One thing big. One thing good.

The biggest habit of our generation is that we can’t do just one thing.

When was the last time you had just one tab open on your laptop? Or when you were just watching TV and not fiddling with your phone at the same time? Or just eating without watching TV? Really, multitasking is not a cool thing – we think we are getting more stuff done, but we aren’t. We would have accomplished much more by focusing on one thing at a time. By trying to multitask, we end up doing average jobs on everything. And not enjoying anything fully. Our obsession with mobile phones plays a major role in this.

This video is making its rounds on FB currently, accompanied by status messages such as “I’m guilty of this!” and “OMG! How true!”  Take 2 minutes to watch it:

 

I didn’t have a smartphone until less than a year ago. And I chose L3 E400, a very basic smartphone.

“I like this one – it seems very dummy-friendly. And I don’t feel intimidated by it.”

The salesman looked incredulous, and exchanged sympathetic shrugs with SR, but I got the phone I wanted, and I am happy. I do only 5 things with my phone, and in this order:

  • Check and send messages
  • Play Bubble Shooter or Bejewelled
  • Read books on Aldiko
  • Make and take calls
  • Listen to music

For the first couple of months after I bought the phone, I had internet on it. My phone became the second thing I would reach for as soon as I woke up (the first being my spectacle case!) I spent hours browsing, and checking Facebook and email. It started becoming an obsession, where my ears were trained to hear the beeps and rings even in the middle of a nap or over the din of a crowded restaurant. That’s when I decided to go internet-free on my mobile.

Today, I don’t have GPRS or WhatsApp. I don’t check email on the go. I have a 1.3Mp camera, so I don’t take pictures on my phone either. I prefer my hands and pockets to be free when I go out – so I rarely carry a bag or purse when I go out. Mostly, my phone lies in my car or deep inside my satchel, and I often miss calls. A good friend – exasperated with my behavior – once bemoaned, “Mobile phone ka meaning pata hai tuje? ‘Mobile’ means you can take calls wherever you are!”

“But I don’t want to take calls wherever I am!”

“To phir why did you buy a mobile phone?”

“The phone is for me to make and take calls when I want to. Not for people to reach me whenever they want to.”

We think we are carrying our world with us – but really, we are taking attention away from life. When we visit a new place or hang out with friends, we try to “save” the moment instead of “savoring” it – our entire attention is on posing and clicking – but we forget to be in the moment. We view glorious green vistas through our lens – but forget that nothing can recapture the five-dimensional experience that our senses can give. On a vacation to Sakleshpur, we did nothing one day but walk over rolling hills, marveling at the whistle of the wind in our ears and the smell of wet grass. Yes, we did take pictures – but we did “go offline” too. Now when we look at pictures from that holiday, we can also remember the sensual experience – and it makes the memories even sweeter!

In the latest season of MasterChef Australia, George Calombaris told one of the participants who was trying to put too many items on the platter, “Focus. Focus on just one thing – one thing big. One thing good.”

I believe this is a mantra we need to follow. Let’s focus on one thing – the here and now. When we commute, let’s watch people. When we travel, let’s take in the sights, and explore more. When we watch TV, let’s just watch TV. Let’s turn off our phones for at least a few hours each day and savor one thing at a time.

One thing big. One thing good.

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Hakuna Matata!

During the first year of our MBA, I came across this delightful term – DINK. It stands for couples with Double Income, No Kids. SR and I belonged to this category for over 2 years. But now I think it’s time to upgrade. (And no, you are wrong.)

I recently coined the new category we belong to – NANK. No Ambition, No Kids.

So proud was I of this categorization, that I read it out  aloud to SR, who immediately looked huffy.

“I have ambition! Who said I don’t have ambition?’

“Okay, okay. I’ll change it.” After all, the dude has spent months writing his first book and starting up his first company. That should count for something.

“You can be NINK”, I told him.

“What’s that?”

No Income, No Kids.”

I am assuming from his look of quivering indignation that he doesn’t trust himself to speak.

So, here we are – Mr. NINK and Ms. NANK. One with ambition, but no income yet. And the other with an income but no ambition yet.

Having known SR for a long time now, I know he’s going to change his NI status soon.  He has always been the one with vision and determination. He may have only been 23 when he told me he liked me, but he was darned serious about it. I thought he was asking me to be his girlfriend. It was a big decision for me, a girl of 20. Having a BF. The relationship could go on for weeks, possibly even months. SR put me right at once.

“It’s Broadway or no way.” he told me firmly.

“You mean, marry you?” I gasped.

“Yes.”

I was in shock. I suspect I was in shock until after the marriage.

But I digress. The case at hand (as always) is me – Ms.NANK.

