Oh yes, this is a loaded question. As with so many women my age, one question my family, especially my grandmother when she comes to visit, asks me, and loudly so that everyone possible can hear, is when I’m planning to have children.
There are a lot of tests available, she tells me. I get annoyed. We fight. And we fight relentlessly, covering issues like true womanhood, modernity, work, marriage and everything in between. And always her victorious closing lines are – if you are not fertile, don’t be embarrassed. Today there are clinics which resolve all those things. Really.
I tell her I am not embarrassed. I am healthy and fine. She gives me one of those pitiful looks. And this drama recurs when we meet again.
This question unites everyone in my family; it’s like an anchor of national repute in our country, and it’s like the biggest thing the “family wants to know”.
But today I am not going to talk about the fertility questions that some of us are subjected to by our families, but a fertility of a totally different kind that each one of us should everyday think about. Before that, bear with me while I tell you another story.
Some of you reading this will already know that 2015 was an unprecedented year for YourStory – we raised series A funding after seven years of existence, we’ve written 23,000 original stories, we are now in 12 Indian languages, we’ve expanded to become 65-member rock solid team, we’ve started working on new products, lot many new brands, government bodies etc. That’s a lot of milestones for a single year. At one level, it felt that finally all my mad running of so many years was showing some results.
And yet, with every milestone, every high, I was experiencing a deep sense of pain and loneliness inside. Fund-raising, which our startup eco-system celebrates so much, was the most heart-wrenching process for me. Overnight, I saw some friends change, relationships change and the behaviour of so many people change. While personally this was bleeding me, the national discussion and whispered worshipping of young entrepreneurs who could abuse others and get away with it was disorienting. It just made me go even further into my shell, wondering: Do I have what it takes to survive in this abusive, cut-throat world? Do I fit in?
Also, the drive to stay ahead and not get left behind made me run nonstop the whole of 2015. At last count I had spoken at 64 events, mostly on weekends. From the stack of business cards on my desk, I see that I met close to 6,000 people in person. I responded to some 6,000 mails and did not respond to over 10,000 mails. And every email that I did not respond to or every call that I promised to return and did not, was making me feel even more miserable. I had literally become a zombie. Trying to accommodate everyone and in the process making most people angry, upset and definitely not happy.
In a nutshell, the more I gave, the more people were dissatisfied. They said I wasn’t responding as quickly as I used to. They left. All it did was create this massive vacuum inside of me.
After so many years, I was just feeling helpless. From some team members to most family members, everyone thought I was never there for them. And my mind was constantly interpreting the signals: not good enough for them. Period.
And the last straw was when one day after a successful meeting and closing of a big deal, I felt nothing except drained and ready to crash.
Something snapped inside me, and that day I cried, and cried a lot. What was happening? Did I want my story of 2015 to be scripted this way? Was I reacting to my surroundings or was I the hero of my story? Was the 24/7 run for 365 days something I was proud of or something I could have managed better?
Towards the end of the year, in early November, I started distancing myself from situations and people, and started coming closer to my own self; in a way I started living within my own self, listening to the chatter inside me and it was there that I got my peace and answers.
And in this reflective place within me, I remembered a psychiatrist I had met 15 years back while I was in college. I remembered I had gone through a similar patch back then and he had helped me out of it with a very simple analogy:
The northern plains of India are home to some of the most fertile stretches of land anywhere in the world. The alluvial soil is fertile because it is rich in minerals. And it remains fertile because after every harvest, the land is left fallow so it can heal. If you don’t let it heal, and you start cultivating it right away, you risk making the soil barren or you get stunted, poisonous crops. It’s the same with human beings. If you don’t take care of the emotional and mental land within you, you start becoming barren, hollow and sad. And if you do not attend to your own inner land for a long time, god forbid, you start becoming bitter and poisonous too. So stop, take out time, to give back to your own self. Stop for a while, be selfish and give love and pampering to your own self. How will you give to others when you don’t give the same attention to your own self? How will you love when you don’t love your own self? How will you accept flaws of others when you don’t accept and heal your own scars and flaws?
And that’s what I’d forgotten to do. It’s why I was this empty shell, at risk of folding in on myself. And so I spent the whole of December listening, accepting, loving and romancing my own self. Trust me it was not easy, though, shouldn’t it be the easiest thing to do?
I have a cheat sheet after reading this amazing book called The Miracle of Mindfulness by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (translated into English by Mobi Ho) which helped me get a better grip on things. Switching off my phone has helped. I realized the world didn’t fall apart if I didn’t answer my phone at times. My FOMO is under control. And it was wonderful to sit back and have a cup of tea, with just myself for company. I now do that every day, drink my morning cup of tea with my two dogs frolicking around. And yes, I am everyday taking baby steps into being mindful.
So that’s what I want to tell all the entrepreneurs…each of us is chasing something, thinking of the impact we want to make, helping people, doing big things – in the midst of all this, we risk missing out on loving and pampering ourselves. We forget to take care of ourselves, to nurture our inner drive. So this year, when we are thinking of capturing, conquering and succeeding, let’s not forget about ourselves and risk becoming barren. It’s very easy to become barren inside if you don’t take care of yourself. And it’s a tremendous strength to have your own fertile land within you. And you are the hero of your story, so don’t expect someone else to make the magic happen for you, go and make your own fertile land in 2016. Take care of yourself.