The bigger accident superstition

I have a little superstition that someone (I think it might be my mom) once passed on to me. I was told that every time something bad happens, it is a gift because it is a sign that something much worse has been averted.

So, when I damaged my computer keyboard 2 weeks ago by spilling water all over it, my immediate reaction was to thank the heavens that it was only my keyboard. According to my bigger accident belief, it was a small accident that was far better than something worse, i.e, spending $200 to replace my keyboard vs. having to replace my entire laptop.

This little belief goes a long way in easing many a painful situation by simply transforming it. While I naturally think about what needs to be done to fix it, the pain of a situation is immediately replaced by a sense of relief that it wasn’t any worse. That sense of relief is accompanied by a third person’s perspective – I realize very quickly that most of my problems are simply first world problems. They may be painful but, in the big scheme of things, all is well.

And, when you learn to see misfortunes as temporary and, thanks to this weird little belief, even positive, I have found that you appreciate the bumps and bends in the road. They’re just a sign that all is well.

As they say, a bend in the road isn’t an end in the road… unless you fail to take a turn.

PS: Thanks mom (or whoever that good Samaritan was) for sharing that idea.

Celebrating ourselves and those around us

We had a lovely tribute to the friend I wrote about on Saturday. At the end of the hour in which many of us recalled lovely memories and celebrated his life, I was left with a niggling question – how many of us let each other know how much we appreciated each other and care? How many of us appreciate ourselves and what we have?

Many of us often spend too long being hard on ourselves for every mistake we make and discount every nice thing we do. We do the same for people around us – too often we just kill relationships with high expectations and unnecessary negativity. And, we also mess with our incredible bodies – eating poorly, sleeping less than we need, and never exercising our body and mind.

Do we always need a shock or horrible outcome to do justice to our lives?

If we feel we do (and that’s okay as long as we accept it), perhaps a better way to approach it would be to write down 3 things we’re thankful for every morning and 3 things we’d do today if we knew it was our last day. Think about it, be intentional and don’t let life happen to you.

What we have is a gift. And, it is entirely up to us to use it well. Let us be excellent to ourselves and each other.

And, I thought I’d begin with you today – thank you for reading these notes, thank you for sharing them as you do, and thank you for writing in every once a while. To be connected with you through a combination of these words, the ether and a few differently shaped devices means more to me than you can imagine. Have a great day and week.

The view

We spend most of our time climbing ladders – a career ladder, a fitness ladder, a finance ladder, etc. There is no end to these ladders. There is always hard and gritty work to be done for long term good. And, that involves diligent work. There are 3 truths about ladder climbing that I’ve found helpful –

1. There is no happiness ladder. While it is true that postponing short term gratification results in long term joy, viewing life as an exercise in postponing short term gratification is a drag. The challenge with happiness is that we have to live it through the journey.

2. There were likely times when you almost slipped but were held tightly by people who stopped climbing their ladders to help you. These folk are precious. Treasure them and try to climb alongside them for as long as possible. And, even when you aren’t alongside, stay in touch. The art of ladder climbing hasn’t changed much with time and there’s a lot you can learn from experience.

3. Wherever you are, you can always stop, take a few seconds, and enjoy the view. Sure, the view gets better at the top. But, the place you are in now is the place you are at after putting all of your life experience at work. It is likely the highest you’ve ever been and is likely the efforts of you having come a long way. Take the time to enjoy the view and be grateful for having made it so far – you definitely didn’t do it alone.

That takes us right back to point 1. It isn’t happy people who are thankful, but thankful people who are happy.

The simple things

I am listening to “Wonderwall” by Oasis as I’m typing these words out. This was among the first songs I fell in love with and has so many great memories attached to it as it has stayed on every music playlist I’ve had since my early teens.

It is 8:07am on Wednesday – I am looking ahead at a packed day with a new project commencing, a project wrapping up, two assignment meetings and a couple of other notes. It is going to be back-to-back and I’m looking forward to that.

It is at such moments that I realize that it is in these moments that we actually live our lives. Too often, we think of the weekend / the next big break as our only respite. But, this moment is where we live have our day-to-day struggles and challenges. And, it is such moments that add up to a life where we’ve hopefully explored the length and breadth of the road we traveled.

Sure, it isn’t perfect and there are a few things that would be nice if fixed. But, I’m thankful for this moment. It is said that it isn’t happy people who are thankful but it is thankful people who are happy. I believe that. Remembering to give thanks takes work..

But, in the final analysis, I can think of very few other things that will matter as much as being grateful for all we’re blessed with and savoring the simple things that make up the bulk of our experience. Let’s live today.

