Who am I ?

All of us spend our life time discovering ourselves every day. Some of us overestimate our prowess while others underestimate our potential. The truth could lie somewhere in between. Those who think that they have all the answers to the questions of life may be mistaken. Others who wonder why do they only get the tough questions in life, are also under an illusion.

Life has its interesting ways of balancing itself for us. The day we overestimate ourselves and tend to get arrogant, there could be a turn in our life when one would realize that you do not know the answer to the question. It is like you have topped the class right through school and college but are not able to top the batch in your organisation as a trainee. It is then you realize that theory and practise are related to each other but at the same time quite different.

On the other hand, you struggle in life but have always been humble and grounded and when you are almost willing to give up, life has its way of rewarding your hard work. It realizes that your patience has been tested and you need to be recognised. After a stressful wait, you may get a promotion in your career quite out of the blue or be selected to lead a project, which you only dreamt of till that day.

One more learning from my life is that everyone contributes in our life. If at all one reaches the top echelons of an organisation and forgets the contributions made by all the people around them to what they are today in life, they are simply ungrateful. It is not education, position in a organisation or hierarchy in society which determines your value. It is your “Humanness” and your ability to contribute to the life of others, which does.

Many of us who think that we have arrived in life because we have achieved success in our career may be mistaken. We also should realize that every human being around us is contributing to our success. I recently was watching a reality music programme, wherein a young girl was contesting. After she was selected in the trials, when asked where she came from, she narrated her story. She said she belonged to a remote city in India and did not even have the money to travel to Mumbai, where the contest was being held. Her father who runs a cycle shop drove a cycle for five consecutive days in a village fair to earn money as an exibhitionist so that he could finance her trip.

If this girl becomes a super star singer tomorrow and forgets the contributions of her father then she would never arrive in her life. The great people in the world contribute much more to the greatness of others then themselves. While all of us may talk of Gandhi, it may be interesting to reflect that Gandhi’s greatness was not just his personality but his ability to influence the thinking of millions around the world.

There are many people around us, who may be equally qualified or even less but contribute much more than us towards others. We do not value them. The day we realize that everyone’s contribution in our life is unique and valuable , we may arrive to some extent. The day we realize that we have an obligation to give back to society as much as we have got from it, if not more, then we may have arrived.

My wife in the photo above as my partner in life has contributed more to me and my family than we ever realize. We are grateful to her.

S Ramesh Shankar

The spirit of living

I had gone to attend a leadership offsite in Kovalam. On the way, I had the privilege of meeting my sister and their family. The most fascinating person in their family is my aunt. My aunt is 92 years old and lives her life to the fullest. She always has a smile on her face and her memory is sharp. I have not met many people in my life who have gone through all the trials and tribulations of life and still have given more to others than they have received in life.

My aunt’s name is Jayalakshmi. She is the younger sister of my father. Born in Trichy, she was married to a government employee and settled in Salem. She has six children and went through all the trials of life one can imagine to bring them up, educating them and enable them to marry and settle down in life. Like my father I have never seen my aunt lose her temper ever in my life. I have always seen her smiling under all circumstances.

Her smile is infectious. Till recently she used to cook her own food, was able to do her daily ablutions without any support and would not ask for any favour from any one. I have never seen her sulk or pass on her burdens in life to anyone else. I have never seen her complain to my father or her other siblings of any problems she was facing in life. I knew she had to confront a lot of challenges in life but would suppress her hurt and ill feelings within herself and only share her smile with others.

One may argue that it may not be good for health of if you suppress your feelings. But, what I have seen of her is that her goodness has enabled her to maintain excellent health right through her life. I have never seen her depend on others for any support. Today if I reflect on her life, I realize that if you are willing to give up all your joy to make others happy, then God has his own ways of rewarding you with a long and healthy life.

Every time I visit my sister, I am in awe of this aunt. Her knowledge of things around her is unbelievable. She is a great cricket lover. At this age, she watches all of India’s matches and she was asking me about the recently concluded India-New Zealand series. She was even aware of the ensuing Sri Lanka test series with India. Today her knees have become weak because of old age. But watching TV and reading newspapers/magazines and following conversations with everyone in the family she keeps herself fully updated in life and living.

What I admire most about her is her self discipline. She gets up early morning and after completing her morning rituals has her bath on her own and is ready for the day. She has her breakfast and does not spill a bit and till recently will go and clean her own plate as well. She will then watch TV and listen to morning slokas. She has a cot beside her chair and will happily have a short nap whenever she needs it.

