My academic scores are not good – what can I realistically do?


This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.

Part 1 described the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.

Part 2 described  my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.

Part 3 talked about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

Part 4 (this blog) suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.

Part 4: what can I do

I am a smart person and I know that I can fix this problem. What I need is to examine all the options and determine the right one. For this I need to do the following:

1. Understand that I am not alone. Ask for emotional support.

There is no shame in asking for help. I cannot do it alone. Especially when I am in the middle of trauma and my emotions have taken over my brain. There is no way that I an capable of rational decision making.   

Many of us have similar problems. If not in one subject, then in another. All of us are traumatised but afraid to ask for help due to shame, ego, guilt and fear.

There are two types of help that I need:

  • help me handle my emotions
  • help me handle the actual problem in academics

There are a large number of persons who are willing to help. Let me examine who can help.

Parents are the last person I am willing to ask for help. This is because we believe that they do not understand what we are going through. We think that we will bring down their hopes and aspirations if we do not put up a brave and confident front. We also think that they treat us like children and give us the same advice which we have heard so many times and even tried to do. If we tell them what we have done to fix the situation, they will ask us to try harder. Anyway, they do not understand the subject, and therefore they are useless.

Having said that, mothers are better than fathers in terms of understanding and giving emotional support. Fathers tend to give generic solutions, mothers tend to understand the education. However, both tend to fix the problem by offering platitudes. To be fair to them, they have not been trained to be counsellors, and they too are learning to deal with my emotional ups and downs.

Peers will give us emotional support by saying the following things:

  • Don’t worry, this is not necessary for placement
  • It is not my fault
  • The teacher is a horrible one, and he has taken something personally
  • Students have cheated, and I was morally correct not to cheat
  • Let us distract ourselves by movies / sports / books / internet etc.

All the above help us alleviate our current emotional turmoil but do nothing to help with the future. There are other well-meaning peers who will tell me what to do by describing what they do in such situations. But I am not the same as them and this may not work.

I can form a group of like minded people who are bad in certain subjects and we can help each other. However, the spectre of relative grading comes up and such groups disband pretty quickly, specially if one seems to be doing better than others.

It is better to ask for professional help. Professionals are trained to help me handle my emotions and they are pledged to secrecy, unless I am a danger to myself or others. As I said before, there is no stigma attached to asking for help. Most educational institutes have counselling centres and guarantee anonymity. If they do not have such facilities, I can go to the internet and look for emotional counselling. Much of this counselling is free and it helps me  by having someone not connected to me look at my thoughts and challenge them. The fact that I have to respond to these challenges helps in dealing with the emotions.

Such professionals have also dealt with similar situations and therefore can empathise as well as offer me various alternatives that others have taken. Good professionals do not offer alternatives on problems that they do not know much about, but they can help me go through the process of finding alternatives.

In India, people think that if I am going for counselling, I am incapable or mad. That is not correct. I am unable to deal with a situation and am asking a professional (not an amateur) for help. I call a plumber to fix my taps, not a friend who has never done this before. Nor do I try to deal with it myself. I do not put my head under the pillows and hope the problem will go away.

If I am not comfortable with a counsellor, I can always ask for another reference. Most good counsellors understand that if a rapport has not been built, solutions will not be forthcoming. Therefore they will gladly refer me to someone else, without taking umbrage. If they get upset, all the more reason for me to get another person.

2. Run the numbers

When I am doing badly and am emotional, I tend to over-exaggerate my academic failure. When I do badly in one subject, I assume that I will do badly in all subjects. If I do badly in one exam or one assignment of a subject, I assume that I will do bad in all exams and assignments of that subject.

Sometimes I can be overly optimistic in the first term. I may believe that the first term is a hiccup, an aberration and that I can get very good grades in the second term. Maybe so. Sometimes we are late starters, sometimes we take time to adjust to the academic level, the language, the food etc. But if after the second term, I have not got good grades, then it is time to be realistic and realise that maybe the competition is such that I cannot get good grades, specially in relative grading. I need to do risk mitigation.

In order to mitigate risk, I need to look at my subjects and analyse them. I need to know that some subjects have more credit than others and therefore impact grades more. If I make a spreadsheet of all the subjects, expected grades and then look at my CGPA, I may realise that by focussing on improving my grades on some subjects by one point, I can actually get a decent result. If I am in the second semester, and there are 6 more semesters to go, I can deal with each future semester at a time, and focus on those subjects / electives that can bump up my grade.

