I'm Praveen Suthrum. After 13 years of building and running NextServices, a healthcare technology/management company, the challenges and opportunities in the industry leap out at me. I also get early access to industry trends and changes.

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Embracing the yin at work

Embracing the yin at work

They say March 8th is Women's Day. There's much media attention towards it. At our work, we celebrate the day with lunch and such (we are 37% women).

But regardless of what we do, I see a society that's heavily masculine in its outlook. Masculine isn't man or woman. What do I mean?

We are conditioned to primarily reward what in Tao is called as the yang.

In the name of liberation, I see women and men embracing largely one aspect of their personality.

The aspect of action. Of doing and fixing. We don't necessarily reward resting, reflection and intuition.

People who do things become our heroes. We wish to be like them.

We don't wish to be like people who introspect and feel their way through situations. In fact, we perceive them as passive.

Even if we do use emotions to guide our way, we hide our abilities. To avoid jibes.

Imagine saying these things in a job interview. That you allow your intuition to guide you. That you don't mask your emotions. That you can feel what your clients feel. That you bring emotional balance to the workplace.

Taijitu (yin and yang) as I understand it

Yang refers to that aspect of ourselves that comes up with new ideas. That executes with gusto on those ideas. Think of it as the sunrise. And the mid-day sun. Or, think of it as Spring when flowers bloom. And Summer when trees give mangoes. As the Wind or Fire that spurs movement. It's you as a child. And you as a young person.

Yin refers to that aspect of ourselves that's able to reflect. That's able to feel and trust. That's able to draw on intuition. Think of it as the sunset. And the night. As the Fall and Winter when everything finishes, preparing for a new beginning. As the Sea and Earth that grounds you. It's you as a middle-aged person clearer with an understanding of who you are. As an elder who's experienced life and can guide a newer generation.


One transforms into the other.

By ignoring one or the other, life remains incomplete. In present-day reality, I see us moving away from the yin. We hate getting old (longevity is an upcoming industry).

Liberation movements of the yore promote the yang. Action. Movement. Fighting for your rights.

Consider these headlines from the Women's Day special edition of one newspaper in front of me. All written by women.

  • "Spoken word is a way for women to speak out"
  • "Flexing it. Lifting weights, uplifting womanhood"
  • "Unsung explorer"
  • "Red as a colour of self-expression"
  • "More women in comedy means more space for 'female first' stories"

Largely yang.

It suggests you become better only if you do things.

However, when the yin isn't expressed, it's not that it goes away. It's merely suppressed. We see that unexpressed energy show up in the form of addictions, dullness, depression and so on. Extreme versions of non-movement.

Embracing the yin at work

I closely work with doctors. There used to be a time when doctors comfortably embraced the yin. Their ability to surmise and catch a thread of diagnosis using intuition. Now they are afraid to do so because of legal ramifications.

When patients visit doctors, they expect the doctor to do something. Order a lab test. Write a prescription. Cut-up an organ. Do. The yang.

Patients of today don't appreciate if doctors use their gut feeling and say why don't we allow this chest pain to rest for a day. Follow-up a couple of days later.

(Just fyi, this is how healthcare was 25 years ago and didn't necessarily result in bad outcomes).

Once we find a blocked artery, we have this urge to fix it. We can't let things be. Observing, reflecting and allowing for a resolution to surface. It's just not us.

When people open up their emotions at work - especially if they cry or shout - we are conditioned to see that as unprofessional. But those very emotions do move us. They even have the power to change us. And spur us into a different kind of action.

We've arrived at a point where we ignore the yin even if it screams inside of us ("I don't feel good about this but I have to do it anyways"). And we keep rushing towards the yang - doing and fixing. Because action somehow protects us from feeling our feelings fully. We move from one thing to the other.

It's the very reason why we find ourselves out of balance.

How I lost and found my passport on a mountain in Africa

This was in 2002. Before my MBA began, 2nd year students at Ross Michigan organized what was called as the M-Trek. During the trek, I found myself with another new admit Jeff on a mountain in Lesotho, a beautiful mountainous country encapsulated by South Africa. The trek led up to many professional activities we did together during the MBA.

The winds were cool and pleasant that evening. It wasn't dusk yet. The villagers had so kindly lent us their huts. Actually we all (about 12 of us) were to sleep in one big hut, inside sleeping bags.

After an hour or so, my then-not-so-fit body began getting tired. As with mountains, the summit seemed awfully close. But it went on and on. When we reached what we thought of as the summit, we figured it went further.

Midway, I told Jeff I'd leave my blue belt-bag near a distinct rock. It had my passport and return tickets. So that I'd have less weight to carry to the top. Every milligram counts, I reasoned.

We both thought it was a good idea.

Up into that Lesotho mountain range. We climbed a little more. And more.

The sun began setting. Finally, Jeff and I decided it was time to return.

Then we began climbing down. Slowly.

And suddenly I realized I had not one effing idea where I left my blue belt-bag. My passport. My tickets. Good lord!

I panicked.

I scrambled here and there. Movement. The yang.

How much more stupider could I get? My flight back to South Africa was in two days.

After a point, I simply waited. Paused.

Then I finally asked, where are you? To the blue belt-bag.

Something told me within that it's to the right of where I was. More to the right. I kept going down in a certain direction.

Jeff followed.

And in just a few minutes I saw it.

It was resting near that distinct rock that simply looked like several other rocks.

That principle is yin.

Embrace it. To get back in balance.

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