2014 – What does it mean to you?

2014 – What does it mean to you?

I resisted the urge to write this post in the beginning of the year. I had two good reasons for it:

  1. There was already way too much noise on the “Interwebs”. Nothing that I would say would make an impact.
  2. I thought I’ll write this at the end of Jan after the euphoria of the new year has worn out and people have settled into their lives.

Like everyone, the beginning of a new year is a magical time. It brings with it the promise of a new start, a chance to let go of the past, and to make a real, permanent change in our lives for the better.

“I’ll get in shape this year”, “I’ll quit smoking”, “I’ll get a new job”, “I’ll spend more time with the family”, “I’ll be a better person”…. The list can go on. Hop across to 43Things.com and you’ll see that we all pretty much want the same thing. But there’s one that I don’t see very much…

I’ll come home.

No, not physically. I’m talking about bringing your mind home.

If you’re anything like me and millions of others, you’ll see that our minds haven’t been home for the longest time. Mine certainly hasn’t. It has wandered off to a million places over the past 2 decades.Here’s where my mind has been:

  • It has travelled far for work
  • Been to some nasty places in relationships
  • Been under a ton of stress while raising kids
  • Has been engulfed with the desire for money, success, career, achievement

But here’s the thing… We didn’t really send it to any of those places to begin with. We just woke up one fine morning and it was gone. In the beginning, we didn’t even miss it. And a short while later, we forgot about it. A decade later, we decided “this is how life worked; after all, kids leave home, right? So what’s wrong with the mind leaving home? That’s how things are supposed to work.”

Another decade goes by and we begin to miss it. We coin a new term for the time when it was home. “The good ol’ days” is one that pops up most frequently.

But the one we stick with is “The end of our childhood“.

I spent a fair bit of time thinking about this and came to the realization that we’re deluding ourselves. There’s no finality to our childhood. Or that magical time? Who said there was? On what authority? Or have we simply absolved ourselves of the responsibility for what happens to us on to something “external”…. Something that’s not in our control.

That’s bullshit.

I’m not saying that it’s our fault for letting it go. Not at all. I’m saying we have a responsibility to ourselves to bring it back.

2013 was a tough year for me. Pretty much nothing went right. My personal life, relationships, work life, finances all took a hammering. That’s fine. I’m not complaining. If I’ve had some good times in my life, it’s only fair to expect some bad times. Despite understanding this very clearly, I was surprised that I was angry… a lot! And I don’t normally get angry; I’m not that kind of a guy. I had to figure out where this anger was coming from.

I started thinking about this in late November. I figured I’d have this licked in a month.

I was totally wrong.

December came to a close and I was nowhere close to identifying what I wanted from the next year and what to do with my disturbed mindset. If anything, I was getting angry about not being able to figure out what made me angry. Does that make sense to you?

As January began, I began to calm down and things started registering in my mind. My problem was less to do with my circumstances and more to do with the fact that I was identifying myself with them. I was “becoming” my circumstances. Here was the problem! It became clear that one question needed to be answered:

When was the last time I was truly happy with myself as a person? Not any attributes such as money, career, health… but MYSELF?

I pushed the rewind button… kept it pressed as I went back a decade… and then it became clear that the last time I was happy with who I was was when I was a kid… Maybe 16 or 17. I was fearless. I was optimistic. I was bulletproof. And then, of course, life happened and I allowed myself to be consumed by it.

I don’t know what it will take but I will make sure that this year I travel back in time to find myself and to bring myself home. My instincts tell me that I’m going to have to take some big chances, perhaps even appear crazy to other people. But I’ve spent the past 29 years being like other people and how’s that turned out for me?

So till I try, I’ll never know. Starting this morning… the journey begins.

I’ve been scared of doing a few things… mostly avoiding relationships that may result in conflict. I’m touching base with those people today assuming the conflict doesn’t even exist. It’s what I would have done when I was 16.

If you’ve had any success at this, I’d be happy to know. Leave your comments in the box below.


The Warrior

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The moment you saw her…

The moment you saw her…

I still remember the day I first saw her… And it still gives me butterflies in my gut. Do you remember the first time time you saw that special person in your life?

Feel free to change the gender as you wish, but the question remains the same? Do you remember?

I was at this party and I saw her against the backdrop of a dark room, with the kitchen light casting a soft glow around her face as she stood in the doorway. She had long hair to her waist, and the light accentuated her collarbones. I loved her smile as she enjoyed seeing our friends dancing like crazed monkeys. She was clearly loving the evening. And she looked marvelous! That was the “official” time I fell in love with her.

It’s been 20 years and I still get that feeling every now and then. No, I don’t get butterflies each time I see her, but once in a while, I do. And I’m so thankful for that. Yes, I am still very much in love with her.

I had that same feeling this afternoon. And much like before, every time this feeling strikes, it makes me want to so something special for her. It puts me back in time to the point when I first saw her. Would I have done anything to have her in my life? Yes, Yes, Yes. So why wouldn’t I do that today, even after 20 years?

So tonight, I’m going to plan a fabulous meal for her. I’ll ask her to sit back and relax while I prepare an amazing feast for her. And while we eat, I’ll silently thank the heavens for making her a part of my life.

