Life Lessons to GG & BB on their 17th Birthday

Today GG & BB turn 17! I can’t believe the tiny babies who were placed in my hands and were just about an arm’s length now tower over me. They are their own individuals who have their own ideas about life and who are now on the cusp of adulthood. I usually write a letter for them for their birthday and I have written one for their previous birthdays and while writing this post, I actually went back to read my old posts and I am amazed how much they have grown over the years. I do send them the link to my posts and ask them to read and even share if they want to with their friends.

Since they have now started tertiary education, I thought this could be the perfect time to share some life lessons. And since they are 17 today, I’ll do 17 such lessons grouped into different categories:

  1. Sleep: Sleep at least 7 hours a day, your body will thank you 40 or 50 years down the line. At this point in life, you may think you are invincible and can’t get by with the bare minimum of sleep, but your sleep debt is accumulating. Sleep plays a critical role in helping our bodies and minds recover and rejuvenate. Sleep promotes cognition and memory, facilitates learning, recharges our mental and physical batteries, and generally helps us make the most out of our days. With plentiful sleep, we improve our mental and physical health, reduce stress, and maintain the routine that is critical to healthy daily functioning. This habit, if healthly followed will stand in good stead in life, when you may not get the optimum level of sleep, but then you would not have accumulated so much sleep debt.
  2. Look after your health: You have only one body in this life, so look after it and keep it in optimal condition. Have healthy eating habits, eating more fresh produce and less junk food. Try to give up sugar if possible, it will do wonders for your health and also do not snack mindlessly. Make sure you do some exercise each day. It’s best if you do something you enjoy like dancing or running, but whatever you do, just do something! Not only will it mean having good health all through life, it also means when you present yourself in front of others, you are confident about your body and therefore about yourself. In the same vein, look after your external looks too. Take care of your skin and adopt a good skincare routine, irrespective of your gender. Makeup only conceals and covers, but with a good skin, makeup will enhance what you already have.
  3. Appreciate your family and close friends: Listen to what your parents and elders have to say. They know much more than you, especially at this point in life, and only have your best interests in mind when they give you advice. Most of the advice they give you is most probably from experience and they have gone through the exact same situation you are now in. At the same time, don’t listen to them blindly, your parents are after all human beings and can be wrong, so listen to them and then do some further research before you decide to take or not to take their advice.
  4. Learn life skills: These are skills you need to lead your life which include skills like cooking, cleaning, doing your laundry etc. Learn them now while you are still living at home and can get tutored from your parents on how best to do these chores. If you don’t learn them voluntarily now, you may be forced to learn them (maybe without someone teaching you) at a later stage.
  5. Learn to love IT: Artificial Intelligence is taking over the wold and with this many jobs will become redundant in the future. Learn to code and embrace AI so that your job becomes more secure. You will also have a plan B should the job you are in at any point be made redundant.
  6. Never stop learning: This is self evident. The day you stop learning is the day you start to stagnate. Learning stops the day you die and so never stop learning. Learning does not only come from a book or by going to school, every incident in life is a learning opportunity, so learn from all your successes and failures, learn from family, friends, coworkers and even the random stranger you meet may teach you something, so keep learning every second of the day.  
  7. Grab every opportunity that comes your way: In fact, I would say, go out of your way to find and look for opportunities. Look for internships and projects which will boost your resume and bring you front and centre of those who make hiring decisions. Many opportunities are never advertised mainly because these are filled because someone recommends a suitable person. Become that suitable person by showcasing what you can bring to the table by your work. Acknowledge your mistakes, own them and learn from them.
