Beyond Our Noses

Have you ever been in a situation in your life where it felt like ‘THE End Of The World’? Like, nothing would be ever right in your life again. What will people think of you? How will you ever get out of bed and face life again?

And here you are, reading my blog hale and hearty with no recollection of that life-ending moment. I am reading the book, ‘Failing Forward’ by John Maxwell, where he says that failure is not an event. It is a journey, just like success. The first time you bombed your interview or sent a text that should have been deleted is not the end of the cliff but only a little event on a long journey. If we keep that perspective, then it gives us the perseverance to keep going and also changes our attitude towards failure to something that we know how to do better next time.

Growing up, it is not explained to children that failure is ok. In fact, as a kid, I remembered that I had the mental model that engineers and doctors have a decent life, poets and artists usually starve and have horrible things happen to them. I also had a similar model where if I did not do well in exams – there was nothing beyond that. It was in my mind the end of the world. I could not imagine a world beyond bad grades. I am sure some of it was from the movies or society or cultural upbringing. But, now that I am an adult, I do not have to deal with failure this way.

So what, if this relationship did not work out? So, what if the house I had my eyes set on did not come through? So, what if I never made it to the second round of interviews? So, what if I said some nasty things to my loved ones? So, what if I stopped exercising? Do not get me wrong I am not a proponent of anybody stopping exercising or getting their home deal. We have to remember that sometimes life does not work out the way we want it to because something else is planned that way and time will show us how. The keyword here is the time. If we live in a world where we do not keep the long term view in perspective, then everything seems catastrophic, but if we remind ourselves that life is a marathon and not a sprint, then we will be able to pick ourselves a lot quicker and move on. In fact, it is better to hurry up so that you can get to the next thing.

And maybe somewhere along the journey, we will all realize that life is all about the journey and not the outcome. And the journey as it happens with its own ups and downs. As Prof. Rao from Creativity and Personal Mastery says, ‘The purpose of washing dishes is not to clean dishes but to wash dishes.’ A very zen saying but very profound if you think about it a little more.

Are you washing dishes to clean them or wash them?

Can You See It?

All of us have been part of at least one of the following scenarios.
SCENARIO 1: Seen a kid, niece or nephew and commented on how much they have grown? – ‘Oh My God – she has grown so much.’
SCENARIO 2: An uncle, aunt or somebody older than you comment on how much you have grown? -‘Look how tall you have become.’

And if you haven’t, then I am sure at some point you have looked at your old pictures or even in the mirror and commented on how much you have changed. These changes are physical changes that our body goes through as we age. And these are very visible, unfortunately for us especially as we age. Grey hair, Wrinkles, not so firm Skin, height, weight are all outward appearances of growth.

What about the signs of internal growth – emotional and mental maturity. They are not as visible but equally important if not more. It is hard for even us to see the growth that has happened to us. We don’t get a halo or a ring around our head as we progress on the path of maturity. And it is also not automatically correlated to our physical maturity – for example now that you are X age – you are at 60% mental maturity. I am sure all of us have met people who are wiser than they look and people who could do with a little bit more growing-up.

From the time we are born, we automatically start learning, and that learning happens in leaps and bounds as we do not know anything. And most of that learning happens without us knowing about it. If our parents told us to brush our teeth twice a day – that’s what we did. We never sat down and analyzed if that is a good thing. Unfortunately, as we grow up, we do not that either – we just let it happen without actively learning.

For example, you have a boss who is a micromanager, and you listen to the boss and get your job done, or you speak up and ask for autonomy. How often do we sit down and say to ourselves, ‘I have a situation here – how should I go about it?’ or ‘Well, that did not go well – what can I learn from here?’ We wake up and get on with our lives – ups and downs included.

Our emotional growth and maturity would be faster and targeted if we were an active participant. What if we started the day wanting to be a better version of ourselves every day. What if we sat down at the end of the day and did a quick lesson learnt session. How much better we would be, our life would be. And our emotional maturity marker might not be visible, but it would be in an upward trajectory. Guess what, if it did not increase as much, then it is a reminder to ask ourselves what we can do next?

Can you see and track your emotional growth inside?

