Life is beyond brands

We all grow up in our childhood from different socio-economic backgrounds. Values are instilled in us by our parents, family and society around us. We grow up aspiring to do better in our lives than what our parents achieved through their grit and determination.

We realise that life is not a cake walk. As we finish our schooling and enter college, we experience the competitiveness of life. As we graduate out of college, we get clearer on what we want to do in life. Today, we have the opportunities to pursue what we want and aspire for. The world is an open playground for us.

We dream big and as we begin our career we realise that life is not an easy drive. We dream of acquiring all the best material things in the world, which we only dreamt of in our childhood. However, as we move on we realise that we cannot get everything we want in life the moment we dream of it.

Today everything in life is signified by a brand. We end up living and breathing brands. Aspiring from small brands to big brands is a natural evolution of human aspirations. However, in the process we sometimes may forget that we need to first build our own life brand before we acquire other brands.

We need to realise that brands we possess do not reflect our personality. Nobody in life remembers which suit you wore or which hand bag you carried for a meeting. What people remember is how you treated them and what is the lasting impressions you left in their mind as a good human being.

Human values are beyond brands. We need to realise that we have to first build our brand by living human values of gratitude, humility, respect and trust. This may be a difficult lesson to learn in life. It may be easier to acquire materialistic brands in life but more challenging to live human values.

At a young age, we all believe that the best brands we possess reflects our personality. We tend to believe that people admire us for the car we drive, the suits we wear or the watch we possess. This may be an illusory belief. It is natural and all of us have gone through this stage in life. However, the earlier we realise that human values are more valuable in building our brand in life than all the best materialistic brands we possess, it is better for us.

Life is a journey of continual learning. We all make mistakes and learn from them. This learning journey is no different. There may be nothing wrong to aspire for the best brands in life the day we have earned them through our own sweat and blood. But it is important to realise that the best brands we possess do not reflect our true personality as a person.

As in the photo above, this young girl is looking pretty in a simple white dress, which may not even be branded.  So is life.  You are not valued by the brands you wear or possess in life but the values you live and the way you treat people around you.

Let us learn to first build our own unique brand in life by living our values and then we may realise that all other brands in life fade away in the background.

Life is learning journey.

S Ramesh Shankar

23rd June 2021

Some things are best left unsaid…

Vidhur shastra says that we should never give advice to anyone, unless asked for ? I think its a brilliant piece of advise to follow in life. Today I heard my wife saying that some things in life are best left unsaid. This is equally a great insight.

We spend a lot of time talking than listening. We also believe in giving unsolicited advise to everyone around us. The need to speak is more than the ability to listen. This makes us more vulnerable in life. I have met people in life, who speak less and listen more.

The best people I have met are those who give you great insights just by not stating the obvious but making us realise it. It is like admiring a setting sun above. If you are enjoying a beautiful sunset and someone joins you, it may not be necessary to tell that person how beautiful the sun is as it is setting. Let that person realise and enjoy the beauty of nature by herself.

Similarly in life, the best advices are the ones not given but experienced. The expressions on a mother’s face makes a child realise their mistake . Is it necessary for the mother to scold the child by using harsh words ? It may not be necessary at all.

Similarly, a teacher can make a student more insightful by making their students realise their errors rather than scolding them. This experiential learning could be much more insightful than a dressing down in front of the class or the group.

The best bosses in the workplace do this very well. They do not try to verbalise your mistakes. They articulate your success well but make you experience your errors at work. They even tend to ignore genuine failures and look the other way as if they have not noticed what wrong we did.

The best friends in life support you by just being around. They may not necessarily be around you physically or talk to you often. But if they are around, you feel assured in life. Their physical absence or presence does not matter. Even if they don’t speak to you for months, you are not impacted. You experience them in life through their actions and not words.

Kinesics or the science of body language teaches us that more than 70% of human communication is done non verbally than verbally. We tend to focus on what is being said to us rather than what is not. May be it is time to learn the art of listening to the unsaid.

I have experienced better listening when I sit in front of the sea during a sunset all alone. The sound of the waves and the miracles of nature teach me more than the words of a thousand people on the beach. We not only listen to nature but sometimes listen to our own inner voice.

Let us learn life by listening to words unsaid more than those which are said. Our ability to listen to silence may make us wiser. We may be able to focus on what is not being said but meant rather than what is being said and not meant.

Let us learn to listen to the unsaid in life.

S Ramesh Shankar

29th July 2021

My Ten Commandments

I completed my first innings of my career on 31st March 2019. Many people have asked me as to what advice I could give to youngsters based on my career experience. I have no advice to give but I have a lot of learnings to share with others.

I have tried to put my experiential learnings so far into my “Ten Commandments of life” and I am happy to share them with everyone. They are :

1. Life long learning: One has to learn to learn throughout our life. Our learning begins at birth and may be ends at our death. We have to keep our eyes, ears and all our senses open to learn from every experience of life and everyone around us.

2. Work smart as much as hard : A lot of people today imagine that there are many short cuts to life. In my view, there are none. One has to work hard as much as smart to be a winner in life. Nothing in life can be achieved without toil and efforts. A bit of luck may help but can never be recipe for success.

3. Strive to be the best in whatever you do : We tend to live life by comparisons. It may start in the family when we compete with out siblings, then friends and colleagues at work. It is better to strive to be the best in whatever we do and we are always likely to be a winner rather than a loser.

4. Be a role model for the next generations through your actions and not your words – My definition of inspiring leadership is leading by example always. Your next generation always follows what you do and not what you say. Hence, it may be wise to give advise through your actions and not your words.

5. Maintain the right work life balance : Some of us believe that it is worthwhile to burn oneself away at work. It is not worth it. If we reflect on life and living, one may realise that work and life are equally important. Hence, striking the right balance is not only in our hands but also ensures good health and happiness.

6. Accept failures and missed promotions gracefully : The first failure in life is like the first scratch on your new car. It is difficult to face it and hurts your heart directly. But our ability to reflect and accept failures helps us to be equanimous in life.

7. Be humble and grounded always : We remember people who have their feet on the ground and are always simple and down to earth. We may not respect and regard arrogant people in our lives .

8. You share more, you learn more : Some of us think that if we share our learning with others, our value diminishes. In my view, it is the other way around. The more we share, the more we learn and the more we are respected by others.

9. Own up the blame and learn to give credit to others always : Leaders who give credit to others and learn to accept the blame and consequences always are the ones’ to be respected. This is applicable irrespective of whether one is an individual contributor or a team leader.

10. Never give up at work and in life : The best will always bounce back. Have we ever seen a great sportsperson give up in a game before the final whistle is blown. Similarly in life, one has to keep trying till one succeeds. The journey to success is interspersed with failures. Sometimes failures teach you more valuable lessons than success.

All the best

S Ramesh Shankar

16th March 2019

Experience teaches you…

You realise it only when you experience it. How many times do we dread advice when we find it impractical in life. Almost every time someone gives you some advice, which you think is not realistic and have not experienced it.

I can recall this experience again and again since my childhood. I remember as a child many times my parents and other elders have given me advice which was unpalatable to me. It could be as simple as not to climb a tree as I could break my bones or as serious as not studying well will land me on the streets with no gainful employment.

Every time I felt their advise was either unsolicited or not empathetic. I felt they could not understand the joys of a kid. However, as you grow up you realise that much of their advise was valuable as you experience the effects of not following many of them in your life in real.

This trend was experienced in school and college as a student too. When a teacher advised you to do something or not do something, you desisted it. You felt they unnecessarily interfered in your personal life without really understanding you. But later in life you feel that you wish you had listened to them as you see the pitfalls of non-adherence.

Then you move to the work place and the scene is not very different. Your manager tends to impose his views on you and you feel as if he is breathing down your neck. He seems to be always telling you what to do in every step of your work life. You feel as if you are missing the freedom at work. Then as you grow and become a manager yourself you realise that you need to guide your juniors. When your juniors resist your close supervision you realise you have gone through the same.

Even in the family space we experience this phenomenon. As an adult we do not like advice from our parents. Then as a spouse we feel our partner interferes in our life and many a time tests our patience. We realise this only when we grow into a parent and our child feels the same way. Similarly, when our spouse behaves the same way we do and we do not like it we realise the fallacies of our ill behaviour.