  8. Find a mentor: Search and find a good mentor who has the experience and knowledge to guide you. In fact, I would advise that you look for multiple mentors who can guide you in various aspects of life. Of course you don’t only take from a mentor, you should also give back to your mentor and help where you can. A mentor who is willing to help you does that because he or she sees that elusive spark in you. They have the connections and access to important people which you will not have at this point. A good mentor will lead you by pushing and encouraning you to get where you want to go and with their suppoer and encouragement, you should be able to succeed.
  9. Read: Reading is incredibly important and you should read widely and across a variety of genres. You access new worlds and learn so much from reading that you should set aside a dedicated time each day to read. Reading reduces stress, stimulates your mind, improves your vocabulary and memory and makes you know a lot about many many things that others are ignorant about. It also improves focus and concentration and hones your analytical and critical thinking skills and when you read more, you automatically become better in your own writing which will be an asset everywhere.
  10. Life’s passion: Try to find something you can be passionate about all your life. This will make life a bit easier when you spend half yor day or more at work. Of course, passions change and you need to refine your passion as you grow, both at work and in life and when passions change, try to make sure you are in the right position to take advantage of this change in passion.
  11. Learn to say No: This is another important life lesson. Most times, we are afraid to say No to the people in our lives – be it our family, friends, co-workers or managers. We take on more than we can do and afraid of confrontation, we end up saying Yes. If you find it difficult to say no, start practising with low stakes – like a stranger accosting you in the MRT station or someone trying to sell you something. Say Yes only when the opportunity aligns with your long-term goals. Another way to say no is to couch your refusal in very polite terms.
  12. Privacy Matters: Be aware of and ensure your privacy. There is no need to overshare on social networks, what is on the internet stays there forever, you never know when a post or a photo or a video can come back to haunt you. So be very circumspect in what you post online.
  13. Be financially literate: Financial literacy is important because it will equip you with an understanding of basic financial concepts so that you make sound real-world financial decisions. With this knowledge, you are in a better way to be able to manage your money, make sound decisions, and maintain healthy spending and budgeting habits, which over time can lead to financial wellness. Start a savings habit as early as possible and remember the power of compounding!
  14. Lead a purposeful life: What does this mean? It means not to go through the motions of life, the life you lead should be one in which life has some meaning, a life where you are connected and engaged with those around you. Do something for the less fortunate in society and learn to give back to those who need it, it need not be money, you can give your time, your skill-set and sometimes even a listening ear is enough. In this same vein, I would also recommend starting a meditation practice daily. Spending a few minutes each day with just yourself and your breathing will do wonders for your mental health and life equilibrium.
  15. Focus on what is important at this moment: Today it is school and tomorrow it will be your career. Focus fully on what is in front of you. Also at this point, you can and should take some calculated risks in life, specially since you are cushioned by your family and don’t have family and financial commitments as yet. Be competitive, but don’t make the competition a one-upmanship show. Be your own competitor and try to be a better version of yourself than what you were yesterday. Don’t indulge in petty politicking at work or school. Stay away from gossip and cheap talk and let your work speak for itself.
  16. Don’t be a sheep: Don’t accept instructions blindly or sign documents just because someone tells you to do so. Do your own research, ask questions before making a call and use caution before taking any decision. Also, it will help If you can talk to people close to you, especially your parents.
  17. Be Ambitious: Be ambitious and reach for the stars. In fact, aim for the stars and you will reach the moon. Aim for something slightly over your reach and go all out to achieve it, you will eventually get to it. You are also the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so choose friends wisely. Also remember that there is no shortcut to success. All those successful people you see, they had to hustle for years and work hard before they became ‘overnight sucesses’. Lastly be scrupulously honest, both with yourself and the people around you. Lies have a way of catching up and keeping up with the many falsehoods you may have said will definitely catchup one day!

