When I was much younger, my mum explained to me how they used to pick a sakhi (सखि), which means a friend for life in Hindi. In this day and age of cynicism (and often with valid reasons), we may think its idealistic to have a 'sakhi'. Some people are lucky to still have friends since their childhood, while others could have friends from university, work, a holiday, a wedding, a retirement home, supermarket and so on. It doesn't matter when, where or how. Befriending someone could take a couple of hours of realising commonalities between each other or it could be a much slower adoption from either side, when after a number of years you realise that you must be friends if you're still talking to each other. However, it often takes several years of being alive to learn what kind of friendship you have or once had with an individual.
One of my best friends gave this to me, while we recovered from a break in our own friendship. This saying, amongst few others, has stuck with me for a very long time.
I don't necessarily believe in categorising friendships, but when looking in hindsight, sometimes it could help clarifying what purpose certain people served in our lifetime. Have certain individuals already served their purpose in your life (Friend of Reason) or were they there during a phase of your life (Friend of Season) or have they been through various phases of your life and for whatever reason... are still there (Friend for Life)?
The friendships from my childhood probably fall under the 'seasonal' category as there would have been times when we thought we would always be friends. But people change with time, as do our priorities and thought process. For instance, when I met my best friend from primary school after 15 years, it wasn't what I expected. I had this weird feeling of closeness, yet acknowledgement of the fact that we have become completely different people and wouldn't exactly call ourselves 'friends' anymore (I'm pretty sure the feeling was mutual!).
We experience constant flux over the years, which for me became more apparent between my late teens and adulthood. Whether its principals, beliefs, opinions or even the definition of a friend, everything changed and I started to fine tune my ideas on what was important to me.
Whether it's a reason or season, it's important that we accept that sometimes relationships including friendships have expiry dates. Some friendships gradually fizzle out, while others can be more dramatic and painful for one or everyone involved. There could be situations where the foundations of a friendship have been broken (intentionally or unintentionally), and despite individual or mutual attempts to fix them, in some cases, things can't be the same. The friendship is dead. However, what I have learnt from these experiences is that we need to stay clear of two things:
1. Blaming the other(s)
2. Blaming yourself
Neither works or helps the situation. Instead, we can make peace with what is and 'compartmentalise' (I love this word). We can put that friendship as a pleasant memory (of the times that were good) in a virtual 'box' and accept that it no longer is. Only then can we focus on any lessons we have learnt (if applicable) and carry on with life, making and investing in the people and relationships that we still have in our lives, as well as ourselves. We can make 'change' work for us.
RECIPE & ingredients:
Difficulty level: Moderate
Preparation time: a lifetime
Serves: minimum of 2 persons
Instructions: try not to forget the ingredients.
The list above is not unknown, but we could benefit from reminding ourselves about these once in a while to see if we have been a good friend to someone close to us. We don't need to beat ourselves over it if not, but we can make an effort to make some positive changes going forward.
I am fortunate enough to have a handful of 'sakhis' or in modern terms 'besties'. If I had to describe them in my own words, they are my rocks. We know we're not there for each other for just a reason or season, but for life.
We shamelessly step into each others lives to find solutions, we don't judge, we encourage the other to move on (even if it means we'll see less of them), we dance like looneys on nights out (cue: chicken dance), we fight with others for each other, we don't blame or intentionally hurt one another. And if we do, we apologise and we forgive and make amends if needed. We grow together.
Apart from my family, in moments of joy and crisis, we are each others' support group. As mentioned in my article on 'Life Hacks', teachings by Tara Brach, an author and teacher of meditation and self-awareness talks about 'Sangha' i.e. good company could help you grow and be happier.
moments & Memories
When 200 Whatsapp notifications don't bother me, or when I'm on the phone to a friend for four hours (especially when I hate talking on the phone), I know we must be close.
I have random funny memories of my best friends like when my friend walked into our offices to look for the culprit who wasn't nice to me, so that she could give them a 'piece of her mind' (wearing bright pink trousers and a parrot green top, obviously); or when me and another friend opened our first can of beer at 10am on the train to Brighton and ended up missing the last train home; or when some of us ran around in heavy rain like children in the City of London.
