Are We Out of the World Cup, yet?

Yes, if you are looking for a short answer to the question posed above. A few hundred million hopes and dreams have been dashed. Careers have ended. No fairy tales, no messiahs and certainly no heroes. Sarfaraz and his men have been runners-up in a race against themselves.

Now to the longer answer. No, we are not really out of the World Cup yet. See, our team is a patch-work at best. We did not even know our best combination until half-way through the campaign. You can attribute this lack of clarity to the think tank but only partly. It is a system-wide failure. For far too long, the cracks in the system have gotten papered over by a chance victory or three at the world stage. When that happens, we all buy into the narrative of the ‘unpredictable Pakistan’. This allows the entrenched mindset in the system to hold its sway thus never allowing in the vim of the youth and the unconventional. Think of World Cup 1992 or Champions Trophy 2017 and you will understand what I mean. It’s the performances after a victory which bring to sharp focus the inadequacy of the system.

In so many ways, our cricket team perfectly sums us up as a nation. We are mercurial: “One minute down the next minute up” to borrow from Nasser Hussain. Our approach to life is that if we win the toss and bat first, we will win the match. The problem is the coin also throws up a tail when opting for a head. If we are asked to chase a target that demands of us to show grit and determination, we tend to creak under pressure and resort to idiocy and self-destructive behavior to get ourselves out of trouble. With shaky foundations, our structures crumble and we end up making wrong decisions. Hello, IMF.

Our collective is such that we do come across world-class talent that somehow doesn’t let us fade away into oblivion. Think Dr. Mahboob Ul Haq, Abdul Sattar Edhi, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis among others. God only knows how many Wasim Akrams have slipped under the radar because the system failed them. Any talk of reforms and your uncle will stop seeing you.

Back to cricket. It is time for us to overhaul the system. It has been crying for it. It is only after a defeat do we start seeing paunchy players and an under-performing support staff. If we do not heed this call we will be out of the World Cup forever.

Just Keep Swimming

Just keep swimming, go with the flow, accept the way things are; these are just a few of the things that we hear around us almost every day. They all point on to the one fact and that is, once a thing is done, there in nothing you can do about it, so let go and let god! However, as easy as it is to say these things, I’m afraid I see very few people who actually practice it too. As a result, people take more tension, become more anxious and irritable, and in the end put their mental health at stake, all because they think they are in control of their future, but are not ok with the fact that they cannot undo their past.

Let’s break this situation a little using a tree diagram to understand how things works:

flowchart one

Here’s the thing, you have a task/situation/chore/mission in front of you and you need to fulfill it. You have two ways to go about it; complete the task in a timely manner with all your heart poured into it, or complete the task half heartedly and get done with it just for the sake of it. Each case will have two scenarios; you will either get to the desired outcome, or the undesired outcome. The feeling of what comes from these outcomes is what will all be different. But what stands still is that you have next to zero control over any of them. Frustrating as it might be, it is the truth of life and you can not do anything about it.

Some of you might believe in destiny and some of you would not. I myself, being the tiny opinionated person that I am, strongly believe that whatever happens has been already written down. The path to choose to reach that outcome is chosen by you, but other than that, everything is already planned for you. So why worry, my friend? Why the despair?

The term “Just Keep Swimming” is my moto to life. It comes from one of my very favorite movies, Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo is an animated movie about a father fish who loses his son fish in the ocean. The father fish, on his quest to ‘finding nemo’ befriends a fish called Dory who has a short-term memory loss, and is usually good for nothing. Throughout the movie, she chants her favorite words of ‘just keep swimming’ which clearly imply that just keep going with the flow and you will end up where you need to be, and in the end helps the father fish find his son. The perfect example of letting go.

Now letting go here does not mean to fold your arms and sit in front of your television watching your favorite show all day because, hey God has everything planned for you right? No. Rather, it means to work hard and pour your heart into whatever you do, and then let go, because at the end of the day, whatever happens, happens for YOUR good.

My father often says that he wants to have my attitude towards life. In any critical situation, I am usually the one who says “chill kerein, relax kerein” and my father is usually the one who cannot sit still and has his forehead all frowned and his heart beat racing 150 km/h. I often tell him to relax because there is nothing he can do about the situation except pray.

