New beginnings.

New beginnings.

I feel as though it’s New Year all over again.

Over the next few weeks, I am shifting jobs. moving to a new house in a different locality, learning driving, and starting to write a book.

The new house:

It’s weird to be excited about moving from your own place to a rented one – it’s usually the other way round for most people! But I am, I am!

I used to commute about 1.5 hours each way when I was in my first ever job. I used to make breakfast, but have lunch at the office cafeteria and eat out for dinner almost every night. Unless SR had actually started dinner prep by the time I got back home. One of the biggest attractions my second job had was that the office was just 2kms away from our home, a real blessing in a city like Bangalore. I developed some good habits because of this – I started cooking both breakfast and lunch, and even dinner on at least 3 week nights. That was a definite improvement. However, I soon started spending the extra time I had saved (on commuting) at my office working (the thought that you can get home in under 15 mins does keep you late at the office!)

Now this one – my third job – is far, far away from our home. It will take me at least 2 hours each way if I were to commute. So as soon as I accepted the offer, I started looking for a new place to stay. Since SR can conduct his business from anywhere, he was also up for it. The only catch was that having lived rent-free for 4 years, paying rent would now take out a huge chunk of our income. But sigh, you can’t have it all! J

The house-hunting – online and offline – went on for a week, and after many frustrating attempts, we finally found a place that both of us liked, would allow us to keep Buttons in the style of living he is used to (!!!) and is just 3kms from my office. I am keeping my fingers crossed until we move!

Moving can be nightmarish, but I am determined to do it with as little fuss and frustration as possible. I don’t want to waste a lot of time doing this, but approach the whole process systematically, starting with what items we intend to move and pre-deciding what pieces of furniture will go where in the new place.

A bigger task is deciding what items to sell or give away. There’s this blog on minimalism that I read regularly – but I have not yet been able to shake myself free of the pleasures of shopping for things I don’t really need. The least I can do is to give away what I already have but don’t need!

The new job:

I am really excited about this company, the people and the role. I believe it is going to be a great opportunity to work with some interesting and talented folks, make a dent in the universe, and of course, learn a lot of new stuff along the way. But every now and then, I get a twinge of nervousness – will I be able to deliver? Will I be able to blow away expectations? Just coping has never been enough – I would be miserable being an average performer in any team.

I always feel that a new job is a great way to reset a lot of things about yourself – a new opportunity to make friends, set a new routine, cultivate new habits and create a new impression. In my previous job, I had gotten into the bad habit of going in late (often by 11 or 11.30) and staying back late (until at least 8.30); this left with me with absolutely no time to do anything either in the morning (because I would inevitably wake up late since I didn’t have to go to work early) or the evening (because all I would be fit for after getting home was to eat and sleep). In the new role, I’d like to start work early, say by 9.30 and get out early so that I don’t have to live for the weekends, but actually enjoy weekday evenings.

And oh, the new apartment has a lovely French window that leads to a balcony with a view – this is a long cherished dream of ours. I am really looking forward to enjoying non-TV dinners!

The decision to learn driving:

I used to ride around on a scooter when I was in engineering college. But before I got around to getting my driving license, I met SR – and all of a sudden, I became that lazy, comfortable creature: the pillion rider! I lost all inclination to get my license or even to learn to drive a car.

Every Vijaydasami for the past 3 years, SR has been making me start the car, drive a few meters, reverse and stop, in the hope that I would take up driving. But I never felt the need to do so.  I would either coax SR to drop me off wherever I want to go, or take the bus or get a cab or an auto.

But recently, we took a 15-hour road trip to Kerala, and I felt terrible that he had to drive all the way! In the weeks since then, a very busy husband, unavailable Ola cabs, disdainful auto drivers and inconvenient buses have reminded me how much I am at their mercy, and how this situation is less than desirable.

For some reason, I feel more comfortable driving a car – a scooter makes me feel exposed and nervous. SR being the ultimate safety advocate wholeheartedly agrees. (Plus, I suspect he has no faith in my reaction time or presence of mind!) So, in May, I am going to learn how to drive a car.

Gulp.

The book:

When SR’s debut novel got published a few months ago, I was very flattered to have three-four friends and relatives ask me when mine was coming out. Well, I have not yet started writing any books, but I finally have an idea that really excites me. A story that I want to write without thinking about the money I will make or the awards I will get. I think the bug’s finally bitten, and I am not going to let my inherent lethargy let the idea fizzle out.

I don’t know where I am going with this or when I will complete it or what I will do with it afterwards – but this is a project of love that I will certainly enjoy working on!

