The phone as a source of anxiety

After I get back from work in the night, I check my email sporadically till I crash. I realize I do this only to ensure I am not missing out on some urgency that may have reared its ugly head. However, I feel a certain degree of anxiety every time I do so.

One Saturday evening, when I was chilling with a dear friend, I ended up checking my email and voila – I had an urgent query from a senior. I apologized to my friend for what I was about to do next – dug myself in my phone to send a cogent reply to my senior ( a tedious task when you’re three large pegs of Glenlivet down ).

When I got done, my friend commented – “dude, cannot believe you have work email set up on your phone.” Aghast, I questioned what was wrong with that, and commented that it was abnormal NOT to have office email set up on phone. Therein followed a healthy debate for 30 minutes on what was right – to have office email set up on phone or not.

On reflecting, my takeaways were :

– there is not much to be gained by checking email, especially if you are already clocking 12 hours at work … If any urgency arises, people can always call you

– a lot of it is expectation setting. If over time, you set expectation that you need to be called in case of emergencies instead of email, people will come around and reach you on your phone

– while it is tough to leave work at work, it can be learned over time. Trick is to practice the habit of walking away from email

So I’ve now begun my journey of not checking email once I leave office. Let’s see how far I succeed 

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sensationalism and naivete : complimentary sins

My Twitter feed has been abuzz with Donald Trump updates. Latest news tells me he’s cruising ahead in the polls – primaries will clarify the truth of it.

What’s been remarkable though, is how inspite of him insulting the media and even calling them “scum”, the media cannot seem to get enough of him. American media is behaving much like insecure people, who tend to gravitate towards those who abuse them. He’s spending the least on PR and getting the most coverage. To me, the reasons seem to be :

– he says outrageous, sensational things that grab eyeballs

– a lot of people actually buy his shit, thinking he’s the chosen one who will truly make America great again. Little reminiscent of Modi’s “Acche Din” campaign that was a huge hit in India

I see three dangerous factors collaborating to fuel Trump’s rise :

– the human preference for optimism and flash over the trite but substantial

– people being naive enough to believe Trump’s promises, who’s a master at media and people manipulation

– Crappy competition – Hillary who? An Elon Musk against Trump would be a viable option, not Hillary!

It will be a tragedy if Trump is able to sustain the momentum and win the Presidency. He’s too self obsessed to do things that are right for either America, or other countries. He’s too trigger happy – given his proclivity to shoot from the hip even when ignorant eg his comment to “close internet down”.

Hope American people see the light and elect somebody saner, who can continue to at least support status quo if not improve it. Trump will just make things worse.

TV, the pacifying drug

Although I diligently pay for my Tata Sky connection every month, I make it a point to never watch any TV. The only times TV and I come face-to-face is :

  1. Late weekend nights when I cannot sleep. Those nights are rare
  2. When I wish to play podcasts or some Youtube videos using ChromeCast – happens on weekends when I run home errands, because I need a distraction when doing laundry and dishes
  3. When some family turns up to stay with Mansi and me, and we end up watching TV before crashing for the night. This is one of those nights

Every time I watch TV, I am filled with complete contempt and disgust for the prime-time content people are hooked to. It’s not that good content on TV is not possible – sometimes, life gives you the occasional Breaking Bad, or the Wire. Then why is most stuff on TV downright stupid, vulgar, and intellectually offensive?

Then, on thinking about it, it makes sense. Most watch TV to escape life, escape their worries. Good cinema makes you think, and connects you to your feelings. Cable TV exists to serve as anesthesia, people wish for anesthesia. Hence, trashier is better I believe.

I’ll now take a deep breath and let go of the hate.

The confusing conversation around career choices

I just got off the train, after having completed a week-long trip to Andhra Pradesh, where our company is now expanding. Yesterday, I interviewed some engineering graduates for our implementation team.  After the interviews, the placement officer asked me to speak to junior college students regarding career counseling.

I wanted to keep the discussion conversational, more so because I had nothing particularly enlightening to share. I asked twenty students what they wanted to do after college.  Answers ranged from software engineer to army officer. I focused the discussion on core attributes that are needed no matter what career choice one makes – leadership, comfort with failure, developing analytical skills, and constantly learning and reading.

After the session, two students walked up to me and said their biggest concern was they did not know what they were passionate about. They said a previous career counseling session conducted by a paid career counselor focused on how one should do what one is passionate about.

But there’s a problem here. Indian colleges, including the best, provide no avenue for students to explore their passions or strengths. Moreover, passion is also a function of effort – when you invest energy in an activity and start seeing success in it, passion usually follows.

