The People Paradox

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I love my action figures and collectibles. I’m completely involved in following various sports. I enjoy working on my fitness. Movies and books offer a lot of joy. And if you throw in a pet dog, a bottomless bank balance, a few mansions, a private jet or two, pizza home delivery on a daily basis, weekly massages, and perpetual luxury trips, one would think that I have all the ingredients to lead a joyous and entertaining life. However, I must admit that despite the enthralling picture this scenario paints, what we really crave is good solid people and relationships in our lives. As much as we hate to admit our dependency on the people around us (because apparently, that goes against the definition of being independent), we are all connected emotionally, physically, and mentally with each other. And after the initial burst of exhilaration we may experience while spending time away from these delightfully annoying homosapiens, their absence sucks the life out of us over time.

‘Man is a social animal’ is a concept that we learn at a very young age. I am an economics student, which is a social science. And if you look beyond the theories and numbers, economics really is interactions between people at an individual level, a global level, and everything in between.

Of course, the idea of being social these days is vastly prominent on social media sites where love, affection, friendship, and care might be superfluous at best. I get the sense that our expression of feeling towards others has become more of a social media contest to let the world know how much we care more than the person that the message is actually intended for. If we want to post a picture with our mother, we will click at least a dozen photos and then choose the one in which we look the best even if our mom looks like she is about to fall asleep in the picture (If we had just smiled genuinely in the first picture as opposed to pouting and trying different angles, the picture would have been amazing at the onset). We send birthday and anniversary greetings on Facebook and WhatsApp even to the people that really matter. We keenly take pictures of all the dishes that arrive at our table, promptly post them on Instagram and monitor the feedback from our followers continuously. All this while we have had said less than a handful of words to the person across the table. It’s not like the eggs benedict we had was unique and superior to the ones others have eaten over the course of their lives. I also see a barrage of ‘best dad’, ‘best husband’, ‘best wife’, ‘best Martian’ and a host of other posts on social media. Really? How many dads, husbands, and wives have you had? If the answer is one then I’m sorry, you do not have a case. What are you comparing to? Now that this rant is out of the way, let’s move on.

Let’s face it people, we are lost in the social media gobbledygook and our relationships are slowly but surely losing sheen. We are unable to fathom why people feel the way they do anymore because interacting with, studying, and understanding people is becoming a dying art. Apparently, it’s what the experts like coaches, psychologists, trainers, and the human resources departments at companies do. Sure these people serve an important role in society but it doesn’t take an IQ of 140 to realize that your friend is angry or your mother is upset. Heck, we can’t tell if someone has a cold unless they post ‘sniff’ on their Facebook status (These have got to be the most ridiculous status updates. How much attention do we want?).

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While communication is meant to be one of man’s most formidable strengths since our inception, it is exactly what we fear and avoid today. With added pressures, loss of simplicity, a fast-paced atmosphere, and the zeal to get ahead (even if we must trample on others), we have given up on personal communication. We can write terrific professional emails but can’t convey to the management how we feel about the toxic work environment. We know how good our subordinate is at number crunching but don’t know whether that task makes him happy or not (Because we’re being paid to keep our mouth shut and do the work. And then we wonder why the attrition rate is so high despite a fancy work environment and great pay scales). We know our mom is a great homemaker but fail to see (or avoid) that she is losing her joy in this thankless rigmarole. We hear the words coming out of a friend’s mouth but fail to notice the love in his eyes. We notice the melody in our cousin’s singing but not the pain in her voice.

If our friend doesn’t call us for a few days (because he always calls), we descend upon him with fury when we do speak. But how often do we try to see the reason for their silence? They may have been low and may have needed to hear from us instead. Our brother may do everything to protect and care for us, but it’s something we take for granted and will get upset the one time he thinks about himself first. We fight on WhatsApp because we lack the spine or just want to avoid the trouble of doing it face-to-face.

