‘Toony’ Boons

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There may only be a few things in life that anyone with any background, including race, creed, color, religion, beliefs, nationality, upbringing, procrastination levels, binging habits, and the number of acquired traffic violations, can understand, appreciate and enjoy. No, I’m not referring to cannabis or alcohol. I’m not even referring to ridiculous Facebook status updates like ‘cough’. Go see a doctor in that case. The overtly sympathizing messages from your online connections aren’t going to drive the flu away. On the contrary, this exercise will provide you with a false sense of friendship and belonging until a situation arises when you really need someone. What was that? No, it’s not free Wi-Fi either. Come on people, it’s cartoons. Since we live in an age where we love screens of all sizes ranging from a square inch on our wrist to something large enough to cover a wall in our bedroom (I’m not counting cinema screens, which are as large as small ships, since most of us don’t own one), it makes us all the more willing to watch cartoons.

I have never met a single person who has not enjoyed at least one cartoon series or is a fan of at least one cartoon character. If you happen to claim that you’re the first to not like cartoons, I say you need to open up a little and be honest with yourself. Cartoons are not a childish fascination so feel free to admit your love for them. I know we keep getting told that there is a time and age for everything, but certain things are ageless. Cartoons are certainly among that group. And what’s so special about the things we do as adults anyway? As children, we may resort to childishness but as adults, we resort to adultery. Try both out and see which one has more disastrous consequences.

I have always found cartoons to be a great connector between people. Growing up I had cousins that were brought up in different towns in India. Now, in a country, as vast and varied in India, everything from your customs and food habits to your entertainment and language change every couple of hundred kilometers. While we didn’t always understand or agree with each other’s habits and lifestyles, cartoon time was when we were all in sync, and watched every little scene with awe, giggles, heightened attentiveness, and a sense of complete joy. After every session, we felt happy and inspired, and discussions that ensued during and after, betrayed no sign of disagreement or lack of understanding in each other.

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Tom & Jerry, and the battles between Donald Duck and Chip & Dale were among my early favorites (I always cheered for Tom and Donald. Too bad the modern-day Donald in his big white house does not inspire enough cheer). To begin with, they are hilarious and even as adults a few minutes of viewership can melt away a fair bit of the day’s tension. They contain very little spoken language (which does not have to be understood), and apart from the tunes of certain classics produced by great musical minds of the past that play in the background, the only other sounds are the uproarious screeches, yelps, groans, grunts, gurgles, hoots, and cheers. Anyone can appreciate the quality and genius of the artwork, the animation, the storyline, and wit. The personality of every character is brilliantly designed and depicted, and any one of them could serve as our steadfast imaginary friend we never had. He-man and the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe were other cartoons I began to follow. While the previously mentioned cartoons inspired creativity, fun, and humor, these other ones illustrated the feats of heroes and superheroes, good over evil, me over examinations and school projects (And now with the ubiquitous nature of YouTube, stealing a few minutes of cartoon time at work even helps before client negotiations and deliverables).

Cartoons made me believe that I could get out of a tough spot even if it was only fourth-grade math. They showed me the importance of being positive, which has stayed with me till date. I was convinced that no matter what the odds (Cobra always outnumbered the Joes), I could be victorious, in elocution class then, and in life now. They instilled the confidence in me to wield my plastic sword (just like He-Man did) to make myself feel invincible and ready for any challenge ranging from potato sack races and handwriting competitions to hot dog eating contests and Pictionary. And of course, the less fascinating battles of life pertaining to education, careers, relationships, health, finances (or fiancés: the two cannot coexist), and overall development. I realized that I could keep aside differences with anyone over an hour-long cartoon episode, whether it was my sporting rival, the office jerk, my stockbroker (who believed that a broker is someone that is meant to make his clients broke), and the airport security (It’s only a penknife. Since I cannot decide which is mightier, the pen or the sword, this little tool settled it for me.). They make me see that it’s the simple pleasures in life that make us laugh loudest. It’s the childish exuberance within us all that helps us maintain our sanctum.

