25 Aug 2015

Thank You Indigo Airlines

It’s appalling how businesses treat their customers these days. Ponzi sites, hate-selling, shoddy after-sales service - we see and read about them every day. Social media is rife with so many complaints that it appears businesses look at customers simply as tools to make money.

Often however, employees or brands take amazing care of their customers and try to bring smiles on their faces. But we rarely hear about those instances. Negativity has been so deeply ingrained in us by the media that everything positive is seen as ‘expected’ and trifling matters often get perceived as negative and are blown out of proportion. The positive experiences are forgotten. Well, not always. Rachna wrote about an awesome initiative, and I am writing about another. This post is to thank Indigo Airlines for the exceptional care that they took of my 92-year-old grandmother.

Granny was staying with us since the past 6 months, and wanted to go back home to Varanasi. She had never travelled by plane, and it was one of her wishes. So mom and I booked tickets on Indigo Airlines. Granny and I would fly on 19th August on flight 6E 578. I didn't book a wheelchair or airplane seats online; I always do that at the airport. But the sound pasting I got from mom left me somewhat unnerved. Until we entered the airport, I thought that it would have been better if I had sorted everything while booking tickets itself. 

How wrong I was! As soon as we entered the airport, someone from the Indigo team - Gaurav - rushed to me and asked if granny required a wheelchair. “Okay, this should sort things somewhat”, I thought as I said she did. Little did I know that he and his team were just about to make this a stroll in the park for us. I asked him to help her onto the wheelchair while I waited in line to check in. No need, he said, and took me to an empty counter. I asked the lady who was checking our luggage in for seats in the 12th row so that granny would get more leg room. But wheelchair-bound people aren’t allotted those seats since that’s where the emergency exit is. Instead, the lady suggested that she would allot us seats in the second row, and if the flight was empty, granny and I could sit in the first row, which offers ample leg space too. I am sad that I forgot her name. In fact, I interacted with so many people that I’m feeling pretty sucky about not having noted their names so that I could include them in this post.

Right before getting onto the plane

Gaurav wheeled granny right to gate number 9 and informed the ground staff about her. They kept a watch on her while I brought tea. A crew member took her to the bathroom right before our flight arrived. Another ensured that she got on to the bus headed for our flight before everyone else. He wheeled her up the ramp right till the entrance of the plane. And even before I could take a good look at the faces of the pretty air hostesses, they had offered the first row seats to granny and me. Even melted butter cannot slide as smoothly as things were here.

Selfie clicked on granny's request

The flight was comfortable. It’s unbelievable how fearless my granny is. Not once did she flinch when the plane took off. And she was totally at home when we were airborne. Looking outside the window, studying the air hostesses… time flew by for her.

Granny is quite a fit woman for her age and often complains that we don’t let her walk enough. So when we were alighting, I thought we could walk to the taxi stand. But the air hostess said that she had radioed for a wheelchair, and it arrived before she completed her sentence. Again, granny was wheeled right out till the taxi stand, and the Indigo staff member stood with us in the sweltering 2:00 pm heat of Varanasi until a taxi came along. I loaded our luggage in it and helped granny sit. The man quietly folded the chair, shook my outstretched hand and walked back to the airport to do his duty.

Not once did even one person grimace, let alone complain. Not once did anyone ask for money (although I tipped everyone who helped). What appeared extraordinary to me because of the ease with which it was done, was regular for them. How many businesses take such good care of their customers?

I don't need to harp on concepts of customer service here, do I? Neither do I need to analyze what they did right and what they could have done etc. I just want to leave you with the feelings of warmth and genuineness that the crew of the airline displayed.

Dear Indigo Airlines, you have made a loyalist out of me. I don’t fly often, but whenever I do, I’ll fly with you. You guys may be setting high standards for yourself in customer satisfaction, but what you do is far more than that. It is service to mankind. Each member who was part of the team of flight 6E 578 on which PNR O7VYZ7 flew made the first flight of a 92-year-old woman a delight. You treated her like a queen. Here is a heartfelt thank you from my entire family.

