Learnings from life – Part I

This is one post I have been trying to pen down for quite some time. While these are some of the learnings I have had in my life they are by no means some golden rules for anyone to follow as they are a result of my unique experiences.

  1. There are no play-books. If you want to blaze your own path in life, understand that there are no play-books to follow. Most of our life from childhood onwards we are asked to follow different play-books. Most of the times these are based on journeys taken by people who ended up being successful. These people, their lives and journeys are often cited as examples of a path to take to achieve success and we end up blindly following them. Variables like your nature, your network, your interests and abilities are not considered and these often determine your success. So the next time you are presented with a play-book to follow, sit back and ask some questions. Find your answers and chart your own path.
  2. Don’t wait for permission. We are conditioned to ask for permission from the time we are a toddler. Hardly any decisions we take are under our control almost till the time we start college. We are taught to take permission from parents, teachers and elders to do pretty much anything in our childhood. This is mostly done to keep us out of harms way however almost 18 years of this habit naturally tends to make us reluctant when it comes to big decisions. We are always looking out for the ‘elder’ to ask for permission. This reluctance limits our chances of success. As they say it is often easy to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
  3. Learn to delegate. Delegation work to someone is something most of us come across in our 30s. This is mostly when most people reach middle management and have people reporting to them. Till then tasks were delegated to you and you have become pretty adept at finishing things you were assigned. Delegating work though is a different ball game and most people are uncomfortable with it at least initially. Start by delegating smaller tasks whose outcome don’t matter so that even if it gets messed up you can either redo it or no one cares. Try to give away at least 20% of your daily tasks to people reporting to you and take it from there.
  4. Strong opinions loosely held. It is good to have opinions and having strong opinions allow you to commit to decisions and directions. Interestingly opinions change over time as you gain more experience and more often than not you will see contradicting evidence to your opinions. When that happens swallow your pride, take it as a lesson learned and change your opinion.
  5. Data based decision making. In God, we trust everyone else must bring data. This is one of the posters that hang in our office. It is very easy to get lost amongst anecdotes and stories. The loudest mouths and storytellers can weave stories to push their points sometimes misleading the decision-making process. With data, everyone is looking at the same picture and drawing conclusions from it.
  6. Reading books. Reading is crucial and it can help you get ahead in life. However many people get into the trap of counting pages or books they have read. Recently I have come to think of reading as a means to gain knowledge, provoke deep thinking or inspire actions on topics you care about. By that definition, an article you read, a documentary or a movie you watch or an annual report of a company can all have the same effect. I no longer set targets or maintain a long list of books I need to read. There are 3 – 4 topics of interest for me at any point in time and I try to consume any content on those topics be it books, videos, articles or tweets. Re-reading books that I liked in the past is another thing that I have started doing. I take copious amounts of note and consume additional content on the topic like author interviews, summaries, reviews of the book to build on top of the initial reading.
  7. Habits vs Goals. This is an idea popularised by Shane Parrish, James Clear etc in their blogs. Although I still do set goals for myself on an yearly basis most of these are broken down into daily habits or tasks that are part of my daily routine. For instance fitness for me is a daily 30 minute session rather than getting a 6 pack abs or getting the fat content to < 10%.
  8. Start with something. A blank canvas can sometimes look like a chance for infinite creativity or a steep hill to climb. The key is to get the first stroke in and work from there. There is an interesting concept called ‘The 5 second Rule’ that I came across in Mel Robbins site. It essentially says ‘If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea’.
  9. No one is thinking about you as much as you. A lot of our time is spent on thinking about what others think about us. This fear or concern is natural as we are social beings and for many years in our history, our survival depended on how likeable we are in the group that we are part of. However, this thought can make us self conscious unnecessarily. Accept the fact that there will be people who will like you, hate you and not care about you. The vast majority will be the last group.
  10. People remember how you made them feel. Treat people nicely irrespective of their social status or in whichever levels of man-made hierarchies they fall into. It doesn’t cost anything.
  11. Avoid toxic people at all costs even if it benefits you temporarily. Some times in life you will find yourself in the company of toxic people. The fact that both of you are on the same side and consequently want the same thing is no excuse to put up with these people. At the end of the day, they are a big energy sap for you both physically and mentally. The warning signs often come early in your interactions and it is best to avoid these people.
  12. Plan your day in advance. I go by the adage, “No one plans to fail but fails to plan”. A day planned in advance allows you to avoid distractions and gives a clear sense of purpose. Write down 3 big things you want to accomplish the next day before you go to sleep. That is all it takes.
  13. Take notes… a lot of it. I have filled my share of moleskines and notebooks with copious amounts of notes and margin doodles. Some of these notes I never refer back to and I was concerned about that for a while even questioning the habit of taking notes. But lately, I have come to realise that they serve not just as records you can go back to but also as a way to structure thoughts and assimilate information when you take them. That alone justifies taking notes.
  14. Figure out what you would enjoy doing even if no one paid you to do it. Life doesn’t happen in a straight line, there are many ups, downs and about turns. Not everyone discovers their passion by the time they are out of college. People end up in careers they might not enjoy but pays the bills. Once you are stuck at the wrong job it will slowly start affecting your happiness and your well being. It pays to take time and consider your options while choosing a career path.
  15. Who wants what? Negotiations happen everywhere and not just in business. It helps to know what the motivators for the person sitting across you are. Money? Respect? Speed? Use that as leverage to arrive at a favourable outcome for both parties.
  16. Anchor effect is powerful in negotiations. Name your price first. Make it at least 2X or 0.5X depending on which side of the table you are of what you would be happy to walk away with. Once this number is in everyone’s mind it is difficult to get it out and you have a better chance of closing the deal at your desired number.
  17. How you do anything is how you do everything. This one comes in handy especially when you are hiring people. Traits like attention to detail etc are so ingrained in people that no matter what tasks they do it shows. Candidates who turn up a shoddy presentation for an interview citing lack of time is suddenly not going to become perfectionists once you hire them.
  18. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to talk about money. Yes, everyone is doing it for the money.
  19. Trust – The world goes around because of trust. Whenever I get into any sort of relation – business or personal – I begin with 100% trust on the other party. Second guessing every action by someone is a sure shot way to strain the relation and get into all sorts of trouble. Calibrate the trust as you move along.
  20. Unlike the digital world, real-world is not binary. A binary world is easy to understand. There are clear rights and wrongs. However, the real world is messy. There is black and white on opposite ends and a huge grey area in between. Almost everything you deal with will fall into the grey area. So, get comfortable operating in this zone.
  21. Good, bad, evil are all relative. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s militant. As long as you are not hurting people or on the wrong side of the law everything is game.
  22. Your success is not limited by your intelligence. Don’t despair if you are not the smartest guy in the room. Often times your success is the result of a combination of intelligence, hard work, patience, EQ etc.
  23. Mental models and cognitive biases are good to understand but hard to implement and watch out for. A simpler way is to understand the basic human tendencies and use that as a guiding post. Read about the 7 deadly sins. Most humans are fallible to these. Learn how to avoid them, spot when other’s actions are poisoned by them.
  24. Every now and then, stop doing and start thinking
  25. The #1 productivity hack is to get up early. Early depends on a number of factors like are you single and staying alone? do you have roommates? are you married and have kids? Very simply it means to wake up at least 2 hours before anyone else at home wakes up. This gives you two hours of uninterrupted work time and believe me you can get 80% of work for the day done in this time.