Sign Of Intelligence

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function – a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It is hard to see both sides of a situation – understand the truth of both parties – knowing that they cannot be reconciled. It is easier to switch to one side because it is a more comfortable choice.

Let’s say at work, you have a so-so employee, needs monitoring, and on top of it spreads rumours. He is eager to show improvement but is not consistent. What would you do? Put him on a performance plan and take it from there. Now, what if I told you that he was the sole breadwinner of his family and his looking after grandson. Does your decision change? Can you understand why he might not be paying attention to details? Can you understand why he starts a crazy rumour of people losing jobs because that’s his greatest fear?

The question still stands – what would you do? Fire him or keep him on. A tough decision isn’t it? This is the intelligence that Fitzgerald is talking about.

Life would be a lot easier if things were white or black. If people were either good or bad. If people behaved consistently all the time without deviating from the character you have created for them in your head. But, then you wouldn’t need humans – you could program robots to run the world. Hey, they may as well be running the world in the years to come, but I digress.

If your friend slept with your boyfriend and she works with youth at risk – is she a good or a bad person? If your boyfriend forgot that you had a dinner date tonight because of work? What if your boss cannot make tough decisions as he is afraid of confrontations? These are all real-life situations which exist because we are human. If we were all robots that we would have a strict code to adhere to and we would not budge from them.

Let’s face it. Life is messy. We are humans and by definition, not perfect. We all make mistakes, and that is what makes us human. It is understanding this and recognizing this in other humans is a sign of intelligence. It does not mean that you do not make a decision. Maybe you make a decision to fire the employee, or you put him on a performance plan with clear expectations, or you shift him to another area and hope he does well there. There is no right or wrong answer. You do what your style and belief system says – but the key is to do it knowing that there are other sides to it—knowing that you are deciding to fire that person even though you know his family situation—knowing that you may have made the wrong decision.

How are you exercising your right to be human?

Timepass or Pasttime

When Adam and I got together, he used to hang around me and my Indian friend Ranjani. And we both used to talk in Hinglish which is Indian’s way of using English with Hindi. And one day he asked me what did we mean by timepass. And that’s when I realized that Indians have a different usage or meaning of certain words which only Indians can understand. Like the head nods – Indians know instinctively what the head nod means.

So, timepass is a unique word in the sense that it is an activity and is also a review of activity (I am paraphrasing Kanan Gill – Indian stand up comic). Let’s look at a few usages of timepass.

Ques: What are you doing?
Answer: Timepass

Ques: How is the movie?
Answer: Timepass

Ques: What do you think of my boyfriend?
Answer: I think you should leave him, he is doing timepass.

Ques: Where are the kids?
Answer: Must be doing timepass somewhere.

Not sure if this gives you a gist, but it means you are doing an activity – may be useful, may not be helpful.

Word usage can tell us a lot about the culture. Again, inspired by Kanan Gill. In the US, people do not do timepass they have pastimes.

In literal terms, it means – for Indians time passes whereas, for Americans, they pass the time. That is a very profound statement because it is the fundamental difference between being and doing.

In India, there is an understanding of flow, time flowing by – understanding that it is ok to be a watcher – an observer. If you ever happen to go to India, you will see Indians just sitting around doing nothing. It is prevalent to find people just sitting under a tree or side of the streets – doing nothing.

In America, past time refers to a hobby or activity that you do actively to pass the time. It is something of your choice that you actively decide to do to make the best of your time or your skills. It is very rare to see people just whiling away time – there is a sense of rush or urgency – a need to get somewhere.

The point of the blog is not to say one is better than others. It is to ponder on this unique connection of words and what they say about culture. And also maybe plant a seed of awareness around your preference. Do you like to pass the time or do you sit there while time passes you?

Aristotle to the rescue – golden mean is the solution to everything. As long as it is a choice and not a compulsion, you are good to go. If you were rushing all the time because you do not have any other option, then it is good to pause and think – is it needed? Yin and Yang – there is a reason why Golden mean, and yin/yang keep popping up.

What is your preferred choice?

More Time Now?

I am currently in the seventh week of lockdown. Who would have thought? I had just published my book – ‘You Can Do It’ when all this was beginning. And I had sent out emails to the few folks I know to do my marketing.