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We are smart enough to realize what others feel because we feel these things too. However, we avoid acknowledging feelings that challenge our egos, make us uncomfortable, or put us in a dilemma. We incoherently assign roles to ourselves and those in our lives. While we take on the more comfortable ones, our loved ones have to bear the brunt of the more tasking ones. We expect them to understand how we feel even if we don’t communicate, but are quick to point out that we didn’t understand them as they didn’t bother communicating. Parents are meant to tolerate, friends are meant to understand, spouses are meant to support, bosses are meant to chill (even if we’ve bungled six assignments in a row), and dogs are meant to wag their tails. Even if the joker in our life has an off day or two it’s considered to be a cardinal sin. If you know how one feels about you, expresses it with love and kindness, and if you decide to let him wait in endless anticipation to know how you feel, think again. We are meant to continue doing what we do because that’s who we are, and if people can’t understand, well too bad. Everyone else is meant to be flexible and mollycoddle us.

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We refuse to express or care enough to compel our loved ones to express what they feel so that we can all support and help each other. So that we can introduce genuine happiness, security, and comfort in each other’s lives. So that we can use the one skill as the only species blessed to have on this planet.

We rather assume, which invariably leads to misunderstanding.

Assumption is the mother of…yes you got it. Go wish people in person, smile at them more often, express what you feel, tell your cat a joke, hug a sad friend, be nice to your parents, appreciate your children, and communicate in the most expressive and creative ways you can. And express now, because regret is a very heavy burden to live with.

People in our lives don’t drag us out of our comfort zone. They are our comfort zone.

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Who I Want To Be When I Grow Up

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I celebrate only my 38th birthday this year so I definitely do have time to figure out who I’d like to be when I grow up. And it’s not just about figuring out who I want to be, but also as much about who I do not want to be. I guess it’s just a human tendency to let reverse psychology work on our minds. Try telling your 4-year old not to paint on the walls. Try telling your boss you did your best despite the horrendous outcome. Try telling yourself not to think about anything while meditating. Try telling your love interest that you only checked your messages when you got up to pee and weren’t chatting with anyone special at 2:46 am. I’m sure we’ve all put ourselves through the ‘let’s not think about the pink elephant’ test and failed.

I’m sorry, did you think this was a career post? I’m sure we will all figure that out through our own abilities and guidance from some very effective career coaches. We gain knowledge and skills through our education (At times only on the basis of our grades, which in my opinion is a poor indicator by itself. And no I didn’t have poor grades just in case you’re wondering…:)…) and work to get to very impressive positions in our career. We garner wealth and then some. We become managers, lead organizations and further the vision and reach of our industries. We continue to educate ourselves and update our skillset on a regular basis to stay relevant and ahead of the development curve (Including our selfie-taking skills, social media handles, and being updated on the latest gossip). We want to be the best at what we do and that’s the way it should be. However, despite this level of growth do we really have everything we need to hold us in good stead not just on the professional front but also in our personal lives? No matter what our business is, eventually we deal with people in every facet of our lives and there will rarely be a skill that is going to be more significant than people management till we get to a point where AI runs the world (Then it will be up to the robots to understand good people management skills. Unless they want us to get pissed off and send them Candy Crush requests).

Many of us believe we have impeccable people management skills (Like micromanagement, verbal dress downs and passing the blame around). However, I believe what we really lack despite our experience, abilities, and accolades is emotional maturity and emotional intelligence. I see a dearth of emotional maturity and intelligence within myself and all around me. And I believe this really is a defining virtue in forging a strong understanding of ourselves and each other, as well as being able to truly and wholly service a healthy relationship.

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Here are some of my trademarks of an emotionally mature and independent person

  1. They are able to handle a situation with objectivity and don’t allow personal feelings to drive their response. They contain a situation and don’t let it escalate.
  2. They face the reality staring at them with humility, honesty, and transparency. They don’t let their egos cloud their judgment or willingness to accept their faults.
  3. They don’t blame the world around them for the soups they get into. On the contrary, they take hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and take responsibility in addressing issues and resolving matters.
  4. They care about the people around them and study them closely to understand and serve them better. An emotionally intelligent and mature leader will make every effort to understand the strengths and weaknesses of her family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and humans in general around her. She will then use this knowledge to bridge gaps, make up for emotional weaknesses in others (because she cares about the relationship and won’t have that ‘why should I do all the hard work?’ attitude), and instill confidence and security in them. Sometimes we need to be emotional leaders to help others arrive on that same plane.
  5. They don’t dig up the past and launch scathing personal attacks in any situation.
  6. They don’t have the ‘let’s sweep it under the carpet’ attitude. They accept that a problem exists, no matter how bad it may make them look.
  7. They don’t resort to bullying others just to relieve themselves of blame or responsibility or just because of their own insecurities.
  8. They don’t react (I need to keep reminding myself of this one). They have a lid on their emotions and don’t come out all guns blazing.
  9. They truly understand how they and others feel.
  10. They do not let their weaknesses prevent them from pulling themselves outside their comfort zone for the greater good of healthy relationships. They rely on honest and open communication, no matter how difficult the subject or situation.
  11. They understand that emotions are devoid of logic and allow themselves and others that flexibility to express emotions that seem devoid of sense, which is vital.
  12. They accept a different perspective. Not everything they know or possess is optimum.
  13. They don’t judge people or situations quickly. Jumping to conclusions is like jumping off a plane without a parachute (or one that is defective and won’t open anyway).
  14. They are calm in the face of adversity and resilient in tough situations for themselves and others.
  15. They are approachable and provide a level of comfort when spoken to.
  16. And finally, while they realize that life and survival is serious business, they also know that a sense of humor gets them further than frowns and groans. They learn to laugh at themselves.