Within a subject, I need to see the relative weight of assignments, class participation, exams and group assignments. I also need to ask the right seniors (who did well in that subject) what is required to get a good grade in that subject. Armed with that information, I can figure out where I can do better and where I cannot control my result.

A relative grading means I need to to figure out who are worse that me, and ensure that I am better than a certain percentage of people. So instead of focussing on being the best, I have to start with being in the middle and slowly work my way to the top.

3. Focus on my strengths: academic or social

What are my strengths? That is determined by what my goals are. For certain goals like higher studies, good CGPA is a strength, for other goals it is not. For example, if I plan to go for civil services, or an MBA which is based on an entrance exam, the focus is on getting a good score in that entrance exam, not the CGPA.

The purpose of graduation determines how I look at academic results. If I plan to go abroad for higher studies, I have to know which colleges to target and the basis of getting admissions / scholarships. If the basis is purely academics, I focus accordingly. if it is work experience, then I get as much experience I can, while studying.    If the basis is an entrance exam, I focus from day 1 on scoring well in that exam. If the basis is recommendations, I focus on that. I need to be goal centric.

If I plan to get a job, I see that there are 2 types.

One is the cerebral type, which requires brainwork. These are jobs like programming or research. By the way, programming has been made into a factory and therefore may not require brains, as algorithmic creativity may not be important. It depends on the company I join.

The other type of jobs require social interaction. If I want to become a manager, it is not my technical expertise, but my ability to get things done that is important. For such jobs, evidence of leadership and project management are more important.

CGPA is not a goal. CGPA is the means to a goal. There are many paths to a goal.

If I make CGPA as a goal, it achieves nothing except ego satisfaction in the short term.

Note that I talked about strengths. Enhancing strengths take less effort that getting rid of weaknesses. If I know what is my weakness, I can work around it, or surround it with strengths. By getting rid of weaknesses, I may simply be opening the door for other weaknesses. Better to have familiar enemies around us and focus on increasing our friends.

4. Manage expectations of stakeholders

There are many persons who are interested in my success or my failure. They can actively help or prevent us from being successful. Sometimes they may be passive and do not give help when needed. They all want something. When we do not give them what they want, they become angry at us. I myself want a lot of things from myself. When I do not get it, I get angry with myself. Since so many entities are wanting different types of results from me, I need to juggle all these expectations.

It is important to list down all the stakeholders who want something from me and determine if they will help us or stop us. For example, a peer may help or stop us getting the grade I want.

For each stakeholder, I need to list down what they need from me. Parents may want us to study for many reasons. They may want to feel good in front of their peers. They may want you to get a good job. They may want to get a good life partner for me. I have to understand what they want and why they want from me. I also need to determine whether they will help me get what I want, or they can prevent me from getting what I want.

Based on this, I can make a list of the top 3 or 4 stakeholders who are important to me. With each of them, I need to understand and negotiate what they want and what I want from them.

If I know what they want, I can determine if CGPA is the only way to achieve that goal. If not, then evidently there other other ways to achieve the same goal.

I need to also remember that an agreement done today does not mean it is written in stone. All of us are subject to influence and all agreements can be changed, sometime without our knowing it. Therefore confirmation from the stakeholders is needed at various times.

5. Find choices

The goal is the most important thing. Once I know what the goal is, I have choices. For each goal to be achieved, some sub-goals have to be achieved. For each of these sub-goals, other sub-goals are needed. Once I have the list of sub-goals, I can determine many ways to achieve a sub-goal. When I have choices, I am not depressed, because I have action items.

For example, to get a scholarship, I think a good CGPA is important. So a good CGPA is a goal. In order to achieve a good CGPA, what do I need?

I need to determine:

  • what defines a good CGPA (now the stakeholder here is no longer my parents, but the college I am applying for. So parents reaction is no longer relevant)
  • a list of all of the courses, their credits entered into a spreadsheet
  • a list of all the electives, their credits and how easy it is to crack that subject
  • the possible minimum target scores that is required to  get the target CGPA
  • List of those seniors who cracked the course
  • List of professors and their grading methodology (are they hard or soft, what weight on assignments, mid term, end term etc, what expectations in terms of answers)
  • Past papers by the professors on those subjects

This is only a partial list, but even by doing this, I suddenly have a lot of choices as to how to approach my studies. have a better strategy to focus my studies, rather than randomly reading lots of books and notes). My chances of improving my grades become higher.