23 Aug 2015

Will Indiblogger's BNLF Prove Disruptive?

I started blogging early in 2011, way later than most. Just like you, it was on a whim. I started writing, but didn’t know how to make more people read it? A friend suggested that like most bloggers, I should go to others’ blog posts, leave comments and interact with bloggers. “Okay”, I said. “But how am I going to find good blogs to begin with.” “Simple”, said the friend. “Register on Indiblogger.”

“What’s that?”

“Register first. You will figure the rest out yourself.”

What lovely advice it turned out to be! Within a few weeks of registering, I was addicted. I spent hours interacting on the chat forum, reading people’s blog posts, leaving comments on the ones I liked and promoting them. As a result, my traffic saw a spike, and I got in touch with amazing bloggers. The IB (Indiblogger, not Imperial Blue) platform provided me with the foundation to get more visibility on my blog. But it also taught me the most important lesson - to get meaningful interactions, I had to build relations with the right bloggers.

image Source

Which is why I am excited about the Blog Now, Live Forever event being organized by IB. One doesn’t often get to hear (or read) about blogging conferences being held in this part of the world (let alone international speakers coming over). Often we read about such events with high profile speakers held in US, and are left thinking “when will something like that come here?” Indian blogging is still in its adolescence, where most bloggers still do not understand the significance of creating content for users, and promoting it effectively. I interact with many bloggers, and one thing noticeable is the lacking understanding of building relations and an outreach. “I write for myself, not others. Whoever is interested will come and read”, is a popular belief. And then they complain about barely getting traffic (let alone shares or comments) on their blog. Guest posting, content distribution, relationship building etc. are terms that we bloggers despise as much as we despise corruption.

This is where the BNLF event will prove disruptive. With speakers like Bruce Dickinson (Up the Irons!), Jeff Bullas, Christoph Trappe and Arnab Ray (astute viewers of the content creation and sharing scenes globally) sharing their experiences and insights, it will stimulate many bloggers to evolve. I also look forward to hearing Kanan Gill, whose insights on adding humor and story telling to one’s content can improve its quality in leaps and bounds, will prove invaluable. Mind you, keeping audience in peels of laughter for 8-12 minutes when our attention span is less than 8 seconds today is no mean feat.

Of course, apart from listening to globally renowned bloggers, the highlight will be seeing Bruce Dickinson live again, this time on a different platform. The last (and only) time I got the chance was when Iron Maiden came to Mumbai, and I had stood in the second row from 3 (they hit the stage at 8:30 that night). I had to hold myself from weeping when Bruce ran on stage and started singing ‘Aces High’. I hope I can contain my emotions this time around too. “Your time will come”, sang Bruce in The Wickerman. I hope that my time to see him again has come. IB holds the key to this hope.

But let’s leave my personal fandom of Bruce behind and get back to the blogosphere. If you are a blogger, or are even looking to pursue a career in social media, the BNLF event sounds like a wonderful event to not only hear renowned speakers, but also meet popular bloggers and pick their brains (worth its weight in gold). I will be going. Hope to see you there.

16 Aug 2015

Where You Lost the Plot of Life

“Oh, he always had my hairdryer in his hand”, my friend’s mother said. “As a child, he was always singing. My hairdryer was his mic, his dad’s expensive goggles and my scarf were his costume, and he was a rockstar. Jumping around to his father’s rock music collection,” she beamed, as we flipped through the family album (yes, some of us still have them).

Today, he spends 14 hours a day working in a software firm. No weekends, no family time, dismal pay hikes…

“What happened”, I asked. “Life”, she sighed.

Forget what we wanted to be as children. We all still want to be someone. And I have used the word ‘all’ here because every person, regardless of who she is or what she does, aspires to be someone or something. We want to live on our own terms, recognition from the world for having done something amazing, and the adulation of people around us. What stops us? Guilt.

Guilt of not being able to give our family the comfort they deserve if we dive into something new. Guilt of not being able to make enough money for our family to roam in malls on weekends and buy things that they don’t need. No more fancy phones for our children and partners for a while. No more feeding them junk food every week. Today, this is as good as poverty… no - starving.

