18 April 2015

What is the best mistake that I made.....

This is a post that I wrote for 'Best Mistake' series in LinkedIn....

There is nothing like '#BestMistake'. A mistake is a mistake. Period.
Do you learn from your mistakes? Of course. Did the lessons that you learned help you to change direction in your life? Well, sometimes. Most of us might regret those mistakes, else we won't be calling them 'mistakes', we might be calling them 'the best things that happened to me' or 'my best decision ever'. 
There are two types of mistakes that I have made in my career. First is staying in a bad situation for far too long and second is getting out of a good situation far too soon.
The root cause of both the above mistakes? Ego. In the first case it was pride (did not want to be labelled 'Quitter') and in second case it was arrogance.
In the initial part of my career, I worked for about 11 years in one of India's largest steel manufacturing companies. The job was physically sapping and intellectually decaying. Moreover, it was in a place far away from home and I missed my home terribly. The job was quite a routine. Get up in the morning, go to office, do the same work, come back in the evening, go to the club, chat up with friends or play some games, come home, have dinner and sleep....
Repeat the same again and again. For years and years.
During those times when I was struggling in my futile job, India was undergoing tremendous changes. Opportunities were sprouting everywhere. The government had opened up the economy and released the entrepreneurial spirit of the ordinary Indian. Quality companies were investing in the country and there was tremendous demand for skilled labor, especially in the new path braking area of Information Technology.
The buzz of 'New Economy' was every where.
That was the right opportunity for me. I was intelligent (still am) and a keen and enthusiastic learner. The evolving economic environment was cut out for people like me, young, energetic and intelligent.
Getting a job in the new economy was also easy. One had to attend a course in any area of IT (Software, Hardware, Coding...) for about 6 months in any of the mushrooming training centers dotting the country and you were assured of a job. Getting a job was that simple.
However, moving to the new economic environment meant that I had to leave my current, reasonably well paying job for unseen pastures. These pastures were dotted with risks. I was afraid that I may take the wrong course or end up in a bad job or end up not getting a job at all, and even if I get a job, it may not pay as much as what I was getting currently. 
I was scared of taking the risk. I was skeptical of taking the plunge. I was afraid of the uncertainty of being jobless.
That fear of risk taking made me stay on in my current, energy depleting job from my 4th year, when I wanted to leave the job, till the 11th year when I finally did. 
Another reason I did not quit was my ego. I was proud and did not want to be called a 'Quitter'. I thought that it was my responsibility to cling on to a bad situation rather than leave it. 
Funny thing? After those eleven years, I got an opportunity to work in the area of Information Technology and found that I had the skill and temperament to do some great work in that area. I loved working with customers and found that I had a special talent in helping the customers to transition to the new technology, what is called 'Change Management'. After 15 years and multiple employers, I am still working in this area.
And enjoying.
The lesson I learned from this mistake is that life is too short for us to stay back in energy draining situations. We can feel a bad situation in our gut. Once we become aware of that, we should walk away.
In the case above, my mistake was to stay back in a bad situation for far too long. 
The second, and may be a worse (not #BestMistake) mistake was to leave a good job too soon.
Getting into a job is like planting a seed. You need to give time for the seed to grow into a healthy tree. Just as a sapling may face bad weather once in a while, even in a good job one may face bad experiences. But one should not give in too easily. This is the lesson that I learned from the second mistake. 
Once I got into IT area (after 11 years) and proved my mettle, I got an opportunity to work for a great company. It was a highly reputed company in India known for taking good care of its employees. Being a big company, there was always a lot of work and opportunities to learn. Great projects were for there for the picking. Intellectually I was doing great. I had published multiple papers in various online sites, was referred in Wikipedia, the work was of high quality and I was doing quite well. I was receiving regular recognition and appreciation for my good work from my manager. 
All that appreciation made me arrogant and I felt that I was indispensable.
In the third year that I worked for the company, I was down with back pain and was bedridden and effectively not available for almost 4 months. Consequently, I got a 'Fair' rating from my manager. I had received 'Excellent' rating in the previous year and felt entitled for the same in the current year also (despite being highly ineffective for about a third of the year). I did not like it at all and as soon as I got an opportunity to quit the company I did.
This was a wrong decision, taken entirely based on arrogance. 
In retrospect, the lesson that I learned from the second mistake is never to leave for 'Negative' reasons. Some of these reasons may be bad manager, good work but low pay, temporary dissatisfaction with the work etc. Negative reasons will make us desperate, emotionally vulnerable and liable to make wrong choices. In case we are having negative feelings about our current situation, try to frame it into a positive narrative before moving on. That way we will strive for opportunities better than those we are currently in. Desperate actions will lead to sub-optimal decisions.  
So that is it. Those are my #BestMistakes. Two lessons that I learned? One, Walk away quickly from an energy draining Situation. Two, Do not quit the job due to temporary difficult situations.
Oh, and one more, don't be arrogant.

15 April 2015

The Care Giver.....

