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! :)

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 :)

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?