What we love doing is certainly not worth the risk, is it? Now we have a family to take care of, which depends on us to bring home the bread (and smartphones, and iPads). Our duty is to take care of our family, and ensure that our children fulfill the dreams that we couldn’t.

Where did this guilt come from? Surely we were not taught to think about family and money from childhood! This guilt came from social pressure, from the status quo. We had dreams to pilot airplanes or land on the moon some day. Then society mellowed us down. It said that we were fools to think of something that was ‘impossible’ (we learnt this word when we integrated ourselves with society). It instilled the fear of being ostracized if we didn’t toe in line. Our job was to study hard, get a job, earn money and feed our families. We had to fit the frame that society made for us. If we stuck out by even a few inches, we were looked down on, and brought shame onto our families. This is what brought about the guilt.

Gradually, we lost our mojo. We believed the liars, the insecure ‘leaders’, the people who made the rules so we would toe in line. And boy, did we toe in quickly! We looked around for acknowledgement, which we never received. Because no matter what we did, society always demanded more. We gave our families all that we could, but we never really gave them true freedom, because we never had it ourselves. Life sucked, and then we died.

"Whatcha lookin at, hater?"

And then there were the other kind. The kind whom we considered arrogant and stubborn. The kind whom we found too weird to play with us, to be a part of this well-knit society. The kind who were probably pulled up by their teachers in front of the classroom, and whom we (and our parents) sniggered about. The kind who couldn’t stay put at a job long enough.

They went on to do something remarkable. No. I’m not talking about scoring good marks in academics or being model students. They went on to become someone we always wanted (but never deserved) to be. Envy made us turn greener than a chilly. Surely they must have done something wrong… surely they just got lucky or found someone who did everything for them.

No. They believed in what they wanted to do. Despite the world telling them that it wouldn’t work, that they were fools, that it has been tried before and all others had failed. They soaked up whatever the world had to say and continued working. In the process, they became masters at handling pressure and criticism. They stopped watching the news and reading newspapers. They could weed out the sense from truckloads of bullshit and learnt to back themselves even when the whole world counted them out. They believed in the outcome, and that they would eventually prevail. Life eventually gave up trying to pin them down and hoisted them on its broad shoulders. They achieved true freedom - from the shackles of society, from stereotypes, and monotony. They never truly succeeded in being free of fear - every person still faces fear in her life. But they mastered the art of facing it head-on and destroying it before it caused damage.

I had attended a 'Go-Diamond' event organized for the people of Amway (I worked for a company which organized these events). There, a Diamond (someone at the top of the Amway chain) shared an experience. When his wife and he moved to USA, they had little money. They had to choose between 2 apartments: one without a balcony, and the other with a balcony which had a rent of just $5 more each month. The Diamond convinced his wife to choose the one without the balcony, because that meant they had $60 each year to spare for Amway products. She agreed. They worked hard together. Today they own a palatial house, never think about budgets, and serve as role models to hundred thousands of people the world over.

You can take flak from society and family in the initial years while you work towards doing what you love. Or you can remain unhappy the rest of your life sucking up to people that you despise. In the first case, you can use the four magical words: At least I tried. In the second, you still will use four words, but they will sound like: If I had tried.

Which life do you want to live? The choice is yours.

I have resolved to pursue real personal freedom. Freedom from what people say, from being conned by the media, from being a slave to my mind. And I intend on making the most of this journey from fear to freedom. Care to join me?

4 Aug 2015

How a Butterfly's Wings Caused a Hurricane in My Life

I was 18. I had fared poorly in Std. XII and somehow got admission into an Engineering college because my parents wanted me to. I understood nothing - maths, BEE, mechanical engineering, engineering drawing… even computer science. I flunked miserably (13 out of 16 subjects in the first 2 sems). If this was how I would fare in the first year (which is the easiest), what was I going to do in the coming years. More importantly, how would I complete the first year? Something unfortunate had happened in my personal life that compounded my bad mood. Each day I woke up hating the world, hating myself, and feeling invisible.