Cartoons were something I watched with my parents and grandparents, as I do with my 4-year old daughter today. They are almost like a family legacy, as much as the wealth and wisdom that is passed down from generation to generation. And they are so easily passable from culture to culture, and nation to nation, breaking down barriers with true value for entertainment, joy, and oneness.

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The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 2

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In the preceding part, I have written about the dreadful thoughts and images that plague our minds and drive peace and harmony out of our lives. And more often than not, all our efforts to block these disturbances out are in vain. We may be able to distract ourselves temporarily but the death rattle continues to play in the background before resurfacing in full force. We need answers that we don’t get easily and may never find. We go into panic mode, hyperventilate and even think we’re going crazy because we have lost complete control of our minds and the situations it constructs.

I have also made an attempt to classify these turbulences into broad categories that are certainly relevant to me and hopefully something you can relate to as well. The only person in our control is ourselves and the only situations we can control are the ones that our mind creates and overemphasizes on. We must realize that anything else is beyond our control and while we hope for the best, we cannot expect things to turn out rosy

There may not be a magically effective way to calm our minds but small daily routines certainly help.

Be productive

Shutting our minds down can be infuriatingly difficult. However, if we keep ourselves busy and aligned with our short and long term goals, we’re more inclined to be creative and positive and less likely to entertain negative thoughts. We must invest our minds in activities that we are passionate about and bring us joy. It’s these things we are likely to do best and the subsequent results will have an uplifting impact of our minds

Meditate

While I still struggle with this even though I try it for only ten to fifteen minutes daily, meditating every day can have therapeutic effects on the mind and the body. I have been meditating for about seven months now and while my mind still wanders when I’m meditating and I still have my mind infuriate me, I am certainly calmer and more in control today than I was when I began. Considering that sages take decades to master the art of medication and attain enlightenment, I’m only just getting started. Having said that, the start has certainly been promising.

Use a positive chant

Telling ourselves that ‘we’re fine’, ‘life is good’ or ‘The Yankees will win the world series’ constantly will have long term positive effects on our minds and we will experience more stability within. Hearing a positively soothing voice is very effective. There is a reason to-be parents are asked to sing to and speak to their child while she is still in mummy’s tummy. We’re not very different as adults and when we don’t have an external voice that can do the sweet-talking for us, we need to do it for ourselves.

Exercise

Cardiovascular workouts and breathing routines help relieve us of stress and anxiety. Playing a sport that involves sweating (because you could very well start playing poker) or even strength training help release endorphins, which are natural pain killers that exist in our body and help reduce stress. If we engage in these activities consistently, our physical health improves as well, which is an essential collaborator to our mental state.

Write

Writing things down that bother us, allow us to clear a cluttered mind. Revisiting these thoughts at a later stage allow us to reflect upon and gain clarity on some of our confusion. Write about the things that work for you and repeat these habitually in your life. Over time these habits will allow us more mental stability.

Read

Reading books like ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, ‘Before I Fall’, and ‘The Bell Jar’ are likely to be counterproductive, but reading motivating books like success stories and even ‘feel good’ novels help lift the mood and the mind. And you never know what evasive answers you may find on any given page.

Listen to music

If we’re frustrated or angry, listening to Megadeth or Black Sabbath may do us little good. However, we all have happy memories associated with some song or the other and listening to these during our melancholic existence can be very uplifting. The right music not only helps me form happy memories and calm my nerves but also helps me think of a positive future.

Pursue a hobby

If you have the love and the skill for something like playing a guitar, a racket sport, stand up comedy, or even making French fries, put it to use. Engaging in constructive activities that we enjoy is always a sure way to switch out negative thoughts. Not only do we have fun but we also improve our skills, and one never knows where that may lead us.

