Saturday, December 1, 2012

The journey towards Perfection

Perfection – the state of existence which has always managed to elude me. One of the dictionary meanings for Perfection is “The condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects”. It is the point at which all flaws have been eliminated and beyond which there is no room for improvement, whatsoever. This has always been a dream state of existence, but after repeated failures to reach it, I could not help but ask the question – what actually is this perfection and does it exist in the first place? 

Going by the meaning of perfection as being free from all possible flaws, can anything around us be described as perfect? If we go through the pages of history, can we find a perfect human being with a perfect life? Is there any perfect place to live in? A perfect friend? A perfect piece of art? A perfect piece of engineering? Most possibly, the answer to all these questions is ‘NO’. If we look around, am pretty sure we can find flaws in any man or man-made creation. In fact, I read that a fine Persian rug will almost always include intentional imperfections. This notion of intentionally including slight and minor irregularities is derived from their belief that perfection is not meant for humans. 

If so, then what is this perfection that we [at least most of us] have been madly chasing after? Do we have the correct understanding on the notion of perfection? I think the answer lies in the second part of the dictionary description, where it says “as free as possible from all flaws or defects”. Accepting the fact that we can possibly never reach the absolute state of perfection, the next best alternative is to see how close we can get to it. May be, what matters is how honestly we try to get rid of our imperfections and move closer and closer to perfection. It is the journey which matters, knowing well that we would possibly never reach the destination. If we are only focused on the elusive destination, then we would probably never enjoy the journey. “Have no fear of perfection, you will never reach it” – Salvador Dali. 

It is a challenge to accept that we are imperfect and will continue to be so. This is easier said than done. But, the reality is neither was my past perfect nor is my present. The future is not going to be any different. I just hope that at least am moving towards perfection and not drifting away. “The man with insight enough to admit his imperfections comes nearest to perfection” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 

It is even a bigger challenge to accept that people around are imperfect as well. Of course, one’s judgment of something/someone as imperfect could always be questioned as perfection is a relative concept. What is perfect piece of music for one could be noise for another!! For some strange reason, have always found it easier to justify mistakes due to my imperfections, but almost impossible to ignore flaws of people around me!! This does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to all flaws around us, but it makes sense to learn to differentiate between mistakes arising out of inherent imperfection in human beings vs. intentional stupidity. “It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are the more gentle and quiet we become towards the defects of others” - Joseph Addison.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The risk of being a cubicle rat

I often meet people who proudly claim that they are so busy that they don’t even have time to pause to take a deep breath!! More often than not, it is work which keeps them busy. I have noticed when people brag about the packed schedule of their work life, there is that sense of accomplishment in their voices. It is interesting to see guys [including me at times] treat late nights and working over weekends as beautiful feathers in their caps. It is almost like the workplace is our kingdom and we are the undisputed kings therein!!

A question which struck me is – does this kingdom offer enough space and opportunities for us to grow as a person and be the best human being we can be? This place definitely is integral in shaping our personalities and offers some great opportunities for learning, but the question still remains - is this enough?

If there are 2 individuals – one who is happily confined to the little cubicle kingdom vs. one who also explores the world outside this kingdom, how would these guys fare against each other in the long run? Who would have led a more fulfilling life? Who would have richer memories to store and most importantly, who would have at least few stories to share with their grandchildren!! Am sure most of us would agree that it is the second guy who is going to win hands down in the long run. At this point, no surprise if you are thinking that to express such an obvious thought, a blog is an overkill!!

Finding answers to the above obvious questions is the beginning of the problem, the tougher questions are - how do we venture out of our small kingdoms? Where do we start and when do we end? How do we split our time and energy between our tiny kingdoms and the world beyond? How to validate if we are making progress in this effort?

