Sunday, 30 March 2014

Are You Invaluable?

All infants are born with an equal sense of ‘Self-Worth’. As life progresses and we mature, the remarks, observations, expectations, and attitudes of the people surrounding us can corrode this inherent sense of self-worth. Self-worth is a crucial part of our mental make-up. It’s what makes us believe that we have the ingrained talents and skills to contribute our best, achieve our dreams, give back abundantly to society, and lead a fulfilling life.

But what happens to the teeming millions who suffer with crippling issues of low self-worth? Are you one of those silent victims of low self-esteem? Have you ever felt your self-respect being shattered after the belittlement done by a colleague? Do you find yourself sceptical when a toxic friend tries to ‘downgrade’ you despite your inner disagreement towards what has been said? Know that this belittling act is a purposeful and hurtful act, intended to emotionally and psychologically harm. Most people will experience misery when faced with such situations, especially when being taunted in front of a group of peers. It is pretty hard to avoid being upset initially, but over the years you will discover that the offender is also ruining his stature by indulging in this insensitive and crude display of ego. In fact many of these tormentors will end up miserable and alone without many true friends left due to their destructive nature of degrading everyone around them.

So how does one deal with toxic people who doggedly try to demean your self-esteem? It makes it a lot easier to deal with the situation if you comprehend that the bully always tries to overwhelm the other person’s self-esteem with an aim to elevate their own dignity. They may be silently battling self esteem issues of their own, and that’s why the belittling act makes them feel better after they have transmitted the ‘unhappy experience’ on to others. Unfortunately, this denigration act will only gratify them temporarily, and this becomes a recurring and vicious bully-victim cycle.

Another tactic is to simply walk away. The tormenter who is trying to humiliate you will feel even more uncomfortable, if not confused, when you don’t respond to him. Of course, if this person happens to be your boss or an elderly person, show your civility by giving a brief and courteous response before walking away.

As toxic personalities are certain to haunt us at every juncture of our life, it is important to develop feasible techniques to deal with the associated issues of low self worth. A simple method is to wake up every morning and start the day with at least 5 minutes of alone ‘ME’ time focused on reminding yourself about your skills and strengths. Understand the power of your attitude toward yourself and have a realistic view about yourself. How you view yourself, how you talk about yourself, and how you present yourself eventually becomes the ‘real’ you.

Another method involves learning to trust your own feelings. Listen to and rely upon your own feelings and do not fall for the trap of automatically responding or reacting to the feelings of others. Do not reinforce the discredit shown by others by belittling your own worth, making light of your opinions, and letting go of opportunities. Everyone is blessed with unique strengths and gifts. Recognize and celebrate the fact that you are a valuable human being, equal to all, and that your skills, talents and opinions are of great magnitude.

Today, we live in a culture that is addicted to visiting psychoanalysts, preachers and a host of other people who are more than willing to analyze us at the drop of a hat. Seriously, unless you've got a severe disorder, daily anxiety or low self worth issues don’t require hours of expensive analysis by an outsider. All you need is some time off to introspect and analyze yourself so that you can clearly recognize where you're underrating and short-changing yourself. The answers will automatically follow.

Also, stop linking your self-worth to the expectations of others. Once you try to live up to an image of what you think others want you to be, you will lose your identity and end up following a pathway created by other people's expectations. Unfortunately, many people live this way, including making key life choices including studies, career, residential location, who to marry and how many children to bear, based on the expectations generated by their family, friends, colleagues and the media. Many choose not to offend their loved ones, but most are afraid of standing up for their own preferences and upholding their self-worth.

Many self help books espouse the miraculous theory of ‘self-affirmation’. I disagree with these theories partly due to the fact that ‘self-affirmations’ are no magical potions and cannot by themselves raise your self-esteem. The truth is somewhat different... while it's important to use positive self-affirmation, it is also important to work actively on building your sense of self-worth. And this can only be attained by accepting responsibility for the fact that you are in control of your attitude, your feelings, and your sense of worth. No one can put you down without your assent!