Sometimes it takes the absence of a person to put in perspective all the good things thtay they have done for you. Even if you had taken these actions for granted t the time they happened, as you grow up, you become aware of the magnitude of the things they have done.
Especially if the absence is permanent.
Why don't we appreciate the good work done by a person when he or she is alive? Why does it take the permanent absence for one to become aware of all the things that they have done?
I have been thinking a lot about his paradox ever since my dad passed away recently. We were four brothers and all of us had assembled from various locations for attending the 13 day long functions that were held after this sad event. We four brothers had a small get together where we reminisced about actions through which our dad demonstrated his care and affection to us children.
I being the eldest brother, everyone was looking at me to begin.
Where do I begin? My entire childhood was very difficult health-wise. I used to suffer from frequent bouts of bronchial asthma. The dreaded disease will strike sometime in the evening usually at about 7.00 PM. Or it might strike at about 2.30 AM in the night. It will start very mild and quickly deteriorate to a situation where I had to be taken to hospital where they usually used to give me a cortico-steroid injection.
Once I take the injection, the attack will subside as quickly as it commenced. I have been injected with many a steroid, prominent being Cortison, Aminophylline and Decadron.
Every time I had the attack, Appa will be ready and available to take me to the hospital. He will quickly arrange a vehicle for me from the company and accompany me to the hospital. Those days, I used to take it for granted. Only after I have grown up and have my own son, do I result the magnitude of this gesture. He must have had rough days when all he would have wanted was to have some uninterrupted time for himself. He would have been tired and would have wanted to take some rest. He must have had dreams where he would have wanted to spent some alone time. All these were given a go by as soon as it was found that I have had another bout of asthma attack. Ready, energetic and in command of the situation, was appa at those junctures, never giving an iota of impression of irritation or frustration.
How I did not value these gestures at that time !!. How I value them now !!
While there were many such instances, I remember one incident very vividly.
I had a bout of attack at around 9.00 AM on that particular day. Appa was at home at that time. Since the factory dispensary was nearby, about 200 meters away, and doctor was available at that time, my dad decided to take me to the factory doctor. Since the distance was only 200 meters, he decided to lift me in his arms and carry me to the dispensary. I must have been about 8 or 9 at that time and was reasonably heavy and my dad was a short person, about 5'4" in height. By sheer strength of the will, he managed to carry me in his arms to the dispensary. The doctor checked me and gave me an injection of 'Adrenaline'. Post the injection the episode of Asthma subsided in about 15 minutes.
Since I was tired, my dad carried me back home. On the way back, lying on my dad's shoulder, I vomited.
Adrenaline  had released all the phlegm stuck to my bronchioles and the entire phlegm came out as vomit and spread all over my dad's shirt.
While known for his short temper, in this instance, my dad was the epitome of patience and kindness. After reaching home, he helped my mom change my clothes, changed his and left for office. 
Thinking about this incident now, I wonder if I would be as patient with another person as my dad was with me. I am sure that he was unhappy and irritated with all the phlegm spread over his dress. Still he did not react.
But I am not my dad. He was special.
Now it was the turn for Amby (Tamil for 'Younger Brother') my next younger brother to speak about his experiences.
'I was in the fifth semester of Engineering', said Amby, 'I am very competitive and had prepared very thoroughly for the exam. I was looking forward to this exam and was certain to be in the top 10 in the class.'.
'So it came as a big shock when I was diagnosed with Chickenpox two days before t he exam !'. 
'They quickly moved me to Quarantine and informed appa. The two days that I spent in Quarantine were terrible and surreal. It was terrible because, here I was, fully prepared to take the exam, and not being able to take it. It was surreal because all my friends avoided me. While I knew that I would have done the same in theirs situation, being treated as an outcast by my friends was not a happy situation to b in'.
'I was miserable for those two days till appa came with a taxi. He lifted me in his arms and brought me home. you can' imagine the relief that I felt to see appa on that day. 
'Appa was there for us every time we faced a crisis', Amby was choking on his words now. Tears rolled down his eyes.
'I don't have memories of crisis like both of you seem to have', said Mony, our third brother. 'I don't think I was as sick as both of you were at any time while I was growing up. Despite that my memories also vividly demonstrate the care appa had for his children. The incident that I am about to narrate happened in the year 1993. I had just completed engineering graduation and was waiting for my next course of action. I  had given GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test for Engineers, a test conducted by IITs for admission to Post Graduate Programs in Engineering) and was waiting for the results. I had done well in the exam and was expecting a good score. While I was waiting for the results, I had attended a couple of interviews and got a job offer from Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC). The posting was at Kota, in the state of Rajastan in the north western part of India.'
'I decided to accept the job offer. That decision was mostly because I was staying with parents after my graduation and appa was finicky about all my expenses. I had to ask him for money for each of my expenses and while he will give me what I wanted, it was done with a big show of disapproval and nasty looks and mutterings under his breath. I was fed up of depending on his for even my small expenses.'
'Once I got the job, I decided to join the same as I mentioned before. I booked my ticket in the KK express train to New Delhi and take a bus from there to Kota. The train leaves Ernakulam station on the evening and reaches Chennai the next day morning. It takes another 48 hours to travel from Chennai to Delhi.'
'Well, I  boarded the train on the appointed evening. I was fast asleep as the train touched Chennai Station'.
'Suddenly I heard someone shouting my name. I woke up and found Dora Chithappa calling out for me. Chithappa informed me that appa did not want me to go to Kota and wanted me to return to Vaikom instead.'
'I got out of the train and returned Vaikom the next day. Having reached there, I stuck a bargain with appa. He was to give me an annual allowance of some money, which I could spent as I wished, no questions asked. Appa agreed to my demand and I stayed a Vaikom for another year before I left to pursue Post Graduation at IIT Kanpur'.
'That was how appa demonstrated his affection for me', Mony concluded.
'We children had always had ego problems when it comes to asking appa for money', I thought to myself, 'each of us handled it differently'
All of us knew how he cared for Mahesh. Early in his childhood he had fallen prey to 'Rheumatoid Arthritis' and appa had taken a lot of care for him. I remember both Appa and amma worrying a lot about Mahesh's illness.
In addition, Appa had demonstrated his care for a large extended family. He was fair and impartial and took care of them all.
Sometimes I wonder if I could have handled the situation as effectively as my dad did. Maybe. Circumstances have a way of giving us strength that we never thought we possessed.
Or not.
My dad was a true care giver. In this role he was ably supported by my mom who stood behind him like a rock and gave him all the strength necessary to handle this tough task over a long period of time. There is hardly any member in the family who have not been affected by my dad.
And that is a legacy few can match...

