3 more life lessons on turning 50

In other words I'm not quite finished yet!

Thank you for your messages, texts, calls and kind words this last week as I turned 50. I was truly blown away by them. Armed with that encouragement I feel inspired to add a few more life lessons!
Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 11.24.37So please bear with one further indulgence this week. I am continuing to reflect on the implications of turning 50 with the hope that it may help some as well as at least provide some guidance away from mistakes I have made.

While there is a world of difference between 50 years of experience and 1 year of experience repeated 50 times, these are lessons I am continually having to remind myself of (to at least avoid another year of bad experience repeating itself up to 50 times!)
So here goes:

4. Remember the video is playing and you are never really alone (even if it feels like it!)
Through much of my life, I’ve perceived myself as being alone and without people who really understand or ‘get me’. I’ve allowed myself on more occasions that I dare count to fall into self-pity and despondency. I studied Shakespeare’s Macbeth at school and allowed myself at times to believe the quote from the play:

‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.’

Now I am more than ever convinced how far that is from the truth. When we feel down or discouraged it is so easy to believe that what we do is worthless and meaningless or that we have no value. (For more on this do listen to the podcast interview on Combatting Depression with the author Jo Swinney).

Negative self-talk is nothing new either. The Ecclesiastes writer,  King Solomon (who reigned from 970-931 BC), was one of the richest men who ever lived. He had access to unimaginable opportunity and resources,  but during a period of great restlessness and emptiness in his life, famously repeatedly wrote, ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’…
‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

That may be a strange thing to read in the Bible, until you understand that Solomon is writing about “life under the sun” (a phrase repeated several times in the book). That phrase Bible scholars understand to mean life with no infinite reference point.

After going through his turmoil and maybe what was even a mid-life crisis, Solomon concludes in the final chapter of his life thesis:

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
(Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

At first glance I am not sure that is much of an encouragement! Basically Solomon seems to be saying, buckle up and submit to God because there is a non-stop video of your life playing – everything that is hidden  will be revealed! As a child growing up I remember my Dad telling me that when I went into an exam I would have to give an account of how I had spent every minute of my time up to that point. It use to terrify me! Later on when I reached adulthood I began to realise how it was actually a good analogy of the Final Exam at the end of time when we will have to give an account of every detail of our one and only life.

The problem is that we all know deep inside that along with the good, there is much that is bad and even ugly in our own lives. We have not lived up to our own standards let alone those of an Infinite Majestic God!

That is why the death of the Jewish Messiah as a substitute on my behalf is so important and so liberating. Rather than my own fickle performance, I look to God as the One who justifies my standing. (If you are interested in exploring this more see Why I Struggle With Religion and Is This The Best News You Have Ever Heard?)

5. The importance of right thinking and what we say to ourselves.
For many years I have personally experienced the power of negative thoughts to lead me into a downward spiral of discouragement and despondency. However, I have also learnt that it is equally possible to encourage oneself in a positive direction.
The photograph below illustrates this powerfully. Just notice the difference as you read it first from top to bottom and then from bottom to top. Stop now for 2 minutes and do that.

IMG_3554

Did you read the passage downwards and then up again?
Isn’t that so surprising? The same words can have dramatically different effects on your state of mind depending on your perspective.

(For more on the importance of the right self-talk see The Difference Between Talking To Your Heart And Listening To Your Heart).

That is the power of reframing our experiences and looking for the bigger picture. Which leads to:

6. your life is a whole movie and not just a single scene.
It is so easy to allow a single experience or setback to dictate how we look at our whole life. Discouragement, despair, disappointment, disease and death are so much a part of human experience. Any one of those experiences is a single frame in the movie of our life. What ultimately matters is not the single frame or even that experience, but what that frame or experience means in the wider context of the whole movie.