Nowadays, self-worth is largely determined by our career, income and lifestyle displayed. In a society that tends to define people by ‘what they do’ rather than by ‘who they are’, there is a great risk of underestimating your self-worth because it's irrevocably linked to job prestige and income generated. Don’t reply "Oh I'm just a ..." in reply to the question "So what do you do?" You are not "just" anything – you are an exceptional, valuable, amazing person who matters.

Developing self-worth is a gradual and ongoing process. Treat it as an integral part of your daily routine. Maintain your focus on self-worth as an important part of what goes into making you a wholesome being. It takes time, patience and courage to change a negative self-image and breaking the destructive pattern of allowing others to walk all over you. Many will be bothered when they discover the new, more assertive and confident you, but don't let that worry you because this is about your journey, not theirs.

Treat your life as a journey scattered with a series of ordeals and tests designed only to strengthen you. Many times we have been dropped, our minds crushed and our spirits ground into the dirt both by the decisions we chose to make and through the situations we encountered. At such moments most of us have felt worthless in this world. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, always remember that you will never lose your worth. Everybody is special. Know your value, demarcate your boundaries, set your goals, and march relentlessly towards achieving your dreams. Remember, you have been created with a purpose, and you are still alive today only to accomplish that marvellous purpose.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The 21st Century Treadmill to Nowhere...

Do you feel like you are on a perpetual treadmill, going nowhere, yet constantly running really fast? No matter how fast you run, the treadmill outpaces you every single time. If yes, then you are one of the many millions racing on the ‘21st Century Treadmill to Nowhere’!

Most of us can are perpetually running, and yet so often it seems we are running in the same place. Every day we take the same route to office, sit at the same work desk, pay the same bills, crack the same jokes with the same circle of friends, clean the same set of dirty dishes and sort out the same piles of laundry. We generate reams of correspondence, only to receive more replies that require more pages of communication from our ends. We pay off our credit card bills only to receive more bills in the post. We repair the microwave to discover the water heater has just busted up. The daily incessant media outpour of natural disasters, political scams, gloom and misery have further desensitized us to even the most shocking of news reports. Every night we hit the pillow feeling we have clocked in the necessary miles and we’re a little closer to our goals, but every morning we wake up to the same old routine...as if the miles logged on the treadmill have been completely erased and reset back to zero. It’s always the same wretched race, an unending race to nowhere.

Most of us are so busy running on this treadmill that we lose focus on the things that really matter in life. Before we know it, the seconds have turned to minutes, the days have become weeks, and the months have transformed into years. And when we finally take time to pause and catch our breath, we look back in retrospect and think, “Where did all that time go? What have I really achieved so far?”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everything you’ve been chasing or doing so far has been a mistake. It’s commendable that you lead a wholesome and busy life, being pulled in a million different directions and needed by so many different audiences. The important point to note here is that you’ve never had enough time to devote to things that really mattered to you — but rather, your time needed was spent doing something else. Every time you decide to focus on one thing in your life, you’ve also decided not to spend that time on something else. Unfortunately, once opportunities are lost, they’re often lost forever — and the treadmill is back to zero miles on the display window.

But for what it’s worth, it’s never too late to get off the treadmill to nowhere and head towards wherever you choose to be. There’s no dearth of opportunities, no time limit to achieving your goals, and no rules in living your passion. Set out on a pathway that translates into a life well lived and one that you will be proud of. And in case you fall or get sidetracked along the way, you always know you can chart your way back and start all over again. After all, life is the greatest journey of discovery!

So, if you think it’s time to jump off the treadmill and change course, it’s important to identify some vital signposts to help point you in the right direction:

