The Burden Of Silence

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When do we tend to open our mouths the most without hesitation (Apart from the time we are gorging ourselves with food and drink every few minutes)? Is it when we are confident of what we’re saying (The levels of which go from high to low as we move from a relaxed personal setting to a more intimidating professional one)? Is it when we feel our egos have been challenged and we want to scathe someone with our words (Because they stated that Jack Ma has better business acumen than us)? Is it when we just want to yell at someone without any semblance of meaning or direction to what we’re saying (To get our daily dose of frustration out)? Or is it when we want our ideas to be heard (Which usually happens only when we are confident of being the brightest and most experienced in that given room)?

What determines our participation in an event? What factors does our mind consider innately before we decide to express ourselves in any situation? Why do we hoot or whistle in a crowded cinema hall during a movie, but are apprehensive about the slightest contribution in an equally crowded seminar? Why do we question others during their presentations in college, but are tongue-tied during our own? Why do we find it easier to demean someone rather than appreciate them? Why do we lash out immediately at someone for causing us the slightest irritation but behave like large iron clamps are keeping our lips together when we need to apologize for the grief we have caused? Why do we speak when we should really be listening and shut our trap when we really need to speak? Fear? Lack of confidence? Ego? Convenience? The lack of intent in pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone? Lack of care? Or even the old age civilized human’s adage of ‘chalta hai’ (big deal, it’s okay)?

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How many situations do we find ourselves in where we know we can do better with our speech, but refuse to do so? There are innumerable but here are just a few examples.

  • We are ready with admonishing words for our subordinates or colleagues at work (sometimes just for the heck of it because we believe it keeps them in line), but rarely with words of comfort and encouragement
  • We leave our homes every morning with scathing words fired at our spouse (because we had a nightmare, woke up in a bad mood, and now need to get it out of our system), but seldom feel the need to understand her perspective and empathize
  • We tussle with our family members regularly but refuse to have a calm and mature conversation (Unless the elders decide they want to distribute the family wealth)
  • We speak condescendingly to the street food vendor for taking two minutes too long to prepare our sandwich, but seldom appreciate the quality of his work (despite devouring the sandwich at a rate that is always threatening to break the world record)
  • We spoil our clients but don’t feel the need to speak nicely to our employees (Doling out fat paychecks will only work for so long)
  • We crib endlessly to our loved ones about our problems (which could be as trivial as the cook not having shown up that day), but rarely care to ask them about their issues.
  • We even glare and mumble at the pavement, when we trip (Obviously, the pavement schemed against us, changed dimension, took us by surprise, and was hell-bent on breaking our nose)

We always seem to be embroiled in our problems, our feelings, our perspective, and constantly expect support from those around us. We will yell at someone’s mistake, demand an apology, and happily put someone in a spot, especially if we feel we have been wronged. However, when we have to walk the hard miles (have the tough talks to be precise) and drag ourselves outside our comfort zone, we look the other way. We either convince ourselves that we have no reason to have a particular conversation, pretend like the situation doesn’t exist, or want to believe that we can’t do anything to help. At times our ego disallows us to do so, at times it’s the fear of facing a certain situation or backlash, and at times we just don’t care enough.

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And then we rue missed chances to make amends, help someone, and boost a life, well into the future, and at times only in our fading light of life, leaving behind a trail of misery and ‘could have beens’. Ailing parents, disturbed spouses, insecure children, unappreciated employees, heartbroken friends, disgruntled business partners, and even ignored pets could use our words as much as a listening ear.

All of us listen. But how many of us hear? How many of us truly understand what we hear? And how many of us can eventually sympathize with the speaker. Good listeners are rare but then so are good speakers. And by good speakers, I do not imply oratory excellence and the ability to enthrall a crowd. But I mean the ability to touch, enthrall, and rejuvenate someone’s heart and soul.

So go have those much-needed conversations, for I can assure you that the joy and relief experienced by us and others upon doing so far outweighs our nonchalance, egos, and fear. Silence may be golden in situations, but the right speech, at the right time, delivered with earnestness and heart, is platinum.

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Brainwaves To Heaven And Brain Cramps To Hell

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We spend a considerable amount of time daydreaming (I know I do) about fantastic possibilities in our lifetime Owning a mansion by the sea. Becoming the chairman of our favorite organization. Winning that Olympic gold at a track event (even if we have never walked more than three hundred meters in our entire lifetime). Marrying a supermodel (Who is preferably even the daughter of a multi-billionaire). Flying to places in a private jet. Sporting the perfect body. And even slapping the boss for her incompetence.

We spend another significant portion of our life worrying about circumstances that don’t deserve our attention. Getting fired from our job even though we are still in the first year of college. Getting hit by a train outside our home, even though we live on a farm. What our future in-laws will think about us (find a nice boy first). Saying goodbye to our youth once we have kids. Not becoming a millionaire (worrying won’t help you get there). Ending up on a wheelchair (relax, you only tripped and broke your nose). Not managing to get enough followers on Instagram. Rahul Gandhi becoming the Indian prime minister. And even what we’re going to wear at our brother’s wedding, which is still fifteen months away. And if we have time in between these two activities, we get some work done and pay attention to our life as it stands in the present.

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A lot of you may have seen (or at least heard of) the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. For those of you that haven’t seen it, I suggest you stop working on that sales pitch, or college assignment, and even hand your infant to the neighbor for a couple of hours, and watch this movie instead. There are several reasons to watch this movie, but I’ll give you just one: Meryl Streep. Enough said!!

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This movie released in 2006, while I was still in the USA. A few of us friends decided to catch a different movie (I can’t remember the name now) at the theaters, bought tickets and when we entered the screening hall, almost every seat seemed to have been taken, and the few available ones couldn’t be traced in the dark (We got there 5 minutes after show time). ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ was playing in the adjacent screening hall, and we decided to watch that instead (Since we had already paid for movie tickets and there was no way we were going to let that money go to waste). None of us expected much from the movie, but a few minutes into the movie I was completely dialed in. Not only did I find it thoroughly entertaining, but the simple message it gave me has stayed with me till date.

