- “Why do you work so hard in your job?”
- “So that I can do whatever I like to do when I retire.”
- “What do you like to do?”
- “I don’t know yet, but I will figure out!”
I wonder if there is a better way.
How about starting today to work one hour every night on what we love to do and never retire?
Even twenty years ago, an aspiring writer had to spend a lot of time and effort to convince a publisher to publish the book. The publisher used to evaluate the draft with his left brain (i.e., logic, business), instead of his right brain (i.e., art, emotion). Today the writer can just self-publish it.
Earlier, in order to buy a television, we had to depend on the guidance of a biased sales person to find out which brand and model would fit our purpose and budget. In todays world, we spent a lot of time in internet to research about the same before even going to a shop.
But these are not the agents I am talking about. I am more concerned about the agents who don't look like agents.
Corporations need employees. Employees need to differenciate themselves from others in today's competitive market, therefore they need degrees and diplomas and certifications. Educational institutions provide all these if you invest time and money on them.
In other words, the educational institutions seem to behave exctly like biased agents of those corporations. Well, most of them.
Isn't it unfortunate that compassion, empathy and generosity are not taught anywhere?
Yesterday, during my daily commute, a car was tailgating me and honking for apparently no reasons. I was so stressed and irritated by this!
After a few minutes, when I got a chance, I changed the lane and allowed this car to pass.
And then I saw that it was my best friend! I was laughing!
Why suddenly all my stress vanished?
Because my friend is inside my boundary of self. Strangers are not.
But what if we bring them inside? Wouldn't it help us to eliminate a lot of stress from our lives?
The answer is yes, if and only if it's reciprocal.
We are not equally good at everything we do. And the reason for this is, we tend to inspire ourselves to improve only those skills that give us an immediate return. For example, we focus more on our jobs instead of our kids’ education, more on our financial investments instead of changing our spending habits.
Sometimes we fail to understand something very simple and fundamental. It's our habits that drive our priorities. And our habits do not give us immediate returns. Take the example of smoking or brushing teeth before going to bed. One smoke or not brushing one day doesn't really matter, but if we keep doing this over a long period of time then we would see a significant impact.
Starting a good habit or stopping a bad one is one of the most difficult tasks. However, it changes our lives if we decide to take the first step and then decide to repeat it until we see a difference.
What is the difference between spending time and investing time?
We all know it. It is similar to the difference between spending money and investing money.
However, there is a subtle difference between these two scenarios.
Lost money is replaceable, but lost time is not.
“No matter how much I work out, I am not able to lose any weight!”
Sounds familiar? I am sure all of us have at least one friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker like this.
The problem is, most of the time we forget that it is a cycle. We focus on only one half of it. We don’t lose weight because we fail to watch and limit our intake.
Is there a drug that numbs our taste-buds?
And, even if there is one, will we buy it?
Yes, it is all about our choices.
When I was younger, I always went for the cheapest option whenever I was buying things for myself. Buying shoes was a good example of this. I remember, whenever I used to return home with a new pair of shoes, my parents always had the reaction: “Why didn’t you spend some more and get yourself a better one?” At that time it was really difficult to explain them that I had found the purpose of my life and it was to save as much money as possible!
But as I moved ahead with my life, I slowly realized something else. Because of the poor quality of my shoes, they always lasted only of six months before I had to buy a new pair. So, I bought two pairs of shoes on an average every year. It was just after I got married when my wife asked me to do an experiment. She suggested that I should buy a shoe from a reputed shop that costs approximately twice the cost of my regular shoe and see how long that lasts. All married guys know that it’s never a good idea to disagree with your wife, even if she doesn’t have a good idea. So I decided to agree with her and bought my next shoe as she recommended.
The new shoe lasted for almost two years, four times longer than the earlier shoe! We all make these mistakes in our lives. Sometimes we make decisions just by looking at the amount of investment, instead of considering the return on investment along with it. I know a lady without a driver’s license who didn’t want to invest a few hours and a couple of hundred dollars on her driving lessons because she thought it was a bad investment. She was comfortable calling a cab every time she needed to go somewhere.
