self improvement

#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! :))

 

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#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 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!

 

Living a More Purposeful Life By Throwing The Word “Purpose” Out The Window!

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I was talking to a friend a few days ago. He was going through a tough time at work and was thinking of a change of job. To help him work through his thoughts, I asked him a simple question — “Why are you thinking of changing your job, do you not enjoy the work you do any more?”. His answer was very simple — “That’s not my worry”, he said, “a lot of people don’t enjoy their job.” My first response was nonacceptance — “that’s not right, one must have a job they enjoy going to!” The thought remained in my mind though, until I realized how privileged it was of me to say that!

Yes, people deserve to be in a job they love and enjoy. Your workplace is where you spend 70% of your day, so it only makes sense to do something you love. But not everyone is blessed to choose accordingly. Think of the classic IT technician in India, who is working in a large corporation like Infosys or IBM. He didn’t know what he was getting into, when he chose this profession. For him, the sole reason to choose IT as a career, was the large number of job opportunities available. His goal when graduating was to find a job that would pay the bills and relieve his parents of financial burden in their old age. At my previous company, I interviewed hundreds of candidates for operations managers roles. They had undergraduate degrees and had started working at the age of 19 or 20. Many of them had left their families behind in their native towns and villages, because they couldn’t support a family of 4 with the income of a low-to-mid-level manager in a city like Bangalore. What drove them to work every day was not some life-altering purpose or desire for impact, but a simple need to support their family, and move up the income chain! You might think it is pretty naive of me to realize this just now, and I agree with you there! At times, we allow ourselves to get so clouded by our situations that we forget perspective. Anyway, I have been trying to demystify the meaning of the word “purpose”, and here are some of my realizations along the way!

1. Purpose, Impact, Meaning…… is a luxury! So have gratitude!

(I use these words together, because I do feel they are loosely connected in concept at least) There’s a famous Simon Sinek talk about millennials and their need to want impact in their jobs. While I love what Simon says about leadership and people management at the workplace, I do strongly feel that his talk about millennials was largely focused on upbringing in Western countries. Growing up in India, I was never raised with the idea that I am special and therefore I am entitled to greatness in the workplace. Quite the contrary, actually. I grew up in a country of 1.2 billion people. I was taught to be educated and independent. Talk about purpose and impact came much later when I was in my 20’s (which is also when I moved to the US). It is now that I realize how lucky I am to even be able to utter those words, let alone use them as guiding principles to chart my life and career. Not only does this fill me with gratitude, but it makes me realize the greater responsibility I have to value this opportunity and channel it in the right direction. Because there are others around me who don’t have that option.

2. Being Useful is so much better than having a Purpose

How many of us have allowed heavy concepts like “purpose” to burden the decisions we make? If you break this word down — what does it really mean? Doing something you love, that plays to your strengths and is valued by the organization you work for. I read somewhere that we all have figured out our purpose when we were around 14–18 years old, and all our life choices are just physical manifestations of this overarching theme. The struggle for us is seeing the patterns and putting them down into words. Having thought about it long and hard, I can see how that is true. So, instead of focusing on composing a mission statement, focus on being of use to your team or company. Instead of limiting yourself to the 5 tasks you’ve been assigned by your boss, try to get involved in projects which catch your interest and where you think you have something valuable to contribute. My personal experience has been that my happiness and satisfaction at work is greatly linked to feeling like I helped my team or company in some way.

3. Listen to your Body — When are you in the Bubble ?

Being self-aware is probably the hardest thing for most people. It is extremely easy to confuse who you really are, with who you wish you were. If you research self-awareness, you will come across phrases like “taking risks” and “listening to your gut”, which again are scary to most people. I like to break it down to simply paying attention to your body. Have you ever felt extremely nervous before an important project or presentation? Of course, you have! But once you begin, you just feel like you’re in the bubble and nothing else around you matters? That’s your body telling you that this thing you’re doing perfectly aligns with your gut and brain and heart. I remember the first article I wrote — it was the 2003 Cricket World Cup final and India had just lost to Australia after a brilliantly close match. That disappointment affected me so much that I instinctively took pen and paper, and the words came pouring out. I’m not even an avid cricket follower! In that moment, I didn’t think about sounding smart, or framing the right sentences — I just had to write. There are very few times I’ve felt this way. Now I am a realist — so I’m not saying this makes me a writer, and I need a book deal tomorrow! But it does tell me that writing gives me the kind of joy that connects me to my inner self. We all have experienced such moments. The important thing is to keep experimenting with different things, and listening to your body — listen to how it makes you feel and follow those signs.

4. Your Job is not a Magic Fix-It All

You know those cheesy relationship articles that tell you that your happiness is in your hands, and not dependent on a life-partner? I say we extend that philosophy to our jobs as well. Of course, it would be wonderful if we could make a living doing something we love. But let’s get real — very few people are lucky enough to get that opportunity. That does not mean we cannot feel fulfilled otherwise. Your life is a beautiful concoction of your friends, family, interests, careers, and it is how well you layer and mix them, that determines the kick you get! I may not loooovveee going to work every day, but here’s what I can do — do one thing that makes me feel useful at work every day. And ensure that the rest of my day or week is filled with activities that make me feel fulfilled — in my case, it is (trying to) write. It could be a sport, or painting, or social events, or hiking or rescuing animals. (P.S.- And if you can’t find one way to be useful at work every day, then you’re either doing something wrong, or you’re in the wrong job!)



