Letter No 88 - Don’t forget the bad times

Dear friend

I feel that human emotional states are like a submarine. Sometimes they are up near the surface, soaking in the light and breathing in fresh air and surfing with the waves. And sometimes they are down in the depths, in the cold dark and high pressure environment, near the rocky sea bed surrounded by strange, beautiful and sometimes dangerous creatures.

I feel mental health is not about whether we are up or down. A proper submarine must spend adequate time both above and before in order to do its job. Its natural for us to feel good at times, and shitty at times.

I also propose that it’s not even about the ratio of the time we spend above verses time we spend below that matters. Sometimes a submarine may spend most of its journey deep underwater, and sometimes most of its time will be just at the surface. It depends on the situation and the mission.

So what it’s a healthy mental state determined by?

Look, I’m not a trained expert on the matter. But I’d propose that it’s a question of whether the engines are running, the cabin pressure is maintained, and the crew is energetic and doing their job.. when it comes to the submarine. With humans I’d say it’s say it’s about how aware are we of what we are feeling? How well we are able to function to function in our daily lives? Are we able to feel gratitude? Are we able to be caring and friendly to others and ourselves? How alive and thriving are our dreams and hopes for the future are.

Whether things are up or down, are we able to to feel these things is what matters.

Everything may be going great. You may be a billionaire and celebrity. But you may still not feel these things. Or things may be goes crazy wrong, and you may still feel then. What happens and how we feel about life, gratitude, love and dreams do not need to be connected. That is what determines a strong and healthy mind.

Like I said, I’m no expert, but I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs, and have been blessed to share some ups and downs of several co-travellers in my journey. And I have to admit, I’ve not always handled them in the best way. But well enough To have given me some perspective to look back and learn from them.

There’s no one without ups and downs. What is important is to keep getting more and more skilled being the captain of your own ship. What’s important is to enjoy the journey, and take the ship to its destination.


Whether we accept it or not, all of us or on a journey, and there is a final destination - death. Oops. Taboo topic.

In the Tibetan culture, children are spoken to and familiarised about death at an early age. They people that without knowing death, one cannot know life.

Life and death go hand in hand.

Up and down must happen for the journey to proceed.


And that’s what this letter is about. Let me sum it up in one sentence for you:

There are ups and there are downs.

Remember the ups when you are down, and even more importantly, render the downs when you are up.


Question is this - what do we do when we are up, and what do we do when we are down?

The normal thing is, we make merry and enjoy life when we are up, and struggle and feel lost to climb out when we are down.

When we are down and don’t remember that there is also going to be an up, it’s obvious what happens.

But it’s not so obvious what happens when we are up and don’t remember that there are downs also. Let me list a few:
  1. We get overconfident
  2. We stop learning
  3. We become arrogant
  4. We become less sensitive to others
  5. We take unnecessary risks

This happens! If you are ambitious these things are more detrimental to your journey than a few downs! Being stuck in these behaviours slows down your growth.

While efforts need to be made continuously, growth always happens in spurts. A breakthrough innovation, a market change, a new relationship, an opportunity to collaborate… these are growth instances. But when we are arrogant, or overconfident, or not learning fast enough, or have broken relationships, or taken too dangerous risks, then we lose the opportunity surf the wave that these growth spurts bring.

Remembering that there are downs too, even when we are up, helps us..
  1. Stay alert
  2. Stay hungry
  3. Stay humble
  4. Stay nimble
  5. Stay connected

That’s a few more than the ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ Steve Jobs said in his famous speech!


The thing is, the moment this start getting better, we forget the down times. We are so relieved, that we just want to forget about it all and back in the sunlight. And in a way, we should. But not entirely.

If you are convinced my thoughts and my submarine metaphor, here are a few ideas you may try -

  1. Keep a journal in your down times, and read it in your up times
  2. Ask people close to you to tell you about your down time behaviour, when you are up. Go and say thank you to them for bearing with you.
  3. In your up times actively remember the feelings and thoughts you had when you were down. You’ll be spirited, they don’t pull you down, they energise you to do more.

I think you are getting my drift. I’m sure you’ll be able to add to this list with some ideas of your own.

Like I said, it’s too easy to forget the ups when you are down, and even easier to forget the downs when you are up.

Though in this letter I focused on remembering the downs, both are very very important.