You live only once!

I was listening to a podcast the other day about correlation between our childhood and political views during adulthood. Given that we are governed for the very first time at home, our political preferences are very much shaped at home. I have mostly been a very obedient kid at home, where I’ve constantly feared the consequences of being otherwise. Having said that, I have done my share of sneaking behind my parents back to do things that they’d have never approved of, but everybody does that.

I have seldom challenged this invisible rule book for an acceptable format to life  – You study, you get a job, you get married, you buy property (more than one is preferable), you have children, you attend all family functions, you organise a few yourself, you go on foreign vacations, bring back presents for family, you continue to keep your job, go on business trips, bring presents again, religiously market your life on social media and so on. I may not have necessarily followed this myself, but I acknowledge the need for such rule based existence.

Naturally, when Karthik left a stable job within the first year of our marriage, you can imagine how distraught I must have been. I could never come to terms with his need to “take a break” because I was raised to slog my ass off in the hope of a post-retirement hibernation when I’d be free from all my familial duties. Karthik and I fought lots, not because he didn’t have a constant source of income, but just him sitting at home all day, everyday was just not healthy for him or our relationship.

The only way I knew how to get him to do what I wanted was to threaten him, and obviously, that didn’t work and we fought more. Sometimes it got very ugly, but none of that convinced him to get back to a job. He was so stubborn because life had been so unfair to him in the last few years that he genuinely believed he didn’t owe anyone anything. But I wouldn’t give up either – I revived my own dreams of studying further to make up for our combined dreams being shattered.

Recently, Karthik met a friend of his who was visiting London for a business meeting. This chap lives the epitome of a professional life that I had once aspired for. He found it hard to fathom that Karthik had moved to a new country just like that without a job. When Karthik told me this, I found myself getting extremely defensive although in the last 6 years I would never been seen defending Karthik’s life’s choices. I realised that I am incredibly proud of everything Karthik has done ever since he quit a stable job with Goldman Sachs, including moving to a different country just to support his wife live her dreams.

For a child prodigy, having always been miles ahead of his class, having topped JEE and CAT, it must have been incredibly disorienting to see that one needs a very different set of skills to survive the corporate world unlike in school years. After having been disillusioned at his first consulting gig, having gone through several less than stimulating jobs consequently, and dealing with the death of both parents, it must have taken enormous efforts to pull off a stellar consulting business, become a faculty at his alma mater, become a national newspaper columnist and a soon to be published author (Skipping the part where he has been an amazing partner putting me through business school, managing an entire household and surviving long-distance, because this would need an entire blogpost).

Over the last few years, I have begun to make peace with Karthik’s aspirations being very different from mine, and how we optimise for different things in life – me for stress and he for the lack of it. As a couple, if our focus had been on nurturing common formula driven dreams, building complexes and farm houses, we’d have learnt so little about embracing differences and me, about challenging meaningless rules.

Most people just cannot take risks and in turn impose the limitations of such a life on everyone around them. Anyone not following the prescribed path for success is warned of the potential dire consequences instead of just being understood. We think we are doing this out of concern for the other person, but in reality, we are trying to validate our own path by being skeptical/ condescending about someone else’s. It’s this lack of curiosity that deams us to failure as a society.

P.S – In our madness of shuttling between abiding and challenging, we have managed to study, get jobs, buy properties, have a child, travels loads and have the balls to quit jobs and move countries whenever we’ve wanted because you live only once!

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Optimizing for ourselves

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Whenever we do something for someone, we expect that person to feel good about the favour they received. But the truth is, we do these things to make ourselves feel better that someone could have felt better because of us. Whether you’d like to reflect and acknowledge or not, we are all wired to optimize for ourselves. When we try to kid ourselves or remain in denial, we cause ourselves more harm than doing any good for anyone.

For the last 6-7 years, I have been trying to push, handhold, support (every combination of these things) my husband to get all his assets related paperwork sorted since he once told me that having so many things to take care of stresses him out because my husband’s peace of mind should be paramount for me, right? Over the years, the list has grown longer than it has reduced and me trying to help him complete it has not only given him more stress, it has started to affect my peace of mind too.

It’s easy for me to feel bad that he is wasting his parents’ hard earned money by not trying to claim it (since we all only amass wealth for our offspring), but it’s only a matter of perspective because essentially all of us have the right to do what we want with our lives as long as we aren’t purposely causing harm to another form of life. So, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to pull back and let him deal with his life and guess what, I already feel happier. He probably does too because he has one less reason to be stressed out about.

