Given the pandemic over the last 6 months and the associated insecurities due to job losses, financial woes, inadequate social interactions, brutal work hours, ever increasing stress, little recreation, and physical activity; aggregated mental health is at an all time low. It is only apt that we explore powerful techniques for business leaders to live with the hidden illness.
This essay explores the Stoic philosophy of negative visualisation for business leaders in their early, middle, and the twilight stages of their careers in order to cope up with this invisible pandemic.
The principle of negative visualisation, derived from Stoicism, an ancient pragmatic philosophy originating in Athens and Rome teaching the development of self control in overcoming destructive emotions, is one of the most powerful mental health techniques deployed by business leaders and sportsmen the world over. Advocates of this technique include Fortune 500 CEOs, entrepreneurs and successful sportsmen, (supposedly MS Dhoni too).
This technique involves asking a series of questions along the lines of what if your next viable option goes wrong, followed by the next best option going wrong till answering the question on what if the worst case scenario comes true? Instead of bringing in despondency, this technique brings in a sense of calmness and reduces the fear of the unknown making an individual prepared for every scenario with a positive outcome being a pleasant surprise.
We explore the power of negative visualisation for leaders in the age group of 45+, millennial workforce in the age group of 25 to their late 30s, and young professionals studying or looking to enter the workforce.
In Indian corporate circles, a professional above the age of 45 is in dangerous territory. They are expected to justify their value everyday, stereotyped to be being past their prime, assumed to be technologically not savvy, and are an unspoken burden to a younger dynamic company. Leaders in this age group, if looking for a job, find it extremely difficult for companies to give them an opportunity. In cricketing parlance, leaders in the 45+ age group are synonymous with cricketers who get dropped at 35 years of age and are looking to make a comeback into the national team.
Leaders in this age group, at the prime of their earning years, although with the burden of kids’ education and healthcare costs of ageing parents and their own health concerns, have to accept their worst case situation that the existing day or week might be their last before they accept forced retirement. It is in their best interest to actively build an alternate plan to pick up potential advisory roles, start your own firm, pursue an alternate career in teaching, being ready to accept a lower profile job, being financially independent or just take up early retirement with dignity.
What about millennial leaders?
Millennial leaders, in their mid 20s to their late 30s, are often burdened with massive EMIs, and have the cushion of entering the peaks of their careers. However, they are likely to be faced with the grim reality of being stuck with miserable jobs they can’t leave as they question their career choices and their unfulfilled dreams. In addition, their high profile employers are likely to create further insecurity by making them always chase targets and making them compete everyday in office.
For millennials, they have to face their worst fear of unfulfilled aspirations (is this what I want to do in life) and being slave-laboured in a career against their choice. In case they are financially sufficient, they should take the plunge immediately and choose a career of their choice to avoid long term regrets and misery. If not, they should explore a lower profile job that provides better benefits overall. Or learn to live with their misery like the Stoicists and treat the job as a necessary transaction.
Woes of young professionals
The Indian education system has prepared young professionals to be picture perfect (cutoffs in premier Delhi University colleges this year are in excess of 99%). Ambitious young achievers are used to acing everything in their academic life, whereas the professional career involves more failures than successes.
As they get ready to enter a premium institute or the workforce, the unrelenting pressure is on them to cross the salary benchmarks set by the previous years. Given the gloomy economic outlook, this is unlikely to materialise. In fact, they have to face their worst fears ranging from not landing the high profile job to not getting a job at all. It doesn’t help them being burdened with education loans in the range of Rs. 20 - 25 lakhs.
To prepare for the worst case, they can explore pursuing another degree, heading back to their hometown to start something afresh or pursue their interest. Financially, it might help to opt for debt restructuring, reaching out to family for financial assistance and doing a low profile job that drives daily sustenance. The workplace need not be the only platform to express creativity and showcase inherent strengths.
In conclusion, the economic difficulties are expected to continue for the next 3-4 quarters before the economic outlook improves. In addition, the upcoming decade is likely to witness a 4-5% long term growth. Opportunities are bound to be limited, with talent supply exceeding quality jobs. It might make sense to remind yourself of the worst case scenario everyday and then move on appropriately.
Views are personal. The author is an MBA from IIM Bangalore and a strategy course holder from INSEAD. He has been a strategy consultant for over a decade. He is the author of three books, ‘Yours Sarcastically’, ‘Satan’s Angels’, and the upcoming ‘Hacks for Life and Career: A Millennial’s Guide to Making it Big’.
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