Question #3… What was my biggest regret and what did I learn from it?

I am 38 years old now, which means I have lived for 13,879 days.   When you breakdown years into days, it seems rather long, doesn’t it 🙂

For at least half the number of days that I’ve walked this planet, I have had a habit of going through each day and all that has transpired, in my mind, every night before going to bed.  I think I started this habit when I was in my early 20s.  I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said, that every night as I would go through the day’s events in my mind, I would find at least five things I could’ve done differently.  That, of course, is looking at stuff in hindsight and seeing what could’ve been done better.  It’s more of a learning process.  It’s about becoming aware of the consequences of your choices.

Regret, however, is another animal all together.   Being regretful about something, generally means you’re super contrite or sorry because you either did something or did not do it.  I have many regrets, big and small, but two of my regrets are so intense and deep, that it gnaws at my conscious, and makes me hurt even after more than a decade.  Deciding that these two were my biggest regrets didn’t come easily to me.  I had to do a lot of soul searching and had to acknowledge certain aspects of myself that I am not proud of.  What I can say without a shadow of doubt, is that, I have evolved as a person, and would like to believe I am not who I used to be a decade ago.

Regret #1

Those who know me well, know that the number one person in my life was and still is my paternal grandmother, though she is no more with us.  I’ve loved her, and love her to bits, even today. She and I had the most beautiful relationship.  I had moved away from home and didn’t meet her often, yet I’d call her to share everything with her.  I remember having really long phone conversations with her.  We’d talk about the new love interests in my life, my bad days at work, the ugly arguments with my mother, my fears, my dreams, and my hopes.  She’d also tell me a lot of stuff that was going on at her end, stuff that she didn’t normally discuss with anyone else.

We were very close, and I knew that she missed me, because she’d literally sulk about how I didn’t go to visit her often enough.  I missed her too.  I’d bought my first apartment in Bangalore, and I wanted her to come and live with me for a while.  I wanted to take her on her first flight, I wanted to do so many things for her, and with her.  I had this long list and was waiting for the right time, but the right time didn’t come.

It was the year 2005.  I remember, I was supposed to go and meet my Grandmother in the beginning of November during Diwali, but decided to postpone my trip to Mumbai, and instead, go at the time of her Birthday in December because I wanted to celebrate her special day with her.   My Grandmother was really upset that I postponed my trip.  More than once she said, “Who knows whether I’ll be around for my Birthday.”, and I would argue with her whenever she said that.  I bought my tickets, I even bought her a gift almost a month before her Birthday.

My birthday is on November 15th, and she’d called to wish me.  Even then, she asked me to come and meet her as soon as possible, and I told her, I would be there in less than a month.  We talked again on the 26th of November and I was all excited. I told her that it less than 20 days I would be seeing her, and that my tickets were booked, and I’d already bought her a present, and I couldn’t wait to see her, to which, she said, “Who knows if I’ll still be there…” and I literally reprimanded her for saying such a thing.  I was attending a friend’s wedding in Belgaum that weekend.  I was back in Bangalore early morning on November 28th, and in the afternoon, I got a call from my cousin telling me that our Grandmother had a severe heart attack and the chances of her recovering from it were nil, so I should come to Mumbai immediately.

I was in a state of shock.  How could this even be possible, because we’d just spoken two days ago and she seemed fine.  I flew to Mumbai and went straight from the airport to the hospital to meet my Grandmother.   She looked so old and frail in that hospital bed, she just didn’t look like the tall and strong matriarch of the family that I’d always seen her as.  We talked for a bit that night, then I met her the next morning too.  I spent most of my time in the hospital along with the rest of my family, and she passed away on November 29th.  I think I was in a state of shock for a long time, because I was consoling others, and doing stuff, but I didn’t cry like one should at the death of a loved one, for almost a month after her death.

I came back home to Bangalore on the 1st of December and was all alone at home because my mother was Mumbai.  My friends were supportive, they would hang around with me as much as they could.  My Grandmother’s birthday came and went, and I felt a gaping hole in my heart.  I returned the present I had bought for her and got something else instead, so that I wouldn’t be reminded that she was gone before I could give it to her on her birthday.

