Later in the day I was discussing this with a friend and he told me how most of his friends are now lost in life and do not know what to do. Read the write up he sent, you will know what I mean. BTW, he’s aged 40+
There’s a trend that I have noticed this year. I probably have seen signs of it over the past years, but this year the trend is sharper.
A whole lot of my friends are dealing with emptiness or boredom or depression. Some of them are touching 40, or have crossed 40.
All of them are financially well off. They have lovely spouses, and lovely kids. They have lovely homes and lovelier vacations. They party a lot. But once in a while they come across this feeling that they don’t know what to do about.
All of them are great at what they do….great teachers, business development ninjas, even a couple of entrepreneurs.
‘I am bored, I swear I am going to quit my job and work for an NGO,’ says my super saleswoman friend.
‘I am so unhappy man…feel like going and having an affair,’ says a one-woman man. ‘Money and family isn’t everything, is it?’ he wonders.
‘I don’t know, I have been thinking of meaning a lot these past few days. What does this all mean?,’ says a super smart guy that others would gladly exchange places with.
‘I like my life, I have nothing to complain about. My students adore me. I am the life of every party. My son thinks I am the best mom in the world. But there are days like today, when I am so low, I don’t know what hit me,’ one 43-year whatsapps me.
One close friend group has been having discussions on anti-depressants, and people in the group have run up research on ‘not having a purpose in life’ as a cause of depression.
Call it mid-life crisis, call it boredom, call it what you will.
But I really think, all these wonderful, happy, competent, brilliant friends of mine didn’t spend much time to think how would they live their meaningfully. They got excellent at their careers, made money, married the right people, and so on. But they stare at emptiness, maybe not all the time. But I suspect the frequency of it is more than before.
Which is why I hear of it from them, a lot more now.
Upto you to decide whether you want to do what you love or tell your friends at 40 that you are depressed. Your call!
5.15 AM: I get a call from one of my best friend. “He’s dead” is all he says before he burst out crying.
All I could manage to respond was “Shit” and then heard him cry for the next 2 minutes.
My friends’ childhood friend and current roommate was no more. All he lived was 28 years!
So what happened? Did he meet an accident? Not sure. Was he suffering from some disease? Nobody knows. But wait a minute, does that matter now? Whatever be the cause, its immaterial now.
So if it doesn’t matter then why am I writing? I don’t know. Maybe I got moved? But then I barely knew this person. 4-5 meetings during some group celebrations should not move me, no?
But there is something in my mind ever since I returned home after seeing his body being sent to his family (from the hospital to his hometown). That ‘something’ which rose from the statement my friend made, “he wanted to live, he really wanted”. I was wondering, ‘why?’
No, I have no clue about how his life was. But there must be ‘something’ which is why he wanted to live.
I woke up to his death. He left and the question is remains unanswered – why? What if you woke up to death tomorrow morning – To your own death! ‘Why do you want to live?’ Ask yourself….
Off and on I have come across various people in life who’ve told me (or someone known) that they don’t want to do the same things everyday at office. Okay, fair thing to say. We all want variety in our life, don’t we? But the question is how do you define variety?
Let me share a couple of real life stories.
Story 1: Life of a lift-man: My office is in a building which has 12 floors. This building has 2 lifts in working condition. Unlike modern day offices, these lifts are operated by lift-mans who press floor keys what people ask them to. They do this in and out the entire day. One day my colleague had a small conversation with one of them:
Colleague: “don’t you get bored doing the same thing for 12 hours a day every single day?” Lift man: “I have been doing this for the past 20 years” Colleague: how can you do the same thing for tt-twenty years? Lift man: Why can’t I? Sachin Tendulkar has been playing cricket for more than 20 years, has he got bored? Colleague: *astonished* *a minute’s silence* Lift man: One single day if I am not there, there’s complete chaos in the building and the lift is in complete mess!
I was really happy to hear this conversation, primarily for 2 reasons.
He took so much pride in his job that he compared himself to someone like Sachin Tendulkar!
Even though you might think that its a simple job and anyone can do it, he doesn’t think so. In fact he displays his importance in a manner that one is bound to agree how important his job for the organisation (he works with) and that he is a valuable asset
Simple question, Do you feel this for your job?
