The race called LIFE

He stood by the window, with the hot cup of water in his hand, occupied by his thoughts. His eyes were looking at a distance, where a green hill kept the blue of sky at bay. As his eyes moved down, he could see the apartment opposite to his, with a swimming pool, running the length of the apartment, the blue color of its water giving it a calm and serene feel but for the ripples caused by its one inhabitant. The man had a unique way of swimming the freestyle, both mesmerizing and amusing at the same time, as every occasion that he moved his arms for a stroke, his legs stopped beating.

“Why would anyone want to swim midday in such hot conditions?” He questioned, taking a sip of the hot water and feeling the heat down his throat. “See, that is the problem. Who gave you the freedom to judge another person so easily? So what if he takes a dip in the middle of the day? It is his choice!”. That was his inner voice.

He took another sip and his eyes moved further down to the ground outside. It was almost a square, running about a hundred meters each side. The middle of the ground had a pathway that connected the roads on either side of the park. Though the pathway was wide enough for 5 people to walk next to each other, the overhead cover was built in a corner and could only accommodate 2 at a time. There was one man walking underneath, grateful for the shade that the cover provided.

He was deep in thoughts as a result of the movie he had just watched. There was some truth in what was told. The movie had ended with a story of a robot, that did not know what its purpose was, except to run. Though the robot ran, he had no clue what his race was for. He also did not aspire to be first, or anywhere near the top. All the robot wanted to do was keep running the race and be somewhere in the middle. To be socially accepted as normal. A few years later, the robot broke down and died.

The analogy was so similar to a story he had written about eight years back. It spoke about the futility of this generation and of life itself. A man was dropped from space, in the middle of nowhere and the only command in his head was to race. Where or why, he wasn’t supposed to ask or know. On the way he meets fellow runners, some of who are in sync with him for a while, becoming his friends whereas others running slower or faster were either looked down upon or looked up to. As time flew, he realized he could not run as fast as he before and instead of slowing down, he tries harder to impress, eventually losing his life!

Maybe his life at present wasn’t so far from his story. He was here, while his heart yearned to be with his wife and child, a thousand miles away.

He got distracted by the push message he received on his mobile. It was from Urban Ladder. He had installed the app this morning, getting tempted to look at bunk beds for kids and parents to be in the same room, a fantasy that he wanted to make real in a few years. “Who gave Urban Ladder the permission to send him the marketing message just few hours since installation? What kind of maniac marketing has the world moved on to, where one is forced, tempted and sometimes bullied to buy more?” He uninstalled the app, though he liked the beds. Let some crazy analyst figure map out this user’s intent!

Looking at the man that took a swim and the other that was walking alone in the park, he was tempted to venture out. But where? There was no one in the country that he wanted to meet. It was hot outside and he already had a sour throat which he did not want to mess with further by taking a swim. With these excuses in mind, he decided to take a shower instead.

“Here’s how things panned out. About two generations back, my grandfather decided to shift bases from his village to a city. Responsible man that he is, he started his company to make sure that he was providing for his family. Since he did not have one, his life’s purpose was to build a house so his kids did not have to undergo the fear of uncertainties that he had to endure during his life. He succeeded.

However, during the next generation, society moved on and the city grew bigger. Independent houses were rare to find and in their place, multitudes of apartments sprung up. Joint families were no longer the norm and my grandfather’s house had to be split among his many sons. So my father now could not have a whole house but a part of it. And hence earning to secure a house made sense for him. What made further sense was to earn a lot more to ensure that the future generations do not have to find life as difficult as it was for him or his father.

So my father did not just stop at buying one house. He went on to make further investments. He bought a lot of jewelry and stacked up a lot of money. He ran the race and accumulated a lot of wealth. Now, when he is at the end of his working career, he would like to pass on the wisdom to me. The wisdom of doing a job that pays well, to build more houses, buy more jewels, finances and insurances to secure the future.

The infatuation with owning your own house has now sent real estate prices so high that one needs to work 20 years to own his house. But by 10 years, the house is old and so one has to buy a newer and in most cases, bigger house.

The trouble with our mentality is that we all love to add wealth. More houses, more money, more things. But we never take a step back to say enough. We also never look to reduce. Even when we were kids, we were taught addition before subtraction. We struggled with the concept of subtraction so much that we would reverse engineer the question to be an addition problem – if I had 100 rupees and someone charged me 28 rupees for a tennis ball and gave me 62 rupees, did I get the right change? Eight out of ten of us would add 28 and 62 rather than subtract 28 from 100.