Weird Place

I just finished watching a movie called ‘Is Love Enough? SIR’ by Rohan Gera. It is a love story set in Mumbai revolving around a prosperous guy who falls in love with his maid. There is a scene where his friend says, ‘You cannot date your maid.’ The guy responds with, ‘Keep that aside.’ And his friend says, ‘How can you keep it aside?’

Imagine an alien comes to our world, and he sees the movie. I am sure he will be super confused as to why he cannot marry his maid. And he will probably conclude that we are a weird society.

This movie made me think about all the things that we accept but does not make any sense outside the construct of the society we live in. For example, in the movie, the maid’s husband dies within four months of marriage. And she tells her employer that being a widow in her village means ‘your life is finished’. You cannot wear any jewellery, you have to wear sombre clothes, you are considered inauspicious to be seen at weddings. Yes, it does happen in India. What a weird society?

Imagine if the CEO of a company decides to quit and become a janitor? Just play along with me. I do not have to tell you what the society – we the people will think about him. There might be an enlightened few who will mind their own business and carry on, but it will be harder for the CEO to face the society as a janitor.

The labels around being Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Transgender, Divorced, Single are getting better, but the very fact that these labels exist means they are treated differently. So what if a guy or a girl decides not to marry or chooses not to have kids or decides to adopt. The alien would not have given this a second thought. But, we are bogged down with what people will think? How will he or she manage? All this is useless baggage that we decide to carry on our own without even knowing that we are carrying the baggage. Can you imagine how light our lives would be if we did not have this baggage? We are all so bowed down that we cannot see what is in front of us – the reality as it is.

In the movie, when the maid leaves for Mumbai from her village – she puts bangles on her hand on the bus because in a city nobody cares whether she is married or widowed. It’s like just because she moved to a new place she can be a different person – a new place, a new society. Again, the alien would wonder what kind of a weird place we live in where the same woman can wear bangles in one place and a few miles away cannot.

Made me wonder – do we even know who we are? And what we want?

What kind of a weird place have we created?

So Close.

I recently finished reading the book – ‘Girl On The Train’ by Paula Hawkins. She is also the author of ‘Gone Girl’ which is also a movie. She is one of the rare authors who use unreliable narrators in her stories and does it well too.

This book is also very similar. I got caught up in the life of the three women – Anna, Rachel and Megan. I got a sense that something was off with the characters but could not place my finger on what – Which was the same for Rachel as well in the book until the end when I finally realized what was happening.

This blog is how similar I felt with the characters in the book. There were aspects of them which I know I had shown in the past – berating myself over some mistake I did, called some people multiple time when I knew it was all over, doubting myself, being jealous. I have never made drunken calls but have been on receiving end of a couple and can understand that state.

We have all come close to going over the edge about something or the other – at some point in our lives. We all have the demons that we are fighting. Some people are oblivious to those – Ignorance is bliss. And some of us are so acutely aware of them that it is a demon in itself that we are fighting. The point is – the vast majority of the humans on this planet are either wanting something or not wanting something. We are either desiring something or resenting something. The item itself might differ – boyfriend, baby, promotion, new house, money, fame, success, lose weight, win a race – the list is endless, but we are all dealing with it. We are all crazy about something.

Eckhart Tolle wrote in his book about the incident when he came across a mad man in men’s restroom. He realized that the only difference between them was that crazy man was talking about aloud, whereas Tolle talk was all inside his head. Such a thin veil that separates us from madness. And we judge other people.

I am not trying to prove that we are all mad – we might very well be, but I am not the right person to judge. I realize that we are all human in the human predicament. We all have our moments of Suffering. Suffering is human. May we be kind of ourselves and each other in moments of Suffering.

Before we come to this awareness – it is essential to realize that we are all suffering. Suffering is the common thread that connects all humankind across barriers of caste, religion, creed or money. And who knows this Suffering might be what will take us out of our misery.

Do you know you are Suffering?

Hierarchy

Have you ever wondered why the CEO gets the corner office on the topmost floor? Have you ever wondered why everybody has to rise when Judge enters the room?

There is a distinct hierarchy everywhere – in hospitals, airports even in Restaurants: head chef and a sous chef, Pilot and a co-pilot, Doctor and a nurse.