In fact, I have more questions than answers. But, one thing which I am convinced about is that answers to most of these questions lie in finding our interests beyond work and pursuing them. Am sure all of us have one or more things which we are naturally inclined to and interested in. It could be travel, photography, fine arts, sports, technology, reading- the list is endless. Identifying and pursuing these interests of ours is possibly one of the best means to expand the size of our kingdoms and the breadth of our vision. It is through these activities that we would be able to explore ourselves better and understand the stuff that we are actually made up of. For me personally, spending time beyond the comfort of my tiny cubicle kingdom has been a great tool in exploring the multiple shades of life and meeting interesting people [read non engineers:)] and the journey is still on. Of course, there is always a chance that the experience we gain through few of these activities might not be as enriching as we expected it to be. But, this risk is much smaller compared to the risk of not pursuing any.

An apt quote here would be “We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.” – Mao Tse-Tung. If we don’t venture beyond our tiny wells, we might very well end up as the frog.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

People - an integral part of our emotional experiences

Last year, around the period of July – August, I was anxiously looking forward for the results of annual promotions at work. During this time, a strange thought crossed my mind – what if I am promoted, but with the condition that I cannot share the results with anyone? Of course, I would get all the perks of promotion as per this deal, but the only condition is I have to keep the results to myself. My immediate conclusion was such a deal would be worthless, what value would any reward be if I cannot share it with the world? Consequently, it got me thinking as to why am I so dependent on others to be happy and complete? Thinking further on this, I realized that it is not just me, but may be all of us are dependent on each other to be happy and complete. It is not just happy moments, but it looks like most of our emotional experiences are complete only when shared.

If we pause for a moment and analyze our own emotional experiences, we could possibly arrive at two categories – one which is complete even when not shared and the other which is complete only when shared. Few things which come to my mind as examples for the first category – moments spent with nature, time spent listening to a classic musical composition, time spent introspecting. These are the moments which are complete by themselves, even when not shared with a fellow human being. Of course, sharing these moments with our near and dear ones would add more value to it, but they are totally fine even otherwise.

On the other hand, there is a wide range of emotional experiences we go through each day which are quite incomplete until shared. I have noticed how most Monday morning conversations at work are about what we did over weekend and how we felt doing the same. If one observes Facebook updates, it is easy to notice that most updates are about what one did/what one is doing/what one is planning to do. Isn’t it interesting as to why we post our travel stories on social networking sites? I mean, let’s face it; the world would not end if our friends did not know about our adventurous 100 km ride over the weekend!! But, our whole experience of the ride is incomplete until we share it with our network of people. And when they reciprocate, it adds further value to the whole experience.

To be honest, I don’t understand as to why sharing is such an important part of our emotional experience. Have tried to understand this, but with little success. But, I know for sure all of us do it, knowingly or unknowingly. For good or bad, most of human emotions are designed in such a way that they are complete only when shared. To what extent one shares definitely differs from person to person. One end of the spectrum of people might want to share every single emotion they are experiencing and the other extreme might want to share only life changing experiences. Again, social networking sites are a good place to observe this trend.

Now, knowing that sharing is a critical part of the whole emotional experience, it makes sense to have the right set of people around to share them with. It is important that our world of people understand and appreciate our experiences. Of course, it is equally important that we reciprocate appropriately when we are needed to complete and add value to their emotional experiences.

Ultimately, people are an integral part of our existence - our family, friends and relatives. Personally, with this understanding, I am learning to value and appreciate relationships better. I feel it is worth spending considerable amount of our time and energy on building new relationships and sustaining and nurturing existing ones. It makes total sense to prioritize this activity in our almost always hectic lives. So, the next time a friend calls to have a quick chat and I am in the middle of some other activity, I hope I would take the right decision on which activity to put on hold and which one to prioritize.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

True calling – what could this be?

‘True calling’ – this is a phrase which has been consistently grabbing my attention in recent days. I often come across this phrase in print media, especially in interviews/candid chats, where the concerned guy tells ‘I found this to be my true calling and decided to pursue it for the rest of my life’. This triggered two questions within me – what is this ‘True calling’ and how to find it?