On Christmas day, almost 25 days after she died, I was sitting all alone in my apartment, and that’s when it hit me hard, that I was never going to see her again, and that I was never going to be able to wish her a Happy Christmas.  I was never going to hear the warmth in voice or feel her love in her embrace ever again.  I was never going to be able to ask for her forgiveness for every time I let her down, or tell her how much she meant to me.  And that’s when I felt a very deep and intense sense of loss and regret; I almost couldn’t breathe.   I bawled like a crazy person and cursed myself for not giving my Grandmother the time and attention she deserved.   I hated myself for not taking out the time to meet her when she kept asking me to come and see her.  I had put my work, my life and other mundane things before the person I loved the most, and it was then, that I realised how skewed my priorities were.

That day, on Christmas, in 2005, I promised myself, I would never wait to tell someone that I loved them, I would never wait to meet someone I cared for or put them after my work and other priorities, because there are no guarantees in life.  One never knows, when it’s going to be the last time you talk to a loved one or tell them how much they fill your life with joy and love, or hug them and feel enveloped in the warmth of their love for you.   And family always, always comes first, no matter what!

Regret #2

2006 was quite a tough year for me.  I had lost my Grandmother at the end of the previous year, and I was in a long distance relationship with a Techie based out of the States, who had a tendency of blowing hot or cold towards me depending on his work load or the drama going on in his life at the time, so I called off the relationship.  And I was sad and lonely.

It was then, that I bumped into a doctor who’d given up medicine to pursue his dream of becoming a musician.  This individual shared my love for music, poetry and long conversations and above all, within a very short time he won me over with his very big heart and beautiful gestures of care and concern.  We would be talking all night long on the phone, he would sing for me to cheer me up if I’d had a bad day, or would write me a poem or a song to make me feel special.  He never called me by my name, it was either princess or precious.   He always made me feel like I was worthy of the attention and affection he gave me.

I’d shared all the unpleasant details about my life with him, and it didn’t make a difference to him at all.   His kindness, compassion and empathy were unmatched. There was not a single pretentious bone in his body.  He was a struggling artist, and had no qualms about it.  I still remember, he would save up money to buy me presents, write me letters and make mixed CDs for me.

He once said the sweetest thing ever, “Precious, you that the first person I wake up to each morning, and last voice I hear before I go to bed.  And, now that I have you, I know that everything’s going to be fine.”  I basked in all the attention he gave me and very soon, there came a day, he told me that he loved me, and I was pretty pleased.   I’d had my fair share of relationships, but no one had ever made me feel so special or loved.

I reveled in the attention he showered on me, but eventually, as I got to know him better, and I understood just how humble he was and how simple he wanted his life to be, I chickened out, and did so in the most heartless way possible.  Slowly I began to have problems with everything about him, his sense of dressing, the fact that he didn’t care about his appearance, or that he was broke, so on and so forth.

I worried about the most inconsequential things like, how I would ever introduce him to my friends or colleagues because he wouldn’t fit in my world.  I worried about the shallowest things one could think of, and I slowly, but surely, started to distance myself from him, until I broke his heart.   Even after I acted like a complete bitch, he wrote me the most beautiful letter ever to say goodbye.

Today, almost eleven years later, I still haven’t found anyone could love me as purely and intensely as this musician did, and many a times – especially when I’m lonely and blue – I regret letting my shallowness come in the way of experiencing the joys of pure and true love.

I won’t state the obvious by spelling out the lessons I learnt, because they’re all too apparent.  All I will say is… if someone loves you for who you are and not what you do, or what you can give him/her, and loves you despite your fallacies, and isn’t trying to change you to fit into their mould of who they think you should be, don’t let the person go without at least giving him/her a fair shot, because nothing compares to unconditional acceptance and love.