Numbers almost always lie, especially when it comes with an incomplete story.
Our first role models are our parents of same sex.
When I was a kid, I used to imitate my father. I think all boys do that. And similarly all girls imitate their mothers.
But the challenge is somewhere else.
We, parents, often forget the fundamental concept that kids don’t learn by following instructions. They learn by following actions of their role models. In other words, they learn by seeing, not by hearing.
The only way to teach our kids, especially of same sex, is this. If we want them to follow rules, we need to practice driving below speed limits. If we want them to be polite, we need to be nice with our neighbors first. If we want them to have good habits, we need to sit beside them every day and read our books.
It’s scary! Isn’t it?
In the course of human civilization, at some point of time we started the process of accumulation. It was driven by our vulnerability, insecurity and lack of trust on others.
We became so vulnerable that we even started claiming various natural resources as our own. And we started protecting them by various means, including patents, trademarks, contracts and many more.
The industry of bottled water is a good example of this.
Some of my friends, who grew up in small towns and villages, told me that they never bought fruits from the market when they were kids. They had free access and permission to pick them from their neighbors' trees.
But then the sense of accumulation came into picture and the owners of those trees put fences around them and started their own businesses.
This triggered a need for people to have better degrees and to get better jobs so that they can now buy the fruits.
Consciously or unconsciously, we converted most of our natural resources into unnatural resources.
Got introduced to this concept recently by a book written by Daniel Pink.
Currently the self-storage industry is a multi-billion dollar industry in United States. Some people argue that its even bigger than Hollywood!
And you know what this industry is based on?
It is based on our inability to understand the difference between "what I need" and "what I want".
We usually transact with three types of people.
The first one is friends. And the transactions are mostly non-financial. We babysit their kids, help them with our advice whenever asked for, pick them up and drop them whenever there is a car problem. And we don't keep score. Mostly.
The second type is strangers. The billing lady at our local grocery store, the coffee shop, and even our doctors. The transactions are mostly financial. We don't want to have a personal relationship with them. Instead, we choose to pay all our debts in the form of money.
But the most complex and problematic one is the third category. Our customers.
We can't bring them closer and make them our friends. Because, in that case the whole purpose of doing business goes away if we stop keeping scores and maintaining numbers. Right? On the other hand, we can't treat them as strangers either because it is a rational strategy to try to convert them to loyal customers so that there are repeat sales.
It is very difficult to maintain the balance.
And what is even more difficult is, to acknowledge the fact that most of the people whom we transact with are our customers. In fact, almost all of them.
People's attention is an asset that we accumulate bit by bit over many years.
Most of us don’t realize it though. And so we use the attention for all wrong reasons.
Take the example of a social media. Most of us have hundreds and thousands of friends and followers in Facebook.
Some people use it for bragging. I have seen people in restaurants taking pictures of their dishes and posting in Facebook before starting to enjoy the food.
Some other people use it as emotional trash bags. I have friends who dumps all his/her frustrations in Facebook at the end of each day.
We always underestimate the power of our asset that we have built over many years, and how our attention can be used for making our lives and our planet a little better.
Don’t believe me? Try raising funds for a family in need, or a movement to inspire people to work out for at least ten minutes a day.
Or you can just keep ignoring the power you already have.
The choice is yours.
While driving, which one do you see first? St. Louis Zoo or The Gateway Arch?
Well, that depends on which direction you are driving to, right?
If John is near the Zoo and Mark is near the Arch, we just can’t conclude that Mark is ahead of John, unless we assume that they are both going from West to East.
But, unfortunately, most of our assumptions are not accurate as we don’t base them on facts. We love to assume things that are convenient and fun, instead.
And that’s how we sometimes judge others. In fact, most of the time.
Once a friend of mine showed me a picture of people walking in a busy street and told me, some of these people are so stupid that they are walking backwards!