Story 2: Life of a soldier: A few days back i was in Kashmir and trekked to a mountain top at an height from where I could see the last Indian army post, a few metres ahead, Pakistan border started. I met an Indian Army soldier there. I got into a conversation with him.
Me: sir do you have to stand here the entire day? What about night and what is the temperature like? Soldier: Yes. During night its pretty cold, 6-7 degree celsius and so we take some shelter but still do our duty. Me: what about in winters? Soldier: its about -35 degrees! Me: so then you would be leaving this post that time? Soldier: ? Why? Its our job (and duty) to stay here. And we do it! Me: but isn’t it obvious that nobody would at that hour? Soldier: that doesn’t matter and we don’t think that. We do what we do.
After a few minutes a few more trekkers came along and started asking the soldier whether they’ve seen militants? How do they respond? Where’s the border? Etc. After some more time, a few more people came and asked the same questions about militants etc. in a short while I noticed that the soldier was being pestered with the same set of questions and each time he was responding with full enthusiasm. I realized, apart from doing the same boring job all day, just staring at the fields and mountains, he has another boring job, answering the same questions every single day!
While most people (including myself) get frustrated answering the same questions again and again, this brave army man did it with the same enthusiasm each and every single day of his life. All this while wearing a 9.5KG heavy jacket and holding a 3.5KG gun all the time!
Forget the physical labour, can you even think of how much pride this gentleman has for his job? The amount of enthusiasm he carries to work EVERY SINGLE DAY in his life?
I repeat my question, Do you feel this for your job?
My no work/ no gadget trip gave me quite a few experiences. Here’s one:
We were on our way back when we noticed a strong stream of rapid flowing water. As we all sat there I sat alone and kept staring at the water until I noticed i was talking to the water and water was reciprocating. Let me share a small snippet from our conversation.
Me: Dude, what makes you go so fast, it seems you are always in a hurry? Water: Yes, i am in a hurry. I have to serve millions and millions of humans and there is not enough time. So i’d rather hurry.
Me: You are hitting so many rocks every now and then, doesn’t that deter your confidence? Or slow you down maybe? Water: Nah! Didn’t you notice, for every rock there’s an alternate path originating somewhere next to it? Me: <goes in deep thought>
Me: What keeps you going? I mean you could just be calm and enjoy nature, no? Water: I could but that’s not why God created me. Like all you humans, even I am here with a purpose. Until I fulfil that purpose, i will keep on moving.
Me: That all is fine, what do YOU as an individual achieve in fulfilling that purpose? Water: I get SATISFACTION. Satisfaction of quenching someone’s thirst, someone gets fresh energy by splashing me on their face, someone feels relaxed by drowning their feet in this stream, someone some mother will cook food for her children when i reach their place, hence satisfying their hunger. Similarly there are a lot of reasons which give me a sense of satisfaction. I feel happy when i see all this. All this give me satisfaction and that’s my achievement.
Me: So in the end its about your happiness, isn’t it? Water: As long as my happiness is a consequence of people being happy, yes, you can say that!
I have been a huge believer in mentorship and finding the ‘right’ mentor. For the same reason, I have always advised friends/colleagues and especially entrepreneurs to find themselves good mentors.
Today also, while I was mentoring or rather helping a startup entrepreneur, I mentioned how important my mentors have been to my startup and how they are helping me build a successful company. She said nobody in her family has ever started a business and hence she has no guidance there. I gave her my example and mentioned my scenario was no different. But, I added, “you need to develop a network”. She then mentioned that she even doesn’t have a network of such people who could provide her mentorship. I told her how I have grown my network and then eventually found some great people who provide me guidance as and when needed. You need to find such people is what I told her.
This reminded me of my last meeting with my mentor when I asked him what motivates him to come out in the Delhi heat on a Saturday afternoon and spend 3-4 hours just to guide me? He said, that’s 1 of his life goals and then he added “It’s also because I like you guys!” I just smiled and the discussion ended. Later on my friend said, we are lucky to have mentors like him. I kind of disagreed. I said its not about luck, probably we are doing something right which is why we have people supporting us.
Interestingly, while reading Lean In today I landed up at the chapter “Are you my mentor?” Sheryl in this chapter talks about how women (and even men) keep looking for mentors. The perception is “Get a mentor and you will succeed“. That’s the wrong approach, the approach should be, “Excel and you will find a mentor“. She’s bang on! That’s what I’ve realized, both as a mentor and as a mentee. Now go excel and let mentors find you!!!
