November 24, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Art Of Making It Work

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I was having a conversation with my Dad a few days ago. The conversation involved stories of his growing  up days in our native town. One of those stories was how his studies (which, incidentally, helped him become one of the top doctors in the country) had to revolve around all the chores that any farming family have to do on a daily basis.

The story goes thus. Being the youngest of his brothers and sisters, and part of a joint family, there was a lot to do. Work started before the sun came up and ended, usually, way after the sunset. In between, there was school to attend and any school assignments to complete. Work also involved helping his older brothers finish their assignments.

Telling his Dad and brothers that he would not be able to finish a task was apparently unacceptable. All their workloads increased further if anyone saw them sitting around - even as they worked on completing school assignments. 

So how does someone accomplish personal goals in the midst of high, and ever increasing, expectations and work load?

In my father's words - by making it work against all odds. The lesson holds true for just about anything we do.

He had carved space out in the middle of the sugarcane field specifically for studying. In his "down time" he would go sit there and study hard. Instead of concentrating on the amount of time spent, he would maximize the focus he brought to his work. By doing so he has been able to, over the years, accomplish a lot more in a small period of time. 

Lesson: At any given time, do exactly what you are doing and nothing else even if you do it for a few minutes.

Bigger lesson: If you want something, do everything you can to get it. The world is never going to wait for you to find the right time. Accomplishments might involve working around an existing system.

An inspirational lesson for a father from his father. Thank you Dad!

November 16, 2014

Lessons for a father - This Too Shall Pass!

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Ever heard of that famous king that asked for wisdom in the form of words that always held true? The wise people of his court came up with: "This Too Shall Pass!". There are multiple variations of the story but the wisdom behind the statement still holds true.

Rudyard Kipling, in his memorable "If", mentioned both Triumph and Disaster as imposters. His reference was to our successes and failures in life and how they both go hand in hand and never stay constant. The king's wisdom to accept the phrase was corroborated in this piece of fine poetry.

The case of resting on our laurels or going to a point of no return with our failure stands on very shaky ground indeed. We all go through a cycle, called life, where we meet with the ups and downs in both professional and familial capacity. There are good days and bad days. We win and we lose. The idea should be to live a life where we are ready for whatever is behind the closed door that we are about to open. We are continuously dealt a hand. Let us be ready to make lemonade.

I am blessed to have a partner in life that meets any situation with a very simple "we got this". Once I started paying more attention to what she said (both in times of joy and challenge) and how she said it, I realized that it had a very calming effect on me. "We got this" meant we were ready for whatever life was throwing at us and, more importantly, I had a partner that I could trust and rely upon to be with once all was said and done.

I am not advocating for not living life to the fullest and staying "in the lane" of enormous self control. What I believe in, however, is being ready for whatever is next in our lives.

Let us celebrate not the wins and the losses, but the strength that goes into dealing with both. Let us celebrate the people that live through it with us. Let us, definitely, celebrate the current moment because, guess what - this too shall pass.

November 10, 2014

Lessons for a father - Pistachios Anybody?

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I love pistachios! We cannot finish a trip to the local wholesale store without me getting my hands on them. Looks like, luckily, we have been able to transfer the same pistachio love to our son too!

While going through our last batch of the amazing nut, a thought came to my mind. The process of eating them resembled our lives so much.

The box of pistachios represented, to me, opportunities that we get in our lives. To get to the fruit, we had to put in hard work. If we work hard enough, we will, once in a while, get an opportunity, in the form of nuts that are already cracked open. What we do with the fruits of our labor is completely up to us. 

What I also realized that even after putting in hard work, some nuts are going to be bad. We often face situations like that in real life. After a lot of effort, all we get is failure. And just like our relationship with the pistachios, we must brush failure aside and move on.

Another truth that I realized was how much better the overall experience was when I started sharing the fruits of my labor with my wife and kid. I had this vision of what I wanted to do with my opportunities. Their addition and, in turn, our collaborative teamwork gave rise to a whole another level of awesomeness.

There we go then. A box of pistachios and an open mind that is ready to be inspired can teach us all we need to know about dealing with opportunities, hard work, failure and success and our continuous march forward. 

The box of pistachios is a metaphor of course. Life is not that easy. There are multiple nuances to whatever it is that we deal with. But, and we must admit this, our evolution into a better form of our selves does involve conditions that are way simpler than we think. Sometimes all that is required is for us to crack open a few pistachios and enjoy what comes out.

November 3, 2014

Lessons for a father - Awesomeness As A Service

In a world being lead by technology and information, almost everything can be grabbed from or put into the Cloud. We are not bound by geography to get to things that are important to us. We do not carry huge files, heavy machines and bulky printouts to share information. We use the Cloud to access everything from software to infrastructure as a service.

All the technological innovation, and it is great where it is, still cannot provide human interaction and behavior over the Internet. We still have to talk. We have to lead. We have to love and care and respect. The tools might be easily accessible but someone still needs to use them. Someone still has to be human.

There is little else that I hate, professionally, than the phrase "that is not my job". I hate it not because I find the phrase invalid but because more and more people seem to use it to get away from things that are for the greater good of the organization.

With the tools and their easy availability we should find it easier to do and be more. The lack of knowledge in the Age of Information is a very transient condition and can be removed with simply "Googling" things. Then why is it that we shy away from being downright awesome?