That’s when, one afternoon, in our college library, Huzefa introduced me to Metallica. The album in his walkman (yup, it was a cassette) was ‘Symphony and Metallica I’. I liked what I heard. And then Master of Puppets blew my mind. In the days when Enrique and Britney dominated the charts, here was some music that I liked. I bought some cassettes. My friends started sharing their MP3 collections, through which I got all of Metallica’s albums. And I loved them! I was also introduced to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Guns N’ Roses. And then, I wanted to play guitar.

Huzefa had a guitar, and he didn’t play it. So he lent it to me. I kept playing the guitar for about 8-10 hours a day (when I should have been studying for my KT papers). Then I met some pro musicians trying to put together a rock band. They offered me the role of a bassist. I was ecstatic. My mom wasn’t. She said “If you want a bass guitar, either clear your papers or buy it yourself.” I wasn't going to clear even 1 paper, let alone 13. So I did something that horrified everyone in my family. At the age of 19, I quit engineering and started working at a call centre. With my first pay, I bought a bass guitar and amp. Huzefa was there with me again. Unfortunately the band disbanded even before they could play a show.

Until I was 18, people said that I behaved like a 10-year-old. Within a few months of turning 19, people said that I sounded like a 25-year-old. I will never know how it happened, but am glad it did. I kept achieving at work, which started repairing my damaged self-image. I got promoted, changed jobs, got rejected by girls I really liked, made stupid decisions, failed, succeeded, laughed, cried, rose, sank... I really lived. Life tested me, and each time I came out stronger. Whenever it punched me off my feet, I got up before the count of 10. Sometimes at 9 1/2, but always before 10. Today I look forward to life more than I have in the last 31 years. I hope the only time I won't get up before the count of 10 is when I am dead.

All this time, I never stopped listening to Metallica and watching their videos (I’d watch them on CD initially because we still had dial up internet and YouTube didn’t exist). I was captivated by James Hetfield’s (Metallica’s frontman) stage presence. He stood at 6’2”, broad shouldered, blue eyed, blond hair and a trademark mullet, holding a black guitar, the first button of his black shirt always open. He ruled the stage like a Alexander ruled the world. Undisputed dominance. I wanted to play guitar like him, to have a stage presence like him, I wanted to be like him. My pseudo name (we have to use them in call centers) was James - spelt ‘Jaymz’ because that’s how Hetfield spelt his. Hetfield was my hero during the most troublesome years. He kept me going long after I felt like I didn’t have any strength left.

Today is James Hetfield’s birthday. Happy birthday rockstar! God knows how many lives you have touched and made a difference in. I don't know why but the last 14 years of my life are flashing in front of me today. If it wasn't for you, who knows where the f**k I would be rotting.

Huzefa is no more. It’s been over 4 years now. Every year, on his birthday, I post a message on Facebook and hope that wherever he is, he is happy. He introduced me to Hetfield. He was the only person who encouraged me to stay true to my dreams when all others thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, and Huzefa was too. It takes one crazy man to recognize another. Heard of the Butterfly Effect, a principle in the Chaos Theory? The effect states that a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can lead to a hurricane in China. A small change in one state of a deterministic non-linear system can result in large differences in a later state. Huzefa, with his walkman, that afternoon in the library, was a butterfly who flapped his wings. He unknowingly helped me evolve as person, helped me find my true calling. He set the wheels in motion in my life. R.I.P. Hufu. Return If Possible.

image courtesy: Metallica

23 Jul 2015

Why 'Secularism' is making Monkeys Out of Us

Disclaimer: This post is not aimed at any religion or people of specific beliefs. It is aimed at those pseudo-secularists who consider themselves ‘vigilantes’ and ‘protectors of justice’.

In a particularly popular experiment, some scientists put 3 monkeys in a cage. The cage also had a ladder. A bunch of bananas was tied to the celling of the cage. The monkeys could get to it once they climbed the ladder. The catch, however, was that every time a monkey was within touching distance of the bananas, the scientists induced a shock (a controlled shock. Animal activists please don’t wet your pants). Eventually, the monkeys decided that it was wise to not reach for the bananas.