And a few of them replied with, ‘Now that you are Working from Home – WFH, you can write more.’ I have a problem with that statement – because it implies that all you need is time to write or pursue a creative habit. It’s equating writing to a production system where productivity is equal to the amount of time you run the system.

For me, writing is an unpredictable activity. The more I plan it, the less the probability of my writing anything. I do not know why? But, this is the one activity where sheer will power does long-lasting damage. And it takes time for an idea to bloom, put down roots and grow to the point where it bears a fruit which appears in the form a chapter or a blog. Sometime the ideas slosh around before settling down for you to see a clear picture, especially if it is a fiction book.

Writing a blog like this or the non-fiction books comes a lot more easily to me. I do not have to think of them. I live in this space all the time. My purpose in life is to ‘Learn, Grow, Inspire and Contribute’ and my vision in life is ‘ To be a better version of myself every day’ – given these, it is natural for me to ponder on the topics of self-growth or better me. Hence these topics flow naturally through me -Through me being the keyword. I have come to realize that I am just the medium for these things to happen through me. I offer very less resistance to be a channel of such topics. This topic is ever-present in my mind chatter – there is no forcing the subject for which I am grateful.

Fiction books for me have a more extended gestation period – because there is so much scope. And ideas all add up over some time. And things need to readjust as new information comes to light. This is my favourite part of writing – the brainstorming. Anything is possible, and I am not invested in any idea or story. There is a freedom in fluidity which I love, you can imagine more so than ever, there are different pathways, there is scope for your characters to change.

I wish life could be that way – I could re-define myself the way I can my characters. I wish I did not etch myself in stone but define myself a moment to moment. I wish I were not stuck in the past but discovering myself new with every new moment because, in reality, that is the truth. I am a new person every moment. The old me stops to exist, but my idea of the past me continues.

How can you re-define yourself?

Not Fair – Just A Slap

If something is unfair and nobody is aware that it is unfair – is it still unfair?

I am writing this blog right after watching the Bollywood movie – ‘Thappad’ which translates into – ‘Slap’. And I am writing this caught up in an emotion which can only be described as ‘Outraged helplessness.’

This movie hit hard because it articulated out aloud what I knew was unfair. I have talked about this often. And my admiration for the tolerance that my mom, her mom and her mom have- has only increased. And how often it goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

I am successful by society’s standards. I am a software engineer with an MBA working at a prestigious company. I have written three books, founded a dance company and co-founded a social enterprise. But, it still bugs me that when I go back home – my extended family does not ask about my work – they ask my mom if there is good news aka ‘If I am pregnant or not.’ When I got admission into London Business School – the vast majority did not celebrate the success instead were worried about my marriage prospects.

I am not stating this because I want to list my accomplishments or point out the ignorance of others. Instead, I want to point out that according to society, my purpose is to get married and have kids—a woman’s life.

Even as I write this, I feel a bitterness inside of me. Me, my mom and thousands like us are told that a woman has to adjust, compromise and keep the house together. And guess who tells us this – other women.

I am not blaming anybody. We are where we are as a society, and the only way is forward. I get that. I also get that women have come a long way. I also understand it is easy for me to make these statements because I am independent. Most women do not have this choice. I am also not blaming men – they know what they know, are learning, and every day it is getting better.

PLOT SUMMARY: A couple in love – a housewife and ambitious husband. Husband comes to know that he has not been awarded the position he wanted in his company and slaps his wife at the celebration party. Just one slap and the first time it has happened. Wife says – One slap brought into focus all the other items that were unfair in her life. And her husband, her mother and mother-in-law all tell her. ‘It was one slap – Let it go – Women have to adjust.’

I am outraged that this happens, and I know some of the people I know would give me the same advice. I feel helpless that there is no one easy solution for this.

We are all in this together. Women and Men. We have to re-imagine what is possible and make it happen. But, we limit ourselves by our perceptions of reality and what is possible. There is a fear to break the societal norms because that’s the world we know. We all have moments in our life when it tugs at our heartstrings – when it does act on it. That holds for me as well.

Maybe coronavirus is nature’s way of showing her outrage at what we did for ages. Will we learn?

My recommendation especially if you are a woman – watch it. It is available on amazon prime video.