But does it not make sense to just rent a place rather than tie yourself in a long term loan? Am I better off trying to do the job that I love rather than the one that pays? What if owning the house does not seem like a worthy enough goal for me? What if the goals that were right for my father and grandfather did not make sense for me? Maybe Buddha would understand me, he had a lot which he ultimately gave up. My ten minutes of shower time is over. I need to go out”

My inner voice countered. “Why should I go out? The shower is stimulating my thoughts, I am in the middle of questioning my beliefs and values and trying to figure out what is important in my life. Why am I feeling this urge to leave the shower just because it has been ten minutes? Is it the social responsibility of conserving water? Is it the social conditioning of just having ten minutes to take bath? Is it the mind playing games and ordering me to think of anything but such deep thoughts about what matters in life?”

He gave himself two more minutes in the shower just to stroke the feelings of the rebel in himself. He felt the deep urge to voice his thoughts out to the world to get their opinion on what matters in life. And so he sat himself in the couch and started to type.

__________________________________________

“He stood by the window, with the hot cup of water in his hand, occupied by his thoughts. His eyes were looking at a distance, where a green hill kept the blue of sky at bay. As his eyes moved down, he could see the apartment opposite to his, with a swimming pool, running the length of the apartment, the blue color of its water giving it a calm and serene feel but for the ripples caused by its one inhabitant. The man had a unique way of swimming the freestyle, both mesmerizing and amusing at the same time, as every occasion that he moved his arms for a stroke, his legs stopped beating.”……………………..

Break-even

Break-even point is something that a lot of us have used in lives. It is the revenue required in order to outweigh the costs during a particular period of time.

Considering our own lives, I have always considered the break-even point to be when I have zero debts. Hence my net value would be zero and it is all positive from there on.

  1. During the initial years of my working life, I still had to undertake additional investments – a life policy, a house and some essential liabilities such as a car.

Essentially, my break-even point was pushed by several years as a result of these actions.

  1. The last few years have been kind to me and I have been able to make serious inroads in my repayment schedules. I have now moved much closer to achieving zero debts. However, being a more mature person, and a family man, I now do not think my break-even point to be when I am at zero debt. It has got to factor in savings for my child’s education, my wife’s well-being as well as all our sustenance.

Although I have reached the break-even point of my twenties self, I am nowhere close to that figure for thirties self.

Hence my question. Is break-even a number or rather a state of mind? Are we just looking for new goals to stay the course with our lives rather than have the heart and mind to stop accumulating wealth and live with what we have?

 

My ‘other’ pair of shoes

“Hey man, can you believe it has been five years already since this?” It was a message from Chirag. Yeah, we had kept in touch.

The picture was one of us five friends standing on a wall with Edinburgh beach at the background. Besides being a sweet pic, one realization struck me the most. The absence of colors in our dresses.

That got me thinking.

Kiran: My best friend for life. He was wearing a pink(ish) jacket, yet not looking gay. Always the giver & ringmaster. He isn’t in the pic because he was the one organizing us for the pose & taking the picture.

 

The rest of us, in order.

Kathir: He wore black. He always wore black. Super fun to be with. He is one of those that can make you cry, or cry out of laughter if he decides to make fun of anyone.

Chirag: Powerful eyes, he gave you the impression of a serious guy. But wasn’t. Don’t remember what color jacket he wore.

Sanket: Laddoo. A funny, plump guy. We did not keep in touch, no apparent reason why.

Me: I think I wore a grey jacket. Bought for 8 pounds. A wise purchase that lasted 4 years.

Mayuri: A sweet girl. Fun to be with, unassuming. I don’t remember what she wore as well.

 

The more I think back, I remember a lot of events and people that have been memorable. However, what they wore has never really stood out to me. They were all different. Sure, they had their own style which was unique. But then, they were all the same – I liked them for the person that they were, not what they wore that day.

 

Hence the question, “What do I do with this other pair of shoes that I have had for years but seldom wore?” Have I given it too much importance? Does it deserve the space in my rack? If not, does the shoe rack deserve as much space as it currently occupies?

Keen to know your thoughts!