The structured mind...

I am a firm believer in the idea that you can learn something from every interaction that you have with anyone. People have a way of surprising you with facets of their personality that you never thought existed.
Take for instance my recent interaction with Mr.PP and Mr.RA. Mr.PP is the HR Director in the company that I was working till March 31 of 2015. After I put in my papers, Mr.PP called me for a meeting to discuss the transition of tasks from me to my replacement.
During the meeting I observed Mr.PP taking notes in a dairy which was of the size of a notebook. The dairy was crammed with words line after line. No space was excessive in that book.
I was curious.
‘What is that book?’ I asked
‘It is my ‘To Do’ list’, he relied
It is filled with sentences’, I observed casually
'I have been maintaining this from 2012’, Mr.PP replied, ‘each line is a task that I have to do along with the expected date of completion. I use blue ink pen to note down t he tasks. As soon as I complete a task, I put a tick mark against that tasks with purple ink’, Mr.PP explained.
He showed me the dairy. Pages and pages of lines written in the same blue ink and tick marked with the same purple ink.
It does require a highly structured approach to maintain this habit, doesn’t it? Using the same dairy, same colour inks, same process….
Very disciplined.
I tried to think how I was creating my ‘To Do’ list. Ruefully I realized that my 'To Dos' are spread all over. Some tasks are in my PC in my ‘To Do’ Desktop software. Some are in dairies and notebooks, many of them, each task written in different levels of detail that suited my mood at the time of entry. Some tasks are in my mobile phone, some are in Google Tasks and some are in my Google Desktop.
With this approach to ‘To Do’ list, there is no way I can be predictable. I am not structured, my mind is all aclutter and I flit from one urgent task to another…
So my new resolution? Become structured like Mr.PP
Now we come to Mr.RA
He is the Managing Director of our company. I went to meet him just before I was moving back to Bangalore. After thanking him for his support and guidance, I asked him for his business card.
He gave me the same.
I asked him if the mobile phone number on the card was the number provided by the company. The idea was to take his personal number
You never know in which company your contact will be working tomorrow. If the number was provided by the company, they (your contacts) many not have the same number if you switch companies. It makes to take the personal phone number of your contacts.
‘This is my personal number’, Mr.RA told me, ‘I have been having this same number since 1995’.
That was amazing. The mobile telephony in India started around that time. People were getting used to the new technology, new service providers and plethora of tariff plans. The charges were very expensive. Incoming local calls were 10 rupees per minutes (Now it is free) and outgoing calls local calls were 16 Rupees per minutes ( now it is between 0.3 and 0.40 rupees per minute). If you made an inter-state call (known as STD Calls in India) or an International Call (ISD Call), you can bet your one month of pay check on that. Customers were always on the lookout for better plans and service providers were poaching customers from their rivals with the objective of improving their holy grail, ARPU (Average Revenue Per User). Every time you changed a vendor or a plan, your mobile number changed. In those days it was rare to find a person who had the same mobile number for more than 4-5 months.
It is in this context that the fact of Mr.RA maintaining the same mobile number over all these 20 years looks amazing. Mr.RA would be one of the few people in India who could boast of that feat.
Just try and imagine the benefits of an unchanged mobile number. You are structured and dependable. People know where they can reach you at any time of the day and even after years. They do not have to worry about your number changing thus forcing them to update their contact list.
You do not lose your effectiveness just because you changed your mobile service provider.
Having the same mobile number, like your personal email id, is a way of tethering you to your identity and like the ‘To Do’ book of Mr.PP, helps one structure their life and work.
Both of the above can be managed only by a structured mind. Not everyone can carry it off.
Hats off to you Mr.RA and Mr.PP.
I have learned something new from you. For that I thank you.