The point is that sometimes moments or certain signals tell us who we are close to at that point in time. Whether it's for now, or forever, we can feel a close bond with someone and we may want to spend more time with them, unless and until things change...
Meet some of my 'sakhis'...
We live in three different continents: Asia, Europe and Africa, but it doesn't feel like we are far away. When we do meet in person, it doesn't feel like we have 'missed' each other, but I often need to do a double-take, mid-conversation, to remind myself that they're actually sat in front of me. It's like a solid, independent long-distance relationship. One of them told me, when she was leaving the UK, that she refuses to say 'Bye' as we will see each other very soon. And we make sure we do...
This article has nothing to do with Rihanna and Drake, unfortunately.
When I started my first job as an intern, I got to work at 9:05am, went out for my full hour's lunch break (with the other interns who were no different) and by 5:10pm we were usually found at our favourite bar counter ordering as many of the BOGOF cocktails (Espresso Martinis for me...) as possible before 'happy hour' ended for the day. To put it in context, my life was mostly: PLAY, PLAY, PLAY, PLAY, WORK (80% play vs. 20% work).
Fast-forward ten years and my life is: WORK, WORK, WORK, PLAY, PLAY (60% work vs. 40% play).
Thank goodness there's still some 'PLAY' in there. If you're not careful, the 'PLAY' could keep going on a decline unless you consciously keep it in your life. Personally, 'PLAY' involves spending time doing things that I enjoy doing, such as writing, photography, traveling, going to different food places or bars, spending time with friends and family, as well as having some time to 'chill'. This no doubt, varies from person to person, with some people being fortunate enough to even consider 'WORK' as 'PLAY'.
From first-hand experience, I realised over the last few years that work feels less like 'WORK' when I enjoy what I do... or make myself enjoy what I have on my plate for most of the time spent in the office, so that it feels less like an effort. This could result in a reduced perception of 'WORK' and 'PLAY' being mutually exclusive (and possibly less of a reason to write an article about).
While work usually pays the bills and (hopefully) challenges us professionally and socially, it can also become routine. The opportunity cost of work is often the time and energy that could be spent on things that bring us more fulfilment. Climbing the career-ladder is often promoted with more money, increased knowledge and responsibilities, better connections, more authority, power and so on. However, this could come as a package with some additional politics, stress, conflicts and more.
Towards the end of last year, I went to a career's workshop run by ETC (Escape The City) that was quite interesting (so much that I actually paid for it). A lady called Skye took us through some frameworks that could help people identify key factors to help them find out if they're on the right career path and job.
Below are 3 key career ingredients:
Skye asked us to rate each category between 0-10, making a full classroom of 20-40-year-old men and women ask themselves whether their work is actually meaningful (to them) and if it is fulfilling their potential (Impact). We were then asked if we are enabled to have a good work-life balance, including more 'PLAY' time, whether it's to socialise or exercise, have our weekends to ourselves, reasonable working hours etc. (Wellbeing). Finally, we were asked if we genuinely felt like we were part of the places we work for (Belonging).
If we take everything in such courses with a pinch of salt, I reckon we can benefit from such frameworks, without making any impractical or dramatic changes to our careers. They can be beneficial as a sense-check to help people find the reasons behind any unfulfilling work, and try to tackle them with possible solutions, or look for more suitable alternatives.
The three career ingredients reminded me of a TED Talk by Emily Esfahani Smith who highlighted four 'pillars' to living a meaningful life. I felt like this could be applied to the ETC framework above, in order to help ourselves find the 'WORK: PLAY' (and life) balance.
Belonging, according to Emily, comes from "relationships where you are valued for who you are and where you value others as well." This can directly be applied to the 2nd 'career ingredient' mentioned earlier by ETC of 'belonging' as well. The second pillar is purpose, which is about "using our strengths to serve others" and reach an end result, which many of us do through work, i.e. "how we contribute and feel needed".