Keep a clean environment

I personally cannot stand clutter, whether it is inside my mind or in my surroundings. I tend to think better when I keep a clean environment and I strongly believe that the way we keep our surroundings is a reflection of our minds. For example, if our desk is cluttered, our room untidy, our beds unmade, it mirrors that state of our mind. Sometimes we need to jumpstart our brain into positive motion and making a concerted effort to maintain a clean and tidy environment can have that impact. Personally, I’ve noticed that I think better when I keep my environment clean.

Surround yourself with positive people

I cannot emphasize enough on how important this is. Surrounding ourselves with toxicity is a sure shot way to end up in a hole and remain in it. We love it when people lend an ear to listen to our problems, but ideally, we need to see if they offer solutions or just join us in the cribbing game and spread more negativity. Besides there are people that just seem upset with everything in life and constantly complain, demean, ignore, fight, and try to control us. Some of them could be family members and close friends who we cannot discard from our lives but we need to be aware of where we draw our lines for our own sanity. To counter these negative effects and also as a general practice we must make a conscious effort to surround ourselves with people that spread positivity, joy, and imbibe confidence in us.

Sleep well

We spend a third of our lives sleeping (some of us even spend a majority of our waking hours asleep). Sound sleep is as essential to our physical and mental health as any other form of fitness routine, dietary habits, and other good health practices. A lack of proper sleep can lead to a drop in performance, mental tiredness, anxiety, as well as other health-related problems. I have my phases of getting appropriate sleep versus not getting enough and I sense a marked difference in my mood, functioning, and mindset in each of these scenarios. If you’re struggling to get proper sleep, there are plenty of tips available online to help you sleep better.

Live in the present

A lot of our issues arise because we cannot get over the past or stop worrying about the future. We cannot alter one and cannot predict the other. All we can do is to use our failures and pain from the past to learn and grow and plan for the future. We can only do this by living in the present and using our time at hand to the best of our abilities to make our present productive.

Forgive

We hurt terribly from the actions and inactions of people, and find it difficult to forgive them for putting us through so much grief. However, we pine over these matters long after the situation has taken place, and extend our grieving with no end in sight. Yes, it does take time to heal but how are we helping ourselves by not making any effort to move on? Forgiving someone does not mean we accept the pain they have given us, but helps us heal faster. We tell ourselves that we are now in control of our situation and getting back on our feet and running is up to us.

Contribute

We need to understand that there are people in situations that are way worse than our own. Making a contribution in their lives not only adds perspective to ours but also makes us feel good about ourselves (release of dopamine – the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter). We could choose to help people in our circles or even volunteer for a good cause.

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So stop moping around and trying to solve every mystery in your life. Sometimes, we just need to focus on other matters and let bygones be bygones.

The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 1

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Overthinking is a mental battle I have fought for as long as I can remember and no matter the decision arrived upon after this long drawn out struggle, there are always casualties. These casualties are usually ourselves and many a time people that are close to us. And by casualties I don’t mean being rushed through heavy traffic in an ambulance or even getting stuck in a critical care bed and having to deal with stories about family problems of all our visitors, but about the mental setback that this inexorable activity causes. A loss of peace of mind, lack of focus, loss of interest, irritability, inexplicable sadness, disturbed sleep patterns, extreme binging modes (or loss of appetite), and a general feeling of loss overpower us.

Whether it’s tough experiences from the past or a generally pessimistic attitude we may have developed, allowing our mind to constantly visit an occurrence, situation, or behavior, and analyze it over and over, grips our life with a sense of incompleteness and severe lack of clarity. We strive for answers, come up with many without any confidence in any, which leads us to favor the negative outcomes. And from experience, I can say that the turmoil that this causes in the mind is as unnerving as anything can be (Except when the Wi-Fi goes down because that has to be the epitome of deprivation and depression).

