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Ashwin, you need very little to be truly happy

An ex-colleague and friend reminded me of this today in a conversation. Mind you, this was not a normal conversation. Far from it. Why? Because he had spent the last three years of his life in isolation. You heard me right. In a correctional facility for a white-collar crime that he claims to have never […]

An ex-colleague and friend reminded me of this today in a conversation. Mind you, this was not a normal conversation. Far from it. Why? Because he had spent the last three years of his life in isolation. You heard me right. In a correctional facility for a white-collar crime that he claims to have never committed. And for the record, I believe him. But this is not about his views or mine on guilty or not but rather his conduct as a leader and an inspirer during his time there.

Here are the seven takeaways that I came away with in our conversation today.

Don’t indulge in self-pity or anger even when there may be just cause – it is not worth it: In our hour-long chat today, there was not even a hint of bitterness or indulging in the victimization syndrome. We did talk about his time there (more on that shortly) but he was all matter of fact and even keeled about it.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going: And it does not get tougher than this. Uprooted from your family, in a strange place with very little possessions and sporadic communication with the external world. What does he do? Read a ton of books. Read the WSJ cover to cover every day. And keep a gratitude journal. But it gets better.

Inspire others who may be feeling down or lonely: Creates a course on “steps to take once you get out of here to lead a normal life”. Sounds rudimentary but statistics show that acquitted offenders fall into a downward spiral once they get out if they don’t have a goal and a structure. And by teaching them the basics, so he gave them hope of a normal life ahead and a blueprint to adopt.

Help others discover their purpose and turn that into a mission: Co-creates a 12-week course with another exec coach and leader (also serving time) “Values based personal development” for the inmates to utilize their time at hand to introspect, discover their values and translate that into self-development that they can enhance once they are released. And the waitlist, he said, was a year-long after they completed the first session!

Be grateful always: He talked about an incident where the entire facility had to be upgraded from incandescent to LED bulbs and everyone had to vacate their rooms for the entire day. It took him all of five minutes to pack his belongings into a backpack and he spent the day reading in the library. At peace with himself. And that’s when he realized that possessions did not define happiness – mindset and attitude did.

Don’t dwell in the past, embrace the present: He talked about how he was coaching his two boys, spending time with his daughter and had become a fully functional dad and husband. Again, not a trace of bitterness about time lost, just a joyful and mindful dwelling in the present.

If you are in the arena, let’s talk, otherwise you don’t matter: This was not part of the conversation but I was contemplating later on how society might be judging him. What if …? Would I be tainted even talking to him? And so on. And that reminded me of Brene Brown’s classic TED talk on Vulnerability where she talks about society judging by sitting in the stands while you are in the arena. Her advice – the spectators do not matter, they are not in the arena. That’s all that matters. And I felt invigorated after speaking to him. Old times. He and I are in the arena. That’s all that matters.

He has so much more to give to life. We are going to be working closely again and I will share anything and everything that inspires me as I am sure it will inspire you too.

Tough times don’t last, tough people do – you just proved it mate. A big bow to your courage, empathy and self-awareness. Keep inspiring.

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