A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER

At this time of life,

Are you who you wanted to be, as a person?

Have you acheived what you wanted to? (To a good extent at least?)

Doing what you always wanted to do?

My answers are – definitely not. Before the pandemic hit, I would have given a different answer. The pandemic really changed my course of life in ways I could never imagine. It has shown me the lows of relationships  and how people are. It has destroyed my travel plans. On the positive note, I have spent lot of time with my family, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

As we were entering 2020, I had big plans for that year. The sounding of that year itself is so perfect. I had plans to go on more than couple of international trips. Take sabbatical towards the end and persue my passion to uncover the creative side of me. By the mid of 2021, I can restart my job and fall back into the groove of life. Two years just passed by, and I did none of these.

The work from home situation has actually made professional setup worse. I literally realised how difficult it is to convey things without actually talking and seeing each other’s expressions. I am sure, many would agree. This discomfort has increased our work timings. It takes lot more time to move from a dialogue phase to decision phase virtually. The fun is also lower. The sense of connection is low as well. Never ever, have I thought I would be pissed off with my current job and that happened. Not because I don’t love what I do, but, I just don’t want to do it all my day from morning till night.. Wow, that’s a lot of time to commit and on top of it, it took away my “me” time. Lost loved ones to the pandemic, added pain and suffering.

Many of us went through similar suffering. Our lives have changed, challenges we face have changed and the outlook we had of life changed. We have the right to be mad at the pandemic. No matter how many curve balls life threw at us, we tried to play them hoping for the best. We were out of control with everything, including our health and life insurances. We were forced to live with the least and we did.

I don’t know about you, but, my take on living life has changed because of the pandemic. From a casual, I have atleast 30 more years to live, I started accepting, not a single day is mine anymore. I have learnt how important it is to have nominees for every single penny of mine. How important it is to have a heartful conversation when we have the oppurtunity. How important it is to do the several “crazy things” when I can.

The very thing I have put an end to is, thinking there is some other time.  There is no such time. Now, it is. As the world is reopening, with precautions I want to restart things I have put a pause on. We should, we all should.

“A man is like a novel: until the very last page you don’t know how it will end. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth reading.”  Yevgeny Zamyatin

SOME SPECIAL CONNECTIONS …

This Saturday, me and my father visited the RTO office. He was due for his DL renewal. While he was talking to the agent and getting his paperwork, I couldn’t help but peep into the Yonex shop that was nearby. I informed my father that I would be back in a few mins and requested him to wait there if at all he finished his work early. Slowly, I walked towards the small shop. It is hardly 15 feet by 10 feet store with huge posters of P V Sindhu. There was a display of all kinds of badminton rackets. However, I wasn’t interested in the rackets. I was searching the other side of the counter for a salesperson.

Meanwhile, one of the sales representatives approached me asking, what I was looking for. It’s not ‘what’, but, ‘who’ you should be asking, I slowly murmured. While I was lost in that thought, “Aastha, is that you?“, said a voice. “Thank God!! Yes, it’s me. But, how did you know it was me from behind?”, “Ah, that was because I was watching you in the mirror”, he said. “I am so glad to meet you after so many years. I have come here a few times, always wondered if you were around, but, never really came inside. I wasn’t sure if you would remember me before I walked in”, there was no stopping to my talking. “Of course, you and Ali used to come to buy rackets and shuttlecock cans. You always insisted for the feathered cocks”. “Yes, true. This was our regular store back then”. “So, what are you looking for now?” he asked. “Honestly, I came here only to see you. Sorry. There was no intention to buy anything”, said I. We laughed talking about so many memories.

It felt like yesterday all those instances happened, yet, it has been more than a decade or even more. Time just flies was the thought I had. “How did you remember my name?“, I asked him. “That wasn’t because of you. It was because of your father. He bought a badminton racket from me once. It was one of the first makes of lighter ones from Yonex. Immediately after buying the racket, he wrote your name on the leather cover. I asked him who it was and he said that’s his daughter’s name. Later on, you came several times along with Ali, but I had no clue you were Aastha, until one fine day you came along with your father. I connected the dots. I could have been wrong too. BTW, how is your father?“, inquired he.

“Oh, he is right here, renewing his DL”, my eyes lit up while saying that. He insisted on meeting my father. We all had coffee together. Though my father did not remember him, he certainly remembers visiting that shop. The conversation went longer than I expected. That was a heart to heart connection.

Before I met him, I had so many thoughts in those few mins while I was walking towards the store. Is he still there? How he would be? How did covid affect his business? Is he still the owner of the shop? and so many other thoughts. The only hope was to meet him and feel good about it. I wasn’t expecting him to recognise me either. Yet, the conversation with him made me so happy.

