Reflections While #StayingHome: A Reminder To (Always) Be Kind
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“Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting some kind of battle.”
There is so much truth to this quote that’s been doing the rounds on social media for a while now. For the majority of my entrepreneurial career, I have been very one-sided in my approach to my story, who I am, and what inspires me- this is the story that I am happy and proud to share publicly.
But there is also another side that inspires me, and which has very much shaped who I am, and my dedication to my work. I don’t talk about it often, because to be honest, it hurts. It is painful. Yet, it has made me who I am today, and I am grateful for the privileges that I have as a result of it.
Today, however, I’m peeling back a few layers, and opening up to you about this more personal side of my inspiration- I’m hoping that my vulnerability will help someone out there who absolutely needed to hear this today, someone who might find solace in knowing that I’ve gone through the same challenges and struggles as they are now.
After all, there are always ups and downs in life, and it is often those downs that shape us more, both personally and professionally, than the ups. Now more than ever, in this time of self-isolation, I’m compelled to share my story in the hopes that it might help someone on the other side of the screen.
I recently had a conversation with a friend, where they were telling me about the difficulties they had faced dealing with a grandparent who had Alzheimer’s disease. I had recently experienced something similar with my father after a rather difficult trip back home, but instead of opening up and talking about it, I smiled politely and nodded.
“Yes, that is hard. I can only imagine,” I said, while swallowing the rest of the words that I truly wanted to share. The truth of course was that I knew that pain, I knew it so well. But I didn’t want to talk about it. My heart sunk, I froze, and I couldn’t bring myself to open up. Indeed, I had a sigh of relief when we changed the topic of conversation.
In retrospect, I don’t know why I did that. It kept nagging at me. I replayed that moment in my head so many times where I imagined what I’d have said had I dared to speak up about it. But while I don’t know why I wasn’t brave enough to open up that day, I feel more capable about doing so now- so, here is my story.
Growing up as an only child, I’ve always looked up to my father. He was, and still is, my hero. He was funny, smart, and just the coolest person I knew. There was nowhere in the world I felt safer than next to him, and no one who could make me feel prouder when he gave me his seal of approval.
So, with my father being my idol, losing him has been one of the hardest things I have experienced. I say losing, because he is mostly gone. If we are lucky, we do see a glimpse of him as he used to be, every once in a while. It feels like we’re saying goodbye to someone who is fading into a stranger.
My father was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was 12, and I honestly didn’t think much of it at the time. Michael J. Fox and Mohammed Ali both famously have/had Parkinson’s. In the case of my father, it meant he seemed more rigid, he’d have slight tremors, and he was just a bit slower than he usually was.
They tell you that Parkinson’s “is not fatal, it’s something you will die with, instead of die of,” which, I’ve since learnt, is a polite way of saying it’s not terminal, but it’s bad. Parkinson’s can affect people in different ways, and the symptoms are different for everyone. My father used to joke about his tremors, saying, “I’m shaken, not stirred.”
In the next few years, his symptoms rapidly changed- he moved from just being slower than usual, to being completely frozen. He began to fall a lot, and soon, he was no longer able to walk. He had a stroke too, and he then started to mentally fade away. Watching your hero fall is hard. Not being able to help them is harder.
As an entrepreneur, I am used to finding solutions to problems, but in this scenario, I can’t seem to “fix things,” no matter how hard I try. My father is now in his final stages, and he is completely hospitalized. He can hardly speak, and he hallucinates often. He is often confused, and in pain.
I am usually in denial about how bad it really is. When I visit him, if I am lucky, we can have a slow yet meaningful conversation. When he has days when he simply can’t communicate, he will give me a wink. It’s his way of saying I am still here. I always look out for that wink.
So, why am I sharing all of this, and why is this important? Although this experience has been hard (and it really is painful), it has also shaped who I am, and it has been a big part of how my life has turned out. It has shaped my values, my identity, and how and why I do things a certain way. Here are some of the key lessons I’ve learnt so far:
1. Sometimes, all you can do is breathe. Being patient, and learning how to breathe through anything, is an absolutely important skillset we all need to learn and work on. When you feel helpless or frustrated, all you can do is trust yourself, breathe, and keep going. There is truth to taking a deep inhale and exhale, and moving on ahead.
2. There is always a silver lining. No matter how hard things get, especially in those moments when you feel despair, fear, and pain, remember that all of these experiences are all shaping you to be a better version of yourself. You’re learning to become more resilient, and you’re learning grit- and that’s always a good thing.
3. You choose where to put your energy and time into. I’ve learnt to use my time always with purpose, and my sense of urgency comes from witnessing what happens when you don’t have time, when one doesn’t have the ability, the health to truly live. I don’t want to scroll through life- I want my time to matter, and to make a difference.
4. Count your blessings Be grateful for the simple things in life, and most importantly, your (and your loved ones’) health. No matter who you are, your status, your wealth, we are all equal before nature, and we are all as vulnerable when it comes to our health. Take care of it. Don’t take it for granted, especially now in the time of COVID-19.
5. We are all human going through this thing called life. Life (and business) is about people. At the end of the day, be it your friends, family, colleagues, clients, or competitors, we all have our ups and downs, our battle scars, and our personal challenges. As such, remember to be kind. Always.
Watching how my mother (the superwoman she is) be the ultimate caregiver for my father has been such a lesson for me in leadership, mental strength, and understanding. She’s the most positive person I know, and she continues to make everyone smile, regardless of how she might be feeling. Having the ability to make others smile when all you want to do is cry is the bravest thing you can do.
People often mistake kindness for weakness- I personally believe kindness is a sign of strength. Having been reminded recently that everyone is fighting battles of their own, I’m sharing mine in the hope that it helps you cope better with yours. At the end of the day, it’s a reminder to be kind. A reminder that love is beautiful. A reminder to not take what you have today for granted, and make the most out of now.