On mental health...

Sent this email to some co-workers. Publishing it on my blog because I think this deserves a larger audience. 


Disclaimers first.
  • You are getting this email because you work with me. And I work with you. In the capacity of a partner, employee, employer, friend, mentor, intern, associate, client et al.
  • This is going to be a long email. Please DO read this. It's important to me that you do. No, you don't have to reply.

So, you, of course, know me. And you know that I have always taken pride in pushing people out of their comfort zones. To a point that I zealously justify that "Good Job" thingy in the movie Whiplash. I love the idea of going all-in. Your work has to consume you or it is not your true work at all. I like the idea of NOT having a work-life balance. I have worshipped hard and long work over anything else. People that are famously workaholics are my idols (not just for what they've been able to achieve but the work ethic they had - and yes apart from a few exceptions I have not seen a lot of people work less and yet get successful). To me, you either went BIG or you did not try. I would push EVERYONE I know to try and aim for a large objective. With the rationale that even if you failed, you would have achieved things that were beyond your imagination. And I thought it worked well. I mean it DOES work well. I have enough evidence.

But something happened this week that is making me re-think the very core of my belief system.

So, the day before I met this young boy, A, for a coffee. He is one of those typical young people that I like to spend time with. Young, intelligent, ambitious, hungry for success, believes in self and his ideas. Hustles hard - travels through the length and the breadth of the city to meet people. Closes loops. Follows up. Actually does the work. Creates opportunities that don't exist. Finds work wheres there no scope of it ever happening. In one line, if you asked me, he is on the fast track of success. Has EVERY ingredient that I always wish I had. I would've bet my life that in 5 years he would be amongst the richest and most famous people!

But then one minute into the meeting, I realized that something was amiss. And while talking excitedly about what he plans to do, he started sobbing. In the middle of a coffee shop. In the middle of a sentence. In the middle of a slide. Took him a few seconds of crying and then he was back to normal and continued where he had left! As if nothing happened. I figured that he is suffering from some mental ailment that I did not have an inkling of.

I saw him breakdown in front of my eyes.

Normally I am good at spotting signs but this one escaped me, even though I was meeting him often. Since the meeting, I've read quite a few things and I know that mental health issues can hide in plain sight and people suffering don't even realize that they are suffering!

Coming back. So A, otherwise articulate, in that 20-minute meeting was hyperactive, jumped from topic to topic, cried a few times without realizing that he was, made the same point multiple times (he lost track of what he was speaking), talked about how he will rule the world (and he was damn serious about it), popped a few medicines (I hope they were legit) and could barely sit still.

This was the first time when something like this happened so close to me. And I was, I am shaken.

I am not exaggerating that it was THE most painful meeting of my life. I have been in meetings where people have lost their loved ones, lost business, flunked years, broken up with the loved ones and more. Those were comparatively ok. This was so painful that I could not sleep. And I was mostly like a vegetable for almost a day. I could not process that life could be so unfair. As I write this, I still can't.

But what I did process was that my approach towards work may not work for all. Of course, I've been told by a lot of people that there is never a one-size-fits-all solution. I've read it multiple times at multiple places. I've even discussed it with close friends but never believed in it. I would dismiss these as easy reasons to be lazy, short-sighted and un-ambitious.

And I've never been more wrong!

So wrong that I am probably going to reevaluate my whole life. And like I said, my belief system.

I believe that all human progress was made by people that did not have work-life balance.
But at what cost? By having broken people living in misery? Or may be misery is indeed a fundamental truth of life? I know I am going down the existential-nihilism dredge and I ought to stop.

I believe that we need to work hard and do nothing else.
I believe that every waking minute needs to be spent on chasing growth / money etc.
I do not believe in the concept of breaks.
But does that really make people more effective? Does that deliver more? The whole of tech-space yesterday was debating about this on twitter. None of the sides was a clear winner. No, it's not about winning or losing. It's about people. And understanding that both may have its own merits. And you cant diss others for their unambitious, slow life. That is their decision to make and I can NOT push them to see things my way.

I believe that we need to surround ourselves with others that are on the same path and trajectory as us. And more importantly, chase the ones ahead, the ones that seemed to have it figured. Chase them till you die. Till you reach where they are (which is never because by that time they are further ahead). You know, rat race?
May it's this rat race to the impossible top that sends people off the cliff? What if there is never a cliff? Just a treadmill?

I believe that we need to workship these heroes that have done superhuman things. And live with the maxim that if they can, then you can as well!
Of course, they have had different circumstances, lives, opportunities, ideas and all that. But who are we to think about those? What is important is that we have a cultish fervor towards these heroes.

May be, just may be, this entire startup culture, youth revolution, row your own boat, blow your own trumpet life is what is pushing people over the edge? Everyone is surrounded by so much media, content, information, signs that you can do so much more, that you can be the king of the world, that life is beyond the comfort zone, that you are special etc, etc. We hear about people next door that go on to raise a billion dollars, people that come out of nowhere to become the next Bollywood superstar, people that start with nothing and go on to captain the most prestigious team ever. These things are supposed to inspire you. Their stories are meant to help you push harder. After all, they cast-off, did their own thing, worked hard and achieved fame. 

Is this the real culprit?

If they did not have glory, we'd not have heroes. May be there is indeed merit in remaining anonymous. Or may be not. What would make a man get up from his bed if he did not have his brethren to make envious?

I have ranted for so long now. And trust me I thought about A and his condition for hours before I could gather the thoughts to be able to write this.

And the point of this? 
Well, if I've pushed you beyond your comfort zone, it is to help you see things that you probably aren't able to. Now I know I have no right. If I've said anything out of place, caused you discomfort, belittled you, I am sorry. 

And if you ever think you need some sort of intervention, if I can help in any way, PLEASE do let me know. PLEASE speak up. You ARE important to me. And to a lot of other people! 

And please keep looking for signs around you and when you spot someone in distress, please please intervene! 

And that's about it. 

Oh, one more thing. I love you! Really do. 


PS: No, please don't call me and ask who this person is.

PPS: If I sound incoherent, please excuse. I am writing after a while. And I am still shaken. To a point that I took a break for a day before resuming work. I can't even imagine when A must be going thru. Or how any of you is.

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