I am no expert in maintaining my calm in tough situations. But I do know my power of belief, and I wish that everyone did too. It is pointless to put your beautiful heart through so much, so why not practice the habit of letting go once your job is done, and staying happy for the life that is planned for you. Just keep swimming and you will be where you are meant to be.

flowchart two

Surviving Adulthood

My 30’s are already turning out to be weird. I’m a mom, a daughter-in-law, a wife, a mentor (yeah i know, weird), an ever-so-still-rebellious daughter, a friend, an ex-friend, a sister…the list just doesn’t end. That’s how many roles I, like many other fellow adults, have to juggle. See, the thing about life is the one million curve balls it throws at you. One moment you’re on top of your game and the next moment you’re falling apart, because, well, life happens. This may seem like your average day-to-day story, but the fact that you have all these insane roles to play, doesn’t make anything easier. You stop finding the time to heal, the time to process, and the time to move on — not move forward but move on.

Adulthood isn’t easy; it’s about containing yourself when you feel you’ve hit the end of the road. It’s about initiating a brand new start when you physically feel that you won’t be able to live through the day. It’s about making choices that may (did i say may…I meant most definitely WILL) be really difficult but are probably for the best (but you don’t know that yet…which makes it even more frustrating!!). 

Adulthood is an overwhelming process. It frightens you because you are constantly struggling to do the right thing and you keep brushing away the things that give you joy and happiness because it seems like the “right” thing to do (Terrible isn’t it? And you thought your 20’s were bad). 

For the benefit of you 30 somethings, (20 somethings, read and learn) I’ve put together a small list which may help you get through the day, especially when you feel like s*** has hit the fan and there’s no way you will be able to bounce back. I like to refer to this list as the ADULTTS (yes that’s adults with two T’s…): 

1. Always hug your mom – I like to start the list with this because it always makes things a tiny bit better than they were before. 

2. Distract yourself – Sometimes getting away from a situation, or the person causing the situation, or the negativity of your surroundings may just help you think a lot more clearly and objectively. 

3. Understand what is important – Prioritize and tackle each step as it comes. Once you understand what is important you will eventually make sure things fall into place.

4. Let it go! – This is the tough one. The really tough one. Especially for impulsive humans such as myself. It takes a great amount of self-control before you realize there’s nothing you can do to help salvage a certain situation. Once you do let go however, you will be in a more positive head space and will eventually realize that perhaps letting go of a certain situation was necessary for you to grow.   

5. Trivialize it – How difficult and unsolvable a problem is depends primarily on your own thought process. You might need to take a step back and really analyze the root cause of the problem and look into that as opposed to blowing the issue out of proportion. 

6. Talk about it! Cry about it! Laugh about it! Write about it! – Basically get it out of your system. Don’t let it linger on. The more you internalize your feelings the worse the pain will become.

7. Structure a game plan – Once you’re done analyzing the problems and the symptoms, exercise a bit of self-restraint and get into solution mode. A good idea is to structure your thoughts and decide how you will tackle each step. We all manage emotions in different ways and this may be a more practical take on the matter; however, once you get down to it you’ll realize that perhaps there was a pretty simple solution all along.

This list of course is fluid and may take a couple of iterations before you get it right but you get my drift. Lastly, always remember: Nothing and by that i mean NOTHING lasts forever. And if we’ll survive one day, we’ll survive the next one too.

A Tribute to Ours and Theirs

You were born into a family like any other. A family that saw dreams for you, pushed you to grow, and stood by you no matter what. A family that prayed for you, cried for you, and fulfilled all your wishes. You had friends that thought you were crazy, friends that made fun of you, and also those who inspired you to be the better version of yourself that you dream of. You were afraid, wavering, and anxious, but also eager, energetic, and certain. You knew what you wanted from life, and you went for it despite all the struggles you knew you had to face. Your mother’s tears and your father’s silent expressions, your sister’s hugs and your brother’s convincing, there was nothing that was going to stop you. There came the day when you went from being just your mother’s, to being your motherland’s. And you would not have had it any other way!

Life was tough and it was crazy. Everyday was like a roller coaster ride that would not end. From waking up at five on cold winter mornings with your seniors throwing buckets of ice cold water on you, to running unending laps on the football even though your legs gave up 20 minutes ago; from drinking your food out of your glass because you only had 2 minutes to finish it, to rolling in mud because your shirt was not properly tucked in; from having emotional breakdowns in front of your fellow batch mates, to being the support system to all, you woke up everyday with a smile on your face and hope in your eyes because you were brave and courageous, and you knew you had a whole nation that was counting on you. You never gave up.

You and many other ‘jawans’ had a sole purpose to life, to protect your country and the many strangers that became your family. You had people rooting for you and praying for you from the comforts of their homes. Did anyone really know what you really went through? The constant fear of attack from the enemy and the distress of losing the life of a fellow or even yourself. Did you really love your land so much to go through that? For you, every bruise was an award, every scar a story to tell. For your family, every breath of yours was another blessing to be thankful for, every doorbell a skipped heartbeat.

