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!
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The first step on your journey of personal change is crucial

To get started on any new journey in Life, you have to simply take the first step. Wishing and dreaming of something alone cannot get you started. Only calm, decisive action can get your initiative off the ground.
I met with a friend from college recently. He’s every bit a corporate citizen – he’s the CFO of a large MNC and is based in Hong Kong. Over coffee, we got chatting about our lives. And in the course of the conversation he declared that his biggest wish and his biggest problem were the same. “I want to get back home from work by 6 pm every day. I have been trying to achieve this for a few years now, but I am simply not able to! I badly want this happening and I am sore that I have been unsuccessful despite my best efforts,” he confessed.  
I have been in my friend’s shoes. Just 12 years ago, I was pretty much running the rat race. I was working 100-hour weeks and even on Sundays I used to be slouched over my laptop all day – responding to emails from clients and colleagues. Meal times with family were often interrupted by client calls and I always prioritized business over family. I had a tobacco addiction and I drank almost every day. Then one fine day, I decided to change the way I lived and worked. I began by giving up my tobacco habit instantaneously. That was my first step. And then every week I added a new change to my routine and my lifestyle. This included a diet and fitness regimen on the one side, and packing in quality – and productive – working hours on the other side. Within a couple of months, I was working fewer hours and yet I was able to pack in more in that time. My improved levels of efficiency made me feel better. And the way I felt made me work better. This is how I transformed the way I lived and worked. I maintain that changed discipline in my Life even now.
All personal change begins with the first – crucial – step. Unless you take that step, the journey never begins. And while wishing demonstrates intent, please remember that mere intent, with no action, will take you nowhere. Which is why my friend’s intention to get back home from work by 6 pm daily remains a non-starter.
Even as some of you, who are struggling with the same 6-pm-home-aspiration, read this and wonder how can this even be practical in your work or company context, let me tell you this – anything’s possible! All you need is to be resolute about what you want to achieve. If you must get back home by 6 pm daily and want to keep your weekends free for family, you must have conversations with your boss and your team members alike. If your boss is a workaholic, who is both unplanned and aggressive, you must hold up a mirror. Having a heart-to-heart chat to discuss matters relating to your work and productivity is not insubordination. And if your boss thinks so – then, my friend, you perhaps need a new boss! Which is, in real terms, you must start looking for a new job!!! There are no two ways about this: no change can happen in your Life unless you work on yourself and the circumstances in which you are placed. And please don’t expect results overnight. Most of us are so steeped in certain Life and work patterns, it will require a lot of effort and will power from within us, and consistency, to ensure that we stay on the path of change.
One sure way to stay on the path, that you have started on, is to remember that with each passing day your Life is getting shorter. And that you are not going to get any younger. And if you have children, know that they are growing up faster than you imagine they are. If you don’t invest time in yourself and your family now, no matter what stage of your Life you are in at the moment, you will have lost some more of the precious time you are left with. Even so, don’t start with making sweeping, radical changes. Start with one crucial, and what you think is doable, step. And then take another. And then yet another. Over time, with increased self-confidence coming from seeing results, your personal journey of change will gather momentum.

Making Mondays Magnificent and every day a celebration

Why are Monday mornings manic? Because, we make them so!
How would you deal with a Monday if there was no concept of weekdays and weekends? If every day was just the same. Where you did what you love doing. And you worked, relaxed, chilled out, played, enjoyed, ate, slept – all of it, at complete ease with yourself! Well, this is possible, if only you dropped the labels that you have stuck on the days of the week. Manic Monday is a label. ‘Thank God It’s Friday!’ is not just brand, it’s a label. Weekend is a label. Drop all of them. Just treat each day as special, as a miracle, and see how you feel. And how your days and weeks feel.
People struggle with achieving a work-Life balance because they think of work as drudgery. They are forever lost in it. They think that they have to slog to earn-a-living and that “some day” their lives will become better. But when does that day come? At 60, when they retire, if they are lucky, that is? Which means for 40-odd years you have been working your butt off so you can finally “enjoy”. But what happens if you have a health condition at age 60? How active can you be as you walk into the evening of your Life? There’s no pointing reaching a dead-end, literally, and wishing that you had taken another road in Life. A work-Life balance is never achieved, it is taken – because the opportunity was, and is, always there.
The day you started your career and you made a choice to work in a particular industry, in a profession, you either chose to do what you love doing or you traded your passion for earning money. If it was the latter, either you had to love whatever you decided to do (if you can’t do what you love, that is) or you go back and change your career. There’s no point in wasting the years, the only available, irretrievable years of your Life, by thinking you can earn now and live another day. Even now, it’s not too late. Just take stock of your Life. Either quit what you are doing and go do what you would love or start loving whatever you are doing. Treat each day then as an opportunity to live drenched in that joy. See the miracle then. No more stress, no more deadline pressure, no more seeking a work-Life balance. Your “work” then becomes “living” the Life that you love living! And each day becomes a celebration!
When you reach this state, you will realize that you will have all the time in Life for doing everything. You will work more efficiently and effortlessly. And there will be a never-ending song playing in your heart. Then Mondays will cease to be Manic. They will be Magnificent!

YOU, only YOU, have to make time for LIVING your Life!

Everything that money can’t buy is, logically, FREE! These are theimportant, indispensible, irreplaceable, unputdownable elements of our lives! Yet we do precious little to nurture, develop, grow and protect all those things that come free in Life and work 60+-hour weeks ‘earning a living’ and trying to cling on to, protect stuff, that in the end are impermanent, dispensible, unimportant, forgettable and replaceable!