Sure I’d like to be successful, healthy, wealthy, important, and impactful when I grow up. We all perceive ourselves in the future as top executives and business magnates, with a grand house (or five), expensive material belongings, the ability to travel the world, and an ever-growing financial portfolio. But is this going to make us happy by itself? Let’s say we have all this but would it bother us if we didn’t get along with our spouse? Would it bother us if we didn’t understand our children and we saw it in their eyes? Would it bother us if our employees or colleagues cowered in our presence? Would it bother us if our business associates felt that we didn’t care? Would it bother us if our best friend stopped sharing their problems with us because he felt we couldn’t empathize with him? Would it bother us if our dog looked at us with sullen eyes because we couldn’t figure out that all he wanted was to go for a walk with us? I’m certain that at the end of all our achievements, we will yearn for good relationships the most.

I don’t want to be grouchy, or irritable, or lack empathy, or not understand another perspective, or blame the world for my problems, or lose heart and hope in the face of difficulties, or disrupt relationships because I was not brave enough to have those difficult conversations.

I have many of the characteristics from the list above and so do you. But how close are we to truly being at a level of emotional maturity and intelligence that actually has a consistently positive impact on our lives and those of others? I may not be able to fulfill every dream I envision. But obtaining a high level of emotional maturity is nonnegotiable.

Emotional maturity and intelligence are as good of a superpower as any. If perfected, it’s almost like telepathy, the ability to understand every mind and situation. Most people don’t seem to get this and if they do, they say they are too old to change and adapt. I’m approaching the age of 40 at neck-break speed, and I’m only just growing up.

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Hums, Symphonies, and Drum Beats

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I’ve seemed to be lost in thought during various times in a given day for as long as I can remember. My girlfriend during my teen years actually gifted me a ‘The Thinker’ bookmark because she was amazed at how much time I could spend just being lost in thought (And yet this activity did not prevent me from shooting my mouth at the wrong time before thinking and getting me into trouble on several occasions). I suppose all of us wander into involuntary thinking not only when we are alone during our daily commute, quick work meals, while reading, but also when we are engaged in activities involving other humans and animals, including meaningful ones like gossip, drinking games (sometimes we pass out and dream instead of think), hanging out of the windows on a road trip (and then unwittingly peeing on an electric fence when there are no rest areas in sight), discuss the new hairstyle of a pop star for six straight hours, and even while complaining to our pet hamster about the incompetence of our spouses when it comes to folding clothes the right way.

In one of my previous blogs, I’ve written about how we end up daydreaming about a better life or palpitating about unperceived fears as we go deeper into our thoughts. Either way, aimless thinking creates a lot of noise in our mind that prevents us from living in the present. By constantly dragging the past along and keeping one outstretched arm to cling on to a hopeful future, we are completely oblivious to the ‘now’. At times it’s just other mindless distractions that keep us busy for the better part of our days. It’s important to silence all this noise to allow us to truly live in the moment, be aware of our being, and truly feel happy and at peace.

