When I heard about the explosions at the Boston Marathon, I, like most people, thought “wow, that’s horrible.” It’s always sad and disturbing when such an event happens – and especially so when children are among the casualties.
Seeing how much attention was flowing into Boston because of the events there made me have hope for humanity. But it also made my stomach turn that a similar amount of attention wasn’t being poured into places like Somalia, where 19 just died 2 days ago in a bomb. Or into Afghanistan, where 7 civilians died from a roadside bomb.
These types of events happen across the world with startling frequency. Let’s please remember that if we’re going to claim that all human life is equal, then we should distribute condolences and prayers equally.
I’ve been thinking about all the traveling I’ve been doing and what it means and qualms and happinesses with it all. Basically, I’m concerned with the loss of the luster of ‘travel’. I think a lot of that has to do with our frame of mind and expectations going into traveling.
I spoke with one of my closest friends about all this. Here’s a quick excerpt from a Google chat conversation between him and myself. I’m the one talking in bold. His last point is key for someone who wants to keep traveling indefinitely (*ahem*, myself).
i just need to give myself up to circumstance more when i travel
I’ve thought about that
in regards to places and people
I guess low expectations factors into that too
what do you mean
I mean about giving yourself up to circumstances
I very open to experiences
but when it comes to people, especially when I don’t know them or can’t stand them at that point in time, I’m very cold and closed off
that you can be
ive seen it
i dont think im cold/closed off, i just zone the fuck out
i feel like i act like a know-it-all too mcuh when i travel
and for the most part, i am right…but that attitude precludes me from having meaningful experiences
i didnt use to be like this
my study abroad to china/trip to japan and even my 2010-2011 trip to Madrid & amsterdam were wonderful adventures of fun and excitement and new things
maybe you need to not travel for a while?
yeah, and being in India right now is that time for…the time to ‘not travel for a while’
i seriously am glad im taking this time here
hanging out, contemplating, getting my shit together
understanding myself better, working, working out, etc
Sent at 1:25 AM on Wednesday
the trick is doing that everywhere and anywhere
India is a land of getting by. Everything works just barely well enough to function. Things are almost never precise. People are late for everything. Basic functions, like electricity and water, don’t always work. The streets are pretty dirty, often just barely clean enough to walk and drive on. The lanes on roads seem to function solely as decoration. People litter with reckless abandon. You have to follow up with people a million times to get anything accomplished. It can be pretty exhausting to simply exist here.
Of course, all this is said with a highly relative Western perspective. I grew up in a place where things are usually on time, people operate like machines and there are systems and standards and structures for everything.
So what’s with the difference? I think it has to do with the civilizational roots of each place. Devdutt Pattanaik did a fantastic job explaining the dichotomy in his TED talk from 2009, using mythology. In his talk, he describes an encounter between Alexander the Great and a “gymnosophist”, who we can assume to be a Hindu ascetic upon the former’s arrival to India. The two exchange questions and answers about what they’re up to in life, and subsequently judge each other. Alexander tells the gymnosophist about his grandiose vision to conquer the world, while the gymnosophist tells Alexander how his nakedness and lack of belongings are part of his experience of “nothingness”. Alexander thinks the gymnosophist is backwards and wasting his life, while the gymnosophist thinks the same of Alexander.
I think this little encounter explains a lot of the difference between India and the West. Loosely, Western society is built on the objective, achievement, empirical observations, logic and the idea we have to make the most of the one life ‘God’ or ‘science’, or whoever, gave us. A result of that sort of thinking has been the Industrial Revolution, absolutist rule-of-law and capitalism/free markets, etc. Ayn Rand, I think, is the perfect example of an overtly Westernized thinker.
Indian society, on the other hand, has roots in subjective experience and an idea that this life is but one stepping stone on a pathway to moksha. There aren’t any real rules or objectives, only recommendations and guidelines for a good way to live this life (which is one of many). Results of this sort of thinking have been a very flexible interpretation of “rules” by Indians, as well as things like yoga, Ayurveda, deeply ingrained hospitality and a hesitation to deal with conflict.
