Posted in Personal Stories

Let’s not be Afraid of the Truth


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

When I was a child, I was terrified of examinations. Well not the part of preparing and giving it , but the part about the results. I would work hard for the exam, and then absolutely bury the question papers after the deed was done. I wouldn’t check my answers, or calculate my scores and drag my feet before going see the results out there on the notice boards .

And as I grew up I realized that I was not alone. As humans we have this tendency to seek comfort. The truth is appealing only if it aligns with our belief systems, or is comfortable.   

Now I deal with data , metrics and insights in and out in my job. And as analysts, our goal is to surface the truth. And while every organization out there aspires to be data driven, there is this very common fear , the fear of truth if it is not in your favor.  What if the numbers do not show our work in good light ? What if this analysis proves that we were wrong all along ?

I see that denial manifested in so many parts of the world. And the most bold spectacle has played out in America over the last few days. The raging pandemic, the denial, the insurrection. And then more denial. 

The reality is, unless you confront the truth – it is impossible to make the change or move ahead.  An accurate current state assessment is key to reaching your desired future state. 

And the truth can be found in the unlikeliest of places. 

In the casual words of your customer. From the discovery of an Intern. In cold hearted numbers. 

We need the truth now more than ever, in times which seem more uncertain that ever.

Let the truth out, with kindness. Listen with an intention to understand and not always to respond.  And yes, let’s not be afraid of the Truth.

Posted in Personal Stories

The Family Tree Project


It was a quiet morning in the spring of 2020. Yes, the year that we would all remember as the black swan of the twentieth century. A novel virus which was initially discovered in late 2019 in China had spread itself across the world, and we were in the middle of the most massive quarantine around the world. What it meant was that our small family of three was stuck indoors in our rented Bay Area house – as we , along with the entire world navigated on how to weather this unprecedented healthcare crisis.

The County where we lived had declared a shelter in place for all its residents, which meant that all non essential businesses were ordered to close, and residents were advised to go out only for essential chores like groceries or any emergencies. The ordinance had been in place for almost 2 months now and we had invisibly adapted to this mode of life. Weekdays and weekends blended into a flatline, and we started coming up with inventive ways to occupy our time.

And this was the start of our Family Tree Project.  

Reminded of a first grade school assignment from long ago, we started working on this project of building my daughter’s family tree – picking up the abandoned pieces and data points from where we had last left off. Fueled by reignited curiosity and with ample time to kill, we began tracing out the leaves that chalk my daughter’s bloodline. We commenced with my family, tracing up to my ancestors ,  including my grandparents and then their parents. After a point, I could not recollect the names, so we called up my father to get them. He jogged his memory and gave me some, but soon after memory also gave up.  He did not know the name of ancestors on his father’s side – including his father’s mother. She had died many years ago and no one had ever asked him her name his entire lifetime ! 

The story on my husband’s side was harder  to fill up – we joked as he struggled to remember the formal names of some of his uncles and aunts ( yes, we Indians affectionately use pet names like Chintoo Mama or Chikoo Chacha all our lives ) . So then again we had to call my father in law, and he made a few more calls to fill the rest of the picture. Slowly the nodes started lighting up with long lost names, and for the first time in my life, I could see an emerging vignette of the many people who constituted my extended family. Indian families are indeed large ones, so after a certain point we had more than a hundred names on the page, still missing many more – which would need a more sophisticated method to catalogue and fill up.  

It was this exercise of writing down the names of my ancestors that led to two consequences.

One is the realization of our own mortality in the backdrop of the raging pandemic around the world. The other one is the cognizance of how little I knew of my ancestors. For one, there were many I didn’t even know the names of , and others whose lives could not be summarized by me in more than a paragraph.

Yet these were real people who lived their whole lives with such rich experiences ,  gave birth to and bred wonderful children and with some combination of their DNA which fuels my existence. Many components of the way I think , how my body reacts to its environment, the processes that  keep it alive have been learnt from this heritage passed on through Genetics. 

It also made me realize that sometimes we are so much focused on the future that we fail to look back and make sense of our past.

Our Family Tree Project – undertaken without much forethought at the start left me with some quiet yet deep wisdom. Your history and past is written down indestructibly in time but it is a story that you will always have.   It is something to own. And it is a story worth knowing more about!

Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash

Posted in Personal Stories

Observations on Fall


I look out into the vast stretch of green outside my patio. The colors are a dark pastel green, accentuated with tiny patches of yellow and orange creeping in . And with every gust of wind that whooshes through the trees, there is a swirl of leaves that sweep down.  Yes, Fall is here.

Slowly and steadily, these yellow patches would spread and the entire expanse would get transformed. The leaves would fall, winter would tumble in , and the woods would turn into ghosts of their past selves.  All the life that had burgeoned over this summer would be destroyed. 

I remember my snow-covered backyard from last year , with a background of bare naked spidery trees. The charm of a white winter eventually turned into a realization of the true meaning of the phrase “winter in coming”.

On especially cold days, I would watch as the water that flowed out of the air conditioning pipes snaked out on one end and congealed into ice at the other end, making me feel fortunate that I was now on the warmer side of the patio door.  One of the most frequent phrases I heard were – ‘when summer arrives”. As if all eyes were pinned on the opportunities that the warmth of summer would bring.

Slowly, the earth revolved and the season changed. Summer shone on us with its full glory, and what a resplendent glory it was! 

The destruction of winter had breathed a will to prosper even in the tiniest of shrubs. The greenery that rose from the ashes had something special about it .. a hunger of its own. I have never seen leaves so alive, and trees so lush in any other season.  It was almost as if the trees have suddenly discovered their power and are burgeoning to  grow out and vanquish everything that had stopped them before.

This incessant, inevitable cycle of nature reminded me of the important role of destruction in creating a better version of life.

The path to evolution is paved with destruction.

What has made you successful in your past might not lead you to victory in your future. You have to destroy your beliefs and learnings to pick up new ones.

To move from one level to the next, you have to unlearn all that you’ve learnt and re-learn again!

Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver on Unsplash

Posted in Personal Stories

Five Hacks to help you Read More


When life happens, there are a million distractions coming your way. Notifications on the phone, work goals, your child’s homework, that super critical mail which came in at the last minute when you were leaving office. There is always something urgent that is screaming for your attention.. And as expectations on how soon you should respond to messages and emails grow tremendously, there is this time crunch squeezing our lives into tinier and tinier moments. One of the side effects of that has been the inability to see the bigger picture,  relish a quiet moment, or even read long books. There was a time when I couldn’t break away from “the arc of unbroken concentration” which a good book could bring.

Today,  I feel perpetually lost in this trough of shallowness.

So how do you break out of this ? How do you dim this digital hum and  develop “the willpower to focus on a sustained argument”.

Here are some of hacks to read more:

Make goals: Goals help us stay consistent, and give a constant nudge to move on to the next step. So go ahead and make goals.Long term ones in terms of books per year, or even short ones like minutes read per day. Even if you have only 30 minutes you can spare in a day – every second of it is worth being spent on reading!

Borrow rather than Buy: Counterintuitive as it may seem, abundance is one of the biggest killers of motivation. “Ah, I bought this book and it is right there on my shelf. Why spend my time trying to focus and read it when I binge watch mindlessly on Netflix?”.  As our attention spans dwindle, it is easy to discard book-worthy moments for easier options.  There is a sense of scarcity that exists with borrowed books, a deadline by which they will expire and go away.  And that can help you read more.

Begin reading new books on a Thursday or Friday: This hack words for me, because if you have a busy week , then starting to read something while you are easing into a weekend is a good way to stay motivated and focused. Weekends are great for long reading stretches, if you have the willingness to be alone.  

Disconnect from technology: When reading a book on my mobile or tablet, every tiny notification costs you minutes of lost focus. So go for low tech – the most basic Kindle or hard copy book. Even on phones, Apple has this screen time feature that shuts off my phone at 10 pm every night, and those are the most peaceful moments of my day –  when I can pick up and read a book.

Share your insights and learnings: When you’ve read a book that you liked or enjoyed, talk about it to friends, your spouse, or even write down how you felt. Sharing what you’ve learnt will help you internalize it, and also motivate you towards finding the next book. 

Well.. Quite honestly, finding the next book always makes me anxious . When I’ve finished one, and am wondering which one is going to be my next – there is an expectant longing in air.

From this vast rich expanse, which one would I  choose ?

Curiously – “Some like to believe it’s the book that chooses the person.” !

