Life outside of my box

I come from a conservative Hindu South Indian family where being submissive and being predictable are considered the highest qualities. I have been handed the following script on how I “should” live my life:

Kids “should” get good grades and go to well-known schools.
By age 22, you “should” get a corporate job and get settled.
By age 25, you “should” buy a house.
By age 27, you “should” get married to a spouse from the same caste.
By age 30, you “should” pop out the kids to make your parents happy.
For the rest of your life, until you finally kick the bucket, you “should” pile up as much wealth as you can so you can be the hero of your kids and the son of proud parents.

However, I consciously have chosen to get outside of my own belief systems to live my own life just like I mentioned in the below speech I gave to the students of Columbia university in August 2018. I broke the tradition of marrying a woman within my own caste system by marrying someone from a country outside of my own.

In doing so, I had to answer a barrage of questions from my family and friends on the uncertainties of marrying a Chinese woman. They asked me questions like “How wealthy is her family?” “Will she divorce me and take away all my money like the spouses from western countries?” “Will she take care of my parents during their old age?” “Which country would we move to should our temporary U.S. visa get revoked?” Well, I did not have answers to any of those questions but I managed to convince them by telling them some cock and bull stories. Just joking. My wife has so many traits that makes her instantly likable.

The reality I haven’t shared with my friends and family until now is that my wife was at her lowest point in her life when we met. She hated her job, lived paycheck to paycheck and threw temper tantrums from time to time. She expected her husband to be her next savior, pulling her out of the trenches just like her dad did when she was younger. I could have easily let the dark side of our relationship and my family’s concerns confirm my worst fears but I chose not to give into them. Fears keep you inside of your box but I chose to believe in impossibilities and live life outside of my fears. My deep connection with my wife and her openness to see through our conflicts gave me the courage to overcome my fears, and I married her in March 2017.

Well, just a few months after our marriage life took me by surprise as I experienced unfamiliarity outside of my own box. We faced challenges in our relationship in the first few months of marriage but just like I mentioned in this blog post, I looked at every setback in our relationship as an opportunity to better myself.

Some unexpected opportunities also opened up as my wife’s own transformation inspired me on a journey to discover more about myself and the legacy I want to leave for the world. With her love, support and compassion she woke up the inner Gandhi in me and helped me realize the full potential of my true self. As a result, I reinvented myself as a speaker and a coach, living with purpose and greater fulfillment than I ever did.  I also learned that I can get a US green card from a Chinese wife, a possibility that could not have happened in the next 10 years if I stayed in my own box. Today we were issued Green cards.

What I want to leave you with is that, it is your choice to live inside of your box or outside of your box. I experienced greater fulfillment living life outside of my box. But I caution you that life throws curve balls at you when you are living outside of your box and how you respond determines the size of your life.

box

Solution to solving the world’s problems

It shakes me to learn every day when I read the news about how the world is suffering from man-made problems. From bombings in Syria to nuclear threats by developed countries to terrorism and violent attacks and the list goes on. Being an engineer I learned that the only way to solve a complex problem is to break down the problem into a simpler form that can be easily solved. So the solution to all the complex world problems is breaking it down to solving my own problems first.

The fundamental way to approach a problem is to not look at it as a problem rather an opportunity to challenge me. It is like perceiving “climbing a mountain” as a problem that needs to be solved vs perceiving it as an opportunity to build my strength while enjoying the experience and magnificent views during every step of the ascent. When you take a positive perspective, the problem disappears and you start enjoying the process instead.

So to start with, I started acknowledging all the areas in my life that are making me live less than stellar life. Unfortunately, it takes me a book to explain how I overcame all the negative talk in my head. So in this blog post, I will take a stab at explaining how I addressed a specific conflict with my wife and how a similar approach can be taken to address border issues currently happening between different countries.

I always complain about how my wife does so little household work. What I later understood is that she does the best she can but after she reaches my expectation, in my mind I give her brand new milestones to reach. After a while, they become outdated as well and the process of setting new internal milestones repeat. I was being greedy. So no matter how much my wife did for me, it was never enough. If my happiness is based on how much my wife did for me, I will soon become a victim of my expectations. So the way I addressed is to give unconditionally instead. If I would like to have her contribution, I would express it as a wish and how I feel about my wish but take complete ownership of my own needs. Very quickly things took a U-turn in how I perceived life. The lesson I learned is that greed is part of being human. Once you can notice how it is making you a slave of yourself, you can rise above it to create a life of freedom.

