Maybe the insoles are swapped?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about 'fear'. I have my own fears - both rational and irrational. The rational fear is a lot easier to deal with, it is the irrational fear that kills me. How do you go about solving a problem if the root cause is either unknown or absolutely illogical?

For instance, I have this irrational fear of dogs. Yes, dogs! It is really sad because, I like and adore them, but I get so nervous when they are around that I literally have heart palpitations even when I see them on the other side of the road. One of my friends was even observing that this might be physically damaging to me if I have to react so strongly anytime there is a dog in the vicinity.

To this day, I have no idea where this trauma came from? I have tried to analyse and go back in time so many times, but I cannot put a finger to it.

bull_dog_puppies

So I started researching about this - this phobia (It falls under the 'phobia' category because it is an irrational fear) even has a name: 'Cyanophobia'.

And guess what? I find, I am not alone! I was secretly pleased (though I feel their pain) that I was not some sort of a freak and this is quite common among many, even in a dog friendly nation like the USA.

All the research and interactions with anxiety/phobia experts lead me to believe that the very first step is to acknowledge the existence of the fear.  Sure! I can do that. But that was the easy part.

The second and most crucial step was to 'face' that fear. Wait a minute! That is precisely what I cannot do. The idea is to first observe dogs in a dog park from far, then maybe go for walks with a friend who owns a trained, friendly dog (Beware, trying this out with a violent dog may backfire!). So this second step completely threw me off my comfort zone and I was terrified!

pug_1

So I did what I do best when faced with an uncomfortable situation like this: I procrastinated.

So time just passes me by....and life goes on.

But then another set of events transpire...

One thing that feels so liberating and refreshing to me is to run in the open air. And I used to do that a lot, a few years ago. Somehow, the past 4 years I had to stop that because of severe knee pain and figure out another way to inject the endorphins in to my system.

So I started reading a lot about the 'runner's knee', potential damage done to the knee cartilage due to concrete roads, quality of shoes, incorrect 'landing' patterns etc.

Turns out, I did not invest enough time and money to buy myself good shoes when I started running...bad judgement and ignorance caused excruciating knee pain every time I ran.

I was disappointed that I could not run on the outside, so I just kept up my cardio in the gym. But it was never the same! Again, I just did nothing about it. I wonder why inertia and procrastination takes over a sane sensible action to change our life for the better? Probably because the former is a lot easier?

After about 5 years, I decide to actually start working on strengthening my leg muscles and invest in good shoes. I go through all these tests in an expensive shoe shop where they tailor make "insoles" for my shoe, fit the right brand, shoe etc. and finally I am a happy runner again.

I start with running on the treadmill first - with a controlled pace and elevation. It felt ecstatic to run again but something still felt uneasy about the shoes. I was truly agitated. I had spent a fortune on these shoes, almost as much on those "insoles" and I am still struggling to run?? I swore to give a piece of my mind to the shoe salesman who helped me with the whole process.

A few days later, when the discomfort persisted, I went to the shoe store again. I explain the problem, and asked the sales man what could be wrong now? I was waiting for him to give excuses that I was definitely going to dismiss. I just stood there looking at him. He slowly takes the shoes from me, then looks in to them and says: "Oh the "insoles" are swapped!. Let me switch them back to the correct shoes and you will feel as good as new."

Lo and behold! As soon as I ran with the shoes that had the swapped the in soles correctly, I did feel like a whole new person. Or rather like my old self - that blissful runner I used to be!

in soles

While driving back home, it occurred to me...my first epiphany of 2013: Even though inertia and procrastination is our first reaction to any discomfort or change of lifestyle, what if it only meant swapping "insoles" for your shoes to elevate your quality of life? Or better yet, overcome any fear or hurdles in life? How about if we just faced the fear, overcame the inertia, beat the procrastination and just sought out the right solution? Maybe it is just as simple as swapping our insoles!! :)

I am now working to apply this same theory to my fear of dogs, what if I just faced my fear, and at least attempted to get it over with?? Wouldn't my  life get a lot easier and fun?