Anne Hathaway, a budding journalist decides to take up an internship at a fashion magazine, run by Meryl Streep, and soon realizes that this immaculately dressed lady is indeed the devil in disguise. She is hard to please, is a perfectionist and has the same expectation of others, seems to take pleasure in the discomfort of others, is almost never satisfied by the effort others put in, is unreasonable in practically every one of her demands, is a real taskmaster, and is dismissive of anyone’s feelings and opinions. Poor Anne struggles and pities herself (and complains and cries and shows open contempt), but then midway through the movie decides to raise her own bar and prove her mettle. She eventually quits her role at the fashion magazine, but not because she was bullied or beaten to the ground, but for reasons that aligned with her principles (And after completely impressing Ms. Devil with her hard work, dedication, sincerity, and fighting spirit).

The following year, I had a similar experience at my workplace with tough working conditions and a tougher boss. I went through the same ebbs initially (literally cowering at my desk), but then this movie (believe it or not) amongst supportive friends, my action figures, and sports, kept me going, and I managed to excel at work and silence my critics (including myself). I started out with ‘boo-hoo’ and ended up with ‘yoo-hoo’, more mature, robust, and with a sense of accomplishment.

Just like Anne, I had walked into this role daydreaming about the fancy stuff I would achieve and worrying about the problems I was likely to encounter, based on my preconceived notions. However, none of what and how I had anticipated actually happened. I did have significant highs and lows, but ones that were very different from what I had initially imagined. And I only managed to pull myself out of this rut, when I started living in the present and addressing the real world scenario as it occurred.

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Mind you, both Ms. Streep and my boss worked hard and performed at a level that was of a very high standard and expected others to follow suit. They wanted their team to excel just as well and raise the organization to greater heights. Their work ethic is commendable, and with a little empathy, they could be great leaders. I’ve also encountered bosses that have wanted me to work hard, only so that they could rest on my laurels (And also take time out during work hours to go to the parlor). It is important to recognize people that put us through adversity for our own good and that of something bigger than us (like our team, organization, or community), from the ones that are looking to purely drive us to death while they reap the rewards.

I believe, our innate nature to daydream and worry is a combination of our genetics, upbringing, the exposure we have had to good and bad experiences and the impact it has had on our minds, the guidelines by which we have lived our life thus far, our belief system (which invariably gives rise to preconceived notions), and our hope and fears. The one thing we love doing as humans (besides playing the fool and shopping incessantly for unnecessary products) is imagining potential outcomes beforehand in any situation. The type of person we are (positive or negative, or just outright deranged) will decide whether that perceived outcome is a happy or frightful one.

Whether we’re daydreaming or worrying, the negative impacts of both are likely to be the same if that’s all we do, without addressing situations in the real world. We become like ‘deer in the headlights’ in our minds, before an event even occurs. In fact, studies show that 85 percent of what we worry about never happens. On the contrary, the stress generated leads to problems like a shrinking brain mass, lower IQ, heart diseases, aging, as well as problems in relationships. Similarly daydreaming and not acting is like being on a constant high (where we lounge around, smile and giggle at anything and everything), without testing the possibility of those dreams turning into reality.

It is important to dream because it gives birth to creativity and endless possibilities. It is also important to foresee pitfalls and be prepared mentally. However, it is more important to live in the present, deal with life’s real problems with dignity, grace, and determination, and truly understand our reasons for doing so. Just like we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (unless it’s a Punisher comic because then it’s bound to be awesome), we should avoid judging people and the situations that follow based on preconceived notions and past experiences. They could be the devil in Armani or an angel in rags.

And eventually, let’s not forget the biggest mischief monger: our mind. Irrespective of our situation and the people around us that create it, our mind decides how we perceive it and act. Depending on how we train our mind, an angel may decide to be our companion or the devil may come out to play.

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Pit Stops Along Life’s Course

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I have already established that I am a massive sports fan and amongst the various sports that I do follow, Formula 1 is definitely one that I enjoy for its strategy, teamwork, and sheer level of daredevilry (As a resident of Mumbai, I often get to see Formula 1 hopefuls trying to work on their skills: flying over potholes, multitasking on their phone and exchanging expletives with fellow competitors while driving, racing past red lights to gain a competitive advantage, blocking paths to prevent other drivers from passing, and occasionally crashing into each other at neck break speeds of 30 kilometers an hour). But the sport is more than just that isn’t it? It’s not only about winning each circuit or the overall championship at the end of the season but about the little victories, both skill based and psychological, which eventually lead to long term improvements and triumph.

While watching the race on television or in the stands (if we are wealthy enough to spare that kind of money on car racing, especially since we aren’t the ones inside the car), we experience aggressive driving, smart calls on each turn, split-second decision making, and the speed and finesse of the pit crew among several other attributes of this sport. But the sport is deeper than what meets the eye. Not only does each member of a team (right from the team principals, directors, technicians, analysts, designers, R&D members, the pit crew, and the drivers) render the old adage of 10,000 hours to a minuscule number, and work in faultless unison to obtain the desired results, but they also set small targets for every moment of every race in order to encourage themselves and keep striving forward.

Modern technology enables the millions of viewers at home to now listen in on the instructions and strategies (played out between the team crew and the driver) during a race (Now only if we could get on a three-way conference call and offer our advice as well, just to provide that much-needed boost towards winning the championship). However, we get to hear these conversations in periodic bursts, whereas a lot of deep exchanges take place, which we are not privy to. I believe this is where the real work gets done: support, words of encouragement, cheers on a small milestone achieved (like fastest lap), empathy during failed missions, planning ahead, breaking things down into smaller goals, and who knows, maybe even cracking a joke every once in a while (I know I would).