Me being who I am, let me tell you, I wouldn’t have made an inviting gesture to start a conversation back then. I would just walk into the store, make the purchases and return. I don’t remember talking about anything other than why I was there, We don’t even realize but, some connections we make have so much impact on our lives. Though we don’t call them friends or family, those connections are still very special. They enlighten us when we remember them. At some point in life, those people were meant to cross paths with us and for good. We never know how such a connection can make us happy in future. 

“Communication is merely an exchange of information, but connection is an exchange of our humanity.”  – Sean Stephenson

JUST DO IT

Have you had this feeling that something is holding you back from what you really want to do?

Have you ever restricted yourself from dancing in the rain when you really wanted to?

Were you crazy about travelling solo, but never let yourself of the leash?

The last question is the one I asked myself few years ago. I always wanted to travel solo. Like solo-solo, not in a group. A part of me was scared and another part of me was wondering if I was thinking crazy. There was only one way to answer the question. Break the barriers, stop thinking and book a trip. Finally, I travelled solo to Australia. It wasn’t really taxing at all to travel solo. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The adrenaline rush started when I started booking hotels, then flights and there it was, my itinerary was ready. Strangely after the booking was done, there was no fear in me anymore. I was just looking forward for the trip.

While on the trip, I was elated by just thinking how much I grew past my own self for the past couple of years. I am the same girl who cried before boarding her first international flight for an official trip. That girl is no more there in me. I have learnt to find my way through the usual travel problems. I am a pro at packing for travel. I don’t need to make lists anymore. The usual items just make it to the luggage. The clothes get packed as per the season including an umbrella.

It is not just me. A month back, I was talking to one of my friends and he was like, “When I see all these teens enjoying now, I feel I did not do many things in my teenage. The time just flew while I was thinking”. “If you have really wanted those things, you would have done them anyway, trust me with that”, was what I told him.

That’s really true. What holds us back is just us. It is not our parents, friends or circumstances. If it is morally right (so we feel) and also we have the required resources, the only reason why we don’t do certain things is because we really really don’t need/want it.

If you really really really want to do it, then, just do it!!!

And, for those things that we have to do, yes, there is no one else. Just do it!!!

This brings me to the tagline of Nike, “Just do it”,  which I find simple yet powerful. There is so much meaning in those three words. This tagline was inspired from a criminal who was standing in front of a fire squad in the state of Utah. When the squad asked him if he had any last thoughts, his words were, “Let’s do it”. It’s that helplessness of his that lead to those words. On the positive side of it, the Nike’s tagline is inspiring. If you feel like there’s something out there that you’re supposed to be doing, if you have a yearning for it, then stop wondering and just do it, because nobody else is going to do that for you! It is in your power to be happy!!!

You’re never ready for what you have to do. You just do it. That makes you ready 
– Flora Rheta Schreiber

THOSE MUDDY FOOTPRINTS

Facing judgements is the hardest thing. I am sure all of us face some or the other kind of judgements everyday. Sometimes, I take them and, then, there are instances that disturb me more than I want to be disturbed.

Recently, one of my colleague’s wife found herself alone with responsibility of two kids after her husband passed away. I know their family quite well, so, I try to help them in any way I can. Few weeks back her car broke down and she didn’t know what to do. She was frustrated. We made some arrangement for her to reach home and the car is taken care of. After she returned home, she started yelling, “Why should the car break down? This is so stupid. I feel all the problems are interested to be with me forever“. I tried to calm her down, “It’s ok. When you are the only person to handle, it would be overwhelming at times“. She quickly snapped back, “Please don’t mind me saying this. You asked for it. You wanted to live alone, so,  it was easy for you to come to terms with life. But, I didn’t“.

That was not the first time someone has judged me on the same thing. I am sure that won’t be the last time either. I sat there wondering if I unknowingly struck the wrong chord. Have I uttered something offensive? I was so lost, that I did not even talk for some time. I came home, but the thought never left me. I was hurt, spent few days crying when I couldn’t handle it anymore. I don’t know why it is so difficult for me to accept these kind of hypocritical judgements. I questioned myself thousand times as to what I was doing wrong. Should I just distance myself and not care about anyone? Should I just let people say whatever they want and not react? Should I forgive them to come to peace terms with them? The last one is extremely difficult to do.

Every time, it is a different person coming with a new perspective of what or rather how my life is and why they think it is so. Why do they care? Have I asked them for help more than I should? Am I asking for a leaning shoulder every other day? Am I bothering them with my problems? When none of these are true, why should anyone pass judgement on me? It was very very hurtful. Couple of days later, she apologized but the damage was already done. If I may say so, I lost respect towards her. Now, may be I am being judgmental, but, I would prefer to keep people where they belong. OK, I still want to help her and I would, but, won’t care for what she feels about me.