There are moments at work, like today when I was sat in a filming studio with a product manager who was being recorded to talk about his product. I watched him getting nervous, failing to say what he wanted to... and trying and trying again until he got his best shot. For a couple of seconds, I felt inspired by his dedication and ability to refocus on the task at hand and I felt fortunate to be exposed to inspiring people through work. This ties in with the 'growth' element of the 1st ETC career ingredient mentioned earlier (Impact). In such moments, I can somewhat relate to the 3rd pillar from the TED talk: transcendence, i.e. experiences beyond the normal. However, in the industry I work in, I have to say these moments are infrequent... (at least compared to the Health and Charity sectors!). Depending on who you are, it is possible to find random things that make you feel uplifted and motivated. For some it could be while writing or analysing data and trends (not me...) while for others it may be networking, treating people in hospital, playing a sport... you get the picture.
The final pillar is about story-telling. How you define your experiences in life or at work can determine how you feel about work feeling like 'WORK' or 'PLAY'.
Many of us come across that one difficult (pain in the...) person at our workplaces, who we can moan about on an hourly basis to the point that they become a reason for our stress levels soaring. Or we could define ourselves or our job satisfaction on things that went right or wrong. This could be a volatile view of our situations, though. The clue is in finding perspective on what we have experienced to see the positive and negative outcomes e.g. lessons learnt, subsequent successful projects, empathising with the behaviour of difficult colleagues and finding solutions around them and so on.
Obviously, if the situations are unbearable and in the ETC model you see yourself scoring say 0-5 on most of the 'career ingredients' and/or not finding a purpose or belonging in your daily work life, it's probably time to move on. For instance, if I ever find myself in a WORK, WORK, WORK, WORK, PLAY/WORK (80% work vs. 20% play) situation (I hope not!), I may need to come back to this article and read it myself.
Many of us spend way too long looking for new ways to be happy. I found a few basic rules that have really sunk into me and have helped me deal with challenges and life so far.
Here are 5 theories that can give certain situations a 'name' or some structure to help us get some clarity and perhaps some perspective in certain situations. We just need to figure out how to apply them...
Economics was one of my favourite subjects in high school and college, until I went to university. Clever people decided it would be fun to switch the Demand and Supply curves over, making me doubt what I had learnt so far in its entirety. I will therefore ignore the things that I never understood and stick to the simpler (and in my opinion, better) theories, whether these are applied to dating, making decisions, job searches or money and happiness.
1. demand & supply: on dating
Cities are full of time-poor, impatient, career-driven, social, independent people who go to the gym, drink protein shakes, do adventurous things like skydiving while traveling the world. Often this means that there is high demand for efficiency when it comes to 'finding love' in the limited amount of spare time that they may have remaining. And so, the online (or mobile) dating world was born and a large supply of apps and websites emerged to keep our thumbs and shallow brains occupied for hours of swiping.
Since Match.com was introduced in the 1990s, a lot has changed. Tinder is obviously the most well-known of them all (I'm not sure if it still qualifies as a 'dating' app), but there's now a wide range of adaptations such as: Happn, Coffee meets Bagel, Bumble, the League, Hinge... I could fill this page with a list, but you get the picture. Since 2007, the online dating industry has boomed, whether it's because of changes in lifestyle, increased use of mobile, advancements of technology, transparency of the supply of men and women, or the inherent laziness of human beings. The effect? The value assigned to a 'date' is no longer what it used to be.
2. Opportunity cost: on decision making
"A benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else." - Business Dictionary
Say I was perfectly happy with a job that pays me $80, which gave me 100 minutes of free time. But then I decide to make an extra $20. This will result in me losing 20 minutes of my free time.
Benefit: more money; Opportunity cost: less free time.
Equally, if I want to eat a bucket of fried chicken, the opportunity cost of eating 1200 calories of protein, fat and carbs, is the 3 days I spent sweating in the gym. Benefit: pure joy of eating greasy junk food; Opportunity cost: health.
3. swot analysis: on interviewing
When I graduated, I went to over 60 interviews in 16 companies in the space of a couple of months. By the end of the process, I was close to borderline insanity, irritable, overly sensitive, and almost started smoking (I didn't, just in case my parents read this).
On a more positive note, I realised how important it is to be clear on what you're good and bad at (your strengths and weaknesses), where you could improve your skills and knowledge (opportunities) and what could limit your personal growth (threats).
