A friend of mine got very lucky this summer. The generous owner of the business he works for bought him a car and asked him to pay back whenever it is convenient for him. Earlier it was a three mile commute for him and he couldn't even afford a public transport. He was homeless a couple of years back.
A few days back when I met him, he asked for my advice about something. He had been saving money for the last few months so that he can pay the owner back in next few months. However, he was wondering if this time he should spend the money to fix the broken window of his car as the owner didn't mention any timeline he needs the money by.
It was a difficult question for me and it made me thinking. We are all given a gift, aren't we? The gift of existence! I don't know the gift is from whom, but I know for sure that I owe my existence to someone. And that someone is not only my parents, it is someone or something much much bigger than them!
But then I realized something else. I never paid back to this planet. Ever. All my life I used all my financial, emotional and spiritual accumulations to fix my own life - to read a book, to buy a trendy car, to go to an expensive vacation and many others.
I could have done better. I could have initiated a fundraiser for a friend who was struggling to make his ends meet. I could have stood beside someone who was going through an emotional crisis. I could have arranged for an evening class to educate the under-privileged children. And I could have done many more.
I just didn't realize earlier that I owe it to all. I took my existence for granted. And kept delaying to pay back.
Just like many of us.
It's been more than twenty years my maternal great-grandmother passed away. I was in college that time. She was completely blind for the last ten or fifteen years of her life. I don't have a memory of a conversation with her where she was looking at my face. But my parents told me that she saw me when I was born. I still have the picture where she is holding her first great-grandchild. That was me. We had a very special bonding. I still cherish the memories of stealing pickles from our refrigerator and eating together when no one else was around.
Every year all of her great-grandchildren used to receive a gift of two rupee bill from her during the festive season. Initially it was just me, and then my brother joined me and then my other cousins followed. Her hobby was to collect new, shiny, unfolded bills of money. We always used to get the best ones from her collection.
However, unfortunately, she was not loved or cared by her own family. Not according to my definition of loving and caring, at least. Every time I visited her with my parents, I saw people cursing and abusing that blind old lady. I was a kid that time and was still working on to have my own perspective about everything. And I thought it was very normal and this is how the world works. But I was wrong.
Anyway, when I look back now, I still wonder what kept her going in spite of the pain that she was experiencing every day in her life! What was she looking forward to? I don't know the answer, but what I know is that, she chose to carry on with her life no matter what. It was more of a choice than anything else.
The festive season is here again. I miss her. And I hope I can always choose to carry on. Just like her. No matter what.
I am going to Six Flags, followed by a cocktail party this Saturday with my friends. I deserve to have fun after an awfully exhausting and irritating week at work. And I am going to get me a latest trendy gadget, an expensive new shoe and an attractive profile picture in Facebook. This will make me feel worthy again. And I really want to be ready for Monday.
In other words, I constantly need to compensate myself for the amount of pain that I chose to go through every day in my life.
But things doesn't have to be this way. We all exist to serve our own purpose. And we all know that. It's just that we are too busy to explore what our purpose is.
We are too busy to realize one simple thing. Inspiration is the opposite of compensation.
I accepted a job assignment that demands an eighty-hour work week.
This will make my boss happy.
This will make his boss happy.
This will help me getting my next promotion.
This will increase my salary significantly.
This will help me buying that expensive thing I had been dreaming for.
This will increase my standard of life.
This will make me very happy.
I had been living in this illusion for a very long time.
But then I learned that happiness is nothing but a state of mind.
Now I know I am happy whenever I think I am happy.
I heard this story this morning when I was listening to a speech by Joel Osteen.
Two lumberjacks received a large order with a tight deadline. They decided to wake up early in the morning and went in the middle of a forest. After working for several hours, the first guy decided to take a break to sharpen his axe. But the second guy said, I am too busy to sharpen my axe now, and continued working. At the end of the day, the first guy went home with twice the amount of wood.
We all know the moral of the story. But what we don't realize is, sometimes we behave like the second guy.
Study says, more than half of us don't read even a single book, from start to end, for the rest of our lives, after we graduate from high school.
Isn't that sad?
This morning I received an email from a software testing service provider. Here is how it looks like:
We work, when you work, and how you work!
We are committed to delivering the best Software QA Testing service!
At <beep> we are committed to meeting our client’s needs and thereby establishing long-term relationships with them.
We offer to remove obstacles faced by offshore outsourcing and thus allow our clients to benefit from top notch services without the hidden costs.