If we extrapolate this solution to solving world problems, border issues like Jammu and Kashmir or Taiwan or Ghaza can be solved not by making arguments on why each country owns a certain piece of land and bombing each other. Countries can never have enough of what they want. Instead, if countries give selflessly by opening the borders to promote understanding, it can make a difference. As an example, India can open its borders to Pakistanis and help them understand how we feel about our insecurities around Jammu and Kashmir instead of trying to further provoke them. The bottom line is we are all the same in spite of our different belief systems. What I think we should really do to solve the problem is to declare Jammu and Kashmir as a self-governing state and designate it as a friendship zone for Indians and Pakistanis. In this friendship zone, radical Indian Hindus and radical Indian Muslims party with each other and do fun things like dancing, singing and dining together.

india-pakistan-friendship

So here is my solution to the world’s problems. Start with identifying areas of your life which are making you live less than stellar life. Are you being in the victims of your own greed? When everyone in the world can live a life of unconditional giving, there remains no problem to be solved in this world but only life to be lived.

12 years to confidence

I would get mad at myself whenever I meet an interesting person and I can’t fully connect with the person because I couldn’t express myself. In other words, I couldn’t communicate even though I wanted to. This has been a burning desire since I was a kid. I always wanted to be able to communicate with anyone and everyone in the World whether it is Obama or a stranger I just met.

As a teenager I had crooked tooth, pimples, a fat face and used to be mocked at and made fun of by my friends. At age 19, when I was at a gym with my friend the trainer asked us if we are brothers. I was so happy to hear that but my friend on the other hand got so embarrassed as he got compared to an ugly me and so he thought of himself as being ugly. The embarrassment experienced by my friend is one such scenario where my self confidence got buried in the ground and made me feel unworthy of having a conversation with people whom I wanted to connect to. But I still had the desire to be able to talk to anyone I want without having any inhibitions.

To address this, I protested and forced my parents to get me the goddamn braces to fix my crooked teeth. After getting their approval and going through 2 years of ordeal and pain fixing my crooked teeth, I got some of my confidence back. By this time I am in America and I have also added more cardio to my workout to develop Lean muscle and ate healthy. Soon enough I had the first date of my life. Ooo, braces and changes to my lifestyle actually worked and I felt like a king experiencing the thrilling moments of having a girl friend at age 22. Lesson learned: Do whatever it takes from within your center of influence to achieve the goal you desire. In this case my goal is to develop my confidence and while I couldn’t change my facial features which are out of my center of influence, I focused on what I can change within my control – diet, exercise and the braces which my parents could afford. 

The first girl friend experience boosted my confidence levels which made me embark on a new Journey going out with more girls. After a while, I had a roadblock yet again. Because of the several jobs I switched, I have realized that there are not as many Indian women of my choice. So I had to cast the net wider and be open to women from other cultures but realized the limitations in my english to be able to communicate with them confidently. My incapability to express myself fluently made me go for Toastmasters where I learned Public speaking skills. It took about 4 years to gain the full confidence in my communications skills and cleared the way to connect with women from other cultures. At every point in these 4 years, I kept constantly going out with a goal to connect with more people especially girls.

Because I was constantly experimenting with what I learned by going out to bars, events etc…, I used to get immediate feedback and made changes accordingly by experimenting with different approaches. As an example,  I used to have wavy hair and I never applied any gel to it which kind of made me look like much older than I really was. I came to know when multiple girls I met asked me if I was 30 when I was actually 24-26 years old. One of them told me if I changed my hair style I would look much better. So I started to experiment with my hair. I applied Gel and went to the Club – No much luck. I dyed my hair and went to the Club – REJECTED. I cut it short and went to the club – Woohoo, got lucky for the first time and I was able to repeat the magic. So I stuck to short hair permanently. Lesson learned- Keeping the end goal in mind, continue experimenting with what you learned without being discouraged and you will ultimately reach your goal. 

After so much experimentation and failures, there came a time when I met a girl at Toastmasters. No offense but though I wasn’t a particular fan of Chinese girls, this girl had some kind of charm and bubbliness which made me look beyond the race. After a quick chat in the meeting room, we were ready to leave and got into the elevator. She is going to the first floor while I have to pick up something from the fifth floor. I told her I would be going upstairs and she offered to accompany me. The creepy dude in me gave fist bump to himself that I had this girl’s attention. But on the outside, I wouldn’t express any emotions as if there is nothing I am excited about. In this first encounter, we ended up talking for about 20 minutes after getting off elevator and that made my day, week, year.