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While the silencing has to come from the heart and mind, external triggers can be very helpful in calming our nerves and helping us focus on current affairs. Music!! It has effectively worked for me to fill in a lot of unwanted noise during the course of my life. The bandwidth and versatility of music are large enough to enthrall any being, humans as well as civilized species. There are innumerable types of synchronized sounds created for everyone’s taste. I don’t believe I have ever met anyone that does not like music. In fact, even my dachshunds would get into the ‘running man’ groove every now and again on dance numbers. Ranging from Rock, Pop, Jazz, Classical, Latin, Hip Hop, Country, R&B, Folk, Bollywood, E-D-M, I-D-I-O-T (some music can be annoying) to alarm clocks, elevator dings, crying babies, and nagging spouses, there is at least one sound form that enthralls everyone.

I appreciate and enjoy various types of music and am not a fanatic of just one or two types. I know a lot of people that prefer just one type of music, which is fine, but then to look down upon other forms of music is just melodious racism. In my experience, these are usually the folk that claim to be massive metal fans. Sometimes they go overboard in preaching about the brilliance of metal and how every form of music is below par. I feel like taking a large piece of metal and bashing their skulls in. But then that would be unlawful.

Having let out some steam about the ‘clanking’ metal boys and girls, here are a few positive impacts music has on me. Assuming we are all made of flesh, bones, and stupidity, I’m certain it would hold similar benefits for you.

  • It helps improve my cognitive abilities (An argument can be made that I have none). I understand, learn and retain better with music streaming (instrumental is ideal) into my ears (Unless it is metal. Then it just sounds like a few dozen containers fell off their shelves in the kitchen, which leads to a ‘startling’ revelation).
  • My concentration is a lot better while listening to music (Binaural beats are great), which is a massive positive for a ’gets distracted every 10 seconds’ bloke like me.
  • It is a fantastic stress buster. A nice walk with earphones plugged in does wonders in calming my nerves and helping me think in a relaxed manner.
  • It is highly comforting during trying times, moments of fear, anger, depression, loneliness, and anxiety, which are needles that pierce our minds and hearts quite regularly and easily. I always find a song that helps me feel rejuvenated when I’m in a somber mood.
  • It helps me during my workouts. I seem to have extra reserve energy and enhanced physical abilities (unfortunately not quite in the Hulk category just yet) to do the extra sets and run the extra mile when I listen to music during my exercise regimes.
  • Music helps me with creativity. I listen to soft soothing instrumental pieces while writing my blogs for instance (Now let this not be a deterrent towards music).
  • Sometimes groovy numbers just make me dance. It does look awkward at client meetings, bus lines, during surgery, and even during court cases especially if you are the defendant. But a bit of lunacy every once in a while is good for our soul.

If we want to consider scientific findings, the benefits of music are plenty. We feel generally happy as our brain releases dopamine (the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good) when listening to music. Music improves memory. Research shows that cancer patients exposed to music while treatment, tend to experience decreased pain levels. Calming music improves quality of sleep. Music improves overall motivation and keeps us on track to achieve goals. And music also contributes positively to the well being of premature babies, help Alzheimer’s patients remember better, and improves our IQ among several other benefits.

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What’s more, it also helps impress your girlfriend unless you share Bollywood songs from the late 80s with her, in which case you may as well have insulted her mother instead.

Music entertains us and gives us joy, but also inspires us, helps us endure, and acts as a catalyst in fighting the demons in our heads and hearts. We have so much unwanted noise in our minds. Why not fill it with sweet melodies?

Playfully Serious

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Being serious for prolonged periods has always been a difficult task for me. And I don’t mean that I take my work, relationships, passions, and other responsibilities lightly. I take them very seriously indeed. But by serious I mean I cannot hold a grim, businesslike, tense, depressed or unhappy demeanor for too long (If you smile too much or crack too many jokes in the corporate world you’re considered to be someone that is not serious about the job). My innate nature is to play the clown in most situations without undermining or disrespecting the situation or the people in it. However, I am not impervious to the discomfort caused by drastic situations and unsavory events. On the contrary, my emotional nature does allow events and people around to have their impact on me, both positive and negative (If I was playing Bruce Banner in the Avengers and Tony Stark poked me with a needle, I would have turned green, red, yellow, purple…). However, I consider myself to be a defective piece whereby I can’t mope around beyond a point in any situation.