I think we all need to do that more often. We forget our blessings too easily. We’re far too quick to point our fingers at what we’re missing in life… but not quick enough to appreciate all that we have.

This evening is dedicated to the most precious thing I have – My sweetheart!

The Warrior

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Stop behaving like an Elephant

Stop behaving like an Elephant

I routinely conduct photography workshops over the weekends where I teach regular folks how to take better pictures. I begin by showing them parts of my portfolio and asking them if they think they can take these kind of shots. Invariably, the reactions include “Oh, I could never take shots that good. I just want to improve a bit on my photography. I’m not a professional like you are.”

My reaction is always “Well, then stop behaving like  an elephant!”

What does that mean? You see, in India, when the baby elephants are being trained by their trainers (Mahouts), they are often tied with the thickest rope the Mahout can find and tied to the largest tree in the forest. They are then left there. For obvious reasons, the baby elephant doesn’t like this. So he pulls, tugs, chews, yanks… basically does everything he can to get away from the tree. But it doesn’t work. The rope and the tree are too much of a match for him.

Fast forward a few years. The same baby elephant is now a full grown tusker. But this time around, he is tied with the thinnest of ropes to some scrawny looking tree. But he doesn’t even tug at it. Why? Because he “knows” that he can’t get away from it. That’s a fact in his mind and it’ll stay there all his life.

Most of us have a bit of that elephant mentality as well. Have you ever caught yourself saying “I could never do that!” without even examining what it is that stops you from doing it? These are just limitations that exist only in our minds. They aren’t real… not based in reality… yet we believe them with all our heart.

I’ll admit – I’ve been guilty of making this mistake ever so often. But as I’m aware of this, I’m able to catch myself and dispel the thought. I often marvel at kids and teenagers. When they talk about their dreams, they really go the full distance. Everything is supersized! And nothing can go wrong. That’s because they haven’t lived long enough for life to instill those self-imposed fears into them. I look back at my teenage yeas and recognize it. Those were magical times – Everything was possible!

So I implore you to catch yourself the next time you say the words “I can’t”. Take a moment to assess if the limitation is real or just one in your head. Are you the only one who has put it there or is it backed by facts? And if you say “facts”, then do a brutal fact-check on that claim.

You owe it to yourself not to be an elephant. And once you’ve decided not to be one, watch in amazement as the World opens up to you.  You can now do anything (well, almost anything). You want your teenage years back? You got them!

The Warrior

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Oh man, depression hurts!

Oh man, depression hurts!

I always thought that depression was one of those things that hurt mentally. Heck, I’ve experienced it personally several times over the past year. It hasn’t got better by much, but I’m getting better at fighting it off. Unfortunately, “it” is also getting better at fighting me.

Last night, it upped the ante by escalating into a physical thing. For absolutely no reason, I had a panic attack at 1:00am. I woke up feeling scared as I had trouble breathing and my chest was really heavy. And my body felt completely depleted of all energy. All I wanted was water – lots of it. I downed about 4 glasses of water and the panic subsided a bit. But I still couldn’t breathe.

I woke my wife up (for the first time in my life) and told her what was happening. She listened… but there wasn’t much she could do. She asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. “No”, I firmly replied. I knew where the roots of this were… My old friend – Depression.

I opened the bedroom window and the cold winter air came streaming through. It really felt good, even though it didn’t help my breathing. I looked at my wife who was sitting by the side of the bed groggily looking at me. She was tired as hell too. She’s been having busy days at work. This wasn’t fair on her.

So I figured if I have to solve a problem I’ve never had before, I’ll do something I’ve never done before. I got out of bed, grabbed the duvet from the next room, my yoga mat from the family room and headed out to the car garage. I was going to sleep in the garage. My wife gave me a “Are you friggin’ nuts?” look which I was able to ignore. “I’ll be OK” I said as I walked out.

It was freezing cold in the garage as I lay out my yoga mat and my pillow. My chest still felt heavy, but in about 30 minutes, my breathing improved. I think the biting cold took my focus away from the physical discomfort. I was spending all my energy staying warm to bother too much about the breathing. The only thing that bugged me was the garage light that came on every 20 minutes as a squirrel would scamper across the driveway. I have never cursed so much at a squirrel in my life!

By 3:00am, I was breathing normally. I even managed to doze off a bit. But now that I had things under control, and I got thinking…

I have to get a grip on this. More than anything, I have to believe that I will be able to take control of my problems. The company I worked for closed down in August and everyone got laid off. I have been working for myself ever since, but money is nowhere close to what I was making working full-time. Every now and then, the fear grips me and I think “What if I don’t make enough the next month?”. I then try to push it away by telling myself “You’re worrying about something that doesn’t exist. Cross the bridge when you come to it”.

I’m trying to focus on what’s going well for me – I have an amazing family around me – My wife loves me, my kids are fantastic, and we have enough to get by. So what the heck am I worrying about? I have all I need. In reality, it’s the excess that I don’t have. Do I really need to kill myself trying to get a little bit more? No!