Create your own SWOT here (Credit: Jodie Shaw)
4. LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS: money vs. HAPPINESS
For people living in poverty, who don't have enough money to feed their families or fix a leaking roof, or build a place to live in, money can buy happiness, as they can buy what they need to watch their families survive and grow (beginning of the diagram).
At the age of 20, like many young girls, money bought me things that I had been eyeing up for a long time: an overpriced bag, expensive make up, shoes and clothes, all of which gave me a thrill of being able to spend money on things that I wanted.
As years pass, the levels of excitement from new possessions have reached a plateau, where the law of diminishing returns kicks in (second half of the diagram). Don't get me wrong, I still love shopping, but more as a way to spend time, de-stress and gain temporary happiness. For instance, I would no longer apply for a job if it compromises on my 'free time' (going back to 'Opportunity cost').
From personal experience, and after observing my parents who are impossible to buy presents for, I feel that over the long run, additional money (on top of what you need to survive), can buy more experiences, quality (over quantity), and can act as an enabler for happiness. For example, when my parents and brother bought me a laptop for my birthday, I was clearly happy. Not because I have a shiny new toy, but because I can spend more time writing (well, typing), which makes me happy.
5. prisoner's dilemma (GAME THEORY): on trust
This is my favourite one as it ties in various aspects of human behaviour such as trust, betrayal, decision-making, risk and opportunity costs.
A quick recap, this is not really a theory, but more of a situation: 2 prisoners commit a crime and are locked up in separate cells. They are interrogated separately, and need to decide on whether they should confess to the crime, or stay quiet. In either situation, if their action doesn't match the other's, one or the other will end up with 10 years in prison, but there is the temptation of being able to be set free by confessing, in case the other doesn't.
It raises the question of what you would do if you were in that situation...
On a lighter note, this could also be applied to my favourite subject: dating apps. Most have been considerate enough to not let the other person know if you 'like' them (or swiped right), but some less considerate ones let the other person know that. There's therefore the risk (and utter shame and heartbreak) from a non-reciprocal swipe to the left. If you're in the dating scene for long enough, hopefully you'll stop caring, though.
In summary, from personal experience, economics and psychology probably go hand in hand in many respects. These simple theories can give certain situations a 'name' or some structure that can help us get some clarity and perhaps some perspective. I'm sure there are many more applications, especially if you are one of those clever people who know more about the different Demand and Supply curves. Please do feel free to enlighten me (and others who feel my pain).
In 2016 I was introduced to a new member of the family: my nephew. I'm not naturally very maternal, so when I had to interact with a baby in the family, it was a bit confusing and at times, awkward. Several months later, I think me and my nephew have come to some form of mutual respect. He doesn't talk just as yet, but he certainly gets his point across and since his existence, he's reminded me about a few things that could make life a bit easier:
1. be real
My nephew doesn't 'fake smile' or cry for no good reason. When you try to make him laugh, if he didn't find it funny, he won't laugh. As cold as that sounds, when he does smile and laugh, we know that he really meant it. Equally when he cries, we know something is up.
2. stop eating when you're full
I wouldn't suggest spitting the food in your mouth out when you're full, or throwing it on the floor like he does, especially in public. But when your stomach is full, there is no benefit from overeating to anyone, including yourself and at times, those around you.
I personally love a good hug, and I can swear by the effect it has on your mood (this depends on who you're hugging). My nephew loves a cuddle from his approved list of people who can come near him. According to Virginia Satir, who was an American therapist:
“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth." - mindbodygreen.com
So keep giving and receiving those free hugs.
4. one step at a time
Last week, he gave all of us a bit of a shock when he climbed all the stairs in the house. I watched him attempt the stairs a few times before, measuring up each step with his little legs, gradually increasing the number of steps that he covered. There was no rush, no panicking, just slow, individual baby steps that helped him reach his ultimate goal: his grandma, who gives him lots of hugs.
He's already a bit of an explorer, having been to 7 countries before the ripe old age of two. It's a shame he won't remember any of his trips as a baby, but his Instagram account (where_is_arjun) can do that for him. Hopefully he will carry on traveling when he's older to explore different places, people, food and culture and perhaps relive the trips he can't remember.