In life, we realise that experience is the best teacher. We also realise it only when we ourselves experience it. It is easy to give advise to others but difficult to accept the same from others. We learn the difference between good and bad advise only when we go through it ourselves.

As in the photo above, we will listen to the advise of even Bhagwan Mahaveer only when we experience a challenge in life and not otherwise.

Experience is one of the best teachers in life.

S Ramesh Shankar

10th June 2020

Trinity of Life

The mind, body and soul could be called the “Trinity of Life”. If mind denotes the intellect, the body reflects the struggles of life and the soul is the beating of our heart. Life is a balance of all the three and we need to find ways and means of balancing the mind, body and soul.

I have heard different interpretations of the “Trinity of life”. I am neither a philosopher nor claim to have knowledge of philosophy to write on this subject. However, I would like to relate my experiences of life and how I could or could not balance the three.

Some call it -Heart, Mind and Soul and some others term them as – Mind, body and intellect. It does not matter to me how we classify this trinity. What matters to me is how do we balance them in our day to day life.

Let me start with friendship. A true friend is one with whom you can connect with mind, body and soul. Your thoughts are similar and so are your feelings. You enjoy each others physical company but even if you do not meet for ages, you still love each other forever.

The second dimension of understanding this trinity is work. If our work helps us balance this trinity, we enjoy our work and it becomes a passion. On the other hand if we don’t, then the mind refuses to cooperate and although the body goes through the motions, the soul is missing at work.

In my view, life is all about mind, body and soul. In everything and anything we do, if we find that the synchronisation of the three is missing, we may like to challenge ourselves. On the other hand, when it works like a symphony, we enjoy the process. Let me illustrate with an example. I enjoy driving and especially long drives. So if you ask me to drive for ten hours non stop I will still enjoy it. My mind may be tired and my body may feel the heat but my soul will keep me going since I enjoy it and it will balance my body and mind to keep going.

On the other hand, if you ask me to go on a treadmill every day to exercise, my body may still do it but my mind and soul does not enjoy it and hence will not give me any joy. In this case, while my body may be willing for the physical stress, my mind and soul will not cooperate.

It is true for everything we do in life. If there is a symphony of the mind, body and soul, we enjoy doing it and if there isn’t we do it against our wishes. So it is easy to know the difference. We need to ask ourselves this question whenever we want to take up something new. Are our mind, body and soul in sync ? If the answer is yes, go ahead, if it is no, give it up. You may not get the answer instantly. In some cases, it may take days, months or even years. But, it may be a good idea to listen to it whenever you hear it.

Each of us as humans are different and unique. Our needs, wants and desires are different. Our minds, bodies and souls are also different. So each of us will have a different symphony in life. Some may like western classical and others Indian Carnatic. Some may want fusion and others Hindustani classical. It does not matter as long as it is soothing to your ears.

It is time to find our own ways of synchronising our mind, body and soul in life.

S Ramesh Shankar

5th March 2020

Life conflicts on being away

Young Indians today consider the world as their market place. They are willing to study and work in any part of the world if it fulfils their aspirations and I admire them for that spirit.

Every one of us have a choice to make at every stage of our life. While our parents choose where we are born, we can choose where and what we want to study and what and where we want to work.

The educational system in our country although has evolved over the years still remains theoretical and thanks to private participation is run for profit more than a social cause. While there were only one or two engineering or medical colleges in a city in the past, today almost every street has two!

However, the cost of education is market led and also by the greed of profit which the private educational institutions want to make. This has led to many students migrating abroad and seeking higher education at places where it could either be cheaper or at the least guarantees them better career opportunities.

We should not blame the students or parents for the same as every parent wants to give the best possible education to their kids at the least possible cost. But when they end up in a crisis like a war or even a pandemic, every Indian citizen remembers his or her motherland and irrespective of which party is governing, blame the government for their sad state of affairs.

In my view, this is not fair. While we have the freedom to choose our place of study or work, we cannot blame our government for any crisis we end up for reasons beyond anybody’s control. We need to stand up and own responsibility for our decisions and we can request the government for all possible assistance and be grateful for the same.