 

 

PS: The reference to pair of shoes is a metaphysical one. It could be replaced by any item that you consider to be a ‘spare’ or ‘back up’

The Joy of Less – A book review

As a reader of this blog, I am sure you already know that I am smitten by the minimalism bug. For those of you who do not know yet what minimalism is, it is the concept of owning less things through intentional living in a manner that we only indulge in those that add value to our lives.

Ever since my tryst with minimalism, I have taken some measures to simplify my life:

  1. I reduced the number of shirts I use, frankly because I hated ironing them. I now have a white shirt and a black one for formal occasions and one shirt that I use for more social occasions. I have switched to wearing T shirts to work. Trust me, they are far more comfortable.
  2. I am giving away some devices that have just been sitting at home, unused. Hope they find better use than they did at my place.
  3. I packed up unused items provided by my house owner and stored them away in a far away place. My kitchen now has a bit more space for the regularly used items to dock themselves.
  4. I have setup a blocker in my browser that limits my social networking time to 10 minutes during a work hours. Though my productivity has not improved, I am writing more often as my mind is less cluttered by news feeds of others’ activities.
  5. I have also spent considerable time unsubscribing from various emails, disabled pop-ups from various news/sports apps and even whatsapp. Though “phantom vibrations”  were felt from time to time, the withdrawal is now complete and I don’t feel the urge to check my mobile every 10 minutes.
  6. With the free time I got, I am now able to devote more attention to things I love – Solving those 1000 pieces puzzles and actually reading a few books

Now that I could see more benefits of living an intentional life, I wanted to take the next steps in minimalism. This was when I came across “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay being mentioned quite often as one of the best books on living a minimalist life.

I found the tone of the book to be pretty light and breezy to read. It felt more like the author was talking to me rather than writing to me. This helps to make things fun and also keep my mind open to the ideas being suggested.

The book starts off with some philosophy about minimalism and why one should embrace it. For someone that was already sold on the concept, this served as positive reinforcement to the benefits of minimalism.

 

Next was a framework to minimize your stuff. This laid some basis on how to go about decluttering things from your house and also ensuring that things stay the same way post the process. I liked the way Francine brought to our attention, some of the methods through which stuff accumulates without our knowledge.

The concept of having circles to describe the placement of things around oneself makes a lot of sense. The inner circle would be those that one uses daily, the second circle would be those that we use often but not on a daily basis and the outer circle would be those that can be kept away for longer periods of time but still cannot be completely removed.

And the rest, you have permission to let go!

But wait, Francine gives you suggestions about what to do with these excess. There are many ways to dispose off them which can ensure that they find better homes or owners and also do not damage the environment with our excessive dumping.

Overall I feel that this book is a good read for those who want exposure to minimalism and are looking for ways to declutter their homes. Though the book speaks about issues we face, going from room, once can choose to pick the sections that concern them.

One aspect that I feel was completely neglected was applying minimalism to people’s digital exploits. The book was very focused on decluttering physical  objects that there was, pardon the irony, less room to discuss meta-physical decluttering.

To follow Francine Jay please visit – http://www.missminimalist.com/

Feel free to comment 🙂

Book review – Doing good better – William MacAskill

Hailing from a conservative Indian family where we are taught to extract maximum value out of every penny or item, I found “Doing good better” to be extremely appealing. I have had reservations against donating money, the greatest one being that I did not have much to spare and hence would not give it for those causes with minimal impact. So I had to educate myself which program was the best and this book helped me gain clarity.

It has been five years since I graduated from my Masters program and I have missed graphs and statistics. I have always had a fascination towards topics where popular assumptions are broken down through logic, reasoning and most importantly, numbers. For those of you who love reading such a genre of articles, this book will appeal to your intellect.

The book provides a great starting point to evaluate various organizations and causes to gauge their effectiveness and impact. But that expectation is a given considering the title is “Doing good better”. Having said that, I am now aware of a few causes that do real good; capable of asking valid questions & qualifiers before parting with my money for any causes. Moreover, I am well aware of how much I can be influenced and drawn towards certain causes and well publicized events where the impact of my donation would not really make much difference in the overall scheme of things. My latest blog on “Why I won’t donate to the Manchester bombing” is based on some of the concepts outlined in this book. So, in essence, this book has more than “met expectations” and delivered to promise of educating me of how to do good, better.