After all, isn't Courage just not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is actually more important than the fear itself??

And the winner is....Perseverance. No wait, Luck!!?

It is unbelievable how time flies... 2012 is almost over! Before we get all gung ho to welcome 2013 , I wanted to share one last post in 2012.

There is this one universal question I've heard over and over again....and I could not escape falling prey to it either. This one question can be asked many different ways, like:

1) How are some people more lucky than the others?

2) Is there such a thing as 'good karma'?

3) How come he/she is always at the right place at the right time and I am not?

Well you may have heard the basic point of this question in many different flavors, but the fundamental conundrum here is: What does it mean to be hard-working, persevering and persistent in our efforts, dreams and goals if there is such a thing as 'good luck' that always trumps all of this?

I cannot have such a conundrum gain momentum in my mind and just let it go!

So I was thinking hard and these are tough questions to answer, yet a lot of people seem to keep asking it and answering it with truths that are more 'convenient' than 'real'.

Having come from an Indian school of thought, it's no surprise when I hear 'karma' as the universal truth to this quest. People have explained this karma in multiple ways, like if there is a cause, then there is an effect. If you do something bad or good, it will always come around to you!

Somehow I am still troubled with this explanation. Don't get me wrong, I am not being a proponent for or against karma. I am just saying, I am not able to get my head around this "do good and good will come, do bad and bad will come to you" theory. Maybe I am not old or wise enough to embrace it.

Either way, the question still remains. Like, when I see an extremely 'nice' human being suffer or a so-called venomous mind prevail and prosper - it angers me beyond any reason.

But, until 'I' find the truth for myself, no point throwing internal tantrums, right?

So after more internal prodding, picking my brain and reading the works of great minds, it turns out the answer that seemed to convince me the most was not unheard of or novel or anything. It is something I have always known and taught but as always seldom practiced and consciously acknowledged.

The answer goes something like this:

Yes, it 'appears' like -

* Some always get what they want

* Some are always at the right time and place

* Some are just 'born' lucky

But this thing called good luck or good karma is not genetic or pre-disposed to just some of these 'privileged' few... But it is 'an attitude some people have towards life'.

Yes it's that simple!

Here, let me expand on what this means:

I recently read what Professor Richard Wiseman had to say about this in his book: "The Luck Factor".

He summarizes the answer to this million-dollar question in 4 steps:

1) These 'lucky' people are always looking for and open to new and exciting opportunities. This in turn maximizes their chances of encountering something good or interesting in their pursuits. They take themselves seriously, but tend to look at life as a whole in a more light heartened, 'big-picture' perspective.

2) These 'lucky' people are always listening to their gut, intuitions and mostly go by it. Rather than analyze-paralyze or stay away from the 'conventional truths', these people just go with their 'lucky hunches'.

3) These 'lucky' people truly believe their lives are full of good fortune and their futures are filled with a lot of luck and goodwill. This belief almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and domino-effects in to more luck and good will!

4) Lastly, these 'lucky' people have inculcated psychological mind sets to overcome failures like they would handle very small obstacles in the way. They always have a 'it could have been so much worse' attitude rather than mull over failures and misfortunes.

When I read and re-read the above 4 points, the truth of the matter was just staring in my face.

It's not like these 'lucky' people ARE: always just at right places and right times; great with their timing; or just born with some intangible luck!

And it's also not like these 'lucky' people ARE NOT: hard-working, persistent, disciplined or persevering!

They have just learned and trained to think that if they consistently work hard, believe in themselves and always go for their pursuits without missing a beat, this thing called 'good luck' will automatically smile upon them.

obama-smiles

Then it dawned on me - the best example to prove these 4 points would be none other than the President of the US of A: Mr. Barack Hussein Obama!

I am not propagating any political statements or affinities by saying this. Just quoting the accomplishments of a person whose background, struggles, dreams and pursuits are not that different from a lot people.

Having said that, if Mr.Obama is not hard working, persistent, confident, competitive and persevering, I don't know who is!