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Why did he behave in a peculiar manner the other day? Why does she always act aloof in every situation? Why was my research thesis rejected without an explanation? Why did Eddard Stark have to die in season 1 of Game of Thrones? Why do the Mumbai Indians make our blood pressure shoot through the roof during their consistently erratic seasons? What are companies looking for in job applicants? Why am I made to feel like an outcast? Why do the people I care about take me for granted and instead chase people that don’t really care about them? Why doesn’t she tell me what she thinks and feels openly and honestly? Why can’t people care more? Why do my plans always go bust? The ‘Why’, ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Who’ ‘Which’ and a gazillion other questions that plague our minds. Our mind is not built to handle unclear messages, unexpected circumstances, unanswered questions, and the mysteries surrounding relationships that we deem important. Sometimes my mind is so loud with uncertainties clanging away nightmarishly that I wish I could remove my mind from my head when needed, unlike an iPhone battery. If we think jail is a scary place, being trapped inside our own minds is hellish at best.

We can seek help from others, and the ones that truly care for us will certainly offer solutions with all earnestness, and good ones at that (Unless you ask your dog because then the solutions for everything would be to scratch your ear with your leg and rollover, which is a good way to lead life if you think about it). However, just like the relationship between any coach and student, the responsibility to believe and execute lies with the student. While most of us have external help, the real battle lies within, which we must face ourselves.

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While some mysteries in our lives may unravel quickly, some may plague us for a long time, and still, some others may never reveal themselves during the course of our lifetime. Here are some areas we need to think about, accept, and address to help understand some of these uncertainties.

Mirror mirror on the wall

We are an echo of our upbringing and the values that we grow up with are the values we look for in others. Now only if choosing friends and significant others was such a well thought out and transparent process. We form associations based on looks, a sense of humor, dancing skills, popularity, the ability to win hot dog eating contests and several other parameters that meet the eye in quick time. Even for those of us that take our time to get to know people better and are strictly selective in forging bonds, differences in one’s outlook towards life is likely to crop up in certain areas. We expect people to be who we perceive them as, which in many ways is a reflection of who we are. For instance, if we grew up in an environment where control was exerted and things were expected of us, then we tend to repeat this in other relationships as adults, expect from others and want to be in control. If we were accepted conditionally, then we will lay down conditions in accepting others. We seek relationships to fulfill and complete us because we have an unhealed child inside us and are often disappointed if others cannot meet our needs. Just because people are different from us does not make them wrong. We need to understand who we are inside and heal ourselves first. Only then will we stop to seek relationships to fill gaps in our lives and seek them instead for the true value they add to us.

Relationships can fail

This follows from the previous point. As much as we’d like to put the blame of failed relationships on circumstances or our counterparts, we must realize that relationships are also a reflection of who we are as much as the other person. We need to form a perspective in relationships because if we feel dejected by others, there is an equal chance that others feel dejected in us. Sometimes we misread people at the onset and feel betrayed when we see them change. Sometimes people change as they grow, while we are still stuck at the very same spot and may feel abandoned. As the cliché goes ‘change is the only constant’, and is also applicable to people. Parents experience this as well. They may feel that their children are not what they were while growing up. As much as their love is unconditional, their expectations from their children are not. Any deviation from the well-set our patterns as they grow hurts parents and leaves them with unexplained changes in behavior. However, we are all on our unique paths of finding our truth and the likelihood of us having the same vision as our parents and being on the exact same path at the same time is slim. Paths can be similar but not exactly the same. Without perspective, understanding, and empathy, it is difficult to see this difference. Once we do, our mind will be able to grasp this concept better.

 The need for reciprocation

The need for attention, to be wanted, loved, appreciated, and cared for are common human expectations. If we bestow this upon others, then we consider them not returning the favor to be absolute sacrilege. This puzzles us and we fail to understand why someone won’t respect our feelings by reciprocating. What exactly are we looking for? Do we have a set of parameters that this reciprocation must fit? People do love but in their own way. Yes, it would be nice for people to express what they feel openly and transparently in a globally recognizable manner. Love as they say is a global language and yet it’s expression can be very complex. Open communication is a challenge all around the world and only a few have the courage and willingness to participate in this exercise. Sometimes two people find a common ground to be understood and at times it’s a never-ending mystery due to the natural shortcomings in expression of one or both individuals.

