If you don’t feel good being with someone, don’t be with them. Whoever they may be.

Respect the way you feel before you respect how others feel about a situation or about you.
Yesterday a friend called to say that my father was unwell. He said my brother-in-law was trying to reach me. I spoke to my brother-in-law and inferred that my dad indeed had not been keeping good health. However, I excused myself from visiting him.
My family – parents and siblings – and I have been estranged for several years now. In the recent past the estrangement has been acute – a lot of it has to also do with the money my wife and I have borrowed from my parents in the past to resurrect our business. Naturally the money still remains due to them because our business has not picked up enough to enable us to repay anyone. (I have talked about this forgettable family saga in my Book – “Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money”; Westland, August 2014.)
But my decision to distance myself from my parents and siblings has a deeper context. I feel there is complete mistrust between all of us. Besides, I don’t find any of them true to who they are making themselves out to be. So, like I have done in the past, I chose to stay away from the present situation concerning my dad. And I prefer to remain this way in the future too.
My stance, without doubt, is debatable. In the world’s view, what I am doing may be seen as dereliction of duty. Some may term it as total abdication. Others may view it as lack of compassion: “A 76-year-old is pining for his oldest son, but the son obstinately clings on to his ego!” Yet others may believe that because it is a short Life, we must let go, bury our differences, and move on. My siblings have, for their part, on more than one occasion, pointed out to me that since I have been unable to return the money I owe to the family, the least I can and must do is to be a “dutiful” son and look after my parents physically. Indeed, there are these and several other ways to look at the choice I have exercised.
But I have not been driven by any of these considerations. To be sure, I hold no grudge against my family for the way my wife and I have been treated by them. I also recognize that I have, in the past, contributed unwittingly to the fractious environment in the family. Even so, after much reflection and soul-searching, my realization is that I don’t relate to any of them anymore. I can’t trust any of them and I feel there’s so much “untruth” and “pretension” on the rare occasions we have met. I believe they feel this way about me and my wife too. So, therefore, I have decided to refuse to brush aside this intense discomfort within me and pretend everything is normal by “showing up and being seen”. I feel that by staying away from each other we are all anchored in our own peaceful states. For everyone, including my ailing father, this is the best place to be in. This is my view. And I am peaceful living my Life with this view.
Yes, my wife and I owe my family, just as we owe 178 other creditors, money. And we believe, when things turn around for us financially, we will repay every rupee to everyone, with full interest due.
I don’t expect anyone to agree with my view here. But I will still share the learning I have gleaned from the experience I have had of being a “member” of my dysfunctional family! Sometimes when relationships become very messy, when there is no more relating among the people in the relationship, it is just best to let go of the relationships. Or, if you can’t, then let them simply be. Trying to get people, who are hell bent on misinterpreting you, to understand you is a waste of your precious time and energy. Trying to fulfil your familial obligations or filial duties at acute discomfort to you, while letting your inner peace be disturbed, is absolute hara-kiri. The past does not matter anymore. The future no one has seen. In the present, if you can’t trust someone, if you don’t feel happy being in someone’s presence, simply don’t pretend being comfortable and suffer in the bargain. Nothing is worth more in Life than your inner peace. If you cannot feel good being someplace with someone, don’t go there, don’t be with them. Whoever they may be. It is important you respect how you feel before you even respect the way others will feel.

Live worshipping each moment

Worship each moment. Make time for your family and children today.

Because even before you realize it, time would have flown, the birds too would have flown, leaving your nest empty. What you will be left with are just memories. Those are funny things, these memories. The stuff you laughed about will make you cry and what you cried over, you will laugh about when you look back!

Work hard without doubt. Earn money, that’s important. But with advancing age, decreasing efficiency, and limited time left on this planet, what you will be left holding are only memories. Make sure they are happy ones, of happy times, of memorable moments that you want to relive. Not of times of which you have no memories because you merely existed back then!