She is more than willing to discuss with you on any subject and and will be happy to share her learnings in life. Whenever you meet her, she will enquire about everyone in your family and their well being. She will not forget anyone . She will never ignore you or belittle you irrespective of age. She wanted me to share photos of my grandson during my recent visit and was more than comfortable to glance through the photos on the Ipad. At the same time, she will never intrude into your space or force you to converse with her.

My lessons of life from her are innumerable. Learn to share joy and keep sorrows to yourself. Learn to be genuine and share your smile with everyone. It is a good idea to be self dependant and not burden others in your life. Patience pays always. The list is endless. But the learnings are timeless.

Grateful to my aunt.

S Ramesh Shankar

What money can’t buy ?

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One of the challenges every generation faces is the craving for wealth. We all grow up dreaming of accumulating wealth so that all our needs in life can be fulfilled. We also tend to believe that with money one can buy anything and everything in life. This dream appears to be the ultimate truth till reality hits us some day. I met a youngster today in my office. She is a talented young professional and is married to another talented professional by choice. They have one kid and both are doing well in their careers.

This young professional made a confession to me. She said that till recently she believed that money could get her all that she wants in life. However, she had a set back in her health and this made her realize that money cannot buy her health. It shook her so much that she decided to take a career break so that she can focus on her health and her family.

Another young guy shared another interesting insight. He said he has all the money he needed but his quest for happiness was elusive. This may be because that money cannot buy happiness too. Happiness is a state of mind. It is an attitude to life. You can find a man on the street in abject poverty who finds it difficult to earn for the food and shelter of his family every day. But this person is content and happy with what he has and finds ways and means of giving back to society. On the other hand, many of us with abundant wealth have our desires and needs unfulfilled forever.

One of my fundamental learnings in life is that money cannot buy health or happiness in life. We need to work every day to evolve habits of diet and exercise so that we lead a healthy life. We need to work to fulfill our needs and manage our greed so that happiness does not elude us. Happiness is function of gratitude and contentment in my view. As long as we are grateful for what we have in life and content with ourselves without comparing with others when our needs are fulfilled, we may be happy in life.

This may be easier to state than to realize. I may confess that it took me many years in life to realize this. Today if I look back at my life, I should state that my family and societal values have helped me to be content and grateful in life. I should thank my diabetes and my spouse’s encouragement for my maintaining a healthy diet and a good daily exercise routine. This has enabled me to maintain good health and be happy in life at all times.

It may be worthwhile to reflect on this issue. I know of the richest people in my country who could have bought islands around the world with their wealth. But they could not buy health nor happiness in their sunset years. This proves that wealth can never buy health or happiness. The earlier we realize this axiom of life, the better it is for us. It may help us lead a healthier and happier life very early in our life time.

The happy kids in the photo above in a remote village proves that wealth and happiness are not correlated.

Another interesting insight is that both health and happiness are self dependant. You can never delegate your exercising or attitude to life to someone else. One has to be self disciplined in diet and exercise to maintain good health. Similarly one has to be content and grateful to everything in your life to be happy. You can neither buy, rent or lease health or happiness.

Try it.

S Ramesh Shankar

Wilderness

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I sometimes wonder if it is good be structured and perfect in everything we do in life. Or is it it a great idea to be wild and crazy in life. The truth may lie somewhere in between these two extremes. In my early career and life I always believed that systems and processes can solve everything in life. This belief continued till I read a book that challenged all my assumptions in life and work.

This book made me realize that if we have the courage to break all the rules, we may not only survive but we may even be able to thrive. This turned my belief systems upside down. I started challenging my own mindset and started experimenting. This led to new pathways and new insights in my life and work. I was more flexible and open to newer ideas.

Life became more exciting. I did not give up my belief in systems or processes. However, I started believing that systems were not an end in themselves. They were only a means to an end. As long as one is able to make this distinction, systems and processes do play a role to improve your efficiency and effectiveness in life. If a system or a process does not serve a purpose, we should have the courage to challenge the same or even give it up without a second thought.

On the other hand, to explore wilderness without an end in mind might be a wild goose chase. We need to balance the creative and analytical part of our being. The left and right brain of ours have to find a mid way in dealing with issues. It may be a good idea to be structured in all our problem solving methods but willing to give up structure if the need arises and the problem never gets resolved with that system or process.

While structure provides direction, wilderness creates the space for creativity. I remember once leaving my home with my spouse for a holiday. Normally, we would plan everything from the place to stay, the route to take and even the stops on the way. This time we decided to leave home without a destination in mind. We drove the car through the city and decided to drive on to the highway which was empty that day.