A lot of us don’t aim high or set far-reaching goals for ourselves. But those of us that do, forget to take our much needed ‘pit stops’. We are so focused on the end goals that we often fail to realize that we hold ourselves back from attaining them. Trying too hard without taking the time out to address and acknowledge our little milestones, is probably as bad as not setting ourselves those big goals in the first place. While it is certainly better to try than to not try at all, not doing anything and overburdening ourselves, by doing too much without reward for small accomplishments, could lead to the same result.

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Let’s take our children as an example We have big plans for their education, extracurricular development, character formation, as well as life in the real world. However, we set progressive targets for them (right from their first steps and garbled words to serious development of skill, character, and mannerisms), and reward them for every little landmark reached. We nurture them with compassion, understanding, and love, as much as with discipline, prudence, barebones honesty, and strict rules. However, we don’t seem to display the same patience and nurturing attitude towards ourselves or other adults. Is this because all children are special? If they are, then at what age do they become ‘not so special’? At what point do we stop rewarding ourselves for our small accomplishments? At what stage do we stop feeding ourselves with compassion and love along with the beatings we dole out to ourselves on the way to our goals?

All entities from governments (they even reward their own for no accomplishments) and large organizations to businesses and sports teams have massive milestones. But they always recognize and reward the efforts and accomplishments of groups and individuals on the path to that goal. There is no reason why we can’t recognize these needs as individuals.

Life is like a formula 1 race circuit. It has the straights where we can cruise, it has nasty corners, it involves heavy decision making, it has a fair load of risks, it has highs and lows, it has friends and adversaries, and it often prevents us from completing races (due to confidence ‘crashes’, ‘engine’ failure, bad decisions etc.). However, you pat yourself for the effort, brush yourself, and plan for the next race.

Celebration is as important as planning. Encouragement is as important as achievement. Compassion is as necessary as discipline and hard work. It gives us a sense of self-value and helps us to keep moving toward our ultimate goals. We can’t keep swimming under water the entire way. We need to come up for air every now and again. We need our pit stops.

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On The Cusp Of Tomorrow

Tomorrow is a word used quite favorably by a lot of us in every avenue of our lives. “I’ll start studying for my exams tomorrow”. “I will make that call to my parents, tomorrow”. “I will prepare that client pitch tomorrow”. “I’ll submit my project due today, tomorrow (and spend today coming up with a fantastic excuse for doing so). “I will clean my room tomorrow”. “I will take my grandmother for that drive she’s been asking for tomorrow”. “I’m still angry for the mistakes I made and will apologize to my spouse tomorrow”. “I will stop being irritable tomorrow”. “I’ll take my calendar and replace today with tomorrow” (For some reason we never say the following things – “I’ll eat that piece of cake tomorrow”. “I’ll have my second drink tomorrow”. “I’ll wait until tomorrow to play video games”. “I’ll sleep in tomorrow”. “I’ll wait until tomorrow to post my pictures on social media to show the world how awesome I look at the party today”. “I’ll catch up with my Netflix shows tomorrow”).

Procrastination has to be one of the top human vices (I’m quite certain we’d like to call it a skill), surpassing others like our ability to be corrupt, greedy, conniving, lazy, and even Boston Red Sox fans. It’s a VIP card that we tend to use at every opportunity (And yes I mean every single opportunity that involves us doing anything that is not fun and games). In fact, the moment the world leadership declares that alien races do indeed exist (Imagine earthlings as the only inhabitants of the universe. Knowing our habits, we would have trespassed and ruined most of it by now), procrastination would have to be earth’s entry towards an intergalactic event, which would give us a galaxy-sized advantage over the others.

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Despite our tendency to put things off since the dawn of day, I’m often amazed at the ease and fluency with which we procrastinate on the most pressing issues in our lives; Preparation for large client deals, competitive examinations, treatment for health ailments, spending time with an aging parent or a growing child, filing taxes, beginning our fitness regime, resolving grave issues with loved ones, proposing to our love (so that we attend her wedding as the groom and not the best man), and even fixing the hinge on our front door so that we don’t get slapped in the face every time we leave or enter home.

And then when we wake up each day, we wonder why it sucks as much as the previous one. I suppose we expect life to give us a break since we give most things a break ourselves until tomorrow arrives. Unfortunately, (or fortunately since we can push things back another day) every time we begin a new day, it’s still today and tomorrow hasn’t quite arrived. We don’t move a muscle but expect that miracles will take place and life will become more cheerful on its own accord. And when this doesn’t happen we will whip out our magic diary of excuses (Somehow we want to do this immediately and never wait for tomorrow). Who are these excuses for anyway? The world doesn’t really care about what we do with our lives. Our loved ones do, but despite their valiant efforts, they watch us painfully wither our lives away (We on the other hand still believe we have exemplary prioritizing and time management skills).

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So what’s it going to take for us to realize that when we think of a ‘better tomorrow’, we really need to start acting today? What’s it going to take for us to take our preparation for life’s challenges more seriously, beginning today? What’s it going to take for us to realize that enough time has been spent leading a sedentary lifestyle? What will it take for us to pay heed to our failing health and fitness? When will we realize and accept that it’s our redundant skillset and not our environment, that is keeping us from progressing at the workplace? What’s it going to take for us to realize that our grandparents are in their twilight years and if we don’t spend time with them today, there will be no tomorrow? What’s it going to take for us to mend our relationship with our estranged brother? What would it take for us to recognize that too much time has already passed, and with that, a lot of life has passed us by?

Laziness is only a factor that comes into play when procrastinating on trivial everyday things (That still need to be done). It’s the fear of letting ourselves go in the direction that we truly desire internally that keeps us from taking action today. We are afraid of the unknown and the risks that come with testing our potential. And rather than encouraging ourselves to take a leap of faith and back ourselves, we resort to making excuses for avoiding exactly what we need to do. We overthink, which eventually leads to inaction.