It will be a much more fruitful conversation to help students explore their strengths, and present to them career choices that leverage some, if not all, of those strengths.  Correct expectations also need to be set – like everything else in life, career also needs figuring out through a combination of effort, patience, and experimentation. For e.g. Someone who finds no joy in learning about object oriented programming can suddenly not become a prodigal android developer.  Someone with an outgoing personality may be a much better fit in sales or support, but these career choices are not even discussed on campuses.

Placement officers and colleges need to get their attention realigned to educating students on what’s out there in the market,  rather than just obsessing on placement numbers and philosophical conversations around passion. Unless we do so,  industry will continue to see an influx of ill prepared and demotivated workers.

Taking an inventory of the tough times

It’s been a tough week so far. The last two days have involved more-than-usual firefighting and some workplace conflicts. The good thing is that I work with a highly mature group, which keep conflicts highly professional and asks each other the tough questions. Nonetheless, undergoing a physically and emotionally tough day is taxing.

If you’ve read this far, you have realized this post is not written by the author when he is in the best of moods. Also, be warned that it does not get better from here.

But if you’ve come this far in the post, there is an upside! it hit me tonight that my definition of a “bad day” needs some calibration. So I thought of re-counting here some of my professional-life bad days, just to read myself later to remind myself that I’ve lived through worse.

1. My toughest experience, top of mind, was an instance when I was completely in the wrong (I’m going to keep a certain level of abstraction here). I had committed a grave error, and it was not just a mistake but something I will now classify as “willful ignorance”. I was called out on it, and frankly I should have known better. I rode on the assumption that my act will be overlooked, and that tempted me to take a short cut. If it was not for the good nature of some senior people involved who were on my side, it could have turned out bad.

However – it taught me never, ever to take shortcuts again. Between the easy-but-wrong and the right-but-tough thing to do, I now always choose the right-but-tough thing (or so I think)

2. Once, a customer threatened to “ruin my career” if I did not give him a specific business report he wanted on priority. It was clearly an over-the-top response over a banal item, by a customer well-known for his bad temper. More interestingly, when I took the matter to my boss at the time, instead of siding by me, she admonished me for aggravating the customer. Later, when I thought about it, I realized it was plainly an emotional response from her, because she would now need to meet the customer to discuss the outstanding item, and those two could not stand the sight of each other. She took it out on me. Thankfully it was a Friday, so I came home early and drank a beer to get over the memories of two outrageous encounters.

Lesson learned: sometimes you just got to take it. From everyone.

3. My job hunt in 2012. Before I landed a generous independent assignment, I was out hunting for work for more than 3 months. Those were tough 3 months. It took a lot to keep hitting job postings everyday, knowing fully well such searches take time. I held on, and kept going. Then one day, it was over and I was back in business.

Lesson learned: sometimes life hits you hard. Believe things will change, and you will feel yourself again. And keep going.

I started this post feeling negative, but having penned down the tougher times, today doesn’t look so bad. I think the trick worked!

Memories of Maggi

Most days, I walk back from work. It’s pretty much the only exercise I get, not proud of it but that’s the way it goes when you’re hustling at a startup. My walks are important to me: it’s my 30 minutes of solitude, music and thinking.

Got a Whatsapp message from wifey as I was leaving office: “Maggi for dinner.” I think she was trying to tone down my expectations from dinner. However, little does she know how much I love Maggi, especially on a cold winter night like this. I had an extra spring in my step walking home towards my Maggi bowl. My walk got me thinking of a fond childhood memory.

Delhi is a glorious place in the winters. My family was never the very outgoing kinds. Dad worked hard to give us a good life, and there was never a lot of extra money to spend on going out. Still, mom would make small outings happen every now and then. One time, we got together with one family from the neighbourhood, and made a Sunday evening trip to Appu Ghar. I must have been in 3rd standard, so did not get to ride the more awesome rides like Roller Coaster and My Fair Lady. Still, the rides left an impression – I remember throwing a fit asking to be taken on a ride, to no avail.

However, what I did get was a big bowl of hot Maggi at the Maggi stall. Clumsy as I was, mom decided to absolve me from feeding myself, and fed me. The bowl was followed by a glass of hot milk. Of all the things about my childhood I have forgotten, I distinctly remember how good that bowl of Maggi and that glass of hot milk felt.

And then, I had Maggi again today. Told wifey the story of my Maggi memories from Appu ghar. For a brief moment, I met the 3rd standard kid inside of me, who cherished that little snack then, and cherishes it even now.

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