My resume, then, can say that I am a software engineer. It can let the reader know that my job was to build applications in various programming languages. On the other hand, my resume can instead say that being a software engineer was just part of my job. Other things included:

  • Helping people become the best version of themselves.
  • Adding value to people's lives while listening to them, laughing with them and being available on not-so-good days.
  • Never stopping to learn.
  • Trying to develop a better "me" daily.
  • Representing my organization's values both while being at and not being at work.
  • Communicating with the goal being clarity and optimal detail.
  • Giving more than receiving in the form of kindness and generosity.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, being the best father, son, husband, friend and leader that I can.

Yes, my primary job function is to create software. My role at home is that of a husband and father. The roles are different, but there is an implicit requirement in no matter what I do - the goal remains to provide awesomeness as a service.

October 27, 2014

Lessons for a father - The Ripple Effect

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Leadership does not emanate from someone that has something that a non-leader does not. My belief is everyone has leadership in them. Whether we choose to lead or not is not dependent on not having leadership. It is based on, usually, a very conscious choice.

Exuding positiveness or negativity, happiness or anger is also, usually, a deliberate affair. Saying out loud to ourselves, and following up on it, for example, that I will be happy today no matter what happens might set a day in motion that ends up being exactly that - happy.

If we choose to be angry, we will, ultimately and undoubtedly, find something that sets us off and turns possibly a good day into a bad one for us and for others.

So how do we lead everyone around us into a time of happiness? One way would be by being the pebble that causes The Ripple Effect.

The Ripple Effect

Think of a grand lake. What, possibly, could a small pebble do to a lake? If you are ever close to one, try throwing a small stone into the lake. You might see the ripples that you cause with that small stone and your conscious action of throwing it in the lake. 

What if we replicate the same behavior but in a human setting? In a still lake of humanity, in the form of people that surround us, what if we continuously throw pebbles of happiness and positive thoughts? What follows, with the spread of waves of goodness, is the ripple effect. It can even be looked as a "pay it forward" program at a much bigger level.

The same, unfortunately, holds true for negative behavior as well. Think of an executive that displays negative emotions to their managers who in turn pass it down. That behavior can also create The Ripple Effect, but of a kind that we do not want.

You want the world to change: Be the pebble in the lake of your professional and familial lives. Be the cause of happiness and of growth and betterment and bringing out the goodness in people. 

Be what causes the Ripple Effect.

October 20, 2014

Lessons for a father - Taking Care Of The Whole Organism

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We are all a part of a multi-cellular organism called the world. We are also the components of our familial and professional structure. From playing the part of individual cells and doing very specific functions to working with other "cells" towards the overall good of the entire system, we do it all.

In doing all this, we work in a system, I think, that resembles the human body in more ways than one.

The skeletal system can quite easily be the core values that hold us strong as beings. The skin and muscles are what we have to offer - our art, our interface to the world. The nervous system is all about what and how we communicate. 

Does that resemble anything to you? To me it looks like an organization where different components come together to make it work. The teams that might constitute the organization (a multi-cellular organism) act as cells that work towards the greater benefit of it. A family (again a multi-cellular organism) too comprises of components that continually work towards making the family happy and healthy.

So, where do we tend to falter? At the cartilage, tendon and ligament level I would think.

Metaphorically, at least for me, the "support staff" tends to get ignored. If our bones are healthy, and we are working on our muscular strength and communicating well why do we need to take care of anything else?

Let me ask, how should we feel about doing good to others? Or, helping out people in need or in distress? Or better still, leading in a world that craves, but seems to shy away from leadership? In the grand scheme of things, they might seem way less important, but go through a ligament tear or a ruptured tendon and you would suddenly realize that there is something more to it than just the basics.

For us to be great as a whole, IQ and EQ both are important. We as a complex system have multiple components working together too. We tend to not strengthen what we think is less important. A more holistic approach to growth seems necessary.

Let us, then, take care of the entire organism not just part of it. Things that are usually categorized as "soft skills" are not deemed important when compared to being a good engineer, architect, nurse or a doctor. 

The issue is this: for us to be a good "anything" the support staff, the cartilage, tendon and ligament (leadership, faith, kindness, empathy for example) of our lives should be celebrated as well.

October 13, 2014

Lessons for a father - And The Nobel Goes To...

Image Courtesy: @NobelPrize

The Nobel Peace Prize for this year was announced this week, and just like culture and history India and Pakistan now share a Nobel between them. The announcement is iconic in a lot of ways but very well deserved. Both the Nobel laureates continue to lead the world and act as shining lights in the lives of many in the world.

But, winning the Nobel doth not maketh a good leader, does it? So what is it in Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay that makes people follow them? Courage. A lot of courage.

From the day Malala was shot by the Taliban to the first day that Kailash saved the first child from bonded labor, they have done little else but spread the word of peace, education and human rights. Both are ridding the world of vices that take childhood away from kids and throw them into a world that they are not ready for - that the children should not be facing. Both, Malala and Kailash, are heroes.

There is something else they do though. They lead. Even against all odds and no one giving them a chance of being successful, they lead from the front and make sure that girls get a chance to education (in the case of Malala Yousafzay) and that children do not spend their early years, full of innocence, in bonded labor or being exploited (in the case of Kailash Satyarthi). They fight stereotypes. They fight regimented efforts by their own people to do the worst you can do to another human - ignore them. They fight, though, with peace and love and forgiveness. And they fight not for themselves, but for others. Oh, wouldn't Mahatma Gandhi be proud?

Both the newly honored Nobel laureates also teach a very valuable lesson. Instead of accepting the status quo or giving up due to adversity, sometimes we need people to say, in the words of Kailash Satyarthi:
If not now, then when? If not you, then who?
Great words of a great human being. This week and forever, the world salutes and thanks these heroes of humanity.