All my life I have tried to come up with some response (which tends to be comical and carefree in nature) to adversity in its early stages itself. When someone tried to bully me as a child (which didn’t happen all that often), after I overcame the first few moments of fear, I would participate in the mayhem in self-defense and laugh at my own predicament much to the dismay of the perpetrators. During my school days, if I struggled in an examination, I would start humming and whistling to myself (occasionally even tell myself a joke) to help dissipate some of the stress. Of course, if the invigilator happened to cast her eyes on me at the time, I would look dead straight with a serious expression letting her know that the exam is a breeze and I’m just formulating the best response mentally. If I got bad grades, I would walk it off and begin to focus on the next opportunity (If I studied hard and didn’t do well then there wasn’t much else I could have done. If I didn’t prepare enough, then I couldn’t expect to do well. Either way, there was no point sulking). If I didn’t win gold in my athletic events, I told myself that someone was better than me on the day (Which was invariably true). If I get rejections from my job applications, I tell myself that the number of applications I make will always be one step ahead of the number of rejections I can get. If I miss a target at work, sure I feel bad (but maybe for a day) and then I convert the entire episode into a joke (or a limerick) and move on. Now that I think of it, I was probably a little nervous even during my wedding ceremony and innately playing the fool, asking for updated cricket scores while the sacred mantras were being chanted.

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And why just situations? People can get us down very quickly too (Only if we allow them to, but most of us cave in). Family members, friends, bosses, colleagues, the next door girl (who still doesn’t know you like her), the ticket collector on the train (during your ticketless travels), the guy who tripped you as you tried to take a selfie during your evening run, and strangely even the banking telemarketer rejecting a loan you didn’t apply for in the first place. For a long time, I let every unpleasant behavior towards me get on to my nerves and push me in a corner. It didn’t help resolve anything and only made me feel worse than I already did. So what do I do now? That’s right, take it with a pinch of salt and a sense of humor.

We will find every excuse to be angry, upset, dejected, irritated or just be grimly serious about every situation and person we deal with. Sure, things get exasperating, but the sooner we realize that unpleasant moments make up our lives just as much as joyous ones, the better equipped we will be to deal with them. Whether we are happy or unhappy about a situation, the fact that it has occurred will remain unchanged and our grim attitude is only going to make us feel worse, not improve the situation. On the contrary, assuming responsibility and lightening the mood in the darkest of moments has helped me rebound faster, stronger, and cleared all the clutter in my mind.

The Joker of Gotham was right.

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So if you were to listen to me, I’d say don’t take yourselves, others, and situations too seriously. If we humor ourselves and laugh (not hysterically, which might be a sign of having gone cuckoo) at our predicaments, we will innately create a belief in our minds and hearts that our problems have not gotten the better of us. We will face them with conviction and fortitude. We all have it in us to realize that the ability to humor ourselves lies within us. We need that humor to face life’s challenges. We cannot tackle the visible until we tackle the invisible. To bear fruit (visible), we must nurture the roots (invisible).

Yes, things will be painful, yes people will be hurtful, yes we will find ourselves undermined and hopelessly outrivaled by various situations, but it’s really up to us to put ourselves in the best mental and emotional condition to tackle life’s gristle.

If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!

Always looks on the bright side of life…. phee phoo phee phoo phoo phoo phee phoo (whistling)

  • Bruce Cockburn

Run Track Mind

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Fitness is often a misinterpreted term. A lot of people think that anybody that goes to the gym, walks daily, plays sports on a regular basis, makes over a hundred phone calls a day, or posts every hour on social media is likely to be fit. Bulging muscles and a great physique don’t necessarily justify fitness, although they certainly show evidence that the incumbents of these bodies have above average fitness. And this is true to a great extent, where someone who indulges in daily exercises (speaking for 6 hours a day doesn’t count) is likely to have a better level of fitness than the average joe who ensures that the stock price of fast food places stay up and then takes selfies to capture these moments. And it’s incredibly sad how many youngsters are a part of this ordeal (It doesn’t show on them yet but if they continue on this path it will do so a lot sooner than it would have otherwise).

In my opinion, fitness relates to both mind and body. It is the effectiveness of our immunity against illnesses, which are both physical and mental in nature. How good are we in maintaining a lifestyle that allows us to keep a majority of the factors in our environment trying to corrupt our physical and mental being at bay? Whether it’s overindulgence in food and drink (it always is in the unhealthy type), a sedentary existence, toxic people, a negative mindset, the desire to cheat and hurt, disregard for regular health checkups, disregard for people that truly care, supporting the wrong sports teams, and even the News Hour on the Times Now network.

