Books To Ease an Anxious Soul

I’m prone to anxiety. I overthink, I react too quickly, I get upset. And then, I can get really upset and anxious.

I can’t control it because my thoughts get overwhelming. It’s a like a reactor that only goes in one direction. Once I start, I spiral. And when I do, a panic attack can last anywhere between 30 minutes to 7 hours.

It’s like I described in one of my spoken word poems. Here is just a quick description of what it feels like to me.

“ When your entire being opens into the darkness and loops about unending

when every flicker of light is seen with malice and hatred,

when every piece of your worth is measured against the white wall,

when your intelligence and happiness give up on you

That is the beginning of an anxiety attack.

When your worlds collapse onto each other, repeatedly

When you are burning yourself to find your light,

When your mirror stops seeing you for a long, long time

When every reason is made an excuse

That is the duration of your anxiety attack.”

 

To sum it up as light-heartedly as I can – it’s not fun. It’s obvious then that I need ways to cope with it. One way for me is by reading.

I read as much as I can. It’s still not enough, but it’s a start.

And it was while I was reading to heal myself, I realized maybe someone else can benefit from my reading list. I’ve limited it to 5 books so that it doesn’t get overwhelming.

Here goes –

  1. Presence – Amy Cuddy
  2. The Big Red Book of Rumi – Coleman Barks
  3. Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  4. The Secret – Rhonda Byrne
  5. The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

I’ve included the Goodreads excerpts of the books below, in case you want to know a little about them.

Continue reading

On Tattoos and Hijabs

Whenever I imagine calling all my close friends for a party and putting all my friends under the same roof, in the same room, my mind goes into overdrive. Plagued with an overactive imagination, my life plays out like an elaborate broadway show or a high budget Karan Johar movie, and this one scenario seems like the plausible climax beyond which I’m not really sure how the movie will go.

Some friends would be indifferent, some shy. Some overbearing, some withdrawn. Some would be the life of the party and some would prefer to go home to a book or a drink. Together all my friends would make for a very interesting, albeit emotionally charged party.

I’m not one to hang out in big, gregarious crowds. I prefer small, intimate groups. I’m picky about my friends and pickier still about my close friends. From becoming dancers to scientists, to supporting Trump, my friends have been there, done that. I don’t know how I know so many different kinds of people,  but I know why – because, without them, I would be stuck in my tiny version of reality.

Our reality is limited. We extend our reality only to what we think we know and can understand. It’s a catch 22 really. What we don’t understand we don’t know and what we don’t know, we don’t understand. So where do we begin to break out of our tiny realities?

I hear a lot of discussions regarding “learning moments” and every time I hear the phrase I cringe. The notion that we have to seek out learning moments is as absurd as that of women being a weaker sex.

Learning moments isn’t a physics classroom wherein you only learn physics. Learning moments happen when you open your eyes and mind to two notions –

  1. I don’t know everything
  2. I can always learn something new

Both of these realities have been shunned in our MBA driven society where one has to know everything. While many people may know a lot of things, many of them don’t comprehend or analyze or understand these things.

To truly learn, one simply needs to make more friends, to make different friends, to make yourself uncomfortable and vulnerable, to be wrong, to be correct, to feel safe, and to feel challenged. A learning moment can come from a YouTube video or an Albert Camus book. A learning moment can come in the kitchen or at an IPL game.

Often, a learning moment comes when you least expect it, from someone you least expect. Make friends who are different from you, physically and emotionally. Meet more than one person of a ‘type’ and you’ll see that there is no such thing as a ‘type’. Tattoos, hijabs, miniskirts. They don’t make the difference, you make the difference in your head. Meet at least three people of a ‘type’. Then four, then five. You may like only one, but you may not like the first one.

Don’t let an earring or a tattoo or a hijab stop you. Move beyond them.

On Second Chances

When you meet an old friend, you know what to expect. It’s comfortable, it’s known. When you meet someone new, you know what to expect. It’ll be strange and can go any way. But when you meet an acquaintance, you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what memories they have of you or what conversations make them tick. Today was a beautiful reminder that even though life moves along, we have to move with it. If we get caught in and obsessed with our past, we lose ourselves. We lose our today and we lose our tomorrow. But if we move with it, if we push ourselves, if we keep at it, we evolve. We get closer to being who we want to be.