6. Connect the dots

The above topic is also a url to the definition of connect the dots. I cannot determine the future as a certainty. Whenever we do an action and it impacts people, they react in unpredictable ways – sometimes to help, sometimes to prevent. Therefore, any action done to reach a goal creates a series of reactions, and we have no idea how that helps or impedes in reaching a goal.

Steve Jobs said in the 2005 Stanford commencement address,

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”

If I look at my past,I realise that everything that I have done ultimately brought me to this point. Therefore, everything that I do today will impact the future, somehow.  The question is, what should I do. And two answers  comes to my mind.

a. “Maximum benefit to maximum stakeholders”. This means that if good CGPA leads to something that will give maximum benefit to maximum number of stakeholders, I should focus on CGPA.

b. break down the goals to sub goals and connect the dots. If I want a good CGPA, I need to connect the dots so that whatever I do will lead to a good CGPA. So I need to look at all the actions I did as a reaction to a bad CGPA, and figure out if these actions helped in getting a good CGPA. If not, these dots do not connect.

7. Meditate

The benefits of meditation are numerous. Meditation is not connected to religion, but to becoming aware, at all time, of what is going on inside me and outside me. The more I know what is going on, the less will be my knee-jerk reaction. Meditation also improves focus. The benefits of meditation can be found in this article.


I have moved from short term solutions focussing seeking help to long term solutions of meditation to formulate a strategy for dealing with academic angst. I hope this set of articles has been useful. Please give me feedback as to what has been your experience in dealing with academic angst.

My academic scores are not good – I try to fix it and fail!!!


This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.

Part 1 describes the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.

Part 2 describes  my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.

Part 3 (this blog) talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.

Part 3: My reaction to the bad results

I start to deny that there is anything wrong. I assume that this is a fluke and I can fix this problem. I feel guilty about the parents who are funding my education. I put in additional effort in studies, sacrificing sleep, all social interactions, games and sports, etc. and give my 100 per cent to studies. But the results do not come up to expectations. I copy other successful students behaviours and mannerisms, study like them, make notes like them, look at their assignments, and try all means to do well academically.

I negotiate with everyone including myself. With friends to teach me and to give me support. With faculty to give me some hints on how to crack the course. With God to provide divine intervention and give easy questions in exams. I butter everyone, threaten who I can and try to use the stick and carrot approach on others and myself to motivate everyone to make me better.

I see others copying, doing illegal things and wonder if it is worth doing it. If I am afraid, I do not do it and hold them in contempt. If I accept the risk, I do it. Sometimes I get away with it, sometimes I do not.

I withdraw more and more from the support circle of well meaning but judging peers and parents, as I do not trust them to give good advice or support. They always seem to be judging me or making my life harder. I turn towards and seek the support of those who are similar to me, or worse off than me, or who do not judge me and who accept me as who I am, and use them as a standard to support my self esteem. I imbibe their attitudes and standards and deteriorate further.

Being alone brings negative thoughts in my mind, so I distract myself with friends and activities. I depend on these to stimulate me and keep me occupied.  If they are not there, I have the internet, the movies and the social media. Along with these, I do substance abuse, (cigarettes, alcohol, glue, soft drugs, hard drugs) which either make me feel powerful and socially accepted or make me forget my worries and grind my thoughts into oblivion.

I sometimes make an effort to pull myself together, because I feel guilty and I cannot see myself as a failure, but I do not know how to prioritise, as so many things have to be done and all of them seem equally important in my mind. So I try a few things,  without much effort or motivation, therefore fail and move into the same negative spiral. Ultimately, I give up and live life from day to day, doing the bare minimum to survive.

I feel ashamed of myself. Apart from parents, teachers and peers beating me up, I, too, beat myself up. I have conversations with myself about all my faults. I tell myself that I am no good, an imposter, a liar, incompetent etc.

I  become paranoid, and believe the whole ecosystem is conspiring to thwart my intentions and I withdraw from others as well as myself, and try to sink into oblivion or distraction. I extrapolate my academic failures, predict bad future scores and start fearing the bleak future I have created for myself.

I hide my scores from my friends and family and lie about them. I give reasons for the bad scores and promise that I will do better.

