inspiration

#30DaysofGratitude – Day 24

Last weekend, V and I took a trip to a hill station close by called Munnar. I had heard about the place being gorgeous, but the sights, sounds and smells we experienced there were truly out of this world, and beyond anything I expected! Acres of the greenest greens I had ever seen, clouds that would descend on the fields within minutes, changing the landscape entirely, the slightest hint of a persistent rain that felt like mist on your body and a quietness that was perfectly balanced between being calming and eerie at times! Imagine walking in the middle of these tea plantations all day ! No filters necessary!

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As is typical on most of our trips, the food was a major highlight and we didn’t shy away from trying out everything including the fish, which Kerala is very popular for. On Day 2, our friendly tour guide took us to this tiny restaurant that was famous for it’s authentic Kerala meals – basically a spread of massive amounts of fluffy rice, 4 kinds of vegetables, a fish curry, and an array of condiments that only the Kerala folk can do full justice to. Simplicity at it’s best, but an explosion of flavours in your mouth. The best part of the entire experience was the restaurant owner – now if you want to know customer service at it’s best, this guy was the epitome of it! Within minutes of us having chosen a table, he walked over and explained the entire concept of the Kerala meal to us in his endearing broken English – the different kinds of fish, their size, the amount of bones one might encounter, spice levels. On realizing we are rookies, he made his own suggestions and even threw in two varieties for the price of one – no one should leave Kerala before trying out the fish, he insisted! Before leaving the table, he assured us that if we didn’t like the food, we didn’t have to pay a dime. But of course, the food was delicious – one of the best meals ever, and it cost us less than $6 overall! He checked on us multiple times and even sent over little samples of some other curries, “just to taste”! Now one might argue that he was being a shrewd business-owner – he was used to dealing with tourists and knew how to keep them happy. But in addition, what I also saw was a genuinely nice guy who knew that the only thing he needed for his business to succeed was the right product and the right attitude! The former might be easy to nail, but the latter takes a lifetime of practice and intention!

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Over the past few months, I’ve grown increasingly fascinated by small business owners. People who focus on niche products, creativity, resource-scarcity and true autonomy to make a dent in their corner of the world. And I have been trying to support them as much as possible, because it is truly admirable to run a one-man-show. Like my most recent acquisition from this guy in Bangalore who makes the cutest succulent planters using unique objects like metal measuring cans! For someone who loves plants, but has a home without much direct sunlight, this was the perfect solution! Anyway, I digress… Coming back to my Munnar trip, one of the big highlights for me, beyond the gorgeousness of the place and food, was this friendly restaurant owner who showed me that with the brightest smile, and a fantastic product, you can win the hearts of two non-fish-non-rice eaters!

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#30DaysofGratitude – Day 23

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One of my allll time favorite quotes is by this incredible poet called Allama Iqbal – the quote is in Urdu, but this Quora article has a beautiful translation and explanation of every verse. The quote loosely translates to –

“Excel yourself to such a level that, before granting a fortune, God Himself asks you, what do you want!”

I was probably in my teens when my mom narrated it to me for the first time, and its one of those things that resurfaces from the hidden corners of my mind, every now and then, when I’m doing the most mundane things like cleaning! And I always stop for just a few seconds, in awe of how powerful it is. Now I admit that I am not an Urdu literary genius, nor do I understand the depths of Islam and its philosophy on Khudi, destiny etc. So my fascination stems purely from my interpretation of it.

I was brought up to believe that all our life is a manifestation of God’s will and nothing we do can alter the path we will eventually end up on because it is pre-destined. I remember battling with this concept for a really long time because firstly, it took away all control I had over my life and that just seemed ridiculous to my mind – Why would my parents ask me to study so hard if my path was predestined anyways?! (There’s an easy out, eh!) Secondly, it made me feel like a mere player on stage in Shakespeare’s world – is that ALL life amounts to? As I grew older, I rapidly moved to the opposite side of the spectrum with a strong sense of my life, and my actions and my control that I will NOT give up. But there were still those incidents that I just could not explain or rationalize. A random sequence of events that brought me places I could never have dreamed of – some good and some painful – now how do I explain that? How could I have had control over something I didn’t even know could exist in the first place? This dichotomy existed in my mind for a good part of my 20’s as well and I went from being religious to spiritual to agnostic to atheist back to spiritual etc etc..

It is probably in the past 3-4 years that I have come to an acceptance of this game of life, and this quote helped me get there in many ways. And that’s what I call it – a friendly game between the Universe and Me – something like UNO – now if I was better at games, I’d have compared it to something complex like Settlers of Catan, but that’s too much exercise for my mind, so keeping it simple here! So UNO –> at each juncture, we have our cards, and we play our game not knowing what the person in front is going to play next. We have our own agenda – I’ll play the Reverse Card first, and then the Skip Card and save my Wild Card for the end….and just when you think you have a good game going, the Universe drops a Draw Four and oh well…you get the picture. But at no point of the game, are you stressed or fretting about the loss of control. You’re just playing the best game you can and trying out different strategies. If you lose, move on to Round Two and try this all over again – this time, you hopefully have learned lessons from Round One, and can figure out a better strategy – maybe don’t be such a wise ass and expect an easy game.