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Whether its gaining knowledge and implementing it, organizing our lives more effectively, or simply creating a mindset that allows us to prepare everything ‘tomorrow’ fires at us, the right time is always now (you may start in two hours, as long as it’s still today).

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‘I’ Specialists

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It’s amazing how often I come across people that seem to have all the answers. More accurately, they seem to think they have the answers to any question or situation they encounter, ranging from how to cook Baked Alaska (or even a Heston Blumenthal masterpiece) and which player would be the perfect signing for the New York Yankees (and also wonder why they never get called to serve as the rightful general manager), to what the next big financial investment should be (until it crashes, because the fund manager didn’t follow their strategy) and how to solve traffic problems in large metros (and yet they seem to be stuck in it all the time). My father calls them ‘I’ specialists.

More worryingly, how often do we fall prey to this ‘I know it all’ attitude? How often do we consciously and willingly adopt this mannerism? Whether we’re sitting in a conference and listening to experts in our fields (we seethe quietly at having to sit in the audience while someone with seemingly less knowledge speaks on the dais at that conference), helping our daughter with her studies (we truly believe that the people that designed the education system at her school didn’t have an education themselves), working on a team project at college (we emphasize that if our plan was accepted for the college presentation, our team would soar to success, and if it didn’t, despite our plan being implemented, it wasn’t done in all earnestness by our teammates), discussing maters on anything from movies to politics (we are certain that if we wore the director’s cap, we would produce Oscar winning movies every year, and also have the perfect response to all political matters, even if it was devoid of factual information or reason), and even in our daily demeanor (from how to arrange the crockery to how to deal with the housemaid), we tend to close our minds to suggestions because we feel we are equipped with more knowledge than others, are smarter, and therefore know best.

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A know-it-all is a person who knows everything except for how annoying he is – Demetri Martin

We feel we know better than our kids, our parents, our spouse, our friends, our co-workers, our teachers, doctors, the prime minister, the national cricket selection committee, and even our building security personnel (about who is going in and out of the building daily).

Yet, somehow the bitter turn of events along the way seem to baffle us. Despite, having all the possible knowledge (at least the illusion of knowledge that we consider to be Gospel) at our disposal, we fall short on various fronts. Some of us barely notice and for those of us that do, we shirk it off as shortcomings of our environment and the people in it.

Those who think they know it all have no way of finding out they don’t – Leo Buscaglia

If indeed we did know it all, why is that we need external courses to improve our professional skills to meet the evolving nature of our work and industry? Why are we able to convert only a small percentage of prospects into clients? Why do we not always score well in examinations (Let alone obtaining a perfect score)? Why do we not win every sports fantasy tournament we participate in considering we have the best team selection process? Why do we need Google maps to help us get to locations in a city where we have lived our entire lives? How come we don’t know what our father does for a living? Why is it that we fail to understand our children (Although we tend to believe it’s them that fails to understand us, where in reality the failure to understand is likely on both sides)? Why do we often annoy or upset people (this isn’t our intention now, is it?) around us if we always know the right things to say? How come we don’t curtail our alcohol and cigarette consumption despite the health warnings on the packaging (What do the manufacturers know?)? Why is that our spouse wears a quiet forlorn look if we really know how to keep him/her happy?

We feel like scholars on every subject, but if we were to put ourselves to the test we would fail tasks we perform daily. Do we really know the correct way to hang toilet paper in the bathroom? Or how to brush our teeth with the right technique? Or how to change the gears in our car in the most optimum manner? Or even that Santa Claus isn’t real (If you’re under ten years of age, you didn’t read this here)? Do we even know ourselves well? We may be aware of trivial things like our choices in food, entertainment, technology, travel and so on, but do we understand ourselves well enough to know what drives our happiness? Do we truly understand how to use our gifts to fulfill our destiny and help others around us?

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In our quest to massage our egos, and prove ourselves to be one up over others, we close ourselves to new information and lose out on the opportunity to actually assimilate knowledge. I believe we can learn from anyone and any situation. We must learn to be humble students our entire lives. It may be a clichéd statement, but it was born out of necessity, wasn’t it? An open mind leads to knowledge, knowledge leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads to common sense, benevolence, fulfillment, and happiness. Kaching!!

Jigsaw Jubilation

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Life gives me puzzles, not problems – Quincy Jones

I’m not certain if Mr. Jones was the first to say these words (just like we can’t be sure of several other quotes), but this Grammy legend certainly combined this belief along with his talents to bring music and joy to millions.

I’ve already taken a swing at problems and pain and how we tend to change course or stop dead in our tracks at the first sight of these party poopers. I believe that we create most of our problems in our minds, and don’t give ourselves any chance of dealing with them in reality. That girl is out of my league (Because she has a great smile and I have no teeth). I will never pass my driving test (Despite this being my first attempt, with no history of failure). My prospect is not going to buy this product (Because he looks stern and closed minded). My spouse won’t understand (Because there is no record of understanding spouses in the history of mankind). My boss is likely to be a real handful (Even though it’s only the first day at a new job). I will fail my college examination (Because I didn’t get a chance to revise for the fourteenth time this morning). I will drown in the bathtub if I fill it completely (Because I’m only a little taller than Tyrion Lannister). And you can all add your own examples here to make this the longest list in the world.

Some of these problems are not even ours to bear and don’t impact our lives directly, but we cringe at the outcome already forming in our head (For instance, if the opponent of our favorite tennis player is Roger Federer, we consider the match lost. If a particular political party wins the elections, we consider our country doomed, like the previous one was Godsend. Or, we even fear that Priyanka Chopra may not get along with her mother in law).