It makes sense that the doctor does the operation, and the nurse has a supporting role, but it does not mean that the nurse’s job in any way inferior to the doctor’s job. I am sure nobody says this aloud but isn’t it implicit. We all grow up having a mental model around what is essential and what is not – who has power, and who does not? Principal versus the teacher in school. As a kid, nobody explained the org. Chart of the school to me, but it was evident to me that the Principal was at the top.

Just because somebody has a corner office or has more responsibilities or gets paid more does not mean that they are at the top of the food chain. We, humans, have a come a long way since our Stonehenge days in terms of technical and medical advances. But we have been unable to get rid of this hierarchical system – it is ingrained in us.

Ideally speaking every person in a company has a role and they get paid based on the risk they take (in most cases), instead of treating the CEO like any other role we have made it THE role. OK – so CEO makes the final decision, earns money, but he/she also carries the risk of the decision. Still, everybody underneath him plays an equally important role, then why does CEO role get biased attention.

I am not advocating that we do away with the entire reporting system. We do need some structure. But, do we need the associated superior/inferior label that people seem to attach to it. Just because I am somebody’s boss doesn’t mean I automatically get the best chair in the room or tea gets served me to first. All of this is an ego trip and has nothing to do with my job.

Undue importance to the superior roles creates an additional set of actions which add no value. All of a sudden, the boss becomes the person who can make or break your life. All the employees want to be in his good graces because he makes the call. Shouldn’t the decision be made on more objective measures than the whims and fancies of just one person? The role of that person is to serve not to rule. There is nothing wrong with ruling as long as there is no I involved. It is harder than said, but it needs to come from both sides. Boss needs to understand that its just a role that he is playing and the employees need to treat him/her accordingly.

How are you encouraging the hierarchy?

Competition

Adam and I were walking with Aki – our fabulous Shiba Inu pup one day. It was a hot summer day, and Aki was dragging his feet. We ran into another couple with their Shiba Inu pup. We exchanged notes, and they continued walking with their white Shiba Inu pup leading the way, happily bounding towards his home.

The minute they left, I turned to Aki and said, ‘What is wrong with you? Why cannot you also walk like the other Shiba Inu?’ Aki made no move from the shade of the tree, but I realized that I might no longer live in India, but the competitive spirit that Asians/Indians have hasn’t left me.

Did you know that for the last decade or so the National Spelling Bee championship has been won by Indians (Second Generation)? I shared this fun fact with a few people and let’s see what their reaction was

Adam (My husband): Laughter mixed with – what am I not getting here?
American Friend: Polite ‘hehe’ and then move on to the next topic
American Friend: Confusion – no clear on the context (Awkard)
Indian Friends: Laughter with a clear reflection of empathy in their faces
Indian Parents: Sigh with a deep understanding of the motivation

There is so much cultural context in the statement that even we as Indians will not be able to articulate it. A child is born in India with the knowledge that he/she is competing with the billion other people.

When I gave my 10th grade and 12th-grade exams, nobody said it, but I knew that if I do not well, then the world will end. Imagine a hundred thousand(s) kids write the entrance exam for engineering and only the top 1% get admission. If you got 99.7%, you missed the cut-off, and you are a failure. Nobody told me growing up that this is how the system works, but I understood it loud and clear. It is only now in hindsight when I try to understand why I am so competitive that I articulated it. However gruelling it may sound I learnt a lot and a part of loves the thrill, hard work, anxiety and anticipation.

Well, so now I know why I am competitive, and I accept that this is who I am. I am one of those people who will look for the next thing – Stay Hungry, Stay foolish. Will this last forever – who knows? The important thing is I accept my competitive nature as who I am for now. And being competitive is not a bad thing as long as it is not a compulsion but a choice. If you are competing with everybody over everything, it is unsustainable – I tried. What do you think made me wonder why I was so competitive in the first place, eh? But, if it is a choice, then it brings out the best in me – and that is my motto in life. Be a better version of myself every day.

What are your compulsions? And do they need to be choices?

I Cannot Stop – Can You?

‘Stay hungry, Stay foolish’ is a quote from Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford in the year 2005. 

