Contentment is highly underrated?

Happy 2012 to all! I'd like to start my first blog in 2012 with 2 things that struck a chord with me recently.

1) The first is about my 2 week trip to Brazil during the holidays. In general, international trips are very humbling and ever since I've gotten back from Brazil I cannot stop thinking about how alike people are in spite of so many differences in cultures, languages, backgrounds, infrastructures they live in and so on.

2) And the second is about this book I just finished reading called: "Open: Autobiography by Andre Agassi". This book was such an irony and contrast to the last book I blogged about (Steve Jobs' biography).

So first... The trip to Brazil:

The entire time I was there, I was astonished how different and FUN their culture was... especially in Rio... I highly recommend this place for anyone who'd like NON-STOP partying on the beach, lots of sun (at least this was the case when I went there during their summer), tons of opportunities to "unwind" from our mundane routines, encounter very friendly locals, lots of fresh tropical food and so much more!

That said, regardless of all this, it was the people that caught my attention the most. Humans never seize to amaze me... I mean, inspite of all the differences and the fact that I had to take a 16 hour flight to get there, people are people everywhere...their struggles, social stigmas, expectations from relationships, unbridled curiosity about the future and so on and so forth.

Then that got me thinking on the following lines: "If human beings are not so different even across the globe, then is there any meaning in people trying so hard to "attain" what is deemed as prestige with respect to how much money we earn, who we are friends with or how big our homes are...?

If everyone's struggling to get the same things to look "worthy" in the eyes of... er... the other person (who is also striving to do the same), aren't we better off living a peaceful, content, hard working life rather than living this sham?

This point drove me to start thinking about contentment... I see this Portuguese speaking restaurant owner struggling to get through his day on another side of the planet for the exact same reasons that an English speaking electronics & communication engineer is struggling on my side of the planet!

This line of thought felt like a powerful state of mind to be in especially when we spend each day driving ourselves crazy to attain "success" and call it a "productive" day while missing out to smell the flowers or spend some quality time with people who matter to us.

Not to mistake this for encouragement to stay complacent or hold on to our inertia, but to keep in mind that if we lose the point of living by trying to achieve what the world refers to as our "self worth" then we are a lot better off just lying on the beach and basking under the ever blessed state of contentment... aren't we?

In this time and age are we losing sight of this glorious virtue called "Contentment"?

Do we have to encounter some thing humongous and terrible or travel around the world to  embrace "Contentment"?

Now moving on to the second thing that led to this recent epiphany... Andre Agassi's autobiography.

Maybe because of the ardent tennis fan that my dad was/is... I grew up watching and hearing about tennis and tennis icons of our times. Wimbledon finals was a HUGE deal and so were heated discussions about Boris Becker, Pete Sampras and other tennis legends who made it to matches telecast in our living room.

So this book about Agassi caught my attention very easily. And not long after I started reading this, Agassi had me gripped with the very early confession of his life: The fact that he HATES tennis.

Then I could not stop reading, especially here I have all these teenage memories of sitting in my living room gaping at him and Pete Sampras vying for those titles that seemed like the single biggest thing anyone would want...  and here he was confessing how much he hated his life and job just like any "normal" person. I think about this the entire time I was reading the book (also because he doesn't seize to emphasize how much he hated to play tennis in every single chapter of the book).

But the bigger point he makes is summed up on page 252 where he states: "I tell myself, so what if you hate tennis? Who cares? All those people out there, all those millions who hate what they do for a living, they do it anyway. Maybe doing what you hate, doing it well and cheerfully, is the point. So you hate tennis. Hate it all you want. You still need to respect it--and yourself."

Ta-da! There! This is not some "Joe the plumber" we are talking about. This is THE ultimate tennis God (who has been seeded #1 multiple times) we are discussing here! It is so weird and ironic how I could not relate at all to my previous blog's protagonist (Mr. Jobs) and how I cannot relate enough to Mr. Agassi.

He is not pretending to have searched for "his calling" all his life (his life is in fact the contrary of that!) or now that he's found it (in a most excruciating manner), he's not talking about enjoying every minute and second living his passion. He is talking of the exact opposite. So whether you are a normal mortal or a legend, the struggles and life's battles are more similar than we think. On the one had there are Demi-Gods like Steve Jobs who discover their passion very early on or there are those like Andre Agassi who complain and whine like us or any one we know and goes about life like that's his fate.

