Be the only

There’s a quote about The Grateful Dead attributed to legendary rock promoter Bill Graham – “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.”

In retrospect, I realize that we grow up with a lot of emphasis on becoming the best at what we do. There’s not enough emphasis on becoming the “only.”

And, typically, the route to that is to become very good at (and, hopefully, enjoy practicing) three or four skills that combine and complement each other.

The 48 hour break

In his book “Ready for Anything,” David Allen shares a story about being stuck at a certain level learning Karate. Try as he might, he wasn’t able to break through to the next level. Out of frustration, he decided to take a break for a few weeks.

When he came back, he found himself breaking previous barriers with ease.

The lesson he shared in the book was one on the power of re-entry – “When you most feel you don’t need/can’t take a break is often when you most need one.”

Despite reading this book nearly a decade ago, this story is one that has stuck. Over the years, I’ve made an effort to be deliberate about breaks and re-entry. While these efforts have taken different flavors, the flavor I’m thinking about today is the weekend break.

Thanks to this story, I’ve experimented with various kinds of weekend breaks over the years. I have tried 24-36 hour technology black outs, no email Saturdays, and other such flavors. The current version that I’m liking a lot is the 48 hour break from work email. This means no looking at work email between Friday evening and Sunday evening.

I’ve implemented this over the past 18 months and have found that it gives me the space to re-evaluate how I’m approaching my work week while gaining much needed perspective on the challenging puzzle-of-the-moment. Most importantly, it provides the downtime to wholeheartedly connect with people that matter.

And, as I re-learn every week, re-entry is a powerful thing.

Gully Boy

Gully Boy” is a Hindi movie we watched twice in the last couple of months. It is available on Amazon Prime Video (with subtitles) and is a coming-of-age movie of a rapper from the slums of Mumbai. Hindi rap/hip hop is still a nascent music genre in India and the story is based on the true story of two Indian street rappers – Divine and Naezy.

There are many things I love about the movie – interesting characters, good music, and a nice story among them. Most of all, though, it speaks of the challenges of making your way up the privilege ladder when you are born in the slums.

Murad, the protagonist, needs several strokes of luck to make the leap – narrowly escaping going to prison for example – and also relies on the support of some incredible friends along his journey.

One of the most fascinating things about writing about privilege over the years is that nearly every one of the posts on the topic results in a response from someone arguing that I greatly under weight the importance of hard work. My thought experiment in response tends to be – how hard do you think folks in the slums of Mumbai work? I grew up witnessing abundant hard work in poor communities around me. What was absent was the platform that made all the hard work count.

Kids growing up in the slums worked hard to earn a few rupees to support their families every day while kids like me had the privilege to go to school and make something of our lives.

That is not to say a kid in the slums has no chance of breaking out. The odds of that happening are just infinitesimal compared to a kid with supportive parents going to an elite school.

Privilege is powerful. “Gully Boy” is a great reminder of that.

Blogging time

We’re about 2 weeks away from celebrating the 11th year anniversary of this blog. As I think about the evolution of this blog and the time I spend blogging/writing, I realize that this blog has evolved to a product of two co-authors – my wife and I.

While she has certainly influenced my thinking and posts over the years, her partnership and support since we’ve had kids is really what makes this possible. Time in the day flies quickly with two young kids. So, it takes extra effort to carve out pockets of time to share my notes for the day. And, that wouldn’t be possible without her unflinching support.

I don’t often express my gratitude to her here. But, as the person who does 90% of the work and gets 10% of the credit, I thought I’d do so today.

Effecting change and being misunderstood

Much of our ability to effect change in the long run lies in our ability to consistently do two sets of things – i) acknowledging and then accepting our missteps and ii) making peace with being temporarily (sometimes permanently) misunderstood.

The first ensures we have the mental and emotional agility to adapt to the dynamics of the situation we’re dealing with.

The second, on the other hand, helps us to not lose heart.

The watch and time

Someone I know recently spoke about the significance of a watch he’d received from his parents. Aside from the fact it was gifted to him by his parents, he spoke about what it had taught him about time.

In addition to reminding him to respect time and be punctual, he spoke of the idea that “this too shall pass.”

It is a simple and powerful reminder of the transient nature of things. We go through ups and downs that all seem permanent in the moment.

But, it is all just a matter of time of perspective.

This too shall pass.