This morning at 6:00am, I walked back into my bedroom feeling a sense of relief. My circumstances were EXACTLY what they were five hours back. But I had been able to change the way I was looking at my life. I felt better about the fact that I wasn’t going to give up on myself. I’m not the first person dealing with depression and I won’t be the last. It will take time, but I will get out of it.

In the meantime, I’ll focus on all the good things I have going to me in my life.

The Warrior

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It’s hard to take one’s own advice

It’s hard to take one’s own advice

About a year back, I was helping a friend through some difficult issues he was facing in his personal relationships. At the core of his problems was money. No, it wasn’t the mismanagement of money, but rather the “over-management” of it that was creating conflict in his personal life. His desire for financial security had ended up as the primary objective rather than the well-being of his family. Ironically, he wanted financial security for the welfare of his family.

His wife believed that the should spend less time worrying about money and more time with the family.

So I was staring at a classic case of both sides doing what they did with the best of intentions for the family. Both good people, with good intentions. But amid those good intentions lay the conflict.

Now I’ve never been crazy about money to this extent. Everybody is different and that’s the way I like myself to be. So I counseled him from my point of view and urged him to give up control of the money… I urged him to make some decisions that are simply fun – without any regard to whether they make financial sense or not. He listened intently and promised to think things through.

OK, so that chapter finished there. And then after a couple of days, I was called upon to take my own advice…

My wife wanted to buy some family room furniture on Boxing day. Now when we bought the house, we both decided that we won’t spend any money on new furniture for a year. But she’s been wistfully looking at the empty rooms and speaking about how good they’d look once there was furniture there.

Now buying a house isn’t a trip to Walmart. And the recent purchase has left our bank account with a rather empty feeling. And any future, immediate purchases would need to come out of the credit lines (something I detest diving into).

So the question confronting me was – just how much emphasis should I place on this desire of hers? Here were my options:

  1. I can say “We had an agreement. Lets honor it and buy the furniture next year instead of this year”
  2. I can delay the matter by saying “Lets think about it”
  3. I can take the big financial hit and howl while I go berserk trying to pay it off.

But then, I recalled the lengthy discussions I had with my friend and realized that money is simply… well… money. I have to look at what it means to me compared to what’s really important in my life. I mean what will bring me more happiness? Looking at my bank statement or looking at my wife’s face when she enters the family room each evening?

The answer was clear.

The next day, we spent $5,000 on some gorgeous family room furniture. There were no compromises made on quality, especially when it came to selecting the recliners. After all, it’s my tushy that’ll be spending the most time in those chairs for the next 10 years and damned if I’m going to compromise on those :)

Looking back, I made the right decision. I still wince at the thought of paying the debt down, but you know what? I’ll pay if off eventually… it’s just money.

Someone once said “Money is nothing but paper with an attitude”.

I believe that.

The Warrior

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Tolerance? Really?

Tolerance? Really?

Call it the scotch working overtime, but my ears pricked up during a party I was at last week when I heard a woman state “It’s so important to teach kids tolerance in this day and age”. Something didn’t quite sound right with that. So I refilled my glass and sat back to listen in on her talking animatedly about the challenges that we face in a culturally diverse society and that tolerance is what is needed.

10 minutes later, I was convinced – Tolerance is a “negative” concept.

Let me ask you something… Think of a person you really like – a friend, relative, anybody that you’re fond of. Do you tolerate them?  Or love them?  Why don’t you ever say this about your loved one “Oh, I tolerate my boyfriend just fine”.  When do we tend to use the term “tolerate”?  We use it in the presence of people we can’t stand, but simply have to put up with. For example, you might say “I can barely tolerate my boyfriend’s buddies” or “I can’t tolerate my mother-in-law anymore”. I can go on….. but I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.

We tend to consider tolerance as a good word. Heck, we’re teaching this stuff to our kids in school.  The word has the aura of peace, understanding and cohesiveness in society. Yet our language betrays the word’s real meaning to us.

The opposite of tolerance isn’t intolerance…. its understanding. Where tolerance urges us to keep our opinions (of people we don’t like) to ourselves, understanding pushes us to try and see where they are coming from.

Isn’t that what this world needs? Our world is coming together at a stunning pace. We haven’t been exposed to so much cultural diversity in the past 50 years as we have in the past 10 years. And a lot of us don’t know how to handle it.  We almost feel as if our identity is under threat and the natural instinct is to assume a position of “We” vs “Them”… anything that makes us better than the others. You can extend this to any situation – the workplace, family, anything.

And as we can’t do anything about their presence, we tolerate them.

What if we didn’t tolerate them? What if we tried to understand where the other people were coming from? What if we thought “They’re not idiots. Let me see what they’re trying to tell me”. When we’re no longer taking the refuge of a weak word which (ironically) makes us feel superior as well, that’s when we’ll see our paradigm change.

The clumsy, geeky neighbor’s kid who’s always hanging around your kid’s toys may emerge to be a kid who looks for love wherever he can find it. The new immigrant with the funny accent at the office may emerge to be a brilliant strategist only if people would listen to him without laughing. And the beggar who bugs you for change may simply be a guy who’s given up on life. Heck, who are we to judge?

So next time, don’t tolerate…. Understand!

The Warrior

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