Reading about people who seem to have found their true calling and interacting with some, I could arrive at 3 common observations:
  • That particular activity which they find their true calling is something which they are naturally good at and inclined to. This makes total sense, because logically there is no way we can excel at something which we are intrinsically not good at. 
  • Second point is that pursuing this activity gets the best out of them and helps them realize their true potential. 
  • Lastly, at a more philosophical level, they feel that this is what they are destined to do and pursuing this activity would do justice to their presence in this world.
To some extent, now I understand what people mean by ‘True calling’, but how to answer the next question of finding one’s true calling? I feel that understanding what is true calling is much easier than finding and pursuing it. The post The-short-but-powerful-guide-to-finding-your-passion from Zenhabits could be a good start in this direction.

One question which intrigued me is how many of us really take the journey to find our true callings? Do all of us have the luxury to pursue it? Unfortunately, most of us might not be in a situation to answer either of the questions, for the simple reason that we have been groomed to follow what I call ‘society calling’!! From a young age, the world around us is systematically injecting its idea of a successful life into us. It has been setting goalposts for us to achieve and we have been spending all our time and energy to reach those targets, without giving much thought if this is what we actually want to achieve.

Looking around, it looks like the percentage of the population who have found their true calling or for that matter who are on the path to finding one is almost negligible and these people are hard to find by. One thing for sure is that not everybody on this planet has the required resources to contemplate and understand what their true calling is and then pursue it. But, those of us who are blessed with the required resources should definitely give it a shot. A failure in this journey would be much more meaningful than success otherwise.

I like the quote by Erma Bombeck “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.” May be, if we could find and pursue our true callings, we could speak in a similar tone at the end of our lives.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An attempt to understand Money

I remember the criteria we had for ‘The best company to work for‘ during campus placements – it was the company which offered the highest pay!! It probably came from the training we had from early childhood that money is extremely important and somehow it magically translates to success and happiness. Since it is so important, I thought it is worth to pause for a moment and try to understand what it really is.

It is very interesting to understand how do we determine the value of the goods and services we avail and more importantly, how does the world put a value on the goods and services we offer. I have to admit that I don’t understand any of the macro economics stuff yet. This post is more of an attempt to understand money at the most basic level.

I started by googling ‘how to understand money’ and ‘history of money’. This page is good for starters. After going through few articles, if I have to summarize the theoretical description of money in my words , it has to be – ‘Money is the most widely agreed metric that is used to measure the value of goods and services one can offer and the quality of goods and services one can afford’. In other words, ‘It is the most commonly agreed metric to measure one’s earning power and buying potential’. These could be miles away from the accurate description!!

From my understanding, one’s earning power is determined by the demand and supply equation. More demand, less supply translates to more earning power. And one’s buying potential is directly proportional to his earning power. Looking around, we can find many examples – why do some celebrities get paid astronomical sums for just an appearance? High demand, low supply.

The story is fine and simple till this point. The tough question is how to determine our own earning power and buying potential? We really don’t have complete control on our earning power, as we don’t get to control the demand and supply equation. If I was the only guy to graduate from my university in Electronics engineering in 2008, the value of my services would have been much different today!! But, the buying potential is definitely a personal choice. I think it is more apt to call it buying requirement. All of us need not have to aspire to own a Benz and when we don’t aspire to own it, we definitely don’t have to earn enough to buy it. I think this is where most of us miss the connection, including me. We have been trained from kindergarten that we should earn as much as possible and not as much as needed. We have not been trained to gauge our necessities and earn accordingly. Instead, we have been trained to earn to the maximum possible extent and spend accordingly. It is more like ‘I have money and will upgrade my phone, rather than I need to upgrade my phone and earn money for it’.

Also, when it comes to earning, we are invariably exchanging our time, energy and resources in return for money. There is this saying that the value of anything should be measured by what we lose to earn it. May be, the same thought could come handy to decide how much of our time, energy and resources do we trade to earn. The world might say we are worth ‘X’ rupees per hour for the services we offer, but it is up to us to decide how many hours of service we put for sale.