 Leading a life of purpose is something we control completely. We need to take away this enigma surrounding it, and get comfortable with being real with ourselves. Look at the situation, get creative with workarounds and solutions and figure out a path that works for you. And that is the key — it has to be something that works for you. There is no magic spell that unlocks the door!

#30DaysofGratitude – Day 9

There are multiple times we face conflicts in life – whether they are in our jobs, or in relationships and social circles. Egos, miscommunication, distance, difference in values etc only exacerbate the problem, and add nothing to solve the issue at hand. At such times, I am reminded of what my grandfather used to say to us – “Do whatever it is, that makes you sleep well at night without a guilty conscience. The rest will be taken care of.

I find that a good moral compass to live life by. A lot of times, we allow our egos to override our values and do something to hurt someone, even though we know in our heart that it does not align with our blueprint for life. The excuse for such behaviour being – “well, they did the same to me too!”. I’m not saying we compromise on our self-respect. But at the same time, think about whether the way we behave would allow us to sleep peacefully at night? If the answer is no, then it is time to check ourselves.

At the end of the day, we are answerable only to our self. I read this quote somewhere which I completely agree with – “Someone once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.”

#30DaysofGratitude – Day 7

Apologies for the long absence guys – feel really bad about having missed a whole week on this blog! The last week was a rather tough one with very difficult targets to be met at work and a few roadblocks along the way which led to some pretty tough days personally! But that is no excuse, especially on a gratitude project where the whole point is to take the time to find happiness in the middle of whatever negativity you may be facing! 🙂 Anyways, new commitment to myself – no more days will be missed for the next 21 days until this project comes to a close!

On days when I feel unaccomplished or directionless or unmotivated, my usual go-to’s are other blogs that I find very inspirational, help me clear my mind, and bring my focus back to just hustling, doing my best each day and focusing on the end goal. What better time than to express my gratitude to those people who help me out when I most need it.

  1. Mark Manson – A lot of what he writes resonates with my ideas and thoughts. I recently came across an article he wrote about 3 Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You and absolutely fell in love with it! What resonated the most with me was the idea of doing something for no reason other than curiosity or interest. I feel like so often, we fall into this trap of doing things with a specific goal in mind. But life is not just a series of goals. There is so much more creativity, and fun to be experienced which cannot be measured using metrics. Restarting this blog was largely about this purpose as well – doing something you enjoy and which gives you satisfaction without necessarily knowing the result.
  2. Swiss Miss – I had written earlier, about the 99U talk by Tina Roth Eisenberg that inspired me to think about my side projects more seriously. I have been following her blog ever since. Her blog is very design-centric, so I won’t say I understand all of it. But it has an incredible Quotes Section which I have been reading to myself almost every day!
  3. Gary Vaynerchuk – I have started following his YouTube channel only since the past 2 days and I am still deciding what I feel about him. A lot of what he says is compelling, but I feel like there are more sides to the picture than he talks about. It definitely hits you hard and forces you to get up and DO !

I started another fun thing I’m super happy about – I made an Instagram page for my dog, Obi ! It was such a random thought but I really wanted to start a project which would be fun and make people happy. One day I thought, I have tons of pictures of Obi anyways, so why not!. Besides, anyone who sees Obi’s pictures is bound to smile! So here it is – Obi’s very own IG !! She has like 75 followers already, which is expected – have you seen her!? 🙂 I’m having so much fun with it! Funny thing is, my husband had never even been on Instagram before this, and now he’s totally tracking how many likes and followers she has – speaks to the addictive nature of the medium for sure, but also gives us something fun to do together!

That’s it for now. It’s been a good day! 🙂

1 Way to not want 10 Ways

My husband, a physician and “Mad Scientist”, does research to understand Insulin Resistance, and it’s impact on weight loss, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases. Part of his job is to give talks in conferences, companies, meetups etc, to people who are struggling with any one of the above and help them on their journey to lead healthier lives. One of the most commonly asked questions he gets asked is — “what are the top 3 tips you would give to anyone struggling with their weight”. After a few attempts, his go-to answer now is — “My first tip would be to stop wanting just 3 tips!”

Do a Google search for almost anything nowadays and you’re sure to find a range of articles titled — “5/10/20/52/108 ways to do XYZ..”

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Am I the only one freaking out about this screenshot ?! :-O Why, Google, why?

The thing that puzzles me is — how can you distill down life’s major moments to n number of steps? Overcoming Depression, Learning a New Habit, Being Financially Secure, Loving Yourself, Curing Heartbreak — these are vulnerable, gut-wrenching phases of life and it takes days of trying countless different things, and failing, and trying again! Rinse, and repeat, until you get where you want to be! Life isn’t simple, and therefore, breaking it down into “10 things to do”, just makes it so much harder to embrace the complexity and messiness of it. Believe me, I’ve seen every YouTube video that told me 3 ways to find my life purpose, and while I took away pearls of wisdom from all of them, I have come to realize that 3 steps ain’t gonna get me anywhere close to the goal. It’s a lifetime’s worth of learning, unlearning, trying, failing, fighting, hoping and accepting.. And while this can seem daunting, at least I know I am prepared for the mad ride!

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Totally coincidental that today is Star Wars Day, btw! (Source: Google)