In the next meeting, I have asked her if she would like to get an icecream. She said yes and we exchanged our ideas about what we want out of life. When we both opened up and had a terrific conversation, I figured she meets every “must have” quality on my checklist. I also learned from the conversation that her birthday is next week. So for the following week, I got a surprise cake for her at Toastmaster meeting even though it was quite uncomfortable for me to do so. Though I had several stories of being rejected by the girl and being outcasted by Toastmaster members because I bought the cake, she took it so well and thoroughly enjoyed the attention she got. All the members appreciated the gesture as well. Lesson learned – As long as you have the right intentions (in this case my real intentions are to throw a surprise to someone I admire and not really to make her my girl friend), get outside of your comfort zone and a magic might happen.

Very soon, I asked her again this time to go to a Hackathon event. She said yes and while at the event, we kept talking to each other fully disregarding what happened at the event. At this time, we both knew we are attracted to each other and so decided to go a bar instead. From there on, it was a terrific journey and in 1.5 years she ended up being my wife.

Improving my communication skills also led me to be a great networker. I no longer have any inhibitions or have fewer inhibitions when I am at a networking event or a company event where I have to meet a lot of people with different backgrounds. Just like I was experimenting by going out to bars, I was experimenting with my communication skills by going out to networking events. I also got immediate feedback at the networking events and so made several changes in my lifestyle like reading more articles to become knowledgeable in different areas, changing my dressing style etc…

It took me about 12 years to gain this level of confidence to be able to communicate with anyone I want without inhibitions. This is what I have been aspiring for since I was a kid. Lesson learned: Try to figure out what your calling is by listening to your heart. Even though I tried to convince myself that I am born to be an engineer due to my upbringing, I always subconsciously desired to be a public speaker and be able to express myself to anyone I want without any inhibitions. It is a great feeling when you achieve what your heart seeks to achieve and not what the society wants you to achieve. I still love my profession but it is just not my first passion.

Where do I go from here? My other burning sub conscious desire for the last couple of years has been to give opportunities to the people at the grass-roots level so everyone can live the life of their dream. Would it take another 12 years to get there? May be but based on my experience in the last 12 years I would like to make some predictions of my dream life. Only difference is this time I have a crystal clear vision as this is coming from the heart and not from my upbringing or fear.

BeFunky-collage

In my dream life,  I would have an influential voice like that of Obama or Gandhi or Pawan Kalyan (a famous actor from South India who is now a Philanthropist) or my Grand Father(a person his entire town would look up to for any kind of help or suggestions). All of these heroes empathized and provided for the less fortunate yet have the charisma that would draw people. I envision a world where everyone is treated equally and have equal opportunities irrespective of what color they are, how much money they make, what country or religion they belong to etc…  This is a crystal clear vision I have for my future. How do I get there? I don’t know yet but just like my vision of being able to speak to anyone I want came true, I am sure the vision of being a voice to those without a voice will also come true. I would like to declare this as my ultimate destiny and calling, and would like to do whatever it takes to get there. Whatever I do in life will somehow relate to this vision and if I die in the process I would like to be known as someone who died doing what he loves doing.

 

 

Humbleness is bullshit

Humbleness is realizing that noone is beneath you. While that is a great trait which makes you affable, it doesnt mean you are beneath anyone else. Most people misinterpret the meaning of humbleness and underestimate themselves.

Growing up in India at least in my community, obedience is considered the highest quality of a human being. If you are obedient, people will speak highly of you, they will adore you. However, if you are speaking your mind you will be shutdownI remember when I was in India, my cousin would hang out with her friends until 8 PM in the night and would wear jeans. When she goes back home, she gets rebuked by the family members who say it is inappropriate to hang out late in the nights and to wear jeans when going out. When she stands up for herself saying, I would like to wear whatever I feel comfortable in and raise questions on why celebrating a birthday party of a friend is a NO for her but YES for her brother, she would further get chastised by the family who judges her as having an attitude. However, if she obliged to her family’s wishes and wears clothes that they want her to wear, she is considered obedient and welcomed.

I have experienced multiple such scenarios that my cousin experienced which made me believe maintaining a low self value is what everyone likes and accepted in the society. There was a time when I lost my job and I claimed that I would be finding a new job in a week or two. However when it took me more than 2 weeks to find a new job, my family chastised me that being overconfident is the real reason it took me longer to find a new job. However had I said that I am a person with no knowledge and would take a long time to find a job but found a job in 2 weeks, I would be considered a super human and loved by the society. This incident has reinforced the need to undermine myself.

Having brought up in a society which celebrates putting down yourself as the highest value effected all areas of my life. For e.g., when I want to ask questions in a big conference, I would consider myself inferior to the speaker and so would hesitate to ask questions. Subconsciously I was thinking that just like I can’t speak up for my own values and expected to conform with societies expectations, I would question my own worthiness in asking those questions. No one told me not to ask such questions or not to question any wrongdoings that I see in my daily life but as human beings the wounds we experience in one scenario creates a certain kind of fear that registers deeply in our minds that shows up in other areas of life.

So lets think about what would happen if I consider myself a superhero. I would never hesitate to ask questions in a big conference as I would not consider myself inferior to the speaker or anyone else. I would speak up when I see any kind of wrong doing at my work or in society because I know I don’t feel  inferior to anyone else and I am not worried about whether other people like me or not. Instead my power comes from the superhero from within. He is a hero who believes in himself confident about speaking his own mind. This doesnt mean he puts down other people and makes them feel inferior. It just means that he speaks his own mind and does the right thing based on his conscience without worrying about the reactions of other people and desire to being liked and accepted by everyone else around him. This removes the mental block on anything that he desires to do. In fact, this is where a coach can help as they help their clients to see their greatness. Feeling inferior and unable to see the superhero from within is the most common blind spot every human being has.

As an example, all through my childhood I used to think I am very weak. I had always been physically active as a kid but never excelled in sports etc… However, after coming to America and after learning the importance of eating right, exercing correctly, I saw a super hero athelete in myself. It only happened because of personal trainers I hired who saw more in me than I saw in myself. When I would stop short of doing leg presses, they would push me to do more saying the super hero in me can do more. When I did believe them believing in me, to my own surprise I was able to accomplish more. Gradually, I was able to see the super hero athelete in me. I believed what my personal trainer believed in me. Soon enough, I became a rock climber, boxer and someone with huge levels of stamina. I would run half marathons without much practice and not feel exhausted afterwards. I would do intensive kickboxing sessions for 3 hours in a row. I would go playing basketball for 2.5 hours at a stretch. This is something I never thought I would be able to do.

However, this only helped in realizing my physical abilities but not in other areas as I did not have a coach to catch my blind spots in thousands of decisions I make on a daily basis. But what if you try a little harder to see the superhero in yourself ? What if you truly believe that the CEO of Google is not superior nor inferior to you? The next time you see him, how would that change your perception in asking questions or being open to learn? Oprah Winfrey says there is no difference between her and the people watching her and that the only difference is that we are given different purposes in life.

Yesterday I was talking to my friend who happens to be one of the most driven, creative and smart person that I know of. He told me that he was hesitating to call up a company which could potentially make him a world famous magician which is what he aspires to become. It suddenly stuck me that not being able to see the superhero in himself is what is stopping him from making that call. 

My wife keeps telling me that I am a smart person and a superhero and I always correct her that I am not a super hero and that I am not smart. Yesterday she reminded me how I came a long way having come from a small town in India now having the capabilities and confidence to do anything I want. That is a superhero in me I forgot about instead I beat myself up on how I am not good enough. She is not suggesting that I should be complacent with what I have. She is just saying that I can continue to embrace myself as I continue to expand my center of influence in pushing the world forward. 

In summary, you can all live more fulfilling lives if you see the superhero in yourself and stop misinterpreting the meaning of humbleness and obedience. 4 years from now if I happen to achieve the dream I am dreaming, most of the credit goes to my wife for her enlightenment and for being my staunch supporter and a cheer leader. 

Productivity tool 1.2

Though Thoughts tracker has helped me stay focused on the tasks at hand, I still realized that my progress on the App development has been slow. So I took some time to learn from what every other successful programmer has been doing and that’s when I stumbled upon this amazing book by John Sonmez – Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual.

Here are the key takeaways to improve your efficiency:

  • You don’t necessarily need to have an exact end goal in mind but you should definitely need to know the approximate end goal – your life purpose – so you can steer your career in that direction.
  • Break down your end goal to a clear short term goal.
  • Now that you know what exactly you want and in order for you to get there faster, you have to be efficient in how to learn faster.
    • Define your goal – what you would like to achieve with the programming language.
    • Do some leg work on all the resources available and pick only the best.
    • Skim through these resources to get a high level overview of the programming language and immediately start playing around with the code.
    • Now that you have  a lot of questions, go back to the resources and only learn 20% of the programming language in detail to achieve your desired goal.
    • Once you learn the 20%, teach the 20% that you learned by writing blogs or teaching students or making presentations at code camps, Tech meetups or posting videos on YouTube.
    • If you are still struggling, it might be due to the lack of understanding of some basics. If this is the case, go back and learn your basics so you will save a lot of time later on.