Isn’t that kind of weird?

Some years back Mastercard ran an advertisement campaign that went “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard!” The campaign’s tagline was “Priceless”. It is an intelligent campaign. And a gentle reminder that while we are busy ‘earning a living’ Life is ticking away. While all things money can buy can still be bought, Life can’t really be wound back. And that’s why it is so priceless. Yet we don’t quite understand the value of what’s invaluable __ living totally!

I was recently working with a bunch of managers who wanted to “understand Life in order to gain a “work-Life” balance”. The CFO had not slept for more than 3 hours nightly in three weeks. The HR Head had been too busy to even rush his wife, who was having premature labor pains, to the hospital and laments that despite that incident he is unable to “create” more than a few hours at home even on weekends. The Maintenance Head is having a complicated lung situation but is unable to quit his smoking. And the CEO is trying to commute between three plants in different states trying to ensure targets are met and that people are “on the ball”. His crib: Because his people don’t “show accountability”, he has not been able to take a break in over six months – not even a weekend off!

I was reminded of what I had learned from Richard Carlson (Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff): “Your Inbox is never going to be empty!”

I strongly believe that:

  1. If you are, as a manager, working more than 8 hours daily (that includes checking mail and responding to them or taking conference calls from other time zones) then one or several of these conditions are true:
  • a.     You are a poor decision-maker
  • b.    You are just horribly organized
  • c.     Your boss is inefficient
  • d.    Your subordinates are inefficient
  • e.     All of the above! 

      2.  Don’t take your Blackberry to the dining table and don’t wake up looking at it. Put it off     
           or on silent mode and leave it away from you while at home. Designate times while at   
           home when you will check your phone for calls and mails. 
      3.  When with the family, BE with the family 
      4.  When AT work, WORK – without distraction, without frittering away your time in     
      5.  Have the courage to say NO to unproductive meetings or attending meetings whose 
           agenda can be completed over mail or at least your contribution/input can be shared 
           over mail!

Remember this: Life is not going to make time for you. YOU, only YOU, have to make time for living your Life. Nobody can make it for you! Recognize that Life is ticking away. To be sure, you will die sooner or later. If you don’t LIVE now you probably will die wondering what all those meaningless hours spent at work__“being frightfully busy, with no time for anyone, even for yourself, yet having achieved nothing great”__were really all about?

Awareness makes all the difference


How much you know or don’t know about something does not make much of a difference to your Life. More often than not, you know enough about almost everything to make intelligent choices. But it is your lack of awareness, while doing simple, small, daily tasks, or activities, that impacts your Life in bigger measure than you can imagine! Awareness makes all the difference between living Life fully, making each day count, and merely getting past one!

For instance, it is common knowledge that:

  

  1. Regular exercise is important
  2. A balanced diet holds the key to a disease-free Life
  3. Smoking and drinking alcohol are injurious to health
  4. Too much work and stress kills
  5. We must save money for a rainy day

Although a large mass of humanity knows these simple tenets of intelligent living, very few actually practice it. The reason why many don’t practice is not lack of intent. Who wouldn’t want to be physically__and financially secure? The reason is that most people begin each day with good intent but simply lose themselves to the ‘doing’ conundrum. Between the morning cup of coffee and the kids being packed off to school to rushing off some work-related mails from your smartphone to 8 AM conference calls with the US West Coast to 10 AM calls with Singapore and 2 PM operations review meetings to more mails to attend to kids to be picked up and rushed to music, dance and sports coaching classes to getting dinner ready or sending off more important mails to packing for tomorrow’s trip to rushing to the grocer’s __ phew! __ where’s the time to think? Forget being aware! So, sometimes, because you haven’t had a meal at a proper time, a third cup of milky, sugary coffee, seems okay. Or when you light up one more time, although you KNOW you are overdoing it, you justify to yourself saying you need to ‘de-stress’. So destroy and de-stress suddenly become synonymous! Not that the protagonists of such a Life do not know the difference. They do. But they are caught in the web of doing__and doing and doing__without, at most times, being aware__of why they are doing what they are doing!  

Awareness has to be cultivated. It is about training your mind to understand the difference between getting wet in the rain and feeling it! So, a person whose level of awareness is high will feel the raindrops falling on her face while rushing off to work than simply worrying about her new laptop bag getting wet! It is about training your mind to feel grateful every time you eat, feeling thankful for each morsel you imbibe while relishing its delicious taste. You know a lot of people have contributed to making your meal delicious. But when you eat without awareness, you are in the doing mode. Your knowing anything is of no use. Because you have no awareness to celebrate your knowing. When you bring in awareness into every small detail in Life, you learn to live fully in each moment, from one moment to another! Through repeated practice, awareness improves. Then you realize, when your alarm goes off, that you are better off working out than sleeping longer. That you are better without lighting up. That you don’t need the one drink for the road. That the dessert only looks good and tastes good but does no good to your diabetic condition. Awareness gets you started. You, only then, start living!

Fundamentally, increased awareness reduces resistance and inertia to personal change. When you begin to change personally, transformation, an orbital shift in your thinking and living, becomes a distinctive possibility. With awareness, you too can be a Buddha. As Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk who lived in 6th Century BC, said: “Buddha means awareness. Awareness of both body and mind that prevents evil from rising in either.”