That is powerfully illustrated in the life of Joseph in the Old Testament (Genesis 37-50). He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly accused of rape, sent to jail and largely forgotten for many years before his life dramatically turned around to become Prime Minister of Egypt. However, when reunited with his brothers he was able to see the hand of God and graciously say at the end of his life:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

Several centuries later, Tim Keller summed it up with the following powerful saying:

“In Christ, our bad things can turn out for good.
Our good things can never be lost.
And the best is yet to come!”

Breaking down that powerful saying what that means is:

The bad things which can really hurt and damage us are not what we might expect – things like sickness or poverty or being single all your life or being married to the wrong person or being the victim of a bomb explosion (or whatever it is that terrifies you). Rather the really bad things are character issues like pride, foolishness, selfishness, hardness of heart, denial of my flaws and weaknesses. Ultimately its the denial that I can get through this challenging and complex world by myself and with no infinite reference point.

The good things are again not what we normally look to as good things – money, fame, beauty, good health, a good education or loving relationships. The reason is that they can all ultimately be lost. Rather it is the person who we are becoming. As a disciple of Christ, I understand the ‘good things’ to be the transformation of my character into greater Christ-likeness. Or as someone has once said, “Jesus Christ suffered not that we might not suffer, but that when we suffer we may become like Him.”

The best things to come literally have to be out of this world. I close with two particular quotes worth pondering over:

‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
(C.S. Lewis)

And the 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich:
“Bliss is lasting’ pain is passing….. It is not God’s will that we should linger over pain; but that we should pass over it quickly to find joy that last and never ends.”

That is a much more positive way to look to the future! (For a podcast and more resources on the subject of true success see here).

Thank you for putting up with this indulgence – I trust it can be an encouragement to wherever you are at  in your life. (Lessons 1-3 are here).

Do feel free to add any comments, reflections from your own life or insights that you may have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Lessons on Turning 50

3 of I am not sure how many!

Well its finally happened. I’ve turned 50 today! On reaching such a milestone its good to pause and reflect on lessons learned and I am still learning. Hopefully this is not just a vain exercise, naval gazing, or even the ramblings of an old man! My intention is that they may provide some good food for thought for you the reader that you can then apply in your own life.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 09.10.36Some quotes and reflections that have guided my thinking:

Soren Kierkegaard said, Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’

Also according to J. K. Rowling, whose quote from her speech to Harvard graduates we have used in the introduction to the podcasts:

“Life is difficult and complicated and beyond anyone’s total control. The humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

So while its great to learn from the experience of your own mistakes, how much better to learn from the experience of other people’s mistakes!

With that in mind and in no particular order here are some personal life lessons on turning 50:

1. I’ve been learning to be comfortable in my own skin and context.
For much of my life I’ve been a dreamer, excited by the possibility of what could be and striving to climb the next hurdle or achieve some goal or other. Growing up I’ve often felt an outsider.  I came to England at a young age from India, but for many decades have not really felt I belong here. However, when in India I would feel I did not belong there either. (A 15 minute video on that is here).

That pattern has continued for much of my life. I’ve played so often the dangerous ‘comparison game’ – comparing my lot with that of others and often feeling hard done by. I am sure that contributed to my struggle with depression and negativity. (For more resources on combatting depression see here).

The reality is there will always be people ahead of you in some way or other and also always people who have less than you. So much better to be thankful for what you do have than wishing for what you don’t have. (A great teacher of that is Nick Vujicic).

By all means be ambitious and get out of your comfort zone, but at the same time it is vital learn to enjoy the present moment. The time to be happy and thankful is now. (Also see the blog posts Which Way Are You Looking Part 1 and Part 2 along with the podcast Rediscovering Joy).

A particular turning point for me was in my early 40s when I undertook  an exercise to ask 10 people who knew me well to point out one strength and one area I needed to work on. I always remember the feedback from one dear friend, Isaac Shaw. He wrote succinctly, “Sunil needs to learn to be comfortable with his own uniqueness.” That was like a thunderbolt in my life. A true paradigm shift that enabled me to move on in my thinking.