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While I don’t always confer the designation of puzzles to all my problems, I have dealt with several challenges in my life by treating them likes games or sports. During my days at an investment bank, I had to put in long hours, which comprised of tough tasks, and a race against time. Now I would come to my office in the morning of a 14-hour work day, and feel like I had a Herculean task ahead of me, and find my shoulders sagging a bit. I am a huge sports fan (if you didn’t already know that) and used sport to keep my drive up. I broke up my 14 hours into a game of basketball or football, depending on my mood for either tackles and brute force or dunks and fast breaks. The first hour was pregame warm-ups. The next twelve hours were broken into fours quarters of play (with a short lunch break at half time), and the last hour as the postgame presentation. My work was my opponent, and being a competitive person, I now managed to convert fear into excitement and determination to win the game. I would plan all along and see where I stood at the end of each period of play, and if I needed to re-strategize. Not only did I make work more interesting for myself, but in the quest to win, I also put in good performances (Plus I would give myself an interview at the end of each day and revel in my achievements…:)).

I have a degenerating spine and am in regular discomfort because of it. I have tried various forms of treatment, physiotherapy, and other fitness exercises for close to two decades now. While I have seen favorable results, none of them have been permanent. And when I get spasms (every 12 to 18 months), I could be bedridden for a good part of a month. This puts a break on all my activities and also negates a lot of work I’ve put in towards my fitness. Rather than get disheartened, I try new techniques and exercises (under the guidance of a therapist/doctor of course) to see how I can finally beat this ailment (Being a cricket fanatic, this is my Indian tour down under, the final frontier). I even talk to my back at times to see if I can solve a thing or two and have that eureka moment where I have found the optimal solution. And what’s more, I make jokes on my back and allow my friends and cousins to do so as well, to always keep the humor and fighting spirit alive. I am India’s Leaning Tower of Pisa (With a tilted body during my spasms).

Thick waistlines and slim bank accounts, daily goals we can’t surmount

Irritable spouses and disobedient kids, flaring tempers that don’t have a lid

Long working hours and short stacks of cash, balding heads, and an uneven mustache

Many words of disappointment but few of appreciation, failing economies and warring nations

More cars and fewer roads, diminishing strength and heavy loads

Crowded trains we cannot board, great desires that we can’t afford

Sour grapes and no wine, big dreams but no spine

– Harsh Chandriani

So go ahead and ask that girl out, and not worry about the outcome. What’s the worst that can happen? She will slap you? So what? It’s about your attitude and how you view this situation. Don’t think she assaulted you, but instead cared enough to touch your face (That’s a positive thing).

The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life – Erno Rubik

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Whether it’s challenges at work, health problems, relationship roadblocks (both personal and professional), financial difficulties, or a plethora of daily inconveniences, we tend to get bogged down by them. We rely on negative past experiences to predict future outcomes. I have come to terms with the fact that life will always throw curveballs at us no matter what, so it’s best to have a little fun and adventure while we’re tackling them. I have made a conscious effort to look at my problems as puzzles (games and sports to be more specific), and deal with them with a pinch of salt and a sense of humour.

Let’s find our own jigsaw fixations, and deal with our problems in a manner that we find fun, quest oriented, and intriguing. On life’s rainy days, while we try and shield our heads, let’s jump into the puddles every now and again.

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Who Wants To Be A Remix?

remix4With the internet booming and blooming right in our faces, we are in a constant state of awe, primarily due to the fascinating world of ‘larger than life’ lifestyles on display round-the-clock. Whenever we jump onto Facebook or Instagram (that is if we ever get off in the first place), we unwaveringly believe that everyone else on the planet has everything going for them (Going on vacation on the pretext of a work trip; going to much-ballyhooed live events; going to the spa, which in many cases is inside their own homes; going on dates with supermodels; spending the year floating around the ocean on a yacht, with only seagulls for company; going everywhere within walking distance in a Lamborghini; sending a proxy to work; and even going to the gym overweight and leaving an hour later with the perfect body). Envy starts to kick in (only if we can learn how to kick envy instead, as well as his big sister, jealousy) and we begin belittling ourselves for our less than impressive existence.

And it’s not just the celebrities in their respective wakes of life that seem to be living a charmed life. It’s also our friends, colleagues, neighbors, fellow passengers on our daily commute, wives, children, chauffeurs, security guards of our housing society, and even our pet canary. Now we think to ourselves ‘Evidently these characters are doing stuff that is affording them all this goodness’ (being present at every party in the city, constantly adding new material items to their collection, eating oily snacks on their daily work commute without putting on an ounce under those flowing garbs, gossiping away on security duty while trespassers enter the premises, going at least 30 kilometres per hour over the speed limit, and even whistling for the dog to get the morning newspaper), and immediately become fans, follow them closely, and imitate as much of their persona as possible. In this quest to improve our lives and feel cool, we become a cheap imitation of theirs’.

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For some of us swaggering individuals, we aren’t easily bitten by this ‘let me be like him or her’ bug, but a majority of us lack confidence and always look for a guiding compass, which invariably happens to be someone that has, fancy possessions, a ‘happening’ lifestyle’, always seems happy in every photo (with an exotic background) on social media, and is brimming with confidence at all times. And celebrity or not, this person is who we want to be, not in our next lifetime, but in this one.

Yet, we will adjust every trivial thing in our lives to suit us; the volume of the television (because we are hard of hearing), the inclination of our armchair (usually at an angle that allows us to sleep through the parleys of our visitors), the choice of music in the car (against the protest of others), logic in our favour in an argument (anything that puts us on the winning side), selective vegetarianism (we will fight vehemently on airplanes for a non veg meal despite selecting the vegetarian option while purchasing the ticket), work deliverables (even if the rest of our team is inconvenienced), nap times (over the ones our 2-year-olds need), the movie our family watches at the cinema, what time we’ll show up at our friend’s wedding (closer to the end in order to avoid the 3-hour saga), if we will show up at our cousin’s wedding (she never was our favorite anyway), dinner dates, business meetings, grocery shopping, and the list is endless.