I feel I just keep going back to this viscous circle no matter how many times I don’t want to. People would say some nonsense, I take it. When they are in need I just go to help them. This cycle just repeats. In fact, I was even asked for why I care for those who don’t give a damn about me. I actually don’t know what else to do. I simply cannot ignore the fact that they are in need. But, this is the same circle that is harmful when people are mean and I don’t know what to do in that case either. Just cry and come to peace with the situation. There must be some solution to this and I don’t know what it is. What I know is, I don’t want to beat myself up for some nonsense someone has to say about the path I took when they aren’t even aware of what I have been through. Even if someone knows what it was, they don’t deserve the right to say anything mean.

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” ~Gandhi

COMPARTMENTALIZING …

This conversation was from a week ago with our dear Charlie. He got a new laptop. Anything new is extremely exciting and he was no different after receiving the laptop. I was asking some casual questions about display, battery etc, when he mentioned he wants to partition the drive. He wanted to call someone so that the drives could be partitioned because he wasn’t sure how to do that. I asked him why he wants to partition because after SSD (Solid State Drive), there is almost no clear advantage of partitioning the drive unless one needs dual boot or really want the data from a particular drive to be backed up. I explained him it wasn’t necessary at all. He snapped back with a question, “Do you partition your laptop drive?”. There was an instant smile on my face. I don’t and I told him the same. That’s when he was really convinced. 

Partitioning itself is a beautiful concept, not for laptops alone but for human beings too. There is a term for it, compartmentalisation. Couple of years ago, someone mentioned to me that they compartmentalise their life. It did not occur to me immediately, but, a while later I realised I compartmentalise too. In fact, all of us compartmentalise life without paying much attention to it. We separate professional life vs personal, best friends vs close friends and many more. 

Our brain is wired in this way to protect us, to allow us to function better in life. The ability to compartmentalize means we can create psychic barriers to protect from the stress of conflicting thoughts. It’s a natural way to play offense. There is a WhatsApp joke that circulated sometime back – An old man refers to his wife always as Darling, Baby etc. When other people express they admire how much the old man loves his wife, he says he actually forgot what his wife’s name is. I have seen many boys not refer to girls with their names. I always wondered if all they wanted was to not mix-up names. Lol.. It is still unanswered, if anyone of you knows the answer, please enlighten me. 

A simple rule of thumb that I follow in life, is to identify the tasks I need to perform and the tasks that make me happy. For example, doing the dishes is my responsibility. However, that does not essentially make me happy. On the other hand, getting a new plant or gardening does make me happy but not an essential task. In life, it is important to draw that line to set aside time. The hardest part of course, is not to let things from these compartments overwhelm you until you are ready to process them together or one along with other. The easy part are the common ones. For example, my career brings me happiness and also is essential for my survival. So, in reality, the only thing I need to keep track of the time I am spending on my career so that I don’t disturb other aspects. 

Of late, due to work from home, many people started to feel that there is no difference between work-life and professional life. Some of my colleagues said that they continue to think about work all the time. A simple hack that might help is to have dedicated spot in your house to work that is not the same place as you sleep. Keep work related items out of your sight if you are really struggling. We have to compartmentalize the various goings on of our own life experience to keep them from disturbing other parts of our life.

There is also an unhealthy compartmentalisation that some do without realising –  Locking their emotions while grieving or trying to cope up with some loss. This form of compartmentalisation leads to distress and often leads to depression. Processing all of it by yourself could be more than you can handle and it is always better to open up to a friend or well-wisher. What kind of compartmentalisation could help here, is to not let this pain bleed to other areas of life. 

After all this, some day we are going to run out of memory. So, just let go of !!!

Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism employed to avoid cognitive dissonance. – Author: Zack Love

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

Is being honest difficult?

Ask that question to anyone who appeared in the court of law to be a witness or were fighting a case. (If we lie under oath, that is considered misleading the court and is a punishable offense.)

Ask that question to a kid who ate the ice- cream stored in the refrigerator without seeking permission.

Ask that question to someone who cheated at work or cheated on their partner.

The answer really depends, mostly on two things. One, Is being honest the right thing to do in this situation? Second, Is the person who I am going to talk to can take it? But, there is one more question we always consider before being honest. That is, Am I ready to take the consequences of being honest. If we think we are not ready, we resort to not being honest. Most people choose dishonesty for themselves more than others. This is my take. Whenever I feel someone is not being honest, the very first doubt that comes to my mind is, what is the fear that is binding them?

Few months ago I organized a virtual team event. One of the activities in the event was – “My friend at work”. Everyone in the team were to talk about a friend at work, what qualities in that friend they like the most and what is that one quality in that friend they would want to cultivate/learn as well. There were around 15 people in the call that day and 5 of them took my name as a good friend. All of them expressed the quality they wish they could learn is my ability to say whatever I feel is right, no matter who I am talking to. “The facts are x and y. Whether we like it or not there is nothing we can do about those facts than accepting them. This is what is doable and this is the impact.. When you say it Aastha, you are assertive asking them to take it or leave it. You are completely honest irrespective of how it might make all of us feel. Showing the mirror is not something everyone can do and you do it with ease. That honesty is not what we get to see often. It is rear and you really deliver the truth well. It is not easy to learn, but I would love to be that courageous“, said one of my very good friend.  After that discussion, I kept wondering if the team was trying to tell me that it hurts them. I started to be watchful about my communications.