Writing these two really big regrets of my life has left me exhausted in more ways than one.  I am going to sign off now, and will be back soon enough.  Stay tuned for the next BIG talk question to myself.  Question #4 – What was the defining moment of my life and what impact did it leave on me?

Question #2 … What do I fear?

Well, I fear a whole lot of things, including ghosts and entities 😉 but on a serious note, I have three fears that keep me up at night.

Fear #1 is whether I will be able to provide for myself and my family without cutting corners and living the same lifestyle that we are used to.

In the year 2008, I quit my job to get into business and the recession hit.  Because the recession hit, I decided to not take the risks of the business loans and investors I had lined up, but instead, get into freelance consulting.  I freelanced from November 2008 until December 2009.  During this time, I did everything you can think of, right from HR consulting gigs, to Tarot readings, to counselling, coaching and even tutoring.  I even started baking classes.  All of this to meet my expenses.

All those who know me, know that I wear the pants in my house, and am responsible for paying the bills, so when my business plans went haywire, I had to do anything I could to make sure I had at least the bare minimum income coming into my home to make ends meet.  I lived comfortably for the first eight months, but after that, it became a struggle because my savings went down to zero and I was going crazy.

I was living in constant fear of whether I’d be able to pay my next EMI and rent and still eat chicken or fish and drink wine with it at least three times a week.  I was living in constant fear of whether I would be able to manage the same lifestyle – dinners, clubs, travel – that I had all along when I was in a cushy job that gave me a fat pay check at the end of every month.

In January 2010 I landed a fab job, but by late 2011, I had to leave that to move to Mumbai and the same drama ensued.  This time, the financial difficulties were scarier because I had moved back to Mumbai after 10 years, with no friends or network to help me find a job.   It took me seven months to find a good job, and I’m still working in the same place, but those seven months filled me with a lot of self-doubts and fears of “what ifs”.

Even now, I sometimes want to quit because I’ve had a horrible day at work, or because of the unending political game being played out, leaving me emotionally drained, I can’t imagine doing it, not because I won’t be able to manage, but because of the fear of “what ifs”.

Fear #2 Am I good enough?  Am I worthy?

Such fears are based deep within one’s psyche.  I speak from experience when I say, one needs years of therapy to overcome such deep rooted existential fears.   Many are not even aware of the kind of shitty decisions they end up making because of such fears?  Things like getting into abusive relationships, marrying abusive men/women, condoning bad behavior towards themselves, be it by parents, or bullying at school, ragging in college, or even mean people who pretend to be friends, just because they feel they don’t deserve any better.

I for one had to go through years of therapy, and eventually, I got so fed up, that I faked my transformation from a self-sabotaging and self-doubting person to this self –loving and worthy person.  When I say it out loud now, it sounds kind of funny, but I kid you not, when I say, when I was running away from therapy, there was nothing funny about it, if anything, it was another attempt at self-sabotage towards my emotional well being.

Questions like: Do I look good enough, or am I good enough, or will he/she reject me because I am not as good as him/her, am I a good enough conversationalist,  am I a good enough friend, am I a good enough daughter, am I a good enough professional, so many damn “Am I good enough” questions only build a fear of being inadequate and kills self-confidence with one stroke.   We live through this every day, most of us are afraid to even admit that this is the way we feel.  We act with great bravado, hide behind facades, but when it comes to taking major life altering decisions we end up taking decisions that create turmoil in our lives.

These fears have plagued my mind and life forever.  It is only now after a lot of work that I have put in, tons of hours over years with my therapist, a full year of coaching and not to mention self-discipline every time I begin to rubberband into my old self sabotaging self, have I now learned to love and accept myself for who I am.

It is probably the hardest thing I have done in my life, the road was really long and the terrain was tough, but I eventually got where I need to be… And I’m thankful to a whole lot of people who’ve stood with me, by me and been there for me in my times of trials, both internal and external.