And you? You entered the ‘enemy’s’ land being the tiger that you are. You were doing only that what you were told was good for your land. You were considered a terrorist, a spy, an intruder. But you did it still, because you knew that every drop of blood of yours would make you a bigger hero, someone who fought for his land and died in the name of it.

I am sat in my bed, all cozy and warm with a cup of tea in my hands and my family sat right around me. Words are not enough when I write this thank you note to the both of you for doing what you are doing, for being our savior and our protector. A world full of peace is what we’d all love to see, but till then, thank you. Salutes to you both.

“Afrad ke hathoun mein hai akwaam ki takdeer,

Her fard hai millat ke muqadar ka sitara”

Pursuing the More Significant

If we look into human history, there has been one question that has been either asked directly or alluded to, in all religions and cultures. This question is: What is the meaning of life? Ever since humans started thinking rationally and analyzing their surroundings, they have been curious about why things are the way that they are. From wanting to know how organisms have evolved to asking more broad questions about the purpose of life, God and the nature of the universe.

What makes life worth living? Is it a life filled with happiness and success or a life filled with purpose and meaning? Is there even a difference between the two? Recently, I read a quote by John Maxwell and the dots finally connected. He says: “Success is when I add value to myself. Significance is when I add value to others.”

While the thirst for success is never quenched, significance satisfies our deepest heart and soul. It allows us to lay our head on our pillow each night confident that we lived a valuable and fulfilling day. The pursuit of significance is a daily practice of priorities. It is when you set out on a path, focused on something important and you work towards it with dedication every day. It can be anything from a tangible goal to the legacy you leave behind one day. It truly does not matter where you begin, what matters is what you achieve at the end.

The purpose of life, therefore, is to create your own meaning  and to bring it to fruition. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer. The truth is, there are untapped sources of meaning all around us—right here, right now. We can find meaning in every scenario, event, occurrence and context. We can find meaning in the sublime, the absurd, the dull and dreary, and in the perfectly wretched in life.

Here are simple ways to pursue significance in your life:

Begin and end with gratitude:

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. Start each day and finish each evening by thinking of three things for which you are grateful. When we anchor ourselves to the abundance in our lives, we uncover that which is most significant to us. It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, it’s gratitude that brings us true happiness and contentment.

Value what you have:

If you need something to believe in, start with yourself. Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. And until you value your time, you’ll do nothing with it. When clearly defined, your values will simplify your decision making process and will create fertile soul for you to flourish.

Dream big, live big:

Clear out the clutter in your mind so that your dreams have room to live and grow. Set goals: Plan, execute and implement them. A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action becomes a reality. Dream big, work hard, make it happen!

Act with meaning:

The purpose of life is not to be happy, rather it is to be useful, honorable, compassionate, make a difference and leave your mark in the world. In the hyper-competitive world in which we live, leaving a legacy is often implicitly put forth as the highest virtue. It is a way in which  we will feel valued and remembered after we have gone. It doesn’t have to always be grand, it could be something small that aids you in leaving the world a slightly better place than when you came into it.  

The Tyranny of Time:

Do not be lured into the premise that ‘someday’ you will take action, since that day may never come. Many people die with their music still in them. You’re never going to be 100% ready and it’s never going to be just the right time. This means that every moment is also the right moment. If you want it, you just have to do it!

If you don’t make the time to creating a life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with the life you don’t want. Remember, we came to this world with a purpose. Find out what that is. It’s going to be hard, but hard isn’t impossible.

Are We Replaceable?

I remember watching the cartoon show Jetsons in my childhood, which featured a family living in a utopian future. Houses in the sky, flying cars shaped as saucers, robotic maids and pets — everything was a depiction of an unseen world.

As I grew up, I realized everyone around me was debating the benefits of technology.  Jetson’s utopian world wasn’t that great after all. One of the strongest arguments against technology was its brutal replacement of human beings. Typists, bookkeepers, farmers and many others were losing their jobs at the hands of artificially intelligent equipment.

Stephen Hawking once said that a new form of life would evolve if anyone ever creates some kind of self-improving artificial intelligence, which is superior to human beings. This indicates that human beings can easily be replaced.

But is that even possible? Can creation be superior to the creator? And how does one measure superiority? Some people debate the limitations of humans — in terms of speed, accuracy, and physical presence in time and space. However, one thing that is not debatable is the essence of a human: whatever it is that makes us human.

The most important element is the human conscience. We have a living conscience, which guides our actions through a moral code. It is the reason we can distinguish between right and wrong by following an inner instinct which stems from our values. If a robot from Jetsons was programmed to steal, it would continue to steal for its lifetime, unless programmed otherwise, since it would be incapable of listening to itself.

