality was to begin a pro bono consulting practice at the firm I was working at. I did the research, developed the business model, developed the partnerships, got projects lined up and presented everything to the CEO. He loved the idea, but was not willing to invest any money into it. #Rejected

***

Rejection can be humbling. Rejection can be a teacher. Rejection can be scary. Rejection can be funny. Rejection can hurt. Reject can be [you name it].

One of the most common conversations any of us have with anyone is about rejection (i.e. Did I get what I wanted or not?) Since, we all talk about rejection so much, I thought I would write out the steps of rejection:

(1)    Want Something: To get rejected, you need to want something — it can be emotional, mental, physical or spiritual – a job, a new role, feeling needed, feeling respected, feeling validated, feeling smart, feeling peaceful, etc.

For example, at one point I wanted to start a company, KarmaCrunch, the TechCrunch of Social Ventures (i.e. a one-stop place for business models that are doing good and earning money), but, in addition to this, I wanted the feeling of doing something interesting and different.

(2)    Create Expectations: Expectations, expectations and expectations. Every moment we think, we are creating some grandiose visions, plans and expectations!

In the case of KarmaCrunch, I wanted all businesses across the world to leverage KarmaCrunch to develop innovative strategies to do good and earn money. Why did I want to do this? Because I wanted to change the world. Why did I want to change the world? Ego. Nothing more.

(3)    Pursue that Something: The chase. We all love the chase — it gives us excitement, it gives us motivation, and it gives us the feeling that happiness or fulfillment is just within reach.

With KarmaCrunch, I created the business plan, found investors and flew to India for a week to meet with 15+ social ventures.

(4)    Learn What Happened & Create a Story: At some point, we learn our fate – whether our hopes and expectations are validated. Then, we make up a story about why it happened and what it means and use this story to dictate what we want or believe we can have in the future.

On my plane ride back from a whirlwind trip to India in one week – I look at the situation: I had lots of support, investors, business partners, but I was feeling tired, feeling burnt out and feeling like I wanted to quit. I quit. I rejected myself. #Rejected

***

Life is a game filled with risks that you may win or lose — where  you may get rejected or not. Whether you are interviewing for a job, asking for a raise, requesting something from a friend, saying how you feel, putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, etc. — there is a singular moment in that climactic moment, where your expectations — the sum of all the thoughts and emotions about all the grand stories about why you are taking x, y or z risk – are affirmed or shot down.

A thought I have had lately is “Am I being rejected enough?” In other words, am I playing games for the things I want? On the whole, I think I am taking sincere risks that put my ego in-danger around 10% of the time (Albeit different risks, have different weights, but the question still holds).

What games are you playing?  Are you playing the “I am afraid of being rejected game?” Are you playing the game of looking at the present through the lens of my past? Are you playing the game of looking at my present through the lens of my friends and family?  Are you playing the game “I want it my way and no other way?” Or, are you playing the game “I want to try your way and learn something new.” Are you playing the “I want to protect my ego game?” Or, are you playing the “I am going to let my ego go for a little.”

There have been so many times where I do not say something, because I am scared of the reaction that might cause in someone else. Or, that I don’t go talk to someone because I don’t want he or she to blow me off.  Or, I don’t say how I feel because I question whether that feeling is valid. I call this game “preserve my ego and make sure you never have to face rejection.” What about you?

Are you playing games that you will win every time? Are you playing chess with my two-year-old niece? Are you playing games that you may lose? Perhaps the following holds true: greater risk, greater reward; lower risk, lower reward. There is nothing wrong with playing games you will win every time, the point is to simply recognize what games you are playing. Reflect on your games.

What games do you need to play to get what you want? For example, what games do you have to play to climb Mount Everest? If you are going to climb Mount Everest, you have to play a lot of different games: Game #1: Be disciplined. Game #2: Be confident. Game #3: Be consistent.

Your Mount Everest can be losing x pounds, speaking your mind, finding a job, running a marathon, being in peaceful relationships your loved ones, being happy despite outside circumstances, etc.

To really get what I want, I am realizing I need to play different games: Game #1: Be patient. Game #2: Be mindful. Game #3: Be giving with my time.

Whether it be giving cookies to strangers, questioning my wants, questioning what I know, making commitments that I am scared to make, giving myself fully to others, being completely vulnerable, or writing this blog – I want to feel more comfortable with rejection.

What about you?

Some resources:

+ RejectionTherapy.com (http://rejectiontherapy.com/): Jason Comely practiced rejection for a whole year and lived to tell the tale.