I studied to be an engineer. Then I did my MBA intending to get into HR. But I got into social media research. And I enjoyed it very much. But I got another opportunity – to join a test prep startup. I joined thinking I would teach people English. And I did something like this for a while. But now I am doing all kinds of things – I help people plan their career. I help them write better. I edit a lot of stuff – from books to emails to brochures and website content. I organize and conduct workshops. Often, I sit in on Marketing and Strategy meetings and sometimes, I give useful inputs.

So, it’s difficult to describe my job in one line. or in 5 minutes. It’s quite complicated. Like being a fence for stolen paintings. Or a seller of pornographic DVDs. You can say that you are an art dealer or in the movie business – but you aren’t really.

Everyday, I help my clients understand their career goals better. I tell them they have to get a grip on life. That their goals must be ambitious, yet realistic. That they must have a clear plan for 2, 5 and 8 years from now. I tell them that education is a major decision. And that it must not be taken lightly.

Then I come home and watch TV, have dinner and go to sleep.

I am doing precisely what I ask them not to do – confine themselves to a uni-dimensional life. What I am doing now has nothing to do with what I studied. It has nothing to do with my previous job either. For a long time, I was worried about this. Why didn’t I have a career plan? A coherent path that I could follow?

But after some long and hard thinking, I have realized that I don’t need to know what comes next. That’s when I coined this term – NANK. It is true that I don’t have ambition. I don’t have a plan.

I am happy with what I am doing right now – there are enough challenges and opportunities. I work with some really smart and nice people. I am actually helping others make sense of their careers. Being an English expert is my job – so what’s not to love?

Perhaps a few years later, just as I realized a year ago that social media research wasn’t the path for me, I may realize that I want to do something else. Perhaps my Ph.D. Perhaps become a life skills trainer.  Perhaps a writer. Or a book editor. Perhaps even a NINK housewife sponging off SR. (that reminds me, I have some ego-massaging to do now if I want to be a NINK a few years from now!)

It may sound ludicrous – what guarantee do I have about the shape of the economy? Will I get a proper job? Will I ever make money?

The thing is, I don’t know yet. But that’s where the fun is – in not knowing!

While helping my clients figure out their career goals, I tell them to think in terms of transferable skills. I ask them – what have you learned so far, that will help you do something else? Something different?

That’s exactly what I am asking myself now. And I know that I have a lot of transferable skills. I have had many different, life-changing experiences. I have met a number of interesting and highly accomplished people. I have also met many tiresome and idiotic people. Each of them has taught me something. And I am all the richer for it.

So, I am happy now to enjoy the present and give it my best. Hakuna Matata!

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Finding life’s purpose

“The road of life is strewn with the bodies of promising people. People who show promise, yet lack the confidence to act. People who make promises they are unable to keep. People who promise to do tomorrow what they could do today. Promising young stars, athletes, entrepreneurs who wait for promises to come true. Promise without a goal and a plan is like a barren cow. You know what she could do if she could do it, but she can’t. Turn your promise into a plan. Make no promise for tomorrow if you are able to keep it today. And if someone calls you promising, know that you are not doing enough today.” – Iyanla Vanzant

This quote seems to apply directly to me. For over a year, I have been struggling to find my purpose in life – looking back, I feel I have showed promise and interest in many areas, but the paths I have taken were very different. My choices seem to have no connection. I cannot find a common thread in life.

During my schooldays, I used to participate in painting contests and win prizes – It is now 8 years since I stopped painting publicly. When early acquaintances and relatives still ask me if I paint these days, their question surprises me. When I tell them I have stopped, they shake their heads and tell me I should get back because I used to paint so well in the old days. A few months ago, I decided to start painting again, learn water color techniques from the net and practice them on a drawing pad that nobody except SR would see. I have made no more than 3 paintings in 6 months.

When I was 16, I won the national Balsree award for excellence in creative writing. I was invited to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and received the award from the then-president Dr Abdul Kalam. This was a great honor and I was felicitated by many associations back home in Trivandrum. It was during this time that my articles began to get published in Children’s World magazine and The Indian Express. People expected miracles from me – the talented writer who would win many more accolades and publish books. It is 10 years since I won the award – and where am I? I still get published in the odd newspaper and magazine. But where are the stories? Where is my novel? I see sparks inside my head, fleeting thoughts and ideas that I am too lazy to pen down. I average one – at the most, two – stories a year. And even if a publisher were to be interested in my work, I do not have a portfolio to show him/her! This blog is an attempt to revamp my writing – a place where I will put down the thoughts that come to my head. A place that will serve as the fertile ground from which my books will spring. I also joined a writers club last year. For the first few months, I attended every Saturday afternoon session without fail. But sadly, I have been lax here too lately. My writing is as sporadic as ever.