Sometime back I wrote about the reasons why you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. Couple of days back a friend came to meet me to understand the legalities of starting a business. Being my normal self, I started to ask him questions which soon became tough and he became uncomfortable. Obviously, my aim was not to demotivate him but to make him think of scenarios and foresee some of the things that entrepreneurs face during their startup phase. The idea was not to get answers from him but to make him think hard and then later on go back home and find answers to those.
Interestingly, during our conversations it came out that he wanted to do business only because he wanted to make money. To me that sounded a little weird. When I asked him this upfront, he replied, “Of course I want to do business to earn money. Why else would a person run a business?” Honestly speaking, that came as a shock to me. Then I asked him, “What if a similar company offers the same expertise and service at a lower cost, how would you convince your potential client in such a case?” He went blank. He looked at me for an answer. I gave him a hint, “So what is it that you are offering? What is the value you are creating?” He still didn’t have any answers.
Then he asked me “if money is not what you are there for, why are you doing it?” I answered, “Apart from a few other things, creating value for my clients and creating jobs is why I am there. Money is a by product. Its a result of good work that I do.” And for doing good work, the motivation is not money, never. It can be ‘one’ of the reasons but not the ONLY reason is what I believe. That’s not how great companies are built! Great ideas are born out of need, necessity amongst other things and then there’s a vision and value statement that shapes those ideas into organizations. Those who stick by it are able to build organizations that sustain themselves, otherwise, for whatever reasons, they go down.
And those are not just words that I said above. I have a very close friend who shut down his business sometime back. You would be surprised to know, he was doing really good. Had good cash flows, a name in the industry, grown from 6 to 16 people in the last 1 year or so but then all of a sudden shut down. Reason: he realized he wasn’t creating any value for anyone. His aim to earn money had been fulfilled and he wasn’t sure why should he continue? He couldn’t find a reason and eventually shut down. And then… got back to job.
I am no expert in this field but I believe everything that we do in life has to tie up with our life goals. Be it starting a business or doing any job. That’s when everything starts to fall in place and we live a happy and content life. If that’s not happening, probably there’s something wrong somewhere and needs attention, maybe urgently. Figure that out.
Would like to end this with a statement written on the very first page of Jim Collins’s world famous book: Built to Last
We’ve met executives from all over the world who aspire to create something bigger and more lasting than themselves – an ongoing institution rooted in a set of timeless core values, that exists for a purpose beyond just making money, and that stands the test of time by virtue of the ability to continually renew itself from within.
If you are from India, have been a part of a regular middle class family and have even thought of starting something of your own, am sure you’d associate with the headline itself! Everything that I’ve mentioned below is based on true incidents. I don’t intend to hurt anyone here, still if you did, sorry about it! Getting to the point, straightaway!
About an year back one of my very close friends told me about a product idea. I liked the idea and told him I could work with him on that if he’s willing to seriously build it. His answer was – “yaar abhi job nahi chhod sakta, 6 mahine mein shaadi hai” [Dude, I can’t quit job right now, getting married in 6 months]. Okay, get married but why do you want give up on an idea you believe in? Your girl will understand, won’t she?
Guess what? Obviously, he never build it and few months back I saw someone (very famous in the startup community) roll exactly that product out and is quite close to getting funded too! Yeah, my friend’s “happily married”, barely at 27!
Update [Oct 19, 2013]: This guy who went ahead and is building this product recently got funded $150,000 and got featured on Techcrunch too!
I know an entrepreneur who literally fights (or used to at some point) with his wife everyday just because she wants another kid and he doesn’t. His company has just come out of startup mode and is heading towards being an SME. “I have a 4 yr old kid and having another one now would take me 4 years back! I have been slowly planning the financials but this would mean I start planning all over again, save even more and take even fewer risks!” is what he said!
One of my ex girlfriend had started talking about marriage barely when we had graduated. I never denied marrying her but I used to tell her lets first achieve something, I want to do a few things in life, be a successful entrepreneur and all this might take a little time, there’s no point in getting married quickly and then allocating funds to expenses that could have been avoided at that age, but no, she wouldn’t listen! Of course, she’s happily married and I, having failed 2 startups in the past, am still building another startup! (I hope this post reaches you, lady!)