I met an old acquaintance of mine today. Last I’d seen him almost 8 years ago.  We are facebook friends but we had rarely spoken. When I saw he was in the same city as me, I did what I usually would – reach out and meet up.

I reached out, we chatted for a bit and then met up. Simple. He was polite, funny, chivalrous, intelligent, and unapologetic about who he was.

The day started off slowly. I had realized long ago that, one, we can’t live our lives by other’s expectations of us and two, to be disliked is better than to despise. So between the usual mindless chatter of the weather and the city, we took a while to warm up, reconnect (or try to, at least), and then pick up where we left off. From food to dessert to coffee, we etched our way through the market lining it with our stories and silences.

Throughout the conversation, how he seemed to see himself and how I saw him painted very different pictures. From the stories he told and the memories we brought up, I realized who I was before isn’t who I am today. Between the difference in how we saw ourselves and how we saw each other,  I smiled at how ridiculous we humans can be.  We can walk on the moon, video chat across the world, give meaning where none exists, and yet sometimes be so silly! I realized that within a few hours of conversing with someone I sort of knew, by moving out of my comfort zone, and meeting someone for the first time after high school, I had taken another chance on me.

We talk about taking chances on others. We talk about forgiving or reconnecting with others, but we rarely do it to ourselves. We get caught up in the daily routines we set for ourselves and don’t stop to see how far we’ve come.

High school was vicious and to me frankly, it was really scary. It was mean, it was uncertain, and it was something I never want to go back to. Today, however, by going there, and not completely freaking out ( I did get embarrassed a little bit), and being comfortable in who I am today made me really happy.  It gave me a true sense of accomplishment more than even my TEDx Talk.  ISN’T THAT AMAZING?!

I think it is and I would have never known if I hadn’t visited my past with someone I hardly knew. I don’t know what, and if, it had any impact on my friend (or acquaintance (?)) but for me, I’m good.

In fact, I’m very good.

You find yourself when you stop running from a past – any past. Good or bad. So, go out of your comfort zone, revisit your high school fiascos, meet up with people you thought you disliked (unless they harmed you in any way), and take a chance on yourself. Be okay being disliked and stick to who you are. Who knows, maybe you’ll see that you’re already the person you once dreamed and hoped you’d be.

 

 

The Best Way to Escape

I was recently introduced to Quora by a close friend of mine who one day in the middle of a conversation, stared at me for good ten seconds and then said, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this, but you HAVE TO TRY QUORA YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE IT!” And this guy is usually quite calm and composed, so this obviously caught me off guard. But he was so excited and animated, I knew I had to at least sign up for Quora.

And I did. And I loved it! So much so that I wrote 43 answers in two weeks and counting. It was when I was browsing through my Quora today that I realized at least 26% of my answers, involve words related to Reading.

The situation (questions) vary greatly, but the outcome of any answer that has reading involved is almost always one that brings a sense of peace, belonging, and calm.

Reading, and I don’t want to sound like your parents, is one of the best gifts you can gift yourself. The habit of losing yourself in a new story, in a different world, is one that cannot be replicated in any other action. Reading provides the soul with imagination and an instant escape, both of which are necessary for a happy, healthy life.

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Now, there is no one who exists who doesn’t like to read. Seriously. I know it’s a MASSIVE generalization, but it’s true. If you don’t like reading, then you simply haven’t found your kind of books. No matter what kind of books you enjoy, don’t be ashamed.

People tend to give too much importance to “serious” works. You ignore it. I can read anything from a Murakami to Gladwell to even Mills and Boon all of which I enjoy with as much fervor and excitement (okay maybe, Mills and Boon provide a little extra excitement than the rest)  but the bottom line is that you ought to read whatever makes your heart tick. I can pick up a Camus with as much excitement as I pick up a Pinker. And yet, sometimes I get stared at for crying in romantic novels. Whatever the case, if people judge or they don’t, pick up a new book and read it. Don’t like it? Pick up a different book.

Books introduce you to new minds, similar minds, and scary minds. They, in short, introduce you to the world one tiny page at a time. They make you realize that there’s a huge world out there just waiting to be discovered. They remind you of how small your problems can be and how common they are.

So do yourself a favor and pick up a book. Any book, and read.