Second, the emotions and feelings we experience are irreplaceable. We are blessed with a vast palette of emotions which shape our experiences and responses to situations. We feel anger, happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, and disgust in every fiber of our bodies. We are often proud of how rationally we act in certain situations, but in reality it is hard to act with absolute objectivity and to ignore the role of emotions. A happy employee will do a task very differently than their dissatisfied co-worker. Can we say the same about machines? Would a pat on the back from the boss change the number of data entries an artificially intelligent computer makes?

Moreover, the strings of relationships can not be overlooked in this argument. We thrive on human connections. A lot of tasks are only possible because we leverage on the strengths of our peers, working collaboratively towards a common goal. The bonds we develop and the friendships we make allow us to grow as a collective. It is not yet possible to program machines to create bonds of friendships and achieve results through strong connections.

These things make us distinct and provide endless opportunities of growth and progress in the future.

It is important to note that technology is not a threat to human beings; in fact, it exists to exponentially increase efficiencies and augment human capabilities. Social media connects humans, virtual spaces for work promote collaboration, and access to information enhances our knowledge. Hence, It is only a matter of keeping up with times, leveraging factors that make us unique instead of competing with machines for productivity and efficiencies.

I believe technology, if used to amplify humans’ empathic action and efforts, will lead to unprecedented changes in the world, which will positively outweigh the negatives of technology.

Icon credit: Roboto from SimpleIcon

A Practical Guide to Being Intolerant

During my day job, I meet a lot of people from different backgrounds. Most people have no problem being intolerant to others. Those who are not intolerant find it difficult to get along with others. Here is a guide for those, who want to be a part of the in-group.

Precautions:

There are some safety precautions you must follow lest you become tolerant. Foremost is to not think and reflect. Be lazy when you can. It always works like a charm. The second precaution is to always perpetuate stereotypes. They are there for a reason.

Technique 1: The funny ethnic joke

A recent dialogue between one of the participants at a training session:

Participant: “Sir, I want to tell you a joke.”

Me: “Please, go ahead.”

Participant: “Sir, when was Pakistan founded.”

Me: “1947”

Participant: “No”

Me: “How is that?”

Participant: “Sir, it came into being in 1940. It took them 7 years to decide who would keep Sikhs and who, Pashtuns.”

It’s such a convenient and lazy way to make others laugh. When short of humorous material, google ethnic jokes and voila!

Technique 2: The hell-bound fashionista

Overheard at malls and other public places is this oft-repeated sentiment that those who follow fashion and wear lots of make-up will end up in hell. Hidden in this statement is the assumption that modern looking people have shaky morals and they can sell their soul to the devil to buy a new branded shirt. Maybe they do! Branded shirts are expensive.

You can also add to this category the close-minded fundo, who is made fun of because of, yes, you are right, their physical appearance.

Technique 3: The ungrateful South Walay

Experienced again at a training session, when I told the participants the story of how treating my past as a burden always put me down, a participant said, “Sorry sir, South Walay hamaisha inferiority complex mein rehtay hain.” He added further, “Sir, I come from a village up North, but I am proud of my roots.” The point I was trying to make was completely lost and it became about the feud between North and South. Embellishing this technique even further is the honorable mention of the “Arrogant Central Punjab Walay.”

Technique 4: Burgers

The English-speaking crowd sits in their echo chambers and cannot empathize with the common man. They only eat at fancy restaurants and are a danger to the ideology of Pakistan. You could also add the ‘pan eating Karachi walay’ and ‘un-couth Punjabis’ to this category.

Technique 5: You are my ‘Nigga’

Not as pervasive as others, this technique also conveniently trivializes the history and travails of an entire race. Boys and girls who have just hit adolescence, find the most fun in it. It’s endearing how they use this word and there is even WhatsApp groups called “My Nigga’’ that have special friends on them.   

Technique 6: You are stupid for following PPP/PML/PTI/MQM

The most famous technique to be intolerant in Pakistan is to make ‘funny’ jokes on everyone other than your own favorite politicians. All of them are corrupt and they could not care less of their people. They deserve to be chastised till they don’t because that politician just joined your favorite political party from the rival camp.

Bonus Material

If you are bored with using the above, here is a much simpler technique: just look for how ‘different’ the other is from you. There is always physical features, dress, language and family backgrounds to make fun of.

Leader’s Toolkit

For too long, and rightly so, we have been ‘hooked’ to the ambient theories of motivation. Trying to understand the human psyche, aligning management tools to individual and group needs and make people work to get more out of each dollar, has been and is the cornerstone of research and study by social scientists and psychologists.