Similarly, we go to different countries in search of exciting career opportunities. There is nothing wrong with it and all of us would do it if we get an opportunity. However, if we end up in visa issues or some other crisis like job loss or war, we cannot blame the government of the day for the same.

Even on the social front, we go to study or work to greener pastures. We need to own up these decisions and cannot blame the government for any personal tragedy which happens to us or our families. I have come across parents blaming the government when their child is kidnapped or murdered for reasons beyond human imagination.

Similarly, if we are not able to take care of our parents in their old age when they need us the most, we have a choice to make. We can either stay wherever we are and think that money can take care of the elderly or seek the help of friends or relatives to take care of them.

I recently witnessed two incidents in my known circles, which shook me apart. In one case a friend settled in a developed country could not visit her father suffering from a life threatening disease in India for two years firstly because of Covid and secondly because of the fear of not getting her permanent residency in that country. In the second case, another friend could not attend his mother’s funeral because his green card application could get impacted by his visit.

I would neither blame these individuals nor their parents for this state of affairs. All of us seek greener pastures and may be sometimes one has to sacrifice self or family in the process. We have to sacrifice our relationships or our career or may be both depending on what is priority for us at that stage in our life.

I assume we cannot pass on any judgements on anyone. Every decision would be based on sound logic and reasoning. However, we need to remember that sometimes logic and reasoning cannot justify all our decisions. As long as we are able to get over the guilt and not feel bad for any decision of ours, it may be fine for us.

The choice in life sometimes could be between the devil and the deep sea. Either of them would not be a wise decision. But sometimes decisions are also bound to go wrong. There are no right or wrong answers in life. What is right for us could be wrong for others and vice versa. At every stage of life, we need to ask our conscience, what is right for us and go by our own gut.

“The means to the end is as important as the end itself” said Mahatma Gandhi. We need to remember that both the way we achieve our goals of life and the goal itself could change. We are all HUMAN. We need to look within before we start looking out.

S Ramesh Shankar

3rd March 2022

Religious fanatics

I have lived and worked in different parts of India – east, west, central, north and south. Although I belong to south of India, I am an Indian at heart and have learnt to respect all religions, caste, creeds and nationalities with my upbringing in family and society.

One thing which I hate is the fanatics in every religion. It cuts across religions and these people make ordinary men and women lose respect for religions. Who is a religious fanatic ? In my view, any person who uses religion to fulfil his or her selfish personal goals is a fanatic. Such people misuse religion for their personal benefit. No religion in the world promotes hatred towards another religion. But it is these fanatics who make people believe it and create discord in society.

I am a Hindu by religion and I am proud of it.(  as in the photo above).  Hinduism does guide us to respect all religions and beliefs. In my view, all religions lead us to the same destination. The path adopted may be slightly different but we reach at the same goal. It is like the skill of a soccer player. Some may dribble the ball while others may use their brute power but ultimately all players want to hit the goal post.

The religious fanatics create misunderstanding and disbelief amongst their followers about other religions. In order to prove that their religion is superior to other religions, they may end up creating hate and violence in society. Sane people in society should isolate such deviants in society and ensure that they do not succeed in their actions.

I personally believe that all human beings want to live peacefully and co exist with others in a harmonious way. Every society promotes peace until such fanatics spread their venom. We need to be guarding against such evil men and women in every part of the world.

Even in India, since Independence our Constitution guarantees a secular democratic republic. It encourages each of us to follow any religion of our choice and respect all others. However, there are fanatics even here who create a deliberate doubt in the minds of their followers towards other religions. We need to boycott such people and condemn their actions.

As a Hindu, I have always believed in the peaceful co existence of all religions. It is like the dress we wear. Every part of India, the dress and fashion is different. It is possibly guided by the weather conditions and peoples likes and dislikes. Nobody is forced to dress the way others do in some other state of India. The same is true for religion. We can follow what our heart says and without any fear.