Few days later to this, we were discussing some concept for our product which would make users life simple. From a user perspective it made complete sense to me. But, technically there is no such technology that is readily available. We spent few days dwelling all over the internet scouting for some answers. My concerns turned out to be true.  We weighed the pros and cons. The cons out numbered the pros by a large amount. Yet, there are some moments when data is not enough to convince the higher management. There are many who fear that being in good books is more important than being honest. Cannot blame them.

There is a regular meeting in which all core members of the team including business leadership meet once a week. This particular user ask came for discussion. By then, we have presented this in various forums hoping someone would understand why we cannot do it. There are specific standards that cannot be met with existing technology. My inner self could not bear wasting any more time on a feature that we know is practically impossible to build using the existing technology. We don’t have the luxury to do some research given our tight schedule. I was the youngest – both in age and rank in that meeting, yet I could not resist saying it out loud that we are wasting precious time hunting for the two birds in the bush, while letting go of the one we have in hand. I exactly used that phrase. The rest of what I said in the meeting is confidential. Two days later to this meeting, that particular feature was called off, which literally changed the direction in which the program was heading. A sigh of relief it was for me, yet, I was concerned if I overstepped. After this announcement, few people from leadership appreciated me for the candid feedback and being brutally honest, including the leader who made this proposal in the first place and strongly believed having that feature is extremely important. I scheduled a 1-1 with that leader seeking feedback. He explained it to me beautifully about how I was not thinking about likeability and solely my interest was in the products’ future. That conversation erased a lot of my worries.

I am definitely a take or leave it kind of person. It is so in both professional and personal life. Does that hurt others? Yes, in some instances. Does it help me? Of course.

I prefer to be honest with my articles as well and if someone asks me to write what I don’t really believe in, no matter how much I try I cannot write such article. Does honesty have repercussions? Oh yes. Honest trees are cut first. Yet, it is only better to be honest sooner or later. It is extremely difficult to explain dishonest choices than to face the aftermath of being honest. It takes lot of courage to be honest. 

“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.”
― Shannon L. Alder

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – XI

That day things at office were normal. Shekar Chandra did not try to have any conversations outside of work with Shaloween. She was quite relieved. After long day at work, she returned home, made dinner and slipped to sleep as soon as her head touched the pillow. Shaloween woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. It was as if she got control over her life. She made her breakfast, had it along with coffee and later on headed to office.

Shaloween reached her cabin to find the office boy cleaning her desk.

Why are there so less people in office today?”, she asked him in a surprised tone

Madam, you came very early today. It is only 7.30“, he smiled.

She looked at the clock and he was right. She wondered how she never paid attention to what the time was. Now that she was so early, she went for a stroll in the park besides her office. It was a really nice park, and strangely she never even noticed it properly. She sat on the bench watching all the people over there. After an hour of so, she returned to her desk.

Today was the last day the officers are going to be in Shaloween’s office. Most of the work is completed and only the closing formalities were pending. It was post lunch. All the required people were in the meeting room apart from the officers. Everyone was waiting for them. Two officers walked in and they were late by almost an hour. Shekar Chandra was not to be seen. Mahem apologized for the delay. The team quickly finished all the presentations, details were furnished and the records were updated. The officers thanked the team for outstanding work. Mahem went round the table shook hands with everyone. When he approached Shaloween, he had an unpleasant look on this face. Shaloween disregarded those expressions.

Team, thank you once again. We are going to be around for few more days in this office with regards to something that popped up. We can catch up for lunch some day“, saying this Mahem walked out of the room. There was cheer and a round of applause in the room. Everyone was delighted.

Shaloween returned home. She was in a cheerful mood that all of this is over. She spent some time with Bhaskar. She took him for an evening walk, on the way she had a Burrito. The weather was pleasant, the stars were clearly visible. She gazed at the moon while Bhaskar was playing. After a long time she had a relaxed evening. The higher official visit has taken away lot of her lone time.

She lay on the bed with Bhaskar on her side. She was browsing on her phone. She deleted all the messages she got from Chandra. She so wanted to delete his number too but just left it so. The charge on her phone was almost as low as 5%. She was looking for her charger in the bag and could not find it. She searched again and it wasn’t there. That is when she recollected that she left the charger on her desk. She put the phone on charge before she went to the park in the morning and later on forgot about it. It was not just the charger that was missing from her bag, but the letter she drafted for ICC too….