Saturday, September 09, 2006

Common sense philosophy

One of the great things about the web is the way it allows anyone to become their own guru. No-one need read them, and it's just like leaving your diary open on the bedside table for whoever comes in (mother, cleaner, friend or family) to pick it up and read it. Tends to make it a little less open I guess.

Anyway, you could spend a lifetime disecting just one day's writings from the blogsphere, so lord knows where it all goes. But pretty often you come across something by someone you don't know and probably never will, but it hits a chord.

I particularly enjoyed this one from Amitabh Iyer (right) who's a Pink Floyd and Corrs fan - but he also likes Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan so I'll forgive him.

Amit is 30 years old, lives and works in India, but his philosophy is a sound one and works well enough for those of us half a world away. He set down the following ten perceptions on life, based on a conversation he had with a work colleague, and as I say, I like them a lot.

As a special gift in tribute to the urge to blog and good life-philosophy, I'll offer some background music whilst you read:

~ (both tracks from the "First Blues" album - they will only be available for a limited period before deleting)

Ten Things Life Taught Me

Percepts (not necessarily in any order):

1. Life is full of stress. Positive Stress is good for you.

Stress can be defined as any variation or change one encounters, a blip in the pattern of life. Given the kind of jobs we choose to take, stress is a normal part of life. What we should distinguish between is positive and negative stress.

Positive (+ve) stress is for example, having too much work, or having to do something one has never done before, or working around technology/design challenges. -ve stress on the other hand is items like - my colleague is making more money than me; 'that person' is an a***hole, talking behind my back. You get the drift... In my opinion, +ve stress is necessary, should be encouraged, and the more you take it, the faster you run, fuels positive happy hormones within your brain... That's how greatness is achieved, through a positive stress spiral. Negative stress on the other hand is detrimental not only to professional life, it also ruins your mental peace, and in essence starts to kill you....its like cyanide. It will eventually lead to death (if not physically, spiritually at least).

In Summary, Percept 1: +ve stress is good for you.

2. You are 'you'. Don't let other definitions define 'you'. Define the 'you' yourself.

Example, don't be worried about how much your colleague is making, that is not going to remain relevant for long. My point - define what you want to do, put together a realistic plan to get there....start running as fast as you can (look at percept 3) will eventually get there or near enough to it.

Comparisons will get you no-where. We are all different human beings. Don't look up to Mukesh Ambani and be awed by his wealth or stature. At the end of the day, two mature, extremely wealthy brothers still split, created turmoil for their mom, had a noisy spat in dailies, and eventually added to the unhappiness quotient in the you want to be Mukesh? If there was ever an example of how money cannot buy happiness....its the Reliance family. If there was ever an example of how power cannot buy you your 'own' life....its the Gandhi family; or how the 'whole world' is still not enough, if you dont' know when to stop - look at our knuckle brained politicians; or how the power to wage a war, does not solve anything....look at a.k.a Bush.

Percept 2: Define what you are, what you want to be, and have the discipline of knowing when to stop. Don't define your life in terms of external manifestations a.k.a money, power, position, stature etc.

3. Run life fast and hard, but remember life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Don't try and achieve in 3 years what you typically want to achieve in 30 years of your career. You will eventually get there. The journey is just as important as the destination, and so is the speed at which you drive.

4. When in doubt about life, instead of pausing, run doubly hard, until you find the direction you need.

There will be times in life, when you start feeling low, when you feel you are going think you are not doing anything exciting in life.... This kind of event tends to come into our yuppie lives in cycles of 7 years (just an approximation), because in 7 years our psyche would (should) crave for re-invention.

What do you do, if you are right now in the midst of such a rut? Typically when you caught out like this, you would be listless ( I have been there so many times)....not knowing in what direction the rudder should be steered. What I have realized is the best thing to do in such moments, is change gears, and shift from a slow steady marathon to a sprint. Which means, whatever you are doing, start doing much faster. For sure, the pace will not be sustainable, but what will eventually happen is that you will push your mind out of its inaction. You may not end up where you thought you wanted to be, but you will end up somewhere new and exciting.

Percept 4: When in doubt about life and how it currently stands, instead of pausing, run doubly hard, run a sprint, till you find the direction you need.

5. Every 7 years life will force you to make a re-invention.

(see precept 4) Thats because our mind is not discrete, its continuous.....Its constantly learning. Every 7 years or so the accumulated learning of the past helps us into a new maturity... with every new facet of maturity we question more, we move up a bit more in the Maslow hierarchy. It helps to be aware and plan for it.

Percept 5: If you start working at 23, watch out for your 30th, 37th and 45th birthdays.....(being aware will make you a little more perceptive, and hence you will bat much better).

6. Listen to what your sense is telling you.

Our minds are brilliant information crunchers. 9/10 times our mind (in the background - via a form of neural thin-slicing) knows exactly what the direction is to take. Its just that the foreground (our thoughts, our conscious will) often shuts off awareness of this background or resists it.