If the fanatics come in our way, we need to crush their actions and ensure that they never succeed in any of their evil designs for society. We need to promote men and women who respect all religions and beliefs. We need to ensure that every citizen of the world has the freedom to chose what they want to pursue and the liberty to change if they so desire at any point of their life but on their own volition without coercion or force.

Let all religions coexist peacefully and lead us to the same goal.

S Ramesh Shankar

22nd November 2019

Caring comes from within

I was watching a Kannada movie, where the heroine tells her hubby that he could have taken up a job offer to work abroad and that may have helped him to take care of his old mother and ailing uncle. The hero responds that caring is about taking your mother to the temple and spending quality time with your ailing uncle. It cannot be compensated by money. It really struck a chord with me.

Many of us may be thinking that we can provide anything to anyone with money. We do not realise that money cannot buy everything in life. Money cannot buy time for us. Money cannot get us happiness. Money cannot ensure good health for us.

Our parents sacrifice everything they can so that they give us the best of education and health. They hide their miseries to keep us happy. They ensure that we are not burdened by their life struggles and get bogged down in our education or our career.

So, when we are done with our education and our career, it is time for us to care for them. Interestingly many of us may think that if we provide enough financial support, we are fulfilling our duties towards our parents or elders. It may not be fully true. While money can buy material things in life, it can never substitute for emotions and care which the elderly long for.

The other day someone was narrating to me an incident of how his uncle repeats the same story again and again every time he meets him. He just listens to him and that gives him joy. We may not realise that we as kids may have asked our parents stupid questions or even repeated the same thing again and again till our curiosity was quenched. Our parents, teachers and elders never lost their patience to answer all our inquisitive questions. Today it is our turn. Paying back is the time we spend with the people we care.

Paying back cannot be done always with money. Expressing gratitude is not like repaying a bank loan. While a loan can be repaid and closed, expressing gratitude is timeless. The people who have helped us while we were walking up the mountain of our life may not wait for us when they are walking down their mountain of life.

Each of us will go through the same cycle of life. What we sow, we may reap in the future. If we are grateful to the people who helped us stand up in life without expecting anything in return, we may get support from unexpected quarters when we are slipping down the path of life. I have always believed that we need to be selfless in helping others and God will take care of us when we need it most.

Our ability to remember that relationships are not “transactional” is the key to life. Life is a zero sum game. Life is not always about repaying debts – financially or otherwise. Life is about unconditional gratitude to the people, who have made us what we are today. Life is about the realisation that what happens to someone today may happen to us in the future.

Life is about spreading joy in the life of others. If we can bring a smile to someone we care, we have made their day. This may not be possible always by spending money. It could be the time we spend their them. It could be by being there when they need us most. It could be doing something for them without their even knowing about it.

We need to remember that our parents did not do what they did for us expecting anything in return. The last thing they expect from us is money. The most important need is to realise that our needs go down as we age. We do not care for the material things in life. What we long for is quality of time, relationships, love and care.

As in the photo above, every time I spent quality time with my nonagenarian aunt, I have learnt more about life and living and understood the meaning of love and care. Her unconditional love and patience has always made me realise the value of sharing and giving without expecting anything in return.

Let us commit to look within. Life is cyclic and if we do not realise it today, it will make us realise when we are at the receiving end of life.

Time to realise is today.

S Ramesh Shankar

6th February 2022

It’s beautiful world to live in…

I hail from a lower middle class family and have seen the trials and tribulations of life. As I grew up in a government employee’s sole income , we did not have the luxuries of life at home. No TV, fridge or car at home and we had to sleep on mats and on the floor. This financial condition of our family did not deter our spirits nor prevented us from getting the best education possible and the values, which have always kept us happy and contented in life.

After my education, when I started my career in a public sector undertaking far away from my home town, my income was minimal but the opportunities to learn were unlimited. It laid the foundation for my career and also gave me the knowledge, skills and attitude to craft my own career .

I then moved to private sector after almost a decade and a half and each of the organisations I worked for took me to different parts of the country and the world. Each city taught me life lessons in plenty and each country I visited widened my perspective.

My family supported all my decisions in my life. This made my children live and study across different cities in the country. They never cribbed or sulked. On the contrary, I would say that every movement made them more adaptable to change. Today I am confident that they will survive and thrive in every situation they face in life, where ever they live and work.

