Preamble: This full lockdown we are currently placed in has inconvenienced many of us. For some of us, this is more than an inconvenience - particularly those that are unable to work or earn an income. In times like these, the biggest battle can sometimes be the 'battle waging within our minds' as we struggle to maintain sanity and composure. Shawn Sher has put together a series of Leadership updates designed to help you come out of this stronger.
The lock-down we Malaysians face once again seems harsh (although probably necessary). Many Malaysians may feel that this current full lock-down could have been avoided had the "people in charge" been wiser in their decisions when dealing with this pandemic.
Some of us are faced with this obstacle of not being able to go to work. For some, this means no income as we are paid on a piece-meal, hourly or daily basis. In addition, we are deprived from seeing family members (who are not living in the same household) or socialising with our friends.
So how should we react to this? There are two ways. One is to take the path of ‘resignation’. We can resign ourselves to the fact that this is a global pandemic, bury our heads in the sand and hope to wake up when some semblance of normalcy returns. In other words, we paralyse ourselves thru inaction.
The other way is to recognise that whatever we face, we have a choice:
‘Will we be blocked by this obstacle(s), or will we advance through and over it?’
What Blocks Us?
What blocks us is clear. In addition to this pandemic and lockdowns, we face rising unemployment, corruption, higher cost of living, political instability, technological disruptions, etc. But our biggest obstacle is the mental prison we may unwittingly be allowing ourselves to become boxed into. We tell ourselves that we are either too old, too young, too stressed, have no connections, have no backers or possess any confidence. We become resigned to our perceived fate.
This mental prison we create for ourselves is unique to each of us. But the responses they elicit are the same. We feel fear, frustration, confusion, anger and helplessness.
Do You Also Sometimes Feel This Way?
You know what you want to do but it feels like some invisible enemy has you boxed in, holding you down with pillows. You try to get somewhere but something invariably blocks your path, following and thwarting each move you make. You have just enough freedom to feel like you can move but somehow can’t seem to follow through or build momentum.
Slowly, you become more disenchanted. You’re trying to get somewhere, but something stands in your way. So we do nothing…We blame our bosses, our politicians, the economy, other people, or we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible. When really only one thing is at fault: our attitude and our approach.
A Better Option
What if we flipped this obstacle upside down? What if we chose to get unstuck, unleashed and persist relentlessly instead? What if we choose to use the obstacle as fuel to move us forward? The story I am sharing below is not meant to serve as a story about gushing, hazy optimism. There are enough self-help books out there telling us to turn the other cheek, look at the bright side and think positive.
These series of Leadership articles I will be sharing (in the coming updates) will be based on true stories from history showing how some individuals chose to use the obstacles they faced as fuel to drive them to succeed. Instead of seeing the obstacle as a deterrent, they saw the obstacle for what it is, embraced it and used it as their compass to move forward. Lets start with this first story…
The Story of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter
At the height of his boxing career in the mid 1960’s, Rubin Carter (a top contender for the world middleweight boxing title) was accused of a crime he did not commit: triple homicide. He went on trial and a biased, bogus verdict followed: three life sentences. It was a dizzying fall from the heights of success and fame he once enjoyed. Reporting to prison in an expensive tailored suit, wearing a US$5000 diamond ring and a gold watch, he asked to speak to the warden.
Looking the warden in the eye, Carter proceeded to inform him that he was not giving up the last thing he controlled - himself and in a remarkable declaration he told them in so many words:
‘I know you had nothing to do with the injustice that brought me into this jail, so I am willing to stay here until I get out. But I will not, under any circumstances, be treated like a prisoner – because I am not and will never be powerless.’
Instead of breaking down – as many would have in such a bleak situation, Carter declined to surrender the freedoms that were innately his: his attitude, his beliefs, his choices.
Was he angry about what happened? Of course. He was furious. But understanding that anger was not constructive, he refused to rage. He refused to break or grovel or despair.
All of this had a purpose. Every second of his energy was to be spent on his legal case. He read law books, philosophy, history. He made the distinction that those people hadn’t ruined his life – they had just put him in a place he didn’t deserve to be and he did not intend to stay there. He would learn and read and make the most of his time there. He would leave prison not only a free and innocent man but a better and improved person.
It took Carter 19 years and two trials to overturn the verdict. When Carter walked out of prison, he simply resumed his life. No civil suit to recover damages. He didn’t even request for an apology from the court. Because to him, that would imply that they had taken something of his that Carter felt he was owed.
This had never been his view, even in the dark depths of solitary confinement in prison life. He had made his choice: They can’t harm me – I might not have wanted it to happen but I decide how it will affect me. No one else has that right.
‘Whatever life throws at life, remember that our perception of the thing/event is something we are in complete control of. People may throw you in jail, label you, deprive you of your possessions, but they’ll never control our thoughts, our beliefs, our reactions. In another words, we are never completely powerless.’