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Resilience & the Perfect Employee

This is the story of a 45 year old woman, struck by a tragedy in the prime of her life.

Why this story?

‘What qualities make up a perfect employee?’

The four main qualities of a PERRfect employee are –

  • Proactivity
  • Emotionally Intelligence
  • Reliability, and
  • RESILIENCE

This story will show us what resilience really is, and how we can make it part of our professional armory.

Loss

She sat in the darkening room. Her eyes were dry. She just had no more tears. As her eyes scanned the room, errant memories surfaced.

He used to sit in that easy chair, enjoying his coffee and newspaper every Sunday morning.

That is the sideboard we bought when our first son was born. How shocked we were when we found out the price!

Today is Saturday; we would have all gone to the temple together.

No more.

That life was no more. He, her husband, was no more. Not even 50, he had left her and their four children bereft. A heart attack, they said. We tried everything, they said. It’s God’s will, they said.

The tumult had died down. His body had been cremated. The countless rituals that various relatives insisted on were done. The house was almost empty, reflecting what she felt.

What was she to do? She had never envisaged this future in her wildest imaginings. In all her visions, he was always there by her side. And now he wasn’t and never would be.

What was she to do?

Recovery

As a matter of habit, she wiped her dry eyes with the pallu of her sari. She took a deep breath.

First, I have to make sure that the children are not impacted in any way, she thought. Shri needs to go back to college at the earliest. Once he immerses himself, he will recover.

Chandra, too. I never know what’s in that boy’s mind, she thought. He must be hurting badly, but doesn’t show it at all.

Her heart seemed to tear apart when she thought of her youngest two. Oh, they are too young to lose their father, her mind cried. 13 and 11! How cruel can life be?

I have to look for the bank passbooks. How much money do we have? Not very much, I think.

When are the college and school fees due? When is the next rent due?

She almost broke down again. He would handle all these issues, she thought. I don’t even know how much the fees are! Shri has another 3 years, and Chandra has another 5 years. How will we manage?

She recalled a snippet of conversation from earlier that week –

“Just come over to Trichy and live with us. We are there for you. We will take care of everything…”

As tempting as that sounded, her back straightened with resolve. I am not going to be a burden on anyone. My children will not be a burden on anyone. Whatever we do, we will do by ourselves.

She stood up, feeling more tired than she had ever before in her life. Strangely, at the same time, she also felt a sense of strength that she did not know existed. She started walking to the cupboard to find the bank papers, her stride becoming firmer with every step.

Response

Seven years had passed.

She sat in the front row, excited and proud to be witnessing her youngest son’s convocation ceremony. Guests were still being ushered in, the hall was alive with chatter.

She also felt a sense of tremendous relief.

Shri has completed his post-graduation and is doing so well in the US, she sighed. Chandra is a full-fledged doctor. And now, Sesha will start his career as an engineer. Padma is well on her way to completing her BA. What an amazing girl she is – so supportive and caring! 

I never thought we would make it, she thought.

As the hall gradually filled up with parents and families, her mind slipped back in time. How did we make it? she asked herself. Her mind scanned the thousands of memories, sliding over them, but not finding anything that stood out.

Probably God’s will, she said to herself, as the first announcement for the graduation ceremony shook her out of her reverie.

My Mother’s Guide To Resilience

No, it was not God’s will.

It was my mother’s will. It was her courage, her patience, her persistence, her belief in herself and in her family and her willingness to work 25 hours a day.

Today, 45 years later, we know how she made it. She started with

1. Courage

My mother is the most courageous person I have known.

I whine when the smallest of issues befall me. “Oh, my car stereo is not working. Why does this always happen to me?” It’s easy to be a victim, isn’t it?

Even before my father died, my mother soldiered through the most difficult of times, never complaining, never ever allowing any of what she went through to be known to or seen by her children. It was only later on in life that we realised how much we were insulated and protected by her.

My mother is a small woman. And physically rather frail. But in terms of her ability to cope and stand strong, she is a giant.

Many years later, when we asked her how she coped with her husband’s sudden and premature passing, she would say, “What could I do? I did not have the luxury of extended grieving. I had four hungry, growing children. I had to put aside my personal issues and make sure that you had whatever you needed to complete your studies successfully and start living your independent lives. That was what drove my every thought, my every action.”