We don’t think much about how we feel, or how our actions will be perceived even when we know we are acting like completely selfish jerks. In these cases, we are very sure of ourselves and believe we call the shots in our lives and are on top of things. We want to be leaders here, even if the only thing we do is bully others and massage our disillusioned egos. And yet when it comes down to real substance, defining how we will live our lives by being true to who we are, we flatter others. We tend to see someone else’s potential just by the way they conduct themselves or their social media shenanigans but are unable to recognize our own worth considering we’ve known ourselves longest. Sure, we may not be a ready product just yet but we all have the ingredients to be that guy or girl people envy. We need to seriously dwell on our self-worth and uniqueness that can be life-defining for us, as well as people around us. But if we’re too busy admiring others, we don’t give ourselves the chance to appreciate our own potential. If we want to fulfill our dreams, we need to get off social media, do away with publicly gaping at others, and actually spend some time increasing our knowledge and honing our skills.

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The people we are in awe of, have worked hard (and smart) to get where they are (or their ancestors did). We can’t get there by just being pretentious. We all certainly have role models that inspire us. And inspiration is the key. We should take inspiration from every quarter, but only to groom us into better versions of ourselves.

Most original music albums and movies are deemed to be better than their remixes and remakes. There is no point in being a half baked repetition. Be a full-fledged original.

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The Highest De’greed’

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You’re really greedy!! Would you take this as a compliment or would you give a piece of your mind (there isn’t a lot of grey matter going around these days so try and be conservative, so as not to exhaust your resources) to people that said this to you? Or would you just stand there fuming or even try and take a swing at them (Unless you were caught with two oversized tubs of ice cream, with a spoon in each, in which case you wouldn’t really have an argument)? Even if we innately know that we often try and take more than our share, we do not want to be associated with this word.

‘Greed’ is considered to be such a negative word and in most cases rightly so.

We always believe we have been greedy for good reason, and we like to explain ourselves with jargon like ‘survival of the fittest’ (even though we are at least 30 pounds overweight), ‘jungle law’ (I’ve never actually known anyone that has seen a transcript of this legal document), ‘I worked harder’ (like we have the statistics on how hard everyone else worked), ‘it’s God’s will’ (like he shared it with us on WhatsApp), ‘my family needs this’ (while others are just sacrificial lambs), ‘everyone does it’ (because they come and tell you each time they do), ‘I had no choice’ (because Don Corleone made you an offer you couldn’t refuse), ‘someone else would have done it anyway’ (we need to beat them to the punch, don’t we?), ‘big deal’, ‘no one cares’, ‘it’s not that bad’, and a list of other innovative reasons, long enough to rival the length of the Mahabharata manuscript.

However, greed isn’t only about wanting more but is also about settling for less. People often hide their greed under the garb of staying grounded (And therefore aiming low. There is no reason why we can’t be extremely successful and yet humble), and being content. At times this need to resort to mediocrity arises from lack of ambition (we will smack our TV remote a million times to get it to function, but won’t change the batteries), at times it’s because we are fearful of the unknown (like the wife’s looks after a visit to the parlor), a lot of times most things just seem improbable because of our restricted upbringing (where we do what is told, things that are safe, and don’t ask questions), and many a time it’s just our ego telling us that we know best.

While there are many of us that truly have very few desires (especially material ones) and find joy and fulfillment in the simplest forms of living, most of us do not. We desire a lot but then are not willing to take the actions required to fulfill them (Thank God for food delivery services because we are not even willing to cook anymore). Therefore, we not only continue our existence in secret resentment, constantly telling ourselves that we’re very content but also expect our loved ones and others around us to live by this code. And a lot of these people could be dependents, with no means to go after their dreams just yet. Our homemaker spouses, our adolescent children, our ageing parents, our business partners and employees, our extended family members, our dogs, our cats, our fish, our action figures, and a host of other people we share our lives with, may have to curb their dreams because we tend to be selfish and greedy in only adhering to what we feel is right. We don’t feel we have it in us to follow our true desires passionately and aggressively, and therefore believe no one else around us should (Only we should be in charge of the TV remote or what radio station plays in the car. Only we should decide what gets made for dinner. Only we should determine how a sales pitch should be constructed. Only we should get to select what movie to watch. Only we should be the ones allowed to yell and scream when annoyed. Only we should decide who our children marry, or what career path they take. Only we should have the final word, even if reason goes down the drain).

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However, greed in the right direction, with pure intent, and in the right quantities, is beneficial. In my mind, a quest for knowledge, hunger for stability, an objective to be healthy, aspiration for freedom, and above all a burning desire to contribute to the world around us, to leave it a better place after we’re gone, are forms of healthy greed. We need to find it in ourselves to aim beyond our own means and needs. We need to understand that we have the ability to impact our world positively, by feeding our minds with the right signals.

Is it enough for us just to live for ourselves, or if we are generous, for our families and friends? Or do we believe in our own abilities to liberate ourselves from our fears and limited thinking, to make a contribution to a population that can’t be counted on our fingertips, but rather is reflected in the census studies? We certainly should.

While we aim with a generous heart to make an impact in the world, we must continue to nourish our health, mind, and soul to ensure that we are fit in every way to do so. Therefore, be greedy. Go for your walks to keep yourself fit. Spend that extra time to read and learn. Meditate daily to ensure a calm and stable form. Burn the midnight oil to plan and revisit your mission every day. Network and connect with people that share your values and goals. Implement brave and unconventional strategies in your business. And even be courageous and scold your boss for his inept business practices (If you get fired you will have some time at hand to catch up on all those Netflix shows you’ve missed).

