Reflections

Success Musings

We are five weeks into the new financial year.  The year is still young and plans are afoot to make this year count. Here are some field notes from numerous interactions with people on the ground. It appears simple, but it is where I find people trip.  I call this one Success Musings for I have made a success formula of sorts from Murakami‘s words. It is rather simple. But it works!

Success = Talent X Focus X Endurance. 

Most of us falter and miss reaching the heights excellence in our chosen domains not for want of talent. The hurdle that trips us is ‘focus’. Or the lack of it. The modern day world tempts us with so many options. We pick up the phone more often than we realise. Often, for no legitimate reason at all.   We have so many inviting options and distractions that can take us farther away from what we have to focus on and do. You can read Nicholas Carr‘s The Shallows and Cal Newport‘s Deep Work.

Less is more! The lesser we have on our plates, the more we are able to pay attention to what’s on them. Keeping everything that distracts from the core subject, out of the frame, adds so much more to what’s in the frame.  That lesson from photography 101, is much treasured.

The second aspect of endurance requires us to stay with it for long periods of time. That involves toiling away when no one is looking with nothing possibly to show for all the toil.  That is a lot of boring work with the mind screaming for easier options that beckon. Those who run long distances are familiar with these statements that pop up in the mind: “Why? Why am I doing this? I would rather be relaxing on a Sunday morning than sweating it out like this”! Well, success lies beyond such thoughts and after we wade through these. Endurance often is a mind game. 

Here is Murakami. Excerpts from Chapter Four. From “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir“.

In every interview, I’m asked what’s the most important quality a novelist has to have. It’s pretty obvious: talent. No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don’t have any fuel, even the best car won’t run. The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can’t control its amount or quality. You might find the amount isn’t enough and you want to increase it, or you might try to be frugal and make it last longer, but in neither case do things work out that easily. Talent has a mind of its own and wells up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that’s it. Of course, certain poets and rock singers whose genius went out in a blaze of glory—people like Schubert and Mozart, whose dramatic early deaths turned them into legends—have a certain appeal, but for the vast majority of us, this isn’t the model we follow.

If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus—the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that, you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it. I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every morning. I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I’m writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else. Even a novelist who has a lot of talent and a mind full of great new ideas probably can’t write a thing if, for instance, he’s suffering a lot of pain from a cavity. The pain blocks concentration. That what I mean when I say that without focus you cant accomplish anything.


After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be able to write a long work. What’s needed for a writer of fiction—at least one who hopes to write a novel—is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, two years.

Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee the results will come.

In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated. I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him.

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate—and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would definitely have been different

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Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running and a metaphor for life and for me, for writing as well.

Murakami has been a personal favourite. I have poured over these lines and couldn’t resist sharing them here. Running as a metaphor for life has held strong for me. Before we go forward, may I turn around and ask you, what’s your metaphor for life? That’s one place where your own success formula can emerge!

So, where do we start?

The two circles  

For starters, writing down goals helps. Broad long term goals are good to write down. They serve as a reference point to what you want to do. A year is a good timeline to have. Arriving at what these could be tricky. It is best done in conversation with someone we trust. A good friend who refrains from advice but helps evolve a choice set, options and leave the deciding to us is great to have. An executive coach helps with just that.

“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

Robert A. Heinlein


Once the “what” is sorted, going about getting it is where focus and determination help. Every time we stretch a muscle, it hurts. But it is in the stretch, pain and challenge that learning and growth happens. It is about faltering, picking oneself up and continuing to work on. 

There are people who falter on the ‘What’. That is, people who miss out on evolving choices about what they should be working on. They find themselves bored at work and devoid of purpose. 

And there are people who falter at the ‘How’. These are people who have evolved a few things for themselves. But then, it is in focus and endurance that the faultlines show.  That requires a different working altogether. 

So where do you start? 

Getting the ‘what’ out of the way is always a good start. “What all do I want to really do?”, is a tough question to answer! A good conversation that will help clarify options and choices sets it up nicely.

Pro tip: Please make a point to write it down. It helps!  Just having it written down somewhere is a start that can give you momentum action. That is a good start to evolving your own success formula!

Image Credit : Pixabay

Spinning the wheel – My reflections on blogging

A couple of years ago, I stood in Kathmandu’s famous Swayambunath temple. I stood transfixed, besotted by all it offered. Of particular interest was a stellar set of prayer wheels. They were exquisite and seemed to offer something deeper and more joyful than what was apparent.

