October 20, 2014

Lessons for a father - Taking Care Of The Whole Organism

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia

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.

October 6, 2014

Lessons for a father - Do You Like To Breathe?

Image Courtesy: Flickr

Seriously, do you like to breathe? And this is not a loaded scientific-environmental question. Just a simple, do you like breathing? If, like me, your answer is in the affirmative, then you must also realize how important breathing is for us. It is so important, in fact, that without it we would not survive for too long.

How much continuous and conscious thought do we, then, put in to something that our life depends on? I give it next to nothing. I do not think about breathing all day. I feel a need to breathe and, without any thought whatsoever, I breathe in response.

If, however, I were to think about it, breathing would require the following parts of our body to work:
  • Diaphragm
  • Chest cavity
  • Lungs
  • Intercostal muscles
  • Rib cage
  • Nose/ Mouth
  • Windpipe
  • Bronchial tubes
  • Alveoli (air sacs)
  • Capillaries (blood vessels)
  • Hemoglobin
  • Pulmonary artery
A very good definition of breathing is available at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's website (link is here). All that work with so many components coming together and working to let us live and we hardly think about it?

But, if we wanted to learn, get better at our art, help others, lead, get fitter or stronger, respect everyone, provide inspiration by what we do, how we talk and how we live, we think about it endlessly.

We will not die if we do not lead by example or inspire others and get better. We might stagnate as people but we will continue to exist. The result can be a lot more catastrophic if we stopped breathing.

What if, on the other hand, we transformed our thought process to accept that being happy, continuous self improvement, respect and care for others is like breathing? Instead of endlessly thinking about it, what if, just like breathing, we just do whatever needs to be done? Somethings might not work that simply. A lot of them will.

We spend so much time in analyzing and thinking that, sometimes, we do not give the "doing" enough time. What is the worst thing that can happen if the entire plan with all the nuances is not in place? We would fail. We would have to adapt and make changes. We would have to come up with a different plan. Sure. But, by that time we would know exactly what would not work.

Breathe. In. Out. Now, go do what you have always needed to do. A lot of times that is all it takes.

September 29, 2014

Lessons for a father - Multitasking Is A Myth

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There always seems to be a very human need to better ourselves. Sometimes this need manifests itself with our attempt to do multiple things at the same time. What we are doing, however, when we are multi-tasking is really just creating a perception of doing multiple things at the same time.

Human beings, that's us, are really like single core microprocessors. Under the guise of doing multiple things at the same time, what we are really doing is doing one thing for part of the time before we move to the next thing and then doing that for a little while. There is no multi-tasking. There is just time sharing and task shifting.

Consider this: in a normal day, we would have meetings, talk to people, send emails, all while doing our job. Being the multi-taskers that we all try to be, some of these tasks might overlap. In other words, we might attend a meeting while checking and replying to emails or excusing ourselves and attending phone calls. 

One way of looking at the situation is we accomplished 3 things in the same time period (over achiever anyone?). Another way of looking at it is we involved ourselves with 3 things and did not pay enough attention to any one of the 3. What is better then? Doing 3 things at the same time and not paying enough attention to detail or just 1 and being completely present?

It is not that easy to concentrate on 1 thing at a time either. Just the other day, I attended a phone call from work while taking care of our son. I had to do the best I could given the situation. Rest assured, I could not do a very good job of either, but lack of quality in both tasks was acceptable.

In situations that can be better managed though, here is what I do:
  • Work on increasing our focus: According to various studies a walk of 5 - 10 minutes in a day, for example, has the capacity to do wonders to our attentiveness. I utilize these walks for one on one meetings sometimes.
  • Decline meeting requests: We have been there. Our calendars get "double booked" and we try and attend both and pay attention to neither. 
  • Prioritize and then commit: Prioritization of tasks would help us get a better handle on things. 
The idea is to not pretend to be something we are not. All of us work on one thing at a time. Simplifying how we live and work can go a long way in making sure we are not just doing our job but adding true value.

September 22, 2014

Lessons for a father - Life On Fire

Piyoosh Rai uses an image to complement the blog post.
Image Courtesy: Flickr
A friend of mine recently re-introduced me to the works of a 13th century Persian poet known more popularly in the English-speaking world simply as Rumi. 

One of his more famous quotes goes thus:

Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.

It has become one of my personal favorites. The words of Rumi hold a lot of meaning. They speak of passion and true friendship and belief. All things that we can do a little more with. 

Here is what I think Rumi was talking about:
  1. Believing in ourselves: No one ever and anywhere will believe in us and our abilities if we do not believe in ourselves. "Set your life on fire" has two very distinct words that stand out for me - "your" refers to us as the owners of our lives and destiny. We own what we have and what we do. 
  2. Let that fire burn: The second is the word "fire". No matter what we do in life, it should be coupled with red hot passion. We should do what we do with so much zeal and hunger that it burns within us setting light to whatever and whoever we come in contact with. That light within us should also burn bright to show others the path and lead them to what they want to be successful at and show passion for.
  3. Seek true friends and mentors: This is a hard task. The people that show up and respond when your chips are really down - those are the ones that we look for. How do we get friends like those? By being a friend like that first. By, first, investing in their well being and greatness, that is how. We should feel lucky and grateful if we get those that enable our passions and "fan our flames".
My friends are better than me in various ways. Some are better programmers than I am, others are better leaders. Even others are better at empathy and human values. I learn from all of them. They all make me better. I am thankful for them and what they bring to my life everyday. 