Out Of The World

My dad has been talking about this guy called Sri M for a couple of years. Sri M has written a few books, and my dad has read them all. The topic of Sri M came up again recently, and I decided to give his books a try. I share my dad’s kindle – clicked on the book and voila downloaded.

The book was titled, ‘Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master – the autobiography of a yogi. As some of you know, I am into these kinds of books – so I sat down with a cup of chai and started reading the book.
And I finished the book in two sittings. The book is out of the world for most of us. What do I mean by that?

This book has many examples of enlightened beings who know that they are spiritual beings having a human experience. We are all spiritual beings having a human experience, but for most of us, we have no inkling about the spiritual side. And hence this book might seem out of the world for most of us.

In the book, Sri M has an encounter with a serpent god from another planet in another galaxy in the Miky way. As per Sri M – there was a time on earth when humans and serpents lived harmoniously. The serpent folk were highly evolved and taught humans a lot. And as usual, humans became greedy and started massacring serpents in mass. The serpent lord – called Anantha called his folks back. Only the sick, old or rebels were left behind. And with too much interbreeding they have lost all essence of their original selves, and we know them as snakes today.

There are other examples where people communicate telepathically, travel instantaneously, can speak foreign languages even if they haven’t read it. All this for most of us out of the world. And I am sure some of us will dismiss this as fiction.

But, aren’t we limited with what we can perceive. For the longest time earth was flat, and we all lived in that reality. Our belief in it was so strong that we would kill people who tried to argue otherwise. Greek philosophers proved that the earth was round and then Newton confirmed that it was spherical. What does this mean? That we know only what we know and have a strong tendency to disbelief what we cannot see.

The fault with this kind of thinking is that we are limited by our sense doors – what we can see, feel, touch, hear – what if we have other senses that we are not aware of. Everything in nature operates under its laws. If we understood those laws, how would our lives change?

The purpose of this blog is not to prove that serpents exist as evolved creatures in this galaxy. Instead, it is to plant a seed that states – there might be more to what meets the eyes. What we know might not be reality. Another purpose also was to introduce Sri M to more people.

And I told one of my professors about Sri M. And guess what the next day his friend (one he hadn’t heard from a long time) forwarded a link to the online talk from Sri M – Out Of The World, right?

How does this change your perception?

The New Normal

The dictionary meaning of normal is ‘conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.’

Like, as an Asian child growing up – to be ‘normal’ was to work super hard, get excellent grades and a get a good job. Continuing further, it also meant that you married a nice boy that your parents chose, had babies and lived happily ever after. So, to summarize normal meant – education, job, marriage and family.

And there were other aspects of normality that I took on even though it was never articulated – no smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no partying. Yes, I know you think that my definition of normal is what weird meant for you.

And if I had probably stayed in India that would have been my definition of normal. However, as life would have it, I travelled abroad and met a few people and without realizing my definition of normal changed.

First, I had roommates in Phoenix who drank and partied hardcore, and to my surprise, I found that they were lovely human beings. Then, I had another roommate in London who blew away all my mental models of happiness. She was forty years old at that time – separated, about to get divorced, no kids and THE MOST HAPPIEST PERSON I had ever met. I was about twenty-seven at that time. An age where most of us looking for a job, looking for a partner – looking for something. It was quite fascinating to see somebody on the other side of the bridge and see what mattered. She also gave me the best career advice on how to run a meeting – which in my later years transformed into owning the room, executive presence etc. I digress.

Until I met her, my idea of a normal (and hence happy) life meant you had to be married and have kids. Divorce is an awful thing and should be avoided at all costs. And for the first time in my life, I realized that being normal wasn’t that important or even right for that instance. My forty year old divorced and now single roommate blew that normalcy for me. And since then, I have realized that I can define my own normal – which is very powerful if you think about it.

But, how many times we or society go back to revisit the normal. Slavery was normal at some time, and now it is a criminal offence. Do you ever wonder what if we sat down now as a society and decided what the new normal will look like? Especially, given all that, we are going through now with COVID-19. We have a unique chance to re-imagine at least some aspects of our lives which were not working.

What did news look like before coronavirus? What happened to all that? Do we still need that in our life? What about travel? What about all the items/events that we thought were necessary and now we do not even think about them?

How are you working towards the new normal?

Not Just Funny!

So, I have been watching a standup comedy show called – Comicstaan on Amazon Prime Video. This is an Indian show featuring Indian comedians. I stumbled upon it – watched the trailer, loved the jokes and got hooked to it.