And get this, I've read and heard from people in his close quarters that he considers himself... yes 'lucky'!!

Darn it!  If I could just learn to think and live like this how much luckier can I be? This is the most liberating thought for me in 2012: Luck is not pre-disposed or genetic, just a way of life.

There, my last epiphany for 2012!

If I have to summarize everything I've said in this post with one sentence, no one could have nailed it better than the great Thomas Jefferson, who so wisely said:

“I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

On that note, HAPPY 2013 to all you 'Lucky' folks! :)

Heroine or Victim?

I have started this blog many times this year and some how never finished it...but there's no time like the present right? So here goes, my latest epiphany: :)Nora Ephron's (May 19th, 1941 - June 26th, 2012) demise has definitely had a lasting impact on me this year. Just like how it is with all other legends, I sought out & read the most about her life after her passing than while she was alive...

But she's kind of been part of my life for a very long time... like for many other women one way or the other, through her legendary movies: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Julie & Julia and so on...

At this point I have to specifically call out to the male readers about the fact that, all of the aforementioned movies were branded "chick flicks" and are some of the greatest of this genre. But for those men who've never given these movies a chance precisely for this stereotype, I vouch that these movies are quite amazing and can be watched and appreciated by ALL of us - they are that good!

However, there is no denying that in all of Nora's movies and books, women were always the central subjects and were quite interesting & intriguing at that.

This is what made her and her work so personally influential for me - given that I am a HUGE proponent of women's rights, feminism and it's role in today's world.

So I got quite solemn and thoughtful when I heard the news about her passing...

But like Mr. Steve Jobs so rightly put it: "Death is the destiny we all share"...so Nora Ephron is no exception.

So I decided that the least I could do for someone I dearly admired on the year of her demise, was to write about her personality, her life, her life's lessons and legacy.

To give a very brief introduction about her life: She started out simple, was content being in love, getting married and to bear children.

Then of course, as always life throws things at us when we all least expect it. For Nora this came as the affair her husband was having with her good friend!

Well, maybe in hindsight she would have thought this was a great thing that happened to her; because it resulted in her first career break - the book 'Heartburn' and the movie that followed it which then led to her grand entry in to Hollywood.

The rest of her career is history.

She did a wonderful job raising her children and also found the love of her life and married again.

A few years before her passing, she was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia which resulted in a fatal pneumonia that eventually took her life in June 2012.

She did not divulge her condition even to some of her very close friends due to the fear of instilling  sympathy for her, during the last memorable years with them.

To say she was a strong fighter till her last breath is an understatement!

However, the more I read and thought about her, her personal life and struggles struck me the most. What happened to her very early on in her marriage was pretty sad, unthinkable and unbearable...  but how many women (definitely not excluding me here!), choose to stop treating ourselves as the biggest victims of the universe and stop asking "Oh, Why Me??!!" and actually go about to make a difference?

I specifically call out the women folk with regard to this incident just because of all the eons of playing second fiddle to the "bread-winners", of what the society still deems and expects of us and, of how we ourselves choose to go about our emotional selves because of all this. And based on how we are genetically wired, we do tend to fall under this "victim" category more often than most of our male counter-parts. No matter how hard this is to accept, let's face it: IT IS TRUE.

I got to then thinking, what might break and devastate some women, is exactly what MAKES some women to define and re-write their destinies.

This got me thinking about my own state of mind on this topic:

When I call myself a feminist, I do so with pride and automatically expect this from all women - no exceptions.

But as I grow older (and hopefully wiser ;)) I feel like even this "way of thinking" is the gift my parents chose to give me when they raised me to think with my head and be an independent, self sufficient woman. And not a lot of women were/are this fortunate & blessed.

Let's face the dire truth that faces us every day: We live in a male-dominated society at large. Anyone who disagrees, is either lying, in denial or is just wishfully thinking the opposite.

Having said that, there are definitely degrees of variation to this statement in various societies.

They can range from snide remarks in the break room at work, to severe forms of torture starting with female infanticide in some remote, ignorant parts of the world.