6. adverts are annoying
Especially when you're watching an episode of CSI, when they're about to reveal the mystery murderer, or the last few overs of a tight match of Cricket. And in that moment you're interrupted by meerkats or a loud man singing about insurance. My nephew starts screaming in protest when an advert comes in between him and LBB (Little Baby Bum). I don't blame him. Thankfully, we can now 'Skip Ads' on YouTube and fast forward on Sky TV, so there is hope.
7. learn from your mistakes
The little one is generally quite careful, but if he does bump his head on the same bar stool more than twice, we would be surprised. He carefully avoids the obstacle afterwards, and carries on with a new route. It's an example of perseverance and learning from mistakes.
8. laugh more
It's very infectious. When babies laugh, you need to be dead inside if you're not smiling, at least. Sometimes there is no reason whatsoever. Or there's a bird, a bulb, someone's hair... anything can set my nephew off on one, with an inevitable domino effect on the rest of us around him. Laughter, like hugs, is another free source of endorphins, so we need to let ourselves 'LOL' at every opportunity we have.
I'm sure there are other things to learn from babies, like eating and sleeping on time, making sure you keep some time aside in your schedule to play (all work and no play is not good for anyone), asking questions, crying for help when required... the list is endless. The bottom line is, we were all babies once, and those were good times, when everyone did everything for you. But just because we're all much older and independent doesn't mean the rules have changed. Just have a conversation with the next baby or young child and you'll get the reminder you may need.
and finally... meet my nephew: arjun
que sera sera
ˈkeɪ sərɑː sərɑː/
2017 was a weird year for me. Career, friendships, principles and my life purpose were all tested and questioned.
In the end, what I have learned from last year is that nothing is permanent. The sooner we make ourselves (relatively) comfortable about this, the better. People, money, health, youth, physical appearance - these are all factors that many of us work hard to achieve and sometimes take pride in. That's all fine, but if any of those are suddenly taken away from us, how would we react? Would you crumble or acknowledge the loss and move on with life? Easier said than done, I know. But one can only try.
Some level of detachment from people and things in your life and being self-contained are some ways of preparing for the best and worst times. That's my personal view. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that we should turn our hearts into stone, but the less needy and dependent you are on people or possessions, life situations, the less likely you are to have a long-term life crisis.
I read a lot of books last year, which is slightly out of character for me, as when I was in school I used to read the introduction, the back of the book, a random chapter or two in the middle and the end to get the gist. I am the queen of short-cuts. However, this one book I read stuck with me:
Make Your Bed: Small things that can change your life
The book is a very real view of life from an ex-Navy SEAL, William H. McRaven on what helped him overcome challenges in his career and his life. Doing one task, first thing in the morning, such as making your bed perfectly, can kick-start your day on a good note, as you feel like you have already achieved something. In summary:
Quite a few people I know have lost important people in their lives last year. I have therefore seen the strength required by humankind to deal with death of loved ones, job losses, broken relationships, and so on. Yet people move on. They have to.
One of my best friends, a very talented Psychotherapist suggested that I listen to some of the talks by Tara Brach, an author and teacher of meditation and self-awareness. She categorised the source of happiness to 3 main categories defined by Buddhists broadly as Dharma, Sangha, Buddha:
1. Consciousness: living in the moment. Focus on now, rather than the past or future.
2. Good company: find people who help you grow
3. Truth: be honest about what matters to you
Taoism, which originates from China, similarly suggests that the past and future are not part of who you are. It is only the present moment in time that matters and should determine your mindset, mood, happiness, and so on. Que sera sera... finally makes more sense.
Having said all that, my focus for 2018 and beyond is to live. I would like to spend my time and resources doing things that I enjoy: traveling, exploring different parts of the world, trying different types of food, cocktails, beers and developing new skills. In 2016 I started learning Spanish before my trip to Peru, last year I took up boxing lessons (and even bought a punch bag and gloves for our shed!). In 2018, who knows.... maybe I'll climb the Kilimanjaro.
Spanish (and other language) lessons: http://www.ihlondon.com
Book: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle