If mistakes are the essential part of normal process of learning and growth, let us acknowledge them and give them their due. Right? I am beginning to see that they have taught me a lot- but mostly at the subconscious level. Let me talk of some such events consciously.
One incident comes easily to my mind from 2003-04; I was working as a freelance consultant around this time. I was hired by a group working for the health of elderly people in metro cities. People above 60 are not a homogenous group- and their needs may vary a lot. Health and other services (housing, transport, civil supplies etc.) often do not show the necessary discernment. I was leading an interview with a senior health bureaucrat in Mumbai. I stammered quite a few times: may be I was unsure of the ground we were covering. One can not be an expert on everything. My supervisor, an Indian woman, also was the part of the discussion. She looked surprised. I too began to get worried about my performance.
The bureaucrat perhaps had seen enough of the humanity and hence carried on as if nothing happened. We concluded the interview after the checklist was covered and I had taken all the notes and we came out. I felt a little tension around myself. The supervisor and others in our team did not say anything. That was perhaps making it worse! I wanted someone to talk about the event and say- “it is OK”. I myself did not have the grit or the skills to initiate a discussion about it. I fell in my old trap of just “running away” from the dreaded issue. I voluntarily withdrew from that assignment. I felt traumatised by the whole incident, even though nothing was said, nor did my actual work as a consultant suffer in any way. What had suffered was the delicate image I had carried within myself – that I am a regular fluent person! There was a cognitive dissonance between the image and the reality- the reality, I had been running away from. But our inner life, when based on constant lying and unending self-loves, needs a lot more shake ups than just one. Within a few months, I had another shake up!
This time, I was hired to conduct a series of short workshops on family planning Counseling for the practitioners of Indigenous systems of healing (Unani Tib, Ayurveda etc.). The workshops were going well and the supervisor, an Indian woman, representing an American charity, did give me positive feedback now and then. I took them for granted! (I had no clue then: this was a good example of mental filtering: you are listening only to criticism!)
But one day, over a full plate of Chicken curry, she casually mentioned, as she licked her fingers: But, Dr Srivastava, some of your words are not clear…
I froze! She did not talk about stammering at all. But my imagination went to work overtime. I feared, her next verdict will be: You are fired because you stammer!
Nothing of the sort was ever said- nor was it ever implied, as far as I could see. But because I had tried to bury away my stammering, I always felt anxious and almost felt like a “conman”- just waiting to be caught out. I had not heard about cognitive distortions, catastrophizing, black and white thinking etc. I wonder, even if I knew all that then, would I have been able to suddenly apply it to my emotional reactions? I wonder.
I again reacted in my characteristic coping style: running away. I just dropped out of the next batch of workshops, citing some personal reasons. I suffered financially by such bad decisions. More than that- I suffered emotionally.
Finally the suffering forced me to confront my denial and embrace acceptance. I realised that I was running away, driven by my imagined fears, while the fact was, no body was chasing me! I had learned a dysfunctional coping mechanism in childhood. Making stammering my excuse, I had stopped communicating with my colleagues and even family members about things that really mattered. I seek their forgiveness today, whole heartedly. And thank them for their valuable support inspite of all this.
I began to realise around 2004-06 that my coping mechanisms were no more working. It was time to raise my gaze. Next, TISA happened!
Thank you, my mistakes!