There are Always Better, Smarter and Luckier Folks

As human beings, we never make decisions in a void. The only way we assign a value for something new is by comparing it’s worth to something we already do know.

Let’s imagine we climb Mount K2, the 2nd tallest mountain in the world. If our immediate friend’s circle have never managed to scale a peak of that height, we’d likely be feeling good about ourselves. If, however, our immediate group of friends have all climbed Mount Everest, the chances are that we wouldn’t be feeling all that great. In fact, we might even feel inadequate.

The big problem with making these comparisons is that the act of continuously doing so only breeds insecurity. And happiness rarely exists (happily) alongside insecurity.

I guess what helps is accepting at some level that there are always going to be better, smarter and luckier folks around us. That’s just the way of life. And that’s not the case in absolutes either. They may be better, smarter and luckier in our eyes and not in their own. Better, best etc are all relative after all.

What we can be the best at, then, is obvious. We almost have a fiduciary duty to our investors (i.e. ourselves to start with!) to be the best at being ourselves. If all we spend our time thinking about is how to be someone else, then isn’t that a damned sure way of wasting a lifetime?

Life is Not a Popularity Contest

This is turning out to be a week of travels. It was Austria in the first half of the week (unplanned) and Switzerland in the second half (planned). I’m on serious sleep debt the last few days but when the talk came up of a football session at 6.30am this morning, it was too good to resist.

20 minutes into the game, my empty stomach was sending strong signals to get some food. So, I dutifully obliged and ran to the restaurant where they’d just set up a breakfast table and grabbed a few bananas for the rest.

Now, the lady in the restaurant was understandably not pleased. This is Switzerland, they actually follow rules here. “If everyone is like you, our guests won’t have breakfast.”

I pointed out that I AM one of those guests who would be eating the food anyway. But then again, I’m used to bad service in Switzerland so I made my exit pretty quickly and met a wiser friend getting out for a run. He was happy to see some food and I made sure I highlighted the ‘cost of getting these – an upset restaurant manager.

And that’s when he said – “It doesn’t matter. Life is not a popularity contest.”

Life is not a popularity contest.

It made me wonder – How much of our lives do we spend trying to be popular though? What if searching for popular was indeed the problem?

Life is not a popularity contest.


There is No Training Quite Like War

Every time I’m amidst a challenging period, I think of the adage ‘Where it rains, it pours.’ All sorts of funny little issues seem to be pop up just about then.

On cue, I am then reminded of a wonderful Muhammad Ali quote –

‘It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.’

And my observation here is that the pebbles only pop up when you are sprinting up the mountain at a time when you definitely do not have the time to stop, take your shoe off and take them off.

That’s why I say there is no training quite like war. While I haven’t been a soldier myself, I often compare difficult periods in day to day living to war (naivette, very likely!). It doesn’t matter how much practice you do and how sophisticated your equipment and methods may be, there’s nothing quite like the real thing. Dealing with all these pebbles that can each potentially drive you crazy in the midst of extreme chaos – now, that’s a challenge like no other.

And, of course, we can only ignore these pebbles at our peril. It only takes a small crack in the rails to de-rail a massive train. The small stuff matters.

So, what can we do then?

Sweat the small stuff. Keep running. And win.

Work Hacks Wednesday: Being Mindful of the Battery

One of the analogies I heard best when hearing of introversion and extraversion is the analogy of the battery.

If you imagine your energy as that of a battery, do you ‘charge’ during social interaction (eg: a team dinner)? or discharge?

In principle. extraverts get ‘charged’ up during social interactions while introverts don’t. And, by extraverts/introverts, I mean those whose dominant tendencies are so. No one is a 100% extravert or introvert. A bit of detail here.

This matters a fair bit because our treatment of our battery plays a big role in our energy the next day/week. Examples –

An introvert would not find it fun at all to go for a team dinner during an intense week as it would take up vital re-charging time at home.

An introvert would be far less energized on Monday morning if her weekend is spent on long ultra-social interactions after a very social/intense week at work.

Conversely, an extravert would be very dull on Monday morning if his weekend was spent all alone after a week spent in a room doing desk research.

Our social interactions play a big role in determining our ‘charge’. We all have our unique thresholds for people interactions in our life. And I see few things as important as making sure we are close to this threshold or sweet spot since there’s almost nothing more important that we bring to work than our energy/a fully charged battery.

Off The Cuff

“It was only an off-the-cuff remark. Man, that was taken ever so seriously.” – I complained to a friend.

His reply was classic. “You’re past the age where you will actually say something stupid on purpose. Now, it’s your off-the-cuff remarks that will land you into trouble.”

It’s a line I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few days. We say so much that we often tend to underestimate the power of the things we say. Every little things provokes some sort of a reaction from the person sitting opposite. Whether it’s positive, negative, energizing or dampening, it’s all up to us.

And of course, even our ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks count.

I had re-posted a brilliant Seth Godin post that urged us to ‘Write like you talk. Often.’ Perhaps, it’s worthwhile to also add ‘Talk like you write. Thoughtfully.’

Making Your Circumstances

Today’s good morning quote is one from Napoleon Bonaparte –

Circumstances? I make circumstances.

I’ve written about my struggle with balancing push and pull over the years when it comes to attempting to get what I want. I’m convinced that the magic, like in most other things, lies somewhere in between the two. We need to sit back, be patient and pick the right time (i.e. pull) many a time in our life and then again, there are times we need brute force (i.e. push) to make our way.

Today, I’m thinking about the push part of things.

I was in conversation with a friend on Saturday when we were thinking of something I needed done. We looked at the 2 possible ways of doing it and we realized that the odds on one of them were very very long. The odds on the other? I described them as roulette odds.

I remember putting the phone down and thinking of the task ahead remembering the portion about the odds and realized – the odds are never right. The stars always look unfavourable, the timing is nearly always bad, the chances are always incredibly low – when has it ever been easy?

We all have goals. Some of these are important and some of these not. For the important goals, we often seek help and advice as achieving these goals always calls for some push and looking for external push often helps in the early stages. It’s really vital we go to the people who’ve been there and done that, for advice because bad advice (generally from people who haven’t done it themselves) can crush our spirit, make it limp and make the goal look insurmountable. Push matters. We have to learn to do what it takes to give us the push necessary.

The circumstances are never going to be right. We just have to make them so.

On Depression and Delusion

This week’s learning is from ‘The Geography of Bliss’ by Eric Weiner.

Martin Seligman, founder of the positive-psychology movement conducted multiple experiments exploring how happy people and depressed people remembered their pasts. He was surprised to find only one fundamental difference –

– Happy people remembered more good events in their lives than actually occurred while..

– Depressed people remembered the past accurately

Essentially, he discovered that realists were typically at least a little depressed while optimists were generally at least a little delusional.

How do we remember our pasts? What kind of stories do we tell ourselves? Do we try and stick to reality (what is reality anyway?) or do we permit ourselves to be slightly ‘deluded’ so we can be that bit happier?

I found this story to have a big personal impact (even before I’d read it for the first time!). A few months back, I’d had a conversation with a friend about a past experience that I didn’t look back on positively. Essentially, I always had a negative response when the experience was brought up.

During the conversation, I realized my interpretation of that experience wasn’t helping. It’s high time I focused on what I learnt and moved on. Seligman would call that ‘Learned optimism’.

Here’s to remembering our past with a ‘pinch of salt‘ this week!