* Photo by Caro Wallis

What do I know? Nothing.

I know nothing. Absolutely, nothing. The more I have experienced, the more I have learned, the more individuals I meet, the more books I read, the more I realize: I know nothing.

The larger circle below depicts everything there is to know in the universe. The tiny orange circle, depicts everything I know (Should be smaller, but the program I use to draw these things couldn’t go smaller). The wedge signifies everything I think I know (i.e. my ego; also, not drawn to scale;)

Despite “knowing” the above is true, saying I don’t know has almost become taboo for me. I don’t know is like admitting defeat. I don’t know is being in third grade and not knowing my multiplication tables.  I don’t know is being in 7th grade and the teacher keeping me standing in front of the class for one hour until I was able to define what an antecedent is. Today, the things I don’t know seem bigger but equally crippling:

What do I want with my life? The “life purpose” question. The holy grail of all questions.  The question that perplexes so many of us day-in-and-day-out, like a stray dog that was cute at first but then won’t stop following you or like a fly that keeps buzzing in your ear.  We interview for a job and ask ourselves: Is this what I want to do with my life? We start a job: Is this what I want to do with my life? We have a bad day at work: Is this what I want to do with my life? We have a fight with our significant other: Is this what I want to do with my life? We become disillusioned by a project we are working on: Is this what I want to do with my life?

Stop Asking: “What Do I want to do with my life?” Every time you ask yourself this question, you diminish the power of a moment or the day-to-day possibilities. Gandhi believed in service. Every day; every hour; every minute. That’s just what he did. Mother Teresa believed in service. Every day; every hour; every minute. That’s just what she did.

Be happy: As the Dalai Lama says: Write down what makes you happy, do those things.. Write down what makes you unhappy, don’t do those things.

Here are a list of things that make me happy:

+ Spending time with loved ones
+ Serving others/giving myself (See On Passing Around Smiles)
+ Watching movies
+ Contributing to something bigger
+ Solving problems
+ Yoga
+ Reading books that inspire me
+ Spiritual study
+ Meditation (See The Whale I Saved (or, So I thought))
+ Good conversations
+ Traveling
 
Here are a list of things that make me unhappy:
 
+ Not being honest with myself
+ Feeling lonely
+ Wanting everything (See I want my own Ted Talk)
+ Being hungry
+ Trying to please everyone
+ Negative people
+ Feeling unhealthy
+ Arguing over pointless things

What about you? Write them here and review from time-to-time.

What are you doing next? I ask myself this everyday — what is next, what is next, what is next — I am like a kid at a candy store that just wants more and more candy. What’s my next big project? What’s the next step with my relationship? What is the next step with my job? The chairman of the management consulting firm I used to work for always said, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Slow and steady wins the race.

Be present. Enjoy. “Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.” – Marcus Aurelius. Whenever you start to take yourself too seriously, remember we are just passing. Write down 10 things that you are grateful for and then go give yourself (Go to HelpOthers.org for ideas)

Trust. When Maxwell Plank was receiving his Nobel Prize for the Maxwell’s Four Equations (without which I would not be typing this post), he said after all my studies of the universe I must conclude that there is some higher power that is keeping the matrix of the universe working.  Call it whatever you like — Karma, God, the Universe, Cosmic Justice, etc. — but the dots always connect looking backwards. (Thanks Steve Jobs!)

What do you do?  The infamous and “go to” question at any social gathering. What we do with our time, helps people categorize one and other. Are you a doctor? Are you a lawyer? Are you a waiter/waitress? Are you doing “nothing?” I have a love/hate relationship with this question because it enables me to “group” who I am talking to into a preconcieved category. And, I hate this question because it “groups” me into a specific category.

Recently, I asked someone, “what do you do?” the person kindly responded: taking a break. The conversation ended. I felt like a jerk. Who knows…maybe she didn’t like her job and she quit, maybe she was fired and maybe she loved her job and quit because she was tired — my question assumed there was a function to her existence beyond being human. We are always doing something. Perhaps, the better question is “What puts a smile on your face?”

Be kind. Practice compassion. Be kind for every man has his or her struggles.  Are you ever ruminating and how bad of a morning, day, month, year, decade you are having? Look at the next person that passes you on the street  — imagine his or her struggles (Maybe he or she has a mean boss? Maybe he or she is lonely?). Consider all the people around you — imagine all their struggles. Consider all the people in your neighborhood? City? State? Country? Continent? World?

We are all doing our best, and sometimes we have better ideas of the answers to the above questions than at other times; however, learning to settle into the space of not knowing takes practice. Learning to get comfortable with uncertainty creates peace in not knowing. But, honestly, “Que sais je?” (What do I know?) Nothing.

Resources and Related Links:

The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne: One of my favorite articles on Michel De Montaigne that helped me to begin questioning what I know.
Gratitudelog.org: Write down what you are grateful for everyday here.
 
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The Whale I Saved (or, so I thought)

I opened my eyes and there was a gargantuan whale laying on the beach. How would we keep it alive? How would push this behemoth creature back into the water? How would we keep ourselves from getting knocked by one of her fins?

The creature was nearly 50 feet long and horizontal to the horizon. I began walking around her just to understand the scope of the challenge. I saw her struggling to breathe; I passed her eye and saw the look of fear in her eyes; I saw her yearning for help.

We began our plight to keep this beautiful creature alive and get her back into deep waters. I split everyone into groups: one group to keep her hydrated, another to prevent her from being scorched by the sun; and, another for getting the equipment in place to tug her back to ocean…

***

I opened my eyes, shook my head and laughed to myself. The elaborate tale about the whale I helped save was simply a story I dreamt up during a morning meditation by the beach during my yoga teacher training. Here is how I got to the point of saving whale:

What Happened Elaborate Story In My Head
I was sitting by the ocean. I can’t believe I am sitting by the ocean meditating…
I was sitting by the ocean. I wonder if there are any whales in these waters…
I was sitting by the ocean. I wonder what we would do if a a whale got beached….
I was sitting by the ocean. Lights, cameras, action: My elaborate story about how I saved a whale begins….

During my yoga teacher training, we would meditate for 30 minutes at 6AM and 6PM. 99% of the time, here are some of my reflections:

We wake up in the morning and start writing the movie of me: we write the movie, we direct the movie, we write reviews on the movie…and then get depressed about it. ~ Krishna Das

Mind = Storyteller: Whether I was meditating or not, the mind will do its job: think. The more I resist thinking, the more thoughts persist (i.e. the more I tried not to think about saving this whale, the more I thought about it). Everything in our heads is our interpretation of some events. I was simply sitting by the ocean, but somehow in 30 minutes a whale got beached and I led a bunch of friends to save the whale!

Whether we are working, meditating, hanging out with friends or anything else, our minds are on autopilot and interpreting events by whatever has grabbed its attention at that moment. The more we notice the stories — the more we can create the story we actually want.

 Don’t worry that you can’t concentrate… no one can concentrate. ~ Buddhist Lama

Concentration/Focus: Phew, when I first heard the above quote — I breathed a sigh of relief. Despite my best efforts — meditation, mindfulness practices, yoga and more — my mind still jumps around. Often when I was sitting to meditate during my yoga teacher training my mind would go through the following cycle of random thoughts: “Hmm…I wish my cushion was a bit higher…I wonder what I am going to eat later… Oops, I am supposed to be meditating…I wonder what is going on in everyones heads…Ohh, I wonder how my friend is doing…Dammit, why can’t I focus! Oops…I probably shouldn’t curse while I am meditating.”

The fascinating thing about meditating consistently was that it forced me to pause and ask: What the hell is going on in my head?

In the beginning of meditation, your mind goes something like this:

Thought A …Thought B…Thought C…Thought D…Oops, let me focus on my breath…Moment of Focus…*Repeat*

After meditating consistently for a couple months,  your mind goes something like this:

Thought A …Thought B…Thought C…Oops, let me focus on my breath…Moment of Focus…*Repeat*

Whether it be meditation or day-to-day life, I think the most important thing is to learn to observe the mind and learn to gently and kindly catch yourself in a story.

Breath: What do you do when a baby starts crying? You distract it by waving a toy or give it some love and affection. I think we are a lot like babies, but we use sleeping, drinking, eating, watching TV, surfing the web, etc. to distract ourselves. In meditation, we don’t have our distractions (our “toys) and we are forced to see our thoughts and emotions. The only way to give ourselves relief from the barrage of thoughts is our breath.

The mind is a muscle and meditation is like doing cardio for your mind. As the Dalai Lama says, I meditate for two hours, unless I am busy. If I am busy, I meditate for three hours. The more “control” we have over our minds, the more we can create the life we authentically want, rather than something based on the stories in our heads.

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*Photo from the Boston Public Library