Category Archives: Reflection of the Mind

It’s okay to be busy, and it’s okay to say it!

man working on laptop

This blog was published in the Harvard Business Review recently and has been currently trending on social media. Everyone seems to be identifying with it and endorsing it whole-heartedly. In fact, some even owned up to being guilty of the syndrome that this blog talks about. So here’s what I think! This blog didn’t work for me at all. If anything, it made me feel quite the contrary to what it propounds.

For those who haven’t read it, the blog talks about the current trend of everyone being “busy”. What the author suggests is that most people, in fact, are NOT busy, but subscribe to the idea simply because being “swamped” is fashionable. She says that some even take it a step forward by being competitive about who is busier than the other. While the first part of the blog decries this phenomenon, the second part proposes a solution to this syndrome.

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FAREWELL DEAR 80s STOP YOU WILL BE MISSED STOP

14th July 2013 marked the last day of the telegram in India, a 163-year-old service known for its speed and brevity back in the day. Thousands of people must have been intimated of the news and happenings that may have changed their lives. News of births and deaths, acquisitions and losses, prosperity and destruction, countries becoming independent and being divided into two – events that shaped history and decided destinies must have been reported in short sentences punctuated by “stops”, quite literally.

As the telegram service came to its end, newspapers and social media went berserk announcing it. People, who are usually quite exhausted by the endless queues in India, voluntarily stood in line to send their last telegrams, however redundant they might have been. From the telegraph office in Mumbai, more than 3,000 telegrams were sent on the last day! And when the staff member announced the closure of the service at the end of the day, she broke into tears.

Is it not true then that as much as we applaud our progress in technology and services and ease of living, we still crave times when life was simpler? Or maybe it is because these are symbols of our childhood, of our years gone by, embossed with fond memories, only to be reminisced, never to come back again.

While the “death” of the telegram has caused much hue and cry, there are so many other things that have died their slow deaths without ceremony. Maybe because they have been replaced by jazzier substitutes, we do not miss them that often. But when the mind goes back to them now and then (and rarely nowadays), there is undoubtedly an instant tinge of nostalgia in our eyes and a happy smile on our lips. This post is dedicated to a few such symbols of my childhood days.

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Baby steps to Eureka!

A little over a year ago, I made a solo trip (my first) to Haridwar and Rishikesh, small towns and centers of Hindu pilgrimage in the foothills of the Himalayas. Maybe because I was in a certain phase of life, or maybe because I had the luxury of absolute solitude, I came back with some pretty clear ideas on what I think are the most important aspects of my life – things that I would like to focus on going forward. There were many of them, but I also managed to categorize them into buckets. I call them the FIVE PILLARS of my life. Four were things I had already known for a while (though it helped to write them down), but the one I had not realized was the fifth, and the most overarching of them all – PEACE. I realized that I was running after a lot of goals, but taking peace for granted; that I had mistaken peace for an obvious by-product of success and happiness and achievement and fulfillment. Well, here’s the deal – it is not! Peace is not a by-product, it is something we have to prioritize and strive for, it is a “default state” we have to keep bringing ourselves back to (if we care for it, that is).

While I came back with what is important to me, I did not, at that time, have a code of conduct that would help me attain peace. After all, how does one do it? I could have a strategy for my career, my relationships, my ambitions, even my bank balance. But what’s the strategy for peace? For the last year, all I have done is to remind myself to be peaceful every time I felt I was losing it. And it has worked. I recently had an experience strikingly similar to one I had had last year – and the way I dealt with both are very different. Both were difficult experiences and had considerable stake in my present and future. While last year’s incident shook me up and made me angry and bitter, this year, I stayed objective throughout the process and was able to invest the right amount of emotions and reason to it. In fact, I even treated it with a tinge of humor and guess what – I slept really well at night! At the end of the day, that’s what one needs, literally and figurativelyJ.

Looking back at the last year now, I was able to see a few things I’d done differently and constantly – and while I just did them to keep myself in the default state of peace, I am now able to codify them and put them down as “best practices”. Here I jot them down for me to always go back to these, and for anyone else who might be interested in exploring/pursuing/considering.

 

Know yourself

We humans love to think of ourselves as enigmas with a secret treasure trove of surprises kept aside somewhere only to be revealed at some unknown time in the future. That’s not true. We spend 24×7 with ourselves, and if we don’t get down to knowing the one person we are with most, how will we ever know anything outside of us? A good way of doing this is to put ourselves through a variety of new experiences, constantly. This does throw up shocking surprises at first, but gradually, we start seeing patterns of highs and lows, likes and dislikes, acceptances and rejections, successes and failures – through which we are able to slowly construct a fairly foolproof picture of who we are, what drives us, what we want and where we are heading.