One such great thinker was Abraham Maslow who had a profound impact on how management was and is shaped. An American psychologist, Maslow was best known for creating the hierarchy of needs expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms.” The five rungs of Maslow’s ladder are still taught at most universities; millenials are well aware of it, and organizations formulate their reward and recognition policies around it.

Times through these ages has repeatedly demonstrated that those who make it into history books and whose stories are told as inspirational legacies are ones who did not traverse the hierarchy of needs. They by-passed them and reached the top. The story of their journey begins in the last rung of actualization. That’s where the action happens. Prior to this, life’s rituals are around existence and survival; conditions that are not the prescription for human excellence. Think of the Nobel Prize winners; great musicians and painters; inventors and architects; nation-builders and astronomers; social workers and historians – spending decades of their life looking for that one molecule; an economic theory; a musical note that moves the soul; in quest of material to build; life in deep space; serving the ill and burying the dead – what makes them do what they do? Such tenacity, endurance and persistence is not the stuff of survival. There is more to life than filling the belly and a roof over the head. Human struggle is capable of by-passing these menial low-life form activities and launching straight into the rung of self-actualization.

Even in these travails, self-actualization is not the driving force; it is the unforeseen consequence. What is it that makes us capable of navigating past the bodily, safety, psychological and esteem needs to live a life of perpetual contribution?

Upon intense closer reflection, deep inside the last rung of self-actualization, there is another journey. This is one way of how it can be expressed:

leaders toolkit

Pride in what you do lends a firm and robust identity constituted by an unshakable ideology. This pride is augmented by a sense of service, prayer and faith. It is a spiritual experience that fills the belly, intrigues the mind and corroborates the heart. People/societies without an identity are too busy finding one; looking around to compare their own with others, falling into the trap of arrogance if theirs is better, or inferiority complexes, if worse. There is no anchor in such mental quandaries for intelligence to begin its search into the unfamiliar.

What you have pride in, you will care for. This care is ‘respect’ – the ability to repeatedly ‘see’ from the other’s perspective. There is empathy for another and kindness for the environment and resources. This state gives dignity, self-value; beyond mere self-esteem. Without this ability to ‘see’, one is stuck in self-serving traditions.

Empowerment is to recognize one’s power to think, feel and do. With the immense faith imbibed by the previous two stages, this power has to be used, resulting in a heightened state of trust – that molecule has to be studied; this music note says it all; galaxies, million light years away, must be investigated. The enormous trust in oneself is realized and trust in others (people and matter) becomes normal. Without trust, the individual is ensnared in a victim mentality.

The lens of trust makes the eye seek and unravel the unseen. Such a mind enters its veiled realms and creates, designs, scripts and formulates the new, the unknown, the fresh dimension leading to growth in character and progress. Looking at and living in the past is the reality of those not having arrived here.

The individual arrives at the locus of inspiration – everything and every moment is wonder-ful. Being awestruck becomes the natural condition that drives the order. Time and space become immaterial, resulting in tremendous contribution to uplift and unfold the mysteries that are ours to discern.

Pain and pleasure are the proclaimed motivators. Whatever we do is supposed to be guided by our instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This P&P principle drives us at both levels – the physical and the spiritual. The outcomes are different. The physical levels are the same as of animals, and remain the motivations of survival. The spiritual P&Ps are the human reality burgeoning what religion, philosophy, mysticism, aesthetics, ethics and morality prescribes for us to be.

The Power of Questions

Most often, we do not allow our children to think. Have you ever given a case study to a three-year old? If you do, you’ll be surprised at the speed with which they answer, the quality of the response and the number of alternatives they can come up with. Ask children for their opinion on any matter, and they will have one – but no one is asking. Every question you ask a child builds their repertoire, or the mental muscle. As exercise builds physical health, stamina, resilience and strength, questions are exercise for the brain. If questions are about Math, History, Science etc, i.e. the syllabus in school, the brain will respond accordingly. Similarly, if questions are about life, the brain will answer. These answers make the “unfamiliar familiar,” constructing ever-new mental models. The more the mental models, the more the perspectives, the lesser the problems and stress and the richer the life. This positive state of being can trigger the “reward” neural circuitry, building the fortunate habit of self-rewarding, instead of being dependent on others or a system to validate or reinforce.

Similarly, at the workplace, are you asking your juniors questions or giving them instructions? Even if you have the answer, asking questions is a people-development leadership style that enables people to think for themselves. Else, they will remain dependent on you – which, of course, secures your job, but doesn’t do much for your promotion or your team’s empowerment.