Something else that I think is implicitly said in Rumi's words is that we should continuously keep learning and adapting. That continuous influx of knowledge must act as the fuel that keeps our passion burning. Without lifelong learning and adapting to changing conditions and priorities we will remain susceptible to things that do not make sense in this fast changing world.

In the meantime, as the great Rumi said: "Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray".

September 14, 2014

Lessons for a father - Of Rights And Duties

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Rights are extremely important. They are responsible for the basic human dignity of all people and their right to live in freedom and with justice and equal opportunity. Some rights are ours because we are human. Others because we belong to a certain nation. Even others because we are a part of a select group. Generally speaking, rights allow us to do what we want to do and be what we want to be within reason.

Accompanying rights, however, is a special list that I always feel gets left out. This list is of duties. If someone takes our rights away, we have various entities to get help from. If however, and sadly at some level, we ignore our duties, there may be national ramifications but not legal ones.

This week, I invested some time in gathering a list of rights and duties that I have and I should hold myself accountable to. It is a very powerful and important list of our rights. It is also a fantastic list of my duties. Unfortunately, I realized that I have not been fulfilling my duties as well as I should.
Once I had assembled the lists, a couple of things came to mind.
  1. A list of rights without duties seem incomplete.
  2. We should have a list of rights and duties for work and family as well.
If our country gives us rights then it becomes our duty to give back. We might choose not to do that and no one can take us to prison for it, but fundamental duties continue to be moral and patriotic obligations that we owe to our country.

The same should hold true for professional teams and families that we are a part of. So I decided, this week, to create a list of rights and duties that I have towards my professional and home teams too.

List of Rights List of Duties
Right to do what we want to do. Duty to keep doing what we might not like to do.
Right to be irritated and angry at people. Duty to keep smiling no matter what.
Right to find fault in others. Duty to improve everything around us.
Right to be ignorant. Duty to be open minded and appreciate diversity.
Right to resist change. Duty to accept that change is inevitable.
Right to be all-knowing. Duty to always be a work-in-progress.
Right to be an individual contributor. Duty to realize that we could be leaders in whatever we do.
Right to have our version of the truth. Duty to realize that truth does not suffer from versions.
Right to tell people how to be successful. Duty to create an environment where success happens.
Right to enjoy status quo. Duty to keep moving forward.
Right to have fun. Duty to make sure that the fun is not on someone else's expense.
Right to learn. Duty to learn.

This is not an a complete list. There are a lot more duties that I have towards my professional team and family. I have maintained that things happen to us because we let them happen. Our success and happiness is only dependent on what is within us. How we handle adversity, again, is a function of our inner character and strength. Blaming or giving credit to the world and others for what happens to us, usually, is a waste of time.

The rights on the left are sufficient for us to have and do our job. The list on the right might help us be more and add more to our lives and to lives of others.  In our attempt and with an intent to leave this world a place better than we had found, let us not forget the duties that we have towards ourselves.

Do you agree with the lists? What would you like to add or remove from it?

September 7, 2014

Lessons for a father - Lost? Stop. Ask For Directions.

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It is a very disconcerting feeling this - of being lost. It can, however, be also what starts a new chapter in our lives. It really come down to how we handle being lost.

The phrases that we use when we get lost range from "what am I doing" all the way to "I have no idea where I am". It can leave us confused and looking for genuine help and advice.

We all have been told that the mark of a person is a function of how well they handle adversity. I maintain that the strength of a person also lies in whether or not they question everything.

So yes, "where am I", "what am I doing", "should I really be doing this" can, very well, set the tone for confusion, ambiguity or the feeling of being lost. If we play to the strength of our character, however, we could easily look at those very pertinent questions as stepping stones that propel us to where we can and want to reach in life.

The questions then turn to:
  • Who - who do we ask for advice in times of need?
  • How - how do we get out of the state of being lost?

The "Who" first. My first preference has always been myself. No one can know me better than me (apart from my wife of course - she does!). Usually, we have the answer. We just need the requisite strength to accept the answer and move forward. In the rare case when we do not, we need external agents of advice. They come in form of friends, family and mentors. All our work in our life to surround ourselves with people that we trust, and who are hopefully smarter than us, comes in handy in this time of need.

The "How" requires more work. Here is what I practice:
  • Define, very clearly, what it is that you want to do.
  • In an absence of that definition, do what you have to do till you can do what you want to do.
  • Whatever you do, no matter how big or small, should take you closer to your goal.
  • Surround yourself with smart people that you can rely on in times of need.
  • Realize that goals can change over time. Be open and receptive to change.

Getting lost and continuing to walk and doing what needs to be done can be one of the best things that happen to us.  As long as we return home, that could be a great journey. 

What do you do when you think you are lost? Let me know via a comment below or by using this.