“Jennifer, relax.”

As an old gentleman walked into a super market, he noticed a small girl crying loudly. She was no older than 2 and was trying to persuade her mom to buy her something she wanted. Her mom just said calmly – “Jennifer, relax.”

The girl immediately started crying even louder. Again, her mom said – “Jennifer, relax.”

By now, the girl had started screaming and was attracting a lot of attention. This time, her mom said calmly – “Jennifer, you don’t want to create a scene in the supermarket. So, relax.”

The man walked to the mom and said – “I am amazed at how calm you are. But, surely, she can’t understand what you’re saying, can she?”

“What makes you think I was talking to her?” – the mom replied.

(I can’t find the source for this story. All I know that it is an excerpt from a talk that was passed on, via a Whatsapp message, by a Mr.Rajan – so, thank you Mr Rajan – wherever you are.)

I thought the takeaway from this talk is brilliant – the quality of your communication with the world determines your impact, but it is the quality of your communication with yourself that determines your happiness.

And, I’d argue that impact made without happiness is akin to an artificial flower – looks good from a distance but lacks the substance and aroma that makes a flower special.

So, let’s communicate better with ourselves this week and remember to treat ourselves with infinite patience and kindness. And, of course, the next time you find yourself in a situation that tests your patience, remember.. “Jennifer, relax.”

Disorganized and Organized

The first time my wife (then-girlfriend) walked into my room in university, there wasn’t place for her to sit. I had a huge pile of laundered and unfolded clothes on the bed. When it was time to go to bed, I would move the pile onto my desk and go to sleep. I don’t really remember if she said much but the look on her face said it all.

A lot has changed since then. My rooms have become much neater (not neat enough is what she would say though :-)). But, the biggest change has been in the way I manage my work. I have become close to brutally organized over time and I believe that has greatly helped me get more done in a day. Choosing organization over disorganization has been a deliberate, learned, and logical choice.

Here’s why – day-to-day living is tough. It will take every ounce of energy and stamina you give it and still ask for more. And, if you make it a habit to constantly associate yourself with circles where people are better than you, you will soon notice that intelligence or aptitude are hardly ever going to make a difference. There are some folks who can get away based on pure smarts. But, they are few and far between. A larger percentage thinks they can but find it hard to pull it off. No, the successful folk I’ve met are those who marry smarts and aptitude for what they do with thoughtful strategy and tactics to approach life, relentless focus, high self-discipline and a seemingly never-ending reservoir of grit and persistence for things that matter.

And, all of this would be null and void if you didn’t have your proverbial “sh*t” together.

Someday, I hope I’ll be as organized in my personal life as I am in my professional life. I keep misplacing things all the time because I don’t keep things in their designated places – that results in much more wasted time and unnecessary stress than I’d like. But, I’m beginning to get the idea and I’m beginning to understand the sort of systems that will help. It’s a start. Being organized is a way of life, a way of living well.

And, if something is worth doing, I guess it is worth doing well…

Finding your purpose – The Clayton Christensen Process v2.0

Clayton Christensen’s excellent book – How will you measure your life? – ends with an intriguing chapter on finding your purpose (summary here). Here, Clay recommends the following 3 step process –

1) Find your likeness. Ask yourself – what would you like to be like? How would you define your ideal you? Define your likeness when you are 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, etc i.e. define how you would look, what your family be like, how you would be known, and what you would be doing. (Clay, a very religious man, asked himself – what does god want me to be?)
2) Make commitments. Come back from time to time and revisit your likeness. Does it feel right? Is it you?
3) Define metrics. How do you measure ‘success’ in your definition? In his case, since his purpose was kindness, he always measured it by the number of people he helped. He points out that these metrics are rarely “make more money” or “get a promotion.” Define success and ensure your metrics are aligned.

I was intrigued by this chapter as it definitely felt like the most meaningful part of the book. However, unlike the rest of the book, this part seemed a bit cryptic. Now, I’m not sure if Clay intended it to be so but it resulted in a 1.5 year journey in attempting to really understand and apply this. I’d like to share my learnings from this journey with you.


Purpose process v1.0. I tried following Clay’s exact process and made a first draft of a list of commitments and metrics. After 6 months of testing, I realized there was something amiss. The hardest part about questions that have an existential component (e.g. what is your purpose?) is that you know when something is amiss but you don’t know exactly what is amiss. Cue: Time for more thinking.