We landed in a temple town around 300 kms from Bangalore, which we had not visited earlier. On reaching this place, we did not get any accommodation since it was a festival day. We could not even visit the main temple in that city. So, we took a diversion and tried to stay on some small motel on the highway. It was adventurous but fun. Then we visited another temple city, which is in the midst of a beautiful forest. This was one of the best drives in our lives so far.

So, structure may be desirable in most situations. But structure may be the barrier to solve some problems in our lives. We need to be flexible to adopt a structural approach or be willing to explore in wilderness. Either way a solution may not be guaranteed. However, our ability to be willing to experiment makes our chances of success better.

Life is journey. We may define our goals in life and pursue them. We may succeed at most times if we are willing to work hard and go about systematically. However, if there are some unforeseen events or stops on the way, let us not get bewildered. It’s fun to be deal with the wild and crazy part of our lives. We have to believe that we are not alone and many others would have faced such situations.

It may be fun to take the road in the forest, ( as in the photo above) sometimes even without knowing your ultimate destination.

Let us enjoy the wilderness.

S Ramesh Shankar

We see what we want to see…

Someone said – “Perception is reality” and I think it is true. I find it interesting that we all see what we want to see in our lives. I can sit on the sea shore and admire the sea for hours together with nobody around me. I love sunsets and can keep watching them every day. On the other hand, some others may find it boring to sit on the sea side or watch sunset every day. We may both be right. After all each of us have our own likes and dislikes.

Life is no different. We all see what we want to see. Some of us are born optimists and see possibilities whenever we are confronted with any problem. On the other, we may have some pessimists around us who may see only problems in the same situation. It is like the pessimist may not find the dark night summer sky interesting. But the optimist will admire the stars all around the sky.

I can recall many incidents in my life where I have enjoyed the uncertainty whereas some of my colleagues have fumed and fretted in the same scenario. I remember during a vacation we had not planned for our stay. We had not even decided where we will go. We just took out the car and decided that we will go where the road takes us and our heart says yes. In similar circumstances, I have seen many of my relatives and friends getting very upset.

Even within the precincts of the home, each of us see what we want to see. If kids are playing around and making a lot of noise, some of us are very upset. While others enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of the kids and play with them. While some perceive noise and disturbance, other perceived joy and energy in the same scene of energetic kids around you.

At work, the scenario is not very different. While challenges are opportunities for some, it saps energy of other employees. An interesting sight is in the area of sales. It is noteworthy that for some sales guys, month end and year end are fun as they can set new records and over exceed their targets. While for other sales guys, they have a nervous break down at the end of each month and always wish and pray to God so that month or the year never ends.

This is equally true on how we look at each other. As a leader some of us look at developing our colleagues an an opportunity while others see it as a waste of time or even a threat to their own existence. No wonder employees are keen to work with some managers and not with others. Even kids in school prefer some teachers and not others. This is because on the same issue one teacher always looks at the glass as half empty while the other teacher looks at it as half full.

My learning in life is that it is up to us to decide on how we want to look at life. If we look at life as full of possibilities, then life turns out that way. On the other hand, we think life is full of struggles and challenges than every day is a drag on ourselves. It is like some people say, we get what we deserve. In my view, we also get what we want to look for.

It is like in the photo above, the monsoon magic can mesmerise me every day. But for some others, it may be a dull boring day.

Life is a puzzle. But the ability to solve it or not to solve it is in our hands.

Lets enjoy the jig saw puzzle and solve it every day.

S Ramesh Shankar

27th Oct 2017

Life is full of “Choices”

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We all face ups and downs in life. We are happy about our decisions when things go well but feel disappointed when they things don’t go our way. This is natural. However, on reflection I feel that we always have choices in life and it is up to us to make a choice. Sometimes we may end up making a wrong choice and it ok to accept it as a reality. It is not fair to believe that there were no alternatives before us.

Let us recall any incident in life. I am reminded of the first car I bought in my career. It was a second hand car. In 1987, the company gave me a loan and I could not afford to buy a new car with that money and hence opted to buy a second hand car. This car I had bought after due consideration and review amongst the choices I had in front of me. Fortunately it turned out to be a good choice. I used the car for five years and sold it at a profit after that. Assuming it had been a bad choice, can I blame my employer to give me a limited loan or blame the seller for selling his car to me. I always had the option of buying a car or not buying a car. I could have bought a second hand or a new car. I could have bought some other brand too.

So, my learning in life is that in everything we do, we have choices. We always make our decision based on the best available information in front of us. Sometimes our choice may work out and at other times it may not. This does not mean we do not choices in life. We end up blaming the environment or at least try to externalise or blame the environment for the wrong choices we make. I think this is not fair. We have to own up the choices we make and take full responsibility for the choices we make.