This was truly one of those reads that left me feeling both bizarre and yet clearer than ever before! Here I am whining and complaining every chance I get about every single thing in my life... and there's Tennis God Mr. Agassi doing the exact same thing! Can life get any more puzzling and revering all at the same time like this?!

But what makes the most sense at the end of it all is... though the grass is always greener on the other side, my recent million dollar epiphany :): CONTENTMENT seems like an antidote to go about with our (otherwise stressful, competitive) day to day lives with a little bit of cheer and hope... don't you think?

Success = "to make a dent in the universe"?

I recently finished reading "Steve Jobs - by Walter Isaacson". Have a confession to make now: Never have I been so obsessed with any protagonist in all the reading I have done my whole life! And I do read quite a bit, pretty much anything under the sun.

And the interesting thing is, I have no idea if I like him or detest him at the end of the book. I am sure some factors like, living so close to where he lived (Palo Alto/Woodside) or driving by his beloved Apple (Cupertino) everyday has a lot to do with the obsession. Being able to relate to all the places where he's "walked" in the bay area (which from this book I learned he used to do A LOT, by the way) or the restaurants he dined in San Francisco, Cupertino etc. (in most of which I have dined as well :)) made me feel so close to him and his life.

Since clearly, this book has been one of the most influential reads in my life so far, I thought it would be a good idea to post as my last blog this year, my version of his biography's "book review", and also my two cents on what I got from Steve Jobs' life and legacy.

My first impressions of the book based on the initial chapters were, awe and sheer wonder for Jobs' relentless passion and unnerving zeal for what HE believed in. To describe my awe/obsession at best, I have to admit that I was constantly thinking of Jobs and what would happen next in the book every single waking hour, those few days. I mean, I would wait with baited breath all day to get my hands on the book (No, I am not exaggerating).

Personally, I am very dreamy when it comes to passion, life's purpose, legacy etc. By dreamy I mean, I am completely in agreement with Jobs' philosophy that it is THE most important thing to find out: "What is it that can motivate us to get up every day (or at least most days) with a sense of passion and purpose to go about with our lives?". My "realist" mind does peep in once in a while with warning bells to caution me on how hard it is to find that ONE thing and to be smart about choices made on this pursuit. One of Jobs' popular confession, which is so annoyingly true: "I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life". Many of us aren't that lucky, but while reading the book I wanted to (and still do) believe so much on how important it is to find it - "your calling", whether young or not.

That said, a few chapters later I was feeling very conflicted. Most notably, his "reality distortion theories" (to the point of denying the reality of cancer and its aftermath), his almost unapologetic attitude towards life (even when he knew his stand was completely flawed), his brashness to even the people he loved and who cared for him the most, his callousness to moral and ethical values, his blatant stealing of other people's ideas and calling it his own (many close to him vouch for this in the book), his outright eccentric food habits (bordered on being bulimic)... made me very empathetic and feel a lot of adulation for his wife Laurene Powell Jobs' patience, maturity and love during many grueling times in their lives. In fact, even his kids (especially the daughters: Lisa & Erin) turned out to be so mature and forgiving of his fallacies only because he claimed to, and DID "make a dent in the universe". (His famous quote on multiple occasions to Woz, John Sculley and many others was that he wanted to do something that would "make a dent in the universe").

Don't get me wrong, I am in no way undermining his legacy, grit, passion, drive and unending search for perfectionism till his last breath. I even admit to being misty eyed and sometimes crying too at so many points while reading this book. That's how contagious and impactful his vision was. But I have been thinking real hard about him and his life (now that I have a HUGE repository of knowledge about this legend) while, and even days after finishing his biography. I was mostly thinking on the lines of... "Who was Steve Jobs outside of his work?". Yes, he was the single most captivating magician/show-man/innovator of our time, but what was it like to be his wife, children, parent or friend? Did he give all that he gave to the world, also to people who were near and dear to him and does it matter?

These questions led to one of the single most important concepts that I could not wrap my thoughts around: What constitues as success?

I could think of a list of things:

1) Having a roaring, successful career (to the point where you "make a dent in the universe"), like Steve did.

2) Having a long-lasting, peaceful, blissful personal life (here I am implying a wonderful marriage with great compatibility).