Money by itself is not the end, it is a means. Imagine, if we are given a million dollars with the condition that we cannot spend it, it would be worthless!!

Finally, not all things which make us happy should have a monetary value associated. As the popular saying goes, “The most important things in life aren’t things”. It would be inappropriate to say money is not important. May be, it is not as important as we think or we don’t understand it as well as we should, at least me. Looking back, the criteria we had for ‘The best company to work for’ was probably not the most accurate.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

WORK – an easy and efficient time killer?

I started ‘work’ in December 2008. I am yet to come across any guy who is perfectly satisfied with his work. Well, perfectly satisfied would be expecting too much. But, even finding people who are partially satisfied has been a challenge.

It is as though not being happy with work is an accepted norm. This really got me thinking as to why is it so. At first, my immediate thought was maybe we just don’t have any other options and we all need money for survival and this is all it is. But, quite possibly, I was wrong.

Now, just for the sake of discussion, let’s consider an imaginary situation, where in one fine day our employer would tell us that we don’t have to report to work any longer, but we would continue to get unlimited money for the rest of our lives. Initially, this might sound like an offer too good to refuse. But, trust me, most of us would not continue with this offer and within a few weeks/months, we would be requesting our employer to take us back [we might even agree for a pay cutJ]. We would start feeling guilty that we are not being productive. For a fact, we have been tuned from day one of our lives that we should be engaged always and being idle is an unpardonable sin. But then, we don’t have to report to work and we have all the money we need, can’t we just pursue whatever we want? I think here is the core of the problem. Even if we have all the time and resources in the world, am not sure how many of us are clear as to what would we want to do with that, including me. Or maybe, few of us do know what we would want to do in such a luxurious situation, but just lack the guts to do it now. Worst case, some of us might never try to know what we would want to do.

The perfectly satisfied worker might just be the guy who has realized what would he do if he had all the time and resources at his disposal and who does exactly that every day of his life. Whether this is practical or not is a different question, but blessed are the people in this situation. For the rest of us, until we fix this gap, I think we should be content with Monday morning blues and Friday evening rainbows.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A puzzle which only Time can solve

It has always been a tough task for me to understand why things in our lives happen the way they happen. Sometimes, things turn out the way we planned. But, more often than not, they turn out quite different from what we planned. Of course, there is always that nightmarish situation when things unfold diagonally opposite to what we aspired for. I am sure all of us have been through phases where we wonder, why me? At times when life puts me in situations I never wanted to be in, I wonder if the whole world is conspiring against me!!

An equally tough question to answer is –would it have been better if nobody intervened and let us shape our lives as we wanted? Also, would we be the same persons we are now, if things never failed and we always had the privilege to take the road we wanted? Most possibly, the answer is a strong NO. Undeniably, when we look back, those unfavorable situations and unexpected turns have been instrumental in shaping us into what we are today. It is as if the present is a complex integral resultant of the past. Would the equation be the same even if one single component of the past changes? May be not. May be, the path would have been altogether different and the present would just not be the same. Looks like the past, present and future is complexly intertwined and the complexity is beyond our comprehension. Given this situation, its better we learn to go with the flow and wait for time to answer the question. Does this mean that we don’t make any plans and just ride along? No, but if our plans work out, it’s good. If it does not, maybe it is better.

One of the best analogies I have come across is that we are fitting the pieces of a puzzle. At the moment, due to our limitations, we might not be able to see the bigger picture. But, one day, I hope time would be kind enough to present the picture in its entirety and give us the satisfaction that the puzzle has been solved. At that moment, hopefully there are no open ended questions.

As they say, it’s hard to understand the path of a river, but for sure it will reach its destination. Similarly, all the twists and turns are just probably taking us to a beautiful destination. I remember one of my primary teachers who occasionally used to quote “whatever happens, happens for the best”. I think she was perfectly right.