Someone wisely said, we don’t remember days, we remember moments. Ensure each of yours from now on are worth living for and remembering later!

Be smart: Live fully, than just ‘earn a living’!

Above all else, prioritize “quality time” with your family! Nothing will count more in the evening of your Life than the memories you have of the time you spent with your family – especially with your spouse and children.
I read a very interesting, heart-warming syndicated story in today’s Times of India. It talked about how a high-profile, globe-trotting finance executive, Mohamed El-Erian, 56, quit his $100m++ job at the California-based PIMCO Investment Fund last year because his daughter complained that he had never been with her for what she thought were important events in her Life. The list of 22 events El-Erian missed included the child’s first day at school, her first football match and a Halloween parade. El-Erian told The Independent’s Cahal Milmo: “I felt awful and got defensive. I had a good excuse for each missed event! Travel, important meetings, an urgent phone call, sudden to-dos. But it dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point. As much as I could rationalize it … my work-Life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my relationship with my daughter. I was not making nearly enough time for her.”
Well, El-Erian was lucky that he heard the “wake up call” and actually “woke up”. There are many, many, many people out there who are too busy building their businesses and their careers at the cost of their families.
I too “woke up” to a “wake up call”. But I woke up only on the day that my son, then 18, took a flight out to Chicago, to join undergrad school. Until that day, back in September 2008, I too, like El-Erian was obsessed with work. The business came first. And business came second. Family, if at all, was treated by me as something that I had to merely “provide” for. But that day, at Chennai International Airport, when my son bid goodbye to all of us, who had gone with him to see him off, and took the escalator to the departure gates, it suddenly dawned on me that we were not just sending him to college, we were actually letting him be independent in this big, huge world. The bird had flown from the nest. That night when I fixed myself a drink and sat thinking of my son, I realized from here on…he would graduate, get himself a job, raise a family and be pretty much on his own. It struck me that he would never be home the way he had been with us for the past 18 years. And it dawned on me then that I had missed much of those 18 years – in fact, I had missed watching him grow. It wasn’t as if I was a reckless and irresponsible father. My son and I always bonded well – and we still are great friends. But that night I felt I could have done better being with him for some more of his birthdays and several more of his events in school and in his theatre group.
My awakening led me to conclude that it is only because we crave and “search” for work-Life balance that we never really find it. I have realized that we have to stop seeing work as different from Life. The truth is that there is just one Life that we all have. And our family is an important part of that Life. As important as work – as in a professional career or a business – is. We cannot claim that we are toiling for the family and kid ourselves that sometime, when we have saved enough for the family, we will enjoy, or invest in, quality time with them. It is because we kid ourselves with this flawed logic that we don’t ever find work-Life balance. Actually, living a well-balanced Life is indeed possible. What is required is that we define for ourselves what’s most important to us in Life. And invest our waking hours prudently among these few areas. It is important that we write for ourselves a list of “never miss” family events – which includes two week-long vacations annually – and stick to fulfilling this list at any cost. On an average, including vacation time, you may require 30 days of family time a year. Of course, this is doable. Especially if you consider the 80~100 work weeks that you end up clocking – often mindlessly – in any case!
As you grow in your career, and as your family grows too, you will do well to remember that no one is getting any younger. Each milestone of your career and family will just be a memory in some more years. There’s no point in arriving in the future to discover that you have no, or far too few, family-related memories because you were busy working your butt off earning a living! Living your Life fully, while earning, is what smart people do. Surely, you are smart. And like El-Erian, will “wake up” too!

