By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
When the Northwest Asian Weekly honored Dr. Vikram Jandhyala in 2014 for breaking the glass ceiling, University of Washington (UW) President Ana Mari Cauce said, “[He’s] someone that you will be hearing a lot about in the next five, 10, 15 years.”
The last thing I expected to hear was news about Jandhyala’s death at the age of 47, and that he took his own life recently.
The question for the community was, “Why?” He was a rising star at the UW, promoted from a faculty member to the chair of the Engineering Department, to Vice President of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (now CoMotion), then promoted to be the co-CEO of the Global Innovation Exchange in Bellevue. Funded by Microsoft, the new campus was a partnership between China’s Tsinghua University and the UW.
We might never find out the real reason why Jandhyala killed himself. What we do know is that, a man as smart and capable as he was, solving complex problems interlinked with technology, education, and entrepreneurship, was unable to overcome his own inner turmoil.
He was well-respected and extraordinary in his achievements, which made us proud. However, that might not be the reality he saw. And his career success could no longer cure his own pain from his personal life (such as his separation from his wife). Janghyala’s tragedy does have a lesson for us — how to view life through the proper lens so we can be productive, successful, and happy simultaneously. There is no conflict between living with joy and thriving to be your best. We just have to make wise decisions and choices every single day. And if we make mistakes, we need to learn to forgive ourselves. People who choose to end their lives carry certain patterns of thinking and behavior, which we need to study more so we can help them to move forward and heal.
Don’t be overly self-critical
High achievers demand excellence and high expectations. They are generally harsh towards themselves. CBS news aired a story about a teenage suicide. In a diary belonging to Alexandra Valoras, a teenager, class officer, and high achiever who committed suicide, she wrote, ‘I screwed up… I am a disaster…I am a failure…I am hopeless…worthless… and so lazy.” None of these depictions matched the person her parents or friends knew.
Most of the time, successful people who kill themselves, keep their problems to themselves.
Mentally, they are going downhill faster than their physical health. How many times have you heard that when someone told friends or family their troubles, they feel better after talking to someone? How many times are we more inclined to share our problems with strangers because we feel ashamed to show our weakness and self-doubts to those we love? That’s why we seek out psychologists and counselors. I went to counseling several years ago when depression struck me, and it helped me.
Talking (sharing) is therapy
When the New York Times interviewed top basketball player Markus Howard, who scored 53 points in a game for Marquette University, he said he talks to counselors often. Wow! He’s only 20 years old and yet has so much wisdom. No matter how successful you are, there will always be issues, which bothered Howard and he just needed to talk to someone to attain clarity.
Take the focus off yourself
Howard also told the Times that he wanted to be remembered not for what he did on the court, but off the court. “I think my impact is made bigger when I do something for somebody else.” His attitude towards life is mature for someone his age.
You change yourself by helping one person at a time.
If you focus on how miserable you are all the time, you get stuck in thinking the worst. I was once in that state.
View failure as a positive
Just because you fail, doesn’t mean you have to be in despair. Always remind yourselves that failure is not the end of the world. Look for humor in your failure so you can enlighten yourself and do better next time. There are valuable insights and lessons in failures. Sometimes, it can be a blessing in disguise.
Cumulative stressors can contribute to depression. High achievers are often overworked and they overextend themselves, like the late author and chef Anthony Bourdain who was constantly on the move, doing his television series.
If what you do doesn’t give you joy, think of alternatives to change your environment or assignments. The first few times when you say “no,” it might be tough. But you’ll get used to it. After a few times, it becomes natural and normal.
When I first started the Northwest Asian Weekly, I tried to fill my weekly calendar with meetings, lunch, and activities. Now, I actually enjoy having time on my calendar to go out for walks and have the flexibility to take care of last-minute, important errands. Evaluate your calendar each week. When you see a lot of red flags like high-pressure meetings with unpleasant people, perhaps, think of ways to make it enjoyable if you can’t get out of it. Giving yourself time and space is essential to our mental health and growth.
Sleep deprivation can cause depression
Eating healthy and exercising are only part of the story. However, not having enough sleep daily will affect not only your health, but mental ability, aging, and longevity. Many high achievers often shortchange themselves in sleep. Some of us think we can make it up the following night. The truth is, damage to your memory and brain is already done.
Having a good night’s sleep is vital to your well being. Why not make sleep a priority everyday.
However, you can’t have it if you have too much stress and abundance of tough responsibilities. Ask yourself, “Is this job worth it?” If not, you might need to switch jobs, lifestyle, or friends.
Take time for small pleasures
Jandhyala was a big-picture guy. In building relationships, little things count. In life, small pleasures can make our day. Balance your life with both big and small tasks, interacting with big shots and little guys. It would give you a better perspective on life.
Each week, I try to work on little projects which bring me joy. These little projects should have little to do with work. It could be empowering young people and women, attending fun events like Comic Con, watching comedies, talking to friends, playing the piano, hiking, dining in a restaurant, and going to concerts.
Laugh at yourself
I have written before about laughing profusely for health’s sake, especially at our own mistakes. Remind yourself that whenever you screw up, the first thing is to stop blaming yourself or other people. Blaming drains us mentally and physically.
Laugh out loud. Fake your laugh till it becomes real. Yeap, fake it till you make it.
Have you laughed today? Start now.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.