Life is not our debtor

We make plans and more often than not they go awry. We can’t for the life of us understand why things always have to go wrong. Life doesn’t owe us anything and is meant to carry on its business as it deems fit. We need to adapt to situations and circumstances. To make plans and be prepared is very important, but to prepare our minds to the fact that our plans can and will fail many a time is of utmost significance.

Neither are people

Just because we feel people owe us due to our own concoctions in our minds does not make it a reality. Sometimes it’s a feeling of entitlement and at times we genuinely expect it because we do a lot for them. If people owe us money, sure we can find ways of extracting it should they resist. However, no matter how much good we do for someone, he or she does not owe us anything in return. Sometimes people don’t love back, just like the answer to some of our prayers is a resounding ‘no’. Someone may mean the world to us but for them, we may barely exist. That’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes and we need to accept that. Let’s understand that some things are beyond our control and not let our delusions create havoc in our minds because of them.

 Every man for himself

The thought that the human race is rapidly losing any semblance of brotherhood, chivalry, unity, and generally doing good in the world drives me nuts. Small acts frustrate me on a regular basis. Why can’t that cab driver observe the traffic rules? Why can’t that person respect the queue? If businesses keep other businesses alive, why does he think about only his profits? Why do they kill over a 20-rupee ticket at a toll booth? Why do they cheat and then shamelessly stare the law in the eye, knowing they cannot be touched? Why does she take advantage of his grave financial condition? My mind knows that the world has always been like this, but I expect better because we live under this veil of a civilized society. As bad as the middle ages were, people’s word counted for something (Except that of Cersei Lannister of course). Not today. If people find any unscrupulous means of getting ahead, they will resort to it. So I shouldn’t expect from others but only from myself to have an impact large enough to turn the tide.

What people think about me

This is amongst my favorites. I have had long conversations with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers about their insecurities of being perceived in a bad light by others. Trying to please a bunch of people is exactly what that will cause a major deviation from our pristine personality and relegates us to confused, inconsistent, moody, and erratic individuals. Just when we think we have done everything right in everyone’s eyes, someone will express their displeasure. And if that does not happen, over time we will feel hollow from within. We will rack our brains and spend sleepless nights wondering what went wrong. The answer is we strayed away from who we really are. People that accept us for who we are, are the ones that should really matter. Everything else is just an illusion of an association.

These are some broad areas that I have spent years worrying about and I can fit most worrisome and frustrating thoughts into one of these categories. While I haven’t attained nirvana (not even close), I have recognized these problem areas and am now making a valiant attempt to stem the tide. Some of us prefer professional help, while others may want to start small with their own backing.

Stay tuned for some backyard practices to halt the wondering wanderer.

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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

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.

Persistence

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

Me First

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)

Me First_2

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.

Me First_1

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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Push Past The Pain Point

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These were the words of Muhammad Ali, when asked why he always went the extra mile and performed a higher number of sit-ups, pushups, or other grueling activities during his training regime, than the numbers set by his coaches.

Recognising our passions and prioritising the tasks and activities that are truly important to us, and necessary to help us achieve our goals, is only half the battle won (Unless you’ve figured out how to avoid taxes, the in-laws, laundry days, waiting in queue for the bathroom at home, your child’s homework, looking for parking, a million good morning messages on WhatsApp groups, advice from your boss on empathy, and people giving you missed calls expecting you to call them back. Then you’ve attained nirvana). Ensuring that we stick to our beliefs, and pursue them persistently and consistently is an indispensable protocol in attaining our life’s missions.

Ever so often, we have an epiphany about what we would love our lives to look like, and we start making goals around this vision. Assuming we have identified our true passion and purpose, we begin to enlist all the small steps we need to take to help us get there (Like finding that glass and bottle of whiskey to go along with the antique armchair and television remote). And then we have one little devil that comes along to play. It’s called ‘instant gratification’.