3) To be the "best" parent in the world (In yours, the child's and the society's eyes)

4) To earn (and save) enough to enjoy all the materialistic pleasures in the world.

5) To not be materialistic, but lead a normal, contented life and, go to bed in peace and harmony every single day.

6) Give back to the society in the form of philanthrophy, knowledge, charity etc. (Like the other computer legend of our time, Mr. Bill Gates is doing - something Steve berated constantly about).

And the list can get a lot longer than this...

So what is success? Is it having all of the above?

Honestly, I do not know. I don't have the wisdom or experience to say if we could have it all, and if that's what success is all about. However, what I can do is, draw a parallel here based on MY life's experience.

And for that, I need to go back about a few decades in time to the life of a middle class man in India (Chennai to be accurate). He had a modest career, decent marriage and two kids. He was not starry-eyed or pursuing "his calling". What he tried to do was to get a better life than his father, and to give a life to his kids that was better than the one he could make for himself. For those who cannot connect the dots, I am describing my Father's life here. I can more that guarantee that, it was a great struggle for a middle class man in India to strive above and beyond his capabilities to be an honest individual, wake up to work hard every single day amidst all the possible obstacles AND fulfil his dream for his children. Yes, he may not have millions in shares and stocks, may not drive the most expensive car, may not travel the world.... But was he successful?

Before answering that question, I am going to share my "a-ha" moment here: I know initially in this blog, I mentioned it was key to "find your calling" (which can be anything from starting your own business, pursuing another degree, or even finding the cure to cancer). Instead, after all my thinking and reading about Steve Jobs... I am going to modify my statement to say: It is a more productive, noble and fulfilling pursuit to define what success means to you?

To my father, if success was creating the most innovative computer of our times, or the most eye-appealing gadgets (not one, not two but THREE of them) in this century, then he has failed miserably.

But instead if it meant leading an honest, content, hard working life, by not hurting his loved ones and being the best father that he could possibly be, then I think he was definitely successful.

Did he "make a dent in THE universe"? May be not... but he surely dented mine! ;)

On that note, I am thankful for all the great things that happened in 2011 and look forward to a very interesting and intriguing 2012 :).

Happy holidays to all. See you next year!

Where are "The Amazons"?

To say 2011 was an eventful year for the Arab nations is the under-statement of the century! With all the latest news and media craze about the Libyan dictator's demise, got me thinking about that poor lad Muhammad Bouazizi and how one young man's tragic end had to  be the tipping point to one of the world's greatest revolutions!

Am pretty sure he is rolling over in his grave with so many chain events that have been triggered... but sadly only after something so drastic as his self immolation.

This is one of THE biggest historical events that I have witnessed as an adult and got me thinking about so many different  things...

One thing that I have been mulling over... especially given how the entire zeal & passion of these revolutions are single handedly spread by the youth population of all these repressed countries: What would I do if it were up to me?

It is beyond my comprehension how I would react if I had to stand in front of ruthless authority and deadly weapons and fight a bloody war...because I'll be honest here: I am just too afraid.

Images of Corporal Upham from Speilberg's "Saving Private Ryan" keeps popping in to my head... because of how much I can relate to that character (People who still have not seen that masterpiece movie, please do so ASAP!).

Then I got thinking, does this have anything to do with being a woman?

I was surprised and a little bit ashamed, because this is the first reason that came to my mind... am I justified?

If you think about it, the reference to women being the "weaker sex" (mostly it only indicates physical weakness - I hope!) gets ingrained in all our minds even as a child and I am guessing this is true in most if not all societies.

The signs are there at varying degrees in different societies for sure, but it is just there everywhere: From girls shown playing with Barbies and boys with GI Joes, women in washing machine & kitchen ads while men racing cars or riding fearlessly on their Harley Davidsons.

I am not saying girl's don't like Barbies or that men are forced to race cars because they have to, but it is the symbolism it carries that struck out so explicitly.

So are these images, signs, beliefs all a fact or is it another age old myth we are all just told to believe?

So I started reading up about Women in War, and guess what??! It was unbelievable how much evidence there was in history about how actively women warriors have performed side by side with men!

For instance, I read about this legendary woman Queen Bouticca - She was the Queen of a British tribe who led the uprising of the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

As a matter of fact there is a great bronze statue of the Queen with her daughters in a war charriot  next to the West Minister Bridge and Houses of Parliament in London

Not to mention the famous Amazons - The Amazons are credited with helping the Trojans against the Greeks in the Trojan War.