What fascinates me is how these two concepts/philosophies/whatever you want to call them, interact in today’s world. I think the reason why India just ‘gets by’ (per my observation above) is because it’s following a Western framework in an Indian context. The laws, the government, policies, procedures, etc for the Indian society of today are remnants of Westernized structures for governance left by over 200 years of British influence. And, by definition, Westernized structures for governance are best suited for governance in the West – where they can apply absolutist rules, regulations and expectations on the populace and actually expect them to be followed. In India, expecting someone to follow rules written in a rulebook to the tee is ridiculous. Because everything in India is subjective, fluid and flexible, rules are bent all the time. And like Hinduism, day-to-day rules are treated as simple guidelines.
My point is that in a place as multifaceted, diverse and ancient as India, measuring with a Western yardstick is just plain silly. Yes, traffic is crazy here and you’ll feel like an auto driver is about to run you over. True, the plumber probably won’t show up on time to fix the pipe in the bathroom of your house. But you’ll get from point A to B, and the plumber will eventually show up. When dealing with India or Indian concepts, we have to understand the context, history and civilizational roots. If you want to understand India, you can’t parameterize the functions of Indian society like you would do the West (or any other society for that matter).
But judge today’s West by the many-millennia-old Indian standards? We could definitely do that. But something tells me the conclusion would be strikingly similar to that of the gymnosophist’s some 2,400 years ago.
Click to share this post on Twitter
1) In general, be nice to people. I say in general, because sometimes you’ll have to be stern with people (which won’t always be nice). But try to be nice all the time, even if it does a bit of a number on you. It’s always good to be the bigger person.
2) Be honest with yourself about everything about yourself. Then, be honest with everyone else. Ideally, being honest with yourself and others should fully overlap. This’ll involve vulnerability, but that’s a low price to pay for the awesomeness that such a mindset will bear for you.
3) Try not to have expectations. Sometimes, this might be inevitable, but having no expectations is a way for you to avert disaster in a variety of arenas. Hope for the best and expect the worst – in every situation in life, ever.
4) Question everything and search and/or experience your own answers to the questions. The weirder or “dumber” you think your question is, the more you should investigate. We’re given opinions and viewpoints as we grow up by the people around us (usually parents when we’re kids, and friends/peers as we get older). Question those assumptions. Come to your own conclusions. And remember, a conclusion shouldn’t be concrete. It should be fluid and you should always remain teachable.
5) Don’t be afraid of other people and their opinions and what they’ll think of you. Easier said than done, of course, but you’ll be shocked at what a grand difference it makes to not care about others’ opinions. That doesn’t mean you’re spurning others’ opinions — it just means you’re doing things based on what you believe.
6) Be patient. Instant gratification is a crock of shit. Anything legit involves patiently waiting while simultaneously working hard.
7) Do more things you want to do that have meaning to you. I think a reason why people don’t do more things is actually because they’re scared of peoples’ opinions on the things they do (#5). So yeah, look at #5, and act accordingly.
8) Work hard and smart. Both are absolutely necessary. Working smart doesn’t necessarily mean NOT working hard.
9) Be disciplined in everything, from flossing/brushing teeth to writing and working out to what you eat. Seriously, it makes a world of a difference and your life, body, mind and soul will thank you. It’s like exercising — pain in the ass to think about sometimes, but wonderfully rewarding when tasks are accomplished.
10) Exercise. This one’s a no brainer. Just do it. You don’t want to be old and crotchety and unable to move. Stay healthy.
I once read a quote that said something along the lines of “if you’re not disgusted by your work/yourself a year ago, then you haven’t evolved.”
Today marks the one year anniversary of me having left my corporate job in Seattle. It’s a weird anniversary, because as I look back over the past year and the experiences I’ve had, I find myself fascinated with all that has happened, as well as a lingering wonder regarding whether ENOUGH has happened.
When I left the corporate world, I was abuzz with ideas and unbounded optimism. My rather traumatic exit from the company also added to my certainty that I’d made the right decision of leaving to pursue my own projects. April 2012 was a great time: I’d paid off a mountain of debt, I had a solid chunk of money in savings and was decently well-connected (or at least had a way to get connected) with great people in the startup/life-empowerment/etc communities. You can read more about that story here.