I was considered a cheerful, optimistic person with a sense of humor. Someone who is conscientious and reliable. Someone who has ideas, takes up ownership and executes projects with efficiency and flair. I remember a beloved psychologist professor telling me some time in 2010, “I need you for this project because I need someone with vision.” But today, I feel I have fallen short of expectations – of myself and my colleagues. I came in with great promise, but have fallen by the wayside somewhere. I feel no energy, no excitement, when I think about work. There are, of course, ideas and thoughts. But they are sparks that fizz and go out. I seem unable to muster the energy to take them up and see them through.

On the personal front, my goal sheet is like the Guinness Book of Records not yet made. The things I do give me little pleasure, and the ones I have not yet managed to do seem to weigh me down. A more disciplined lifestyle – a super goal with many facets – sums up this list, but I have not ticked off even one of the smaller goals under this.

This blog was not written in a fit of depression – it is part of an exercise in self-introspection. I realize that my fundamental problem is the lack of a purpose in life. Nothing moves me strongly enough to act – therefore, I see no color, no excitement in life. Therefore, I remain sunk in lethargy. 

A survey I took recently told me that I place far too much importance on extrinsic goals – money and recognition – than on intrinsic ones – self-acceptance, relationships and social consciousness. I think I know why – if I dissect my extrinsic goals of financial stability and recognition, I will discover that a desire for personal satisfaction lies underneath. I don’t want to be rich – I just want to be rich enough to do the things I want to do. I do not crave recognition of my self; rather, I want to be recognized for my work. I have some internal measures of success and happiness – I want to meet them.

A Facebook friend of a sunny disposition and a very broad-minded, generous outlook on life puts up status updates and shares quotes that are cheering and heart-warming. She talks about being joyful and thankful just because you wake up to another day; to be grateful for the small and big blessings that you have been given and to strive to deserve them; to do your best everyday to make a difference in someone else’s life… 

In some of my bleak, black moods, I have read these updates and wondered irritably how anyone could be so infernally cheerful. I have even quarreled with SR for laughing too much! But I want to shake myself out of this cloud of gloom.

I would like nothing better than to emerge again from my cocoon as a butterfly as vibrant and free as before – perhaps of different colors and tastes, but as beautiful nevertheless, and as happy to soar into this world each day.

My efforts start today. 🙂

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The Self-absorption of an Artist’s Soul

The Self-absorption of an Artist’s Soul

“No one can make the same album they made 10 years ago with a straight face: one is you change as a person. To be a true artist, I have to be true to who I am now and write that way. And the second is, these are different times.” – Brad Paisley.

There are two kinds of artists: the kind that breathe and thrive on the response they get from their readers, audience or listeners, and the kind that find peace and soul satisfaction just in the process of creation. To me, the question of which of these is right, is very confusing!

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I suspect that much of what I write – or think of writing –   would have no appeal to a reader. So should I even write it? It will only become another unread, unliked, uncommented post on my blog. But if I have a topic, or a deadline, or readers, I am more motivated to write. There are plenty of helpful books and resources available for those who want to expand their blog readership base. From what I can see, the underlying principle seems to be ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!” So there are people who regularly read others’ blogs and comment on them, and the authors of these return the favour. At some point, this stops being a favour and becomes a pleasure in itself. You decide which blogs you want to follow – and since most writers are also readers, this does not feel like a task.

I still remember those days in 2006, when a bunch of us would blog everyday and read and comment on each other’s blogs. I was much more regular with writing then, and looked forward to getting ‘feedback’ for my works. Unfortunately, like all social fads, this too died a natural death. I dare say that the quality of my writing has improved since then; but it was the praise and encouragement I got in those days that motivated me to improve my mediocre writing; today, my style and creativity seem to be stagnant. Like an actor who keeps playing the same role week after week. He is doing it well, but keeps hoping for inspiration, for a different role.

I feel a little ashamed about this vulgar craving for an audience – isn’t this ignoble? Perhaps I do not have the soul of a true writer. Or perhaps I am that pathetic tragedy: a cue-giver with the soul of a prima donna.

Joy in the Morning!

TamBrahm homes smell a certain way in the mornings – and every home has its own distinct smell. When I was younger, I used to love visiting relatives’ houses on holidays, and one of the key attractions was to see what their homes smelled like!

For instance, my athai’s (father’s sister) home always smelled of freshly made sambar and my athimber’s (aunt’s husband) perfume in the mornings. Five minutes after we go in, the smell of strong coffee would also fill the air.

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My paatti’s (mother’s mother) home, on the other hand, had a lot of afternoon scents: the scent of lemon rasam, my thatha’s (mother’s father) vibuthi and incense (or sambranithiri as we call them!)

I have sometimes wondered idly what our own home smelled like, but could never really identify this.

Today, SR left his wallet at home and I went downstairs to give it to him. When I walked back into the house – it smelled heavenly! There was the scent of my upma, of coffee, of incense and the lingering smell of SR’s deo.

In that one moment when I walked back into the house, it was as though all those beloved scents of the past had come rushing in.

Truly, joy in the morning! 🙂