 

 

 

This is What Home Means

Home has always been a constant for me, but which house I lived in, has never been a constant. Coming from an Army background I have traveled all my life. Between cities, between countries. Most places I’ve lived and some I’ve just visited. My recent trip to Doha to meet my cousin sister and her family. When I was there, it felt like I was home and that’s the reason I was prompted to write about what it means to be home.

At some point, we all leave home for a long period of time. Be it for college or a job or anything really. And when we do, we begin to miss home. We begin to miss the routines that we are brought up in. We know what mum will say when you tell her something, how papa will react or how your sibling will pounce on you if you even dared to touch their Maggi.

But what does it mean to be home? I understood this time in Doha. To be home is to be familiar. To be home is to be in a place where you’re welcome the way you are. Where you hear the words your loved ones use, the language, the culture.

While many believe that any place can be made a home, a lot of us who have traveled and lived all over the world, know how difficult it actually is. The theory is simple but realizing it is so difficult.

Home comes from a feeling of being comfortable. Where you don’t have to explain yourself constantly, where you’re always welcome.

Sometimes brick rooms feel like home, sometimes human souls, sometimes our furry friends. Home is a concept. It’s where your heart is the happiest, safest.

Home is where you can shed your fears and conquer your dreams.

That’s it. It’s quite simple really. Home feels right.

What do you think? Let me know on Facebook or Twitter.

Image by Cameron Kirby

Why You need to Start Copying

“Originality is not a fundamental structural change, it is a very small personal twist to a fundamental basic.” 

Recently, I read an interesting article by a friend of mine in which she spoke/wrote about the redundancy of ideas (inspiration) and the subsequently similar results of those ideas. She wrote about the blurred lines between originality and redundancy and it got me thinking –  where does inspiration end and stealing begin? How can we be inspired and yet be original? After quite a bit of thinking, chaos,  and introspection I think I have an answer and I’m not the only one. From Andy Warhol to Seth Godin, they all know it and have expressed it, in different ways and here is why I think you shouldn’t fall into the “originality” trap.

To be inspired is a feeling of euphoria and of impending achievement.

 Inspiring people are usually found under the umbrella terms of original, authentic, and successful (among many others). So what makes inspiring people so inspirational?  What makes you and me, want to listen to someone or even be like someone?

The idea of originality.  The idea, the perception that the person in front has something that I don’t have and to achieve what they have I must listen to them. To be inspiring one must say or do something that is so unique or so distinctive that it makes you want to listen. And so we listen.

We listen, we get inspired. If the person is an abstract individual in your life, you’ll listen better. But if it’s a friend or an acquaintance we tend to be more envious than inspired, but that’s a topic for another day. So we listen, we get inspired and then we emulate.

Originality is not a fundamental structural change, it is a very small personal twist, to a fundamental basic.

This is where it gets tricky and where the actual article begins. Originality is not a fundamental structural change, it is a very small personal twist, to a fundamental basic. For example, all clothes are made in some basic cloth – denim, chiffon, satin, etc. How one designs it is what makes it different from the rest.

Similarly, life is repetitive, ideas are repetitive, people are repetitive.

To be inspired is to take a step into the pool of one of the repetitive ideas in this world and do something with it that is so unique that you yourself become an inspiration. In essence, there is very, very little that can distinguish you from a million others doing the exact same.  So, here comes the twist. The ‘twist’, that ‘personal touch’ is what will distinguish an idea as original. A million people, actually more, about 42 million people have blogs, yet only a handful are commercially successful.

To be original is a major pressure we put on people. In a world where we seek familiarity but value originality, it’s difficult to strike a balance between telling your unique story in a way that resonates with others and is yet unique.

So when you begin to tell your stories or your business or whatever, you will have more in common with others than you’d like. To put it more simply – a business arises from a need. The need is the idea. The solution is the inspiration.

Be inspired, be unique and then be original. Because business ideas aren’t original but what you do with them is.

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Image Credits – Ben White

Becoming You and The Price The Indian Youth Pays

Life is weird. It has no rules, no regulations, no patterns, no surety. Yes, we have cultural norms and we have country legislations. We have rules in families and see patterns among people. But life by itself has no such thing. It’s bigger than all of us. The present norms today eventually die and the future eventually becomes the present. Outliers change the world and some to be world innovators are lost in the obscurity of life.

