Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 8: Defining Fundamentals

Having lived a week trying to change my life - that's the essence of the 100 day exercises - I realized that there is something missing. Yes, I have created the resolutions - which ranges from expanding knowledge to reducing weight - but I have missed out on defining the fundamentals. This is a bit of a strange realization coming to me looking at the rather blank achievement sheet for last week, if anything life has got worse, and searching hard what I missed.



Such reflection and conscious engagement are indeed the key benefits of trying to get myself in such a mode - a 100 day project. I have defined, though loosely, how my life should look like at the end of this period. However, what I possibly missed is that there are certain benefits of the journey as well as of reaching the destination, and unless one starts enjoying the journey, focusing too hard on what happens in the end does not help much.



Last week was an example on a micro-scale. There are certain things I achieved and more I did not. When I looked at where I am at the end of 7 days of effort, it certainly seemed that I am worse off, further away from the end-goals than I was in the beginning. I needed to stop and ask the questions now, and see if this whole effort to mark off these 100 days as a special project does help at all. Also important is to see what I need to solve - yes I need to get out of the whole and restore the sense of meaning and happiness in my life, but whether such sense and feeling are purely dependent on reaching a certain level of body weight or reading a certain number of books on a given subject proved more difficult to resolve.



To cut it short: The answer is negative. While I remain enamoured by the efforts like a 100-day effort to change my life, I think I was always making the mistake of ignoring the goals during the journey and focusing on the end objectives too hard. For example, I thought I would stabilize the business I run today and make work meaningful and fun at the end of the period, but I did not force myself into defining what I do tomorrow. 100 days were still too far, too fuzzy, to achieve any objective if I did not care to think what I do today, tomorrow and day after.



So this is what I am setting out to do now: A personal definition of how I should live my life. I have already noted that I am terrible in keeping commitments. I keep missing deadlines which I have committed myself. My internal justification for this is that I am overwhelmed by the amount and complexity of work, which indeed I am. Besides, I am at a low point of motivation, which probably is rather apparent from this blog, and have the consistent feeling that what I do does not count as important to anyone anywhere, including myself. But, I know what those are: Excuses. Yes, I am stuck in a job which I don't enjoy and an environment which I don't want to be part of, but then I am where I am, and it is best to do what I am supposed to do.



Because if I don't, I violate my own rule of Decency. That's supposed to be an iron rule of behaviour. I have learnt it from my grandfather, who was a fairly successful man by his own right, but forced himself to behave with decency and dignity all his life. I remember watching him when there was a rumour of a tax raid in our office and our house. Usually, the tax raids in India were designed to scare and humiliate people, and business people used to be mortified when such raids happened. I was young then, and did not understand the implications of such raid. But the anonymous caller on phone, who warned us of the tax raid, sounded ominous and everyone around me was deeply disturbed. But I remember my grandfather completely unperturbed, not just because he always paid his taxes, but he refused to talk to the caller because he was anonymous. For him, that was indecent; and he would not do anything, including receiving possible information about the date and time of such raid so that he can be ready with his accountant and papers, because the caller did not name himself. He just did not take the phone call, or did anything at all. Eventually he was proved right: The raid never materialized.



However, living through business transactions on a day to day basis, I have realized decency is no longer an important aspect of behaviour. To me, the opposite of decency, which is the current golden rule of corporate behaviour, is immoderate self-interest. Yes, as exemplified by Gordon Gekko and the bankers of our time. It does not obviously matter whether this is about small or big businesses. Last year, I interacted with a Kolkata businessman, who, while being a member of all the right clubs, turned out to be a complete charlatan; he shortchanged not just me, but also a few junior client account executives, who were working for only a small salary. I was probably too naive dealing with him and did not realize he is just a social climber, trying to get himself the air of an UK business at my expense. On the bigger scale, it is worth reading the story of Ronald Perelman, the current owner of Revlon, a billionaire who is currently engaged in suing his disabled ex-Father-in-Law for property. I shall say Perelman's behaviour is only representative of the time. In fact, I would argue that the whole ethos of modern business is built on such narrow self-interest at all levels [of course, I knew some of them before and wrote about this in my post about The Modern Entrepreneur].



However, while I may want business success, I am better off following my grandfather's path of iron decency, respect and hard work, rather than the current corporate raider model which is so popular. And, it may be my illusion, but I remain convinced that I can still be successful while being decent and respectful to everyone at all times. This is one fundamental value I shall incorporate in my endeavours over this 100 day period, and yes, beyond.

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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