Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Motivated by the Fear of Not Succeeding

Someone said to me this week, “I wonder, sometimes, if you are motivated by the fear of not succeeding.”

I grew up in an immigrant home, where my father beat my mother mercilessly while staying illegally married to another wife. We lived on credit cards and fumes. Cars were towed away in the middle of the night. Officers came armored up and busted down the front door, searching for the stolen goods my brother had stowed for resale.

The abuse was not only dramatic but resembled a specific kind of torture geared toward imprinting the abused with failure: In eighth grade, when I went to the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee Nationals in Washington DC, I rose for my third round.

“Myrhhed. The adjectival form of the word Frankincense and Myrrh.”

Panic rose in my throat.

“To be myrhhed is to be tainted with a perfume the Three Wise Men brought to the baby Jesus.”

I was raised a bloody Hindu.

Jesus, the Three Kings, Frankincense and Myrrh. These were all Christian concepts. I had no idea what that meant.

“M-U-R-D,” I began, my voice quivering.

I think back to my 60-year-old father enlisting on an Indian dating site while still married to my mother, and the first time I encountered racism in Boston.

“Incorrect!” The judge yelled.

Clambering off the stage, I searched for my parents in the crowd. When I finally found them, they reeked of disappointment. I sat meekly down next to them.

Later, my mom would tell me that my dad had been filming with his video camera. At home, he would play that video of me failing over and over on the big screen TV in the basement. He would turn the volume up loud so that I could hear it from my pink bedroom. “M-U-R-D”, I would hear my little voice say. “Incorrect!” the judge would bellow. Then nothing.

Over and over again.

I pleaded with my mother to make him stop, but she had no more power than I did.

Someone said to me this week, “I wonder, sometimes, if you are motivated by the fear of not succeeding.”

My reflex answer was “I’m motivated by wanting to build support systems for other South Asian women. I had to build them by myself as I was forging this career. I want to get other women there faster.”

That was the reflex answer.

Then I thought about it.

Writing holds a unfailing mirror to the face. I could probably trace it back to this moment in eighth grade.

____

These are excerpts from my forthcoming book “The Perfect Indian Daughter,” a hybrid of memoir and lessons on leadership.

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I am the founder of LadyDrinks, teaching South Asian executive women & founders how to market their most important asset — themselves

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Joya Dass

Joya Dass

I am the founder of LadyDrinks, teaching South Asian executive women & founders how to market their most important asset — themselves

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