Life Choices

A Primer On Minimalism

minimalism
/ˈmɪnɪməˌlɪz(ə)m/
noun
1. a movement in sculpture and painting which arose in the 1950s, characterized by the use of simple, massive forms.
2. an avant-garde movement in music characterized by the repetition of very short phrases which change gradually, producing a hypnotic effect.
3. deliberate lack of decoration or adornment in style or design.

Minimalism, as a philosophy has attracted me for quite some time. I have been a follower, reader and if my friends are to be believed, a vocal supporter of the minimal way of life. First started as a movement in art and music, it is now found in almost every aspect of life you can imagine. 

Minimalism can have different connotations for different people. For me, it means hoarding less stuff and doing more with less. It also means removing clutter and waste from my life - things like stress, bad influences, poor connections. This leaves me with only the things that matter, which add value to my life. 

If you are interested in exploring about this philosophy, here are a few points which might come in handy to get you started.

1.Buying less stuff - Let’s just get this out of the way. Minimalism by definition means making do with lesser stuff. It might sound cynical to say but we’ve been conditioned to consume. A visit to the mall yesterday reminded me of the lure of buying more stuff. I was impressed by all the shiny stuff on display around me and felt like buying things I didn’t need or the ones I already have. Now, there is not a problem with that per se. But, the problem arises when this ‘stuff’ doesn’t add value in your life and takes away valuable time, energy and money from things and experiences which actually matter, which brings me to my next point.

2. Spend on experiences, not things - There is a brilliant 5 minute clip of George Carlin where he talks about our hoarding culture. We spend our lives hoarding stuff and buying more of it wherever we go. We have to do that because we can’t carry our stuff everywhere we go. Whereas, your experiences travel with you wherever you go and help you grow as a person. Stuff fades away but the memories of great experiences linger on. 

3. Removing excess baggage - Realise that you are a tiny part of something huge at play. The stress you carry, the worries that you have, the emotional baggage that bogs you down and your problems are of no consequence in the grand scheme of things - not only on the scale of universe but on the scale of your own life. Worry itself is wasteful but if it is actionable then it could be good - so choose your battles carefully. You only have so much energy, spend it on contemplating about the things that matter a lot to you.

4. Deeper rather than wider - There is way too much stuff in the world for us to consume. Too many books to read, so many movies to watch, many places to see and a lot to learn. My idea is that there is a bigger joy in immersing yourself completely in one single thing rather than superficially scanning tens of them. The world is designed with plenty for each to learn in her own path of choosing. The knowledge from one book is equal to what you get in 100 books together or from one each of them. It is a matter of how you perceive it. A moonlit evening can be romantic to the heart which is full of love or can feel lonely to a troubled mind. It is a matter of how you look at it. 

5. Focus - This has become one of my favorite words recently. Focus on only the things that matter. Our tiny attention spans have a way of moving us about in different directions. Give more to one single activity, you are probably going to enjoy it more. Read less but deeply engage with it. Watch a movie and imagine yourself becoming the character. Project yourself how it would feel in the stadium while watching a match on the screen. Immerse yourself, become them.

6. Prioritize - We are all capable human beings who want to do a lot in our lives. I, for one know that I want to do multiple stuff - write, cook, click pictures, play guitar, learn Spanish and a host of other things. But, the structure of our lives doesn’t allow us to do so many things all at once. So, learning to prioritize helps. Saying ‘NO’ to things is as important, if not more, to choosing which ones to say ‘YES’ to. And if these priorities change over time, that’s fine. 

Leading a minimal life has helped me reduce stress, become more fulfilled and be happier in general. I am not an accomplished minimal guy but am getting there. So, this post is to remind me how to get there as much as it is to inform you. I hope these steps help you get started on your path to minimalism if you like to. And, if you do, I hope it brings you as much happiness in your life as much as it has in mine. 

Further Reading:

What is Minimalism by The Minimalists

Minimalists FAQs by Leo Babauta 

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Doing is a state of being

I have been obsessed with the idea of being for quite some time now. I have spoken about this in some of my posts and have had some understanding of this concept. But, it is only recently that I have realised that I understood it all wrong. 

image

Poster in a friend’s room. 

Earlier, when I thought of ‘being’ as a concept, I imagined a life where I am not doing anything, just lying around engrossed in my own thoughts and observing the world around me. I did that for some time and enjoyed it. But, soon I realised that this is not the idea of being. Make no mistake, for others, what I just described could be a perfect way of existence, but its just not for me.