In June, with the help of my travel-wizard mother, I booked a flight to Germany after spending a few months at home with family. In July, I took off for San Francisco, New York and Berlin. I didn’t know where the next place I was going to was. I lived day to day and week to week at airbnb apartments. I was doing marketing writing for two leading airline consultancies online. I joined Maneesh Sethi’s Berlin 4HWW meetup (from which I made a few great friends). I shuttled through Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen. In a span of ~10 days in October, I flew from Berlin to Chongqing, China to Amsterdam to Dubai to Singapore. Then I spent a month in Bali, Indonesia (an overrated but great place), came back to Singapore and spent almost a month in Hong Kong before landing up in Bangalore, India (where I’ve been for the past two months).
It’s been a wild ride and has given me ample time and opportunity to think through a lot of assumptions I/we have about life. Here are just a few things I’ve learned and observed in the past year.
1) San Francisco, Amsterdam, Singapore and Bangalore are my favorite places on this earth so far. These cities speak to me in ways other places cannot. The combination of atmospheres, people, food, climate, opportunity and geographic proximity to other great places make these cities my favorites.
2) Location independence (in the way it’s marketed) irks me a lot. I think it’s great and perfect for me, but isn’t for everyone (nor should it be).
3) I literally don’t think EVERYONE should follow their passions. Mainly because society wouldn’t function with a shit ton of writers and artists and no plumbers. That said, I think those of us in a position (ahem, that live in wealthy developed, liberal democracies like the US, Western Europe or Australia/NZ) to follow their passion, have an obligation to do so out of ethics. If they don’t, it’s akin to being the spoiled kid who throws away their meal while there are kids suffering from malnutrition in developing countries. Think about it.
4) Discipline above all. My parents did a damn good job trying to instill this in us as kids. And they were 120% right. I’m still trying to get on their level.
5) This one is huge and is basically why I wrote this post. Resisting your true passions because they’re too scary…is futile. When I left corporate America, I was starry-eyed over the IDEA of startups, business development and basically everything that’s said in this video (shit entrepreneurs say). I had met and Skyped with inspiring people who were doing cool things, starting blogs and businesses, had thousands of Twitter followers and traveled all over the world and got rid of their belongings to become “minimalists”. All that sounded pretty great and resonated with me, so I decided to follow in their footsteps.
Trouble was, while all that was fun and cool, I’m someone who has a fiery passion for a few things. I’ll talk to TEARS and screams about how I want to change the world into a more even playing field for ideas from the proverbial East and South, as well as Indian philosophy and it’s place in the world, as well as global racial dynamics, and also languages and cultures to death and typography and design. I am fucking obsessed with this stuff and always have been in one form or another, since childhood.
But guess what? At the time of job-leaving last year (and for many months following), those topics were “too intense” and I was too scared to get real about them. Besides, becoming a designer (in the way I wanted to be one) involved learning lots of code, which scared the shit out of me.
Sooooo, while I littered my Facebook wall and then-blog with images of text saying “Playing it safe will always end in disaster”, I myself played it safe with the projects I created. I followed in the new lifestyle design/location independent masses, and worked doing what I already knew best at the time – airline marketing.
My burning passions, however, knew me better than myself. And in the several months since then, they’ve been the voices inside me adding oil to the flames of my truth. They’ve forced me to relinquish any professional facades I’d put up, and keep it real with what I want to with my life. While this’ll always evolve, my core passions and viewpoints and philosophies and thinking are why I was brought onto this earth.
That’s why I’m working now on Globalizer, Letter Kitchen, and building up a portfolio and offering design and illustration services. Cuz I’m obsessed with it and it puts me in the zone of being the best version of myself.
So the takeaway is – if you’re passionate about something, don’t ignore it or try and suppress it. Especially if you think it’s too scary to say in public, or if it’s something you think you’ll get ostracized for, or if your immediate surroundings don’t support you. A deep, fiery, all-encompassing passion is something that I’ve found is quite rare in people. If you’re lucky enough to have it, then that’s a sign. You NEED to follow it. You nEED To speak your mind and let your voice be heard. And more importantly, WORK on it and improve upon it to become a better you! If you DON’T, you’re literally wasting your life.