I chose a junior in college and opted to marry her. After due consideration and with her unconditional consent, we decided to marry. Today it is 35 years since we are happily married. Today I can say it was the right choice since it has worked for me. Assuming it had not worked out for either of us, can we blame each other. Nobody forced us to marry. Neither our parents coerced us nor anyone else. We had a choice to marry or not to marry. How can we blame anyone for our decision to marry ?

I feel life is no different. We always have multiple choices in front of us. It is up to us to take our own time, evaluate all the options and then make the best choice in our best judgement at that point of time. We have take full responsibility for our choice and be willing face the consequences if it does not work for us. When it works, we are happy to own our decision and when it does not we want to blame someone else or the environment around us.

I recently met a college teacher who very nicely explained the concept of internal locus of control. He said in life we have to believe that everything is under our control and we are responsible for all our actions. In every situation, we have a choice to say yes or no. We also have a choice to say may be. We could decide then and there or take our time to decide. In every situation, we have to believe that our decision is ours. Everything is under our control and we can make things happen around us. This way life becomes a journey of possibilities. Otherwise, life appears as a road full of obstacles.

I also recently read a very nice suggestion. We all make a “To Do” list every day for our daily chores. Most of us end up either not beginning those tasks or finishing only half of them. It was suggested that instead of calling it the “To Do” list, if we call it “Possibilities” it changes the way we look at it. It infuses a positive energy and makes everything look possible. The chances of our accomplishing the majority of them looks brighter.

Even a diabetic has a choice to eat a tempting sapota/chiku or not. If he eats, he only needs to exercise a little more that day. Nothing more than that.

Let us believe that life is full of choices and we are in full control of it.

Let us begin today.

S Ramesh Shankar

I don’t get what I am searching for…

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Yesterday I was searching for sugar in the kitchen and I could not find it. Isn’t many things in life similar. We are in search of something and we never get it. Let us start from our childhood. Most of us may agree that we did not get the toys to play that we desired for. We may not have got selected to the course we wanted to study or the schools/college which we dreamt of.

This trend continues as we grow up in life. We, in our adolescence want the world in our pockets but end up disappointed. We then move to start our career. Many of us start our career in areas which we did not want to. If we are lucky to get the role of our dreams, we end up in a location which we hate. This factor may look like a never ending journey.

Then once in the job, we do not get nominated for projects we want to be part of. On the contrary, we may end up in doing projects which we never wanted to. I sometimes wondered why this happens to us in our lives. We get transferred to roles much against our wishes. We wonder if it happens only to us. We are disappointed to say the least and also get a feeling if we stop learning at such times.

This phenomenon happens in real life too. We search for peace and we end up in chaos. We want to work in a metro and end up with a posting in a remote village or town. We feel frustrated to say the least. We wonder why such a thing happens. In most cases, we end up cursing our luck. We tend to believe that it is our destiny and we cannot do much about it. We accept it and hope that it passes away sooner than later.

I could not sleep yesterday night since I could never find the sugar in the kitchen. I continued the search in the morning and found it in the fridge in a plastic container(photo above). Then I realised that may be I was assuming it to be at a particular place in a particular type of container and it wasn’t to be. Life is no different. This is what happens in our life too. We believe life is like that and we to have to accept it that way.

We have assumptions and mindsets. In our childhood, we take things for granted. We think we deserve everything we desire irrespective of whether we need it or our parents can afford it. ‘Then in adolescence, the psychology of our rebellious behaviour makes us unhappy at everything which does not happen for us the way we want it to happen. In work life, we believe that everyone around us is dutiful to make us happy. We are expected to get what we want to do and not what the organization wants us to do.

So, this is the real learning of my life. We have to believe that we can make the best of everything which happens to us in life, if we want to. If we don’t get the sugar in the kitchen, we can reduce the intake of calories for the day. If we did not get the toys to play in childhood, we could have spent more time in studies or other hobbies. We could learnt a new skill if we had all the time during our adolescence.

At work, every role gives us a opportunity to learn and grow. If we try to be the best in everything we are expected to do, we will excel and grow at all times. Life has its own way of teaching us lessons every day. I realised that my inability to find sugar in the kitchen while I was making coffee for a friend was one of the ways for me to realise that life is all about our mindset and our attitude.

If we are willing to challenge our mindset, then life has a lot to teach us. It is up to us to make the best of what happens to us. It is the way we look at life, which makes all the difference. If we solidify our mindset and are not adaptive to change, then we have nobody else to blame than ourselves. Let us give life a chance and learn every day through whatever happens to us.

S Ramesh Shankar