Some of us want to lose fifteen pounds but want to do so in five days. We go out and buy the most expensive running shoes (These days we need to sell one of our kidneys to afford them and what’s more, they come with a promised life of a full six months. Fantastic!!), and at the end of the week we have evidence of having gained two pounds despite all the jogging (while taking selfies) and sweating (We refuse to acknowledge participating in any cake and pizza eating activities after every run). We want quick results and wear a forlorn look if we don’t get them. We begin to believe that we have set ourselves a target that is well beyond our means and decide to compromise or give up altogether. Some of us want to flaunt a muscular body and we eagerly enlist in a gymnasium. After the first two workouts, we break into muscular aches and pains (sometimes without lifting anything at all) and begin to find the entire ordeal cumbersome and painful. We decide that we need to have realistic targets, and tell ourselves “What made you think you can have that boxer’s physique and six pack abs? You’re an ordinary person, so think and behave like one”. We’re completely ruffled by the effort required to move every inch towards our target. We walk around the gymnasium admiring the physiques of others, complaining that life isn’t fair to us (It gave them steroids but gave us only cranberry flavored protein bars).

Pushing Past The Pain Point

We want to be a professional swimmer, but the daily practice of jumping into a cold swimming pool at 5 am (This isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s 6 am), overcomes our determination because a few weeks later we still don’t have an invitation for the state championships. We want to become a Bollywood playback singer, but the relentless practicing for three hours a day, after our 9-hour job (if we plan our day well we can play ‘Antakshari’ at work for better practice), for a year, hasn’t brought a wave of music producers to our doorstep. We want to publish a book, but a few instances of writer’s block have diminished our enthusiasm (Most times the writer’s block comes in the form of us dozing off due to our own insipid writing. Ahem, moving on). We want to be perfect parents, but as soon as we realize how hard the first two years are, all bets are off (and we go from our desire to be fantastic parents to awfully crabby human beings). We want to be successful businessmen, but a few failures and missed deals convince us of our ineptness as well as the difficulty of the trade (And then the only thing being dealt are harsh words, as we sit around the conference table playing ‘who takes the blame’).

We want to be world-class coders, speakers (I recommend you just get Bose), teachers, doctors (ones who display exemplary skill in diagnosis followed by legible handwriting to ensure that treatment is provided for that very same diagnosis, and not another), engineers (ones who remember the stuff they have learned even after the examinations are over), dancers (I once saw a horse dance brilliantly at a fair in Pushkar, India, despite having two left feet), bankers, (ones who don’t get caught after sanctioning illegal loans), lawyers (ones who have mastered the art of debating successfully with the wife), artists (ones who can draw more than just stick figures), the man in the attic of Indian shoe stores, servers at the McDonald’s drive-in, and anything we envision ourselves doing that brings fruition to our lives.

In this technological age, we want lightning quick results with minimal pain. The moment we encounter an obstacle in our path, we are keener to change direction rather than overcome that obstacle (Funny this rarely happens when we encounter weak internet connectivity while uploading images on Instagram. Eight hours later we are still at it, in the quest for success). Are we willing to push past the pain point? Are we willing to tell ourselves that it’s going to take a lot more than we’re used to? Some of us give up early and some of us stay in the fight longer, before exasperation sets in, and we lay down our arms with no end in sight. We generally tend to focus on how far we have to go and not on how far we’ve come.

Only if we learn to recognize and appreciate the small accomplishments along the way, will we stay the course. It’s that ability to keep the end goal in sight, and constantly feed it with positivity and belief that will eventually lead to the culmination of our vision. Triumphs born out of trials and tribulations are always the sweetest (Of course we need to fail every now and again to keep our sugar consumption in check).

Let’s not count the number of hours, days, weeks, months, and even years of effort put in, just the progressive milestones that really count.