I also found some sections of the book irrelevant for me and would happily skip those if I reread the book. For example, I am already too deep into my career to consider a path more aligned with effective altruism. Also, I do not for one bit find it practical for me to evaluate between a PHD or a computer science degree, keeping altruism as the end goal. As the saying goes, we Indians become engineers first before figuring out what we want to become in our lives.

In summary, read this book if you :

  1. Are remotely interested in doing good to the world
  2. Like the use of logical & data driven arguments to overcome popular assumptions
  3. Are convinced the one individual cannot make a significant difference to the world
  4. Want to choose between eating chicken/beef or ham, keeping in mind the environment/animals themselves

 

Why I won’t donate to the Manchester bombing

The bombing at Manchester is indeed a very sad event. 22 families have lost loved ones and surely their lives have been shattered beyond wildest dreams. The news has been well published on paper and has garnered a lot of sympathies from across the globe. There is no doubt that this is a tragedy.

NGOs have been setup for relief work for the families and pleas have been voiced for donations for the affected families.

However here are the reasons why I would not donate for this tragedy.

  1. Global Press: With so much coverage on the event, and a lot of celebrities voicing their sorry to the families, I am sure there would be enough funds collected already for the families. Moreover, I am also sure there would be one or two extremely rich persons wanting to make a real difference with a significant donation. Assuming a conservative estimate of 100,000 donations of $100 each, the impact of my donation to the overall figure is just 0.1%.
  2. Impact: Though the impact of the event has been devastating for the families, the scale of these impacts is restricted only to a section of Manchester. To put things in perspective, natural disasters wipe out entire towns and cities.
  3. 22: 429000 deaths happened in the world due to malaria in 2015. Road injuries (rank 10 in causes of death in the world) kill 43 people every day in Tamil Nadu. The Manchester bombing killed 22.
  4. Impact of one dollar donated: If I donated a dollar to the families in UK, I would probably be able to buy a bar of candy or chips with it. If I donated $100, I would probably have bought the families a new bed. Whereas $100 would be able to buy 40 mosquito nets that can potentially save 80 people from Malaria(Source: https://www.againstmalaria.com/WhyNets.aspx) . Using the concept of The 100x multiplier, which states that the value of a dollar given to a poor country could do 100x more good than when given to a rich one.  (Source :

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/what-is-the-greatest-good/395768/ ) it just makes less sense to donate to UK which is one of the richest countries in the world and can easily afford to take care of its people.

I don’t have any prejudice against Manchester or against the affected families. I have been a Manchester United fan for over 15 years and have experienced the city first hand. Judge me if you want, but I believe that once we have decided to donate money, we need to take a step back and look at where we can make a higher impact with the money we donated.

 

PS: If you want a quick recommendation of where to donate, here is a great place to start – http://www.givewell.org/

 

Altruism

I have been toying with the idea of making donations to funds that help the world….. Noble thought indeed.

However, I have been struck with a realization – I am happy to do the act but very reluctant to write about it. I would appreciate your opinions on whether my thoughts are justified.

Do we help ourselves?
I believe it is more of our ‘savings’ mentality that people expect us to build and save wealth. This might be for our future, followed by buffer for contingencies and if that is achieved, continue building for the future generations to come.

I do get the logic about why we should adhere to these principles. According to me, these guidelines are exactly what they are meant to be – guidelines. Once they take up a shape bigger than being just guidelines and becoming a norm or even worse, a fixation, there is little or no room to live life.

Economic freedom is a great feeling to have. Achieving this should enable one to explore options. This could be in the form of indulgences, following an alternate career path or passion, venturing out into a new business or risky deals or even altruism.

As per our ‘savings’ mentality, every penny out must fetch an ROI. Anything else is a wasted opportunity or a loss. All indulgences are frowned upon and we are branded as a show-off. Business ventures that carry risk are tolerated at best as there is an outside chance of returns.

Altruism scores the least as there is no personal gain. Any wealth that goes down the route of altruism is considered equivalent to wealth down the drains.

Is it just me that feels that our thinking is flawed or is it the norm? How many of you have embraced altruism and what was the reaction you faced when you discussed about this topic?

Keen to know your thoughts.

Stereotypes

Introvert, extrovert, ambivert.

