On Vulnerability

I watched this TED talk yesterday and really loved it. 

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability#t-840284

My big takeaway from the talk was this: 

We often try to numb the feeling of vulnerability, since it is associated with negative feelings (insecurity, shame, fear). But by numbing vulnerability, we also numb joy, creativity and the ability to love.

Enjoy feeling uncomfortable. You can go up or down only after you step out the door…

All’s right with the world.

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Geography of Bliss

This book is written in the form of a travelogue of a grump that travels all over the world seeking happiness. I loved the message in the book, although I think Bill Bryson does a much better job of being a travel writer than Eric Weiner. I’ve never actually thought about the ‘happiness temperature’ of a place, preferring to think of happiness as a very internal thing as opposed to a function of your environment. This author turned that concept around and explains how culture begets or robs one of happiness. It’s a good read – below are my favourite notes from the book –

The Hedonic Treadmill

Imagine you are on a treadmill and your reward is a cup of coffee. The coffee costs $1. You earn the coffee and feel good about yourself. Pretty soon you’re earning $1 coffees on a daily basis and it doesn’t motivate you anymore. You go get yourself a $5 Starbucks coffee that does the same job that the $1 coffee did. The fascination dies away in some time and you crave something better and more expensive next to provide you the motivation…

This was my most favourite concept from the book. Money cannot guarantee happiness and the more you try to make it so, the more entwined you are in its grip.

Mai Pen Lai or Let it Go

This one is from the Thais. They believe in the process of living happily, as opposed to the end goal of being happy. Life is an infinite game and setbacks or successes are to be treated with the same attitude of Mai Pen Lai.

This reminded me of the my favourite line from the Gita: “Do your duty; lay not claim to its fruits”.

Happiness can be Aural 

Have you ever experienced a rush of memories when you hear a long forgotten sound? I do, frequently, and as it turns out, a lot of happiness is associated with the sounds of a place/person! The next time you feel like you’re having a good time that would qualify as a great memory, try to capture it in sound 🙂

“The good life cannot be mere indulgence. It must contain a measure of grit and truth”, or the need for messiness in one’s life to remain happy. Perfection is overrated. Listen up, Singapore!

“Happiness is 100% relational. There is no such thing as a ‘personal happiness’. Happiness acquires meaning once you share it with others.. it is connective tissue”. (Still trying to wrap my head around this one).

The Cortical Lottery

A few days ago, a close friend remarked off-hand that I seem to have lost the cortical lottery. As soon as I heard that sentence, I felt my stomach drop. Something I already knew within myself but refused to acknowledge… and I was not expecting someone else to point it out for me.

The cortical lottery refers to the inherent happiness ‘set point’ you are born with. It determines if you are inherently an optimist or a pessimist. The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt introduced this concept to us. I have not really paid too much attention to it thus far – after all, it is something that you cannot really control. It is your set point.

All the same, when I was first asked to react to being a ‘loser’, I did not take it well. I went to bed living up to my fate of the lottery indeed…

The next day, I woke up with the realisation that acceptance is the key. The cortical lottery is but a set point, a starting point. Happiness is a journey and being aware of your position when you start may just be as important as where you start from.

Besides, I have always loved fiercely rooting for the underdog. 🙂

Women power at work

I attended a lunch-time talk last week by a very successful woman banker. She spoke about success in the workplace for women, drawing from her own experiences. This is a topic very close to my heart so I made sure I drank in every word she said.

Here are my key takeaways from the talk –

1. 3 Home Runs every year

Doing just your day to day job well is not going to get you a promotion at work. No one really minds if your presentation is 80% awesome instead of being 100% awesome.

A better use of your time would be to identify 3 big ‘home-runs’ at work for yourself and focus your energies on making these goals successful. That way, it is easy for your boss to root for you at the next promotion meeting.

2. Take time out to develop yourself

Take time out to develop other areas of your personality. You can volunteer for causes you care about, sit on the boards of other for-profit companies, learn a new skill outside of work. This helps you identify a life outside of your job and makes you a much more interesting person.

3. Identify your board of directors and actively seek out sponsors

Sponsors are people who are invested in you – i.e. they have some skin in the game and they really want you to do well. You can only get sponsors when you work with someone closely on an activity… so not everyone can be your sponsor. Mentors on the other hand are well wishers and people who are your advisors. Make sure you have a mix of both in your personal board – and include people who have skills that you aspire to possess.

4. Use logical decision trees to structure your thoughts when faced with emotions at work

This is apart from the taking deep breaths, counting to ten, crying in the bathroom, etc. strategies of course 😉

5. Look professional at all times

(This is not her advice per se, but she carried herself so incredibly well and looked so professional and poised that I felt it was an implicit piece of advice). Add speaking well to that you’ve got yourself a winner.

All the best to fellow women professionals everywhere!

Product Managers are supposed to be a tough lot, intent on driving things and making sure their product gets sold. Their jobs involve a lot of interactions with people from Operations, Customer Service, Marketing, IT, Legal, you name it. Often, PMs are portrayed as being pushy and aggressive – “go-getters” if you will. Negotiation is an important skill to have.

I have been observing the PMs at my workplace and have concluded that there are two types of people who get their jobs done well:

1. The loud, confident person who is not afraid to say it as it is. This person makes decisions quickly, but could also come off as too aggressive.

2. The quieter person who is pushy in a less obvious way. Makes decisions and sticks to their guns, but appears not so confident at the outset.

It has been three weeks into my new job and I am learning LOTS from both sets of people… Time will tell how I eventually turn out. 🙂

Short term thinking

When was the last time you said – “Ah it doesn’t matter, I’m never going to see the person ever again’ or ‘ah this module doesn’t matter, there are 7 more semesters to go to prove myself..’

Short term thinking is very common in our society (many times encouraged as well). It is a convenient way to escape responsibility for actions that will have a long term impact (be it good or bad). I have found myself falling into the same trap many times, only to have a trusted mentor pull me back up with a smile.

If you do everything with the intent that it is going to be useful in the long term, your actions and results will immediately have a lot more quality in them. Quick and dirty solutions might work as exceptions… but not as a rule.

Don’t break the chain

Once you quit trying to develop a habit, you can either forget about it and move on or you can come back and try again. In the case of habits that require will power, the costs of coming back to try again are SO MUCH higher than recommitting everyday to continue with developing your habit. So most people take the first route and stay fully away from the habit for a long time. 

The same thing is happening with me. I finally got myself to re-start one of my old initiatives today and the resistance is just too much. 

Do it right the first time… don’t break the chain.