2016 Report Card

2016 was quite an interesting year. While a lot of things happened over the course of the last 12 months, I will like to point out to only a few of these and specifically how I changed as a person.

The year started on a low note – instead of partying it up at some expensive hotel lounge or a bar, we decided to watch the fireworks from our study window. It turned out to be such a wonderful idea that we repeated it this NYE as well. There is something to be said about not having to spend €50-€60 on a bottle of Moët or not having to endure all the crowds. Besides, the view from our building is wonderful and the acoustics make it a wonderful experience.

We had a lot of family time this year. The highlight was the number of trips we made as a family with my parents. It began with a casual and spontaneous visit to Dubai, which was finalized over our daily FaceTime call on Christmas day. Then, after the birth of my niece in April, we flew to her home in Dallas over our summer holidays. After spending a couple weeks there, my parents flew with us to Amsterdam for a few weeks. Then, we made our annual Diwali trip to India about a month later. Then, my sister and her family visited us at Christmas. Fun times.

We also had other travels – the year started with a weekend visit to Berlin in the very first week. We went to Paris with my parents. We also drove to the Rhine river valley region, which seems to be becoming a yearly thing for us; it is just that beautiful and close to Amsterdam! We also spent my birthday in Paris, which was quite amazing as we did not use public transport at all during the entire trip and relied on walking everywhere.

That brings me to the second highlight of this year – health. I feel like I have become a completely different person compared to who I was even 2 years ago. Whereas once I was known in the family for being lazy and very ‘cool’ about everything, this year saw me transform into an energetic and rigorous personality. I can no longer sit around for more than a few minutes and can definitely not bear the pain of having to spend my weekend completely indoors. Daily morning and evening walks have become part of my daily routine, something for which I have to give the Apple Watch a lot of credit. Just this past month, I maintained my year-long streak of achieving my daily activity goals. This is amazing.

2016 also saw us go all in on exploring The Netherlands by cycles. We made a couple dozen weekend cycling trips all around the country. What started as a series of round trips from home to a nearby village called Monnickendam led us to waking up early every weekend and planning a cycling route that usually took the entire afternoon. While I joined a bike sharing plan, V resorted to buying her own bike that we took on the train. There were also unplanned adventures like flat tires in the middle of the forest that made the escapades all the more fun! There was a lot of scenery to be enjoyed along with good food, one of my favorite being this amazing ice cream shop right in the middle of nowhere.

Speaking of health, I also drastically cut down on alcohol.

I took a lot of pictures this year; about 4000. All those amazing cycling trips definitely helped. One of these days I’ll make them public, although you could still see a lot of them on Facebook.

Another big change was reading. Starting out as new habit in 2015, I currently subscribe to a few magazines and a daily business newspaper. The magazines I regularly read are The New Yorker, The Economist, and the Time magazine. Financial Times provides a good balance between general and business news from a global perspective, while not being too expensive. My daily morning routine now includes reading the daily front to back.

While I resolved to make long-form writing a persistent feature of my routine, I was unable to carry through with it. It is something that I need to ponder over a bit more as one of the motivations is to build a record and paper is not particularly a good way to attain that. On the other hand, there is a lot of credible research that ascribes mental health improvements to regularly writing your thoughts on paper.

This year, I aspired to spend a lot more time on calming down and enjoying everything the world has to offer by observing it, by zooming in and watching my world feel time’s impact. A quote from one of this year’s box office failures comes to mind –

“You’ve been given a gift, this profound connection to everything. Just look for it, and I promise you it’s there, the collateral beauty.”

V&I spent a lot of time together, from traveling to working at the same desk every day. A lot of time was spent on brainstorming new ideas, new goals in life, health, as well as the general goings on in the world. In 2016, we had crazy ideas like starting a company together to teaming up for product-market fit research work. While nothing has come out of this, yet, I think this is how good ideas and teams form.

We saw a lot of movies this year. Everything from Hollywood to Bollywood, English and Dutch, documentary to reality. There was a lot less live theater this year, something that I intend to improve in the new year.