As per Quora, it means that one should never be content with what is, nor consider oneself an expert. There is always more to do/gain (“stay hungry” for knowledge) and more to learn (“stay foolish“, meaning never consider oneself an expert but a fool to learn more).

There are two kinds of people – those who look for the next challenge and those who are content with where they are. There is no right or wrong type – it’s a personal preference. For some, it is a way of life. 

For example, I love to challenge myself – I am a doer. I am one of those people who get the butterflies before doing something challenging – lose themselves while doing it – look for another one when its complete. 

For the longest time ever, I never knew this is what I did until I met somebody in my team who was perfectly happy doing the same role they are doing forever. Once I became aware of it, I wondered why I am the way I am. 

This year so far, I published a book, got two certifications at work – finished a couple of tight timelines driven projects and I am still rearing to go. I have this intense desire in me to do – challenge myself. I do get bored very quickly, as well. If it is routine, then I have to work extra hard to motivate myself. 

A lot of people would describe me as being ambitious. And there was a point when I took offence to it – not anymore. I have learnt to accept who I am and use them as strengths and bring awareness on how it can be a weakness as well. We all have qualities which could be a strength or a weakness. There are two sides to a coin always. There is still another side of the story. 

I realized that by not accepting who I am, including my flaws and imperfections, I was cutting away parts of myself. The hardest thing for me to accept was – ‘I am Human. Being human is being imperfect. May I be kind to me.’ This is the tenet of self-compassion, which is loving yourself. 

And a poem I had read a long time ago has always haunted me, and now I am beginning to understand what it might mean. It is a poem by Derek Walcott.

Have you spoken to the stranger that is you?

A Select Few

There is a lot of news about the suicide of the Bollywood Actor – Sushant Singh Rajput. It has raised questions on the powerful few who own most of the industry – which movies make it, who is the hero etc. Soon after that, there was another post from a singer stating that it is the same state in the music industry – a select few make the choices. In the retail sector, a few own all the Malls and hence dictate the rents for the stores.

Hence the name Mafia/Cabal etc. The dictionary meaning of Cabal is – ‘a secret political clique or faction’ and dictionary meaning of Mafia is – ‘a closed group of people in a particular field, having a controlling influence’.

What all these examples share is the Pareto principle (80/20). The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, states that for many phenomena, 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort. The principle has been named after Vilfredo Pareto—an Italian economist—who, back in 1895, noticed that about 80% of Italy’s land belonged to 20% of the country’s population. 

In the cases mentioned above, cabals are 20% of the population that holds 80% of the Power. Is this right? Is this how things should be?

Unfortunately, there is not a straight answer. Before we solution lets understand Power. How many you cringed when you read the word Power? How many of you have a negative connotation with the word Power? If you search the internet, watch movies – they will send the message that Power is a bad thing.

1st Baron Action even had a quote for this – ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute Power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…’ 

I recently read the ‘One Minute Manager’, and there is a quote in there which talks about – ‘The sole advantage of Power is the ability to do more good. Thus, if you want to do more good for yourself and more good for the people around you, it is important to learn how to tap into your points of Power.’

Power by itself is neutral – it is how you use it defines it. And honestly, you do need some Power to make changes.

In the previous examples – if all the stores got together and said these are the rents we want – the mall owners cannot do anything. If all the actors/directors boycotted the select few – the producers will have to change their view. If all the nerds and average children in the class got together against the bullies then – there will be no cliques. 

What we forget is that they might be 20%, but we are the remaining 80%. We have the majority of Power – but most of us are selfish. We look out for us, and our closed ones and the 20% take advantage of that. And for this not to happen, each one of us needs to realize our Power – work on ourselves, raise our awareness so that we can use our Power for good.

How will you use your Power today?

More Than Before

Before 2020 I was living my regular routine – going to work, getting things done and accomplishing the goals I had set for myself. I also spent a considerable amount of time with Wild Tiger Tees. Wild Tiger Tees is a social enterprise which Adam, I and three of our friends formed. Our mission is to empower youth experiencing homelessness through the art of screen printing. And as a part of it, we interacted with youth experiencing homelessness – most of them ‘not’ surprisingly were black. Adam and I had tons of discussion about generational poverty, how black are disadvantaged economically. We had debates, we talked about and then got back into the routine.

