Calm at gunpoint

Someone I know was robbed at gunpoint recently. I reached out to him to check in.

It was nice to hear that he was doing fine. He explained that his philosophy of life is to live every day as if it were a bonus. That meant he was able to keep calm as he saw two guns pointing at him. He gave the two assailants what they wanted and they left without firing any shots.

He also said that he wished the assailants had asked him for help. He would have willingly given them what they needed.

But, my guess is that this is a result of an increase in crime after a year that has been especially difficult for many. The easy availability of guns compounds these challenges.

I’m glad nobody was hurt. I’m also glad for this friend’s calm at gunpoint. His philosophy made me think of my recent journey into stoic teachings.

The stoics would be proud.

Best of

I finally got to creating a “Best of” page – it is here and can be found on the sidebar on Desktop/on the overflow menu on mobile.

Now that I have a v1 shipped (below), I’ll continue updating this from time to time.

Over the years, a request I’ve gotten from time to time is to share a “Best of” page. After procrastinating on this request for over 5 years, I realized that I was getting stuck at defining what constitutes a “Best of” post. I’ve settled on a simple definition – a post that I would describe as a quintessential ALearningaDay post.

So, below are a few I’ve picked (grouped by year). I hope it helps.

v32 (2021)
Notes on writing for yourself (2021)

10 questions – Annual Review 2020 (2020)
Books that might change your mind – with links to older editions (2020)
3 career perspectives (2020)
First time parent advice (2020)

Simplifying personal finance (2019)
What is this blog about (2019)
30 hard won lessons from 30 years (2019)
Extenuating circumstances (2019)

Notes on Product Management – a series (2018+)
Motives vs. values II (2018)
Reason, season, or lifetime (2018)
v29 Release notes (2018)
Sources of learning (2018)

Training wheels (2017)
Principles of focus (2017)

Leadership in 1 page (2016)
4 core tech business models (2016)
3 phases of the job search process (2016)
Building a personal mission statement (2016)
16 Life Principles (2016)
The final MBA Learning – with links to 5 other key posts (2016)
Dealing with Death (2016)

Compounding learning (2015)
David Allen on Re-entry (2015)

Who owes you? (2014)
Observations about friendship (2014)

You don’t know if a good day is a good day (2013)

Success and happiness – Viktor Frankl (2012)

It’s my life – a few truths (2011)

Tune ups

The shop we bought our bikes from has an “unlimited tune ups for life” policy. I love that idea. It aligns incentives for the long term beautifully.

I availed this with our first “tune up” recently. One of the bikes had some visible issues that needed to be fixed. Another didn’t have anything visible but possibly had issues that weren’t evident as yet. And yet another looked fine.

Regardless, all of them got their tune up done. I’m sure this habit will help catch issues before they happen in the long run.

I could relate to these bikes. We all need tune ups from time to time. Sometimes, our problems are physical and we see it in our bodies. Sometimes, they are mental and a break from thinking about the problems we think about is what we need. And, in other times, we need an emotional tune up.

Different issues need different kinds of tune ups. But, they need that break, care, and attention all the same.

So, let’s take the time to schedule these tune ups for ourselves. We often need them more than we think.

Don’t say yes when you want to say no

“Don’t say yes when you want to say no” | an RJ whose name I don’t remember

I have a vivid memory of a lesson I learnt from a Radio Jockey/RJ over a decade ago.

My mom and I were driving down the streets of Chennai. I think it was sometime in the evening. Turning on the radio wasn’t something we did often. But, on that night, we did.

That’s when we heard this RJ share a story about a recent incident when she said “yes” to something when she really meant to say no. She shared how that ended up making both her and the person she said yes to unhappy.

When we’re half-hearted about something, it shows.

The lesson she took away from that incident was – “Don’t say yes when you want to say no.” Even if it feels hard to say no, it is the right thing to do if our heart isn’t in it.

I’ve thought about that lesson hundreds of times since. Often, when I find myself in a situation where I’m reluctantly saying yes, I ask myself if I’m saying yes when I want to say a no.

And, ever so often when that happens, I hear that RJ’s voice saying – “Don’t say yes when you want to say no.”

PS: I made a mistake while publishing yesterday’s post. So, we have two posts today. :)


The word “prestige” originated in France. It meant deceit, imposture, or illusion.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of chasing prestige in our lives. Perhaps an understanding of the origins of the word will help us second guess ourselves when we do.

The Osprey guarantee

I bought a backpack from Osprey recently. The guarantee tag caught my eye.

It said – “Osprey will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge – whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If we are unable to perform a functional repair on your pack, we will happily replace it. We proudly stand behind this guarantee, so much so that it bears the signature of company founder and head designer, Mike Pfotenhauer.”

As I read this, I felt the pride that the Osprey team takes in shipping great products.

It gave me goosebumps.

Vaccine rollout gratitude

I opened the NYT vaccine rollout tracker and learnt of a new milestone. This week, we saw the 7 day average of doses administered cross 3 million per day in the US. That’s amazing.

If the United States’ response to COVID-19 in 2020 was abysmal, the last few months have been world class.

At current pace, every adult in the US could be vaccinated by June 28.

The vaccines – particularly the mRNA formulations – have shown stellar results even with new variants. I think it is only a matter of time before they’re eligible for children too. We’re getting close.

I am grateful for all this and am looking forward to us getting to the other side.

PS: As these numbers were such a surprise, I realize I haven’t been keeping up with the news as much (not a bad thing). But, I did see a number of headlines about challenges with the rollout in the EU, Brazil, and a few other countries. I’m hoping that changes soon.

Working through a knotty situation

I was working through a knotty situation and talking to two friends about what I’d done to resolve the knots.

One of them shared that he’d learned to take the time to verbalize what was causing dissonance or discomfort. Verbalizing it helped him become aware of what was causing the problem, accept it, and move on by figuring out a constructive response.

Another shared the importance of spending time in nature. As we take in the enormity of the world around us, we gain perspective of just how small and insignificant our problems are.

It turned out to be one of those situations when I had experienced the benefits of both of these ideas in working through my knotty situation.

Both ideas resonated.

Out of balance

“Will I be out of balance?” isn’t a useful question.

It is a given. As long as we’re trying/pushing/pursuing, being out of balance will just be a part of our reality.

Better to focus on frequent check ins to build awareness and an ability to respond constructively and correctively.

The London cab driver study

The London taxi driver study is a seminal study from two decades ago on how learning changes our brain.

Taxi drivers in London – in the absence of Google maps – had to memorize the London map to be able to navigate to wherever the passenger wants to go. This training took two years on average was colloquially called “being on The Knowledge.”

As part of the study, researchers analyzed the brains of London cab drivers relative to those in the “control.” And, they found that the hippocampus – the area of our brain that controls spatial memory – was significantly larger in taxi drivers.

The led to a famous hypothesis“It seems that there is a capacity for local plastic change in the structure of the healthy adult human brain in response to environmental demands.” Over time, the researchers led by Prof Eleanor Maguire further corroborated this hypothesis with more “before and after” studies of London taxi drivers.

Put simply, what we learn has the power to change the structure of our brain.

Always a good reminder that we are more malleable and adaptable than we think.