There is only one gas station in one of my friend's neighborhood. And it is an unusual one.
When we fill up, the gas comes out of the nozzle very slowly, drip by drip. In fact. it is so slow that it takes more than an hour to pour one gallon of gas.
But the owner of the gas station is a very generous person. He doesn't accept any money for the gas he provides. Instead, he asks the customer to help him doing his chores during their wait.
The capacity of my friend's tank is ten gallons. So, in order to fill up his tank, he stops by the gas stations early in the morning and waits for more than ten hours. During the waiting time, he cleans the dishes, sweeps the patio and cooks for the owner. Sometimes he has to follow other instructions that doesn't have any meaning or significance.
However, when his tank gets completely filled up, it is already dark outside and he doesn’t have enough time to do what he was supposed to use his car for.
Does this story sound familiar to you? Isn't this the story of most of us?
This is how Seth Godin defines it. Our fear.
Fear of being laughed at. Fear of being criticized. Fear of being embarrassed.
Yes, this is what we exactly mean when we say fear of failure.
But they are not the same.
Failure is a very essential indredient for success. Being embarrassed is not. It is just a choice that we make. And a wrong one, of course.
But what makes us choose it?
Our need to fit in. Our need to be approved and accepted by all around us. Our need to be in compliance with the social norms.
And that’s exactly how we lose ourselves. Almost always.
I agreed to your choice of the color of our living room last year, now you have to go with my choice of the color of our new car. You owe me that.
I made a lot of sacrifies by not attending a number of parties, now you owe me good marks in English and Mathematics.
I took you to one of the famous restaurants when I invited you; you better take me to a similar one.
I like and comment in all the pictures you post in Facebook, but you don't frequently like the ones I post.
Keeping score is the enemy of a happy marriage, a true parenthood and a good friendship. Many of us, consciously or unconsciously, maintain balance sheets for every relationships we have, every role we play in our lives.
But it doesn't work that way. We tend to forget that our relationships are not business contracts. It doesn't matter how intelligent, efficient and hard working we are.
The only thing that matters is how much we care.
While reading the book ‘The Art of Choosing’ by Sheena Iyengar, I came across the concept of two types of freedom. They are ‘Freedom To’ and ‘Freedom From’.
All of us enjoy our freedom to buy things whenever and whatever we want. We work hard so that we can have more freedom to buy more things. We enjoy our freedom to take vacations in places which are famous, far away from our homes and expensive. We work even harder to go to more famous and more expensive places. The same theory applies to our cars, gadgets, dresses and many more. This is ‘Freedom To’.
But most of us do not realize that there is another form of freedom, i.e., ‘Freedom From’, that we need to nurture as well. It is the freedom from negativity, freedom from distractions that slows us down from reaching our goals, freedom from people who fail to inspire us and add value in our lives, freedom from obligations to run others’ races instead of running our own, freedom from following bad leaders, freedom from buying things that we do not need but others expect us to have, freedom from judging others without knowing their true story and many more.
It is very easy for us to nurture only ‘Freedom To’ and completely ignore ‘Freedom From’. It is just like cleaning and organizing your living room when some friends are visiting, and locking everything dirty in our bedroom. We all have done it, didn’t we?
What matters is whether we have a meaningful life. A resourceful life is a waste if it doesn’t have a meaning, a purpose.
It was a boring weekend in February and I, my wife and my son had no activity to do. So we decided to assemble the furniture we bought a few days back.
We opened the box, took out the manual and then organized all parts in a specific order. My wife brought our multi-bit screwdriver. And then we started assembling the pieces one by one.
But every time we were assembling a new piece, we were having a challenge. Every single piece needed a different bit in the screwdriver and it was nowhere documented which bit fits into which part. So every time we were trying the bits one after another until we found the one that fits.
Every time a bit was not fitting, we learned something very important. We learned that it doesn’t work. We kept that bit aside and continued to try with another one.
The question is, what if we didn’t keep that bit separate from the other bits? Yes, it would have taken much longer for us to figure out what fits what.