Here at <beep>, we have set out several objectives so we can provide a tailored service to fit our client’s needs and requirements.
Testing is what we love to do and we are great doing it!
What did I learn about marketing from this email? (not in any specific order):
"How can I help you?" is a much better option!
A friend of mine is the mother of a middle-schooler. I often see her borrowing many interesting books from the library. Mostly about parenting. Last time when I saw her in the library, she was checking out the book "The Awakened Family" by Shefali Tsabary.
Shefali is a clinical psychologist, speaker and New York Times bestselling author. And this book, as I figured out later, was about raising children through establishing a deep relationship with them so that they can thrive to be their best, truest selves.
Anyway, coming back to my story. This morning I saw something that is even more interesting. I found her son reading this parenting book in a corner with utmost attention and seriousness. I was intimidated and curious. When I asked, he replied, "Don't tell mom! I want to read this to come up with my counter strategy!"
We are indeed in the middle of a revolution.
My eleven year old is a student of violin. His teacher occasionally arranges recitals where all her students come and play in front of an audience, usually the family members of other students. What a great way to motivate the students and help them gain confidence!
I never missed any of his recitals. Every time I patiently wait for his turn. But when his turn comes, something else happens. Every time.
Someone (I don’t want to disclose the identity!) hands over the video camera to me and asks me to record his performance.
I hate this part. I miss all the fun because my attention completely goes towards recording. Later, when I hear that one of our neighbors passionately listened my son’s piece and appreciated him, I feel bad because I focused too much on keeping a digital memory rather than enjoying the present moment and making emotional connections.
Taking rigorous notes in meetings is very similar. We focus so much on the future that we miss the opportunity to have human connections and to understand each other’s perspectives.
I don’t take notes in meetings anymore. I try to be part of the conversations.
The total amount of money in the world is finite. As of today, an approximate figure for this is $60 trillion.
But, if money is finite, why we are rewarded to accumulate it? And, by reward, I mean interest rates.
Isn't it a facilitation of inequality? Why it is not the other way round?
I think I can guess the answer. Here are my thoughts.
1. We work in corporations so that we can buy stuff. We also invest in stocks of various corporations with the same objective.
2. We buy products (this includes services as well) because we feel incomplete without them. However, I am excluding our bare necessities from this discussion for the time being.
3. Corporations make us feel incomplete without their products so that we have a strong urge to buy them. This is called marketing. I heard that it is an art.
4. Corporations make profit when we buy their products. A lot of profit, actually.
5. Corporations pay us a tiny proportion of their profit as salary.
6. We work in corporations and get paid the salary in return. We get returns in our investments in those corporation stocks.
This is a vicious cycle. And, in this whole process, the corporations accumulate a lot of money so that they can expand their business even more, so that they can be even more profitable.
And then there is another body. The Universities. They work very hard to prepare us so that we can serve those corporations. And, of course they charge money for that. So we take loans from those corporations itself to get some degrees and pay them back with interest, by working in those corporations and investing in their growth.
We, the people, are really trapped this time!
There is a fundamental difference between "I failed" and " I didn't succeed". And the difference is, there is an invisible 'yet' at the end of the second sentence .
There is even a more fundamental assumption about success and failure. And that is our perceived definition of success.
It's been almost an year I am trying to establish a small business with my friend Palash. However, we are yet to make our first dollar.
I usually come across three opinions about our business from our families, friends and sometimes strangers. Here they are:
1. Are you kidding? You didn't make a single dollar in almost a whole year! You should just accept that it is a complete failure and move on!
2. Well, it is not a failure. Yet. All businesses start like this. You shouldn't lose hope. I am sure your success is not very far away!
3. How much did you learn in your entrepreneurship journey? I am sure it completely changed your worldview and made you a much better version of you!
Most of the time I am pretty sure about what my definition of success is. But sometimes I lose it. I am working on it.
Yesterday I met with a car emergency in the middle of a highway when I was returning from my job. My car just stopped when I was driving and the car engine just refused to start. I was literally stranded in the middle lane of a busy highway in a rush hour. I had to call 911. Police arrived immediately and helped me move my car to the shoulder. My car was eventually towed to a nearby auto repair shop and then I called my friend Gaurango to check if he is available to pick me up from there.
I could have called a cab. But I didn't. I could have paid Gaurango for the ride. But I didn't. Because I now believe in a gift economy. And so I wanted to pay with my "emotional credit".