 

Feel the love

We do not and cannot exist in our own islands. We thrive in the love and support and adoration of others. So, it is important to identify people and relationships that we unconditionally care about, that bring joy to us, that are genuinely interested in our lives and always wish us well. Once identified, take time out to nourish these relationships, to keep in touch, to share, to listen, to have similar experiences, to spend time together. Even when we are at our nadir, it is this love around us that will bring us peace, if not more.

 

Be in control

Always know we have a CHOICE – to do better, to get out of a situation that is making us unhappy, to start afresh. If we decide to stay on in an unhappy situation, well, that too is a choice we make for ourselves. And possessing this knowledge is powerful. To know that most things that happen in our lives is because of a choice we made gives us the ability to change things, turn things around, or even continuously tweak them for the better.

Forgive and be forgiven

The most common reason for losing peace is angst over someone else’s denial of our rights, or lack of acknowledgment of our deeds, or disappointments with someone important. Forgive, and be forgiven. And we know we have really done it NOT when we have moved on from the incident and don’t let it affect us anymore, but when we can analyze it objectively and know that there was no right or wrong but just two different people with different opinions and value systems and contexts that could not make it work. It gives peace to know that what we did was a reflection of our own selves, and what the other did was a reflection of their being.

I’ve also learned that to be forgiven, one does not always need to say “sorry” or have a difficult conversation. Most of the time, people are more than happy to not look back and analyze, but to make amends and move on. If it matters to you, be the first person to make those amends that will help you reach out and reconstruct the relationship. Forgiveness shall ensue. If nothing works, you always have the CHOICE to step out of it and co-exist without overlapping.

Do only one thing at a time

I used to wake up in the morning and check my email on my phone with one eye open. I used to make coffee while brushing my teeth AND replying to emails. I used to drink my coffee AND read the newspaper AND continue replying to emails. I used to flag a cab while on a conference call.  I used to eat my food AND work on my laptop AND watch television. I used to watch a movie AND chat with friends on the phone. I used to go for a run AND think of pending work. Now, I just do one thing at a time.

Feel healthy, look good

A heart pumping well, blood circulating well, a good night’s sleep, a nutritious meal, enough calcium and vitamins, a feel of our muscles, a flatter tummy than a week ago, a splash in the waters of the swimming pool, fitting into better-looking clothes, compliments – no amount of success and achievement can come at the cost of our health and self-esteem. Keep this up, every single day!

Make peace with necessary evils

We all have “pain points” in daily life – the commute to work, the depleting bank balance, the maid not turning up, a difficult colleague, the unbearable weather and much more. Remember that this is part of a choice we’ve made, and if it’s largely aligned with where we want to be, necessary evils can be dealt with, or can even be tweaked for the better. Nothing is ever perfect!

Let small stories inspire you

We love quotes by famous people, we read autobiographies of achievers, we share stories of entrepreneurs in distant lands on Facebook – but there are inspiring stories all around us. The story of the grocer could teach you something new, a heart-to-heart with your boss could open up a new line of thinking, even looking out of the window at a child trying to fly his kite could leave you blazing with optimism. Be gullible, be believing, be observant. We don’t have to discover that the world is a beautiful place only when we’re on a holiday. Let’s not miss out on the beauty of the lives and nature around us.

Be spiritual

Know that we are a very very minuscule part of the universe, and an even more minuscule part in the timeline of nature. There were things millions of years ago, and there will be things millions of years hence. There are forces beyond our reach, beyond scientific explanation. There are things, however painful, that happen outside of all logic. Yes, we do have a part to play in this place and time, but there are billions of others around us with their parts to play as well. We have the right to live our lives well, but with the awareness to harm others as less as possible in the process. Believe in a sense of natural justice and correctness, no matter how difficult it might seem at some points in life. Believe in good fortune for what you have, and be thankful for all the hurt and pain and humiliation you don’t have. Choose your own religion , whatever form it might take – God, science, books, music, prayer, work, family, dreams – and be true to it in everything that you do.

Turning Thirty

I recently turned thirty-one, so this piece of reflection has been long time coming. The fact that it took me more than a year to churn this post out says something about the event itself – turning thirty comes with no shock. There is no thunder or lightning, you don’t throw a stone at your mirror and crack it, you don’t wear black and mourn (as I had originally planned to do). It just comes and goes, and you continue to lead your life without really grasping the gravity of the event. Then again, if you are not grasping the gravity, maybe there IS no gravity to it in the first place?