We are born with the capacity to do wonders. Every child is a genius in her own way. When this capacity, or potential, as it is often called; is developed, many a times through questions, the child/person becomes able. That’s when capacity transforms into capability. The word ‘capability’ is two words, capacity and ability. When one is capable, then can we be responsible.

The brain makes up 2% of the body weight but consumes 20-25% energy. To conserve energy and be efficient, it builds neural pathways. The human brain is estimated to have 100 billion neurons which can connect in trillions of ways. The richer the exposure, the more the connections as there will be greater associations from the past to compare the new and be more empathetic toward receiving and accepting it, instead of rejecting the unfamiliar and losing opportunities. It’s these unconscious habits that directly affect our ability to make choices and decisions from the higher brain. The narrower the choices, the more we fear. Fear leads to stereotyping people and situations, narrowing opportunities to what is “acceptable.” The larger spectrum of choices provides internal psychological safety, making the individual more secure and confident. A person with a narrow spectrum will rely on external safety stimuli and will remain psychologically insecure.

Such a condition of internal uncertainty puts the mind in a state of constant conflict, mostly about the question, “Who am I?” Since the mind has not learnt to think, there is only a prescribed answer – the one we have been brought up with.

Having observed parents and how they react to their children’s behaviours, it is more often that parents are not nurturing children. Mostly they are conditioning them, that too with fear and shame; while the rest of the upbringing involves indoctrination. This psychological doctoring centers around ages-old social norms and customs of what is acceptable behaviour. The curriculum is different for girls and boys; for different economic strata; varies geographically and prescribed by religious and personal belief systems. And so the child acquires a pseudo personality, complying with what is acceptable. Others become the source of acceptability and respect, to validate the self. Thus, we get rid of the confusion and conflict aroused by the annoying question, “Who am I?”

With this comfortable formula that the brain acquires of getting respect from others and having the neural pathways conserve energy and work efficiently with this habit, we lose our ability to self-respect; or rather, that never quite develops. This ‘hanging on’ to others for one’s self-concept and identity breeds outward-looking mental models, on which we rely for reward and acknowledgement and turn into a ‘complaint’ society. Such peoples often are followers of the dictates of others.

This state of being can spread through society making most of us depend on each other for our self-esteem. Since ‘each’ has not much to ‘give’, as that ‘each’ is looking for it in the ‘other’, the alternate becomes to ‘take’. To take away from the other. I’ve seen grown men celebrate, clap, cheer when the other looses. These cheering men did not win, but they find solace in the loss of others. That is a glaring sign of a hollowness typical of a pseudo existence. Backbiting is another good method of pulling the other down so as to self-aggrandize. This becomes the neural pathway for reward.

Through history we can see such societies and even civilizations carrying on for hundreds of years in this state of survival. Many self-destruct, where the ego (the embodiment of selfishness), becomes all consuming. Such emphasis and focus on appeasing the form and neglect of the spirit, shrivels the soul, causing the entity to implode. Where are the great Greek, Roman and Mughal empires?

An indicator of fear and shame-centric societies is that they are consumers. Research and development and invention, innovation require a high level of patience, faith and perseverance, an elevated state of service for the larger good.

How can we come out of this downward spiral and become what we ought to be? Just for one day, ask questions. This requires you to acknowledge that others, too, know, and may know better. This vulnerability makes you powerful and them stronger. Be patient with their answers – remember you are facing generations of indoctrination. You cannot break neural pathways by asking once only. Keep at it. Results may not happen in your lifetime, but the transformation has begun.

The Power to Justify

The good, the bad and the ugly exist concurrently and randomly. What we pick, defines our present reality. Like the circuitry in a landline telephone hub, apparently a mesh, a mess; whichever wire is connected, will respond. Data that exists in that connected wiring enables us to survive – the remaining data we pick up from what is around us. That original data takes care of our bodily needs and comforts. Rightly so, else we would not survive. Even in the super-abnormal conditions where a baby is left in a forest, the fable of Tarzan being the best example; the organism finds a way to live. The quality of the external data that the organism is exposed to, determines the quality and direction of its potential.

Every child is born a genius. What we do with that genius determines whether it will flourish or be directed to succumb to merely fulfilling its selfish bodily needs. Research in Psychology has established that, in general, a child is born with enormous potential. This potential is its capacity, which when groomed, becomes its ability; moving it from simply surviving to thriving; to taking response-ability.