Here’s to new beginnings – and hopefully, happy endings. Cheers. 🙂

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PS: When I started writing this blog post, I had no idea what I was going to say or how I would end it. Rusty after so many months of not writing a word, I struggled to complete this. I am trying to not be too critical of this attempt and cut myself some slack. So, up goes this post!

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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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For Want Of A Nail…

Nathu, a sweeper at a local bank, complains one morning to his friend, the washerman’s son, that he was thinking of quitting his job because the manager had not paid him his salary for 2 days. The friend agrees to look out for a new opportunity for Nathu. Later, he tells one of his clients that Nathu could join her as a gardener because the bank was not paying him.  The client’s husband overhears this and tells his friend that the bank must be in dire straits if it could not afford to pay even a sweeper’s salary. The friend immediately withdraws his money from the bank and spreads the word. The news spreads like wildfire and soon, the bank actually collapses.

2 days later, when Nathu turns up at work, he learns that the bank has shut down – he walks away wondering who on earth could have caused such a big institution to break down in a matter of days.

*

I read this story – titled ‘The Boy Who Broke The Bank’ – in a volume of collected short stories of Ruskin Bond. When I mull over the tale, I feel that it was not really Nathu who broke the bank – it was the manager. He had neglected to pay the boy’s salary – possibly considering the delay to be of little or no consequence. If he had not been remiss, the boy would not have complained, and the unfortunate chain of events would never have occurred.  I had a similar experience at work a couple of days ago.

We had signed an MoU with a vendor to develop a web application. The vendor company was founded by alumni of one of the world’s best B-schools, and is a promising young startup. We were looking at a business of ~INR1.2 crores a year from this tie-up.

On Wednesday, I got on a call with the founder – let’s call him Mr.H – to explain our requirements and how we envisage the final product. I told him that I needed a particular set of features to be implemented on a priority basis, without which it would be impossible to roll out the product. He interrupted me and said, “Sorry Ms.K, that feature set is not available. I understand your requirement though, and here is what we can do…” He then offered me a less appealing workaround. Implementing this meant a lot of work from our side, and this was not really what we wanted.

After the call ended, we had a discussion internally to decide which route to take. . We went back to the drawing board and took a second look at what we wanted from the product. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that Mr.H’s suggestion would not be feasible. At one point, we even started questioning our decision to tie up with Mr.H. Would it be wiser to just pull the plug before we invested any more time and money in his offering?

It was not an easy decision to make – backing out of the MoU would mean that we’d have to start looking for other vendors and go through the painful process again; or we would have to develop this internally – but we didn’t have the resources to do this. That meant hiring  – most definitely not a quick and dirty process. Finally, we decided to bite the bullet.

I gave Mr.H a call to say that while I appreciated his proposal, it would not work for us. It would be best for us to shake hands and part ways. But something made me explain our requirements again, exactly like before. This time, he listened. And said,

“Oh – that can be managed quite easily. We can roll it out by mid-August.”

I was silent for a minute.

Then I told him, “That’s exactly what I’d asked you for earlier today, and at that time, you said it wouldn’t be possible!”

“I thought you meant something else – I thought you meant feature set Y.”

“How is that possible? I never even mentioned feature set Y!”

“Well, anyway – that’s cleared up, isn’t it? We can implement this for you soon enough.”

I agreed that it was indeed cleared up, but requested him to send across the minutes of the meeting with all our specifications clearly spelt out. I didn’t want any more confusion.

He did this, and now the deal is on again.

Mr.H is quite cheerful about the whole thing; to him, it was just a couple of phone calls made in the same day to clear up a small confusion. But he has absolutely no clue how close he got to losing our business. And at this stage, he really needs our business.

As a startup with limited resources and big plans, every decision we make is thrashed out with the team over and over again. Every meeting with potential partners and vendors is minutely planned – what would our message be? How would we pitch it? Depending on the response, what would our next step be? When we sit across a table and talk business, the person on the other end sees just the first tile in a train of dominoes. The outcome of the conversation could trigger a chain reaction with significant consequences. It was  by a fortuitous accident that we had a chance to clear the misunderstanding – what if I had just told him that we couldn’t accept his proposal, thank you very much? He – and we – had narrowly escaped a lot of loss and trouble.

So, the lesson really is that nothing is too humdrum to be treated less than seriously, especially in business. Listen carefully, arrange your thoughts and measure your words.

After all, it was for want of a nail that a kingdom was lost. 🙂