6) Travel is great and all, but it’s not really that mind-opening and all that for me. I love exploring new places, but for me, it’s not a novelty anymore, I think it should be just a part of life. I intend to continue my travels indefinitely.
7) The world is a big place, and the US seems weirdly disconnected from it. It’s pretty terrible that most Americans dont know temperatures in celsius, when literally every other country in the world does. Every. other. country. Similar (but not same) deal with metric system. On another note, it’s equally incredible that everywhere I’ve been, people look up to American innovation and friendliness.
8) English is all you really need to get by. But to truly experience another culture, I’d highly recommend learning NON-European languages. Something like Arabic, Mandarin or Hindi would do your brain good. French, Italian and German aren’t gonna do a whole lot for you in this new, globalizing world.
9) Corporate America (or Britain or Japan or whatever) and all it espouses is a big fat scam (yea yea we already knew that, but it REALLY is. You don’t realize how horrible it is until you get out and look back)
10) You are ENOUGH. So stop feeling inadequate, or guilty, or whatever. Be aware of your mistakes and own them. Be aware of your successes and own those too. Be self-aware, don’t lie to yourself and spend quality, bullshit-free time with those you love. In the end, that’s all that matters in this life!
Phew, okay that was by no means an exhaustive list, but it was a long one. And back to that quote I started this post with. Do I feel disgusted with my work/life a year ago?
A little bit, yes. But that’s just a testament to how much evolution has happened and how much has been learned. Besides, I’m owning my life and mistakes back then. No need for too much disgust there.
So as 2013 moves forward, here’s to more evolution, learning and growth. Let’s go be awesome.
While I’m on my own journey of life and career and explorations in both, I find it imperative to call out that which is bullshit from that which is legit. Honestly, this is as much a note to myself as it is for anyone else I’m addressing here.
It seems to me that these days, everyone “cool” in the Western world seem to be suspiciously similar in having the interests of coffee, writing, “tech”, Moleskines, photography, more coffee and travel. And startups. And “design”. Anywhere you look — on Twitter bios, blogs, etc, its the same thing.
I think this is a problem. And here are two reasons why.
1) In an effort to appear “unique” (note: not “ironic”), everyone’s doing the same damn thing. Everyone professes a love for a particular brand with many not knowing anything about it. But they portray it as if buying that Apple Macbook Air or Moleskine notebook was a deliberate decision from the heart for love of the brand. When really, they bought it because everyone else “cool” had one (which was literally my own primary reason for buying an MBA!) NOTE: some actually DO give a crap about the brands and that IS the reason for buying their product. In my observation, however, those people are rare.
2) Given how *EVERYONE* has these interests, I have reason to believe they’re superficial and/or fake. There are some awesome people out there who are genuinely interested and have deep passions for many of the topics I listed above. Those people go on to found companies that ship fair trade coffee straight from Latin America. Or actually build startups based on solid visions (not hipsterized versions of visions). Or dig deep into the uncharted corners of design to solve a real life problem.
The core issue I have with all this is that I think most people who profess their so-called passionate interest of things I’ve listed above are copping out big time of the real visions and missions and “why’s” of their lives. But the WORST part is that these “interests” people have are being masqueraded around as natural accompaniments to “breaking the status quo” and “doing meaningful work”, etc. In reality, people are trading in A (what’s now an outdated status quo of baby boomers in cubicles jacking off to spreadsheets and dull Office Space-style dialogue) for establishing B (a new, more segmented status quo of elitist hipsters sitting in “cool” coffee shops with Macbook Airs, blogging and tweeting and hashtagging about stuff without actually doing anything. Or understanding why they’re doing (or not doing) anything)).