Rather than wishing I was someone else or somewhere else, I have kept on needing to learn to embrace what is right in front of me. Slowly I have been learning to apply that lesson.

Nahum of Bratslav said:
“When I appear before the Heavenly tribunal and I am asked, ‘Why did you not lead your people like Moses?’
I shall not be afraid.
‘When I am asked, ‘Why were you not a David who worshiped me and shepherded your people?’
I will be calm.
‘When they query, ‘Why were you not Elijah who spoke the truth and brought forth justice?’
Even then I will not shake.
“Ah, but when they ask, ‘Nahum, why were you not Nahum?’
It is then I will tremble from head to toe!”

2. While being content with who I am, there is a place to appropriately strive and grow into all who I am called to be.
I think this is the paradox with life. it would be so easy to use the first lesson as an excuse to justify my bad habits and selfishness.

John Newton (1725 -1807) was a slave trader who lived a life of profanity, gambling and drinking. He experienced a spiritual awakening which led to a radical change in the direction of his life. He wrote the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. A favourite saying of his captures the concept of, what is called The Gap beautifully:

“By the grace of God I am what I am. I am not what I want to be, but I thank God I am not what I once was.”

He was able to make the distinction between where he ideally wanted to be and where he actually was while at the same time being able to be grateful for how far he had come.

When I think of spiritual maturity and growing in Christ-likeness I now have much more helpful questions to ask myself.

Compared to say a year ago:

  • Am I growing more or less easily irritated these days?
  • Am I growing more or less easily discouraged these days?

 

3. Life only really makes sense in the context of love and friendship.
It is so easy to find fault in others. It appears so natural to devalue those around us or see relationships as a means to just getting what you want. I have so often been guilty of those things.

My parents and wife Sally have beens such an example to me of unconditional love and acceptance. (For a tribute to my Dad and lessons I have learnt from my parents see here).

I have also been reminded of the huge importance of this lesson from the sudden loss on 17 March 2014 of my dear friend Abhishek Banerjee (Bunty). I met with him in Delhi the week before he died and spoke to him from England on the morning of his untimely death  (For more on that see here.) Bunty certainly taught me a lot on the value of friendship. Here is what I wrote about him then and what he taught me on friendship:

“Bunty enjoyed friends for friendship sake. He had a wealthy abundance of close friends. In a world where so many see friendships as a means to only task fulfilment, Bunty was always willing to make himself available to talk and listen- no matter what the day or time. During my recent week in Delhi, as was so typical of him, he would go out of his way to pick me up from various addresses to take me to my accommodation so that we could simply ‘hang out’ (as he liked to say) and chat.”

(For details on a project in Kolkata set up in Bunty’s memory see here).

It really is friendships that make sense of life. What is the point of doing anything or having anything if you don’t have people to share that with? It is so important to have a community of people around you who nurture and encourage you. Having said that it is also the difficult relationships that can teach you so much about yourself. (That will have to be another blog post at another time!).

I think I need to stop here!

Thank you for paying attention to the ramblings of an ageing man!

Feel free to add any comments, thoughts or reflections as you see fit.

 

 

Podcast #006 Rediscovering Joy

"There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious"

Joy. Its a great subject, but why is it important and so fundamental to your life and my life? In this podcast we try to make sense of joy and distinguish it from happiness.

download

 

Do join my cohost Andrew Horton and myself as we discuss the following:

  • How as a psychiatrist practically all my training has been on the negative rather than the positive in life.
  • The dangers of the “if only…..” mindset
  • Why personal circumstances only account for 10% of your overall level of happiness.
  • The importance of training yourself to be a happier person
  • The difference between happiness and joy
  • Joy as  “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. Anyone who has experienced it will want it again.”
  • The hunger for joy as a desire for spiritual experience.
  • Naive primary strategies for joy such as do your duty, follow your dream or be successful.
  • Secondary precarious strategies for joy such as switching track, being busier and cynicism.
  • What the hunger for joy points to.