Oh! And that concept of getting your kids married at the right age => guys before 30 and gals by 26-27 max! I’ve always stressed, there’s nothing called such as a “right age” – why not just get married when you are ready – 25 or 32 – how does it matter? I hope you’re not thinking about that old shit about retiring and then marrying your kids before that <- That actually is the root problem!
Sorry to say, but the uncles and the aunts in our (normal middle class) families are the worst. They will keep asking your salary, some of them every single f***ing month. These relatives are probably the ones whose kids would have done “nothing” in their lives, graduated from some (worthless) A league institution in India and landed a fat paying job. And believe me these are absolutely good for nothing folks. If you are a startup guy, you already know that, don’t you 😉 They would join a company through campus placement and would be too scared/complacent/useless that they would spend their entire life within that single organization – without even doing something innovative! These uncles would be happy to show the entire family that the ad in TOI today was done by their kid while all that ad would have is a bollywood diva holding a soap bar in her hand. THATS IT!?! That’s all you learnt in your fancy B School?
What’s the big deal in it? If I pay TOI that much, they will even publish a horse shit pic, they just want money! But no, these are the ones who are valued in your family! Whatever they say are Golden Diamond words. What’s worse is you are always compared to these dumb folks whenever you go to a family gathering. And most, all of them would look at you as if you are the piece of shit lying on the roadside.
To share another case, one such highly respected family member told me to look for a career in animation, back in 2007-08. Recently, I met him at another family gathering a few months back and he said “tum animation me kuch kyu nahi try karte?” [Why don’t you try something in animation?] I was like…dude? You are still the same! Your thoughts are still stuck where they were 4-5 years back! By the way, this member is probably the highest respected person in my family and heads delivery at a multi billion (yes Billion) dollar enterprise and travels abroad every week. Yeah, (sadly) that’s what puts the stamp on his authority! Am quite sure even Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would have spent more time with their families at his age (and still earned much more if that’s what you want to hear).
The other fantasy about middle class family people is owning a flat! I never get this point. I, really don’t! Why do they want your kid to buy a flat and then spend the rest of his life paying back the loan? Coming from middle class, we’ve never had loads of money to spend. So the way out always is to pay probably a 10th or even less initially and then take a loan for 60% for the next 15-20 years.
And is duly supported by our Financial system! Go and try to raise money for your startup and the same money for a home, you’ll know what I mean!
Once you have a loan on your head, that too a home loan, for not less than 40-50 Lacs, am sure you wouldn’t be willing to take a risk, would you? And that tension of repaying that loan! Anyways, there is very little probability that our kids would stay in that house for long. They’d go places, do stuff in life and make it big themselves! Actually this would connect with Rahul Dewan’s post where he talks how retired people should recede back to smaller towns and do great things. A brilliant thought by the way, go read that!
In another relationship, I told my girl that I don’t earn great right now and that I am trying to build a company and shared the vision. At first she appreciated my honesty but then within a few weeks she asked “Abhinav, hum ghar kab lenge?” [Abhinav, when will we buy a home?] That day itself I knew – she wasn’t the one! No wonder that relationship didn’t last long.(I am quite sure you’re reading this!)
I guess I’ve written, read ranted, too much already or else I won’t be allowed to enter my hometown the next time!
Update: I realized most people, even though agreed to this, say its inconclusive. I must add this: The point is that people who can bear all these pressures and can still build a company, are the ones whom we call SUCCESSFUL!
Update2: Somebody got so inspired that he made a short movie out of this. I got to know from the comments section.
I was inspired by your blog to write and direct a short movie on the topic. It’s now released on YouTube. Thanks for watching and hope you like it!
Here it is:
Update 4 [Oct 23, 2013]: This article has led me to an interview in the prestigious The Week magazine. [Looks like they pulled down the online version of the article, was in their Sept issue]
I often document my life using Ohlife. Here are some snippets from what I wrote during those days:
April 14, 2012
Went to the Police Station with Ankur again today. Ankur has some good contacts, he took some names and the police changed their tone as soon as that happened. Sad to see the state of affairs at Police Stations. They threaten the victim, really badly. Even though Ankur was talking to them, my legs were shaking. Yes, of course I was not at fault but the way they were talking……
They asked me to prove that I was being assaulted
They asked to tell them who the assaulters were? Yeah, as if i knew who they were. I’ve never heard a more dumb question in the recent times!