2016 also saw V pass her Dutch integration (inburgering) exams. She is now ready to become a Dutch citizen if she chooses to go that route. What’s exceptional about this story is that she did it without taking any kind of professional classes or help, which is rare. I don’t know of anyone else who has managed to achieve this.

I made a lot of progress in simplifying my world, in getting a better understanding of how things work and how to keep myself motivated and on the path to achieving my goals. This was a year of relatively few ups and downs, and the stability helped in figuring out the changes needed to build better habits and get rid of some bad ones (carbs!).

There were a few losses and there were a few gains. The world and time plays out.

If I were to use 5 keywords for 2016, they would be:

family, travel, cycling, growth, health

The emoji for 2016 would be:

😎

My grade for 2016 is a solid A-.

On slowing down

Every day, on my walk back from the park, I pass by the little snackbar (Dutch for late night shoarma shop) I sometimes dine at during the weekends. I love the falafel there, something the owner proclaims is the ‘best in Amsterdam’. I don’t disagree.

Every day, I see the young son of the owner work tirelessly behind the counter, or sometimes causally standing and looking at people walking by. He has a calm demeanor and almost never smiles. At the same time, he doesn’t look like he’s got any qualms about his life.

Today I wondered – how many years could I spend without a semblance of professional advancement in my life. Most of us want to see ourselves making great strides in our careers in our 30s. For him, career is staying happy and making sure the shop stays in business.

We live a very fast life. Our calendars are chock-full of engagements and our address books full of contacts we only connect with a few times a year. Most of us have no time to even go for a walk every day.

Sometimes all we need is to slow down and zoom in on things to get a better perspective on life and what our activities mean for us, others, and this planet. Make time for the things that matter, the things that you can only enjoy now and not when you’re too old or living elsewhere. In the end, the only person judging you is you yourself. All you have to do is beat your own standards.

I am reading a lot about the psychological and physical benefits of slowing down. Changing habits is difficult but the payoff is tremendous if you can manage to improve yourself. Those 24 hours feel like 48 when your observation skills are sharp and you’re zoomed in to the world around you.

The world needs more of things that stick around long enough to actually make a difference.

‘There is always something to do in the kitchen’

I heard this line coming from the server at my daily morning coffee spot right as I was about to get up to pay and leave. No, it wasn’t directed at me; the server, head server I assume, was speaking, rather crassly, to one of the cooks as she had come outside her little world and started lining up the clean dishes on the rack. Clearly, this wasn’t her job. I spent the next 2 minutes listening to him telling her, condescendingly, of all the other things she could have been doing instead of being out in public view, silently in-sourcing a colleague’s chore towards herself. (more…)

Phoenix Redux

Phoenix is the name I chose for this blog years ago. At that time, my goal was to publish a few times a week, ramblings and ideas about anything and everything. This helped me get past one of the most important phases of my life. And then, my world changed a little – I got married, moved around a fair bit, and changed jobs and careers. Social networking became the hot thing where everyone interacted with others. Original thought all but died as we started measuring our network-i-ness by the number of likes and re-shares we accumulated. Apps were, and continue to be, the only way to gather knowledge and ideas.

If you were not building your personal brand you were doing it all wrong.

I have come to believe that the world-wide-web is much more than a backend for our apps. It continues to be the one medium which is still colorful, diverse, and full of the same vigor that it had a decade ago. It also remains the best place to be whatever you want to be. The only rules are your own.

Everything has a tendency to come around full-circle.

And so, here I am again. The phoenix has arisen. I will be writing in the same tone and with the same optimism about our future as I did 10 years ago. There’s a lot more to come!

Cheers!

Happiness

What is happiness? Some would argue that having access to food, drink, companionship is what makes someone happy. Some are happy by virtue of having access to wealth which makes the aforementioned readily available. Some gain happiness from being successful in whatever endeavors they undertake, irrespective of whatever their motivation. In essence, everyone has their own basis for defining happiness. Who are we to even begin a judgment on whether they are right or not. Bottom line is being happy.