I focus only on those things that I can do well, be it academic subjects or extra curricular activities, in order to keep myself busy and to recover some semblance of self esteem. I justify the inordinate amount of time spent by saying that these activities make me a well-rounded individual. Gradually, I lose all focus on academics. I also use arguments like “Most entrepreneurs did not do well in school or college” citing examples of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

I look for support and answers on the internet, looking at sites that promise to make me smarter, that justify my failures, give me excuses, asking me to accept myself. I look at self help sites that promise to improve my memory, teach me time management and those that give me summaries of subjects. I look for instant solutions, since I have wasted so much time. Hypnotism, Visualisation, Meditation – all these promise great results. I try them for a time, but since they do not give me the results as promised, I ditch them all. I move from one experiment to another, and none of them work. I read motivational books, watch motivational movies (specially the Hollywood ones where one brainwave makes a difference to everyone’s life in 2 hours). Sometimes these give us some motivation, but for a short time.

I do not ask for support or help from real people near us. This is considered an admittance of failure, that I am not capable of dealing with my problems. It also brings to the notice of the administration that I have a problem or can be a problem. There is a social stigma attached to asking for help, either with the peer group or with a professional.

I reach out to anonymous people on the internet, asking them for solutions, and reading their answers, looking for something that will dramatically change my life overnight. Most of the answers seem like platitudes and none of them give the answer we seek. I have heard them all and read them all.

Nothing works. I swing between frustration and anger, anxiety and fear and depression, sometimes all these emotions at the same time.

Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. 

My academic scores are not good – The reality shock and the trauma


This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.

Part 1 describes the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.

Part 2 (this blog) describes  my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.

Part 3 talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.

Part 2: The Shock

When I come to the new institute, the following things happen:

  • The teachers are teaching a bigger crowd. Their focus is not just on teaching, but promoting themselves in the academic field. They are focussed on writing papers, doing research, completing their doctoral / post doctoral thesis, getting projects and being part of committees. I am not saying this is wrong. This is needed, as the professors have an academic career in front of them, and they need to do all the above to progress in their professional life. The teachers have neither time, nor the inclination to personally look after my needs. They do not behave like my school teachers (now I miss my school teachers!).
  • The subjects are all new, and the standard suddenly goes up by a notch or two. The method and speed of teaching changes. There is an expectation that I have to study a lot on my own. The number of courses go up, the type of assignments and exams are no longer mug-and-vomit and require a higher level of thinking and reasoning.
  • Instead of a subject being taught in one or two years, there is a semester or a trimester system, and each subject is taught in its entirety in this short period. Furthermore, each of these subjects become a building block for subsequent subjects. So incompetence in a subject may lead to incompetence in subsequent subjects.
  • The same subject, depending on our capability and the teacher’s capability, can become boring or tough. Either way, there is a tendency to avoid the subject and focus on others which are interesting or easier.
  • I am an young adult and do not stay at home. So there is no monitoring. There is complete freedom and I overdo the freedom. I spend time with friends, pursuing whatever catches my fancy. My habits change, I eat differently (read junk food), sleep later and less and get side tracked with other diversions. There is no one to motivate me by “Saam” (explaining), “Daam” (bribing and cajoling), “Dand” (punishing) or “Bhed” (comparing with others). Since I can escape all these methods, I gleefully run away from all methods of motivation. When things do not go as per expectations, I live in denial or in hope for a rosy future.
  • Parents are also not there to support and help in structuring my productivity. I am becoming an young adult, and I mostly refuse their support as I want to find my own path, and I believe that I can handle my own problems. Furthermore, parents treat me like a school child and use the same methods of motivating me. I can see through their strategy and do not like their attitude.
  • In school, a board exam means comparison with hundreds of thousands of aspirants. There may not be relative grading. So, in school, I do not have a tendency to compare or worry about my academic ranking. In college, I am compared with at most 150 other competitors and I know where I stand. If there is relative grading, there is an automatic comparison and hierarchy. Be it professors or parents or peers, everyone judges me  in terms of my academic ranking.
  • If the class is smaller, because of my specialisation or electives, then the comparison becomes more apparent. If the bottom rankers are automatically failed, I may get a “Failed” score, and I will be judged on this result by the entire universe, including the recruiters coming to campus. I will have to explain to everyone, why I am dumb.
  • I was a “frog in a well” in my home town. I compared only with my peers in school and I did not realise that there were people in the world who are smarter, who have been taught better, what have better strategies of studying, who are better motivated. Suddenly, I am not good enough. My home town thinks I am  brilliant, but here I am nothing.
  • A lot of changes are happening to me and to the environment and I am overwhelmed. I am going through adolescence, with hormones changing the body, and the emotions. The opposite gender has its attractions. Friendship change. Peers pull you down. Support comes from unexpected places.  Respect of the peers is very important to me, and I change my habits and my thinking to be accepted by them. I may get “bad” habits.
  • My time is not my own. At home, once I am home, my time is controlled. Here, peers can come to my room any time, distract me any time and force me to change my habits. They do things behind my back, and disturb me and distract me and make me do things I do not want to do.
  • I joined the graduate / post graduate course in the hope that this course will help me get a job or determine my future. I find that I am not doing well academically, socially, emotionally and therefore I doubt my capability to determine my future. I hear horror stories from my seniors about placement and the job scene. The professors and the parents add to the clamour by painting a bleak future if we do not study. My parents have a lot of expectations from me, they are paying for my education and they expect some decent returns on their investment.