What is "emotional credit"? Well, I created my own definition of it. When we buy a product or a service from someone, we pay the seller some money in return. But why money? And why not something else? The answer is, the traditional practice is to measure the product or service using a scale of money and pay that specific amount to the seller. Most of the time we don't realize, but this also implies an implicit communication to the seller: "I don't want to have a long term relationship with you!". Honestly, how many of us build a friendship with people who works in a local grocery store or a restaurant?
On the other hand, "emotional credit" means owing a favor. And, most importantly, it means living with the gratitude and acknowledging that the favor needs to be returned at a time when the other person needs it. Not when it is convenient for me and not refusing to show gratitude by paying money.
I promised myself to be there for Gaurango when he needs me. Also, I dream to live in a community where even a stranger will help me the same way Gaurango did yesterday. And I dream to live in a community where the currency will be our "emotional credit" so that we can all be connected, be friends and be of help to each other. It's just our faith and selflessness that we all need to work on a little bit. But I'm sure, that day will not be too far away if we all try.
If your answer to the above question is yes, then here is my next question to you.
Are you a vegetarian?
I really hope you are. Because, if you are not, you are not against animal cruelty. Even if you think you are.
We almost always miss the broader perspective, the bigger picture. We fail to differentiate between the fundamental problem and the symptom of it. And, even if we understand the fundamental problem, we try to find a temporary solution. Almost always.
I am not a vegetarian yet. But I hope to be able to be one. Someday.
I read the book "Permission Marketing" by Seth Godin very recently. It completely changed my view towards leadership.
I learned that a leader must earn permissions from the followers to lead them. And earning that permission is not easy. It takes months, years and sometimes decades.
It comes from showing that you care. It comes from your empathy. It comes from selflessness and generosity. And it comes from your passion to make a difference.
I have come across many leaders in my professional and personal life. Some of them were my leaders because of their positions and some of them were simply self-appointed. I followed just a few of them and ignored the rest. Because the rest didn't have any clue about what leadership is, unfortunately. They didn't care about me and my problems, they were not generous, and most importantly, they didn't have a passion of making a difference. I think they either followed instruction from someone else or just wanted to satisfy their wish to become a leader.
I still see many such leaders around me. I didn’t give them my permission to lead me. Not yet.
I heard this story in one of the speeches by Joel Osteen.
He was sitting beside a river on a bright sunny day enjoying the sound of water flowing. There were a couple of other people also sitting near him with fishing rods, trying to catch fishes.
There was one person, he noticed, who was acting a little strange. Every time he was catching a small fish, he was keeping it; but whenever he was able to catch a bigger one, he was returning it back to the river. Joel saw him doing that a few times and became really curious. He went to that person to expressed his curiosity and asked the reason behind his strange behavior. The person calmly replied, “Oh, it’s nothing, I have a tiny little frying pan”.
When I was working for a big organization a few years back, I made a choice to work sixteen hours a day. I thought that working this hard will make me a great and loyal worker, which will help me getting my next promotion, which will keep me ahead of my colleagues for getting the one after, which will eventually make me rich and happy.
I had a tiny little frying pan then. I missed the family movie times, picnics in the riverside on a bright sunny day, board games, solving big jigsaw puzzles in our living room for hours, and many more such things that are significant. Then I slowly started saving money for a bigger frying pan. And then I bought one.
I now live in a small house; but if you look carefully, I’m sure you will be able to see my big frying pan from a distance.
My car radio is always turned on when I am driving to office or coming back home, although I don't pay much attention to the conversations and songs being played. Instead, I focus more on what is in front of me, so that I can safely reach my destination in time.
But whenever there is an announcement about a severe weather condition, it grabs my attention. Because it enables me to decide whether I should adjust my route or timing or both to avoid the storm.
Nowadays most social gatherings and parties look exactly like my car radio. I stopped paying attention to all the conversations unless they are helping in my journey towards my own destination. May be it is my problem that I need to fix.
Or, may be not!
Some conversations that I encounter there are like advertisements. I bought this with that much money or my kid is a genius. Some conversations are like old monotonous songs that I already heard may be more than a thousand times. My job has become so stressful or our next generation is too much into video games. And then there are gossips about celebrities with no talents. No examples necessary, I'm sure.
But still I prefer to leave my car radio turned on whenever I drive. Because sometimes big storms come with very short notice. And I want to be prepared.
