9 (+ 1) Things That Being Broke Taught Me About Self-Leadership

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I lost my father suddenly when I was 23. He didn’t have a will, and our family couldn’t access his bank account, so we were suddenly out of funds. I had had a protected life so far, and this strain, coupled with my grief, completely knocked the wind out of me.

A few years later, 3 months into my marriage, I realized the extent of my husband’s debts for the 1st time. My savings and our jobs weren’t enough to repay everything. A few months later, in 2008, we both lost our jobs.

In 2011, I was pursuing my MBA in France and my husband, who had a good job then, was supposed to sponsor my living expenses, but midway he stopped. My mother was also diagnosed with a terminal illness at this time, and her house was mortgaged for my educational loan. So there I was in a new country, with limited funds and no job, besides being emotionally broken. I had to find a way to finish my MBA, get a job, free the mortgage, and tend to my mother.

How did I react in each situation?

To begin with, I was consistently angry and bitter at the people I loved, that I had trusted, who had let me down. Yes, even my father, because he left! None of it was my fault! This wasn’t fair! Every time, I felt like a victim. Miserable, disgusted, and most importantly, totally helpless and powerless. But I also became resilient with a singular agenda: survive and generate income, leveraging my passions.

I pulled through eventually, and later, in retrospect, I realized how my struggles actually taught me some valuable lessons.

  1. Own and create your life with positive attitude: Irrespective of what has happened, if a situation is in your life, you need to take responsibility for it. Blaming others gives them control, and makes you powerless. I have realized in the last 5 years that it is possible to be hopeful and positive even through grief, and my life has literally transformed. You cannot control everything that happens to you, but YOU, and only you, have the power to decide how you will perceive and react to the situation, and that determines the future. Your move. 
  2. Get creative with solutions: Each day I would write down at least 5 ways I could generate income. Sometimes it meant doing small assignments for my friends and they would buy me dinner. Solutions beget solutions. Add value to others: For me to have an income, people needed a reason to invest in me, and I quickly learnt that that meant I had to help THEM in some way, instead of wondering how they could help me.
  3. Add value to others: For me to have an income, people needed a reason to invest in me, and I quickly learnt that that meant I had to help THEM in some way, instead of wondering how they could help me.
  4. Have a sense of purpose: Even though I persevered and survived, I realized that only thinking of a materialistic outcome wasn’t a true happy feeling. When you truly want to help others, when you have a sense of purpose, that’s when life becomes fulfilling.
  5. Focus on your goal but stay flexible: At 23, I was really keen on a job in advertising as an art director. I didn’t have the skills immediately to get one, so while I worked on my portfolio, I used my writing and basic design skills to become an online greeting card designer. So I had a source of income (with a job that would also hone my skills further), in a creative field, till I got my ‘real’ job in advertising. 
  6. Be self-aware: As an MBA, one can do many jobs. But I knew that no matter how desperate I was, if I tried to be an investment banker or a management consultant, even if I managed to miraculously get a job, I would suck at it, besides being miserable. A balance of business and creativity, of logic and emotion, got my adrenaline pumping, was my forte, and I zoomed in on such work specifically, even when broke. 
  7. Communicate effectively: I knew for us to survive in 2008, my husband and I needed to have a savings plan, and I shared my ideas with him. His POV differed a bit, but the clear communication helped us know where we stood and what the next steps would be. 
  8. Be humble and let others lead too: During my MBA, I chased my dean relentlessly for part-time jobs in the school. I told him I could suggest some job ideas, but he has the campus experience that I don’t, and he may know many more solutions than I can think of. And he did. By the time I left his office, he had made 3 calls, and next week I had a job assisting a professor with research.
  9. Balance vulnerability with self-confidence: People didn’t need to know my situation, but if they did, I didn’t deny it. Like to my MBA professor who knew my story, I admitted that I was in a difficult place, but that’s not why she should hire me. Honestly, it was against my ego to be pitied, so I explained how I could helpher, and she respected that. Vulnerability does NOT equal weakness.

And the 10th one?

Listen actively. This is something that I really didn’t do very well then! I was so focused on my emotions and passion, that I didn’t always listen to the subtle messages people gave me, even non-verbally, or between the lines. For e.g., my ex-husband tried to indirectly explain his debt actions to me, but in my anger, I didn’t listen enough. And that created a lot of rift.

So I learnt some things while coping with my struggles, and some lessons happened only later. If you’re facing some challenges now, just know that you’re actually growing and becoming more powerful because of it. If possible, even try to appreciate the challenges as they will lead to something better. They always do.

Take control of your life. Be #PowerfullyYOU.

Would love to hear your comments and don’t hesitate to reach out to me at pbasu@weignitegrowth.com if you have any questions. You can also follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for more tips and information on personal leadership branding.

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