In short,

  1. I have doubts about my capability
  2. The environment is more competitive and no longer conducive
  3. My attitude towards academics, peers the teachers and the future is not positive.

Part 3 talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

My academic scores are not good – What were my expectations when I joined?


This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.

Part 1 describes the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.

Part 2 describes my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.

Part 3 talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.

My Expectations

When I join an academic institution, be it undergraduate or post graduate, I expect the following:

  • If I were good in academics in the past, I expect that my previous academic excellence and habits will continue to help me in the subsequent years
  • If I were NOT good in academics, I expect that I now have an opportunity to start with a clean slate, and not allow the past to determine the future.

If I were good in academics:

  • I had good teachers / tutors. I maybe lucky to have a teacher who could explain concepts very well, have patience and understanding, sometimes force and sometimes cajole me to give my best. The teacher created a scaffold and gradually removed the scaffold as I became more competent. I was therefore motivated.
  • I liked the subject and found it easy or not boring. Therefore, I gave more time to the subject that I found competent to handle.
  • I had good parents, who motivated me, pushed me, cajoled me, gave me structure and showed the future. They also held my hand
  • I had good peer support, who did not pull me down, who gave me respect, accepted me as I was and did not compete.
  • I had good genes, and I was able to think well, grasp concepts, have patience, could strategise and plan my academics.
  • I could see how academics would lead to a rosy future, and I believed that I could achieve it

In short, I had

  1. the ability and capability
  2. a good environment and
  3. the right attitude

If I were bad in studies,

  • I could blame myself, the teachers, the parents, the subjects whatever.
  • I could accept that I was good in sports, socialising, but not in mugging for exams.
  • I know that my history of academics in my home town, possibly the same teachers and the same school, same peers and their beliefs about me also determined how I was treated and examined. Now I can create my own persona, without any past references.
  • I believe that since the new college is a different location with different friends, and since I am not stifled by the environment, I can do better and start afresh.
  • I can develop new abilities, I can adapt to a new environment and can motivate myself.

Part 2 describes  my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact on my performance.


On the loss of a child…


Today is a tragic day. One of my favourite students messaged me in the morning that he lost his month-old son due to internal seizures. And I have been crying since then. I feel for his wife; for his pain and helplessness watching a month-old innocent boy, who has not harmed anyone,  a baby that they have brought into this world, for whom they had envisaged a future and a life of togetherness, some one who made their family complete, leave them after 30 days of joy.

This post is more an outpouring of my grief and an attempt to put myself together.

My son, when 2 years old, was once in the hospital with ITP, and my family and I stood there helpless as he was hooked up to drips and immunoglobulin. This feeling of helplessness, when we see something happening and we are powerless to control it, reminds us of the frailty of our control in the scheme of things we call life. We dream of a future, and in one snap of the fingers, that dream vanishes into thin air.

Each time I stand in front of a class and beg them to wear helmets and not go joyriding when drunk, I remember my feeling of helplessness, and the burden of a father who is supposed to be all powerful, whose duty and joy is to provide happiness to his child and who is sitting far away, trusting his child to do the right thing. And I envisage that same father, frail and wrought with emotion, carrying the body of his child, the child that he carried in his arms when alive, the child that a mother carried in her stomach before it came into this world. And I see that first jouney – carrying the child to his home and then I see the last journey, carrying the same child towards a fnal resting place – his new home.

No child can ever understand  that fear, that helplessness and that futility that a father feels when he finds that all his requests, pleas, admonitions and shouting is in vain. When the child is alive he communicates with the child, when the child is sick he communicates with God. He requests, bribes, pleas, admonishes and shouts, to either the child or to God, but all this falls on deaf ears, resulting in a tragedy.

But when the child is dead, who does the father communicate with? Himself.

