Check Yourself: How the Choices You Make Can Serve You (and Those Around You)

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” – Viktor Frankl

Let me take you back ten years. In June 2010, I was on vacation with my brother and mother in London. After my incessant demands to buy “something fancy”, my mum decided to take me and my brother to Oxford Street: the retail Mecca of London. In a beautiful and bustling department store, my mother asked my then ten-year-old brother to remain seated in one corner of the store while we both perused the aisles. A quarter of an hour later, she decided to check on him, and to her alarm, found him missing. In a matter of seconds, and much to my horror, my mother, usually the epitome of Calm and Control, turned into a frantic, sobbing woman running around a massive multistoried building, screeching my brother’s name.

In the moment I watched my mother turn from Dr. Jovial to Mama Hysterical, something in me shifted. Usually the one running to mum to wipe my tears, I calmed, soothed and sat her down, promising that we would not leave the store without her youngest. I went to the security detail manning the store to explain what had happened, and proceeded to comb the place in a methodical manner so as not to miss the scrawny and specky mass that was my brother.
I was too young to realise it at the time, but this incident served valuable insight on how centering oneself – especially when emotions run high – can prove invaluable in the search for solutions.

As human beings, we are driven by our feelings and emotions. We cannot do away with them, and nor should we – after all, to feel is a wonderfully essential part of being human – but we can do our bit to manage them, especially when the stakes are high. In his seminal research on emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman calls this ability self-regulation, which according to him, can free us from becoming “prisoners of our feelings.”

In a business that is modelled around serving clients, self-regulation has never been more important. The service market in India is exceedingly tough to operate in, and Indian clientele is a tough nut to crack, to say the least. For companies and individuals working within the educational ecosystem, there is the added double-whammy of a parent’s investment – mental, emotional and monetary – in their child’s future and well-being.

People who have mastered their emotions are able to roll with the punches. When a client is dissatisfied with a service and makes it known – and they WILL make it known – an individual who is able to self-regulate doesn’t panic and get defensive; instead, they are able to suspend judgment, seek out information, and listen to what the other party has to say. The importance of self-regulation has implications that reach far beyond boardrooms, and can be applied to virtually every emotionally charged situation – from an argument with a partner, to a screaming match between siblings.

Having grown up a “goody-goody” who never got into any trouble at school or home, I naturally become quite distressed in the novel situation of finding myself at the wrong end of a parent’s frustration. Instead of lending them a compassionate ear, I have responded to their agitation with logic and information as my defense. I have shielded myself by shoving in their faces a checklist of everything I have done for their kid – top to bottom, left-to-right.

So what do I do when a parent calls me all-of-a-dither, upset that their child is not getting to where they wanted to go? Is an over-emotional reaction warranted? Of course not – I work hard every day to help my kids reach their dreams. But is their behaviour as parents understandable? Indubitably. And so I have a choice – do I argue their emotions with cold, hard facts or do I allow them to be listened to, commiserated with, and to have a partner in me who works with them to give them the smoothest journey to college they’ll ever have?

In the past, I’ve made certain choices that have not worked out, choices that have been motivated by fear instead of love and compassion. Every day, however, I am hopeful that I will make the right one. Like Dr. Frankl has said: along every path in life we have a choice, and in every choice lies an opportunity for our growth.