The key idea here is – there is always a next round, but the important thing is for you to keep playing your game! What that translates to, in my interpretation, is to keep trying out new things, new projects, ideas, paths – maybe there will be the one time when the Universe won’t have a Draw Four card, and you’ll remember to call out “UNO!” when you have one card left, and you’ll win !!! Taaa…daaa….

And that’s what I like about the above quote too – you’re not a Shakespearean character – God knows how bad an actor you are, come on! – you’re here to make friends with the Universe, play your game, learn, have fun, try new things, do your dance. You win some, you lose some. Sometimes, you lose a lot but you shuffle up the cards again, and go for the next round. Always.

(There’s a second part to why I love this quote as well, but this  post is turning out to be as long as my Masters Thesis, so I’m going to continue this tomorrow… Come back! :))

 

#30DaysofGratitude – Day 22

One of my favorite teenage rebellion movies was Ice Princess (yes, I am willing to close my eyes and ears right now, while you take a moment to point your finger and laugh. oh well, I was that girl!) I guess my 15-year old mind identified with that nerdy schoolgirl who’s mom expected her to excel in Science class instead of in sports or arts. Anyway, I thankfully got over that movie pretty quickly, except for this one line which stayed with me. The line was said by the protagonist’s figure-skating coach who was upset because the nerdy girl couldn’t stand up to her mom. The line went something like this (and I’m paraphrasing) – “You’re never going to win the championship because you’re too polite. If you want something, you have to be willing to push past everyone and everything and just get it.” Too polite? If you know anything about the classic Indian upbringing, there is nothing called “too polite”!

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But in all fairness, in most south-east Asian cultures, there is a lot of emphasis on being very linear, within the boundaries of accepted norms, placing the wishes of our elders first, and generally keeping your emotions in check. I can see how this can translate to “politeness”. And while I have nothing against my culture or upbringing at all, I am realizing more and more, how this can get in the way of people in these countries wanting to follow an offbeat path. There is a certain level of aggression, defiance and foolhardiness almost, that is needed for real innovation to happen. Especially in today’s world, where the next big idea is always around the corner – you have to be willing to push past obstacles along the way (which are mostly mental, but can be certain people and situations as well). There are going to be hurt emotions, in pursuit of the greater good.

“Hustle” is the new golden word being used in almost every motivational podcast or video around. And the idea behind it is simple – if you want to achieve certain results, there are sacrifices to be made – there will be no time for family, and no weekends with friends, and no time for TV and social media. But hustling has one prerequisite – putting your dream/goal before anything else – that is what gives you the drive to make all those sacrifices. This mindset can be developed over time, but is also so dependent on one’s upbringing (and culture). Why do children of businessmen end up starting businesses? Why do sportspeople always have stories of their parents waking them up at 4 AM for practice? We emulate what we see our parents and societies practice, and that is what defines the norm for us.

This is not just relevant with respect to one’s career. This attitude plays out in personal life choices as well. I know someone who was told by her parents while choosing a life partner to “realize that she isn’t going to find anyone better than this guy anyways”. How does this compare to being told that – “there are good people everywhere, what matters is that you follow your heart.”

This post is almost like a rant, and I apologize for that. We always say with respect to gender equality that empowerment begins at home. The same philosophy applies here as well. Cultural change happens slowly over decades, but in the meantime, we need to really think about what we are teaching our children – the language we use, the ideas we promote. Do we ask them to settle, or do we ask them to fight ? Do we expect politeness or do we encourage just that little bit of rebellion that can make a difference to their future?

#30DaysofGratitude – Day 20

I’ve mentioned multiple times before, that I am a huge addict of TEDTalks. No surprise then, that a lot of my daily doses of inspiration come from talks that leave a strong mark on my thinking. Yesterday, I heard the TED talk of Raj Panjabi, a physician, social entrepreneur, and winner of the TED Prize in 2017 among many other accolades. His company, Last Mile Health, trains community workers on essential skills that can help them provide lifesaving healthcare to the remotest areas of West Africa. His life’s work is based on one fundamental belief – no one should die because they live far away from a doctor. Such a basic principle, isn’t it ?

My sister, a gynecologist, spent last week working at a government hospital in my hometown – an experience that shook her, as a new doctor entering the real world. She was appalled at the quality of healthcare being provided to pregnant women, the sheer lack of infrastructure and resources, and the callousness it led to, among the doctors and nurses working there. Healthcare in government hospitals is a complicated intertwined system, so I would not be arrogant enough to blame just the doctors – I know they mean well and are not valued enough. But the people at the end of the totem pole are these pregnant women, who, due to the failure of this entire system, just don’t stand a chance to get quality care, let alone survive without complications. People at this hospital die, not because a doctor isn’t available, but because the doctor isn’t able to give them the care they deserve.