On one of the myriad midnight calls I received on my thirtieth birthday, a friend of mine sang a song called “Turning thirty” for me. My only response was – “There is such a song?!”. We thirties have royally taken over the limelight from the poor sweet-sixteens. No one talks about turning sixteen anymore. Nowadays, people kind-of live their sixteenth year much earlier in their lives. Instead, as our worlds grow wider, distant things come closer, opportunities become more numerous, dreams get wilder, turning thirty is the new benchmark, the milestone, the yardstick by which we evaluate our current state of life and make projections for the future. I have had innumerable conversations in the last year about this very subject. Whenever I tell people my age, they express surprise, encouragement, even consolation. Some don’t know how to react – is it a happy event or sad event? They look around for help. Most conversations, however, end with the same statement – “Anyhow, it’s just a number”. Oh yes? If it is, then why did we spend the last fifteen minutes talking about it? Let’s face it – for reasons both internal and externally cultured by society, turning thirty IS quite an event.

Philosophically, this phase is probably the best and the worst time of our lives. By “phase”, I mean the late twenties and early thirties (27-33), because clever people get into the state of mind a few years before thirty, and foolish people (yes, the same person is capable of both) retain that state of mind long past the unit’s digit has crossed zero. Also, here, I speak primarily for myself, and maybe for those who share, in parts, my sensibilities and maybe even my lifestyle. I’m quite sure the experience is very unique for every person.

This is the best time simply because we’ve lived through the twenties. The twenties is our first taste of adulthood; it is when we move out of the framework of our parents, learn to earn our bread, learn our needs, our priorities, our likes and dislikes. Through this tumultuous decade of learning, by the time we’re thirty, we suddenly go from “learning” to “knowing”. And that is a very empowering feeling. To just “know” yourself well enough, to know your strengths, your weaknesses, your achievements, your failures, your dreams, what you’re ready to settle for, what you’re ready to fight for. Contrary to popular belief, we spend lesser time in front of the mirror trying to look a certain way because we intuitively know what we look good in, what we can pull off. We are calmer, more sporting about jokes on us, less tolerant of things we consider against our principles. We are ready to not make compromises, and when we do make them, we know why we are doing so. Personally, this phase has also seen a tremendous boost in relationships with parents, family and friends because knowing myself better has helped me understand others better. Also personally, this phase came with the liberating feeling of not having to keep up with a certain image I had painted for myself earlier or others had painted of me, to not live up to any expectations but my own, to not have to prove any point to anyone through anything I do. The feeling is inexplicable, the euphoria is addictive, the energy is infectious. Finally, and perhaps the most empowering knowledge is that of life always being in a state of transition. When we are younger, we tend to push for a finality, a climax, a “happily ever after” – the end of final exams will bring the summer vacation, graduation will bring a job, relationship will lead to the grand wedding. By the time we enter this phase, we begin to realize that the finality we worked so hard for was only there to stay a while, and there are now newer challenges, newer experiences, newer climaxes to achieve. There is also a tinge of reality in our high-flying dreams, knowing full well by now that life finds quirky ways of extracting a price out of every high and cushioning every low.

An anecdote will explain this better. Recently, I changed jobs. When I finally decided on what to take up next, I informed friends and family across all ages. The teenagers asked if it was a good brand name, the twenty-somethings asked if the salary was good, the forty-somethings asked if there was a promising career path, the fifty-somethings and above were just happy that I’d found something I wanted to do next. Only the thirty-somethings asked – “So what exactly will you be doing?”. That’s what this phase does to us – it makes us think of the WHAT because by then we’ve figured out the WHY but we’re still unsure about the HOW. We tend to look more closely into the content and the quality of every experience. We tend to assess if everything is worth the while, even if it means the return on investment is just plain happiness. We just need to know that!

Now for the worst. Let’s start with the shallowest. For people who care about how they look, this phase is quite an eye-opener. The early-twenties, I do believe this firmly, is when we look our best, because it comes without trying. There is a certain glow to our appearances, a certain dazzle in our smiles. By thirty, no matter how young or how fashionable or how ravishing we are, it just takes a slideshow of photographs from a decade ago to know that we are not our previous selves. For some more than others, this is a constantly gnawing fact in our heads. For no apparent reason, it comes as a revelation (like we did not know this!) and goes on to become disappointment and further on to depression (not clinical, except for maybe some). This is representative and symbolic of why this phase is also the worst. The revelation does not stop at looks. We realize that we have so much more to do with our lives, and while we feel inspired and energized by our self-awareness, we also know that there is a clock ticking somewhere. We intuitively know that turning forty is a totally different ball-game. It might bring a lot more success, a lot more money, a vibrant family life, a scale and range of a different league altogether. But still – we know it won’t be the same! Therefore, we know that if we are still to be our much-dreamed-about “young and successful” selves, whatever it means for each of us, we only have a few more years to go. I see people deal with this in different ways. Some begin the eventual process of reconciliation and start striking things off their lists, some recalibrate what they mean by success and discover new definitions of achievement, some go into a frenzy to make things happen (personal and professional), some just sit back and let life take its own twists and turns. But whatever our method of dealing with this, it is true that we are constantly living in that full knowledge of the ticking clock, and that is not a very easy place to be in.