In any dispute, exercise your right to protect your inner peace

The strangers in your Life are sometimes those who you think you know very well! 
It’s possible that you have faced this before. That people who you think are close to you are the ones who want to distance from you just because something’s gone wrong in your Life. Or they are the ones who emotionally disrupt and challenge your Life the most! I have experienced being treated this way and I know what it means and how it feels. Not all people are this way, but when people close to you, like your parents, or siblings or your close family, behave distant, or choose not to be understanding, it numbs you. Over time, however, you learn to move on. Because that’s the simplest and the most intelligent thing to do.
A friend shared with me that his brother has been fighting with him over a property dispute. Their father had bequeathed specific parts of his real estate to the two brothers. But the older one, leveraging some ambiguity in the father’s will, was staking claim to my friend’s share as well. The matter is in court. But since the two brothers live in the same building, though on different floors, my friend lamented that his brother does not let a day pass without a verbal duel.
“I am tired of all this bickering. My children are affected by this daily drama. He just comes daily and launches a tirade against me, calling me an ‘usurper’ and a ‘cheat’. At one level I find all this so petty and banal. I am hurt not because he wants the property but because of all the insinuations that he makes,” said my friend.
I can empathize with my friend. But there’s nothing shocking about this. This happens in almost every other Indian family. Money, property and other material assets often divide people. Family or close friends become, sometimes, worse than third party litigants. So much acrimony then follows that at the end even if the dispute is settled legally, the relationship is over. Forever.
I have learnt that one way to mitigate the damage, not so much to protect the relationship, but to protect your inner peace, is to not engage in any conversations if you find the other party – be it parent, sibling, spouse or friend – “un-relatable” anymore. Which is, if you can’t relate to that person anymore, just don’t converse with him or her. You don’t have to sulk. You can just choose not to react at all. Let whatever that needs to be settled, be done so through a legal – or any other mutually agreeable – process. If someone has the right to talk nonsense and heap insinuations on you, remember, you too have the right not to listen to them. You possibly want to, and of course have the right to, pay them back in the same coin. But arguments are always futile. No one wins. And the biggest casualty is your inner peace. So, simply choose to ignore what is being said. Focus instead on what needs to be done to resolve whatever dispute separates you from the other person.
Most important, however, is to know that people do what they do to you because they believe they are doing the right thing. It is another matter that you feel wronged. In all such cases, if you can let go and let the other person have all that she or he wants, fine. But if you must fight for what is legitimately yours, start with choosing to protect your inner peace. Because, only when you are peaceful, can you think clearly and resolve any dispute, logically and legitimately.

Are you going to a house or are you coming home?

If you want to come to a home at the end of each day, in your family, never mince words.
The idea of a family as a warm, fuzzy place, a.k.a home, often times clouds our thinking when it comes to having honest conversations. In our endeavour to be nice to our kin, we end up being fake. Resultantly, the basic premise on which the institution of the family is founded suffers.
A family is a group of people. So are those whom you find on the street. So what distinguishes a family from a street crowd? A family is where you must ideally have people who are willing to be available to support each other. A family is where people will not, again ideally, judge each other. A family is where, ideally, you can speak your mind. But most families have stopped being supportive or are as fractious as any other ordinary group of people. Why? Simply because people in such families have stopped being honest. A ‘loving’ family is somehow (mis)understood by people as a place where people are ‘nice’ to each other. True love is not about being nice alone – it is about being caring, compassionate and candid.
The compostion of a family is really as plain vanilla as any group of inviduals. The word individual means ‘single’ or ‘separate’. Now, how can we expect these ‘separate’ people to come together and bond? Surely a blood relationship cannot help just because it is a common denominator that binds or connects all those who are separate. Bonding really happens when people understand each other. And understanding thrives only in an honest environment.
Building and sustaining that honest environment is everyone’s responsibility. A great family is one where everyone can speak their mind and be sure that they will be understood and not interpreted. Nurturing this spirit of being there for each other and belonging is a continuous process. There can be no room for pretention here. People must have the freedom to choose what they want to do, and do it the way they want to do it, yet, at the same time, they must be responsible enough to revisit their choices, making adjustments and alterations, should the family’s needs require them to do so.
If you want to build a great family, make sure the first brick you lay is that of ‘honesty’. Encourage open sharing, empower people to make mistakes, champion being there for each other and expunge the phrase ‘I-told-you-so’. We all set out to build careers and bank balances. Most often we get both right! If we spent a fraction of that time on building our families right, we will find greater peace within us and in our personal space. At the end of the day, that’s what matters – are you going back to your house or are you coming home!?