This is a famous shop of Indian sweets and snacks in my hometown, Kolkata. It was not very far away from my grandmother's house, so we used to visit this place sometimes. Even after so many years, I still remember the tastes of some of those sweets. Particularly of langcha, a deep fried hot-dog-shaped sweet floating in sugar syrup! Eating them was like experiencing heaven!
But, the thing that I remember the most about this shop is something else.
One day, it was pretty late at night. We stopped by to pick up some sweets, when we saw the staffs of the shop serving food to the poor and homeless. There were hundreds of them!
When we asked what this was about, the owner explained, they do not sell sweets that are made in the previous day to their customers. So, at the end of each day, all unsold sweets are served to these people, for free! And, now that they know how many homeless people depend on them for dinner, they keep that number in mind while making sweets every morning.
I am writing this blog as a reminder to my future self. If I am ever able to run my own small company, I would want to be remembered the same way I remember this shop.
When I am late, the breakfast my wife made for me seems too hot to eat. When I am late, I can’t find my socks. When I am late, the dashboard of my car reminds me that I am supposed to fill gas on my way to office. When I am late, there is always an accident in the interstate. When I am late, I find out that I forgot my badge. When I am late, the elevator stops at every floor.
To summarize, when I am late, I experience failures more. Everything that is obvious and insignificant on a normal day appears to be roadblocks when I am anxious about being late.
A very wise man said, “Anxiety is experiencing failure in advance”. Anxiety makes us pessimists by painting negative pictures about future in our minds.
I used to be a pessimist. But then I started trying not to be one.
Now, when I am late, I just tell myself that nothing in this world can stop me from opening a bottle of whiskey this weekend.
Did you see this video earlier?
This is us.
Always afraid to get out of the comfort zone.
Someone said, “It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you are not.”
Before I even realized, the curtain was up, the lights were on and the show had already started.
I was sitting in the backstage and was rehearsing my part in the play over and over and over again. I didn't want to make any mistake in delivering my dialogue. I was looking at the mirror frequently to make sure that my dress is perfect and my make-up is flawless. I wanted to look how exactly I am supposed to.
But suddenly, I found myself at the center of the stage, the curtain was up, the lights were on and hundreds of people were looking at me!!!
I had been saving my vacation days so that I can go to a beautiful seashore and spend a few days of heavenly happiness. I was working very hard the whole week so that I can spend time with my family in the weekend, without having to prepare for the important meeting that I have on Monday. I chose to have a stressful ‘more work more pay’ job so that I can have a peaceful and relaxing retirement.
I just didn’t realize that the curtain is up and my preparation days are over!
I told myself this morning that today is the day that I had been preparing for for the last forty years. It’s just my time!
I recently started a small company with a friend. For the last few months, I was trying really hard to educate myself on how to run a business. I was reading a lot of books to learn how to market our products and services, watching a lot of videos to figure out how to create a better website, listening to podcasts and audio books to understand how to convert leads to customers and so on.
Yesterday, when I was browsing YouTube, a particular video caught my attention that has a title “3 Keys To Building Trust In Business Relationships”.
It is a short speech by Mitch Meyerson, so I quickly watched it. I learned the following points about how to build trust in business:
1. Listen and communicate with empathy
2. Remember and acknowledge personal details
3. Share helpful resources
The information was very useful for marketing for our company.
But then another thought hit me!
Isn’t this the exact same prescription for building trust in any human relationship? If so, why the phrase "business relationship" was being emphasized so many times in the title and in the speech?
I figured out that this is because we all are very selfish people by default. We take the assumption for granted that none of the points mentioned above are applicable to us if we are not running a business. We prefer to look nice whenever required, instead of being nice unconditionally.
Sometimes we forget that we all sell our reputations to our employers, friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors or even strangers. All the time.
And lack of trust is a real deal-breaker in that selling process.
I saw an interesting sequence in a movie a few years back. A father in his sixties was meeting his son for the first time in his life. After the initial waves of emotions settled down, the father asked, “So, what do you do?” The son replied, “I am in advertising and…”
“Wait!”, the father stopped him, “ I didn’t ask you what do you do for living. I asked you what do you do for yourself!”
This question is haunting me since then. I replied to this question all my life with how I make money. Every single time. And I still do it today. Because I am afraid that people would make fun of me if I say that I sometimes dance in front of mirror when no one is watching me.
But I think I should stop telling people what they want to hear and start telling what I believe in and what I want to say.
