Learnings and musings of 2018

The last post I wrote on this blog was on Jan 1, 2017, almost two years ago. Given that it was an attempt to translate a lovely poem about welcoming the new year, today on new year’s eve I was reminded of it. As I scrolled through my archives I realized that I have had at least one post every year since I began blogging in 2007. And so to keep the tradition going I have decided to post something today. Until today I have written only when I truly felt like it. I am not sure that is the case with this post, but here I go anyway.


“Travel, there is no better teacher.” I was in Thailand in January and while it was a fun trip it was also great education. I traveled after a long time with a diverse group of friends, each of us with very different personalities, each of us with our petals and thorns. It was a good lesson in patience and team work. It also made me realize that after having spent over a decade in the US, culturally I am at middle of the spectrum, somewhere between individualistic and communal.


“I don’t want things I don’t like to keep me from things I do like” Seems obvious, but this is much more clear to me now than was before. I tried out skiing in February – took a ski lesson, had fun. But I also hurt my TFL muscle. And that has kept me from working out, hiking – things that I do like to do. I am not the best at being disciplined, so once physical therapy stopped, I wasn’t diligent about keeping up with the exercises. It has been a slow process and I am not completely healed yet. Anyway, while I will always keep trying new things, I think I am at an age, where I’d like to focus much more on things I already like. Probably the same can be said of people. Over the years I have moved from being a complete extrovert who loved interacting with people, meeting new people, to middle of the line – “I am happy with the friends I have and will make new ones much more slowly and selectively than before” stance.


“Its fun to let your hair down once in a while” Duh. But I hadn’t done it in a really long time. It may have been focus on a new job, or lack of friends I could trust in a new city. Or may be ghosts of the past haunting me – definitions of propriety that were too conservative for my free spirited personality. But having found my crowd, I had a gala time over a camp fire by the beach. Got happy-drunk with wine and hot-choc with Baileys. Wanted to walk the fire like Pam did in The Office – surely that is where I got the idea from. I have watched the series a few times now. Thankfully, my friends stopped me and I don’t have charred feet. I do have what was missing now. Trust. Trust that enables me to be myself. Trust that I am loved even with my hair down.


“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” – Viktor Frankl. My youngest maternal cousin was visiting me in April and I was happy because I had been urging her to come visit me. Unfortunately, she came at a time that I was really busy at work and she could only spend weekdays with me. I tried my best to make the most of the time I had with her to ensure that she had a great experience. Unfortunately though, I lashed out at her over a really minor thing and regretted it a lot later. I don’t know if it was work stress, the frustration of not having enough time with her or something else, but I did a really poor job of controlling my emotions.  My bond with her and her parents is really strong so things went back to normal pretty quickly, but I should have handled it much better. I used to be very short tempered and although I have gotten better, I was reminded of this quote and realized that I have miles to go before I can achieve true “sthitaprajna” – concept in Bhagvad Geeta of a stable, balanced, self-controlled heart and mind.


“I love performing” I had likely always known this about myself, but I had a chance to notice it again in May. My company had rented a old Victorian house and transformed it into a museum like experience to walk our customers through our technology and product offerings. Like a museum, we ran guided tours with a docent. I was one of the docents. The tour was well designed starting with the vision of the company, the many technologies and their eventual incarnation as a product. I love love loved giving the tour. I liked enthralling and captivating the audience; my articulation was fun-filled, inspirational or deeply technical as needed. It was a performance and I loved it. I learnt a lot too – about public speaking, about how hard a job the sales people have, about our customers and their personalities. Overall, a huge learning opportunity.


“Never say I can’t. Always, say yes, I can” My mother taught me this when I was young. I can’t say that I have lived up to her teaching. But she sure has. I was in India in June to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday. What was much more special for me was that it was also the day she retired from her job in Bank of India. My mother had a long and successful career of about 38 years. It was her steady job that enabled my father to launch a business and her financial acumen that contributed in part to his success. For the most part, she loved her job and did it well even on days she didn’t love it. When she got transferred to a department she didn’t know much about, she took it as an opportunity to learn something new. Having a working mother has definitely contributed to my sense of independence. I have also inherited her curiosity to learn new things. I wish I had also inherited her energy and enthusiasm and “never say no” attitude. It is never too late to learn and having heard what everyone said about her at the farewell party, I am motivated to do more. Say yes more.