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Posted in Personal Stories

Learnings on the Highway


The black car zoomed through the darkness, interspersed with the glare of many others moving in perfect symphony across the dark highway. And I am driving inside it within my own perfect bubble. The music blares on the car audio, with a personally curated Spotify list algorithmically doling out songs for my pleasure. I am acutely focused, my mind in sync with the vibes on the road. The gray asphalt silhouettes against a dark blue and orange horizon. Night has fallen long ago, with rebellious shards of light appearing  to replace a sun long gone. I gaze at the dashboard and the traffic ahead, unconsciously looking out for the impatient lane changers who zip across lanes as they find an opening, trying to achieve a hypothetical advantage over others.

The car noiselessly glides ahead like it has a life of its own, the needle on the speedometer at a constant seventy. The entire world shrinks down to a tiny pinpoint of light ahead of me. 

In the dark confines of this shared space , there is a strange kinship that develops with all the motorists going my way. It is almost like we are some randomly distributed molecules who have been drawn by a strong magnetic force to move together in alignment towards a common destination. 

And in that moment, there is an epiphany in my mind. In today’s fast moving world, we blame so many of our problems and stresses on speed and pace at which things need to move. This is something that impacts our family, our work and friendships.  The general advice we give ourselves is to slow down. 

What I learned today from the highway is: 

Moving fast is not a problem – misalignment is. 

The highway is a perfect example of harmony – where everyone is moving at incredibly high speeds but yet there is perfect order because there are rules of the game which are followed by all travelers on the road.. Pass from the left.. Make way for newcomers entering on the right.. Stay on the left lane if you want to go faster than the rest..These elementary rules can make what seems like an impossibly dangerous commute become so simple and seamless. 

So next time you are harried with too many things moving too fast in your life – think of the Highway Analogy. Align your priorities or take the Exit.

What would you do to make Life go smooth !?

Photo by Jonas Von Werne on Unsplash

 

 

Posted in Fiction Experiments

The Pink Flats


It’s a third time today that I am opening that tempting tab in my browser to peek at this object of desire that has caught my fancy.

I find myself staring at this pair of sinfully elegant, unapologetically feminine pink flats.

Then my eyes hover over the hefty price tag – surely my overstuffed closet doesn’t need a $450 Gucci shoe. But the mind is wandering and I can imagine this pair going perfectly with that still untouched magenta skirt which I had never been confident enough to pull off.

A meeting reminder pops up on my screen and breaks me of my reverie. “Ah”, I scold myself – “The PG&E meeting is in 15 minutes and you are lusting over a pair of shoes that you don’t need. Wake up!”.

To give some background, I work at BigRock – an investment management firm.  And yes – today is just another ordinary day. I have an upcoming meeting with a client and there is this lingering sense of anxiety to bat this well.

“Many eyes are on this deal, and if you nail it – the Sales Director role is yours. Just make sure they get the messages right .. and don’t make it seem too much of a hard –sell .. and hopefully, they won’t dwell too much on the terms in Section #4… ”

A constant drone of to-do lists is hammering at the back of my head.., imagining all the ways this meeting can go wrong. And every time there is a blip in this train of thoughts – I am seeking refuge in these pair of Parisian pink flats.

“You need these shoes to be successful!!”  – a chirpy voice screams inside my head.  Click .. click ..click. it would be so easy to buy.

“I’m sorry, but..”, another calm voice patiently explains. ” Remember how you had to give away those Coach boots which were in perfect shape because you realized you had two pairs which looked exactly like the same?”

“But well, you know..” – the chirpy voice pops up again – “Don’t be so hard on yourself,  you’ve been working so hard and that contract that you won last month. You deserve this!”

“So.. On Page#5, don’t forget to mention that we analyze the attractiveness of an asset not only based on its risk, but also on the return potential the asset may bring to the portfolio”  – That one is my BigRock employed thread, urgently entreating to be heard among the other two voices.

“Blah, blah, blah”.. the chirpy voice interrupts again. “Pleated Magenta skirt with a sleeveless white blouse and pink flats with a floppy bow –  now that’s a killer outfit!”…

“Nooo… Too many shoes in your closet, remember?!”. The calm voice seems all flustered and is screaming now.

“.. and the long-term performance goal for this portfolio is to achieve at least 80% of the return of the global stock market” – weakly mutters the BigRock thread again.

The calendar invite has popped up. It is time to join the PG&E call now.  I take a deep breath and flick these voices away as I begin dialing the number…

Hello Everyone, this is Anjali from BigRock Investments”, I brightly announce myself on the phone.

Like I said..  it is just another ordinary day today.