So here’s a solution: dig deeper into yourself and do real things and have real interests. What moves you deeply? I highly doubt coffee and Moleskines do the trick. If they do, more power to you. If they don’t, then you’re doing yourself a disservice by not exploring your interests more. If you DON’T have things that you’re passionate about, all the more reason to expand your horizons. You don’t need coffee for energy. You don’t need a Moleskine to write. Or a camera to capture moments. Those things are great tools, but usually aren’t interests in and of themselves (except for a few people who DO give a shit about them). And besides, when we care about something deeply, we’ll transcend brand names and products, etc.
Disclaimer: I absolutely love the world of startups, design, travel and photography, etc. But those things alone don’t do shit for me. The stuff that moves me to tears include empowering India (economically and philosophically), and giving voices to areas of the world which are sickeningly underserved (aka places that aren’t the West). I’m still figuring out how to accomplish those goals with Globalizer and International Letter Kitchen.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts!
You know how it’s kind of a “thing” to put an ‘H’ in between Jesus and Christ, and make an exclamation out of it?
Well, a little while back, my friends and I, being the dorky nerds we are, decided to experiment a little with this concept. We thought, “instead of an ‘H,’ let’s put in other words! And by words, we mean religious figureheads’ names!” Slowly but surely, the exclamation ‘Jesus H Christ’ evolved onto ‘Jesus Allah Christ,’ ‘Jesus Moses Christ,’ ‘Jesus Buddha Christ’ and even ‘Jesus Zoroaster Christ,’ ‘Jesus Mitra Christ’ and so on. If you noticed, the idea is to apply a religious figure’s name in the middle, adding to the possibly offensive, highly humorous effect of the name.
After a while, we’d covered most of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. Eventually, we got around to Hinduism, where the number of religious figureheads rises astronomically in comparison to other religions. For our little nerdy game, this meant we’d hit our jackpot. We messed around with plenty of Hindu gods and goddesses – those familiar with the religion will know that they’re basically infinite in name.
My favorite Hinduism-inspired name concoction was ‘Jesus Bhagyalakshmi Christ.’ The idea of such a name still cracks me up (and always will). I see it as something of a pinnacle of success in names for this ridiculous little game.
Interestingly enough, up until the Bhagyalakshmi point, I hadn’t really ever thought what such a deity would look like. And then I decided to find out for myself, with a pen and paper.
Here’s the result, LOLZ.
Can you come up with something better, more ridiculous and more humorous? Bhagyalakshmi set the bar high.
I think one of the worst fears many of us have is not just failure. But that of failing after putting in a ton of effort.
The fear that after hustling, busting ass and putting in our all, the result will be below your expectations. That it might totally flop. That others may not like it. That we’ll be burnt out from all the effort we’ve put in.
With that in mind, many of us do work that’s just good enough. Sometimes, a person’s “good enough” may even be pretty damn good. It’s work that might garner a B+ or A- in school, or be well-received among a certain group of peers. The tradeoff is that even though we haven’t done a STELLAR job, we’ve done a good job, and that too, with relatively little effort. We do it so that when people compliment our work, we have rights to say things like ”ohh that little thing? It was a piece of cake!”
In order to do our best work, we must hustle. We must put in a lot of brain power. We must concentrate and execute. We must fearlessly and shamelessly go after the result we want. We might have to pull all-nighters. Or temporarily cut people out of our lives. We have to be hell bent on the deliverable and keep in mind why we’re doing what we’re doing.
And guess what? Sometimes, even after all that effort, we won’t “succeed.” We might fall flat on our faces and look like buffoons and losers in front of everyone. But that’s only if we fail. If we succeed, we succeed magnificently and earn the right to proudly proclaim how much effort we DID put in.
I write this piece as a reminder to myself and to anyone else that we need to step it up and start doing more to succeed. Whatever efforts we’ll have put in will be teachers for a lifetime, helping us through the rest of life.
Wayne Gretzky famously said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” What shots are you avoiding taking?
After messing around, here’s a little something I made for my friend Sahana. This ribbon-like illustration is her name in the pseudo-calligraphy version of the Persian/Urdu (and I guess Arabic too) scripts. Follow the ribbon from right to left and you’ll spell her name in those languages!
I was just playing around on this one with Adobe Illustrator…with no real concept, whipping it up out of nowhere with relatively zero thought.
What I’d really like to do is something more along the lines of this.