No wonder we’ve lost faith in the Police of our country and the whole system in fact
April 15, 2012
Went to the police station again with Ankur today. While one constable agreed to note down the application, when we went to a room to get it noted, another one sleeping woke up and behaved in a miserable manner.
He snatched the paper and said no complaint would be noted. Started shouting and asking stupid questions. He said: ‘naam batao jisne ye kiya?‘ Obviously i didn’t know the names: “Agar tum jaaante hi nahi kisne kiya to hum kahan se dhund k laenge” – which to me was the most stupid statement a policeman can make! “Uth yahan se aur bahar nikal“. Yes, the way he spoke, meri literally fat gayi. Thanks to Ankur, who just kept sitting, i got enough strength, even i stayed put in my chair. Finally after a lot of his shouting Ankur also said that ‘aapko complain note karna padega nahi to hum dharna denge‘. This put the nail in the coffin and he just shouted for us to leave. He even said “jo karna hai karle, nahi likhenge complain”. Ankur started to argue but i pulled him out.
Then he called up someone and finally someone spoke to the head constable (Manoj Kumar). Sad to see how people change after they hear a few big names. Its not about VIPs being important, its because how these assholes govt employees change – that the VIPs have become VIPs.
Finally an application was noted but no receiving was given. I don’t have a proof that i’ve submitted the application. Yes, i’d be happy to get my phone back, obviously, but i still i don’t have enough faith in the Indian police. Lets see. Faith and hope are mismatching here!
Another unproductive day in terms of work. Dont know whats happening… there’s no concentration. The focus seems to have been lost somewhere.
In the meantime one of my friend tried to find a way out to get the police file a report:
@dhirajpandey yes email to police commissioner and then follow it up. Its on record. Keep a print out of it.
Notice the mail date and the date below, when some action was taken.
April 30, 2012
Got a call from the police station and was asked to come down. On reaching there: Constable: Aap yahan kisko jaante hain? Me: [puzzled] ?? Kisi ko nahi, matlab?? Constable: Nahi kisi ko to jaante hi hain, matlab minister/MLA wagarah ko?
Me: Nahi to. Constable: To DCP wagarah kisi ko? Me: Nahi, but hua kya?
Was surprised to find out that they had a copy of the mail that I wrote to the DCP and Commissioner of Gurgaon Police. And since it had to come with all signs/stamps and probably with a “daant” from their DCP, they wanted to take action on it.
Well, that’s the good part, the sad part is that they said I could do 2 things:
(a) Either be stiff and ask them to act on the complaint. Go the formal way, lodge an FIR and ask them to act on it
(b) Or be friends with them, ‘bhaichara’ in their language. Which meant they’d be helpful and work in an informal way
Obviously, they wanted my support and not complain against them. Not sure if I did the right thing but that’s what i felt at that moment. Yes, my heart ruled over my brain and I saved their ass!
Today (Dec 23, 2012): This is something that I regret now! I wish I would have complained against them. No, I did not know any media personality who could help me then. I got in touch with some Star News guy 3 days later but all he said was “ab to 3 din ho gye hain, matter purana ho gya so kuch nahi ho sakta” – yeah! While I was still in trauma, for the 24×7 media guys it was too old a matter!
Got the shocking news of Raj ‘OldMonk’ Mathur passing away couple of nights back. Was speechless when I first heard it. The news first reached twitter and then I went to check whether it was actually true. Couldn’t believe my eyes. What’s worse is it actually took me a few seconds to believe it was him when I saw his body at his funeral.
Really sad! He’s my first ever FOSS superhero! R.I.P. RT @niyambhushan Rajmathur of linux-delhi fame just died an hour ago.
The next few hours I just spent time looking for his mails, digging out my old blogs, where i’d talked about him and reading them. In the process, I came across some pics too which made me nostalgic. Even though I never really got close to him, I was always trying to learn from him from a distance. His to the point conversations. His brutally honest statements. His humour. His love for food and booze. The amount of passion that he had for his work. Rarely would you find such people.
Thanks to @gmishra for introducing me to him as what followed after my first meeting with him and the Open Source world has governed a lot of my mind and life, till date. Yes, despite not being a coder anymore, I still use a Linux machine and go about promoting the FOSS philosophy wherever I go and will always do. Incidentally, it was @gmishra himself who broke the sad news to me!