I have watched other standup comedians too, mostly western and I enjoyed those, but there was something more endearing about Comicstaan. As I kept watching episodes, it dawned on me that it is the Indian context that I connected with at a deeper level sometimes even more so than the comedy.

Because I knew what they were talking about as I had gone through the experience myself. I believe that the punchlines are just a lot stronger in Hindi or other regional languages because that is what I heard growing up and some words aren’t translatable. You have to know them.

It was more of a nostalgic journey for me, as well. It brought back all the school memories, eve-teasing in India, local trains. The daily routine that I had and brought into sharp focus the sad/annoying parts of it in a humorous way – the beauty of stand up comedy. For example, when I was growing up, we had to do this thing called ‘March Past’. It was a squad of kids who would march around the school grounds and turn to look at the chief guest when we passed them. One of my favourite comedians – Kannan Gill did a 5-minute bit about it. To paraphrase, he said, ‘Which perverse chief guest wants to see kids sweat in the sun and look at him as they march past him?’ Authentic, made me wonder why we did that, but this is the beauty. You laugh at all the agony you went through.

It is also a source of connection for me. I shared this with my good friend and even my dad. And when I described it to them there was this moment of instant connection when we all went back to our school days – experienced the same thing – came back to the conversation feeling more connected.

It also brought me up to date with what has happened in India after I left. India now has the tallest statue in the world – called ‘Statue of unity.’ The state of ‘Allahbad’ is now called ‘Prayagraj’. And apparently, dick pics/casual sex/dating are the rage in India. It made me realize that India I knew and grew up in does not exist. I do not think I will be ‘at home’ in India the same way I was before – there will be a lot of catching up to do.

And of course, I laughed a lot. I chuckled and sometimes came close to rolling on the floor. When we can laugh at our follies – it is as close to nirvana or enlightenment that we can get to. We tend to take ourselves too seriously, and sometimes we need somebody else to point out that funny side.

How do you bring humor in your life?

Illogical

I have recently discovered Self-Compassion. I knew it was the right thing to do; it is something we should practice. But as we all know, there is a vast difference between knowing and knowing, right? When the student is ready teacher appears.

I watched the video by Kristen Neff on Self-Compassion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4&t=666s. If this topic calls out to you, then watch it. I am like in pre-kindergarten or pre-kg as Indians would say when it comes self-compassion. So, this talk was very insightful. It is in this talk she says – we all want to be above average, and if we look at the audience how is that even possible? Like, logically, practically possible. Makes sense, right? But then we all want to be above average. What is wrong with being average – when lots of people are average? As a matter of fact, what is wrong with being below average? Nothing, the only thing is you do not fit into the society’s definition of good. 

Perfection is a myth

The other item she talks about is being human is being imperfect. I love it. As a struggling perfectionist (and perfectionists are always struggling because it is difficult to achieve) I loved it that as humans, we are imperfect. We will mess up. If you haven’t messed up yet, too bad, it will be a lot to handle when it hits- one of the reasons for fear and anxiety in our society. To get the promotion, to top the class or if you are not competitive, then to be the best that you can be. What if you weren’t in the mood? Or, there are genuinely more intelligent, fast people than you. 

It’s like telling a river – you better win the race. Stupid, right. The river is happily flowing or bubbling – whatever it feels like and now all of a sudden the mother nature starts telling all its rivers – move fast, you have to be the one to reach the ocean first. Would that even work? And why would the river care – it is going to reach the ocean anyways. But, no as a society, we have to tell people to hurry up and reach their full potential.

If there is a judgement of any kind, then there is no compassion or self-love. Judgement at the end of the day is just another form of self-hatred. And it prevents you from accepting what is. Another excellent point that Kristen Neff makes is that self-compassion is loving yourself the way you are with flaws and all. All of us have parts of us that we love; usually, the ones that get external validation and other parts are neglected. Why the bias? I exist, and that is all there is to it. Imagine you tell your hand I love your pinky finger but the thumb not so much. First of all, stupid comparison – every finger has its use. And what is the point of comparison?

It is time to be kind of ourselves first – unless we learn that we will never be able to do it entirely for others. How will you be kind to yourself?

That Worked Out Well.