I watched in quiet awe as people came by to spin the wheel, reciting something quick and muted. The older folk turned it with gentle ease and with a ready rhythm backed by an effortless flow. I stood there for a long time. Taken by the magic of it all.

There is a reason why I think of that now.

IMG_5160

A few days ago, I was in Kolkata interacting with some bloggers there. Friends at Blogadda were hosting a meeting and I was passing by and happening to have to time at hand. It was delectable. Both the conversation and the consequent thoughts that it has sparked off. I shared some of my views there and the kind folks there were kind enough to stay put and listen. Some of them reached out to stay connected after the event! Which left me smiling.

Ever since, ‘blogging’ has been on my mind, wondering if I could have been more pointed and coherent.

For, to me blogs are special. They offer the scale and opportunity to thoughts and expressions. Blogging has had a profound impact on my life. So much so, that I could go out on a limb and proclaim that it aided in changing the course of my life.

Here are some reflections on my journey of blogging. Five points. Not much I think. Top five, if you will.

1. Blogging is a craft. People excel in a craft because they love a craft. Awesome bloggers that I know, publish content because they love doing so. While their voice and points of view get heard, it is a relentless discipline at getting better at it, that rests beneath. They treat blogging with respect and intensity. A certain sense of joy and deep value that passionate practitioners of any craft can relate to.

2. Getting the basics right is such an important facet of any picking up a craft. The basics of blogging, in my opinion, revolve around creating good content and finding a way of reaching it to people. Now, ‘good content’ in itself lends itself well to a long conversation. But the idea is this: Content is key. Statistics on the number of hits, where the hits come from, at what time they come etc are incidental. Focusing on getting better at putting the message across makes a substantial difference. You become a great batsman by watching the ball and spending time at the nets. Not by staring at the scoreboard.

3. Participating and building community conversations matter. Making friends via blogs is a natural consequence. The bounty of friends that I have made just because my blogs have been around for a while is a true bounty. Perhaps bounty with a capital B! Blogging is about people and conversation.

I have enjoyed growing with a set of bloggers. Going far beyond knowing them through their blogs and being present when they turned a new page. Grooved by passion and polished by time, this intimacy has evolved beyond the URL. A blessing that is so rich, that it stays outside my limited capabilities of describing it.

4. Responses to posts and ideas over all these years have varied. Swinging from idolatry to the downright dismissive, teaching me a thing or two in the process. The famous lines from Kipling’s ‘If’ has much mindshare now:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…”

To be equanimous to comments and responses after I hit ‘Publish’ has been one huge piece of learning. Blogging lends itself well to comments and staying calm help.

People who read a blog in the initial years happen to be friends and relatives. People who are generally of the kind kind. A heap of good comments can show up every time you published. I learnt it the hard way, that it’s so easy to get swayed by it. I have one piece of advice: Don’t! Keep working on the craft. If you are into writing, do read this book by Stephen King.

5. After you have put down Stephen King, do make it a point to read other people’s blogs. The better ones. The getting better ones. The ones that you disagree with. The ones with a point of view. The ones with a flourish in language. Whatever. Do read.

For reading helps in finding inspiration and establishing a connection. These connections and inspirations span generations and geography. But present an interweave that goes beyond the obvious. And in a good way, will lead you to stay curious. In the present day templatised world, staying curious can sometimes make all the difference!

So there, those are my top five reflections on blogging.

Now, back to the prayer wheel.

The prayer wheel is profound at many levels, as I discovered. The prayer wheel is spun with a meditative stance. You stay focused and get better at it. There are several beliefs and practices that surround Prayer Wheels. There is one that hugs my mind, though. The Tibetan tradition has a practice ‘of dedicating any accumulated merits that one may have gathered during practice to the benefits of all sentient beings‘.

That to me is at the centre of it all.

To share a point of view, with love and a degree of compassion is an opportunity that is available to everyone with a blog. The choices, of course, are ours to make.

The Sunday Post. The Week that was !

What a week ! What a week.

It was perhaps one of the fastest of weeks with so much of work ( & misery). At work, well, the uncertainty & pulls and pressures of corporate life suddenly hastened to take its complete hold and toll. It isn’t easy spending 14 + hours on a daily basis for as many days as the week has. Shrug ! Shrug !

Missed some bill payments. Paid some fines because of the misses. I still haven’t figured, why I keep things for the last day, knowing fully well, that I am prone to miss deadlines. So upset and cross with myself. By the way, on a different note, paid some real heavy taxes to the government. Wondering why it isnt any value at all. That money would probably be spent on a government minister’s fancy car or his sons underwear. Or whatever.