I gave myself a break to think about it and got back to “designer” mode. It was time for Purpose process v2.0 that combined Clay’s approach and my learnings from attempting to apply his approach.


Purpose process v2.0 – my 7 step process for giving finding and measuring your purpose a shot. 

Step 1: Visit your own funeral. First, we borrow Stephen Covey’s idea to begin with the end in mind. Close your eyes and imagine you are at your own funeral. Who do you see around you? What are they saying about you? What else do you hear?

Step 2: Draw out your likeness. Pick a few arbitrary points – e.g. 30 years, 50 years, 70 years, 90 years and describe your likeness. Who would you want to be at these ages? Describe your future self – how you look, what your personal life looks like, what you do, etc. Don’t restrict this process. For example, I had a funny moment when I realized I kept describing myself as “fit with muscly arms.” Fit alone clearly didn’t do it for me. The thought of muscly arms somehow always brings out a smile. These details matter.

Step 3: Pick a simple framework to think about your life. This is an important step as we go down the path of aggregating the data we’ve collected so far. Pick a framework that captures life as you know it. I have 2 examples –
a) You could break life down in terms of various states – physical, mental, emotional, spirtual
b) I chose to think of it as 4 layers (or 4 concentric circles) – Myself, the people I love, the work I do and the impact I have on the world. This is ordered in terms of priority in my case.

It doesn’t matter which frame you pick. Picking one is important thought.

Step 4: Describe what success would look like for each segment of the frame. Start describing what success looks like for each segment of the frame. Use all the data you built up as you described your likeness. Here is how mine got filled out..

A happy self..  
– Top physical shape – muscly arms :) and regular sports
– Top mental shape – high learn rate
– Top spiritual shape – Meditating

A loving framily..
– Quality time spent with wife and kids
– In meaningful contact with those afar – either engaged in projects together or in touch regularly

A value adding career..
– Doing work that does good and works toward longer term goals
– Consciously maintaining a board of directors
– Built wealth by adding value and living well within our means

And time spent making a positive difference..
– Spending time giving back to those less privileged
– Actively sharing my life lessons and learnings

Step 5: Make specific metrics. The next step involves creating metrics that you can track every week/month to see how you are doing. Here is what my “happy self” and “positive difference” section looked like.

Happy self

 

 

Positive difference

As you can see, I have a mix of weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly commitments. I didn’t do that in v1.0 and found this distinction to be useful.

Step 6: Track and revise. Set up a recurring invite on your calendar as a part of your week review process. I would suggest checking it every week as it keeps the continuity.

Step 7: Make a “why” statement. This purpose exercise is a beautiful way to put together an overarching “strategy” for your life. It fundamentally defines how you approach your life. It helps keeping the big “why” in mind. I have to credit writing applications to business schools for help with crafting my “why” statement. In my case, it is “To build active relationships with close family and friends, to learn, and to make a positive difference in the world.” Having a why statement helps a lot. There’s no easy way to get to it (i’m sorry!). My first shot was a why statement that didn’t work for too long. This has been a result of continuous improvement and involved seeking advice from folks who knew me well.

A few final notes if you decide to give this process a shot –
– There is no easy way to get through this process. You’ll have to set aside 3-4 thinking hours on a couple of days and wrestle with yourself as you go through this. But, it is one of those processes that changes the way you think about life. If done once, it helps draw attention to what matters and what doesn’t. I hope you’ll consider it. The clarity you gain at the end of the process makes the juice well worth the squeeze.
– It never ceases to amaze me that Clay Christensen did this as a 21 year old. I love his thought process and am thankful to him for sharing this in his book.
– Finally, please do not hesitate to let me know if I can be of help in any way. As you can tell, I’ve stumbled a lot over the past 18 months in my attempts to make this work. v2.0 is definitely working much better than v1.0 but I expect more changes and more follow on posts over the coming weeks, months and years. Until then, I am always reachable on rohan@rohanrajiv.com would love to help

I know this post was long. Sorry! I hope it was worth it.

What should I do if I’m really struggling at work and feel incredibly down because of it?

Someone (anonymous) prompted me to answer a question on Quora. I thought I’d share the question and my response below. The tough part about such a question is that no one can answer it. The best (I believe) you can do is provide a frame that will hopefully help. The response has many of elements I write about here on this blog and all of what is recommended has been tried and tested. So, here’s hoping this helps the person who asked the question and anyone else who might be having a difficult time.


What should I do if I’m really struggling at work and feel incredibly down because of it?