Gen x, gen y, millenial.
Libran, Scorpion, Gemini.
Hindu, Muslim, Christian.
Tamil,Telugu,Mallu.
Northie, Southie,Gujju,Chinky.
Paki,Gora,Nigger, Sand Nigger.
Latino,Asian,Chinese,Caucasian.
MBA,Engineer,IIT,Commerce,arts.
IT, Automobile,Cook.
Rich,poor,middle class.
Thin, fat, man, woman, child, teen.

We have a lot of choices in describing anyone. Little do we realize, our choice of words greatly describe our perception as well as the perception of our audience on the subject in question. And it greatly affects them…. Sometimes, it ruins lives; destroys peace ; promotes hatred ; invokes suspicion; creates divide…

Maybe you did not talk to your next best friend because you classified them as one of these rather than embrace those differences.

It is the age of consuming new information. We are driven by the mad urge to know new things. But please be mindful that content that we consume is carelessly curated by viewership-hungry journalists that are highly incentivised to sensationalize every piece of news they get.

 

Getting serious about Minimalism – How to eliminate clutter?

It has been close to three weeks since I bumped on minimalism and I am taking slow but sure measures to declutter. Most of you must have seen my initial measures which I wrote about last week. I touched upon the topic of downsizing my stuff and also enforcing check points for reducing my time spent on social platforms.

Here are a few ways that I have embraced minimalism and gone about changing my life, slowly but surely.

Resolve to be happy!

The entire point of the change is for me to find more joy and happiness in life. Being a math driven guy, I can find more happiness by increasing the number of things I do that brings me joy or reducing those things that don’t. While the former involves a higher level of creativity, the latter is much easier to identify as your heart grumbles to you when you engage in things you don’t like. For example, I don’t enjoy tasks like ironing clothes, sorting out bills, organizing kitchenware, buying groceries etc. Doing nothing excites me more than doing any of these. So my first and probably only resolution is to be happy as I go about minimalizing everything around me.

Plan your pursuit

Probably the greatest risk of going back to our unproductive ways is when you realize that you suddenly have so much more time in your hands. If it has been years since you had a hobby, the extra time could drive you nuts. Our inertia would prompt us to move back to doing what we usually do – check our phones, dig our laptop or watch something on TV. Don’t blame yourself, our brain incentivizes us every time we find something new, so the urge to check your messages is biologically natural. As for me, I enrolled myself into a library and am 30% through with the first book I have held in my hand since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!!!!

And my blogs have become more frequent, so I feel the creative juice flowing in my veins.

 

Now focusing on the question of removing actual items, here is how I got about it. I looked at some of the ways many minimalists (and there are millions of them) went about de-cluttering their houses. The most popular one is the 333 project where you live on 33 wearable items for 3 months. Then there is the packing party where you basically pack your entire home and then only unpack stuff that you need over the next 3 weeks. Eliminate just about everything else that does not get unpacked. You could also create a list of 100 items that you want in your house and remove everything else. I found all of these too radical & hence have found my own two-step process.

Two step removal of junk

Have a designated store area in the house. Put everything that you feel is not necessary into a suitcase and keep the suitcase in that area. You are allowed to get items back in from the suitcase if you find use for the item. If not, eliminate all items after 2 or 3 weeks. The main advantage of this process is that you don’t spend too much time making decisions on whether you need the item or not.

Twenty-20 rule

“But why don’t we keep this as backup, in case there is an emergency?” – There is always this question ringing in our minds. In fact, this question is the sole reason for us having 20 towels at home 🙂

A rule that greatly helped me overcome this anxiety was one I found at theminimalists.com. It goes like this, “If you can get the item within 20 minutes of where you are and by spending less than $20, then you can throw the backup items out.”

If only I had come across this simple rule, I would not have burdened my parent’s place with 5 suitcases full of items that I wanted to store when I moved from my Bangalore house to Singapore.

Remove off packaging

A simple but effective way to store items is to eliminate the packaging. For example, perfumes are always covered with cardboard. So too are fragile items and mobile phones. We keep the boxes as they help when we resell the phone, but is the cost difference so significant to warrant the space these boxes take up?

Stop those bills at the doorstep: Open them, take a picture, email to your account, pay immediately if possible and bin the bill.

One in, two out: For every new item that comes in, I eliminate two.

No more clothes:Dont buy them. If you do, then follow the one in, two out rule!

 

After following these, have I succeeded in de-cluttering my things? I am not even 30% of the way there 😊

I am keen to hear some ideas from you regarding how you got the clutter out of your house… Feel free to comment your suggestions.