Doing things poorly

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

This resonated. It is a nice reminder to not let the desire to be good get in the way of the desire to become good.

In the long run, becoming > being.

Ravana and the Khettarama stadium

The Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic poem about a prince called Rama (the hero) who sets out to Lanka/ancient day Sri Lanka to conquer Ravana (the villain portrayed as a “demon king”) and rescue his wife.

We were in the midst of a chapter detailing a small story from the Ramayana in our 6th grade when our Sanskrit teacher stopped for a moment to tell us about the “Khettarama stadium.” Cricket matches between India and Sri Lanka were common fare growing up and these were often played in the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. And, it turns out the founding name of the stadium was “Khettarama” or “Bad Rama.”

He went on to explain that the version of Ramayana we were told was not the only version. In Sri Lanka, Ravana was famous for his wisdom and valour and wasn’t portrayed as a “demon king.” There were versions in which Rama was the bad guy – a fact that blew our minds back then. :-)

It’s been close to two decades since I heard this story and, yet, I think about it time to time as I reflect on the many stories we’re told that are just versions from one point of view. There are often two or more sides to every story and there’s a lot of wisdom in listening to both/all sides before we rush to judgments.

Understanding triggers

A recent challenge I’ve been grappling with is understanding and then responding to our 2 year olds “triggers.” I define a trigger as a condition that results in an emotional outburst/completely irrational behavior.

Hunger is her most sensitive trigger – not rocket science in itself. But, I’ve come to realize that the part I find most challenging is that it goes from zero to one. As a result, I’ve been guilty of reacting to that emotional outburst with my own emotional outburst.

Needless to say, that doesn’t work out well. :-)

Observing myself in my attempts to respond and not react to her triggers has resulted in two takeaways. First, I do better when I’ve gotten sleep. And, second, I need to have better awareness of my own triggers if I intend to help her deal with hers.

Replacing reactions with responses is hard to do consistently. I’m hoping to make the most of these opportunities to get better – both as a parent and as a person.

Remembering Arthur Ashe

There are a few classic ALearningaDay stories that I share every 1-2 years as part of my attempts to internalize them. One of these is from tennis legend Arthur Ashe – the only black man to ever win the Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open.

He contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion he received when he was in surgery and once received a letter from a fan asking why, of all people, was he chosen to have AIDS?

To which, he replied – “The world over – 50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5,000 reach the grand slams, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 make the semi finals and 2 make the finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god “Why me?”

Arthur Ashe taught us that if we’re not asking “why me” when things are going well, it isn’t fair to ask “why me” when things are not.

One of the most profound reminders I’ve gotten to keep perspective and to keep plugging away..

Managers and people who solve problems

We spent time with Dan Pink, the author of a collection of great books, a couple months ago and the conversation veered to managing managers.

He remarked that he believed that as managers (and everyone is and has a manager in some aspect of their life), we segment folks we work with into two types of people –  people who solve problems and people who create problems.

He gave the example of his search for an architect. His eventual choice was someone who he believed would solve problems than they created.

And, thus, his advice was to be the kind of person who solves problems for our own managers.

I’ve reflected on that discussion a few times in the past months on the areas where I solve problems and create problems for folks around me. It has also helped me appreciate the fantastic job some folks I know do in this regard.

Simple advice. Good advice.

Sources of learning – an evolving 10 year view

I’ve been having a few conversations of late that have aimed to tackle difficult questions like – “How can I learn better?” and “How can I be sure I’m learning?” These are challenging questions and ones I’ve wrestled with a bunch. So, I thought I’d share my evolving perspective after 10 years of writing about this.

My mental model here is that our “learn rate” is proportional to time + energy spent on 3 sources – Books/synthesized information, People (and insightful conversations we have), and our own experiences. When we take the time to reflect on the time + energy spent on these sources and synthesize what we’ve taken away, we begin to develop or improve existing mental models, and over time, make changes to how we approach life. That translation of theory to action is learning.

Reflecting on the mix between these sources in my journey in the past decade, I think the biggest change has been the proportion of learning coming from my own experiences. When I started writing a decade ago, most of my learning came from books and more experienced folks – I didn’t have too many experiences to reflect on. That has changed and the mix looks a lot more balanced of late.

So, my perspective on the “how can I learn better?” question comes down to – what kind of habits/infrastructure do we have in place to make sure we’re reading, regularly having interesting conversations that we learn from, and reflecting on both of these along with the experiences we’re having every day?

And, if I had to break that down to sub-questions, they would be –

i) Are we regularly reading good books/subscribed to insightful blogs or podcasts?
ii) Are we spending time with folks we learn from and having conversations about what we’re thinking about vs. the weather?
iii) Are we finding time to reflect on the above + our own experiences and synthesize?

Self-awareness is not what we think

Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and executive coach, assembled a team to understand self-awareness and shared her findings earlier this year. My top 5 takeaways –

1. We often refer to self-awareness as one “catch all” word. However, there are two distinct kinds of self-awareness – internal and external. Internal self-awareness represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions, and impact on others. External self-awareness means understanding how others view us.

2. Internal self-awareness is related to higher job and relationship satisfaction and happiness. External self awareness is related to a better ability to show empathy and take others’ perspectives. And, here’s the kicker – there is virtually no relationship between the two.

3. Many of life’s great truths fit into a 2×2. :-) And, this is no exception – the interplay between the two is illuminating.

4. Experience and power hinder self-awareness. In the study, most people assumed they were self aware – only 10%-15% were so.

5. To become more aware, stop asking “why” you feel a certain way and replace that with “what.” “Why do I feel irritated?” involves a lot of rationalizing. “What situations trigger irritation and what can I do about them?” focuses us on patterns that increases awareness and push us to productive action.

I am one of those who used to put all self-awareness in one bucket. In retrospect, this approach to segmenting self-awareness is spot on. Eye opening. Thank you, Dr. Eurich and thanks, Pankaj, for recommending the article.