I changed job about a year ago, and really haven’t been doing well in my new job, definitely not as well as I did in my old. Some things are solvable, or at least I can see how to solve them, e.g. project management. However, my job is very technical and requires a deep understanding of material that is complex. I cannot seem to get my head around it, my learning on it is very slow. For that I just do not know what to do, and feel hopeless. It is strange for me because my technical grasp in my old job was good, I don’t know why I am struggling so much here. I feel so demotivated and I do not know who to talk to, as people who do not work in the industry do not understand. I really want some constructive feedback and something concrete to work on, but my colleagues and management say “understanding technical issues should be a given” which makes me wish I could just quit and do something else, although I can’t actually afford to do that financially.


 

Dear friend,

Congratulations! This is an opportunity that can make you and really change your life.

What you describe is the essence of the toughest struggle we face as humans – it is part external, part internal and part existential. It is when the resistance seems to just overpower you and suddenly everything that you seem to touch seems to have failure written all over it. There is nothing harder. I have experienced losing both my father and uncle between ages 9 and 11 and then facing many difficulties as a consequence of that. And, yet, when I look back at a time when I went through something like this, I found death and it’s consequences easier to deal with. This sort of experience will teach you to be human and, in many ways, I think it’s those that learn to be human are those that learn how to be happy.

The toughest part about this sort of situation is that it comes with a seeming lack of options. You seem stuck in an endless spiral and rebuilding your confidence and your sense of self feel like a lot of hard work.

So, given the situation, it is great that you are asking the question. It is sometimes hard to step out of ourselves when we are having tough times. And, this is definitely a good first step. Well done.

Here’s how I would approach it.

Step 1. Examine your options and make a conscious decision.

It seems to me that there are 4 options –
1. Quit now (which you can’t seem to afford financially)
2. Search for a job now
3. Stay and continue status quo
4. Stay and change things

Out of these 4 options, I think searching for a job now could be an escape. However, given your current mental state, it is unlikely that is going to be fruitful. Since option 3 is not one I would recommend, let’s focus on the decision you have in front of you – To fix it or not to  try.

If you decide to fix it, then we proceed to step 2.

Step 2. Rebuild with a 1 month short term plan.

Give yourself a clear short term process goal, e.g., “I’m going to work hard on “being happy” and I’m going to measure my efforts on it.”

This will take 3 steps – 

1. Get the basics – eating, sleeping, exercising, and reading – right. Eat healthy food every 4 hours, kill alcohol and cigarettes for a month, sleep 8 hours every day, exercise 6 days a week (aerobic for 20 minutes) and spend 30 mins every day reading/listening to a book (perhaps start with your commute). When you start,  start with “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E Frankl.

Create a simple tracker and measure yourself on these.

2. Journal your daily learnings. You are learning something every day. Reflect on it and write about it. Every challenge is learning and every day, we get better at dealing with them.

3. Recharge emotionally – via good times and volunteering. Spend at least a day a week with loved ones and get over yourself when you do (no moping / complaining). And, make 3 hours to volunteer at a place with underprivileged kids.

Notes
– This may not immediately change anything. You’re in a spiral, and as you face the inevitable frustration once you start trying, you’ll probably spiral further down. Allow yourself to hit rock bottom. It’s a liberating place to be when you realize you can’t sink any lower.
– Don’t take it personally – great footballing stars have gone on to become massive failures when they switched clubs. It isn’t just about you – it is also about the environment.
– As you might have gathered, this isn’t about the technical skills. Our first step is to work on your confidence and motivation. • Be willing to iterate and change approaches. This will help you with stage 1 – getting started and building your confidence. You’ll need to keep tailoring your approach as  some things will work and some won’t. That’s okay. It’s a long way up and there is no easy way out of it.

And, this is not going to be easy or quick. You will feel stuck and annoyed many many times as you work your way through the process. If that happens, welcome to the club. This is how we get made.

PS: I’d love to help beyond this Quora thread. If this thought process helps, that’s great. Even if it doesn’t, please feel free to write me on rohan@rohanrajiv.com if I can be of help in thinking through this. Good luck and good skill!

The novelty of “new” disappears pretty quickly

This is a line I repeat to myself every time I get started on a new project, initiative, or a relationship of any sort. The novelty of new disappears quickly.

To thrive in the long term, we just better be consistently good. As A G Lafley of P&G said, “get good or get out.”

Yes, it is going to be hard and yes, there are going to be many trials along the way.  But, you know what? Nobody cares. You either deliver or you don’t. The hero and the coward feel the same things. They just respond differently.

We are what we  repeatedly do. And delivering on our commitments consistently is not an act, but a habit.