And while a fit mind is of the absolute essence, a fit body is a must to encourage and support that fit mind. I have always noticed a drop in my mental resilience whenever I have been sick or not at an acceptable level of physical fitness. I am disciplined in my work and personal goals and make it a point to achieve my daily goals. However, on the days that I lack energy or feel a bit under the weather, I tend to miss achieving a few things. This leads to frustration and then I try to put myself through the grind even if I don’t feel well (because I am superhuman), and I end up feeling worse health wise because of the duress. And this saga goes around in cycles.

I have played sport for a large part of my life and am generally keen on fitness. I walk/jog regularly, work on my core, as well as try and meditate (at least sit still and not get distracted) for ten to fifteen minutes daily. As useful as this routine has been, it’s served only part of the purpose when I have been undisciplined with my diet. And this brings me back to the point in the opening paragraph about muscles and physiques. All that amounts to nothing if you have a cold every fortnight (And walk around looking like Rudolf the Reindeer). A disciplined diet (it’s amazing how many people think of a diet as not eating, eating very little, or only eating tasteless stuff) is as important as exercising. In fact, someone with a great diet and minimal exercising is likely to be healthier than someone that exercises regularly but lacks discipline in their food consumption. I have certainly experienced this. And a poor diet has led to sickness more often than I would like and has affected my exercising as well as other facets of my daily life.

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For instance, when I experience low energy levels (and I’m speaking of normal energy and not the Doctor Strange type sorcery), concentration during various activities at work and otherwise become difficult. I tend to feel tired easily, my focus is off, and I get less done than I would if I felt energetic. I feel irritable and lack interest in participating in any activity that involves using my mind. I’m happy to snap at the first person that comes in my path, no matter what they are trying to say. During times like these, when I go through the motions of my daily exercises, I feel drained as opposed to revitalized (which is exactly what I feel when I’m healthy and fit) at the end of the session. When I meditate hoping that all my ‘chakras’ will open up and I will sense positive vibrations, all I get is vibrations and convulsions from the coughing fit I get every 60 seconds.

And between these devastating states of existence, I have had moments of complete bliss where I feel physically fit and healthy. I am high on vitality, am more open to people trying to speak to me, I get everything on my planner done, I sleep well, I feel relaxed, I am very positive in my approach to everything, and I also find myself smiling involuntarily more often. How often do any of us smile without reason? In fact, most of us desperately search for that one reason to allow us to do so.

The differences in my mental well being when I am physically fit and healthy as opposed to when I am not, are stark. And while it is important to improve our mindsets and try to incorporate positive thinking continuously, a healthy body is necessary to permit us to do so with greater efficiency. Just like learning expert, Jim Kwik says “When your body moves, your brain grooves”

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It’s not about trying to schedule fitness into our lives but about scheduling our lives to include a fitness regime. This has always served me well. So, are you going to get off your haunches and follow suit?

Baptism By Migration

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Many of us have stayed in our home towns, and even with our parents our entire lives (except when we went on short trips or to the local mart to pick up some milk while holding daddy’s hand of course). This is particularly true in India and some of the other Eastern cultures. While I value the closeness and support of family as much as anything in the world, I have come across people that completely lack a sense of ability in their own independence to perform basic tasks and take everyday decisions (which include picking their own wardrobe, deciding on the brand of cereal they like, figuring what their favorite color is and determining if they need to participate in the local sack race). These examples may sound like exaggerations but I know of people that depend on parents, family members, and close friends to make some ridiculous decisions for them, as well as help them execute these terribly ‘burdensome’ acts. And many that can make decisions independently still turn out to be a bit soft and cower under the smallest of adversities. Until my late teens, I was certainly one of them.

I was always a ‘mama’s boy’ and to a great extent, I still am. ‘Mama’s boy’ is a term used to ridicule men that are still attached to their mothers after a certain age. Well, what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t one be? Attachment does not indicate a lack of independence. However, while I was very comfortable in my skin (Mumbai is a hot place so we don’t get a chance to don clothing made of other species’ skins) and took decisions independently, I never felt ready to face the real world. And the thought of being away from home was scary as hell.