The scientists then added a new monkey to the cage. The first thing it tried was to climb the ladder (duh! Bananas!). But no sooner did the monkey start climbing than it was beaten by the others. Every time the monkey tried to climb the ladder it got whacked. Eventually it stopped trying too. None of the monkeys ever reached for the bananas though the scientists had stopped inducing the shock.

After a few days, the 3 monkeys who were a part of the experiment when it began, were replaced with a new one. This is where things got interesting. Though the monkey which was already in the cage didn't know about the shock, it continued beating the one who tried climbing the ladder. This continued for every monkey who was put in the cage. No monkey was allowed to climb the ladder, but none of them knew why. 

If you guessed that we are the monkeys, the media and politicians are the scientists, and the current ideologies of ‘secularism’ are the bananas, you’ve got it right.

What is your understanding of secularism? I’m guessing it is inclusive living, where every religion has the right to justice, equality and a dignified life. (Leave a comment if I am wrong). Sanskriti magazine puts it well:

“Secularism in India is not an empty slogan or mere cosmetic - it is the very basis of Hindu beliefs and that is why a common Hindu is still ashamed of Babri Masjid demolition (sic) while a Muslim - of Hindu ancestry - has no qualms or shame of the destruction of tens of thousands of Hindu temples by Muslim invaders.”

However, this… this current environment is not inclusive living. It is divisive politics. We have become so immune to divisive politics that if ‘minorities’ don't get additional benefits over the majority, we call it anti-secular. We beat each monkey who thinks about challenging the status quo. Why? Because it’s been like this for 60 years of the Congress rule. And we have survived. So this is the only way.

Think this is over-the-top? Think I’m being irrational? Well, let’s look at some scenarios.

Madrasas in Maharashtra don’t teach English, math or science. It wouldn’t be rocket science to imagine their version of history (please point out if I’m wrong with solid proof). The State government still pumps in ₹100 crore each year into these schools, and talks of modernizing the madrasas are always on-going. But when the State government says that madrasas which don’t teach formal subjects cannot be deemed schools (understandably), it leads to an outrage. Define logic.

Over 50 lakh imams have been paid their salaries from the government of India since 1994. Forget Hindu priests getting the same benefit, it is reported that the Karunanidhi-led DMK government swindled about 200 kg of gold in gold-plating vimanas and golden chariots schemes in various temples. Reports also say that while the annual earning of the Tirupathi temple is over ₹3,500 crore, only about 15 percent is used for the development of the temple. The remaining funds are diverted by the State government (which comprises mostly of Hindus) to non-Hindu purposes, leaving Hindu priests poorly paid and pilgrims poorly taken care of. (source)

Let’s take another news which has been in the public eye for too long: Church vandalism. We repeatedly read about how churches are being vandalized, and how the minority Christians are feeling unprotected under the current government. Six specific incidents of church attacks were reported in the media. But upon investigation, the following facts came out; facts which were barely mentioned in main stream media: In one incident a group of kids playing outside threw stones and one shattered the church's window pane (how communal today’s kids are!). Another incident, where a church was ‘set on fire’, was the result of a short circuit. Yet another reported incident where a small group of men allegedly vandalized a church turned out to be a drunken dare. And the fourth was a case of genuine burglary with no communal angle. Speaking of burglaries, while 3 churches (out of about 200 in Delhi) were robbed in 2014, 206 temples, 14 mosques and 30 gurdwaras were burgled in the same period. Does this really have a communal angle to it? Well, if you are one of those pseudo-secularist left-wingers, everything has a communal angle to it.