The voices of society, of the environments in which the child is bred; sculpts the character of the child. The output is that, by the time the child is 11, the child is ready to fit-in with that society and can cope with its norms and demands. If the voices of the society are insecure, the young child, and, therefore, the adult that it will become, will ably manage within the constraints, restrictions and traditions of that society. The voices will keep steering it in directions often not of its choosing but in compliance with societal norms which are, most of the time, unquestioned mores, useful for the past but not evolved to accommodate the burdens of the present; least of all, the onus of the future. This child will be in the passenger seat for life. Associated behaviors are disgruntlement; negativity; critical; blaming and entitled – a victim mentality. This child will aim to be acclaimed as a hero, with a perpetuating need to be validated and acknowledged as its main driving need. This child’s massive potential will adapt to its comfort zone and justify its thoughts, actions and outcomes to further fit-in. Most of its intellectual capacity will be directed to design, develop and deliver these justifications, as they are what constitute its identity.

If the voices are confident, enabling and secure; the child will find its compass. It will find itself in the driving seat of life to steer into the future. It has learnt to maneuver the challenges of the terrain and knows that the twists and turns, ups and downs have to be skillfully managed. It is this skillful managing that becomes the endeavor, not necessarily where the path leads to. The direction is chosen, but the process is the elegance, beauty and quality of Purpose.

The enormous difference between these two types, the experiences they live and generate for others, can be attributed to three sequential elements as highly researched and presented by Howard Gardner in his book, Changing Minds.

1. CONNECTION

A question, whether what to cook today for lunch or which fear to conquer or what new project to launch, will find an answer according to the predominant attributes of your potential. When mindfully reflected upon for the most appropriate response, that response will be the connection between you and the idea. This connection taps into your potential and extracts from it courage, care and commitment. Recall the time when you achieved the seemingly impossible. It was the idea-connection strength that provided the valor to do something so audacious. You cared for the idea so much that it crafted your commitment to it. Your time attuned with how to make it happen. You got swamped with thoughts and invented ways. You saw the resources lying around you. It was clear and in-your-face and it wouldn’t let you be until you did something about it.

In this instance, being a hero does not matter anymore. You do not need other’s validation, acknowledgement; doing it becomes a duty; a ruling that must be sought.

2. MEANING

This well-thought out and chosen state acquires meaning because it went through the phase of Connection. You find in it Reason (the What) and Meaning (the Why), which, together, define the Purpose. From here on, everything you think, do or say is in alignment with the idea, cause, mission, ideology.  A high level of tenacity springs from an endless well of confidence and positivity and feeds itself, without regard for or expectation of reward or recognition. ‘Giving’ becomes the central theme of every action and you shift from the natural malevolent state to a benevolent demeanor. Whatever comes your way, has meaning, and contributes to the Purpose; nothing is useless anymore; not a minute is spent futile. This ‘giving’ is not altruistic – it is kind and compassionate, but not founded on pity – no, not at all, it is selfish, wherein this selfishness is a virtue.

3. EQUANIMITY

Persistence is no more a struggle or a sacrifice. The state acquired by now is the utmost of what faith personifies. This faith resonates with attributes of confidence and trust, in self and those who have joined you in the endeavor. They joined you because they wanted it too – they wanted someone to stand for an idea. The extent of commitment you demonstrate is what they want to be part of, as it fulfills the human spirit. Patience and humility take over the concept of chronological time. You know it will happen – ‘when?’ is for you to aspire, but not to determine. By now, the ego fads away to be replaced by flexibility to adapt to mixed, varied and intense circumstances. Such resilience brings in more heads and hearts; hands and feet. Here the journey loops back into Connection, but at a higher level of the spiral. Efforts, so focused, narrow toward the line-of-sight and reach the goal, only to happily discover the next higher peak.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 to 1831), the German philosopher rightly said, “Change is the cardinal principle of life. Struggle is the law of growth. Character is built in the storm and stress of the world, and man reaches his full height through compulsions, responsibility and suffering. Life is not made for happiness, but for achievement. The history of the world is not the theatre of happiness; periods of happiness are blank pages for they are periods of harmony, and this dull content is unworthy of man.”

Energy Management

Energy Management is a concept that was explained in detail in a 2007 HBR article, titled “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” The framework provided lends useful insights into the idea behind managing day-to-day energy to ensure employees are engaged and productive, and find their work fulfilling.

The overall concept of energy management includes 4 aspects of energy:

  1. Physical Energy
  2. Emotional Energy
  3. Mental Energy
  4. Spiritual Energy

Following is a list of recommendations for each of these aspects.

 

PHYSICAL ENERGY

If you feel a lack of physical energy, please ensure:

  • You’re eating right. Nutrition forms a big part of our overall health and physical fitness will lead to mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness. Simplify your meals – don’t mix chicken with meat, or pulses with fish. Try and consume proteins, carbs, or fats from a single source at a time. Have lots of water during the day and always drink a glass of water before your meal. Don’t consumer water for at least half and hour after your meal.
  • You exercise often. The minimum is 3 times a week for 40 minutes each. Brisk walking is a good exercise at the basic level. Take the stairs as much as you can. Park your car away from the buildings and utilize that opportunity to stack some steps for each day.
  • To get a minimum of 7 hours of un-interrupted sleep every day.
  • To take regular breaks during intense work days. Walk around for 10 minutes after an hour of focused work.