As an outsider viewing this system, the critical thing I see is lack of empowerment at every level from hospital management to staff, that cascades down to frustration and therefore, disregard for quality healthcare. On the other hand, what works so beautifully in Last Mile Health is that common people who didn’t even have a stable job, are being empowered with these medical skills that help them make a difference in the lives of others. They are more invested in what they do, not just because it provides them with a means to improve their own lives, but also gain satisfaction from serving others.

This idea so beautiful in theory, but even as I think about how it might apply to the healthcare system in India, I feel helpless – can I change this? if yes, what is my next step? am I being too idealistic? what are the ugly truths I am not seeing yet? One of the first lessons we were taught as Acumen Fellows was to be comfortable with the questions. Seems like a sucky lesson to be taught, right now! (sorry Acumen)

The thing that inspired me the most about Raj Panjabi’s TED talk was the way his face lit up, when talking about his company and his people and the impact they are having. It was not grandiose, but rather, the kind of humble satisfaction you feel after having scaled a massive mountain – taking just a moment to acknowledge the days of arduous climbs behind you, and knowing there are tougher mountains to scale in the future. That look right there, is what I aspire to.

The Fearless Girl Standing Tall

The Fearless Girl sculpture recently won multiple awards at the Cannes Lions – one of the most prestigious awards in the advertising world. In one of the articles I was reading about this sculpture, the following image was used –

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One look, and it has not left my mind ever since, and I have been reading and thinking about it more and more. The statue was put on Wall Street to bring people’s attention to the lack of female executives in boardrooms. But what makes it so astounding was the way it was done. Look at this girl – standing tall, chin up, hands in the Super(wo)man pose, hair in a ponytail because no C-level executive has time for a blowout and no one cares if she does, wearing shoes not stilettos, in clothes that neither accentuate nor diminish her body because that is not the point here, and with razor-sharp eyes focused on what she’s here to do – face the Raging Bull. She appeared out of nowhere, in the middle of the night, like the classic underdog who no-one pays attention to until they make their presence felt quietly! That to me, is art that inspires, challenges prejudices, and redefines the norm.

I don’t even want to get started on feminism because of the responses it elicits from most people nowadays. And to be honest, in my eyes, this sculpture stands for so much more than that. This Girl is a symbol for anyone who is trying to crack the glass ceiling, question the status quo, and represent a voice that does not have a platform. On Wall Street, it is women in boardrooms. In the world of Social Impact, it is entrepreneurs who are trying to change the way the world tackles poverty. When one is on an unknown path, where no has gone before, it is easy to get distracted by external markers of impact – which, in the case of female empowerment, have become pant-suits and nude photoshoots. But the real indicators of change are more nuanced than that, aren’t they – they are in freedom of choice, freedom of being who you are, freedom from external fear. When you can stand your ground, keep your eyes on the prize, and make your presence felt in the most real, honest way – that is where real change can be felt.

#30DaysofGratitude – Day 16

I have been binge-watching Seth Godin‘s videos on YouTube – something about the complex simplicity of his ideas and thoughts just make you sit up, take note, and go – “Huh! What a wonderfully new way to think about this.” If you are interested – check this and this to begin with – they are my favorites.

On the latest video I watched, he talks about his morning routine and one of the things he says is – “In 1977, I decided that ‘facing the day’ didn’t feel right. So instead I view it as an opportunity. I have not hit the snooze button once since 1977.  Part of what I have tried to do with my work is create a life where I bound out of bed, eager because I get a chance at unlimited bowling”. (You have to watch the video to get the bowling reference.)

Isn’t that such a wonderful thing to aspire to? Forget the billion dollar idea, forget the jargon surrounding impact and purpose, and the 5 million followers on Twitter. Let us bring it down to the basics. We are all here in this world with a limited amount of real estate and resources to our name. Our job is to make the most of what we have, and think about creating something that makes “them (whoever them is) miss you when you are gone.” (paraphrasing Seth’s language here)

Now I know that Seth can say this today with conviction, after having authored 18 books, and created the most popular marketing blog on the web. People like you and me are not even a quarter of the way there. Which is why I use the word aspire. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, approaching each day with boundless eagerness is so much better than fear and dread of the unknown. It sets the right intention in place – and allows you to get into the flow.

You know a good place to start – by saying goodbye to the snooze button! 🙂

#30DaysofGratitude – Day 11

Today I am grateful for the kind of momentary courage that makes you do stupid (but valuable) sh*t ! You may regret it later, but that’s just the flight or fight part of the brain kicking in.. Regardless, you’re still proud of yourself for having done it!

Execution matters more than Ideas! Doing is more important than Thinking!

Go Do!