Crucible Experiences – 3
I returned from the US to India in May 1992, thinking of myself as God’s gift to the country. I had great dreams of building a software company that would be among the best in the world in 5 years. After all, I had great credentials: an IIT and Columbia education, work experience at one of the foremost telecom companies in the world, and some wonderful ideas. All I had to do was conquer. Or so it seemed.
Two years later, all the dreams lay in shambles as I experienced failure after failure in all that I tried. Nothing it seemed could go right. I withdrew into a shell. Each day, I had to force myself to wake up and go to work. Anything I did seemed to make matters worse. I had let down my staff and family. I wallowed in self-pity. I could not see a way out of the hole that I had dug. I was a failure as an entrepreneur and that was almost impossible for me to accept, as I thought of myself brighter, even superior, than everyone else I saw around me. Something had gone wrong big time, and I just couldn’t figure out what. My pride prevented me from talking to others, even my family. I began to realise in that summer that the company I had wanted to build was all but dead. I would have to restart.
When one is in a difficult situation, it is very hard to think straight. One encounters, what I call, paralysis by analysis. Because one is smart (too smart for one’s own good), there is a tendency to keep analysing the situation replaying events and getting lost in an infinite maze of what-if scenarios. The need of the hour is for tough decisions and surgical actions, but that’s the last thing one does, because of the belief that there has to be a logical way to remove the bugs one-by-one from the system. This inaction compounds the problem. I went through such a phase for many months. Outwardly, I had to act normal and optimistic because of the other people who looked up at me for direction and guidance. Inwardly, I was coming apart.
It took me many months to act. I spent two months in the US at a friend’s place. It was only then that I started coming to terms with the reality and the monster that I had created. I came to grips with the situation, built out a business plan for a new venture (what later became IndiaWorld), returned to India, laid off most of the staff, decided to focus on a single business with the aim of making it profitable as quickly as I could, and got started with gusto. The crucible experience had made me even more determined. I had seen failure first-hand. There was little else to lose. There was a life to be lived. If I didn’t conquer my own inner self, I would be a nervous wreck. I figured that it couldn’t get worse than what it was. From where I was, one could only make things better. As so it turned out.
These three experiences in their own way shaped part of me. As I went through these experiences, it was very hard to imagine why God was making me go through it. But, as someone once told me, there is always some good which comes out of every experience. One does not know it then, and it may take a long time to see that good. At some stage, we will all be grateful for our crucible experiences for it is these that come together to make up Life.