This does not mean that we don’t find quality time for our family, friends, associates, professional partners, and others in our close circle. It means we must be more efficient with our time in order to ensure that we are able to give them our time and effort and work toward our goals as well. However, we must also realize that our loved ones can be unreasonable at times and we cannot always give in to their whims. As long as we do justice to them and our vision, we have the right to be greedy, because the result of this greed will not only result in the improvement of our own lives, but those of theirs, as well as several other people around us (This does not give you license to tell them you’re busy and spend the day watching sport and drinking beer).

Whether our aim is to serve our family better, improve our organization, impact our community, better our town, or benefit millions, we need to be greedy and stay hungry for knowledge, health, longevity, and consistent growth, leading to desired results.

What’s the highest de’greed’ you can achieve?

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Persistently Genius

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In one of my previous articles, I have spoken about being relentless in our pursuits despite the pain, and that pain is that part of the process that tells us we are growing constantly (What? You haven’t read that blog? Please get back in line and follow the correct order of the series…:)). And then there is that lack of self-belief that reminds us regularly that we don’t have the skills to fulfill our true passions.

A lot of us have dreams but may have limited talent to back those dreams. A small pothole in the road seems to be compelling enough to change course, strangle our dreams and resort to mediocrity, lack of fulfillment, or both (But if we encounter a pothole on the roads we will rev our engine and fly over it in style). We may love something but are quick to decide that the skill level or work that needs to be put in to obtain it is beyond our means. We will come up with excuses pertaining to lack of ability, lack of money, lack of time, people’s opinions, the risks involved, and a million other negative possibilities (We will, however, save for that shiny iPhone, as opposed to a self-development program; we will work overtime to potentially make more money to be able to afford the high-end model of our favorite automobile, as opposed to investing more time in attaining mastery in our skill set; we will call in a favor to get our child a seat at a college that someone else deserves more, as opposed to guiding him to put in the necessary effort to achieve it himself; we will eliminate competition at work through unscrupulous means, rather than work hard and prove our mettle; and we will even undermine our competition in business, because we feel its easier to bring someone down, as opposed to rising ourselves).

How come we don’t find too many roadblocks while engaging in unproductive or negative practices (Like smoking while wearing a nicotine patch, using our debating skills against our boyfriend when we can easily use a broomstick, or constantly hitting snooze on the alarm clock. Why set an alarm if you don’t intend to wake up?)? How come we convincingly maneuver ourselves to settle for less in matters that truly impact our heart and soul (Why cheat yourself into getting a box of six donuts when you can have twelve?)? Are we looking for quick fixes? I don’t believe there are any (Superglue tends to work on some of my action figures and collectible statues). Some of the practices we resort to only give us the illusion that there are. Short moments of thrill and accomplishment lead to a lifetime of misery, even if it’s only the substantial weight of guilt and emptiness in our hearts. Doing things, the right way is always harder, more painful, and involves a lengthy process, but is eventually truly liberating. As young boys and girls, we are abounding with positivity and conviction in our abilities to fulfill our passions. Along the path to adulthood and beyond, our environment seems to indicate that we need to be risk averse, realistic, and fit into society.

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For instance, in India, the rat race to adhere to what the society deems fit begins as soon as we are out of our diapers (Imagine conducting a formal interview for a 3-year old to decide if he/she deserves a seat in lower kindergarten at their institution. Not to mention the rigorous classes parents put their children through, months in advance, lest they underperform at this interview). While I see a few positive changes now, older student life is no different. Students great at math and science are labeled as intelligent, while the rest are relegated to the ‘also ran’ status (They had to be incredibly good at sports, dancing, elocution, debates, etc. and have had to have represented their school if they were to receive some semblance of respect). If we had the highest marks we were promptly ushered into scientific fields in college. If we didn’t do as well, we were relegated to arts colleges like it was where all the scum of the earth studied. Bright people that chose arts too were frowned upon and people refused to believe that it was indeed a choice they made (It was like opting to take the overcrowded metro when you had a chauffeur-driven Mercedes at your disposal). By this definition, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Voltaire, Leo Tolstoy, Sun Tzu, Charles Dickens, and several others were just hapless underperformers and ‘good for nothings’. What’s more? Scientists like Michael Faraday, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison seemed to have struggled with math, and yet they served society in a colossal way, against the demarcations set up by society itself.

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And why consider the aforementioned geniuses alone? Look at two outrageous Hollywood characters, Johnny English, and Pink Panther portrayed by Rowan Atkinson and Steve Martin respectively. They had limited abilities, but strong beliefs in themselves and persistence of the highest level (One of them even manages to humor the pope in his own backyard, or courtyard to be precise). Despite all the outlandish situations they managed to get themselves into, they prevailed in the end through pure perseverance and their ‘never say die’ attitude (Yes, these are fictitious characters. But movies are as much a reflection of us as we are of them. Besides, if gangsters, thugs, cheats, unethical businessmen, and the like can influence us, why not heroes in the simplest forms?). Champions at heart will persistently try to overcome their limitations, one small step at a time, in their quest for self-actualization.

We are modeled to believe in our limitations and yet want the world. The mental battle between our lack of confidence in our abilities and unwillingness to put in massive action on one side, and our unquenched desires on the other, tend to lead us down the wrong path or keep us stagnant. Innately, our desires continue to live on long after we have convinced ourselves of our inability to fulfill them. Therefore, we either spend our lives in frustration, dejection, and averageness, because we don’t fulfill our passions, or we implement methods that give us the delusion of achievement.

We admire Arnold Schwarzenegger for his impressive physique, Roger Federer and Cristiano Ronaldo for their sporting brilliance, Michael Jackson for his musical genius, Dr. Abdul Kalam for his virtuosity in scientific research and advancement, Meryl Streep for her acting prowess, Richard Branson for his business flair, Oprah Winfrey for her courage, Walt Disney for his imagination, Steve Jobs for his quest for perfection, Stan Lee for his inspiration, Jack Ma for his passion, Keanu Reeves for his humility, Charlie Chaplin for his creativity and scores of others.