This is why my heart always goes out to these women like Nora, who a midst all this strive their best to change this - one baby step at a time.

Then I started thinking about this in another light, which lead to this 2 part question: i) How do men treat women? and ii) How do women treat each other?

Now the first question is actually more easy to stereo-type, explain and understand.

The second question however is more complicated and does not seize to amaze, intrigue, even make me smile all at the same time!

I don't mean any disrespect to any one particular set of people. I am just writing what always comes to my mind when I see certain things so starkly among many women - whether in a remote, uneducated village in the third world or a very 'forward thinking', glitzy city in the first world.

The main observation has been:

Clearly men have their "guy friends" they hang out, talk to, exchange ideas and socialize with. Most importantly, they make time for this "networking" right from the days of our grand-fathers', fathers' to men folk in this generation too. So much so that there is a term for this in the United States: "Old boys network". How come there is no such thing as "Old gals network"?

Now I know if I said this a midst a bunch of different types of women from different societies, lifestyles etc. I'll hear a lot of backlash which can be summed as follows:

1) Women are more inclined to "caring" and "embracing" their home and family before anything else. This mainly includes their children, husband and parents.

2) Fathers are wired to be different than Mothers.

3) Being a mom, wife and daughter is like having 3 full-time jobs.

And my personal favorite:

4) Women just don't have any time for friends or a social life! :)

I am not in any way being cynical, snide or un-empathetic.

I get it, simply because I am one of them!

But I also cannot hide the mere fact that these are all excuses which eventually turn out to be a huge disadvantage to our lives and mental well-being in the long run.

A lot of women (including my mother) ask "What disadvantage?, We've lead a content life of having served our family".

While this sounds very noble, I am very saddened by this and more so disheartened when I see the same attitude in the present generation of middle-aged women too!

Let's take a typical scenario: A woman, married with 2 kids, a job and parents/in-laws to cater to.

What happens to her "personal" life during and after this time?

During this time, while she might be crazy busy juggling so many aspects of her day, she does not take a minute to nourish her personal side, by talking to her girl friends about her day, venting out her deepest, darkest miseries (no matter how trivial or huge), learning something new she'd always wanted to etc. So guess what happens after all this craziness comes to an end, when the kids leave home to follow their dreams, the parents/in-laws age or pass away, and she gets close to retiring?

She struggles to make sense out of her life...she has no best friend(s), no life, just A LOT of time and pent up feelings.

Now, some people may call their husbands their best friend and that's great! - but the need for a girl friend for every woman is just inevitable and that's natural for most women.

I am not making this dramatic or blowing this out of proportion. I have strong evidence based on encounters with women who exactly fit this bill and have lived a life I've described here.

And don't get me wrong, these women who work to make their best for themselves and their families are miracle workers, I have no idea how they can do all this and wake up everyday to do it all over again!

But that is precisely why they need to have a life of their own, pursue hobbies, interests - outside the husband, the kids and work.

Now, this is the typical situation for women when everything goes per plan, life is normal and there are no big blows between their 30s - 40s.

But if on top of all this there are life's unexpected curve balls to face like my protagonist Nora - all hell is bound to break loose. And given how much little 'time-out' women take for their own selves, they struggle to deal with the smallest difficulties without the support of wonderful girl friends, and end up as a result with a miserable life and make bad, impulsive choices they eventually regret.

Fortunately, some women (I've even had the privilege of meeting some of these women in my life) foresee this and learn these lessons fast and early on in life and live a powerful, productive, "non-victimized" life.

I am striving to get there every day...and hopefully our generation and the future girl children will live a life that my dear most Nora envisioned for us and them...and she says so to all of us women:

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

If that's not a rule to live by, I don't know what is?

An unending conundrum… or not?

A DISCLAIMER: This blog is NOT about my personal views on the Republican or Democratic parties/candidates of the USA or any sort of campaign for or against any ONE idea or person. Rather, this is a blog in quest of seeking answers to some questions I have about our choices, the reasons behind the choices we make etc. So NO POLITICS please! This blog about my latest and greatest epiphany- for a change, has nothing to do with books that I have read in the recent past.

