Only dead fish go with the flow

Interesting set of numbers: 2020. 

Visual acuity at 2020 refers to the eyes’ ability for normal sharpness and clarity, and in tarot readings, an appearance of the angel 2020 indicates the guardian angels have arrived to ensure you rise to great heights. Superb! Isn’t it? It’s not a situation where just one or two of us have access to these numbers. It’s every single living organism on this planet. ALL OF US HAVE ACCESS TO 2020! That’s pretty darn monumental, I’d think? 

So what’s my thing for 2020? Go against the flow. Shudder!

I may not have visual acuity since age isn’t entirely on my side, but perhaps the angels have my back, just in case. I’m sure you’ve made some resolutions for yourself. As 2019 came to a close, I decided I’d do one thing: go against the flow. I’d have to mention my guru here, he was instrumental in guiding me on this path; unwittingly so. He said, “go with the flow, kiddo!” And in classic me style, I told him, “I’ve decided to do just the opposite.” So doc., if you are reading this, I know you’ll be smiling.

Remember that scene from Finding Nemo when Marlin tells his son not to touch the boat and he does?

You know how that turned out in the end, right? He was one fin small in the beginning but, by the end, he was ocean big! Aren’t all our lives one fin small to begin with?

Flow is interesting and widely researched in the creativity circles. What is flow, you ask? It’s certainly not the ability to solve problems or your scores on an IQ test. It is simply the moment where you’ve zoned everything out and the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task. When in flow, the creator and the universe become one, outside distractions recede from consciousness, and one’s mind is fully open and attuned to the act of creating. This flow is very different from “going with the flow.” Not everyone is gifted with this kind of flow. We’ll come to this creative flow later in the post.

Zen masters consistently advocate the path of least resistance. Bruce Lee said, “Be like water making its way through cracks.” Flowing water is essential for so many reasons. If for any reason, the flow stops, it builds up, and a deluge destroys everything. Yes, going with the flow yields results for the short term, but what happens then to your long term goals? This is where I believe going against the flow turns things around.

You’ve watched and heard documentaries about salmon spawning and olive ridley turtles returning to their places of birth to nest. Each of these creatures goes against the flow to birth new life. Adult salmons have to swim upstream, to lay eggs that eventually mature into salmon fry. But, the adults, they become martyrs for the new since they die in the very stream they navigated to, and they do this to ensure healthy fish swim back to spawn again.

Many species of turtles come back to nest at the very same spot where they hatched. They swim through the crashing surf and crawl up the beach searching for a safe spot where the female can lay up to 100 eggs before she drags herself back to the vast blue again. How does she do this? Scientists struggled to find an answer until recently. Turtles derive navigational information from the Earth’s geomagnetic field — a field humans cannot sense without the use of scientific instruments. So voila, these prehistoric giants have something inborn. And what do they use it for? Well, you know the answer to that.

Living a life that is ‘yours’ and one that is fulfilling take guts, and it is very, very hard to let go and take a risk; it is terrifying to give up security and constant cash flow among other things to dive into the unknown. But I’ll tell you, it is possible. There was a time, not so long ago, where I was in this terrible state of destitution (by that I mean, out on my ass with not even a penny to my name). Believe me when I tell you that deciding between lunch or dinner because two meals meant that much lesser money in hand, was bloody frightening. But, those days are behind me now, and I am stronger for it. The many things it taught me will be a post for another day. But go against the flow I did, and I wouldn’t trade that phase for anything. Ever. So when I say throw caution to the winds and do that thing YOU want to do, I am not speaking from a place of comfort and cushions. That shit is for the well-endowed. 

You may argue that it is even — shall we say — stupid (gasp!), the opposite of smart if I’m not writing a post that goes under the title of “Smart Habits for Rich Living tagline? Nah. Like I said, the more material wealth you amass, the more your happyness quotient shrinks! If you’ve seen a dried prune, you know how the shrinking happens! So go follow your heart. Nothing stupid about following your heart at any – and I do mean any– expense whatsoever! There’s nothing like sweet freedom! 

Believe me when I tell you the freedom to pursue your heart’s desires and to build on your passions is not over-rated.

So, the only thing that does go with the flow is dead fish! What’s your plan then. amigo?

Measure for Measure

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

“Hi. I see you have an interesting profile. I have some work for you. Could share me your Whatsapp number?” LinkedIn message

“I imagine you in a bikini running on a sandy beach somewhere.” 

“You look so sexy in that outfit that even our CTO said something about it.”

“Hi, you write really well. Is it possible to have your WhatsApp number?” LinkedIn message

“You see that woman there, she sent me some “special” videos, and I accidentally shared it with my colleagues on the group. When I did, they all laughed so much.”

Perhaps common banter amongst the boys club, but these comments, although veiled like statements shared between friends within a workplace, has the word harassment written all over it. And when it comes from your reporting boss, it certainly is. The ‘other’ colleagues and the CTO who laughed or participated in any form were equally complicit in the act. 

IF you are in the habit of reading Shakespeare, it won’t be a surprise when I tell you that we’ve been discussing harassment issues since as early as 1604. Read Measure for Measure and you will see what I mean.

A very long time ago, I was associated with one of the leading carmakers in the world in a professional capacity. I left the organization because what was once newspaper headlines soon became my reality. After repeatedly informing the right set of people, and the perpetrator himself, I decided to move on from there because not even a finger moved in the direction it was meant to. I am a talented, intelligent, and an ambitious woman, so why waste my time at a place that had no regard or respect for women was the thinking, so I moved on. 