Fear #3 I’m going to end up alone

I guess I admit it openly, most people try to be fashionable about it.  They call it freedom, they call it a choice, they call it a lot of things.  I will be straight, and call it what it is: being alone.   I stay up at nights thinking – today I am doing really well, I have a great life, make a pretty decent living, I travel the world, I have friends who are around me, but what happens when everyone else finds that someone else to be with and I’m left all alone.   What will I do then?  Will I have people around me when I am old and frail? Will anyone be there to cry when I die?

Many evenings, as I sip my wine and look out the balcony, standing all by myself, listening to music and going through my day in my mind, I wonder, what would it be like to share this with someone else.  And a little bit of sadness creeps in.  But then I pull myself out pretty quickly!  I tell myself… I came alone into this world and when I go, I’m going to go alone.   I should be happy that I’ve met some amazing people along the way and made beautiful memories.  I have loved,  I have been loved.  I may have lost too, sometimes more than I care to acknowledge, but hey, isn’t it better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all.  And so, I console myself and tell myself: even if I end up alone, I’ve had some great moments and made some beautiful memories, and I will appreciate the good rather than worry about being lonely later in life.  I say this to myself, bring a smile back on my face and some hope in my heart before I go to sleep.  Only to feel lonely again when something goes wrong!

But then… C’est la vie…

No two days are the same and it’s okay to be blue once in a while, its okay to feel such fears creep into your mind once in a while.  It helps you stay real and grounded! As long as you’re not allowing your fears to rule your life and influence your life altering decisions, you’ll be alright.

I think I’ll stop my BIG talk with myself on my fears here.

Stay tuned for the next BIG talk question to myself… Question #3 — What is my biggest regret and what did I learn from it?

Question #1… Who am I?

This is such an existential question.  And yet the answers are always so vague.  When someone asks us, who we are, our first answer is, “I am … “, and the last word in the sentence is pretty much always our name.  Sometimes, it’s just the first name, and some times, we also give out our family name.  As if we are the sum total of our name!

Who is the person behind the name?  Then we move to our gender, and then to our relationships and so on and so forth.  I am going to try to answer this question with a bit of a difference.  As I begin my attempt to answer, trust me, when I say, I don’t know the end result or the outcome, because I am just beginning to explore… My guess is as good as yours… let’s wait and see the end result together…

I am my body… I am my mind… I am my soul… I am my name… I am my parents’ daughter… I am an avid reader… I am a writer… I am an amateur artiste… I am a friend to my friends and an enemy to my enemies… I am an HR professional… I am a niece… I am a cousin… I am an ex-wife… I am my quirks, my fears, my fallacies, my hopes and my dreams… I am me!

This almost sounds like poetry eh… but I have evaded the question altogether… tried to make it philosophical and intriguing all at once, but losing sight of the exercise… the true purpose of asking myself this questions is completely lost in the game of words… So… here goes nothing again!  I am going to try and answer this differently now… with a li’l more honesty and authenticity.

I am Alieesha.  I am a 38 years old woman who lives with her mother.  I am complex because I have a raging conflict between my heart and my mind going on all the time.  To make ends meet, I work in HR with an American multinational company, and spend all my free time between art, books, music, television and movies.   Somewhere in between I squeeze in time for my mother, my five close friends, cousins, uncle, aunts, acquaintances and clients.

I don’t know if I am doing what I am meant to do, or I am merely doing it because it helps pay the bills.  What I do doesn’t fulfil me, but I do it with all I have because I am super competitive and can’t stand mediocrity.  I do what I do for a living because I am not sure if I’ll ever get paid to do the things I love.

I am conflicted about a whole lot of things in life.  I am conflicted about love, about relationships, about what is good and what is bad.  I honestly don’t even know whether I like being around people or I like being alone.

I don’t know if it has to be either-or, or whether it can be both.  I don’t know if life has to be black or white, or whether grey areas are okay to live with.   I have always considered myself an “everything or nothing at all” kind of person, but I am not sure if it’s been working for me.  I don’t know if I make compromises in life, will it make me a fraud because I have been propagating that one shouldn’t compromise.