For me, ‘Doing’ is a state of ‘Being’. I like being in the midst of action, being aware, making things happen, producing more than consuming. I realised this the hard way when I wasn’t particularly happy with the state of affairs. I procrastinated, dilly dallied on the things that needed to be done. Feeling productive is a great feeling, it almost makes you feel as if your existence has a purpose. And that is why I wrote this post - to remind myself when I am feeling lazy that beyond the laziness, beyond the comfort zone, there is a much better feeling. 

Of course I am saying this right now because my mind seeks conflict. It might happen that after a few months of doing, I might feel like going back to not doing anything and being. But for now, I am good with ‘Doing is a state of being’ principle.

Drive

I drive down to Noida from Gurgaon and back quite often. If you know anything about that route, you would know how perennially congested that route is. The traffic moves painfully slowly and it feels that all the jerks have decided to come onto the road to drive(including me, I guess). Bikes zoom in an out with absolutely no concept of safety whatsoever. When you are driving a car, you curse the bikers and when you drive a bike, you curse the cars. Anyway, I digress.

So, on one such Friday night, I was driving in this God forsaken mess of a traffic and I couldn’t help but smile. You see, THIS is life, every second of it, every moment whether good or bad. It is this particular moment that you are reading this, is your life. It is not tomorrow, not the day that has gone by but right here, right now. Even our brain interprets it that way, it is “science, bitch!

More often that, I am grumpy about the traffic. If I meet someone who travels the same route, we talk about it like some long lost friends - a sense of camaraderie emerges. The traffic, hence, takes up more of your life than the travelling time. But it is up to you to choose if you want that to happen.

Sometimes, you can choose what you get from life, at other times you can’t. But, at all times, you can always choose your reaction to it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be happy in every moment, but being aware is a good place to start. Just notice that every moment is YOUR life. It is not waiting for you at the end of the road. It is happening right now, every single moment. Smile, you are LIVING :)

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Appreciate your time. Thanks!

Simplifying decision making

Would it matter one year from now?

In times when you find yourself worried sick about something, ask yourself this question. Whatever you decide to do in a certain situation, would the choice matter so much one year from that moment?

Proving someone wrong at the cost of lost love, or all those extra hours in office at the cost of your health and relationships, or that party you regret not being a part of, or what you should wear on a particular evening- is it all really going to matter a year hence? Probably not. 

You could come back and tell me that this theory trivialises everything. Maybe it does. But, what is wrong with that? From my experience, I’ve found this exercise very liberating.

Asking myself this question has helped me in simplifying my life and I hope it helps you too.

Further reading: Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff - Richard Carlson

Do you like what you read so far? You can subscribe to my mailing list to get updates on new posts. I am not sure how frequently I’ll send you an email but it will never be more often than once a week. 
Appreciate your time. Thanks!

What makes us a pirate

And my story from a pirate to founding a digital music store

In the last 6 months, two important things have happened:

1. I am more broke than ever before in my life

2. I have purchased more music than I did in my 23 years before that

This might seem odd. After all, who pays for music these days, anyways - just the rich kids and audiophiles, right? Certainly not a broke entrepreneur. It was my belief that people who pirate and later turn to buying music do so because they are financially more well off. Because of the simple reason that many considered ‘buying’ music a luxury but not a necessity. I did too. And boy, was I wrong.

Back in college, I did what any music loving, self respecting, on-a-small-pocket-money-budget college kid would do. I grabbed a senior’s hard drive and copied his complete music collection into my machine. I was so high on the shining new music collection of 50 GBs.

Watch Out! was the monthly student magazine of our college. It was what the cool kids read. For one of the columns called Almost Famous,they interviewed one famous student of the campus. All the young kids wanted to be on that column one day - it was the peak of popularity you could attain. I remember reading one particularly well where the interviewer asked this highly popular chap: “What do you consider your most prized possession in 4 years of college?” His answer:“My 34 GBs of hard drive full of amazing English music by bands from all over”. I was so amazed and blown away. I wanted to be that guy. Imagine having 34GBs of new music to listen to and show off. I craved for his music collection and more. It didn’t matter to me that it was pirated or not, which of course it was.

The important thing to note is that this answer came from a senior student of one of the best engineering colleges in India. He was actually proud of his feat. Whether he was unaware of the implications of his actions or was just playing the fool is anybody’s guess. The magazine editors who pride themselves on their slogan We have Issuesdidn’t seem to have any issue about him pirating music. That to me is the crux of the piracy problem - ignorance.

