Tag Archives: #self growth

Not Enough

At work, we go through a lot of assessments – leadership, personality, etc. You will find a few statements common across these assessments and today I want to talk about one of such statements – ‘I have high expectations of myself and work hard but should be careful about expecting the same from others.’ I am paraphrasing, but you get the picture.

As long as I was an individual contributor, this was never a problem. And believe me I work hard, and I play hard. The picture was not so rosy once I became a people leader. And it forced me to examine why I had high expectations of myself and why others think I am a perfectionist when I know I am not.

Adam and I talked about this, talked about it some more, until at some point I told Adam, ‘In India if you get 99.6% you are considered a loser. That one question you got wrong can cost you a free seat in one of the top engineering colleges.’

Let me put things in perspective. When I was growing up in India – the system was that your %ages in Physics, Chemistry, and Maths would be totaled and then ranked with all the students who applied to that university. And then the cut-off would be the number of seats the university had. So let’s say if a university had 100 seats then the top 100 in the ranked list of %ages get a seat. Doesn’t sound so bad, right!

Imagine if thousands of students applied for 50 seats – yes, that’s the odds we are talking about in India especially if you do not want to pay tons of money for an engineering seat at a college. If you want a free seat (regular tuition) in one of the top engineering colleges, anything less than 99.6% was of no value. I got 100/100 in science in 10th grade – which was my saving grace.

I grew up in an unforgiving environment – and given the population of India there are various other incidents where you have to do your best – sometimes even that is not enough, you have to do better than the rest.

If you think, this is a horrible way of growing up then let me introduce you to a two-year-old in Hong Kong. We were at my friend’s wedding in Hong Kong, and one of his friends was telling us that his two years old cute daughter, will give an interview and is building a resume. She was taking piano lessons. She will be competing with thousands of applicants for a dozen seats at an esteemed nursery at an age where she is still learning potty training. Imagine growing up in Hong Kong. [Read more at this link ]

Growing up in such an environment shaped me to never settle for less – there is always more that I can do. Expectations at the end of the day are relative. I am grateful for the experiences I had for making me who I am today. Would I be who I am today if I had not had the experiences I had – Who knows?

How did your experiences shape you?

Let it go!

In Creativity and Personal Mastery course, prof.Rao tells us a story.
A baby is happily drinking his bottle of milk. Let’s say you take it away. The baby’s face gets all red, and he bawls his little lungs out. There is no mistaking that he is upset. And when you give the bottle back to him, he goes back to drinking milk again as nothing happened. At this moment the baby has completely let go of the fact that you took the bottle away.

Something happens to us when we grow up – we learn to hold onto things. We learn to re-live what happened in our mind and replay it again and again. Sadly, we forget how to let go. Holding on to things also prevents us from being fully present at the moment. If your bag is already filled with stuff then how will you find space for new things. If your jar is already full – how can anything else come in.

We clean our bodies every day to make sure that all the dirt and grime from the day is washed away. But we do not do this for our minds which have rolling in one thing after the other and picking up whatever comes our way. Let’s face it, in our human condition how much ever we try we are not always conscious of what our mind is experiencing. Meditation morning and evening is one way to clean our minds. Letting go is a part of it – when you meditate you watch the thoughts pass away without becoming the thoughts – and thus allowing them to go.

Another way to let go is to watch your thoughts – through the mind chatter itself. That is the beauty and the curse of human existence. Our thoughts are what makes us hold on to things, and our thoughts are what help us let them go as well. Next time your mind starts replaying a scenario or rides off on the train of bitterness – don’t fight it, don’t get upset – watch the train go and enjoy the journey not as a passenger but as an observer. And when we do that we are no longer holding onto things, in fact, we are happily standing by waving our goodbyes.

When things expire in our kitchen do we still hold on to them – no we throw them in the trash because consuming them will be harmful to us. Similarly, for the thoughts/things that have expired – let them go – throw them in the garbage and make space for new things to come in. The expiration of thoughts is not as tangible as the products in our kitchen, and sometimes we are afraid of new ideas – so we hold on to what we know even if it is harmful to us.

Like all things in life, this is easier said than done but that said the only way to do such things is to start with awareness – all you have to do is shine your light on holding on to things and they will automatically let go.

Building a Bridge

Have you ever been a situation where
1. Let’s say you have had a bad experience with somebody – for example, you had to ask for directions and that somebody shouted at you for asking the directions. So, now you are afraid of asking directions. You use your previous interaction to frame your current interactions.
2. You have felt scared inside, but you put a brave face and went on about it. Can you think of one situation in your life when you were not sure of how things are done, but you went about it like you have done it a dozen times? For me, it was ordering my first subway sandwich – coming straight from India; it was an ordeal.
3. You have looked at somebody and assessed where they fit in the interaction models that pre-exist in your mind. For example, this person is reading a book – People who read books are friendly people so I can trust them.

I am sure most of you can say yes to all the three situations before. Now, what if I told you that the youth experiencing homelessness could also say yes to the above situations. Yes, our circumstances might be vastly different but we are experiencing the same feelings, emotions and we come from the same space.