A father thinks, “Could I have done something different? Did I do something wrong? Could I have prevented this? If only I had done this! I am not fit to be a father!” A father blames himself, because it was his responsibility to make his child safe. He was supposed to protect his child. Every father promises this at the birth of his child, holding a frail life in his hands, knowing that he is now responsible for this life forever. And when the child dies, a father feels guilty that he failed his child, somehow. “How can my child die before me…I was supposed to take care of him. I was supposed to die earlier than him”

When parents leave their child in my care, I as a teacher, am supposed to teach that child life skills. When the child does not learn those, I feel the same sense of guilt and failure, that I could have done something different, that I have done something wrong, and maybe I am not fit to be a teacher. I also feel that I have broken a parent’s trust, who believed that I would help a child make his future.

Unlike death, in class, the child is present. Anger can be directed at the child. When a child is dead, who should the anger be directed to? It is mostly directed at self. A father is angry at himself, and at the world. Even in class, if a teacher does not direct his anger at the student, he has to direct on himself, as he considers himself a failure.

Here I sit, thinking as a teacher about this student that I could not teach him fortitude, and as a surrogate father to this student feeling helpless in his grief, feeling empathy for his feelings, and extrapolating that feeling as a father to all my children seeing a dismal future based on irresponsible behaviour, and I weep anew.  I think about the senseless loss of life and opportunities, the sense of helplessness and powerlessness to determine a child’s future and I wonder what to do.

As a counsellor, I am supposed to hold my feelings in check and help a counsellee regain emotional balance. But how does one counsel someone who has lost a child when I too get emotional, imagining the loss of any one of my children, including my students – past, present and future?

I feel so helpless.

Why do suicides outnumber any other form of death?


My discussions with people of my generation indicate that they believe this to be very low or ignorable. Joiner believes (and shows by statistics) that self harm is one of the most common causes of death. I believe that in India, (as in other places), people downplay this as they do Sexual Abuse. And we probably do that because we do not know how to handle both.  As a matter of fact,both are increasing alarmingly.

Thomas Joiner, in this article, postulates a few reasons for suicide. Please do read the whole article. It is well written.

To summarise, “People will die by suicide when they have both the desire to die and the ability to die.” (quote by Joiner). The desire to die has two components: when I believe (a) I am alone and (b) I am a burden. This is shown by the following diagram:

The interpersonal theory of suicide

The three conditions of suicide, when looked at separately, are conditions that we suffer each day. We repeatedly have

  • feelings of loneliness,
  • feeling of inadequacy and being a burden and
  • suicidal feelings.

But only when the three come together that it becomes alarming.

It starts with loneliness and a need to belong. With the advent of facebook and social media, theoretically, it would imply that we have a lot of friends. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are,” says John Cacioppo, a professor at the University of Chicago and the world’s foremost expert on loneliness. The more face time you have, the less the loneliness.

The second is the need to be useful and more importantly, the need to provide. With the growing unemployment, this is becoming important. For the younger generation, who have the need to provide for their parents, this can become deadly. Comparison with peers about  salaries and savings coupled with low self-esteem can add fuel.

The third is the capability and the means. I will not dwell on this as it is too painful.

If you feel you need help, or someone around you needs help, please reach out. Other things that you can do:

  1. Create face time. If you need to talk to a counsellor please do so. Smile at friends and strangers. Make them feel that they belong.
  2. Learn additional skills that will help you get a job in a different career. I started as a software guy and ended as a teacher, and now a coach.
  3. Do not compare with others.Parents may talk about needing your support, but typically it is not financial support (most parents can fend for themselves), but they need emotional support. as do all of us.



3 ways to increase Self Esteem


Suppose I feel pretty proud of winning a prize. I feel on top of the world and I want to share my happiness with others.

If others tell me that this prize has no value, or do not reciprocate my happiness, I have two choices:

  1. I can feel terrible because others did not value this prize, and therefore the value of the prize has decreased
  2. As long as I feel good about my achievement, I need not consider others’ valuation.

People with high self esteem value themselves and their achievements and do not care of others’ opinions, unless it is beneficial to them.

On the other hand, people with low self esteem depend on others to give themselves and their achievements some value. They depend on others’ approval. If people tell us we are no good or we did not do good, we feel bad.

Another example of this is how we treat fortune.

If I am a person of low self esteem, then if good things happen to me, I shrug my shoulders and say it was luck. If bad things happen to me, I say it must be my fault.

