The Worst Day of My Life – Pravind Paul Mohanadas
I was an account manager at an e-commerce company in 2017. I had already moved out of my home, and was renting a gorgeous apartment in Fort Road. It was a day before my final examinations in university. I had a few modules left to clear and opted to do it part time, which mostly meant cramming for 2 semesters worth of work (it was the University of London, International Program) before the exams.
I wasn’t too fussed, I had hit most of my course requirements without this final module. I’d graduate with honours without even having to pass it.
My mother had an appointment with her neurologist and my parents had in good asian fashion decided that I should sit it out and study. It was sometime in the evening when I received the phone call from my dad. His emotions not withstanding, he dropped to me my moms diagnosis. ALS. Motor Neuron Disease. Both these degenerative nerve conditons I was familiar with thanks to the trifecta of The Ice Bucket Challenge, a childhood obsession with Michael J Fox and geek reverence for Stephen Hawking.
My head went into a tailspin. My housemate and her new squeeze were outside burning through a couple of boxes of boxed wine and through a well intentioned haze of merlot, felt that it was best that I joined them. I couldn’t bring myself to of course. I wanted to isolate myself more than anything and process this. Sober.
A phone call to a friend later, I went to my laptop and pulled up the examination entry slip. It took some time to process what I was looking at. I had only that exam to truly sit for that year. I had known the exam date throughout the entire year. I’d mentioned it at interviews. I’d planned off days and production schedules around it. But there it was, dead wrong.
I was off by a whole day. It wasn’t tomorrow, it was the day after. Now usually when people get the days wrong for exams, its a tragedy usually discovered once the exam has passed (and thus ironically, been failed). Suddenly, I had a whole new day ahead of me to prepare for this exam.
My mood went through an immense gear change, from a horrible feeling of dread at the discovery of my moms illness to a this profound comfort and relief that someone or something greater than myself was out there keeping an eye on me …and that everything would be alright.
How did this happen so quickly? For months before, I would do a morning ritual that I’d discovered via an online course. Every morning I would ask myself to think about what 3 things I was grateful for. It would range from the profound to the trivial, from the large to the miniscule. It’d be the cup in front of me that so benevolently would allow me to hydrate myself in the mornings. Or a heart that beat so often and tirelessly throughout the day. Or the nameless faceless engineers who allowed me to listen to Chillstep as I got dressed in the morning. To get myself into thinking quickly, I’d dive in with a default answer every morning: “air.” My focus would immediately shift to my breath. Standing there, I would feel the nourishing effects of oxygen before my mind rattled off 3 other things I was grateful for.
I had trained my mind to be optimistic during peace time, and when calamity struck my training allowed me to shift moods and to regain my composure in an instant.
Sometime later I would find the same technique employed by the warrior Jocko Willink. A former Navy Seal officer for Seal Task Unit Bruiser, whenever faced with news of some setback from subordinates, his immediate reply would be “good”.
Broke your right hand? Good. Now you’ve got a chance to practice writing with your left hand.
Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to get better.
Didn’t get funded? Good. We own more of the company.
Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good. You can get more experience and build a better resume.
Got injured? Good. Needed a break from training.
It reminded me of an old military inspired meme I saw
Train yourself enough, and you’ll be able to attack from all sides.