If we all just thought about ourselves, we would be so much happier. If giving a beggar 10 bucks is going to make you feel better about yourself, do it. If it’s going to make you feel terrible for encouraging beggary, don’t give them anything. But if it’s going to make you feel bad about making such a big deal of 10 bucks that you’re better of parting with, give them money. As a side-effect of your actions, you will always be influencing someone else’s life. So, just go ahead and make yourself happy because the universe will take care of the side effects.

Most of us belong to a society where we worry more about others than ourselves and that’s why we are so conscious how our actions influence others (which btw, is only our perspective) and lose track of how it makes us feel. As a result, no one is really actually happy. I don’t mean to sound like the back of an auto rickshaw, but you’ve got one life and so focus on that one life you have and let others worry about their own.

P.S – As a mother, I tend to my child, not because she needs care but seeing her being taken care of, makes me feel better. We are all constantly looking for motivation to live on and our means to achieve this varies over different stages of life, but we are always only optimising for ourselves.

Independent or Communal living..where are we headed?

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We spend most of our young adult lives wanting to be independent, craving nuclear lives and freedom because it feels most optimal at the time where we have very little time to manage our own expectations of life, let alone others. This is probably one of the reasons why so many women nowadays tell me that they prefer not to live with in-laws. Now, there’s nothing wrong with how we feel because it’s only natural for the type of lives we live managing high pressure jobs, consuming marriages and a lot of attention needing children. Having said this, there are many people who smilingly or grudgingly pull off joint families, either out of desire or necessity, and hats off to them, but let me assure you that this is more an outlier than a trend today. We are definitely moving from a more communal model to an individualistic model at least in the way we run our homes and families here in South India (being specific due to lack of data about the North here) today.

My mum recently told me about the success (read happiness) of joint families among Marwaris and I argued vehemently about all the sacrifices women in these families would have to make (such as not pursuing demanding careers, etc) in order to keep families together and how their lives would be like that of Sejal or Tulsi from Kyunki sans bhai kabhi bahu thi! Such sacrifices would be considered a sin in ours or any typical south indian brahmin household today (let alone feminist sentiments) since education and profession hold utmost importance in our lives irrespective of gender. After several minutes of debate over joint vs nuclear families and desperately trying to convince each other of our own opinions, we gave up and went our separate ways.

Beyond these arguments, I realised what Amma was really trying to get at was how old age breeds insecurities since we no longer have the physical confidence to handle adversities like we did in our 20s or 30s or 40s, which in turn depletes mental/ emotional well being making us wish we had nurtured a community that would support us in our old age. Of course, the growing mismatch of our sustained traditional expectations of children taking care of their parents in old age, and increasing number of individuals seeking familial independence, doesn’t help matters much.

Honestly, I cannot comprehend these exact insecurities just as well as Amma does, but only time can tell. Parents sacrifice their prime adult lives bringing up children and even supporting them with their children, while having to expect nothing in return because children like us don’t like being thrust with guilt for not returning the favour. We regularly indulge in discussions with friends our age about how some parents (who we only see/ know from a distance) prefer to be independent and pursue their personal interests over their kids. Yes, children are selfish and as my sister says, that’s just the way of life. We do this to our parents, they did it to theirs, our children do this to us, their children do this to them and so on.

But on a less selfish note, I think parents having their own lives gives parents a chance to live their individual dreams  and makes their lives worth living beyond just seeing their progeny prosper, which I believe should not be the only aim in one’s life (Amma would disagree, but what the hell, we have several sleepless nights ahead of us to argue this out!). While this argues in favour of more independent living for all, my traditional upbringing still makes me guilty for thinking these thoughts, making me wonder if there is a fine balance between being independence and thriving in a community at all and where our generation is headed!

The fluid boundary between my space and yours

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credit: markmanson.net

When I am completely conscious and fully aware, I dislike the idea of criticising, poking fun (not harmless!), public shaming, trolling, etc which only spreads negativity in the world and is not healthy in general. I came across this post by some uncle on Facebook about his experience sitting next to a newly wed couple and he describes this as being worse than sitting next to someone with a little baby. There were moments when he exaggerated little things that go unnoticed just to make it a funnier read. Surely, it could touch either the right or the wrong nerve and it’s really up to the reader since there’s no way to confirm the tone/ intentions of the writer. Although I’d have thought the same thoughts if I were in his position, my first instinct was to bash him and say “Dude, come on, just because you’ve lost love over the last 37 years of marriage, doesn’t mean you make fun of people who’ve still got it!” Within a second, I stopped to reflect on my instincts and realised that the only reason I wanted to say that was just because I could!