A failure is a success in figuring out what doesn’t work. In other words, when we fail, we are one step closer to be successful.
And, all bigger successes are nothing but a series of such small failures.
Have you ever celebrated failure? You should!
How many times do you encounter statements like, "I feel so irritated and not in a mood now", "that guy turned off my mood"? I’m sure, many times. I was really struggling for a long time to understand what is mood and whether we can control it.
When I consulted a dictionary, I found that mood is a temporary state of mind or feeling. But it didn’t say anything about whether we can control our moods, and if we can, how.
I started looking at the books available in the Psychology section and found a useful one written by Richard Carlson. I read it and noted down the following points:
1. Thinking is a voluntary process.
2. The extent of realization of the above is called mood.
And then it took a few months for me to digest the two points. As you all know, I am a slow learner. But when I was able to digest it eventually, I started practicing it and I slowing started seeing the result.
I learned that it is not an event that makes us sad, angry or scared, it is what we think about the event that makes us that way.
So now, whenever a young lady tailgates me, I slow down even more. I just assume that she really wants to say Hi to me.
Many thought leaders have been emphasizing on the point for a long time that we now leave in the a world of abundance, not in a world of scarcity any more.
If we want to buy a television today, we can go to hundreds of websites, compare thousands of deals, finalize a model and order for shipping. The entire process takes may be less than half an hour. I remember when we were buying a television many years back in my home town, there were only one shop in my neighborhood and they had only three models in store.
When a relative of ours came to US to pursue his higher study around thirty years ago, the most convenient way to contact him was physical mails, which took around a month to reach its destination. But now, I can instantly contact my family who lives thousands of miles away in literally thirty different ways, including email, Facebook, WhatsApp and many more, and have a conversation instantly.
When my father graduated from college, I guess he had to find a typist and pay him money to create a two-page resume. Now we have many free software that we can download to create it ourselves in less than fifteen minutes. When he used to have a question about income tax, he had to either find a tax consultant or a library that had the latest books on taxation. Now we google.
Everything happened to make our lives better. However, there was also a fundamental shift that silently changed everything.
Fifty years back, in order to chase a dream, one would have to find good resources like good teachers, good books, a good library etc. But now, in order to chase a dream, one would have to restrict himself from distractions to have more focus on the goal. I used to have a thousand Facebook friends and subscription in a hundred WhatsApp groups. Even worse, I had all my social media accounts active in my cell phone so that I could always be informed about what people are eating, which places people are visiting and what they are buying. These were all distractions because none of these were helping me in chasing my dream. A minute spent on social media was a minute not spent on things that I care about.
Most of the time we don’t realize how powerful we have become in last one or two decades. And even if we realize it, sadly, most of the time we use our powers for all wrong reasons.
Many years back a lonely lady decided to pet a python. She went to a pet store and brought a baby python home. She made all arrangements and updates in her house so that it is habitable for the pet. She was not lonely any more and was very happy.
Slowly the python started growing up. It needed a bigger cage. The amount of its daily food intake also increased significantly. She was consulting a vet and following his directions regularly to make sure it live a healthy life. She was still very happy.
Few more months went by. The python grew up even more. However, one particular week she noticed that it was not eating for last few days. She tried with different types of food, but nothing worked. She was sure that the python is sick, so she immediately took it to the vet.
After a thorough examination, the vet came back to the lady and said, the python is perfectly healthy, but you should try to get rid of it as soon as possible. It started its preparation to eat you!
All our bad habits are like the pet python. We initially enjoy the company of such habits and then eventually get eaten by them because we fail to recognize the abnormality in their behavior. Video games, smoking, alcohol, unhealthy eating, caring for other’s approvals, running someone else’s race, accumulation of things for social status are all examples of such habits. So, watch out!
Abhimanyu Gupta lives in Chesterfield, Missouri with his wife Nilanjana & son Anusurya. His profession is software testing and his passion are music and books. He can be reached via Email, LinkedIn or Facebook.