The only thing remaining thus is – now. And in that now is you. You. Your story, your life, your pattern, your rules, your regulations. But how often do you follow them? How often do you believe in your brilliance and follow your heart? Often, we don’t.

We get caught up in the definitions set by others. We get caught up in someone else’s definitions of intelligence, and life. We see things as others want us to, which isn’t bad because it’s all we’ve been taught. It only becomes ‘bad’ when we fail to see things differently and blindly follow what we’ve been taught.

And then, if all that wasn’t enough, our bubbles are bursting. To some extent at least. While our virtual bubbles are getting larger and larger, so is the need to belong. As much as we want to stand out, we also try to fit in. If we stand out too much, we get ostracized for it. Norms keep society in check. And fitting in keeps people in check.

But push that too much and you’ve chained people. If not physically, definitely mentally. Studying in the United States I realized that the chains are very different in India and America.

In India, the chains are everywhere, on everything. How you dress, what you say, when you say it, how much you respect someone. Good or bad, is not being questioned (though it will be in another post) the freedom one has, is being analyzed. The Indian Youth have very little freedom. Right from the beginning, we are taught to second-guess our opinion. We are told that our opinions are inferior to those older than us.

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We are taught, that in order to be loved, and welcomed, we need to fit in. We need to be liked by others. Not just our families, but even outsiders. With such an upbringing, it’s no surprise that when we young Indians go abroad, we find ourselves lost. We come from a home where everything is measured, and every move monitored and go to a place where everything is fluid. This change in how we live our lives puts enormous pressure on young minds.

Now we have to figure everything out. We have to figure out who we are, where we belong and often have to do it in a mold that our parents approve off. If not, then we become “too big for our boots” or are accused of being disrespectful and rude.

Then how do we balance it?

Becoming who we are, and between who they want us to be? Do we follow the century-old law of hypocrisy? Where we sneak out in a long skirt over the mini skirt? Or do we begin the painful process of changing those who taught us how the world works?

These questions of who we are and where we belong, don’t live in isolation. Your thought processes are not singular. We all face them. As a motivational speaker, I did too. Balancing who I am and who I am expected to be was a carefully calculated act and then became a habit and today it’s become who I am.

But the process is brutal. Between being monitored 18/7 to being free 24/7. It’s not your body that gets hit, it’s your mind. Your mind suddenly finds itself in the pits of painful loneliness and your center, or core gets lost. 

The funny part is, it happens to most of us, if not all of us at some point in our lives. If you’re lucky, it happens when you’re in college, if not, it hits you in the gut on the night of your 31st birthday.

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What I did? Well, that’s a long conversation, and I will cover it piece by piece. But know that, for now, for this post – keep doing what you have to do. Keep being uncomfortable. Keep challenging who you are. Grow from who you were yesterday.
Get comfortable being lonely, learn to enjoy yourself, your company. Read more. Even if it’s fantasy. Find a way to calm your anxious heart. Learn to escape every once in a while. Cut down on alcohol, unless you actually enjoy it. Look for solutions, not reasons. Find one friend who makes you think. If you’re lucky, you’ll find two.

And most of all – remind yourself that you’re okay. You are okay. You are okay. You may not be great yet. But you’re okay. And that is a great place to start.

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Let’s figure out life together. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or subscribe to my blog to get email notifications of new posts.

 

 

On Choosing Mentors – 3 Things to Look at

How often have you asked your dance teacher about the mechanics of astrophysics? Have you ever gone to a basketball coach to ask them about tennis? My guess? Rarely, if ever.

Then, when it comes to your career, the one thing you’ll be doing for over 40 years of your life, why do you go to the most convenient sample?

Often, especially when you are starting out, you go to your parents and teachers. While that’s an excellent support system, they are not always the apt system that you’re looking for professionally. Mentors play a massive role in shaping your future. They don’t control it. But they can make your career path easier, better, and sometimes, faster. 

There is a notion that a mentor chooses you. Sometimes. Maybe. But for the most part, you choose your mentor. You make yourself available and active in circles where you’ll find your mentors. If you sit at home all day, your parents automatically become your mentors. If you go to networking nights designed for tech startups, that’s where you’ll find mentors for the Tech fields. If you go to networking nights for artists and singers, that’s where you’ll find mentors in those fields. So, finding mentors is a two-way street where you actively seek them out and they reciprocate your initiative by mentoring you. 