However, if I was a person with high self esteem, I would be attribute good luck to my efforts and bad luck to fate, that this did not work out.

Therefore, in order to increase self esteem we need to do the following:

  1. Make a list of things that we are good at (skills) and what we have done (achievements). Use our friends to help augment this list. Paste this list to the mirror and read it every day.
  2. Make a list of things we want to achieve and create a glide path. An aeroplane, while landing, has an optimal glide path. If it is descending too rapidly, it may crash; if it is too shallow, it will overshoot the target. If we create a target level of our desire, and the time frame, we create a glide-path. Just like a pilot does course correction based on the numbers on his instrument panel, we need to have some way of measuring if we are on-target and therefore make course corrections. These small successes give us confidence that we will reach the target.
  3. What we are (traits) is not what we do (action). Each action has a consequence. Whenever we act, people will react. Sometimes their reaction is favourable to our cause, and sometimes they are not. If we can control their reaction, we have a better chance of success. But we cannot control everything, since we do not know who will react in which way. Therefore, at best, we can only improve the probability of  our success. Since our success and failure is uncertain, we cannot attribute it to our capabilities and therefore should not feel guilty about it.

The result of this is:

  • increased awareness of our traits,
  • understanding that our traits have nothing to do with our failures and
  • that our value is based on how we see ourselves.

Desiderata – A 1927 prose poem giving Advice on Emotional Intelligence


Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

Please also see

If by Rudyard Kipling

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

6 Characteristics of Relationships and How to Maintain Them


When two persons enter into a relationship (be it professional or personal), the following interaction happens.

Diagram of a Relationship

There are three distinct areas – the two persons having unique identities A, B and a third shared identity (C).

This is a very important concept – that the relationship is separate from the persons who create the relationship. Just as we invest in ourselves, we have to invest in the relationship also. A relationship is like a child born out of two persons coming together, and the child has a unique and distinct personality from the two parents. The way parents feed the child (emotionally and spiritually) determines how the child grows.

Characteristics of relationships

  1. We invest time in a relationship. Since time is limited, the amount of time spent eats into personal time and this creates issues. The time can be willingly given, or forcibly taken. The time spent is at the expense of other activities and these have repercussions. We believe that if time is being invested, it should be utilised well. If I perceive that the other person is physically present, but not emotionally there, I may feel the time to be wasted.
  2. We invest emotional content in a relationship. We create memories of good and bad times, we fight, make up and we spend quality time together. Each incident has an emotional content that either nurtures or detroys the relationship.
  3. We have multiple relationships at the same time. We have a professional relationship at work, a semi-professional one with colleagues, another set of relationships with friends, with parents and with our spouse. the limited time creates a continuous tussle for prioritisation.
  4. Each relationship has a purpose and fulfils some need. If the need is fulfilled or cannot being fulfilled, the relationship dies. Sometimes because of social pressure, we continue in a relationship for the sake of appearances. This happens professionally as well as personally.
  5. A relationship is of a finite duration. It may extend to the lifetime of one person, or for a smaller duration. Sometimes, one person leaves the relationship, due to death or change of priorities. Other times, needs change or are satisfied and there is no need for the relationship. Eventually when the relationship dies, we suffer a sense of loss. We retain the emotional content and remember the good times. All loss leads to a feeling of grief and we go through 5 stages of grief.
  6. The nature and the boundaries of a relationship changes. Specially when in love, we sometimes put all other relationships at low priority and invest everything in one relationship.   This happens especially if we believe that this one relationship will fulfil all our needs. Sometimes we start changing the relationship and want more out of a relationship than what the other person wants to give. We start ignoring boundaries. We start taking the relationship for granted. We force things.

How to maintain a relationship

  1. Understand the finite nature and the changing nature of a relationship. A person with a negative mindset may conclude that there is no use of a relationship. A positive person would rather enjoy the relationship and the experience while it lasts. We also need to understand that the initial boundaries and the time spent on a relationship will change. We should be prepared for it, and deal with it. See my blog entry on Acceptance and Resigation.
  2. A smart investment manager creates a portfolio of low-yield stocks that have guaranteed returns as well as instruments giving high returns but having more risk. He actively looks at the value of the portfolio and juggles his investments to match his objectives. He spreads his risk and monitors daily. A bad manager will have a large dependency on one stock, and may not actively monitor, taking his portfolio for granted. Similarly, we need to understand that different needs are satisfied by different relationships and depending on one relationship to satisfy all needs can create serious damage and is high risk.
  3. A relationship is not the person. We may respect the person, and we need to respect ourselves, and not blame the success or failure of the relationship on the persons creating the relationship. A relationship has a life of its own, different from the life of the persons involved. You cannot, individually, take the blame not the credit for the relationship.