If you want to understand this subject more then please look at the following blog post:

Why I am working at becoming a happier person.

Why is joy more important than happiness?

The search for joy.

The lies we tell ourselves about joy.

Moving from disappointment to joy.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please do comment below.

Podcast #005 Delhi

Capital: A Portrait of 21st Century Delhi

I have been travelling to Delhi on a regular basis since I was a child. In the last 25 years or so I have gone almost yearly, sometimes even more often. During that time I have personally seen the city go through enormous transformation, some of it welcome but a lot of it disturbing. It was for these reasons I was fascinated when the book “Capital: A Portrait of 21st Century Delhi” was released in 2014.
The 5 minute video below gives a glimpse of the book with the author Rana Dasgupta.

In this podcast I have the privilege of interviewing Rana about his book and the changes that Delhi has experienced and is continuing to go through.

Rana is a globally acclaimed author:

“Rana Dasgupta is the most unexpected and original Indian writer of his generation.” (Salman Rushdie)

“An astonishing tour de force by a major writer at the peak of his powers.” (William Dalrymple)

“Lyrical and haunting.” (International New York Times)

What is unique about the book is how Rana weaves together the history of Delhi with conversations with such a variety of people. In many ways it is quite a bleak book showing how greed and rampant materialism is tearing away at the heart of society. But it is a story that needs to be told, not least because, as Rana assets, ‘Delhi is a prophecy of the world we may well find ourselves living in the coming years’.

Do join us as we discuss:

  • Rana’s Asian-British- American identity.
  • How Delhi for centuries, from the time of the Moguls, has been discarding its past and continually keeps moving on.
  • The exponential acceleration of change since the liberalisation of the economy in 1991.
  • How the title of the book refers both to the political status of the city it chronicles and to the avalanche of money changing its character.
  • The rise of decadence, drug abuse, sexual licentiousness, marital breakdown and the impact on the extended family system

The 2015 edition the book has been renamed “Capital: The Eruption of Delhi”.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the book are those of the author. Also the language and stories used in parts of the book some may find disturbing and offensive. 

You also might be interested in:

The Power of Connecting with Your Past (for a lighter feel-good video and discussion of the impact of globalisation in India and Pakistan)

A Long Way Home (how technology re-united a family)

The Power of Human Connection

 

5 Simple Steps To Finding Courage For A Tough Call

A tough call is a  decision you know you should make because in the long run it will help you or your family or your organisation. But you find you find yourself hesitating to make it for a whole variety of reasons – some good and some maybe not so good.

1 The Need For Courage

In my life I’ve faced tough calls on a whole variety of issues – some apparently minor and some major:

– to commit to regular exercise.

– to start a regular prayer and meditation routine.

– to stop watching TV and the daily news so as to improve my mood and free up time for more meaningful activities.

– to call an end to friendships and relationships that were one-sided and not going in a positive direction.

– to end the connection with certain organisations or teams that I had come to the conclusion were not going in a direction I agreed with or were incompatible with my values.

Making these tough calls for enduring a certain amount of pain – and that is why we all hesitate to make them. Although the pain can never completely go away, there are 5 simple steps John Maxwell suggests that we can take to make the process easier to handle:

1. Do your homework.
So often the temptation is to make a tough call immediately. The saying ‘act in haste, repent at leisure’ then becomes so relevant. How many of us have written an email or spoken something immediately only to wish a few hours later we had never said what we did? To acquire wisdom it is often necessary to carefully research all the options and the potential consequences of each option. On top of that you may have to think through the effects of the decision on the other people who are likely to be affected. As there will be pros and cons it is vital that you give time to do all the due diligence that is necessary.

2. Set a deadline.
The opposite temptation when it comes to tough calls is to delay making a decision indefinitely. The reality is not making a decision is by default a decision. The challenge is giving enough time to gather all the facts and acquire the right amount of wisdom while at the same time not leaving it so long that not making a decision is the actual decision. That is why a time limit is vital.