“Management is an outdated word. Manager is an outdated job. We need leadership. You are a leader.” While I have always had the good fortune of having great mentors at work, my current mentors at work have humbled me to my core by their continued guidance, encouragement and nurturing. I changed my role in July and I couldn’t have asked for a better education. The lessons I get to learn from even the most casual unplanned conversations are priceless. Above is just one of the many encouragements I heard from a mentor during an impromptu mentorship session.


“Void” I can’t remember of any learning / musing from August, but doesn’t mean that there weren’t any. I do now remember that August was full of meeting friends and family – full of fun and joy. May be that is the learning. To appreciate the small joys in life. Life is a quest to learn, but also a ride to enjoy. I remember a while ago in a brainstorming session for a play a friend asked everyone in the group, “What is life?”. My answer was “Fun!”. Recently, in response to a similar question, I went into this long winded answer about self realization, achieving your potential etc. And while all that might be true, I think the fun element is also very important for me. Writing this has been a good reminder of that.


“Listen to people. Extract the kernel. Ignore their conclusions. Draw your own. But listen to people. Listen more.” This is an amalgamation of a lesson learnt from a podcast and a discussion at our all hands meeting. I think I could benefit a lot from it. I am not a very good listener. I try to be and I am getting better at it, but not quite there yet. I jump to conclusions too quickly. I often decide what the kernel is, what the gist is before someone has finished saying their bit. Sometimes I am right, but sometimes I am wrong. I need to be figure out when to listen more and when it is ok to tune out. I can also get biased easily, especially if the speaker appears authoritative. My defense against that is to question everything – but that can be tiresome. I need to develop better judgement. I need a better listening strategy.


“Be the change you wish to see in the world” I was in NYC for a trade show and my company had a display with a really endearing picture of a young kid whispering to his grandfather. Unfortunately it drew some racially and religiously charged comments from the organizers and we were worried we would have to take it down and our booth would be incomplete without it. But it didn’t come to that. I was so proud of our marketing and product team for having made the bold decision to stick with the creative vision in spite of some early internal concern regarding the image. I was prouder when our sales team managed to negotiate a win-win solution with the event organizers. And I was proudest when a competitor walked up to us and told us that our booth was beautiful. Change is hard. Change takes courage. I am happy to be part of a company that encourages change.


“Influence and agency over authority” I heard this in some podcast and was quick to note it. As a product manager (still part of my role) one has no authority over the people they work with. But they have to be able to influence them. I think this is an important lesson in leadership in general. In this context, authority sounds negative. Authority seems to speak the language of fear and bureaucracy. Influence speaks the language of inspiration. Recently, in a meeting to discuss a potential women’s group at work, a younger engineer remarked how we had very few women in leadership roles, because only a couple of us had people reporting to them. I wonder how many others share this naive view. However, to me, leadership is not about authority. It is about agency and influence. You get to be a leader if you decide to be one. You get to influence the world whether or not anyone reports to you. Of course you need an environment that encourages that, and I am deeply grateful that I have that.


“Don’t count on motivation; count on discipline.” I heard a podcast by Jocko Willink on a recent drive and loved his take on motivation and discipline. Discipline is hard for me. I don’t have the personality for it. And yet every time I think about it I feel like I am missing out on a crucial tool, a surefire weapon. I have heard many takes on the importance of discipline. I have tried many times to motivate myself to be disciplined. But something about Jocko’s articulation has struck a chord. I guess 2019 will tell me if it truly did or not!

Writing this was fun, more fun than I expected it to be. Discipline is certainly off to a good start. When I began writing this post, I was just going to put something down as a matter of discipline, to keep up the pattern of a yearly post. However, once I started writing I was enjoying myself as I recollected the year. I felt motivated to write. May be the quote should be, count on discipline and motivation will follow 🙂

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