For those of you who don’t know – Adam and I (along with a few other great people) have embarked on a journey to establish a social enterprise (Wild Tiger Tees) which employs youth experiencing homelessness to screen print t-shirt. Our ultimate goal is to get them out of homelessness entirely. We are taking one step at a time – build a relationship and a sustainable business model first – coach and mentor the youth for long-term success. We do not know if we will be successful or not but its a start of something for sure. Like anything new – this has been the foremost thought in my mind chatter in the recent days.

The first thing that struck me was that I was as afraid of approaching these youth as they were of me. And that led me to see other things that we have in common. Surprise! Surprise! We have a lot more in common than I ever imagined – at the end of the day we are all going through the same human predicament, and suffering is the one common thread we have.

What Wild Tiger Tees is trying to do is to fill in a gap that exists in our society – for reasons beyond our control we have youth experiencing homelessness in our society. And there is no structure in place currently that encourages, enables and empowers these youth to integrate back into the society – in some ways, it is like two different worlds, and there is no bridge across them. Before I got involved in this enterprise, I was not even aware of this other world except in passing.

In our society we have a set structure of how life works – you graduate, you have campus placements – interviews, and then you get a job. But there is nothing of this sort that exists for the youth we are working with – they are an untapped workforce that we have not figured out how to integrate into our current workforce.

What we are trying to do is to build the bridge across our two worlds which have more similarities than differences.

Growth Mindset

Let’s say you are a kid in a small town. As a kid, you are fascinated by every nook and corner of the town – the towering candy stores, the super busy traffic, and the tall adults that you look up to. Whether you want it or not you are exposed to new experiences and people.

As a teenager, you discover another new side of the town which helps you express your individuality and be a rebel without a cause. Even the places you visited before seem different because of who you are or who you hang out with. It is still new, and you are still exploring.

As an adult the newness starts to fade – the things that fascinated you before seem to be no longer visible. And then you get a job and/or get married and start a family. The daily chores of the job and family slowly begin to replace the need for newness or growth.

The newness is not essential – what is important is the growth that comes with it. If the growth is not happening naturally then what do you do? Look for opportunities that do – so that you continue to grow.

For example, let’s say you have a piano and you play the keys on it, and it produces music – That may work initially, but if you want to produce an excellent song out of it then you have to learn the notes, be more disciplined about it. Similarly, the town provided you the music when you were a kid, but if you want to move to the next level, then you have to do something different.

Why is growth important? I firmly believe that if we are not learning something new or growing, then we are rotting or rusting away.

The growth mindset is present when we are younger because we do not know so many things but as we grow older we seem to get enough knowledge to survive our daily life and for some reason – become satisfied with where we are. Or, in some cases, we are not even aware that our growth has stopped. As a kid, I was curious to know why we see rainbows, as an adult I want the rain to stop so that the traffic can move quicker. Sad!

Then, the question arises – what can we do keep the growth mindset?
1. Learn something new – you don’t have to become an expert in it, but the mere act of learning will spark different neurons in your brains. Seek out new opportunities – go out of your way to invite them into your life.
2. Do something scary – we might learn something but let’s say you know windows 1.1, and now you are learning windows 1.2 – it will benefit but not as much if you start learning Linux.
3. Do something you are not good at – this is good because it keeps you humble and reminds you that you don’t know everything.

Last but not the least – Honor The Struggle as my favorite coach Brendan Burchard says.

Beyond Borders

As some of you know, I teach Bollywood Dance once a week. My students are from varied backgrounds, some Indian – some American, Spanish, Korean…The songs are in Hindi – the national language of India. So, the students regardless of whether they know the language or not dance to the music.

I was telling my parents about this really cool Tamil (Another Indian Language) song – Koova Koova which one of my students requested that we dance to. My dad’s comment was, “Well, you don’t know Tamil that well.” And that got me thinking about how students in my class do not understand the language but still love and enjoy the dance. The tagline for my dance company email is “Dance is the language of the soul.”

Some things in life cross boundaries set by humans and dancing, music, art – anything of a creative nature falls in that category.

Even if you don’t know how to say Hello – a small smile with a nod does it usually.

Human Emotions are universal. Anger is anger – there is no millionaire anger and poor man’s anger. Human emotions are the same – whether you are a Hindu, or a Catholic or Jewish – we all feel the same emotions. The anguish of heartbreak, sadness at leaving a loved one, loss of a close one – we all go through the same feelings. Laughter is universal – even if you don’t understand the language, there is something about humor that catches on. Love of a mom in India and love of a mom in Europe are not different – they are the same. These emotions bring us together, and they bring us down to earth where we are all born equal regardless of human-made boundaries like race, caste, religion, sex, wealth, etc.

Suffering is also universal. Let’s say you are a millionaire who is upset that one of his jets has a dent and let’say you are a struggling low-income father trying to feed his family. Both of them are suffering – the pain and anguish that each one of them feels are real. We have decided that food is a basic need, and hence the suffering is more significant for the father – but the tug in your heart when your desire is not met is the same for all humans.

