Remove the judgment, and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt’: remove the thought ‘I am hurt’ and the hurt itself is removed.Marcus Aurelius
Samir, a friend, had had enough.
For months, the parent company of the startup where he was CEO thwarted all his efforts to scale it up. It was time for him to move on to something better.
While searching for his next pursuit, Samir also wanted to hire and train a Head of Business to run the startup. When he felt she was ready, he would hand over the reins and quit.
It was a noble thought. But we tried to convince him against it for three reasons.
First, the parent company had neglected the startup for quite some time. Nobody knew what its future plans were. So we reasoned that Samir’s suggestion would fall on deaf ears (“Why do we need a Head of Business?”). This would frustrate him further.
Second, even if his bosses agreed, Samir would create a job profile with skills similar to his. And clearly, the parent company didn’t value his skills. So why would they agree to hire a candidate with similar skills?
Finally, hiring and training a Head of Business could leave a trail about Samir’s plans to move on. And his bosses would make his life further miserable.
But Samir was adamant. “It’s against my morals to not leave my startup in safe hands,” he said.
We backed off. Samir went ahead. One of us would be right. We hoped it was him.
But it wasn’t.
Samir’s request got rejected outright. His boss also smelled a rat and bullied some of his confidantes to figure out Samir’s real intentions. When one of them outed his plan to leave. the CMD asked Samir to resign, shattering his plan to quit on a high.
The whole affair was messier than a divorce.
Samir didn’t deserve such treatment after giving the startup everything he had. Then where did things go wrong?
Why We Hurt Ourselves
Samir had the right intentions but failed to marry them with common sense.
He believed that the startup couldn’t function without him. He refused to accept the high probability of things going south by proposing to hire a Head of Business.
Samir let raw emotions govern his perspective.
Our emotions are often raw. They stem from the dominant limbic brain and compel us to think and act in ways that make us miserable.
We assume that anyone who hurts us does so out of malice.
We contort facts to align with our hardcoded beliefs.
We ignore red flags — even those staring us in the face — and land in unpleasant situations over and over again.
We sour relations, overthink, make poor decisions, and hurt ourselves primarily because we let raw emotions govern our lives.
Filtered Emotions are Useful
Ancient Hindu scriptures and Stoics repeatedly emphasized the importance of mastering emotions rather than letting them master us.
In Hinduism, darshan teaches us to observe our own emotions while examining underlying emotions and reasons for actions and outcomes. It trains our minds to make better decisions, to behave better, and become better versions of ourselves.
Stoic philosopher Epictetus said:
Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.
Overthinking enslaves you to toxic emotions and compounds into mental health issues. It’s a trait all unhappy people have in common.
Pondering drains out emotions until only the issue remains, and lets you think clearly. It’s a trait all successful people share.
Raw, unfiltered emotions are toxic. They become obstacles in our path and divert us from our goal. We must refine them through the filter of common sense to turn them into allies.
People often don’t hurt us out of malice. In fact, these misunderstandings often erupt from poor communication (see Hanlon’s Razor). Listening to the other’s perspective brings clarity and peace of mind.
People are not as passionate about something that matters to us. Or their priorities might differ at a given moment. Figuring out what they want makes us empathic and compassionate.
People will eventually forget you after you leave. Things will function even without you. Accepting this will help you move forward and live a meaningful life.
Become a Better Person
Life is not black and white. Every situation is contextual in that many factors influence it. Violence to hurt someone is bad. But violence in self-defense is right.
The world cannot be seen through a singular lens. Step back when you feel rushed. Consciously refuse to give in to extreme emotions — negative or positive. Examine the situation and yourself from different sides.
The quality of actions counts more than their speed. Deliberate slowly. Then act quickly.
When you get better at governing your emotions, you’ll do fewer things that you want to undo. You can leave the paper blank. And if a mark appears on it, you can erase it quickly.