When we were young, a lot of us were ignorant about what piracy actually means for the artists. Unfortunately, some of us are even today. A lot of us don’t know that it is illegal and harmful to the artists to do so. I met the ex-head of a major record label once who told me that his teenage kid doesn’t buy music because he thinks it is stupid. And I found this a common trend with most people I spoke to. Very few seemed to have the idea that it was hurting the artists.

Earlier I used to think it’s about the money - that as soon as I start earning, I would start paying for music. I did, by going out and paying for gigs, but not so much for digital downloads or CDs. Then, Musicfellas happened.

My first music purchase was a CD by the band Sulk Station. I emailed them requesting their CD and they were kind enough to send me one with a hand written note on the envelope. It felt good. But it wasn’t until I started working on Musicfellas that I started purchasing music. I was completely unaware of how badly it is affecting the artists.

As I got to know the artists personally and hear their stories, it made me realize how hard they work to give us the music we love. Stories of having to worry about the next month’s rent - every single month were not uncommon. I met artists who sacrificed sleep, comfort and even food to do what they loved. And it changed me.

Thus, it is my opinion that, like me, there are others out there who need to be educated. Most people are not stingy, but simply ignorant. I have a seen a lot of my friends convert into paying users on and off Musicfellas and it warms my heart. We need to tackle piracy at the root level by educating the next generation and not merely by putting bans on torrents or releasing DRM-restricted music. People will always find ways to break the rules until they know in their heart what right thing to do is.

About that 50GBs of music, I am slowly deleting more and more of it and replacing it with legally bought music - Thanks to iTunes’ entry into India.

Why I quit my job at JPMorgan Chase

First things first: This is not a rant. Neither is this a description of what I am doing now. This is an unbiased factual description of what happened and what prompted me to quit my first and only job. And this is certainly not as sensational as Greg Smith’s experience with Goldman Sachs. 

Background:

As a freshly minted Engineer(technically atleast!), I headed to Mumbai to work in one of the big four - JP Morgan Chase & Co. Honestly, I had no idea what exactly am I going to do at my job(sounds familiar?) except that I wanted to put in long hours, kick ass and have fun - basically work hard and party harder. 

Beginning (6 months): 

Awesome would be an understatement. As anyone would tell you, first 3 months in your first job is your honeymoon period. Little work, more ‘team building activities’, new friends and a new city.

Middle (12 months): 

Honeymoon over. But it stays a happy period. Got a chance to start doing some real work. JP Morgan is a great place to work at and actually has some really fine leaders. The place gave me fame and fortune. I was a happy employee. But there was a problem.

End (6 months):

I was restless and itching to do something more. You see, the problem is that I am a product of our much vaunted IIT system. It gives you high ambitions and even higher expectations from people around you. I would be lying if I said that the latter didn’t affect me. And I am sure, some of you feel the same (especially during the time when CAT results come out :P )

I’ve grown up reading about entrepreneurs and artists. They inspired me to create something that is used and consumed by loads of people. But, this can’t happen in a big organisation - sure you could tighten few screws here but there is no real sense of ownership. And that is exactly what I wanted. 

Parting notes:

Let me be honest here, the journey for the past one and a half months since I quit my job hasn’t been smooth. It is by far the toughest thing I have ever done even surpassing that IIT-JEE exam some of us took. Those who have had to bear me all this while know what a painful friend I have been. Apologies to all of you and thanks for sticking it out with me. But, its been totally worth it for all the reasons that are well understood - meeting new people, new perspectives and so much more that can be just felt and not put in words.

Here’s hoping that what I am doing turns out to be as exciting to all of you as it looks to me.

Cheers!

Lessons from Leaders

Recently, I bid farewell to the company where I spent the first two years of my professional life. As anyone would tell you, your first job – much like first love - is the one which is hard to forget and leaves you with many fond memories.

I learnt a lot from my stay there and from the leaders in the organisation. As I set out to step foot in a very uncertain domain, I thought it would make sense to seek advice from these leaders. They are all experienced fellows running huge offices and managing a lot of happy (I was) people. So, I requested some of them if I could steal 20 minutes of their time to soak in any advice they had. And, all of them (well, almost) happily agreed. So, in pointers, this is what they had to say to me:

  1. Change your communication strategy based on kind of people you meet
  2. Listen
  3. Be empathetic
  4. Focus
  5. Persist, stay the course
  6. Be approachable
  7. Be honest even if you don’t like it
  8. Acknowledge if someone does something good
  9. Grow together 

Most of this is not rocket science, but it always helps to hear someone say it to you. And, it also serves as a reminder lest we forget these small yet important things.