All of the humanity shares these common threads. Instead of focusing on what is common we tend to focus on our differences. I wonder why that is? Is it because of human conditioning? Is it because of Media? Is it because – ‘this is the way things are?’ I don’t know but it makes me wonder does the answer to the question matter as much as awareness of the fact that we have a lot more common going on for us than differences.

Once we become aware – our actions will follow. We will look at the person cutting ahead of us in the queue and think back to the time we did that too. We will look at the person talking loudly on the phone and realize that I felt anger and irritated also.

And if you are one of the very few perfect role models in our world, then something that Buddha said might come in handy. “We have no right to judge somebody else because we have spent so many countless births in the human condition that we have played all roles from beggar to King, thief to a constable, male to female.”

VIP – Very Important Person

A scenario from work: Let’s say I have an employee reporting to me and let’s say there are some performance issues. And it is impacting her peers as well. I have a constructive conversation with her and feedback is received well. After a week I check in with her peers. Feedback is positive, and they are surprised by the progress made. As I am about to end the conversation one of them says – “Well, you know I thought that was the end of her.” I asked, “What do you mean?”. He explained, “Well, I thought that we would just let her go.”

In his mind, that was an option. In my mind, it wasn’t – that got me thinking about my style.

100% of Individual is the asset:
I feel strongly about this. When you show up at work – you show up as your entire person, not as 50% of person who shows up for work. Whoever you are – a product of your childhood, circumstances – that entire being shows up at work. If I try to work with you at the deliverables/policies level, then I am just scratching the surface, and it will always be a band-aid. It is a short-term fix – we are only fixing the symptoms – not addressing the cause.

Let’s say as a kid you have been very careless – like forgetting to turn off the light, getting into accidents because your mind is wandering. As you grow up (and assuming you haven’t done anything to address that) you will carry the same trait at work – that will manifest itself in forgetting to update the date in the status report, not remembering to add due dates to action.

Now, I can have a conversation with you about trying to remember to add the dates in the status report, but it might pop up in other areas because the cause of the problem is lack of mindfulness. So, the best way to get to the root of the problem would send the person to mindfulness classes. Unfortunately, our corporate culture is not evolved to that level yet.

So – to summarize keep in mind that you might not be addressing the root of the problem – set your expectations accordingly.

Longer Term View:
Depending on my tolerance level or my take on people I may or may not that let that person go. Let’s say I do let that person go – then what I have done? I have just passed the problem to somebody else who also is a part of the ecosystem I belong to. So, in essence, we are all impacted by it including me – I might not be able to connect the dots right away, but it is a zero-sum game. Most people forget about this and are just concerned about getting their team right. (And I also believe that if you there was a lesson for you to learn then the next person on your team will also display similar issues – you cannot outrun a life lesson)

This does not mean that you don’t put a band-aid on personnel issues or keep people on your team forever because you are looking at the long-term view. Just be aware and balance it with where you are in your journey. I hope this invites you to the think in different ways when it comes to people.

Long Term – Strategy

In my current role I have to manage a team of people – mostly project managers. And every month we have a strategic meeting and some kind of a fun activity either within ourselves or with other teams we work with. If I chair a meeting it has to be fun at least for me – otherwise why would I have a meeting that I myself don’t want to attend. And at the same time they have to be useful.

Brainstorm Ideas why meeting should be over

What do I in my meetings – in the strategic meeting every month we go over Road-map/NW news/Continuous improvement and about 30% of the meeting is dedicated to watching a movie – a soft skill one, like this time we watched the four agreements summary a) Be impeccable with your word b)Don’t take it personally 3)Don’t make assumptions 4) Do your best.

And for our fun activity we met with the scrum masters in our area and played “What color you are game?” and a trivia about each person.

I never thought about why I do what I do – until one of my team members made a comment that I seem to like these sort of things. It is true – I love the people aspect of it, it is very important for people to know each other as opposed to just coming to work. Whether we realize it not workplace is a social place for us where we spend most of our lives.

But there is another reason why I invest in people. Because in my mind it is the long term strategy. All of us our acutely aware of how hard it is to bring change in ourselves. We also know that unless we change ourselves there is no long term improvement. Changes will happen at the superficial level or will not be full committed too and we revert back to our old ways of working. Otherwise – we would all lose weight by just reading the book, right? So in my mind unless we bring about change in people themselves there is no long term improvement or change.

And I am also aware that I cannot change people but what I can do is create an environment where it is easy for them to be a)aware of the change b)make it easy to adapt to the change. Awareness is a big step in itself.

For example: as a project manager we work with a lot of people and different kinds of people. Not only in rank but also in styles. And as a project manager your maim aim is project delivery. And at the end of the day a project manager is a human being who comes in with her own views too. With all these it is very easy to assume that a team member exists solely to make your life miserable – and when we are so busy with other things this story subconsciously gets embedded in our mind and we start behaving that way. But, if we realize that he is also looking out for the project success we will approach the whole thing differently.

So the key thing is here is not telling the project manager that she should work on her “Stakeholder Management” or “Team Building” skills but shine light on the fact that she may have made an assumption about the team member. And if you know something about that person like they might have the same hobby as with you – you are less likely to make the assumptions.

So this is my long term strategy at work and have fun while you are at it.