Marriage as an institution that brought balance to my life. My spouse has been my life long partner sharing my joy and sorrow with equal measure. She has gone through all the tests of life along with me without winking an eye lid and has enabled me to achieve whatever little I could in my life. I owe to her for what I have accomplished in my life and career so far.

Family as an institution has been the foundation of my life. Learning the basic values from my parents, I moved on to set up my own nuclear family. Having lost both my parents at a very young age, it compelled me to take responsibilities and moulded me into a mature person to deal with life in all its dimensions.

My children have equally supported my growth and development in my career. I have experienced the dislocation in education and its impact on your academics on your education. They have sportingly moved from city to city along with us without any complaints or any drop in their performance. Hats off to both my daughter and my son.

God has been kind to me and my family throughout my life. I knew the value of money at a very early stage of life. After thirty eight years of corporate life, when I retired I can say that I am fully self reliant on my financial well being today. However, I have been happy right through my life. I have got all that I wanted in my life and may be it is time to give back in equal measure now.

I have always believed that this world is such a beautiful place to live. Why do many of us spend most of our time crying about what we do not have in this world ? On the other hand, will life not be happier and joyous for us if we celebrate all that we have in the world. Many of us are so privileged that we have a place to live in, good food to eat and a happy family supported by friends and relatives.

Life is beautiful like the neelakurunji flowers blooming once in twelve years in the Coorg hills as in the photo above.

I feel it is time to change our attitude to life and living. It is time to celebrate every day of our lives for all that we have and not regret for some things we may not have. It is time to realise how privileged we are as compared to millions of other people, who struggle to get two square meals a day.

If we celebrate life and live happily, we create a beautiful world around us and realise how wonderful the world is. The day to start celebrating life and the world is today and the time to start is now.

S Ramesh Shankar

3rd February 2020

Practise before you Preach

Most of us are born preachers. We love to give advice even before we are asked. This habit has been inherited from generations. I do not know whether it is in our genes or not but it is prevalent around the world in human beings.

One of the interesting insights I got from “Vidhurshastra”, a Hindu relic is “Never give advice to an adult, unless asked for”. I read it only a few years back and since then have tried my best to follow. Although, I must admit that I fail once in a while and go ahead giving free unsolicited advice.

I feel less annoyed at Preachers per se. The category of people who preach before they practise is the one I find amusing. I can narrate quite a few interesting anecdotes from my life where I have experienced this.

The first instance was I went for routine annual medical check up. I was found overweight by a few kgs for my age. The physician who examined me looked at my reports and enquired if I exercise everyday. I told her that I walk and do yoga every day. She said without blinking her eye that I need to exercise more to lose weight to maintain good health. She was technically right. But coming from a person who was atleast ten kgs overweight for her age was very amusing to me.

I have seen many parents advising their kids to refrain from smoking and drinking although they feel quite normal to smoke or drink daily in their lives. These preachers not only put off their followers but end up as hollow and nobody will be willing to listen to them. Their kids may have to listen to them till they grow into adolescents and then they would rebel as they see a wide gap between what they say and what they do.

I have seen social activists fighting for great social causes like anti dowry, domestic violence against women and treating servants humanly etc. However, if you peek into their own personal lives, we find they take dowry , consider domestic violence normal in their own homes and treat their servants inhumanly.

Children will always follow what you do rather than what you say. Its good to practise before you preach. If you wear a mask always, kids need not be told to do so. They will do it on their own as in the photo above.

This reminds of the next category of such phoney human beings. They are the so called religious leaders. They are present in almost all the religions. They preach abstinence and dignity of women and practise the other way. They exploit the emotional vulnerability of women and men and misuse their position of significance in society.

I do not want anyone to get me wrong. I am not against anyone giving advice to anyone. However, I feel it is unfair to give advise on anything unless we follow it before we give suggestions to others. If I do not follow something, I have no moral authority to give advise on the same to anyone – irrespective of whether someone seeks it or not.

My mantra in life is simple. Practise before you Preach.


S Ramesh Shankar

24th Jan 2020