3. Search out advice from the right people.
As you think through a tough call it is so helpful to have the perspective of trusted, objective outsiders who have some experience in what you are dealing with. They can see things you might otherwise have missed. If they are older and wiser than you they may also be able to encourage you with the long term results of the decision.

4. Ensure any decision you make is based on values and principles that you believe in and are congruent with who you are.
The management teacher, the late Peter Drucker talks of the ‘mirror test’ and gives a powerful example of this:
“At the beginning of the 20th century the most highly respected diplomat of all the great powers was the German ambassador in London. He was clearly destined for great things – to become his country’s foreign minister, at least, if not the federal chancellor. Yet in 1906 he abruptly resigned rather than preside over a dinner given by the diplomatic corps for Edward VII. The king was a notorious womaniser and made it clear what kind of dinner he wanted. The ambassador is reported to have said, ‘I refuse to see a pimp in the mirror in the morning when I shave.'”

5. Think through the emotions and implications of making the tough call.
In the short term tough calls involve some level of suffering. It is very hard to get round that or sugar coat it. Anything that is really worth doing is going to involve some degree of pain. The key is to keep the long term benefit or reward in mind.

Here is John Maxwell’s perspective on this:

Are tough calls worth all the time, energy and agony they involve? Absolutely. Why am I so sure? Because every time I’ve had to make a tough call in my life, it lifted my leadership to a higher level. In other words it led to a breakthrough.
Read this very carefully: You are only one tough call away from a breakthrough. Isn’t that encouraging? You get a breakthrough by making a call you don’t want to make even though its the right thing to do. And when you make that call, you suddenly take yourself, your company or your family to a whole new level.

What tough call have you been putting off? How could you apply these 5 simple steps to your own life?

 

Podcast #004 Combatting Depression

Through The Dark Woods

Joanna Swinney is a remarkable young lady. She is a writer, speaker and editor. She is married to Shawn, an associate vicar and is the mother of two young girls.

DSC_0010She also has a life-long battle with depression. 

Jo is author of the book “Through The Dark Woods: A Young Woman’s Journey Out of Depression.”

On this podcast I interview Jo about her life and the lessons she has learnt and is learning about the dreaded D word.

Jo is refreshingly frank and honest about her life. Quoting from James Jones (previously Bishop of Liverpool 1998-2013) in the foreword to the book:

“Jo is fun, she’s serious, she’s open yet protective of her own identity, she’s an adventurer but doesn’t forget where the safe places are, like a strong swimmer always with an eye on the beach. She writes engagingly and takes you to places that are familiar to every human being. Herein lies the importance of her story. Depressive feelings, as well as moments of elation, are the emotions of being alive and form the experience of us all, and clinical depression affects one in five of us. All of us will in our lifetime either experience depression or be intimately affected by someone who is depressed. This honest testimony of a young woman will help you identify and name these episodes and to know with a little more wisdom how to be and what to do when they happen.”

So do come and join us as we explore some answers on to how to combat depression in our lives. We are looking at:

What depression can personally feel like

The importance of the right support and relationships

The tragedy of suicide

Specific survival ideas and tips that really do make a difference

A spiritual perspective to depression

For all this and much more do listen to the podcast!

Also it would be great if you felt able to rate the programme on iTunes as well as pass it on to those who you think would benefit from listening.

If you would like to understand this subject more, please see the following previous blog posts:

Is the rate of depression actually increasing or not?

Lincoln: How depression moulded a great leader

Did Churchill’s depression make him a great war-time leader?

Facing up to depression

Why I am working on becoming a happier person

9 Reasons why you could be feeling down. Particularly #4

Could your lifestyle be what is getting you down?

What are the forms of Major Depressive Disorder?

Rick Warren and the secret anguish of Major Depressive Disorder

Why has there been a 400% increase in the prescribing of antidepressants?

I had a black dog

The search for joy

You can order Jo’s book below. Her website is here.