So, this is exactly the root of our problems. We always do things just because we can. We troll because we can. We are racist because we can. We rape because we can and so on. And then we blame it on the victim for overexposure of thoughts, skin and what not. Somehow, someone’s choice to express freely, begins to infringe on our personal space because the boundary between their personal space and ours is completely fluid and open to interpretation by either parties, which has only further been liquified by social media. Most of the time, as a lame reader we could be oblivious to this negativity, unless of course we decide to read the comments section of any post which is almost always filled with a bunch of hateful messages. Sure, you might think its stupid to read it but just in case you ever do, it makes you really sad to see that there are people in this world with no happiness to spread.

Just like we CAN spread hatred and negativity, we CAN also take a few minutes to think about how our actions could alter another life (person, animal, plant, whatever!) just to see if we still want to do what we’d set out to say/ do in the first place because not everybody is cool enough to not give a damn about what others say. If you still feel very strongly about doing something just because you can, go ahead and do it, because nobody can stop you. It takes a lot of effort to empathise and say or do nice things and so, I don’t blame you for chickening out because all of us are lazy and stupid sometimes. But I just pray that whoever is going to be a victim of your wrath is smart enough to make you re-consider in the future.

P.S – I experience this sort of dilemma very often as a blogger despite being very cautious of my subject’s sentiments. Surely, I don’t make the best call all the time but I try.

The happiness project

My MBA team at IESE thinks I am more German than the German on my team. So, maybe it’s time to resign the Hitler in me. A lot has been said about my temper, attitude, ability to transmit stress, obsession for perfection, need to control everything and my narcissism. Under ordinary circumstances, I would pay no heed and continue to move on with my life but coming here to do this MBA program was a conscious decision to give myself an opportunity to tweak some things about me (not change myself, mind you! Don’t start judging already!)

To be under constant radar of everyone’s judgement has been a huge cause for continued stress in the last couple of months. To add to it, the only person I assumed would spare me this judgement in life also obviously judges me, but in a less obvious way. Unfortunately, I’ve been blessed (more like cursed, in this case) with the ability to read people’s mind and I couldn’t help but notice being judged by him earlier this evening. What made this worse was that I was being judged about complaining about being judged.

I have tried numerous times to stop myself from trying to not share my thoughts (more like bicker about everything) with anyone because once your thoughts are out of your head, you give your listener the right to judge the thoughts, judge you and massacre the impact of these thoughts on your future actions. I have tried the whole stopping myself from doing something with alcohol consumption as well but I’ve been miles away from being successful. 

So, I am going to try something very radical this time. I will do the exact opposite of how I normally behave. I will not try to not be angry, stressed, negative, self obsessed, etc but I will try my hand at being happy. I will consciously look out for happiness. I watched this TED talk by HBS’s negotiations prof who said, a few tweaks can mean huge changes and one must fake it till they become it.

Good Morning, Miss Buddha

Pri : I stopped running in life and all of a sudden, I feel so peaceful guys!
Rahul : Good Morning, Miss Buddha (his morning and my afternoon)
Inch : (Still sleeping)

These two people have taught me how to laugh and lent me their shoulders to cry on. As I write this, my eyes well up just remembering the great times we spent sitting on our bikes in the college parking lot laughing about everything under the sky. These two are like my drops of sunshine that I can carry on a rainy day. Some friends are forever and Rahul and Inch are mine!

For the last 3 months at IESE, I have been running life a horse with blinkers. I have been swept by the tide of summer internship desperation along with all the others in school until I hit a rock on Friday. It was the final day of the communication week at school. We were learning to be better communicators, which I had quite honestly looked down up since I thought it added little value to my already well developed communication skills. Surely, the more humble ones had managed to reach yards beyond me in communication, for whom, I was genuinely happy. Anyway, this week was more than just developing oratory skills, it was about tearing down walls, building bridges, connecting heart to heart with people, making new friends and keeping our arms wide open.

Maty Tchey, the head trainer was a little bit of a crazy person but I was struck by her consistent optimism and smile that was so contagious. She got all 290 of us to sing, dance, scream and finally give out free hugs to people around us in the room. Doing this was like a gushing stream crashing against the rocks to just slow down a little bit. It hit me at that instance that I was in a room with 289 other people representing 57 countries and this was a chance that I’m never going to have again in life. It made me wonder why I’ve been running in meaningless selfish pursuits of trying to secure a summer internship instead of finding my passion in an industry/ company I want to really make a difference in. This was reinforced as I struggled to complete my cover letter for banking and consulting when I was falling short of words to justify why I wanted to work for their companies.

All your priorities in life start falling in place once you’ve slowed down just a little bit to think and reflect. When you slow down and look around, you find people, friends and new possibilities that are extending their hands to hold you still while you find your place in life. I was so happy when I was hugging people in the Aula Magna. Imagine how it would be to have a friend to share your love every minute of your life. I’d rather fill my life with love and happiness than trying to make time for every workshop thrown my way at school because I don’t know if I’m even going to live long enough to benefit from any of these workshops!