My mother doesn’t use words like courage. She lives them.

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is overcoming fear, knowing that you have to achieve a goal regardless.

Another quality that stands out is,

2. Patience

My mother understands the value of patience.

When we were young, and desperately wanted something, she would say, “Be patient, life is a marathon, not a sprint.”

When she was going through her darkest hours, she realised that she had to play the long game. Yes, everything seemed dire and disastrous, but that was now. There was always tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow. And the day after that. She had to get through each day, step by difficult step, patiently doing what needed to be done, so that tomorrow was better.

She pawned her jewellery to put her children through college, her heartbreaking as she did so but hoping and believing that she would one day, get it all back. One day, she did.

She fought a court battle to evict recalcitrant tenants for over 7 years, finally getting possession of the house her husband and she had built with their toil and tears.

She still has this amazing quality of ‘calm’; the ability to remain unflurried even in a maelstrom.

In battling the challenges of life, the two most powerful weapons, she believes, are patience and time.

A third quality that my mother taught us by example is

3. Persistence

My mother doesn’t know when to quit.

She never, never gives up.

We, her children, were not the obedient, amenable examples that parents dream of before they have children. We were headstrong, opinionated, argumentative and disobedient.

She recognised that arguing was futile. So she waited us out. We went through a teenage rebellion. She was there for us and gave us her advice when we asked. We went through adolescent angst. She waited and gave us her shoulder to cry one. We went through crests and troughs, seeking ourselves. She fed us and listened to us and suggested that we look at things differently.

In time, one by one, we fell in line. We recognised the value of the values she wanted us to live by. We understood what was right. Her teachings, previously seeds on arid soil, took root and bloomed.

My mother always played the long game. She never gives up.

When we were young, my mother told us about a small stream encountering a large rock.

“The stream finally cut its way through the rock,” she said, “not because of how powerful it was, but because of how persistent it was.”

Yest another quality that supported my mother was

4. Belief

My mother believes. In herself, in God, in her family, in people. She believes that good will prevail. That all will be well in the end.

She was fortunate to have wonderful, supportive parents and loving siblings. She knew she could count on them, even if she never leaned on them.

My mother was fortunate to have the help of people who came forward to advise and guide her in sorting out the administrative mess than any intestate death brings.

She was lucky to have a few close friends whom she could speak to, confide in and pour her heart out complaining about her headstrong, disobedient children.

She has immense faith in the Almighty. This faith carries her across arid deserts and stormy waves.

Her belief sustained her through the worst of times; it calmed her in the best of times.

I remember reading a quote and immediately thinking of my mother –

“The sky is not the limit. Your belief-system is.”

The final quality that defines my mother is

5. Hard work

My mother worked 16 hours every day. Seven days a week.

She arose at 4:00 AM and slept at 10:00 PM. (I think she still does!)

She hates depending on anyone else. She hates taking shortcuts. She believes in the joy and satisfaction of doing something herself and doing it well.

My mother always believed and still believes that our actions define our intent. Work, she believes, is worship.

When I was 9 and was crying about something I wanted and did not have, she said,

“You get what you work for, not what you wish for”

The Power of Resilience

My mother taught me the 5 qualities that comprise resilience.

  1. Courage
  2. Patience
  3. Persistence
  4. Belief
  5. Hard work

Not rocket science. (Though she also taught me physics when I was young). Simple, timeless qualities.

I hope her lessons will serve you well, as they did me.

Title Image Courtesy: https://www.countryliving.com/life/entertainment

Venkatraman Sheshashayee

By Venkatraman Sheshashayee

Venkatraman Sheshashayee (Shesh) is an engineer by profession, an alumnus of DMET Kolkata and IIM Bangalore, has 33 years of professional experience in shipping, manufacturing, services and offshore logistics. He is a master in building greenfield companies, turning around distressed organizations and transforming stagnant operations. As a corporate leader, Shesh has created US$ 1.5 billion in realized value, mentored and coached over 600 professionals. He runs a boutique advisory that helps MSMEs, Start-ups and Professionals achieve their vision. Shesh runs ‘CEO Chronicles’, a popular blog that has been read and shared more than 100,000 times so far. He is a very seasoned writer based out of Singapore.