What's your big aspiration in life? Something you have longed for a long time? Many people want to have an exotic holiday, maybe get into shape, raise funding, etc., etc. But for me, a very acute sense of longing has been to develop a thick skin.
Over the years, I have been getting there, very much so. But it's like doing ab crunches; when you are not genetically wired to have a lean body, you need to work damn hard to tone your abdomen to sport some sexy abs. In exactly the same way, you have to work very hard to develop a thick skin.
Again, like everything else in our lives, I will blame the lack of a thick skin on our upbringing and our parents and teachers and everyone who gave us advice or taught us something. Do you remember how you were reprimanded if you did not listen to what was being told to you? “You just listen to me,” or, "Don't pretend you cannot hear me," and "Pay attention!" were more or less the regular rhetoric from parents and teachers. So we were invariably wired to listen, to absorb what was being told, to get scolded and either accept if by writing “I am sorry I did…” 100 times in our cursive writing notebooks, or by standing outside the door and be made to feel guilty because we had not listened.
While I fully subscribe to the early day habit formation of listening to people and what is being told, I also think this habit makes us vulnerable to people around us. We get so attuned to listening to people around us. Sometimes, the noise is so high that we stop listening to our own selves.
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I remember in the early days of my startup journey the sudden rudeness of one person had made me cry. Anyways, coming back to the story, I remember after being subjected to a scathing and rude remark from this gentleman, I walked outside and suddenly the tears started coming. I knew what this person had said was insulting and very below-the-belt. I didn't know what to do…at that precise moment, I got a call from my father. I answered, pretending everything was normal. Parents being parents, my father caught on that something was wrong. “What is it?" he asked me. I’m not one to share sob stories with my father, but I gave in that time and told him what had happened. His response was:
“When you stand on the road, be the person of the road; know how to cross the street and know how to deal with the traffic coming your way.”
Now over the years, have I learned to cross the road properly? Maybe I’m a lot better at it than I used to be, but sometimes the maddening traffic of life and people still get to me.
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To all those who are aspiring to develop thick skin, I would say, first and foremost thank yourself for not being born with the natural propensity of having a thick skin and an indifferent attitude. It’s remarkable to be sensitive even though in our current world, it is undervalued and often seen as a weakness, not a trait a strong business leader is expected to have. I disagree. Our sensitivity quotient is our biggest strength.
Someone who can cry hard can only laugh harder.
So first and foremost, love your own sensitivity to the signals around you.
Having said that, developing thick skin has to be an everyday practice. Every day, let’s ignore the heartlessness of some people around us, in fact, love them, they make us stronger.
Every insult, every rejection only helps us develop a thicker skin.
Cheers to being thick-skinned.
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