Someone once said, “the behaviour we tolerate, recognize and reward, is the culture we nurture and create.” And that’s precisely the message the company sent out, promoted and rewarded– that it didn’t matter how many times you flouted the law, you were simply above it. When a harasser repeatedly gets away with a slap on the wrist, it tells the person that no matter what he/she does, they will get away with it. That, I believe, is the problem. The second one, as I see it, is when it goes unreported.

The moment I submitted my letter of resignation, I remember the number of women who reached out to me saying they had had similar experiences but were afraid to come forward because they had a lot to lose. Women who were harassed by the same individual and women who were harassed by other men within the organization came forward to express their fear and frustration. For those who took the legal route of registering a formal complaint, they were isolated and weren’t given their due. For those who did not disclose their claims, they eventually left the organization because stress took a toll. This was at a time when the #metoo movement was not in the making. The fact remains that people leave their bosses and eventually the organization, but if it’s a “bad” organization, good or bad managers make little to no difference to a person’s decision to leave. I decided to leave a “bad” organization. 

I remember even to this day sitting across the Head HRs table and having a conversation that left me feeling vulnerable in so many ways. The meeting was arranged to ensure that once I left, I wasn’t going to hold them responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. The company went as far as making it seem like they were letting me go instead of helping fix the problem. They were even willing to pay me three months severance (but never worded it that way) as a gesture of remorse. Had I taken the bait, I’d have a completely different set of problems on my hand. And this is where information is critical. I held power and not the other way around, and I did not hesitate to let them know. Needless to say, after a complete shakedown, I left. 

But, it turned out that the faulty break line was beginning to bleed them, and they saw no choice but to let the predator go. It came to a head when fourteen women (not knowing the other had raised a complaint) at different points registered their grievances with the unit head, with the HRBP, and with teammates about the same person. Did this make newspaper headlines? Nope! Did they register a case against him with the authorities? Nope. All they did was give him a pink slip and let him become someone else’s problem. And that’s precisely what he is at another organization–a continued problem and a festering wound.

I don’t know if we take background checks seriously in our country, but one police check will unearth several misdemeanour charges as well as rape and assault FIR’s on the said individual yet he is hired at another organization in a position where he can hold power over others. Fair? I don’t think so.

Yes, I understand that fear can be one heck of a deterrent. It’s crippling and devastating. Not to mention the toll, all of this takes on your mental and physical well-being. You feel everything is at stake when you are dangling between wanting to report it and wanting to make your peace, but report it you must. 

This isn’t a rant where I begin to shred big corporate organizations for not handling harassment ethically and lawfully. This post is about how to take power back into your hands when you think you’ve hit rock-bottom.

Power is a funny thing: it derives its legitimacy from group recognition and sustains itself by the threat of exclusion. None of us wants to be left out. I suppose high school cliques are excellent examples of that ‘club’ atmosphere. The cool kids always had it made because they ‘belonged’ there. But work isn’t highschool. It’s the real deal. So when these ‘boys clubs’ keep your access out, you decide you want to create your own because their worth is entirely dependent on how they can control access.

So the best way around it isn’t to participate in the power structures it creates – the systems of selection, obeisance, and reward – but to go around them and create your own. 

How do you do that?

Speak up

It is rampant. A lot more than you’d imagine. Make it known at get-go the behaviours you will not tolerate. “I raise my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard – we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”  Raise your voice and make it heard each time those behaviours come to light; however difficult it might seem. Each time a coworker passed a sexist or lewd joke about another colleague, I made it very clear that it was not acceptable and walked away. Yes, I was excluded from the ‘boys club’, but it eventually paid off because the male colleagues knew what I considered acceptable workplace humour and what I did not. 

Focus on your success

Nothing should get in the way of your professional growth and success. You aren’t there because you want a walk in the park. You are there to grow. Choose your battles carefully. Harassment is a battle that is not easy, but it’s a necessary one to fight for yourself and for the ones who will suffer if you don’t. 

Culture Matters

It’s not just the simple Indianism of “cultureless peoples,” it is the plain truth. If a company is yet to figure out its culture, then it’s as good as doomed. There is little you will accomplish in such a place. These are precisely the places that become breeding grounds for different kinds of concerns. The most common risk factors for sexual harassment include workplaces with a strict hierarchical power dynamic where men outnumber women and most supervisors are male. 

Make It Known

It is imperative that the matter is reported within a certain time frame. Delays in reporting or personal pleas asking the perpetrator to stop will only be used as ammunition later.

Harassment Happens Not Only in Person But on Online Platforms too

The quotes at the beginning of this article are not imaginary ones. These are real quotes by people who were in command and they made these statements knowing fully well what they were saying. And this sense of entitlement set it in because very few people drew the line and let them know that it was not acceptable.

Interestingly, LinkedIn, has become a ground for such a thing and most people who think posing as potential contractors for projects can say what they want to don’t understand what they stand to lose.

Abuse in any form is wrong. It’s not normal human behaviour. Abusers have deep, disturbing psychological issues that have gone unaddressed. Understand that it is not your fault but one where the responsibility lies entirely with the abuser.

You are not alone! You have more people who will give you the support and strength you need. You only need to reach out. Sometimes it might seem like a dead-end road, but there is always a light at the end. I know. I’ve been there.