We look in the mirror and say to ourselves that they are gifted and we are not. Therefore, they stand where they do and we stand where we are. However, all these men and women once stood where we are. In fact, many of them stood in deeper pits that seemed impossible to climb out of. But they believed and they persevered, every minute of their lives. They failed one day and tried with greater reinforcement the next. They didn’t let life’s encumbrances snuff out their fire. Neither did they let the naysayers keep them from achieving greatness. In my mind, their greatness is not reflected in the wealth they accumulated and the accolades that were showered upon them, but more so in their determination to make extraordinary contributions to the world, and lend hope to one and all that persistence is the key to legendary.

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Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. — Calvin Coolidge

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We love ourselves, don’t we? We only want the best for ourselves. And we like to prove our importance to ourselves time and again. We will be happy to break into a queue at a bus stop (Because the other idiots who were there before us have all the time in the world but we don’t. We do this on the sly and just slip in, or do so boldly if we have the girth to provide that intimidating confidence). We will drive past a red light, or even block a lane that turns left (even though we want to go straight) just because it brings us closer to the head of the pack (And do it with gusto because we always know someone that owns these streets. Besides the person in the wailing ambulance behind is likely to meet his maker anyway). We will carry extra weapons to a sale just in case someone gets a hold of something we want before we do, and we need to make a compelling argument for them to hand it over (By handing them a beating. Don’t believe me? See some Black Friday carnage on YouTube). We will happily push an old woman aside and jump into the only cab available (Like we couldn’t walk those 800 meters to our destination. Besides courtesy and offering help to the needy is a thing of the past). We will bribe a cop upon breaking a traffic law (Because lawful proceedings aren’t for us. But we will certainly participate in a peaceful protest against bribery).

We always seem too important to wait in lines, too busy to respond to calls and emails in a timely manner, too self-centred to think beyond our own whims, too unperturbed about our ‘chalta hai’ (big deal, I don’t care) attitude towards everything, too proud to admit that our approach hurts many around us, strangers and loved ones alike. We always want to jump at the opportunities (and in all likelihood create them) to do something when it is likely to afford us a temporary high (People also seem to resort to smoking and alcohol to achieve this state all the time. The number of heart attacks, depression cases, and suicides will increase significantly if these two sources of ambrosia ceased to exist), make us feel all important, or offer us a feeling of prominence, even if it is meaningless in the grand scheme of things (And often this is achieved by making others feel comparatively insignificant, only to boost our own flailing and misdirected ego).

We will be the first to ensure we do whatever it takes when it is a matter of convenience to us, no matter how inconvenient it is for others (Eating half the birthday cake at a 4-year olds birthday party; Flipping TV channels so incessantly, that it might have you believe that Keanu Reeves is starring in a regional Indian film, shot in space, singing a song around trees, playing badminton, and running with Wildebeests, while being chased by half of the criminal world in New York City; Spreading our legs across three seating spaces in a train that has at least two dozen people hanging on the window grill, on the outside; increasing the temperature of the AC beyond the outside temperature because we refuse to carry a jacket or shawl, while others experience the benefits of a sauna for free; and forcing people to read blogs every week, when they clearly might have other things to do).

And when we ourselves are victim to this attitude, we’ll throw a fit, and complain about how people are disrespectful, irresponsible, uncaring, unprofessional, selfish, arrogant, and add the choicest expletives after each of these adjectives. And this blame game has been going on for eons (Extraterrestrials watching from space would see a very coordinated finger-pointing dance form, worth capturing on video). We love to pass the buck around (We need to blame all those ‘passing the parcel’ game sessions we had during our childhood. We learned young). We love to blame the whole world for not only its shortcomings but ours too. Mahatma Gandhi himself professed against trading an eye for an eye (And for good reason because we would look quite silly if we had one eye belonging to us and the other, the one we traded for)

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How often do we feel the need to take responsibility for our own actions? Do we ever feel the need to change or improve in order to be happier? Do we ever stop to consider the negative impact we may be having on our surroundings? Or are we too busy expecting others to alter their personality and methods, so that we could have a little less to complain about? It’s not his job or her job, or their job to ensure that life is better for us. Life hits us all the same at different stages. And it’s the ones that accept this reality, stay positive, and take responsibility for their situation, who share a better relationship with life. If we are willing to lead in all our pompous, self-serving, ego-massaging, inconveniencing, senseless activities regularly, why not in the ones that require maturity and understanding? Why not in the ones that will turn our attitude and life around only if we gave it a shot? Why not in the ones that impact us and the world around us positively? Do we believe that this responsibility is only for the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Socrates, the Spartans, Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Rosa Parks, Jack Ma, Jesse Owens, Steve Jobs, and several others to shoulder? We are all blessed with spirit, righteousness, generosity, strength, creativity, empathy and courage. It’s up to us to define how we use these gifts in our lifetime.

Stop blaming your kids for your misadventures, stop yelling at your wife for a bad day at work, stop cursing your client for a failed sale, stop accusing the economy for your poor financial situation, stop blaming the traffic if you weren’t disciplined enough to reach your destination on time, stop bullying people to address your insecurities, stop trying to finish your local bar’s alcohol stock in one night, and for heaven’s sake, stop at a red light.

Suck it up. You’re as much of a problem as the next person. Stop looking over your shoulder, I mean you. If we must be first, then let’s be the first to effect positivity in our lives and those of others. Let’s take responsibility for our own situations, and let’s recognize our abilities to become a leader in matters that make our souls proud.

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With great power comes great responsibility. But with great responsibility comes great power. Cease your responsibility and harness the power that comes with it to create your legacy.

Me first? Yes, you first.

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