Let’s also consider the ever-controversial subject of conversion of religion. We have heard of instances of Love Jihad, or how Hindus convert to Christianity for monetary benefits, but never in the media (if this ever is published in mainstream media, it’s in some remote corner of a boring financial news section). But immediately after the BJP government came into power, news of ghar-wapsi started making the headlines, and the pseudo-secularists, led by the Congress, demanded that this be addressed. Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah said that they were ready to graft an anti-conversion bill, and requested the opposition’s cooperation on it. Since then, all the opposition parties have been silent. Only we are screaming about it, saying that the current government is trying to make this a pro-Hindutva country, like this Facebook status update. The work of the scientists (read politicians and media) is done. Now they just have to sit back and laugh while we monkeys continue whacking each other.

Compare this with the absence of news on alleged atrocities against Hindus in Mallapuram and other locations in India.

Current governments dole out loads of cash to minorities to make life ‘easier for them’. In many states, minority girls belonging to the lower economic strata get ₹50,000 each for their marriage. In UP, Akhilesh Yadav has allotted ₹30,000 for every 10th pass Muslim girl to study further, and has created reservations for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutes. Good. But what wrong have Hindus done to not deserve this ‘princely’ treatment? Why are there no calls for equality now?

Another question that begs to be asked: Are Muslim girls better off with the money provided for their marriages? Do these cash handouts reach them in the first place? I don’t know. But I know one thing. Regardless of these doles, the poor end up right back in the hellhole which they want to leave. Only political parties and religious governing bodies get richer. We, on the other hand, applaud their generosity and 'secularist mindset' without knowing whether it actually is beneficial. And if someone challenges this notion, we verbally beat the daylights out of the person. Well done monkeys. Are these your ideas of ‘secularism’ and ‘democracy’?

Yes, Hindus have been more tolerant by nature for centuries. This is probably why Gandhi said “Hindu is a coward and Muslim is a bully.” I don’t agree. In fact, I don’t agree with a lot of things Gandhi said or did. Muslims, Christians, and people of all religious faiths are accommodative, and they love this country which they live in. But I am surprised about how restricted our understanding of secularism is. I’m surprised about how we feel that the ‘Hindutva’ government is doing everything in its power to hurt minorities, but turn a blind eye to the plight of the vast majority at the hands of some misguided groups.

The current government is driven by rationale. Yes, by now you have figured that I am a Modi supporter. Yes, the government makes mistakes and some policies may prove counter productive. And it is good to question them and keep them on their toes. But stop looking at every thing from a ‘secularist’ perspective and start looking for development from a country’s perspective. Stop being a monkey and start being a sensible human.

If you genuinely want to promote secularism, look at yourself as an Indian first. Stop thinking of yourself as a Hindi, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Malayali, Tamil, etc. Support governments which aim to empower people of all religions to live with dignity, rather than on handouts. This dignity comes with growth for all sections in the country. This growth occurs through more jobs, a business-friendly environment and better infrastructure. People will earn more, send their children to better schools, and improve their lifestyles. All this will help our country progress. Look for information in the right avenues, not what mainstream media is feeding you. It does what it does to make money. And then it laughs its way to the bank while we foolishly scream and outrage.

I love my country and countrymen. They’re “my brothers and sisters”, (except the one who marries me). I respect every religion and people’s rights to follow it. As citizens of a secularist country, it is our duty to accommodate and empower every religion to live by its philosophies. But that doesn’t mean that I will give you my other cheek if you slap me on one. It doesn't mean that I believe the crap when perpetrators portray themselves as the victims. I have matured. It’s time you do too.

image courtesy: Google Images

16 Jul 2015

What it Really Takes to Achieve Long Lasting Success

Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest-ranking United States military officer to be imprisoned during the Vietnam war. He was held prisoner for 8 long years without any rights, release date, or certainty about whether he would survive. Upon release, Admiral Stockdale was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Jim Collins, author of the bestselling book Good to Great, met Stockdale after that. Collins asked him how he survived. “I never lost faith in the story. I never doubted that I would not only get out and prevail in the end but also convert this experience into a defining event of my life”, he said. The next obvious question followed: “Who didn’t make it out?” The answer to the question was as unexpected as snowfall in summer. “The optimists”, answered Stockdale. “They kept saying that we would be out by Christmas. Christmas then became Easter, which became Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again.” The optimists died of broken hearts more than physical torture.