One very important point to be duly noted -There were so many such examples not just among the western world but also the Arab world!

A community with all this repression and "special" treatment, especially towards their women have had some of the most courageous women waging their wars!

One of them was Queen Samsi: She rebelled against Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III by refusing tribute and perhaps by giving aid to Damascus for an unsuccessful fight against Assyria.

So, women like Neda Agha Soltan during the recent Tehran protests  were not just outliers, but were part and parcel of so many brave wars that were fought for basic human rights and democracy.

So coming back to my original point, "weaker sex" cannot be used and believed without keeping in mind that actual (physical & mental) training is the key.

This could be applicable to both men and women. In fact we have probably deteriorated these past centuries given how we have coined terms like the "weaker sex" for our future generations, while women warriors in history have proven us all wrong - time and again.

 Makes me wonder... if something as big as fighting a bloody war is only a matter of training and mental acumen, then we (women especially) are just limiting ourselves because of how ingrained these concepts have become in our lives, is it not?

If so, with our own Amazonian training what else is out there that we want and long to achieve ... but have just chosen NOT to pursue because of generations of conditioning?

Only change is constant... or is it?

Recently I read 2 books with two very different (TRUE) stories but ending up with the same message: PEOPLE  CHANGE... and can change for the better. The first book: "BREAKING NIGHT - A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey From Homeless to Harvard"

The second: "The Imposter: How a Juvenile Criminal Succeeded in Business and Life"

The first book had me in a daze for a very long time! Elizabeth (Liz) Murray was an all A student in Harvard when not so long ago she was living in a dump in the Bronx (New York City) with her drug addicted parents! I highly recommend this book, it's a wonderful read... extremely humbling experience.

The second book had a similar effect... very intriguing... Kip Kreiling was pretty much everything a child/teenager could be for people to write him off as a 'nobody'... but how he turns that around and narrates it with so much honesty is very touching and powerful.

So bottom line is, both of these books bring out one common moral: PEOPLE CAN CHANGE  even if they have to start right from the beginning to make that happen.

This is all very optimistic and hopeful, but it got me thinking along the lines of change... By change I am not just referring to how somone went from rags to riches or from the most notorious criminal to a noble do-gooder... I am referring more so to personal growth and changing some inner most qualities that we are so accustomed to hold on to... and that defines us as our identities.

Sometimes sadly these identities we establish for ourselves may not always work to our advantage... but we still hold on to them. So is change really constant, like all the spiritual and philosophical books preach? Well, Liz Murray and Kip Kreiling did prove that it absolutely is! But I am sure most of us even after years hold on to our idiosyncracies... nothing changes.

So this makes me want to believe that change is constant if and only if we choose to push that comfort zone which is so cozy and safe. I remember in one chapter of Liz Murray's biography she mentions, how she passed high school to get to Harvard while living in her friends' apartment building hallways (without their parents knowing about it of course) and under their stair cases etc... and she says during those bitter cold New York winters waking up for a class or to finish her assignments were the most testing times... it was so easy to be her usual delinquent self (she used to skip school almost everyday during her elementary and middle school) and just cover herself with a warm blanket... but to wake up against all instincts and actually drag herself was pushing her comfort zone and heading towards that change which is claimed to be so constant.

Nothing comes for free... in the same book I read another phrase which will stay with me forever: LIFE REWARDS ACTION. Pushing that envelop is the action we are willing to take and that will turn things around, guaranteed!

But this is so much easier said than done. I catch myself everyday doing things so cozy and comfortable rather than fight it... why fight? I mean, life's not going to stop if I don't fight... but amazingly, when I was willing to push that ever inviting comfort zone the results were unparalled.

I have noticed this in the most trivial mundane aspects of everyday life. But no matter how hard it seems at the beginning, it becomes a habit to keep pushing harder and we being creatures of habit actually turn things around pretty quickly. But the magic lies in taking that first step. For me personally, dreaming about the reward is a great motivation to take that first baby step... for instance if I deliver this and get that perk/bonus I can finally buy that invaluable thing I have been eyeing for a while (or something to that effect).

I am sure these perks, motivations are different for different people, but bottom-line: change is only constant if we constantly try to change...for the better... is there any other kind!? :)