I don’t know the answer to a lot of questions and yet, I believe I am quite wise.  I am aware and yet there are gaping holes in my awareness.  I am far from perfect and that kills me.  I am unhappy with the way I look and I make jokes about myself so that others don’t make them.  I am self-deprecating and disguise it as humour.  When I open my mouth and speak, people can hear a self-confident, articulate, well-read and cultured woman… what I hear is a scared girl who is dying for validation and happiness, but isn’t satisfied with the validation she gets and is unable to find what really makes her happy.

I crave external validation though I know internal validation is all that matters.  I crave more money, though I know it’s not necessarily going to make me any happier than I am today. I crave a job with a bigger and better designation, though I know, what I do doesn’t necessarily fulfil me.   And knowing all of this only makes me a li’l sadder than when I started to answer this existential question.

I am afraid to take a leap of faith, lest it would lead to failures and sacrifices.  I am AFRAID!  Period.  So now, if I have to answer the question “who I am?” all over again… The answer is fairly simple!

I am a girl who is a lot more aware than most people around me… For the most part I know the answers to where I can find my bliss, and yet, I am afraid to believe in myself, to trust the process or the universe to give me what I truly desire and deserve.

Finally… after so much of rambling… I got it down for two sentences…  I now know the real me… And the real work begins 🙂

Coming soon… the answer to Question #2 …  What do I fear?

The beginning…

It was a rainy Wednesday evening, on my two-hour long bus ride back home, I was looking to pass my time. I listened to music for a while, but got restless, so I switched to watching videos. I opened my Youtube app and on the recommendations list, there was a TEDx talk by Kalina Silverman. The description read – “How to skip the small talk and connect with anyone.” It sounded intriguing enough for me to want to give it a listen, and so I clicked on the video. I clicked on the video, and in the first thirty seconds she quoted from Mad Men, and I was hooked. “The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.” — The biggest truth of life itself, isn’t it?  How can a thinking person resist… and so I continued to listen on.

Here was this twenty something girl talking about her demons of loneliness, and how she took life’s sourest lemons that were handed to her and made lemonade out of it. Most TEDx talks touch a chord if you listen and allow it to sink in, this one brought me to tears because it was too close to home.

Kalina talked about a problem that plagues every human at some time or the other in his/her life. Loneliness. Sometimes, we are alone because we are literally alone, and sometimes, even when we’re in relationships, and live with others, we are alone, and that is because we are so afraid to move past the small talk in our relationships. We are afraid to move into a place where we ask people, hell, ask ourselves the important questions to help us realise who we truly are and what we want from life. We are afraid to show people our vulnerable side. We hide behind the façade of small talk and expect to find intimacy in our relationships. Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it?

Most of us walk through life in a daze doing stuff we do, be in friendships, relationships or work, just because… We set out with dreams of being rich, famous and loved, and end up living mediocre lives full of compromises. Is it because we are inauthentic? Is that because we don’t even find the time to stop the small talk with ourselves and understand our selves better. Perhaps it is. Perhaps we are too wrapped up in wanting to fit in, that we’re afraid to find our true selves, lest that part does not allow us to fit in. We’re afraid to ask ourselves the tough questions, because when we do, most of us will find out, we have been living like frauds.

I digress again… Let me bring myself back on track… I was talking about how this TEDx video made me feel. So it made me feel like I wanted to be authentic. I wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know that I lived my life, and not just by going with the flow… but by doing what I was meant to… by finding my true purpose and then living it out.

And so… I decided, no more surface level conversations with others or myself. I gave it a lot more thought, and then, I felt, before I would be comfortable making BIG Talk with others, I would have to get comfortable doing it with myself. If I didn’t know myself well enough, how could I hope for intimacy with others. And so I decided to do a deep dive into me to understand myself, because I knew, only by understanding myself, and asking myself the tough questions, would I be able begin this journey of being authentic and of making deeper connections with myself to begin with, and then the people around me.

I decided I was going to do it a little differently from Kalina. I was going to begin by asking myself all the BIG Talk questions, get to know the real me, after which, I would go out in the world and connect with people on a deeper level.

Here goes nothing and yet everything… My first question to myself is coming up next…