I started to work professionally in 2005, and very soon it will be 15 years. Over this decade and a half, it has been a wild journey working in over 8 different companies across 2 continents, including 2 companies that I started. I have seen ups and downs and worked with people and teams from all over the world. I also dabbled in social activism while I was in Bangalore. Organizing the Dandi March 2 in 2011 and then co-founding and running a not for profit organization for a couple of years was an experience in itself.
Ever since moving to Amsterdam in late 2014, I have traveled and experienced life in Europe and attempted to express myself through my photography. Training and establishing myself as a photographer has come with exposure to the world of journalism, media, and photography which was totally alien to me before. In the process, I have met and interacted with a lot of remarkable people from the world of photojournalism and news. That has given me a tremendous perspective in addition to my other life as a software leader.
Below are 15 timeless lessons I have learned over the last 15 years.
- Good Days Pass, And Bad Ones Too. In the last 15 years, I have had many good days where I have thumped my fist or felt extremely proud and satisfied. At the same time, I also have had my share of bad days where I have been shaken to the core. Yet if there is one timeless lesson which I have learned is that time stops for no one, and whether good or bad, days pass and take along with them their impressive highs as well as their depressive lows. If I compare my current self to my past self, I can say that the highs and the lows are more moderated now, and you won’t see me fist-pumping on a good day or getting anxious and sad on a bad day.
“No man has been shattered by the blows of Fortune unless he was first deceived by her favors.” – Seneca
- Process Over Outcome. When I started working, nothing but success mattered to me. And I defined success as external results – good marks in exams, high output at work, more business revenue, and so on. I wanted to reach these success milestones so badly that many times I even cut corners for them. Not to say that external success or results are not important, but today I view success very differently. Now I define success as doing the best I am capable of doing irrespective of the results they produce and expressing myself fully while doing so. I have learned to value the process over the outcome, and the journey rather than the destination. This has made me slow down and appreciate the people and the valuable relationships I build along the way.
- If Something Is Important to You, You Must Work to Make it Happen. Outcomes and results don’t happen by themselves. Don’t wait for “one day” or the “future”. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished without discipline, hard work, and patience. Play the game seeking whatever outcome you are seeking, take the risks that are required, and acknowledge the roses and bricks that come along the way. I am not saying it will be easy, but if it is a journey you must take, I can assure you that the roses and the bricks will be worth their weight in gold.
- In Seeking Worthwhile Goals, There May Be Suffering. But there can be Joy in Suffering. Life is not about playing it safe or avoiding pain and suffering. Every path of learning and growth require (or demand) some suffering which will make us more resilient, mature, and strong eventually. There can be joy going through a painful moment – from the satisfaction of giving your best and acting according to your values. On the other side of suffering, you will find yourself stronger and more resilient, and that will prepare you for journeys that lie ahead.
- Believe in Yourself, and Act with Confidence. Self-confidence is one of the most important criteria when it comes to influence, leadership, and success. Yet most highly skilled people I have met have been unsure about their abilities. I still see myself struggling with self-doubt a lot. While there is nothing wrong with doubt, and we all feel the presence of doubt, it should not stop us from acting with conviction when required. We must always take the “healthy” doubt into consideration, consider different opinions and perspectives, and then speak and act with confidence.
- We Should Not Let Confidence Blind Us. When we are challenged, we must check your assumptions, listen to feedback, and adjust course if necessary. Sometimes it is necessary to kill our favorite ideas, and overconfidence should not come in the way of doing that. Learning to listen to different perspectives, considering opposing ideas, and questioning our assumptions can save us many troubles in the future. It will not only make us better decision-makers but also enrich our relationships with people around us.
- Think Long Term – For the first 8 years of my career, I only focused on short term goals and chased immediate results. However, when I look back, I see that I have missed so many opportunities to create impact just because I was too impatient to stick and persevere with an idea/project/company over time. Today I know that success comes from playing iterated games over an extended period of time. Compounded results are behind every single success or human achievement. It is no surprise Einstein called it (Compound Interest) the 8th wonder of the world.
- Business is about People (customers, employees, partners) and not things (profits, markets, revenue). As I have worked with different companies, both big and small, I have found myself in meetings about markets, financials, strategies, and competition. Very often we end up giving secondary importance to the people involved – customers, employees, other stakeholders, etc. Today I believe that empowering our people (employees) might be our most important job as leaders to produce business results which end up serving another set of people – our customers. Focusing on the people involved can help us simplify the complicated in business, and strip out the necessary from the superfluous.
- We Are All Flawed. We are wrong more often than we think we are. One of my most revealing insights has been how often human beings run on autopilot without even realizing so. We think we are in control of our actions and feelings, but in reality, they are shaped subconsciously by our past experiences, emotions, and cognitive biases. We all put up a brave face in front of others, but we are all dealing with self-doubt and are yearning to be acknowledged by others.
“Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.” — Yousuf Karsh
- Don’t Work for People You Don’t Share Values With. Life is too short for not having a good time at what you are doing. Find places to work where you can be yourself, and the work gives you joy rather than suck the life out of you. However, don’t confuse this with facing discomfort that always comes with growth. There must always be some learning curve (decide your slope yourself) which will come with some pain and suffering. That only means you are growing to become a better version of yourself.
- Don’t Wait for Retirement or Some Time In The Future To Do What You Always Wanted To Do. What is on hold in your life? If you are waiting for tomorrow, remember that it never comes. Find time to do it today, and fill a little bit of each day with one such activity. For me, it has been writing articles, doing poetry, learning the French and Dutch languages, reading books, learning and practicing photography, traveling, social activism, or following my curiosity and expanding my knowledge in previously unknown subjects like coaching, neuroscience, history, psychology, human rights, urban design, deep learning, and so on. To reiterate, find what is on hold in your life, and make space for it.
- The Most Powerful Phrase at work, and in Life is “I Don’t Know”. However, it is very difficult to say. Acknowledging that there is something we don’t know is the first step in seeing reality as it is, and opens up the pathways for future learning. We all need to overcome our insecurities and inner fears and be brave enough to acknowledge our “not knowing” something. Once you acknowledge that you don’t know it, you earn yourself the freedom to act like a beginner and take whatever actions are required.
- Guard Your Time, and Only Fill it up with Life-Enriching activities. Time is your most valuable resource. Set boundaries for what you are willing to do and not, and enforce them in your life. Saying No can be intimidating, but people will respect you for it. Cut off your TV consumption as it is the easiest way to be sucked into wasting time mindlessly. Instead spend that time doing exercise, reading, or writing – which are all life-enriching activities.
- Always Be A Student. Keep on learning. Always update yourself in your core skills to stay up-to-date with the latest developments. But also spend some time learning a bit about a subject outside of your core expertise. Over time this can add up to a lot, and open up previously unknown career opportunities.
- The Only Person you can Change or Control is Yourself. Focus on yourself and not on changing others. Ask yourself the hard questions and introspect when you need to. Constantly revisit your values and beliefs, and build up the courage to act accordingly. And last but not the least, take care of your body. It needs rest to replenish and rejuvenate between sprints of hard work. Give it the gift of rest to live more sustainably.
- Do Different Things, which you would never do otherwise, just for the heck of it. Explore life. It will give you perspective and respect for different ways of life. Every once in a while, let others decide things for you. Or when an unexpected event happens, take it as an opportunity to dance with life and go with the flow instead of resisting it. You never know what you might end up discovering.
“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.” ― Albert Einstein
- Life is Uncertain and you will be disappointed if you want your expectations to be precise and true. That is why you end up with 17 lessons in this article instead of the 15 I promised.