Cut to this year – 2020 which will go down in history as a remarkable year and the year is not over yet.

This year started with rumblings of Coronavirus in China, which I ignored brushing it off as something that will come and disappear. And then slowly in March, we began Work From Home. The reality had not sunk in then. Sixty days in – I realized that this is momentous. A single virus – COVID-19 had a global impact. Most of the world was working from home – who would have thought. We all have a tolerance limit, and dealing with coronavirus took some of it. For some more than others – like people who lost their jobs, it impacted them more than the rest. There were a lot of people who were/are unemployed, and that causes a sense of unrest. Even though the nature around us was a gentle hush – there were rumblings.

And then George Floyd was killed by police brutality.

It further increased our anxiety and reduced our tolerance limit. For some people that was it – the maximum they could take. For me – I admit that I am unable to brush this off as a discussion topic – Social injustice and racism. It took more screen space in my daily routine than the debates we had. My awareness of this topic has heightened that I cannot juast brush it off. And it bothered me that we lived in a society in which this could happen. And this led to a desire to act – do something. I signed petitions, donated money, wrote blogs – more than discussions or debates.

‘Doing More’. And I see it reflected everywhere – Sales of the book – ‘White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo’ and ‘How to be an anti-racist by Ibram X Kendi’ have gone up significantly. My company Nationwide did a public show of unity by kneeling in silence in downtown today. All the leaders spoke about what they are doing personally – being more thoughtful – teaching kids – speak up more – be an ally to our black/coloured friends – donate more money. Most corporates have publicly declared that they do not stand for racial injustice. Minneapolis has done away with the existing police structure and is embarking on a new way to police themselves.

I hope that this change lasts for me and does not get overtaken by my regular routine. We all hope that this will lead to lasting change – it took the pandemic and an event like George Floyd for a slight increase in global consciousness – that is a big step for humanity. Hope it continues and in the future becomes the norm until there are no native Americans or African-Americans or Indian Americans but just Americans or even better JUST HUMANS.

Innocent – Are You?

A few days ago, NASA launched astronauts to the space station. And a few days ago George Floyd was killed as a result of police brutality or racial injustice as some of us would say it.

Somebody in your team made a mistake, and you tell that person it’s ok – this is the time to offer grace and show some self-love. You come home and end up eating an entire bar of chocolate and beat yourself up.

There are people like Sri M, Sadhguru who are looking to lead us towards higher consciousness and we have a few people in this world who need not be named who are trying to the do the opposite.

What I am trying to say through these examples is that all these realities exist simultaneously. Humankind is on the verge of making robots real, whereas at the same time, we are not able to see some of our peer humans as real.

Has this kind of a spectrum always existed? Is there a reason why this spectrum exists? I honestly do not have an answer for this – not even an intellectual or a logical one which makes sense. Except that maybe it takes everybody to make this world, there is a reason behind everything whether we like it or not.

Right now, there is a lot of anger around George Floyd; emotions are running high. A white policeman killed a black man. And everybody is angry at the white policeman while expressing sympathy towards the black man. The question I want to pose is who is responsible for the white policeman’s behaviour. Haven’t we all created a society in which it was acceptable for this to happen? We can all say – I don’t do this. I wasn’t a part of it. But you know what – we all are. We let this happen collectively as a society, and that is on us too. It is not fair to blame the white policeman 100%. We have looked past so many items that they have become routine for us until something significant like George Floyd happens. Most of us turn a blind eye to it – consciously or unconsciously.

There are a lot of things that we ignore because we do not know how to deal with it or we do not have the time, or we are too selfish. The homeless person on the street when you are in your car. The little girl who was begging for money when you stop at the lights. When your co-worker makes an inappropriate comment, and you let it slide. When we ignore a bunch of young guys eve-teasing a girl.

If we all acted and did something about these minor things, maybe they won’t go out of control. It requires all of us, including me, to have the courage and awareness all the time. It needs me to be mindful of not only me but also people around me. It means I have to tune into how others are feeling so that I can respond with the ability I have.

Maybe this is the universe’s way of jolting us into the new consciousness which we all need to evolve into – for us to survive.