3 Questions on Exploitation in Relationships


The purpose of life is happiness.

If we are not happy, we cannot think of making others happy. A win-win situation is when we are happy and others are happy. If we are unhappy while making other happy, it is a lose-win situation. Being unhappy and making others unhappy is totally a lose-lose scenario.

Happiness is a result of satisfying our needs.

Selfish Needs

We begin our quest for happiness by satisfying self-centric needs. We focus on our personal needs – food, clothing, shelter, security. These needs do not need interaction with other human beings.

The next level of self-centric needs requires interacting with a select group of people. These are the need for love, affection and membership of a group. The need to belong to a group also helps satisfy security needs. When these needs are satisfied, we feel happy.

All the above are self-oriented, and we keep moving from one to the other, since these keep changing.

This is also a win-lose relationship, as our need fulfilment MAY be contingent on others’ unhappiness.

Symbiotic Needs

We realise that to satisfy some needs, we also have to give something in return. The relationship moves from ‘taking’ to ‘give-and-take’, and a negotiation happens whether both parties in a relationship are giving equally. This is a matter of perception, and if one party feels he is not getting enough, then there are issues.  We are buying the satisfaction of our needs by giving something of worth to the other person. This may seem like a barter, as there is no common currency and the valuation of the relationship is subjective.

By the way, ‘relationships’ do not just mean emotional couples, but include other one-to-one (boss – subordinate) and one-to-many relationships (member’s relationship with the group). If the relationship is based on symbiotic needs, then the perception of what one gets from this relationship determines the quality of the relationship.

This agreement is still selfish, and such a relationship and resulting happiness is short-lived, if one person feels he is being short-changed or his needs will be better satisfied elsewhere. We start looking for happiness with another person, another boss, another job and another group.

The need of one person in the relationship can become so selfish, that he/she holds on to the relationship with both hands, suffocating the relationship and the other person. This creates unhappiness and results in alienation. Again, this can happen in couples, in jobs and in families. There is no free will and can become exploitative, if  one person depends on the other.

Unselfish needs

If I loved a  bird, my first instinct is to keep it in a cage. I am happy, the bird may not be. We may rationalise this situation by saying that the bird’s needs for food and shelter are being satisfied. We assume that these are the only needs.

If I release the bird, two things can happen.

  • The bird flies away, never to return or
  • the bird returns and stays with me out of free will.

Either way, the bird is happy.

To really give someone happiness and therefore achieve true happiness, we need to free the bird.

Fear of exploitation

While discussing this philosophy with friends, one friend said,

“I am sure even Mother Teresa would have felt bad when she would have seen someone buying liquor with the money given to him for Food !!”

Yes, it is true that we feel disappointed when people exploit us. I have a few thoughts on that.

  1. A drunkard is a victim, not a villain. He did not willingly become a drunkard, in order to face social stigma. He now has needs, psychological and physiological, and he believes these can be satisfied by liquor. We are judging from our frame of reference, which says that food is more important, and our money should be used as WE deem fit.
    This is conditional giving, not free giving. Once we give the alcoholic the money, we have relinquished our hold on the act of giving. If we were so convinced that food was more relevant, we could have offered food instead of money.
    Such people are entitled to compassion, not judgement
  2. How many friends do we have, and how many have exploited us? If the number is low, should we change our attitude and become cynical, to the detriment of our positivity and therefore impacting our other relationships?
  3. Does this cynicism mean that we are still in symbiotic need fulfilment stage? Does it mean that we are disappointed that we are not getting enough in return – our need to feel wanted, of gratitude, or expiation of some guilt?

I know that is is difficult in this materialistic world to be truly altruistic, and we will succumb to selfish and symbiotic need fulfilment. I just wish that we do this knowingly, with the understanding that this happiness is short-lived.

Another friend questioned if I was doing the right thing by offering coaching sessions for free.

I have moved to that stage of life when selfishness has no value. Yes, I will always need money for sustenance, but not by exploiting someone who has an immediate need and who is asking for help. The business of coaching requires a client to engage in a long term relationship, to develop skills that are helpful in preventing the recurrence of a current problem. Refusing to give first-aid without payment is inhuman.

Please do comment on this article. You comments help me in improving my blog posts and make them more relevant.