When I was 10, I was being sent away on a week-long Karate camp, less than 100 kilometers from home. I behaved like I was being sent to the Pakistan border to fight their cavalry with only a toothpick in hand. I whined about not wanting to go weeks before the camp and even tried coming up with a strategy of getting the camp canceled. All this for a week-long camp. Am I kidding you? I’m afraid not. I was an easy pushover in school too, especially during extracurricular activities. While I was confident about standing my ground at home even if I was on the wrong side of the fence, I couldn’t for the life of me even utter a word when my abilities were overlooked at times for other agendas. If I had to do anything outside my comfort zone or stand up for myself, I froze. In the school bus, at social events, at the local playground, during private tutoring, when confronted by rowdy strangers, and even during unsavory moments with friends and cousins.

You leave home to seek your fortune and, when you get it, you go home and share it with your family – Anita Baker

At age 18, I faced genuine terror. While it was my decision as much as my parent’s that I would go abroad to study, the reality of it hit me only a few weeks before I was to leave. I spent my last days in Mumbai like it was my last days on planet Earth (After which, I’m sure my parents would have wanted to ship me off to some godforsaken celestial blob outside the Milky Way to ensure they can’t hear me cry and complain). I felt heartbroken, burdened with anxiety, had sleepless nights, and turned from a talkative fellow to a mute in no time at all. How was I going to live in the absence of my parents, family, and my girlfriend at the time? In fact, it took me over a year to get over my homesickness and truly settle in the gorgeous Granville, OH (This is definitely some kind of record at Denison University). I felt like I had been transported from a metropolitan city to one of the towns from the Ladybird books I read as a child (I expected to see the three little pigs or Snow White at every turn).

I call this the ‘boo hoo’ syndrome. And many of us are infected by it. We can’t do without our loved ones even for a few days, we don’t know how to manage our homes, we wouldn’t know how to come up with a basic meal ourselves, if our televisions stop functioning our life comes to a standstill, if our maid takes off we get suicidal, and if we fall ill while we’re alone, we consider ourselves to be the unluckiest people on the planet.

I spent eight years away from home in the USA and they were indeed my formative and defining years. I learned to fight for myself and others, while in India I would think twice before taking on a mouse (Actually I still do. Mice are freaky). I learned to handle multiple responsibilities single-handedly. Where a 6-hour day of productivity in India would knock the wind out of me, I still felt fresh on most days after a 14-hour day in the USA. When I was home, a single rejection would destroy my spirit, but in the USA, I had no job for a few months and a dwindling bank balance, and I only felt positive with every passing day despite regular rejections. I learned to lead wherein earlier I only followed blindly. I even learned how to tie my shoelaces in one motion.

These years were challenging, they were unrelenting, they were rewarding, they were fun, they made me cry, they made me laugh, they toughened me, I became self-reliant, I made lifelong friends, I learned life lessons, I learned how to survive, and I matured rapidly over these years. And these are easily amongst the best few years of my life until this point. While I spent months regretting it, this turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It made me capable in many ways.

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It’s important for us to get away from our flocks and get a taste of the world on our own. The experience challenges us, even beats us to the ground, but then that is the essence of life: to come back from hardship and reap its rewards. As hard as it seems at the beginning, you will always relish your time away from home, a lesson in mental and emotional maturity. And when we come back, we understand so much more about our homes through the perspective we have gained. Going away helps us appreciate our homes so much more than we ever could if we never left.

So get out of your comfort zone people. Take a shot at going solo. Get away from home for a bit and trust yourself to hold your own. After all, not everyone is lucky enough to get a two-day crash course at home in growing up and taking responsibility like Macaulay Culkin did in Home Alone.

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The Nomadic Life

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“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller

I’m certain almost all of you will agree that traveling is a lot of fun (unless you’re visiting Disneyland with your 18-month old quintuplets, in which case you’re really on course for one hell of a ride). In fact, a majority of the people I’ve met have said that they love traveling, even though some of them haven’t gone beyond their front yard. And then there are several Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and a closet full of resumes that I have come across, which state that traveling is second nature to them. So whether people travel for real or are in the planning phase (sometimes for several months, years even, like me), it seems well established that traveling is on everyone’s bucket list.