It is funny that even as I write this, I know that a decade from today, I will read this and laugh at its naivete. I know by then, I will have seen and learned and experienced so much more that my philosophies will have undergone a tremendous transformation. But that’s the beauty of being thirty – the fact that I KNOW this. A decade ago, I did not say this. In fact, what I would think when I am thirty was not even a subject of cogitation.

I’m trying to find a fitting end to this article, but I guess there is no end. It is just a process. Until we move on to the next article then, so long!

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The meta-physical

A friend once told me, “Friendship is when people go through the same experience together, at the same time, in the same place”. I had nodded agreement then. Today, I would beg to differ, even if slightly. Over the last two decades, there have evolved so many different ways in which people communicate. First came email, then the mobile phone, then the sms text. Soon followed the online chat. A few years later came BBM and Facebook. Today there is Whatsapp, Viper, Twitter and so many other channels I don’t even know of! As if these are not enough, there are portals dedicated to people seeking similar things – marriage, dates, even sex. There are online platforms for people with similar interests – tennis, photography, books, travel, social work, even archeology! And through all of these mediums, that age-old definition of friendship is undergoing a sea change.

For a good part of the last decade, people derided these new mediums. They accused these of having degraded the experience of in-person interaction. They branded these as ways of making people stupid and addicted to the computer, keeping them indoors, keeping them away from real human beings. Even today, some young people go into bouts of self-doubt when they spend too much time on Facebook, or they tease friends for updates that are “too regular”. Just today, I saw a post that said – “I hope your life will one day be as awesome as you make it look on Facebook”. Why this constant suspicion and condescension and scrutiny? What if my life IS that awesome? Yours might not be, but maybe mine is! Maybe you think mine is not, but maybe I think differently. Is there a problem with what I think of my life, and what I want to tell the world about myself?

Over the last few years, I have met many people – a few hundred would not be an exaggeration. Partly it is my work that makes that possible, partly it is my nature, partly the people I befriend who, in turn, befriend a lot of other people. And through these many interactions, I have made several close friends. Some may still be acquaintances, and some are still strangers; but what is most interesting is that experiencing the same things has not been the fundamental foundation of these relationships. Rather, it has been how much and how well one shares them, and most importantly, the reactions that these sharings evoke in another. Also, as if to prove my theory right, these people are from age groups, fields of work, backgrounds, nationalities, even interests very different than mine.  Then why do their jokes make me laugh, why do their essays make me want to comment, why do their posts make me want to say “I know what you mean”, why do their photographs make me want to tell them “I was there!” or “I absolutely love this”, and vice versa? These are people I have spent very limited physical time with, but as soon as something funny or interesting or even serious happens, why do we rush to our phones and text each other about it? That is because we know that we may not always be fully relatable to the people who are physically around us, or those with whom we have spent considerable periods of time.

In addition to all this, the nature of life itself has changed so much. We are always traveling, for work, for studies, with our partners. We are moving bases, shifting houses, even changing spouses a lot more frequently than our previous generations were doing. What remains constant in this permanent state of transition is our identity that translates into our communication in the virtual world. Today I may be spending 40 hours a week with you, but 5 years from now, we could just be friends on Facebook and yet know/feel/share the same way as we do now. Similarly, today we may just be Facebook friends, but a few years down the line, we could be living in the same city and meeting four evenings a week! Who knows? And why not?

The final counter-attack to this theory would be – “would you still turn to a virtual friend when your world is crashing? Or would you still fall back on a time-tested friend who can meet you almost immediately, hold your hand, give you their shoulder, listen to you for hours, stay up nights with you, make you coffee and breakfast, take you out for a movie?” The answer to this is that we are all very different people, and some of us may really need a physical companion to catch us when we are slipping, while some of us may find solace in texting and calling people who are far away but who would understand the situation best. Maybe the same person would do different things on different occasions. A friend of mine dealt with a bad break-up by venting to his friends on Facebook. Apparently people write on the Facebook wall of people who have passed away, clearly knowing that there is no way they will read it, but still somewhere deep down finding expression to their sorrow. I will always remember an sms I received from someone I knew through work and spent very little but good times with. Even though we were living in different countries at that time, she texted to tell me her mother had passed away, a few hours after it had happened. She had her family and friends around her, but the fact that she still thought of me in those extremely trying times made us close friends. We don’t talk everyday now, but we still know what we are doing, how we are feeling and where we think our lives are taking us.

So, we all find our own ways to share our experiences, to express our feelings, to deal with our dark moments and to smile in times of exhilaration. We all find our balances between spending time with technology and with people who are real and in front of us. And we all find ourselves through these many options that are available to us and the choices we make with them.

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