This is what people mean when they say ' I heard a voice in my head'. Listen to your gut, trust it, and hone it.... For example, I have infinite trust in my gut for picking stocks, in interviewing people for a job, and for almost everything in my life.... In that sense, I tend to be a very 'intuitive' person. Allow your background and foreground to exist in synergy.

How many times, you have walked into an opportunity (whether its for a job or a life partner, or a stock on the market), thought about it, had an intuition and still walked away.... My advice, listen to your intuition.... that does not mean take it blindly, but at least listen and be aware of the choice.

Percept 6: Listen to call of the wild (or your mind). I have done that quite a few times, and never once regretted it (be it stocks, my wife, or my jobs)....

7. Chase personal peace and contribute to community happiness, it shall payback one day.

I am an atheist, a complete non-believer in so many things which others take for granted. One positive from this is my amazement and awe at so many things in life. I don't have 'destiny' to blame. I don't have a God to thank. Hence, I keep trying to define my own spiritual space.

The other product of being an atheist is that I have very simple value systems in life. For me, I am still struggling with defining a higher purpose of life. What I have learnt is the whole world is a game, and if by whatever we do we can increase the community happiness, it shall come back to us in some measure (thats what I understand by the continuous circle of karma).

Also, keep striving for your own mental peace, because thats all life is about, peace and comfort within a game in which you have to keep playing (until you don't!). At the end of it all, it would be very weird if Life turned out to be a game where without consequence you can murder a million people, amass 70bn dollars, create a corporate structure where everyone despises you, fight with your own brother and ignore your own mind.... Mental peace is about making the right compromises, balancing out all aspects of life.....knowing that happiness comes from within and not from any external measure....

Percept 7: Chase personal peace and contribute to community happiness, it shall payback one day. (I dont even mean to suggest that all of you become atheists, infact I envy folks who can adhere to a belief system, it makes life so much simpler and easier).

8. Try to exercise choice, rather than taking a choiceless choice.

Life offers a whole host of choices. We need to know when and how to exercise them.

We can also shut off some choices, by an earlier choice we made. For example, if you are alone, with no strings attached, you can decide to munch just a Mac and some fries. Would you do the same if you were with your mom or with a 2 year old child.

Similarly, you can choose to work at a job that pays you 20k pa; if its a job as a journalist, say, which is what you always wanted to do. Can you afford to take this job up, if you are already a CEO, with a family and 3 Mercs to pay for?

Am I suggesting we escape life and live like a saint or a recluse. No indeed, I am not. I am simply saying that one of the aims of life should be to always have more open choices than closed ones. Since I don't have a Merc today, I could choose to downgrade my job whenever I wish. Since I have a lovely wife, we can decide the time to have a baby whenever we are ready for it. Since I work for a NY based investment bank, I can choose to switch to NY any time I want to. Since I live in India, I can choose to meet my family and friends as often as I want to. Since I have some savings in my bank, I can choose to live life wire-free, no strings attached....

Percept 8: Always try and be in position where you have choices, rather than having a choiceless choice. And recognise the real choices you have, because there are usually more nthan you think.

9. Don't live a deferred existence, cultivate serious distractions.

If we were akin to a music album, we would not be one-hit wonders. We would be composed of 8-10 decent tracks, perhaps one super track, the title track.

Life is more than an investment banking job. Keep both sides of your brain alive always. Don't kid yourself by saying 'today I shall work, but once I've retired then I will take up painting or philanthropy'. Life is not a batch job, its a real-time online system. All threads have to be given some CPU time, and all of them need to progress.

How will we see beauty in a painting at 60, if we never saw it at 16? How will you ever get goose pimples hearing Beethoven's 9th or Neutral Milk Hotel, if all you ever heard was Govinda and Anu Malik numbers, or Puff Diddy and Britney Spears? My advice, cultivate serious distractions, beauty is never skin with the stock market for 10 years and you see a hidden method in the madness, read Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy to appreciate the power of words, see Saturday Night Live to understand there is more to humor than mindless sitcoms, drive a bike to realise that you as a human being were infact meant to be free.

Do all of this (or whatever fits for you) all the time. For one, you shall start seeing patterns of beauty hidden within these distractions, and secondly, all the lobes of your brain will constantly be used, and hence you shall be more alive.

Percept 9: Don't live a deferred existence, and cultivate serious distractions.

10. Success is incidental.

If you are doing what you like, if you are good at what you are doing, if you can apply yourself, then money, stature, wealth, power, etc may follow. But all of these 'measurements of success', you will eventually realise are incidental.

You don't start writing a book, because it must sell a million write it because your mind tells you cannot exist without writing it.....the fact that it is a best seller is just incidental.

If you can do this in every single sphere of your life, you can pat yourself on the back, my friend, because you have definitely 'arrived' in life.

Percept 10: Success is incidental.

Thanks Amitabh. As Dave Allen used to say, "May your God go with you!"

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