Out of all these points, teaching is what resonates with me the best. If I had to learn from my past, the only reason I landed a job at eBay is because of teaching SQL Server course to other DBAs which made me an expert in that area. Similarly not using the words I learned still makes me struggle with Vocabulary. From now on as soon as I learn a word, I will find a way to use it in a story and share it on YouTube.

 

Productivity tool 1.1

I often find it hard to focus on the tasks at hand. I instead catch myself Facebooking, YouTubing, day dreaming sitting in front of the computer when I should be getting some work done. I also tend to forget the commitments I have made and miss the deadlines which makes me appear so disorganized, confused and unprofessional. To remedy the situation, I installed paid software to block the Social Media websites, read thousands of books on Time Management, heard so many people preach on the subject, sought for help but none of the solutions they offered worked. So I came up with my own tool – Thoughts Tracker.

Thoughts tracker is nothing more than a spreadsheet to record all your thoughts crossing your mind. It is based on the principle that if you are fully aware of what you are thinking, you will decide what thoughts to keep and what to ignore thereby redirecting your actions towards thoughts that matter the most.

Thoughts tracker has two basic sections – Action items and Thoughts. Thoughts is further classified into Sub conscious thoughts and Distracting thoughts.

The section “Thoughts” is the core aspect of this tool and helps you become fully aware of your thoughts. When I lose focus working on an action item, I immediately start observing where my thoughts are wandering. I pay attention to them and categorize the thought as either Sub Conscious or Distracting.

Action Items:

  • Complete your algorithmic assignment by 01/12/2017
  • Work for 2 hours on the blog on 01/12/2017.
Sub Conscious Thoughts:

  • Check if Rohit is coming
  • Get the VPN doc
  • Test my GoPro in water
Distracting Thoughts:

  • Got distracted by facebook after my desire to check the post I published for mentors on 01/13/2017
  • I couldn’t help but check out prices of flights to Bali
  • I got distracted about a past conversation on  a football game.

I would start by writing a list of action items I would like to accomplish and as I am working on the action item, if I happen to notice that I got distracted by Facebook, I will immediately write down the date and the time I opened the Facebook website. The more number of times I get distracted, the more number of entries I would notice on the sheet. This would make me become self aware about the time I am losing. The manager inside me is watching so I have to get back on track instead of indefinitely getting lost in the world of Social Media. There are also times when I would get lost in thinking about a useless discussion I had with my friend on the topic of Aliens which I would categorize as Distracting thought.

However, most of the times I would get distracted by a useful thought. The useful thought could be thinking about a friend whom I haven’t called in for a long time or my desire to travel to Bali or go rock climbing and sometimes it could be an argument I had with my wife. These thoughts help me know myself better and the fact that I have written them down prevents me from further sitting on those thoughts indefinitely. I note them under Sub Conscious thoughts and move on with my current action item. 

It is also important that we don’t attach ourselves to the thoughts instead just observe them. When you happen to attach yourself to the thought mainly self defeating thoughts, you will not be able to focus on the task at hand. For e.g., if you have a self-defeating thought that says you are not smart enough, don’t treat the thought as a reality and attach yourself to it. Instead treat the thought as a thought by saying “Aha, that’s a self-defeating thought. I am going to write it down and move on.” If I don’t write down the thought, the sub conscious thought lingers in my head. In such cases, I will neither be able to focus on the task at hand nor will be able to put a closure on the sub conscious thought. The end result is spending countless hours being unproductive.

When I have some downtime, I go through the list of Sub Conscious thoughts and incorporate them into my routine. By going through this list, I have realized that I have a penchant for high intensity sports like rock climbing, volleyball etc… I also realized that I miss my family in India way too much and that for me to feel happy I need to visit them atleast once a year. Using the thoughts tracker helped me realize what I love in life and so incorporated those activities into the “Action Items” section to live a holistic life.

I review the list of Action items every morning. These are the items that I need to take action on. The list of Action items helps me stay focused and organized. Ever since I started maintaining the list of action items, I have eliminated the phrases like, “Oops, I forgot that there is a deadline, Oops I forgot that I need to mail this thing out yesterday”. Instead every day I feel empowered to know that I am focused on the actions which are aligned with my passion based on the thoughts that bring me joy. When you try to do something that doesn’t align with your passion and who you are, you can never make the best use of your time and you can easily figure out what activities to keep and what activities to discard using this tool. 

If you would like to try this out, start with creating a basic list of action items that you would like to accomplish. As you are working on your action item, write down the thoughts in the respective section of Thoughts tracker. Over time, your focus rates will be quadrupled.