With the coronavirus shutdown, I am finding it easier to go inward. I had already started an introspection journey this year, so the lockdown came as a pleasant addition.

I wanted to share some experiences with you.

Engineering Days: I was not happy about the fact that I got admission into girls-only college. I wanted to have the same kind of fun my other friends were having in the co-ed (Mixed) colleges.

The first-ever interview: I did not get an offer from the first-ever company I interviewed with after engineering. I thought I was never going to get such a good job offer. (They were going to send me to Greece).

MBA: I had the impression that I was not a success because I had not got a job in consulting or finance after graduation. I harboured the belief that I was a second class citizen because I got a job in an industry.

The pain, disappointment and agony I felt in the previous situations were real, and it lasted from a few days to years. It felt like the end of the world; I will never amount to anything; nothing good is going to come out of this—a lot of missed opportunities and regret based on these situations. And of course, self-flogging was a given in all these situations.

And now, let’s look at what happened

Engineering Days: When I did get my first job offer, I realized I was more forthcoming and open in my opinions and comments at work. Since I spent four years in the engineering college with all girls, I was more comfortable in my skin and had no inhibitions that most of the friends from co-ed did. And this is something that is helping me even now.

The first-ever interview: The company never made good on their offers and my friends who had accepted the offer – could not sit for other companies and eventually had to look for a job without the campus interview process.

MBA: I learnt a lot while doing a great job of managing my work-life balance which was skewed towards life a lot more if I am honest. I got the time to immerse myself fully in the Creativity and Personal Mastery course, which taught me how to live life (a reason and inspiration behind this blog too). I understood the concept of hourly rate when I compared the hours’ other friends (in consulting/finance) and me in Consulting/finance worked.

Now, in hindsight, it makes so much more sense, and of course, it took its time sometimes years like five years, but the result is more to liking than the original plan. The reason why I am writing this is that I need to remember that 

  • What is mine will be mine – nobody can take it from me.
  • If I do not get what I want, then I have something even better in store for me.
  • It all works out; Universe has my back.

To bring it all back – Coronavirus too has a reason, there is a method behind the madness. And in the years to come, we will see the results.

Loud Silence

We are living in interesting times – something that is making history right now even as I write this blog. 

India is in a 21-day lockdown, and some of the temples shut down a bit earlier. My parents told me that within a few days of the lockdown, wild animals started roaming in the vicinity like tigers, snakes and monkeys. The silence due to the absence of humans is being with filled with nature. 

Within the last few weeks, Europe has seen a dramatic improvement in air quality in many regions. With a reduced human population, nature is breathing a sigh of relief, and we can see the results of that.

Humans have a way of invading everything – land, forests, fuels, water, air, animals. We have impacted everything on this planet and not for the better in most cases. We are loud, and it’s like we want to shout our presence. For somebody who is a million times smaller than a speck in this universe, we do make a lot of noise and a lot of it unnecessary. 

The primary reason for this is as Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” as I mentioned in my previous blog ‘On The Other Hand‘. 

Why is it so hard for most of us to spend time with ourselves? Because we have this deafening mind chatter going on. It is constant, mindless and for the most part – illogical. And we are not trained or not even aware of this constant noise in the background that creates not only our lives but this entire world. It is that voice that tells you that you are not good enough, that you will never get a partner, that tells you that the world is coming to an end, that tells you to do yoga, that tells you not to trust another person. If you dig deeper, you will realize that all our habits/fears/desires/needs/feelings – all are just that – our mental chatter. 

Uncontrollable mind chatter is why we look to escape, unable to spend time with ourselves.

Any change and one such drastic as this will put a sudden break to our everyday life as we know it. With end comes new beginnings. We are more aware of our lives as opposed to the frenzied robotic way of living. For most of us, the pace of life has slowed down, and we are discovering what it is to spend more time with our loved ones. 

And with fewer distractions or new fodder than usual, we are forced to become aware of the mind chatter we have. When all else quiets down the internal noise take precedence. We can use this as a means to become super aware of our mind chatter and learn to sit with ourselves and meet/define who we truly are. 

This could lead to the new consciousness that will help us take the next big leap in evolution, or it may drag us all down into the depths of unawareness. What choice will you make?

If you want to befriend your mind chatter – check out my free ebook on amazon – ‘You Can Do It.