I think it’s time I should be honest to myself.
Whenever I visit temples, I see people praying to God. Praying for health of family members, praying for financial prosperity and praying for peace in life.
A motivational speaker was delivering a speech in a seminar in front of a large audience. In the middle of the speech, he suddenly took out a hundred dollar bill and asked the audience, who wants hundred dollars? Few hands raised. He waited for a few seconds and again asked, who wants it? Some more hands raised.
While this was happening a little boy slowly went up to the stage, grabbed the hundred dollar bill from the speaker's hand, put that in his pocket and came down calmly.
The audience got confused about what is going on! Then, after a few moments of silence, the speaker turned to the little boy: "I am very impressed that you didn't just raise your hand and waited for something to happen to you! You made it happen! You are my hero!"
We all are heroes, we just don't realize it. We all pray to God and wait for good things to happen to us.
Instead of praying to God for health, we can use internet to learn about what we should eat, what we should not eat, how and how much we should work out, how we should monitor my weight, blood pressure etc.
Instead of praying to God for financial prosperity, we can use internet to learn how to create and follow a monthly budget, where should we invest, where to take loan from and how we should grow our retirement fund.
Instead of praying to God to find peace, we can use internet to read articles and listen to speeches of great thinkers of the world about how to find happiness with what we have and how to live with imperfections.
Because internet is our temple now.
I used to be very good at finding happiness in weekends after a very busy work week. I went to movie theaters to see action thrillers and romantic comedies in 3D. I went to nice restaurants to enjoy dinner with my family. I went to Six Flags to have a fun filled Saturday in the summer. I went to many Atlantic beaches to relax. I went to long drives across the country. And many more.
I now realize that I was renting happiness this whole time. My life was back to normal every time I came back from Six Flags or returned from a long drive.
And I realized something else too. I was renting my time, effort and attention to a big company as an employee during weekdays so that I can rent happiness in the weekends. What if the company stopped renting my time? Yes, I would have to find another company and sell myself so that they rent my time now!
This was a never ending cycle of renting and being rented for a long time for me. But then someone taught me about passion. And I was lucky enough to find my own. I stopped renting happiness since then.
I am still learning from my passion how to 'be happy'.
I heard this story from an inspirational speaker. He once invited all citizens of his small hometown on a weekend to play an interesting game. There was a room full of colorful balloons. Each balloon had name of only one individual written on it. The number of balloons in the room was same as the number of citizens in that town.
He asked everyone to enter the room at the same time and find the balloon that had her name on it. They had only three minutes to find their balloons.
The game stopped after three minutes. Everyone came out of the room without their balloons. They just couldn't find their balloons in that short time!
Now the host asked them to repeat the same exercise. But this time he shared a strategy with all. "Instead of trying to find your ballon, help others find their baloons".
This time this worked like a magic! Everyone was picking up a balloon, reading the name on it, finding the person and handing over the balloon.
When the game stopped after three minutes, everyone came out of the room with their own balloons.
We all are good at following instructions. That’s how most of us make our living.
Yesterday morning I saw a supervisor walking around all her team members’ desks at 8 am to make sure that they are in office in time. And none of the team members seem to have any problem with that (unless they are late because of traffic or a car problem). They just make sure to leave the office by 4 pm sharp every day. This is because they are instructed to come by 8 am, leave after 4 pm and work in between.
My wife did some voluntary works in our son’s elementary school as a chaperone in field trips. Her job was to make sure that the kids are holding the guard rails, walking in safe zones and not distracted by anything else while walking. The point is, the primary focus of the kids in those circumstances are always on walking, not on the destination. The destination is already determined by their teachers.
Sometimes, most of the time, we choose to act the same way. We act just like those third graders. We focus on get going and not on our goals, dreams and purposes. If this was the case for everyone in the world, the world wouldn’t have seen anything new and unique. Ever.
And the supervisors act like chaperones. They track every tiny actions of their team members to make sure that they are in compliance. They are more focused on who is not coming in time, who is not going in time, whose shirt is not tucked, who is taking longer lunch breaks and so on.
But thankfully, there were some rebels who refused to be third graders and chaperones. That’s why we are able to enjoy the gadgets that we have in our kitchens, ride comfortable cars, practice non-violence and empathy to make our lives better, and many more.
If given a choice, I would definitely try to inspire my people trying new things to make a difference, rather than tracking their every little actions. Because inspiring is new managing.
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.