Life happens with us

I read this passage yesterday in Shefali Tsabary’s excellent book – The Conscious Parent.

“To understand that life is a wise teacher, willing to show us our higher self, revolutionizes how we live and how we parent. We approach everything with an attitude that our circumstances are here to help us come from our higher self. We see life as trustworthy, here to usher us into a deeper self-connection. We also know it’s inherently good, a mirror of our own internal state of goodness. This approach recognizes that we are fundamentally interconnected to all that happens in our life, so that we are co-creators of the reality in which we live. Life doesn’t happen to us, but happens with us.”

This idea resonated deeply as it gets at the core of what it means to embrace learning from life’s experiences. Completely embracing learning in our lives requires us to believe in life’s ability to surface the right things to learn as we move with it.

In essence, the train of logic on how to think about this is both simple and beautiful. The first step is to take responsibility for what happens in our life – Stephen Covey would describe this as being proactive. Taking responsibility enables us to respond, and not to react, to life. Once we begin responding to life, we widen the gap between stimulus and response to be more conscious and intentional about our choices. That, in turn, means we become the co-creators of the reality we constantly shape.

I love the analogy of steering a boat in the sea. The sea’s currents are powerful and override steering from time to time. But, in the long run, there’s a huge difference between floating at sea and consciously steering.

Life doesn’t happen to us, but happens with us.

Indeed.

Your information diet

What is your information diet?

How much of it is spent –
– On email?
– On social media?
– On television?
– On reading the news online?
– On books or podcasts?
– On blogs or newsletters you subscribe to?
– On conversations with folks you learn from?

Take a guess.

Then, validate that guess during the day (or, even better, the week).

When do you spend your time on each of these activities? And, most importantly, how much of what you do makes you feel better for the long run after you do it?

Reviewing this typically leads to 3 kinds of changes –
1. A few of these activities are best minimized or, in many cases, removed.
2. Some activities are best done in chunks and planned toward the latter part of the day. They’re essential but are a waste of fresh mental bandwidth.
3. Finally, you need a lot more thought to do more of the activities that add a lot of long term value.

As a general rule, the easier an activity is to do, the less long term value it is likely to add.

In today’s age, your information diet is just as important as your food diet. We spend a large portion of our day exposed to information of different kinds. Just like our food diets, it is worth taking stock every once a while and asking ourselves – what can we do better?

We are what we do. And, what we think, say and do is a by product of what we read and who we listen to.

Why you should care about Net Neutrality

The internet is a thing of beauty. And, the regulation that the FCC has planned to roll back Net Neutrality threatens to destroy the foundations of the internet.

This image does a good job illustrating what the net neutrality discussion is all about (thanks to Software Engineering daily).

I have a longer note up on the “Notes by Ada” project on Medium and LinkedIn.

If you only have 3 minutes, here is the summary

  • Freedom of expression isn’t a function of the values of a place but the structure of the information infrastructure. Oppressive regimes led by the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin understood this and used the power of centralized/consolidated information systems to spread propaganda.
  • The 1960s were famous for the rejection of these centralized systems (in this case, the Bell/AT&T monopoly). And, the internet was explicitly designed to be network neutral as a way to fight consolidation. Side note: the internet’s design is a work of art.
  • This network neutrality or net neutrality means that every service on the internet competes on a level playing field and it is users (i.e. us) that choose which internet service wins. This system brings its own set of issues with it but it is better than the alternative.
  • Net neutrality principles are closely aligned with the principles behind the freedom of expression. So, the real question underlying the net neutrality discussion is — how much do you care about freedom of expression?

If you are a user of the internet, you benefit from the many innovations that led to the creation of this incredible connection engine. Like all great human tools, the internet has got its downsides. But, when you put it in perspective, it is hard not to appreciate how miraculous it is.

So, if you care about the internet or the freedom of expression or both, net neutrality should be important to you. If you are wondering what you can do, here are 2 ways you can help –

  • Join the protest starting Wednesday, July 12. Many of the leading websites that you use will share ways for you to lend your voice. Do participate!
  • If you don’t want to wait, no worry — John Oliver has you covered. Just go to “www.gofccyourself.com” and click on “Express” to share your support for Net Neutrality. Even better, check out his excellent episode on Net Neutrality

A final note — thanks to an FCC chairman who is determined to roll this back combined with an all Republican Senate and House, the odds are stacked against us. But, we’ve been here before with SOPA. So, here’s hoping we can reverse this one as well.

3 questions for reflection over the weekend

What if, starting Monday, you…

  1. …halved the amount of time you spent on television and social media and spent it reading a good book?
  2. …dedicated at least ten minutes every day to do a few simple exercises?
  3. …halved the amount of time you spent with your family but engaged with all your attention when you did?

Of course, it is hard to make change on all fronts.

But, and here’s a final question, what if we picked one and ran with it?

Meetings you aren’t invited to

Over the years, I’ve observed an unbelievable amount of human angst in organizations caused by meetings that are currently out-of-reach.

Everyone would love to be part of “that” important meeting.

The only issue is that there is no end to meetings you aren’t invited to. After all, there’s always that more important meeting that you aren’t invited to that “those folk” go to. When you are a Director, it is the Senior Directors meeting. When you are a Senior Director, it is the Vice Presidents meeting and so on.

It never ends.