I must admit that what I am going to write about here and what has been going on in my mind recently has a lot to do with the ‘colorful’ 2012 Presidential election campaign here in the United States.

So, after a long-drawn internal-party war Mitt Romney has finally ended up as the Republican nominee all set to compete with the Democratic President Barack Obama.

All the while, whether it was the Democrats Romney was competing against, or his own party Republican opponents, he always has one challenge staring him in the eye: his religion - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly denoted as "Mormonism").

Now changing gears, France had just recently announced their verdict by selecting a “Socialist” candidate (François Hollande) as their new President. I could not help but wonder about the irony so stark: France elects a so-called “Socialist” to solve their economical problems (since they did not see their former “Right-winged” President Sarkozy as being “Right” for their dwindling economy.), while some American citizens condemn Barack Obama as a “Left-wing Socialist” and unsuitable to “save” the country from debt and job loss. :)

And the other thing that’s gotten me thinking in this regard is the social stand Europe chooses to take versus the USA with their politics and their leaders. There are umpteen examples from time to time on how European public has clearly proven that their Presidents’/Prime Ministers’/Chancellors’ private lives is completely delineated from how they can serve as efficient leaders.

Ok, so coming back to Uncle Sam’s situation: The exact opposite is true with the American public and their views that determine who gets to lead them.

So the billion dollar (euro) question: What makes some people great leaders and what metrics should be used to pick them?

  • Should we be “left brain” logical/analytical about it and base in on their business acumen, keen decision making skills, their view on micro/macro economics, skill-set to create jobs etc?

Or

  • Should we be “right brain” intuitive/thoughtful about it and also base it on their life’s principles, goals, family values, their views on personal choices, marriage etc?

To keep this simple, it was easier to look at the current examples in hand that I see/read/hear about everyday here in the USA: Let’s take the Romney Vs Obama election campaigns for instance.

When I started thinking and reading up about this, one aspect kept coming up as a “disadvantage” to Governor Romney: his religion – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And very quickly my research showed that traits like these were “key” for the American public to elect their President. What better place to start my quest for an epiphany?

I could not put my finger to the bigger question I had put forth earlier until I satiated my other questions (in this particular example) on what Mormonism is, and why it is regarded as a negative in today’s American society etc.? And most importantly how does this cater to making an informed decision on one of our most important choices - Electing the President!?

And it was unbelievable what the facts pointed out and so my whole quest on the bigger issue switched directions and I started focusing and gathering all the information I can absorb on Mormons and Mormonism instead. Yes, I get distracted easily!

The first thing that struck me was: The Provo Missionary Training Center (MTC) and its curriculum that is encouraged to be taken up as part of the Latter day Saints’ youth members. This program can start as early as when they are 19 or 20 years of age. The more I dug in to the structure of this program, the more it started looking like a full-fledged MBA degree curriculum, devoid any alcohol consumption or other distractions with about 2 years of rigorous work with 12-15 hour days.

Is this disciplining your students or what? And definitely these youngsters fit the bill of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” rule. (Note: To learn more about the “10,000 hours rule” refer to Malcolm Gladwell’s book – The Outliers).

One very important point to note was, how so many skills were instilled as part of this program which (inadvertently) seemed to me like a “formula training” to make great leaders, thinkers, strategists etc.

Some examples of this would be, all those in the mission are forced to take up at least one assignment in a foreign country and to have to live there and “spread” Mormonism just like they are locals to that area. So this means, learning a new language, living under the same conditions as the locals, and selling an idealogy in a completely new language to people who were the least bit interested in it. If this is not practical training to real world sales/marketing/social media, I don’t know what is?

If you come to think of it, if such hard work and discipline is ingrained at such a young age, it’s highly unlikely that these members would turn out to be less successful than their peers who are working only half the time as them, of course  along with a lot of the “other” distractions.