While finding mentors is an essential aspect of any field, looking at the current trends in bias against women in workplaces, the right mentors become even more important for women. Vittoria Adhami, a  Professional Life Coach, also corroborates that these biases against women are ingrained in society and can hurt women’s chances of success.

All this discussion points to a very important statement- we need to choose our mentors wisely. We need to choose people who believe in our capability, have been in our field long enough to guide us and have the ability to adapt.

People who believe in your capability

While it’s all good to surround yourself with ambitious go-getters, not everyone is a type A personality. People learn and act on their own pace. Finding people who are ambitious but differently ambitious from you may actually hurt you more than help you. They won’t be able to see your work the way you do and so they can’t guide you as well as someone who knows how you work.  Your mentor must see your capability and your potential. Choose a mentor who sees the future you as opposed to the present you. Don’t find someone who flatters you. Definitely not, but find someone who gets you and is willing to guide you.

Have been in your field long enough

20-year-old CEO’s sound like a great idea. They are inspiring and envy-inducing. But do they make good mentors? Let’s see. To become a CEO today, in the start-up culture specifically, is honestly, quite easy. Anyone can become the CEO. It’s not surprising then, that 90% of all start-ups fail. Experience counts for a whole lot in life. Mentors who’ve ‘been there, done that and survived it’ are the ones who will help you tide through the tough times. From bad business deals to a shifting topography to hostile company take overs, an experienced mentor can help you through it all.

Ability to Adapt

While society’s attitudes take a while to change, their behavior can easily change. The market works on behavior. The global market is a dynamic caricature of society. It shifts and molds itself according to the way the world is changing. The Internet changed everything. Tomorrow, something else might. Find a mentor who is changing with the times. A mentor who has continued to grow in her/his field and personal life. After a certain point in someone’s life, our professional and personal lives tend to mesh. A mentor who has grown personally will take those learning to her/his professional life and will be able to learn some new, some useful and some futile tactics. She/he will be able to guide you through those learning as well.

How Can You Be Persistent?

Some things are easy. Doing them every day is easy. They become a routine and we don’t even question them. Writing, however, is not one of those things. Writing is easy when it isn’t careful. When writing is a form of telling instead of showing, it becomes easy, or easier. However, when you write in order to show the world how you think, writing ceases to be about conveying a better opinion or about expressing petty differences, writing becomes a way to introduce people to your mind, your thought processes, and of course, your being.

This new year I decided to write every working day. And I have been. But it’s hard. It takes time, effort, and considerable cognitive resources. Writing is fun when the ideas just flow onto the paper (or screen) and convey every thought that you wanted. It becomes a chore when your ideas take longer to express and harder to condense. Writing becomes a menace when the sentence doesn’t fit quite right or the word doesn’t seem exact. Now, no one is asking me to be perfect or write a Booker Prize piece nor do I expect myself to write the next ‘viral’ post, what I do expect, though, is excellence.

Excellence as a concept is fickle, but as an idea it’s magnificent.

The idea that I can be the best I’ve ever been at it, is exhilarating. It’s like the rush of sky diving, just without the cameras and the height. I may be better tomorrow, but today I’m better than yesterday and the day before and the month before that. Today, I’m the best I can be, as far as writing this piece is concerned. This piece, this idea, is excellent. And for now, that’s enough.

A lot of people have asked me what it means to persist.

This is what it means to persist. Writing for me, was easy, but then it wasn’t as good as it could be and probably will be in the future. When writing got hard, I learned more, I struggled more but I didn’t give up. To persist is to keep doing something even when it’s hard. To persist is to not stop. When you persist, you make time for whatever it is that you want to do.

To persist isn’t an abstraction, it’s a difficult reality.

When you persist, you’ll learn things you never knew before. When you continue to learn them, it’ll get difficult. What was once easy becomes convoluted. And that’s the beauty of persisting. You’ll change what you knew and alter everything you already know. In that way, you’ll grow.

Persisting is doing a little bit extra today than what you did yesterday.

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Image by Scott Webb