Optimism - the hope that things will get better - is a trait which all human beings possess. What differentiates us is how long we can hold on to it. There are 2 kinds of optimists:

  1. The vast majority who expect things to get better instantly and give up when they don’t. Such people often blame the environment, conditions or other people for their failure, without realizing that they either needed to change their perspective or were remarkably close to success when they gave up.
  2. The almost-negligible minority who possess eternal optimism and eventually succeed. They live by the quote: “Everything is okay in the end. If it is not okay, it isn’t the end.” These people persevere with a goal until they achieve it, no matter what.

But merely possessing the optimism that you will eventually prevail is not enough. You must be able to face the hard, brutal facts, and do something about it. Admiral Stockdale possessed these traits in abundance. He confronted the fact that he wouldn’t make it out of incarceration by simply waiting to be released. So he shouldered command and did everything he could to increase the number of prisoners who would survive the ordeal without breaking down mentally. He realized that no one can face torture indefinitely, and devised step-wise systems to ensure that the men had something to look forward to. For instance, saying certain things after x minutes to a person being tortured, an internal communication system to reduce the sense of isolation among prisoners that the captors were trying to induce. Stockdale and his men followed these systems with military-esque discipline (no pun intended).

There is nothing wrong in being an optimist. In fact, possessing this trait is commendable. But expecting things to magically fall in place is where most people often mess things up. Do you know how many people have quit, and how many companies have failed because they refused to acknowledge what they saw in the mirror and lacked the discipline to fix it? Yes, you need discipline. Discipline is not following a strict routine; it is doing things that matter consistently till you achieve the desired results.

Let me relate a personal experience with you. I own a Yamaha RD350, which also happens to be MS Dhoni’s favorite motorbike. It was in rickety shape when I bought it. I gave it to a mechanic who promised to restore it back to its glory days. To cut a long story short, he fleeced me of a lot of money and left the bike worse off. He also turned a good friend against me. Another friend, who also owns a similar bike, advised me to sell it and go for something more modern. At that time, I underwent a surgery, and lost out on a potential promotion as a result. My whole world was crumbling. I cried for days. But I resolved that I would fix both the bike and my friendship, no matter what it took. For a year, I asked people for help with the bike, but nothing moved. Then, I met an unassuming mechanic who said that he was leaving Mumbai for good in 3 weeks. He surveyed the bike and said that he could fix some urgent issues, and that I could take care of the rest gradually. But getting the other work done from someone I didn’t know could land me in the same soup again. I was faced with two choices. I could either let him finish the difficult part and then find someone else to restore the bike cosmetically. Or I could push the limits and get everything done in 3 weeks. For three weeks that followed, my schedule was: work from 3:30 am - 12:30 pm (I worked at a call centre then), have lunch and leave by 2 with the mechanic to buy parts, return by 5 and work with him on the bike till 9:30 at night, sleep by 11 and wake up by 2:30 to get ready for work. After 3 weeks, when I unveiled the bike to my friends, the sheer admiration in their eyes when they rode it was the icing on the cake. The cake, of course, was that I had a gorgeous-looking beast in my garage which was the envy of many boys and men in the locality. And oh! Everything eventually worked out with the friend with whom my relation was strained. To this day, we remain good friends.

I don’t mean to brag, but I displayed each of the important traits for those 3 weeks: the belief that I would eventually prevail, facing the brutal facts, and self-discipline. If I achieved all this in 3 weeks, imagine what you can do in 3 years!

Remember, you can achieve everything that you set your sights on. It is going to be difficult, very difficult. If excellence was easy or mediocre, everyone would achieve it. And that would make us lose out on the fun of pursuing something with our hearts and minds, sticking to it, and eventually coming out on top. There would be no difference between Beethoven and a rookie musician, or Sachin Tendulkar and any other cricketer. That would suck, right?

I hope you realize that there is a lot more that goes into being successful than what self-help books prescribe. Being likable, having a good posture, maintaining eye contact, speaking well etc. are all fine. But what you really need to do to be respected and successful is to excel at something. And to excel, you have to work your ass off. You have to face the truth, however harsh it may be, possess remarkable self-discipline to do the right thing at the right time, and believe that you will eventually prevail.

