Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 7)

Experiential Learning

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.” — Seneca

As a 10-year-old, I was diagnosed as having glaucoma by an ophthalmologist. While there was no Internet for me to help me understand what it was, I understood from conversations with the doctor that there was a serious possibility that my eyesight could weaken as I grew older. My thick specs reminded me daily of a future which I hoped would not happen. Luckily, the diagnosis was wrong – an error of judgement made by a well-known doctor. It was during these troubled weeks that I had developed a new hobby – listening to radio, since I was barred from reading after sunset. The radio opened up a new world for me, and even now, I wake up to BBC World Service News.

In my 9th standard, I contested for the post of school captain. I was the teacher’s favourite, the stellar “always coming first” kid. And yet, I lost narrowly primarily because I forgot my speech in front of all the “voters” – I flunked my most important test. That failure made me enrol in a public speaking class and learn how to overcome my flaws.

In my first semester in IIT, I studied hard and did not end up in first position. I was upset – I was a topper, and now suddenly, I was not. I had not known a life beyond academics. What would I do if I wasn’t a topper? And then came a new path – extra-curricular activities, and I found my calling in organising student events.

As I was graduating from Columbia in the summer of 1989, I started looking for a job. It wasn’t the best of times. A couple months went by and I had done just a couple interviews and had no offer. I absolutely wanted to work in the US, but with each passing day, my hopes diminished. I would sit in my dorm apartment and watch TV to while away my time. And then one day, as I was visiting a friend in Berkeley, I got the call from NYNEX. I said Yes without even waiting for the compensation package! Those two months of waiting had finally paid dividends.

In many ways, it was events like these in my formative years that helped make me resilient and if I can use the word, Stoic. I learnt to control my emotions, did not go into a funk after failure, channelised my inner feelings into journaling so I could open up to myself, instilled a desire to constantly become better by learning from others, and made honesty, humility and punctuality key tenets of life. I try and analyse mistakes and work hard to ensure I don’t repeat them. But I am not perfect.

A year ago, I let my anger get the better of me and shouted at Abhishek (my son) over a very trivial matter. Something else was bothering me, and I took it out on him. I am normally good at anger management, but for some reason, I lost my cool then. He was the most vulnerable, and I unleashed my fury on him. He saw shocked and started crying. I stayed unmoved. It was only later when Bhavana came and made me see my folly that I realised what I had done – let ego get the better of me. I went to him and apologised. I sat that night, analysed my behaviour, and promised myself that I will not repeat such anger, especially against a person who cannot fight back. It is ego which is, as Ryan Holiday puts it, our enemy.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.