But, I think it’s a bit more than that. Happiness is also about making sure your surroundings are happy. Sure, you can isolate yourself from all that mess, but sooner or later you will see that there’s only so far you can run before the reality of living in a social, well-connected, interdependent world bites you. But, I digress. So, then what is happiness? Is it dependent on others appearing happy? Is it just wealth? Is it just success? Being content?

I don’t know. But, that admitted, I can now say that there is one underlying factor I see in all people who are happy – they live, and I mean really live life without regrets. It’s really not easier said than done. We make mistakes all the time, but only the weak let themselves fall behind and repent all their life instead of picking up and making sure the mistake(s) of their life work for them in the long term. So that’s it – live life like you have no regrets and everything that makes you happy will casually follow.

Here’s how I keep myself happy, and everyone knows I am always cheerful and optimistic –

1. Be dreamy; imagine the good that has yet to come in your life.

2. Stop worrying and just do it. If something worries me a lot, be it whether injustice towards me or someone else, I try my best to take action at the right time.

3. Never say no to yourself.

4. Do unto others the way you would have them do to you. This is not just a biblical verse. It’s one of the first step towards being human. Is your selfish behavior making life worse for someone else? You will never be happy because guilt is subliminal and goes with you.

5. Keep yourself enlightened; Never stop learning. I could learn something new everyday and still know only so much about this wonderful world.

6. Don’t let negative energies or thoughts build up. This one is really hard to adhere to, and I fail often. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to be 100% happy! And no, this doesn’t fully conflict with being optimistic. You could be largely optimistic and still have negative ideas about something in your life.

7. Don’t let others rule over your life. The only person in control of your life should be you and a very very small group of really close family members. Everyone else doesn’t matter.

8. Be loyal to people you care about.

9. Don’t lie. This is easier done than said, actually.

10. Do whatever it takes to keep the important people in your life happy. If they’re unhappy, you’ll never be happy.

11. Money is immaterial. It’s all about your mind. If you are smart, money will come, if not now, then very soon.

12. Always always think about changing the world for the better with your actions. Everyone is capable of doing so. Just smiling at that person in the train could make their day better and lead them to do something nice for someone else.

13. Be largely immune to selfish thoughts. Avoid jealousy. If you’re happy you’d be more worried about making sure that other jealous people don’t infect you with negative vibes.

14. Travel whenever you get the chance. Embrace change in surroundings.

I think this is it. This is how I stay happy and continue loving my life.

You can, too!

PS: Plato was a genius. If you’re really interested in understanding humans around you on a more philosophical level, you owe it to yourself to read the Republic. I will do so soon, too.

Randy Pausch did not die today

No, Randy Pausch did not die today. He’s still alive and breathing in the hearts and minds of millions of people all over the world who suddenly stopped and took time to reconsider the purpose of their lives, after watching his ‘Last Lecture’.

He will continue to live for a long time. Maybe even more so than the average human.

I am sure you have already watched his lecture online, and read the other hundreds of articles about him, but I just want to say what these other articles/critiques fail to mention. What Randy did was not anything complex; he did not prophesize something deeply philosophical, nor did he even remotely aim at radically changing values.

Instead, through his lecture and the subsequent book, Randy actually trivialized what most leaders teach. It isn’t about working hard or making sacrifices. It’s about just doing what you enjoy, and keeping your dreams and hopes alive during the journey. Randy taught the distraught youth that it is easy and possible to get what you want. You don’t have to do anything more than just want something, really bad. There is no point in making sacrifices.

What made the ‘Last Lecture’ a phenomenon wasn’t the depth of this person’s message, rather the simplicity of it. Here was a man who admits to failing at almost everything his first time around, but never gives up hope. Almost all of us associate ourselves with these kind of experiences in life. Failure is just fate’s way of making sure that it doesn’t favor someone who doesn’t deserve it.

I read his book before I watched the lecture of his video, and it makes me sad yet happy every time I recall the video. I am happy that I still have time to pursue my goals.

Rest in peace, Randy. You compressed more than a century’s worth of wonderful experiences and achievements into a life smaller than 50 years.

See you tomorrow.