Pause and celebrate the miracle of your family

An intrinsic aspect of intelligent living is to not just earn a living but to learn to spend quality time with your family. In such a connected world, where there are so many options for children to learn and display their talent, I do agree that Life for us parents, especially in an urban or metro context, can at times be harrowing. Ferrying the children to and from events, activities, hobby classes and school, in the midst of our ever-demanding work schedules and corporate careers, can often appear thankless. And then there is the time that you need with your companion, just to chill out, doing nothing! Phew! Where’s the time for yourself?

Sometimes family Life can get very demanding and complicated. With so many schedules to coordinate, with so many things to do, with so many aspirations to fulfill. Even so, there’s great value in learning to pause, and celebrating the miracle of your family.

Some years ago, when I was based in Singapore, I had a friend Steve, who was the general manager of the hotel I stayed in as a long-term guest. He was a big-hearted man from Vancouver, Canada. He must have been in his late 40s then and I was in my late 20s. He and his wife loved Singapore and he was doing a great job leading the hotel he was employed at. Then suddenly he told me over dinner, one night, that he was going back to live in Canada. His three daughters, it appeared, were in various years of finishing undergrad and grad schools. And he said, “We want to be with them, for them.” I remember wondering, as a career-obsessed youngster, what a crazy idea it was to give up such a great job and go back to take care of three ‘grown up young adult daughters’. Steve perhaps read my mind. He said rather prophetically, “When you grow up to be my age, all you will want is happiness for your children. Your success and happiness will lie in their own.”

I certainly did not take Steve’s words to heart. So, even as I continued my quest to build a career, flying around the world, at the cost of not being able to spend time with my family, I did not quite realize what I was missing. Those were very early days of the internet. Hotmail was not even around as a free-for-all service. Phone calls were mighty expensive. So, we had a fax machine installed at home for my wife and I to be in touch. One day, as I was lounging in my hotel room in Rome, after a long day’s work, the bell desk slipped a fax message under the door. It was from my son. He must have been hardly six then but he knew how to operate the old Compaq 486 (!!!) we had at home. He had managed to pull out a computer clipart picture of a globe, pasted it on a document, printed it and faxed it to me. Below the clipart, in his scrawly handwriting, he had written, ‘Where in the world are you? Come soon!”  My eyes welled up, and I remembered Steve, as I read that message. I was not sure I did it consciously, but over the next several months I worked hard and eventually managed to relocate back to India.

Even after I came back and set up a business here in India, it took me a long, long time to discover the magic of my own family. I often ended up getting trapped in the rat race, letting clients, business and my team take over my time, all the time! I am glad, am grateful to Life and am humbled, that I finally did manage to yank myself out of that rut!!! When my daughter was born, 18 years ago, I was that ambitious, globe-trotting CEO. I often used to ask my wife, when I called from airports half-way across the world, half in jest, half in trepidation, if our daughter would even recognize me! Today my daughter (and of course, my son) and I are the best of friends. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. The upside of a business slowdown, I have come to believe, is this amazing friendship I have struck with my children. Today Steve’s words ring so very true to me.

Unmistakably, living fully is a full-time job!  Living fully surely involves experiencing the family we create and raise than just providing for them. There’s nothing more valuable in Life, you will realize, sooner than later, than the friendship of your children and the companionship of your spouse. A family is where you learn to live. You learn compassion, you learn to teach, you learn to lead, to serve, to give, you learn to understand the value in constructive confrontation, in forgiveness and in simply having a lot of fun, laughing, and goofing off! You may not realize it but your family not just complements you, but completes you! As someone has said so wisely, “Family is not just important. It is everything!”