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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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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Mirror Trolls

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While a majority of us turn tail at the first sign of adversity, there are a few courageous souls that like to take life’s challenges head-on (And end up with a swollen head from all those head butts. Some swollen heads are also born out of arrogance on successfully taming these challenges). In fact, unlike the majority of us who use these hardships (such as acquired muscle pulls during the first few minutes at the gym, a bad performance during a group presentation in college, being rejected the very first time when asking someone out, falling off a bicycle while learning how to ride, heading into Andheri (a suburb of Mumbai, which is a populous city in itself) traffic, which I admit requires bravado, vacationing with overzealous relatives, finding a fly in the soup at a particular restaurant (like it’s never happened at home) and even being chased by a horde of dogs while walking your own) as an excuse to completely avoid these responsibilities along with a zillion others, the determined few tell themselves that they have had enough coming second to their problems, and intend to address them with enthusiasm, guts, and purpose.

Adopting a mindset that is positive in its outlook and perceives challenges as fun puzzles, is already a massive step in the direction towards success and fulfillment. Mastering our mind is key to mastering our lives.

I’m a big fan of the Rocky movie series (It ain’t over till it’s over), and in its sixth edition, ‘Rocky Balboa’, I was very moved by the spiel Rocky gives his son about life. It’s not about how hard you can hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward (If you’ve been reading my articles regularly, you will notice I find inspiration from anywhere; sports, movies, superheroes, toys, strangers, traffic, perpetual selfie-takers, Chihuahuas, and even my shadow (only at the ‘right’ angles)).

Until my mid-twenties I had a pretty meek demeanor towards everything and I was easily overwhelmed by situations, and more specifically people. As a kid, I have been scolded a couple of times by passers-by aunties in my locality for playing in the sun, while my parents were totally fine with it. I would disappear at top speed if I saw any middle-aged woman henceforth. I would blindly follow certain boys that I perceived as cool in school and take up classes and extracurricular activities, even if I had little interest, just because they had. Despite my talent as a cricketer during high school, I silently played victim to political gambles within our team and ended up with raw deals on multiple occasions. I was crazy about my first girlfriend in my teens and her wish became my command. This attitude of mine ensured that a relationship of equals had become lopsided, as I spent years at the bottom end of the see-saw. I can speak of various instances where I was easily bullied by people. Bosses, colleagues, family, taxi drivers, home delivery personnel, and now that I think of it, even my dogs and three-year-old may have pulled a few fast ones on me. And in defense of all these people, I was a willing accomplice. My demeanor sent a message loud and clear that it was okay to treat me this way. I thought I was being nice, and I cared enough to not fight back. I was just being a scared jackass.

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And then one day, after spending a quarter century or more hiding in the shadows, I decided to step out, stand up for myself, and work hard on my confidence and self-belief. In my quest to improve regularly and hone my mental strength and other skills, I became a tougher critic of myself over time. In my quest to prove my mettle, I began to set harder goals for myself and decided to not settle for anything less than absolute success. Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t have my fair share of failures, but with every single one of them, I took a bitter turn towards myself. I set expectations of myself, which were perceptibly greater than anyone else’s of me. And in this pursuit, I probably set goals for myself that were unreasonable (By which I mean that they had to be devoid of mistakes or failures). Despite my diligence, commitment, hard work, integrity, and blatant honesty (fans of which I can count on the fingers of one hand), I didn’t always succeed, and that didn’t go down too well with me. The shortcomings could be very small (like minor errors in my Excel sheet workings, a less than perfectly composed email, or completing my 7-kilometer daily walk 2 minutes slower) or larger ones (like trouble in managing personal relationships, failing to convert every sales lead, and trailing my long term goals), I came down hard on myself.

In my quest to earn self-respect and not be allow myself to be ill-treated by others, I started meting out some really bad treatment to myself. I was no better than the many people I had encountered thus far. My lack of empathy for myself (despite a lot of empathy towards others), was adding to my bitterness, and subsequently showed in my environment, and results in my performances in every aspect of my life. There was a point where I didn’t even smile much or stopped altogether.  My behavior was the equivalent of punishing myself for overeating by ordering one more banana split sundae. I lost focus on a basic fact of life that empathy, care and kindness, and not brashness and rigidity, lead to improved confidence, achievement, and true happiness.

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I’m learning to not be too harsh (no pun intended) on myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t give everything my best and behave like a bum. It just means that even though the best efforts don’t always result in positive or desired outcomes, I pick myself up with care, and have another go. While, I truly believe that consistency in our effort tends to attract positivity in our environment, and things tend to manifest in our favor, it is a long process and comes without a 100 percent guarantee. The nicer we are to ourselves, and the more we love ourselves, the closer we get to that figure (assuming we do all the other necessary things as well)

Guess who paid the price for being meek and letting go of dreams and goals easily? You’re right, I did. And guess who bore the brunt of a negative mindset by being an overachiever and too hard on himself? Correct again, me. If taking things too easily is detrimental, being too hard on ourselves and not offering any reprieve is equally damaging.

Give yourself credit, time, attention and love, and only then will you truly empower yourself. Stop trolling the person in the mirror (unless your wife is checking her self out while trying on her forty-sixth dress as you look on in exasperation).

Take a break, have a Kit Kat.

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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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