Podcast #003 Stress

How do I cope with stress?

Stressed out? Exhausted? Overwhelmed? You are certainly not alone in feeling like that at times. No matter where you go or who you talk to the subject of feeling stressed will often quickly come up.

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Do come and join my co-host Andrew Horton and I as we explore some answers on to how to cope with stress in our lives. We are looking at:

– How the word stress itself is both a confusing and ambiguous term.

– Some myths or lies we tell ourselves when it comes to stress

–  5 factors that can help us cope better with stress in our lives.

For all this and much more do listen to the podcast!

The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Also it would be great if you felt able to rate the programme on iTunes as well as pass it on to those who you think would benefit from listening.

If you would like to understand this subject more, please see the following previous blog posts:

How Do I Cope With Stress In My Life Part 1

How Do I Cope With Stress In My Life Part 2

How Do I Cope With Stress In My Life Part 3

How Do I Cope With Stress In My Life Part 4

How Do I Cope With Stress In My Life Part 5

Podcast #002 Success

How do you make sense of success?

Success! We are all looking for it in some way or other. How do we make sense of success in an increasingly challenging and complex world?

success4

Do come and join my co-host Andrew Horton and I as we explore:

– cultural ideas of success

– linking success to excellence and fulfilment

– why success is first an inside job

– distinguishing between process and outcome goals

– timeless measures of success

– success as “having those who know me the best, love and respect me the most, and finishing well.”

– how my friend Bunty’s sudden death in 2014 has affected my understanding of success.

– the top 5 regrets of the dying

For all this and much more do listen to the podcast!

The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Also it would be great if you felt able to rate the programme on iTunes as well as pass it on to those who you think would benefit from listening.

If you would like to understand this subject more, please see the following previous blog posts:

How Would You Define Success? Part 1

How Would You Define Success? Part 2

How Would You Define Success? Part 3

What Are The Ingredients For Lasting Success In Your Life And Career? Part 1

What Are The Ingredients For lasting Success In Your Life And Career? Part 2

Do you need courage today?

4 hall marks of making a tough call

It’s been said that a reasonably intelligent 15 year old can do maybe 80-95% of the decisions required by a senior organisational leader.
It’s the other 5-20% that makes all the difference! What is the difference maker?
The difference maker is courage.

David-Cameron

Psychologist Henry Cloud puts it like this: “Courage does not mean that you don’t feel fear. Courage means you do what is needed even when it scares you.”

Its that difficult phone call you know has to be made.

The meeting with the awkward colleague that no one wants to address and you know you should.

Or maybe it is ending a key relationship that you’ve tried to persevere with, but is just not working.

These are the tough calls.
What is a tough call?

Podcast #001 Wisdom

What is wisdom and why is it so essential to your life?

The word wisdom appears not to be used that much in our modern 21st century world. Don’t let that fool you.

sunburstAs we find ourselves surrounded by exponentially increasing choice and change, the need for wisdom has never been greater.

Wherever you go and wherever you look we need wisdom. Be that on a personal level or with our family and friends or at work, we all need wisdom. Societies and governments need wisdom.

In this episode my co-host Andrew Horton and I explore  answers to the following questions:

What do we mean by the word wisdom and what can we practically do to make ourselves wiser?

How does information overload make wisdom harder to find?

What is the relationship between emotional intelligence and wisdom?

What are the 4 components of emotional intelligence?

What are some 3,000 year old tweets of wisdom?

How can the fear of God have anything to do with wisdom?

How can boldness and humility co-exist?

For all this and much more do listen to the podcast!

The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Also it would be great if you felt able to rate the programme on iTunes as well as pass it on to those who you think would benefit from listening.

If you would like to understand this subject more, please see the following previous blog posts:

Wisdom and Emotional Intelligence Part 1 and Part 2

Wisdom, emotional intelligence and an appropriate godly fear

Wonder-filled bold humility Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

What questions and thoughts does this discussion on wisdom raise in your mind?