I was on a 4-day trip to Khajuraho and Panna (in Madhya Pradesh, India) with my wife, daughter, my cousin and his wife just this past month. Coming from Mumbai, the experience was a complete breath of fresh air (literally, considering we were in the countryside). Khajuraho houses a group of Hindu temples, known for their spectacular architecture, apart from open green pastures. Panna about twenty-five kilometers away is home to a picturesque tiger reserve, that boasts of 40 tigers within its premises (which is way more than Africa can stake claim to). I had the pleasure of visiting both these sites and was fortunate to see not one, but three tigers. This is a fantastic result on a first attempt, considering there were others in different vehicles that were on their fifth outing. In fact, our guide told us about a foreigner who was doing the rounds for close to forty days before he saw a tiger and then broke into complete pandemonium (Which could have scared all the wildlife out of the forest and into the neighboring towns).

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Anyway, my aim isn’t to turn this into a travel commentary, but in fact, is to emphasize the positive effects that a simple and short trip can have. I don’t go on trips as frequently as I would like to. In fact, I rarely do and this is one statistic I’d like to change rapidly. I seem to get entangled in life’s expectations of me pertaining to my work, responsibilities toward my family, improving the quality of life for me and those around me, and prioritizing my finances for various things (like extended warranties on electronic products, unused gym memberships, Netflix, and even online shopping to fill up all the open wall faces in the apartment) that hasn’t included travel until now. However, the few vacations that I have taken in recent years has really had a profound effect on my mind and body.

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While I have loved all my trips to various cities around the world, I have always felt more alive when I have been in nature.

I sense the following positive changes in me when traveling, especially during nature travels.

Mental and physical health: I feel an increased level of wellbeing and also reduced stress, anxiety, anger, and tiredness. I feel happier, calm, and feel like I have no worry in the world. My body is ready to support what my mind and heart seek (while it lags behind when at home, grinding out each day).

Sleep and recovery: This is probably the most loved but also the most underrated activity in our lives. However, learning, creativity, muscle building, recovery, and other useful foundations take place during sleep. I have a degenerating lower spine and there is a rarely a day in my life when I don’t feel sore and sense lowered energy levels due to the discomfort. This does impact my sleep in some ways. I went for this trip only a few weeks after an episode of a back spasm and while I had recovered, I wasn’t a hundred percent there. I felt my body recover rapidly in the four days that I spent in Khajuraho and Panna (it takes a lot longer in Mumbai) and despite the day-long activities, I went to bed with negligible soreness and slept as soundly as I ever have.

Creativity: I feel more ideas pop into my head as compared to a concerted team effort in a boardroom. My mind is rejuvenated and I see more solutions than problems. Simplicity is the name of the game (While we sit with all sorts of data and infographics to solve basic problems).

Perspective: People in Khajuraho and Panna seemed to go about their lives with ease and didn’t feel the need to rush or be concerned about meeting deadlines or getting to places in time. They looked content despite their modest possessions and were living life on their own terms. And I feel like an idiot when I realize that I probably have access to more resources than them and can’t feel half as content. It’s important to be open to the different and the unknown because it’s not scary like our mind has always told us.

Living in the moment: While I barely have time to catch my breath during my regular life, time away in nature allows me to sense every single breath.

Soulfulness: The feeling of unbridled joy is amazing and in this technological age, it’s remarkable how we can feel complete without our gadgets and other fancy belongings (Not being connected via social media is considered as blasphemy these days). When I look back at our pictures from the trip, I realize that our souls are smiling as much as our mouths.

Adventurous streak: While I may have excuses to not do things in Mumbai, I am willing and raring to do anything when on a trip. And I believe this really might be my innate personality that I curb during my normal course of life (I need to fix this permanently). And I realize I can have so much fun than I actually do, and bring smiles on the faces around me.

Going back to the story about the ecstatic ‘tiger spotting’ foreigner, while I didn’t react the same way, I did feel immense joy when spotting these beautiful animals, myself. And when I think back, I can barely come up with moments where I may have felt such ecstasy (Including moments with loved ones, personal achievements, hanging out with my favorite collectibles, and even while watching the Halle Berry starring ‘Catwoman’). My maternal grandparents lived in the outskirts of a small town and I spent most vacations until my mid-teens at their place. I have very fond, healthy and happy memories from those days, playing and trekking around farmlands and forests. Over time I have lost touch with nature and in a way myself, just like many of you may have. It’s time to revive the nomad. What do you think?

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