And, besides, like most meetings, most of the meetings you weren’t invited to are just time sinks anyway. Meetings don’t necessarily get better as you move up the hierarchy.

Defining your satisfaction at work by the meetings you are invited to isn’t a winning strategy. So much better to focus on shipping great work and learning to run whatever meetings you are involved in well.

In the long run, you will be part of all the meetings you need to be.

Throw Back Thursday | Path-Sharers

The benefit of having 9 years of archives is that, every once a while, someone reminds you of an old post that resonated with them. And, today, I thought I’d share one of them. I wrote about Path-Sharers nearly 2 years ago. It continues to be a very relevant idea and one I hope to internalize completely as I grow as a person.


How many of your kindergarten classmates are currently your colleagues? What about secondary school or high school classmates?

If you are in your 30s, the chances are that the answer is 0.

We are wired to compete. Our schools exacerbate this instinct. The truth, however, is that we’ve got this completely wrong. Just because someone is on the same path as us doesn’t mean they’re heading to the same destination. And, just because someone is further along the path doesn’t mean they’re at the same point in their journey.

We’re always going to have people like us – fellow executives, fellow entrepreneurs, and so on. It is tempting to compare notes – salaries, funding rounds, education, grades, and so on. It is, however, useless.

We’re all on journeys to unknown destinations. Every once a while, we have others join us on that path for a little while. Instead of competing with them, trying to push them out of the path or looking at them with envy, what we must really do is be happy for their presence and continue working on making progress on our path. The more we focus on them, the more we detract from asking the important questions – “am I on the right path in the first place?”, “am I doing the best I can?”

There’s a secret that all incredible companies share – they don’t make decisions based on their competition. They keep doing things that build off their strengths and they always end up doing better than the rest. It is the same idea at play in our lives. We are on our own unique journey. Let’s celebrate and help the occasional “path-sharer” – they make the journey meaningful and fulfilling.

What if we assume they are having their worst day

Often, when we interact with other human beings, we expect them to be at their best. The customer service agent, the other drivers on the road, the shoppers in the mall and the many others we interact with every week in our lives.

As a result, we’re inevitably disappointed.

Couldn’t they be more competent, constructive or sympathetic?

These folks make us feel worse on a bad day. After all, we’re already kicking ourselves for a dumb mistake. Then, they swoop in with a sarcastic comment or some unreasonable behavior and make our day worse.

But, what if we changed our assumptions and, instead, assumed that the human beings we meet are having their worst day

What if the customer agent just got off a call where a customer berated him? What if the other driver just learnt that her kid had misbehaved? What if one of the shoppers recently got fired?

Maybe we’d behave better to others and, maybe, just maybe, we’d begin to expect less in our lives.

Our happiness is generally a function of our reality relative to our expectations. Of course, we can work away on making our reality better.

But, as with all fractions, working away on the denominator is a sure-fire way to improve the outcome as well.

What a person commits to says little about them

Commitment is easy. All it takes is a few works and, on occasion, a signature. But, commitments rarely do much on their own. Every great thing we are capable of building – relationships, organizations, trust among others – are built on the foundation of re-commitment.

Thus, what a person commits to says little about them.

How often they re-commit to what they commit to, on the other hand, says plenty about their character.

How do you choose the 4 dock apps on your phone?

How do you choose the 4 (or more) dock / easy-to-launch apps on your phone?

My guess is that the most common way of choosing these apps is by frequency of use. What if, instead, we chose the apps based on what we’d like to be the highest frequency apps?

For example, my default list used to be – Phone, Settings (primarily to switch on and off cellular data), Notes, Audible.

My new default list is – Phone, Notes, Kindle and Audible. I’d love to use more of the Kindle app during my down time and I’m curious to see if this will help me make the shift.

Defaults are powerful. Let’s choose them wisely.

The WGYHWGYT Process

Every 12-18 months, I work through a process that I call “What got you here won’t get you there” or WGYHWGYT. That’s not the most helpful abbreviation – so, I prefer the longer version of the name. :-)

The guiding principle is the idea that what got you here won’t get you there. It is a call to myself to pause, press the refresh button and change how I do things.

But, how do you know what to change?

I have a simple rule to get started- look for dissatisfaction. Over the past few months, for example, I’ve observed dissatisfaction at multiple moments. Here are a few examples –

  • Want to reduce the number of times I check my phone and, instead, switch to reading books during downtime
  • Need to shut down old project websites as old versions of wordpress are liabilities
  • Could exercise more.
  • Want to up-skill myself
  • Need to make the creation process for the weekly “Notes by Ada” project more efficient
  • Could do with a few wardrobe changes.

(there’s plenty more)

Once I’m satisfied with my dissatisfaction list (ha. there’s an idea), the next step is to think about what the next 12-18 months would ideally look like – what are the kinds of things I’d like to be doing differently? What should I be learning? How would I like to spend my time?

More often than not, the dissatisfaction list is nearly identical to the “future self” list. I think that’s because we are most dissatisfied by behaviors and processes that we believe aren’t consistent to who we want to be. This process is just about listening carefully to ourselves.

This list, then, is ready to be prioritized and acted upon. Some items require thought while some others require action. But, the plan exists. And, ideally, I’ll walk out at the other end of the process feeling refreshed and reinvented.

Life has a way of pushing us to refresh and reinvent ourselves from time to time. I’ve found it to be much better to own the process.