1.     SET AN AGENDA – Do you even have a goal? Do you permit everyone around you to create or control your daily agenda? Are you aimlessly running after tasks all by yourself or do you effectively delegate? Or worse still, do you ask your loved ones to do all the accommodating whilst allowing others to monopolize and crush your dreams?
2.     PRIORITIZE – Do you procrastinate and allow inconsequential tasks to blindside you from doing the things that you should care about the most? Identify what matters most to you. And then makes it a point to spend a portion of your time in that area.
3.     TIME MANAGEMENT – Are you one of those who spends more time thinking or talking about what you’re going to do, or are you committed to putting your holistic efforts to achieving the dream? When was the last time you identified and eradicated unimportant chores and routines? Have you even taken the first baby steps towards embarking on your dream?
4.     MINDFULNESSEngage with the present moment. It’s easy to step back to the safety of the treadmill, go into a mindless jog and let our repetitive habits carry us through the day. Pause every few hours and take stock of the situation. Let your breathing be your anchor to the present moment. Mindfulness will help you become an active participant in your daily life.
5.     MAKE PEACE WITH YOURSELF – Are you more concerned about what you want out of life or about what others think? Do you value creating magnificent memories or are purely focused on material rewards that must be flaunted? Are you investing in your family and friends, or taking them for granted?  When was the last time you were honest with yourself? Take a journey of discovery within...you’ll be surprised at what you discover!
6.     INDULGE IN HOBBIES – We habitually let go of our leisure pursuits because we feel they aren’t a good use of our limited time. But hobbies are an extension of our true identities, bring inimitable happiness and take our minds temporarily off the mundane. Spending time on enjoyable activities stimulates parts of the brain associated with our outlook on life and inspires us to be more imaginative and to think positive!
7.     PUSH BOUNDARIES – Put yourself out there. Being outside your comfort zone creates a level of optimal anxiety which maximizes your productivity and performance. Pushing your boundaries occasionally will make you a more productive, flexible and creative person. It could be as simple as taking trying a new cuisine, or seeing a new movie without reading the reviews first, to more dramatic events such as bungee jumping or getting a permanent tattoo.
8.     GO ON, DISCOVERPut yourself out there geographically. Travel, see new places, interact with new people, taste different cuisines. Expand your horizons and broaden your perspective on people, cultures, and the world as a whole. Learn more about the world and create eternal memories to last a lifetime.
9.     FRIENDSHIPS – We take the ones we are closest to for granted. Devote time to your friendships. Make some time to grab coffee with your buddy, or set up a night out with your college clique. Healthy social interactions serve as a great destressor, provide a sense of fulfilment that is detached from the core pillars of work and family, and offer a fantastic net to fall back on during your low moments.
10.  LEARN – Learn something new constantly, expand your knowledge, become more adaptable to change, enjoy more stimulating conversations, and feel more independent. In an era of manifold self help manuals and tutorial videos on YouTube, there’s no excuse to never stop learning.
11.  GIVE BACK – Offer your time or resources back to society. Help the underprivileged and feel more fulfilled in your life. It will also offer you a much needed perspective of the many blessings present in your life and fill you up with gratitude. Volunteer to a Cause that’s significant to you, or find a group that needs volunteers!

11 easy steps that can fill your life with happiness and get you on the right track to leading a more wholesome life. But it’s ultimately your decision. Pause long enough to reflect on where you’ve been and do a reality check on whether you’ve squandered much of your precious time already. Even those who have secured enviable positions of power and wealth admit that their decision to run on the 21st century treadmill has come with real costs, both in their relationships and lost cherished moments that can never be replaced.

This doesn’t have to be you. It’s never too late to get off that treadmill, choose your preferred pathway and fulfil your dreams. Time equals Life, so when you master your time, you master your life!  The key is to establish clear goals that matter most to you and your loved ones, align your priorities around these goals, and then pursue them, while taking time to enjoy your life and remain true to yourself and to those who love you.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Life is no ‘Test Run’

By sheer definition, the terminology ‘Test Run’ is explained as ‘An exercise aimed at putting the object or system concerned through a series of actions under actual or simulated environmental / operating conditions to ascertain its status, reliability or suitability to the task’.

Every word of the above definition compels you to relook at your existence and wonder if your life has just been reduced into an endless series of test runs and practise sessions? Nowadays people constantly complain about how they feel their lives are simply passing them by. That they have been reduced to mere machines that wake up, go about their routine tasks, go to work, handle personal chores, and before they know it, hit the sack, only to restart the entire monotonous cycle all over again. Everyone is waking up to a mounting fear about whether they are really living the life they want. And as the years go by it’s no longer a silent doubt. It’s a stark reality!

Maybe you’re one of the many people who have tried to abort this fear by adding “Live life to the Fullest” in your New Year’s resolution list. And maybe, you’re one of the lucky few who managed to break out this vicious ‘Test Run’ cycle to go follow your dreams. If so, you are the sensible one that got out of this futile labyrinth. Not so easy for the others.

‘Life Is No Test Run’...it’s worth repeating and comprehending the fundamental essence of this phrase, as a majority of the masses live today as though life is a generous practise session. In other words, they act without a sense of urgency to live the life they both desire and were meant to live! Instead of actively working towards pursuing and living their passion, a majority of people stop short of achieving their goal. In other words, they abandon the ‘Dream’.

Most people fool themselves into believing that there’s still a lot of time left to set out and achieve their dreams. That every drudgery filled moment today is just a ‘Test Run’ for attaining their real goals later. Well, here’s the reality check ... the time for practice was long over. Practice time was while you were growing up. Practice time was while you were in school. Consider the practise time given during your college years as the final extra bonus time granted.

Today, you are a full participant in the ‘Game of Life’, and your only opponent is ‘Mediocrity’. In the absence of burning desire, intense effort, intelligent human activity and supreme endurance, the tentacles of failure will move in to destroy your dreams and maybe even that small amount of progress that your efforts had created initially.

No one can afford to wait for that warning bell. A paralytic stroke, the death of a loved one reminding us of our own mortality, the chilled tone of the family doctor spelling out the grim prognosis that one has but a few more weeks to live, that awful fleeting moment when one shockingly wakes up to the bitter truth that you lost your way through the maze of life and have no game plan left, or worse yet, no time left. You simply cannot afford to wait until the last few ticks of the clock to become intense about life’s prospects. Each of us was meant to fully partake of life, to experience the full pageantry that life has to offer from living out our passion. Life is a precious gift granted only once, one that can’t be reduced to a mere ‘Test Run’. Each day used up as a ‘Test Run’ is a day lost. How many such ‘lost’ days you tally in your life is entirely your choice.

If you have to get out of this ‘Test Run’ mode, it becomes essential to challenge yourself every waking minute with a new level of thinking, and drive yourself aggressively towards a new level of accomplishment. You must impose upon yourself a certain discipline and develop a brand new attitude towards life that not only motivates you but also inspires everyone around you. Stop moping and waiting for foolproof opportunities or generous miracles to come your way before you force yourself to get serious. You must identify the current opportunity, albeit limited, and embrace it. It’s vital to breathe your talent and vigour and your newfound sense of urgency into the creation of your dream, and along the way discover the fortitude and genius within.

Risks will always abound when you walk down the solitary path to follow your passion, but you cannot allow yourself to ponder indefinitely upon the risks in every opportunity adopted. Au contraire, you must seize the opportunity inherent in every risk, knowing that you must sometimes run the peril of going too far in order to discover how far you can really go!

Change your life now by developing a newfound sense of urgency. Articulate your inner soul goals, plan out a personal strategy map that can help you reach your goals, live and breathe your passion every single day, and above all, persevere against all odds. Remember, the clock is ticking and your life force is draining away by the minute. You have the ability to achieve whatever your heart desires, but only if you choose to begin the process NOW! The final result of your life will be determined by whether you made too many errors in judgment repeated every day, or whether you threw caution to the wind and lived a purposeful life, each day enthusiastically devoted to the cause of achieving your dream, as though this was no ‘Test Run’.

Time doesn’t know reversal, and your life is no Test Run. Courage encounters many obstacles, yet perseverance serves up many just rewards. But know this, if you choose to ‘go the other way’, to pursue your dreams and live your passion, that is the moment you truly begin living your life. Therefore, make Today the first day of your new life. Listen to your inner voice, remember your lost childhood dreams, and revive your true passion. And then, go all out and just do it. Live boldly, ardently, vividly...as if there truly is no Tomorrow!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

‘Work Life Convergence’... fulfil your calling!

I started my career in the era of the early 90’s in India when we could truly disconnect from our work, dash home and focus on our family, friends and hobbies with undivided attention.  All this changed rapidly by the late 90’s when the internet, mobile phone and other variants of technology started permeating every aspect of our life. Before we knew it, we had unwittingly become an integral part of the progressive global ‘24X7 internet, social networking revolution’, a workforce that was now slavishly available at the click of a button anytime, anywhere. The sacrosanct lines between personal and professional life was gone for good!

As we adapted to the frenetic pace of work, matching steps with our seniors who had decades of experience and wisdom tucked under their belts and a viciously ambitious younger generation proficient in technology combined with a ‘I Know it All’ killer attitude, it was a battle for survival at the workplace. More so, if you were a woman! Trapped between traditional expectations of family and society, and yet desirous of soaring high and establishing her credentials in her choice of career, the imperceptible battle lines were already being formed for what was to become the ‘Equal Rights & Gender Sensitivity’ movement of the 21st century. As women, we struggled to maintain the status quo between family and the workplace, even as reams of material got published on the ‘Work Life Balance’ equation, with each instructor providing alternative theories and solutions on how to maintain the perfect equilibrium.

After over two decades of juggling roles, responsibilities, prejudices and expectations, I arrived at a simple conclusion... ‘Work Life Balance is Bogus’! It’s an illusion, it doesn’t exist, a futile quest, and an elusive dream. Let’s admit it...the serene pre-90’s Wonder Years is never coming back, and it’s time we made radical changes in our thinking process to adjust to this new era.

First let’s look at the term ‘Work Life Balance’. The word balance implies that two disparate forces are involved, each pushing and pulling you in dissimilar directions. In other words, we have already compartmentalized our life and set them up for conflict. So in effect, when at home any intrusion from office feels like an invasion of your personal space. Similarly when at work, handling home matters such as care for your children or aged parents, house chores and paying off bills leads to the same feeling of conflict. Time and again we take measures to merge the two, but at their core they remain two disconnected entities.

But what if we redefined both concepts, thereby removing them from their perpetually contrary states, and further integrated both these areas in such a manner that the two complemented and enhanced each other?

Thereby, bringing me to the conclusion that ‘Work-Life Convergence’ is the only theory that makes practical sense and wins hands down at the end of the day. Let’s admit it...Home and Career are the two prime pillars of our life. They inspire, motivate, reward and drive us in equal measure every single day of our lives. In my view they must be treated as a ‘Gift’, and not something one must grudgingly trudge through to get to the fun part. And yet most of us seem to do the converse and have an ‘either / or’ approach. Instead of segregating Work and Personal life as two disparate entities, the goal must be to have one very fulfilling life and one must consciously work towards integrating all the different elements that make your life unique and meaningful.

From an aerial perspective, our existence cannot be reduced to a mere compartmentalization wherein family, friends, career, health or socializing become pieces of a disparate puzzle that we struggle to marry together. Au contraire, our life is designed as an intricate tapestry of assorted colours, weaves and designs, each representing a distinctive area of our existence, ultimately converging into an integrated whole. But how you choose to converge your career, home, community, creativity, hobbies and calling is entirely up to you! Fact of the matter, as preachy and arduous as it sounds, “Forget Balance, Embrace Convergence”.

I’m sure a lot of people are going to guffaw at the above and say, “Heck yeah...nice dream”. At a time when the economy is in dire straits, job losses and wage cuts the norm of the day, and employees being ask to work harder and log in longer hours, this does seem like a pipe dream. But despite the economic frailties, an emergent trend has been observed over the past decade among the modern workforce. People are opting for jobs they are passionate about, irrespective of the money, stature or security. People are seeking a higher purpose in their careers, and are designing their entire lives around that goal. Examples abound of high profile bankers who quit to become authors, successful lawyers who quite the legal juggernaut to set up CSR initiatives for the underprivileged, and famous models who quit the ramp at the peak of their career to become travel bloggers.  People are gradually finding avenues to focus their energies on what they want their life’s work to be truly about, and what they want to leave behind when it’s all over.

Similarly, family dynamics are changing more rapidly than ever before. Men are becoming stay-at-home dads, women are prolonging child birth, ageing grandparents have decided to drop it all and finally take that world cruise. ‘Work Life Convergence’ takes an even more meaningful position in such a fast changing scenario. ‘Home’ has always had a sacred place in our hearts, and we would give up our careers in a heartbeat if a situation at home so demanded. But given the chance to work for a higher cause, it is possible to strive towards seamlessly converging the two and passionately executing our work as well.

It’s the lucky few who are aware right from the start what their life’s purpose is all about and set out to achieve it from the very beginning of their career. Some of us may be aware of our goals but genuinely cannot pursue them initially due to the many limiting factors, the primary reasons being financial constraints and family commitments. Most of us are clueless and may take years to figure out our raison d├ętre. It’s an ongoing evolutionary process...one of trial and error, efforts, blunders, retraction of many steps, time and again.....but it’s a worthwhile journey of discovery. The sooner we realize our true calling, the sooner we escape the mental agony of the ‘Work Life’ balancing act. Your work now become a bigger life goal, an extension of your true identity, something that you take on with love and passion, in the process inspiring your family in their own lives and above all, leaving behind a happier and better world.

All this doesn’t mean that all of us need to throw in our towels and quit our day jobs. Rather it means, whatever career you pursue, make sure that it’s something you are truly passionate about. For example, if you are an excellent orator, are interested about the intricacies of the legal system, have great persuasion skills and are zealous about justice, it makes sense for you to become a lawyer. Take my example...I have always been passionate about the field of communications, and my two decades spanning portfolios encompassing advertising, public relations, marketing, brand and corporate communications were a pure extension of my true being. And that’s why I still haven’t reached that point where I’ve ever had to shuffle my feet to the workplace. I am living my dream, and it will surely evolve over the coming years into further variants, genres and platforms, but the positive is that I’m still on the right course in my dream domain of ‘Communications’.

As long as we are on the topic of convergence, logistical issues will abound. Whether you commute to your dream job, or operate from home, it still boils down to integrating family with career. Working from home is great for some people, less stimulating for others, and not so cool with most employers. But it fails to get to the source of the issue, which is that you are still viewing work as an obligation that takes your time away from the things you’d rather do. When true ‘Work Life Convergence’ has been attained issues pertaining to commute, work hours and balance become pointless as the cherished goal is clear and one manages to negotiate a balance in both parts of one’s life. This could mean flexi-hours, better delegation or working from home, but in effect you would still be responsible for getting the job done within the stipulated timeline. If you really love what you do, trust me, irrespective of the chaos around you, you’ll still find an innovative way to get it done. And the best part is none of this will be viewed as a chore by you or your family. When you’re happy, trust me, your family is also super supportive and happy for you.

So does this mean that you need to quit your current job with the excuse that you need more ‘Work Life Convergence’? Not really. But it’s a start. Take a journey of self discovery. Talk to your family and friends, retrace your steps back to your school and college days. What did you enjoy doing, your hobbies and passions, areas you excelled in? What inspired you? And therefore, what is the kind of work that is worthy of spending the rest of your days on? Remember, it’s just one life, and this unique life is no dress rehearsal. Every minute counts. What is your true calling, what would you want to do for the rest of your life, what kind of work makes you happy and simultaneously gives your family the peace by simply observing how content you genuinely are even when pulled away from home by this work at odd hours.

In summary, we may never attain the perfect balance between Work & Life, and by the sheer definition of that word, even if we do achieve Balance for a while, it won’t last. But we can at least begin a soul searching journey as to what it would mean to not have two distinct parts of our lives at eternal strife with each other. Given the limited span of our productive lives, and how much is at stake for our own emotional goodwill and that of our loved ones, it’s critical to see what we are fighting against. Instead of chasing the holy grail of Work-Life Balance, it’s useful to know that there is another option centred on work-life integration called ‘Work Life Convergence’. Considering all aspects that formulate your mental make-up and your physical life, really looking at where you're directing your energy, and focusing on what's most important to you both at work and at home, will surely make you a more holistic, successful and fulfilled person, both in business and in life.