 

EMOTIONAL ENERGY

If you feel emotionally exhausted:

  • Pause during the day and take a mental break regularly. Think of something other than work. Read a novel, play a game, call a friend.
  • Appreciate those around you. Making people feel good about themselves will lead you to feel better as well.
  • Change the stories you tell yourself. Shift your linguistic patterns. If you discover that a big part of your conversation is about the negatives in life, consciously start talking about the good things. Your brain will believe what you say and it will de-stress you.

 

MENTAL ENERGY

If mental energy is an area of concern:

  • Avoid multi-tasking. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is mentally draining and leads to a drop in productivity.
  • Get rid of interruptions. When you’re in a meeting or require focused time, switch off interruptions. Put your phone on silent. Try scheduling a ‘phone-check’ and ‘email-check’ after every hour, this will enable you to gather momentum for work.
  • Try changing your work space. A change in location leads to a mental revitalization.

 

SPIRITUAL ENERGY

For spiritual rejuvenation:

  • Take time out of your busy schedules and revisit your big picture plan. Know your values and your vision for life to ensure you are on the right track. A misalignment between vision, values and reality often leads to high stress situations.
  • Clarify your priorities in life. Remind yourself of what is important in life often. Live each day to ensure you’re prioritizing your activities appropriately.
  • Keep a ‘switch off’ time at home. It is a good idea to switch off your communication devices for 2 hours once you’re home. Say between 8-10pm you will be present with your family, completely.

Pakistan: A Love Story

You have not lived your life if you have not hopelessly fallen in love with someone and even better broken up with them. There is an old world charm about unrequited love as it makes for legendary stories – the kind Shakespeare punctuated with imperfect, insecure, deluded but generous, loud and strangely optimistic characters. From the moment you start courting someone till the time you are cast out of their life; you experience emotions you thought you were never capable of feeling. In some sense, these themes of unrequited love also seem true for my love for Pakistan. 

Pakistan and I started our fling back in the 90s. I was young and carefree. My fascination with it began when we won the Cricket World Cup in 1992. To me, Pakistan, at the time, was only limited to a few mili naghmay, sports and a bloated sense of self-worth that we were better than our neighbour to the east. As I moved from city to city for education and work, I realized that Pakistan was as enchanting as a reverse swinging Yorker ala Waqar Younis. I just could not get enough of it! It was in those days that I fell head over heals for Pakistan. 

The obvious next step was to sit the beloved on a pedestal. It was impossible for me to imagine how anyone could not love Pakistan! In my vulnerability, I started feeding on the jingoistic piffle dished out by many and thought politicians were the quintessential evil mother-in-law who just did not approve of the choice their daughter had made.  

As I thought my love was about to culminate in the union with my beloved, then the 9/11 happened. It felt as if Pakistan had come crashing down from the pedestal. The romance of 90s seemed to be fading away. Pakistan had become cranky and a bit impossible to like. But I still persisted. How could I let the 15 years of my labor go down the drain. I clang on. I thought I would get it back the way it was and everything would be great again How silly of me! What ensued, as I tried to reconcile with this new reality, was a period of skepticism, low self esteem as a Pakistani and just general apathy. Deep down inside I was trying to play the sympathy card. You show your love interest how miserable you are in the hope that they will come around. Only they don’t. 

A few months ago, I had a moment of clarity. I felt incredibly stupid. It was not Pakistan that had become cranky. It was me who had changed. I was not willing to make those compromises – yes, compromises, that one has to make to woo the beloved. I had become self-centered and my priorities had changed. I was enveloped in this strange sense of entitlement where I treated others as a stepping stone to a fancy job and a big house. I watched Karachi burn; Lahore bleed, Peshawar weep, Quetta on its knees and still said nothing. Imagine how your beloved would feel if they lost an arm and you abandoned them! 

In the months leading up to this August, I have done a lot of soul-searching and believe that unlike a Shakespearean tragedy, Pakistan as a love story still has a hope of a revival – the sort that will one day unite the lover and the beloved. It will take me to put the collective in the mix again, take more responsibility and maturely start to get rid of the unwanted parts (jingoism, sectarianism, corruption and other ills). I will have to put my biases aside and start the process of rebuilding with love and care- without the expectation of wanting back. 

I need your blessings!