The amazing facts did not end there: I read an article called “God’s MBAs” in the Business Week (A very interesting read by the way) and a pattern is identified and questions are raised about how and why so many people from this particular sect (Mormons) hold such high-esteemed offices all over the United States and outside?

Yes, agreed that patterns can always be identified if we go looking for a particular trait. But the facts that came out seem more than just a coincidence. And the heights they have reached is not just “any” position or role, but some of the most highly regarded, esteemed, sought after ones.

Here’s a list of the Mormons and their achievements - in and outside the United States.

Mitt Romney – Former head of Bain Capital, rescued the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics from a corruption scandal, spent four years as the governor of Massachusetts, and Presidential nominee for the 2012 elections.

Jon Huntsman Jr. - A former Utah governor who negotiated dozens of free-trade agreements as a U.S. trade representative and served as ambassador to China from 2009-2011.

David Neeleman - Founder  of JetBlue.

Eric Varvel  - Chief Executive Officer of the global Investment Bank of Credit Suisse.

Stephen Covey  - Self-help mogul, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Kim Clark - Former dean of Harvard Business School and

Gary Crittenden - Served as CFO for Citigroup, American Express, and Sears Roebuck.

And these are just the TOP executives to mention a few, there are many more of them in great positions of influence and impact at Marriott International, American Express, American Motors, Dell Computers, Lufthansa, Fisher-Price, Life Re, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Madison Square Garden, La Quinta Properties, PricewaterhouseCooper, Stanley Black & Decker and the head of human resources at Citigroup is Mormon.

One very interesting trivia: In 2010 Goldman Sachs hired 31 grads from BYU, the same number it hired from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

I hope you get the point here… I am slowly starting to look at this whole Mormon thing as  HUGE plus in a candidate – whether President or an employee I’d want to interview.

Another thing that has been my pet-peeve on this topic: Mormons are preached to abstain from alcohol and caffeine…the more I think about this, the more I am convinced that even this seems like a great idea to be part of a curriculum. I mean there’s no harm in a few pegs here and there, especially when you work 16 hours a day! But if you analyze this without any bias, here’s what I conclude:

Note: Before you read further, you have to be absolutely sober while reading the following to get the point I am about to make. ;)

What good comes of alcohol anyway? I mean, of course there is the aspect of getting “high” but otherwise it just seems like a silly and utterly worthless (especially the hang-over) indulgence! So if this is also taken care of – in the name of religion, productivity only goes higher – isn’t it?

By all this, I am not saying Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) had all these entrepreneurial traits in mind while he created The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it seems like all of these values inculcated as part of this religion's belief system seems to miraculously aid in becoming some of the greatest leaders in the world - as proven by all these Mormons.

I think I’ve dented this topic enough and so here I rest my case. Personally I am not speaking for or against Mormons or Mormonism here. That’s not the point of the blog at all. The bigger reason to delve in to all this – is to find out what metrics we use to assess the people we want to be lead by and are these truly accurate, intelligent ways to do so?

After all this research on Mormonism, it seems like if this is what some of us use to gauge our leaders and actually use it against them, aren’t we thoroughly misguided? And in the end aren’t we the biggest victims of this all?

To answer the bigger question: As always, I think there should be a middle ground while choosing a person to either lead or even work for/with us.

The candidate’s personal views, principles, values and ideologies definitely tell us a lot about them. But should we give a lot of weight to that while making our key decisions like whether they’ll be good Presidents, CEOs or just Joe-the plumber - seems absurd to me.

Ok here it is -The epiphany moment: What would be ideal along with all these personal traits listed all through this write up is, to see if he/she can be not just good – but GREAT at their jobs – like say ruling a super-power, running a successful establishment or just make sure our pipes don’t burst and cause us more misery than we started with in the first place! :)

P.S: For all those who are wondering about the pictures:

Mitt Romney - absolutely relevant to this blog.

Ryan Gosling - I'll admit I have not mentioned him in this blog at all, but I had to stir some interest/curiosity with a pretty face... and to my defense his picture is not completely irrelevant - he had a Mormon upbringing :)

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