What are your thoughts on this? I would love to hear from you.

29 Jun 2015

Why Smart People Play Their Cards Close to their Chests

Smart and successful people have been playing their cards close to their chests (and breasts) since centuries. Why? I’ll tell you why. But first, let’s talk about some incidents.

Something was nagging me. I discussed the case with a friend. I was just looking for someone to hear me out. I had barely spoken for half a minute when he interrupted, “See, I don’t know much about this, but here’s my advice.” “I don’t want it!”, I wanted to scream. Apparently I didn’t, and my face didn’t betray my mood either, because he carried on talking while I dreamt about visiting Iceland.

Another time, I wanted to try something adventurous. I shared my thoughts with someone I know - I want to call her a friend but the incident left me wondering. “Bad, bad idea! You’re bat shit crazy!”, she disapproved. Discouraged and feeling rather low, I proceeded regardless, expecting little from it. The response, however, was the opposite. It was better than what I expected even before speaking to her.

On both instances, when I got something off my chest, I wished I had shut my mouth instead. And these aren’t isolated cases (how I wish!). They frequently occur in daily life. I’ve suggested some brilliant ideas in my previous companies (yeah, I’m bragging) only to get responses drier than a dead leaf. And when I tried to justify the ideas, or push them forth with conviction, people said that I was being defensive. Maybe I was. Who am I, the Dalai Lama to nonchalantly smile while people trounce my ideas and thoughts?

I’ll bet my life’s savings on you having experienced similar emotions too. Many times…

playing cards close to chest

So, why do most people either pull you down or start giving you unsolicited advice, despite meaning well? It’s the feeling of self-importance. People like to plug themselves into every damn conversation and situation. “What would I have done in such a case?”, they think. And they respond without considering that your and their circumstances are different, or that you didn’t ask for their advice. And in case you did ask, they either believe that you will fail or are gripped by sheer jealousy because maybe… just maybe… you may succeed.

“People love you when you’re average. It makes them comfortable. But when you pursue greatness, it makes people uncomfortable. Be prepared to lose some people on your journey”, said Tony A. Gaskins Jr. So damn true. Now you get why people who achieve more often speak little in public?

People who speak less don’t have highly classified, CIA-type plans. Instead, they share those with a few trusted people. This eliminates the pretentious concept of ‘democracy’ where many people state unwelcome opinions and nothing is achieved. Instead, the smart folk put their plans into action, and when those yield good results, the world commends them saying that it knew that they always had it in them. MS Dhoni and Narendra Modi come to mind.

But the discomfort caused by people telling them what to do is not the only reason smart people play their cards close to their chest. Here’s one instance when I shot myself in the foot by being too honest.

I shared a unique thought on a topic for an assignment during college with a friend. He went on to tell the teacher the idea, as if it was his all along. So he created a good impression in her mind (in those days that was important to us), while I was left introducing my forehead to the wall repeatedly.

You get the drift. And again, I’ll bet my life’s savings.

The world has enough people who will take whatever you say or do and twist it to benefit themselves. It is also full of people who will support you in your pursuits and stand by your side rather than ‘advice’ you on what to do at every step. It’s important to find the latter and only have those people surround you. In this amazing infographic, James Altucher states that most successful artists, businesspeople, performers and the likes have surrounded themselves with people who have supported them in their ventures - something that played an indispensable role in them achieving success.

So think before you speak. Take your time before opening up to someone and sharing your beliefs and secrets with them. Be decisive with what you share. Test the waters before you dive into it headlong. Share your deepest thoughts and concerns with a select few who encourage you to do what you intend to. And until you find such people, be tenacious and silent. It not only saves you emotional distress of but also makes you resolute. People may call you stubborn and rude, but you can simply shrug and walk away, knowing that these are the very people who will suck up to you when you succeed.

I can count the number of people I trust on the fingertips of one hand. What about you? Whom do you trust? And why? I would love to hear from you.
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