Havent accomplished half of what I had planned to do. Sometimes, when the lousy weeks come in at you, they come in so much of a series that it bowls you over.

Saturday, I had a bike crash.

Well, another bike crashed into me.
Well, it was my mistake as I failed to signal that I was taking a turn.
Well, actually, I was in two minds if I were to take the turn or take the next one.
Well, actually, I did not know my way.

Net result, a young man crashed into me. The abuses started flowing. For a moment, for a fleeting moment, there was a thought to switch on the indicator and claim that I was not at fault. Something inside said NO. Parked my bike and, profusely and (sincerely) apologized. The rider picked himself from the ground, and came charging “What bloody sorry?”

“Sorry”. “Are you alright. Do we need to see a doctor”

A couple of minutes of speaking and stating that I was ready to help out in whatever manner, he smiled and said, “Its ok, I’ll manage”.

Me: “Am sorry. Is there some damage to the bike?” He didn’t even look at the bike.
He: Am ok. Don’t worry carry on. You should have indicated…I couldn’t stop suddenly
Me: I should have. Am really sorry. I am kind of new to this part of town
He: (Smiles & waves )

As I drove from there, a bit shaken, at the first bike crash in so many years of riding, my mind raced back to the fleeting thought of switching on the indicator and after the guy was down. I felt my stomach churn. Was it me ?

Thankfully, that thought was only as fleeting as it could get.
Thankfully, I hadn’t stayed on to that thought.
Thankfully, I said “Sorry”. I could atleast get to see the guy smile, when we left that scene. It was a sad event though, for many an onlooker who had expected a scuffle of sorts. A friend later said, “Thankfully, that guy was on a bike. Imagine if he was on a four wheel drive”.

The positives. Met a friend and her entire family after years. Felt good. Caught up with a former colleague. Watched a SPB concert on TV. Planned something for Gandhi Jayanti (will write about it tomorrow). And paid to attend a training program for the next week !

The last three lines, wiped out all the sweat and the sorrow of all previous lines in this post.

Lifes like that.

The Sunday Post. The week that was !

In more ways than one, the week that was significant !

Uncertainty at work, killed possibilities of productive growth and pathforward. I hope the guys up there have some understanding of this and ensure that things are set up properly, and the stage is set for big battles. Sabre rattling can cause the rank and file to be unnerved and unenthused ! Somebody said, the corner room needs a campaign manager. Well ! Huh !

Some firm resolutions & actions from the personal side, made this week suddenly ‘productive’ ! I fixed some tax issues. Insurance issues. Bank visits and related rig morale. Two public sector banks. One visit went like this.

Me: I have an account with you for a year and half, and am yet to get the promised ATM card.

Customer ‘SERVICE’ Rep” : Without looking up. Am busy today. Come on a week day, at 2.30 PM.

Me: I work far away from here and I cant travel all the way to get an ATM card. (I didn’t want to talk to him about my problems at work !)

CSR: That’s ok. You have to come on a week day

Me: Mister. That’s NOT ok.

CSR: (Looks up. Points to the managers cabin). Please go inside and speak to him.

Me: Huh !

The other public bank, was far lousier. So will not write about it. The health check ups were done. Some sundry payments were made (Its onlyt the payments !!) . Library memberships were done.

Surrendering a Reliance phone took 45 minutes. I had to explain why I had to surrender the phone to three different people, each of whom had the same set of questions. ( I took me 20 minutes to get the connection). And it is still not done ! The process took so much time that I felt like walking up some remote Himalayan jungle.

Wife landed a job, and that is posing requirements of significant changes in our lifestyle. And we have to reinvent ourselves all over again. A challenge worth its time i guess ! I met a long lost friend over lunch. His perspectives were clear. As usual. Sunil is a treat to be with. And in his own way, is so very inspiring.

Another interesting part was to be with students of the National Association for the Blind at a send off for senior blind students. It was both touching and wonderful to see people with such resolve, overcoming obstacles that were thrown at them. When I think of them and what they achieve and how they continue to face life, Customer Service Reps in Public sector banks, and the Reliance phone executives appear as mere specks in a long road ! I intend working closely with these blind kids.

When i look back at the week that went by, there is a quiet satisfaction at what was done. It was good, but could have been better ! Perhaps we’ll be turning the corner for good, quickly. Well, thats the hope. As i write this, i am reminded of the credo from Gita, “Do your duty. Dont worry about the results”.

Am positive the results will come !The new week will bring with it its problems. But I am girding my loins.

Wish me luck.