So there you have it, 17 life lessons which I hope are useful to them.

Global Day of Parents

sarvatIrthamayI maataa sarvadevamayaH pitaa
maataraM pitaraM tasmaat sarvayatnena pUjayet

Mother is (the embodiment) of all pilgrimages, father is (the embodiment) of all deities. Hence, mother and father are to be revered with all efforts.

Old Sanskrit Shloka

Parents are the bedrock of society. Without parents to nurture a child, physically, mentally, spiritually, socially and psychologically, we may well have been living in isolation! They say a parent a born along with the child and so the importance of a parent in the child’s life, especially in the early years can’t be emphasised enough.

Being a parent is the most important job in the world. The first 1,000 days of life is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a baby’s brain and shape a child’s ability to learn and grow. Parents want to give their children the best they can. Yet, many have no choice but to work long hours, often away from home, to support their families. Parents need time to give their child the best start in life. Parenting is probably one of the most fulfilling, if not the most demanding job we will ever have! The responsibility to care for another tiny human being who depends on you and your partner for their very survival is immense, but it is something we humans do so quite instinctively. After all, the urge to procreate is in our DNA, though there are exceptions to the rule.

A parent is a child’s first hero. A girl’s first love is her father and when she looks for partners as she grows up, she will look for a man like her father if she has been brought up in a loving environment and the opposite of her father if her father had been abusive growing up. Likewise, for a boy, his mother is the first woman in his life. He will probably look for a woman like her when he is looking to get into a relationship and will most likely compare women he meets with his mother. Again, a loving mother will inspire him to look for similar qualities in his partner and an abusive and non-maternal mother figure will make him look for someone with the exact opposite qualities.

Parents nurture their children throughout their lives, guiding them, sometimes invisibly. They play multiple roles in their children’s lives – as teachers, as coaches, as psychologists, as friends and as parents.

Because parents such a huge role in everybody’s lives the United Nations decided to observe June 1, that today as the Global Day of Parents. This day was proclaimed in 2012 and honours parents throughout the world. The Global Day provides an opportunity to appreciate all parents in all parts of the world for their selfless commitment to children and their lifelong sacrifice towards nurturing this relationship.

Emphasising the critical role of parents in the rearing of children, the Global Day of Parents recognises also that the family has the primary responsibility for the nurturing and protection of children. For the full and harmonious development of their personality, children should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.

The central goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the world leaders in 2015, focus on ending poverty, promoting shared economic prosperity, social development and people’s well-being while protecting the environment. Families remain at the centre of social life ensuring the well-being of their members, educating and socializing children and youth and caring for young and old.

In particular, family-oriented policies can contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals 1 to 5 relating to doing away with poverty and hunger; ensuring healthy lives and promoting of well-being for all ages; ensuring educational opportunities throughout the lifespan and achieving gender equality.

So why celebrate such a day? Days like this reminds us to respect others. As a child, you are taught to respect others, especially our elders, but I believe that you have to respect everyone, irrespective of the fact that they are older than you. Our parents have been with us through thick and thin and have been there for us in every stage of our life. A parental unit is not just a mother or a father, it is the two individuals who have brought you to life, so a day like this showcases the other parent who may not be taking an active interest in their child’s life, but on days like this, they can spend some time with their child or vice versa and learn from each other. Parenting is like playing a game of tag. It is hard going it alone and so when you are a parental unit, you have to recognise that both partners play an equal part in bringing up their children.

So take some time today to talk to your parentsm, your first teacher and nurturer and tell them how much you love them and appreciate all that they have gone through to bring you up to be the person you are today. And if you are a parent yourself, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!

Happy 16th Birthday! A Letter to BB & GG

I was going to post something else today, but then I realised that I had not done my yearly letter to GG & BB on their birthday, so decided to post this today. In case you want to read previous birthday letters, here are the links to the 15th and 14th birthdays.

Dear GG and BB,

You both are sixteen today. I can’t believe it’s been 16 years since the day I first held you both in my hands for the very first time and became a mum. When you were born, I was scared about how I am going to bring you both up, if I will be able to keep you both alive, happy and well-fed. But you both have grown up to be great young adults and I feel your dad and I have done a good job.

GG, you are growing up to be an amazing young lady. You are beautiful, both inside and out and confident, smart, and well-liked by everyone. You take pride in what you do and make sure you give it your best shot.

I am very proud of your achievements in secondary school. When you come back with yet another certificate or when your form teacher tells me why you were nominated for the model student award in spite of having classmates who are better than you academically, I felt like tearing up because I was so proud and happy. The moment when I saw that you cracked the early admission exercise for your course of choice was another super happy moment. You were one of the few who managed to wow your future lecturers with your passion and knowledge of the subject. Be proud of what you have achieved, but also look forward to new mountains to conquer and keep that fighting and competitive spirit alive.

BB, you are my happy pill. I have rarely seen you get angry as you are a happy-go lucky boy. Even when GG used to bully you when you were younger, you would just move away from her and not retaliate. You still do that and I love your laid back attitude, your always smiling and happy face and your loving heart. You still give hugs and kisses, even though its considered passé by boys your age and are always smiling and happy.

If you want something, you can really put your mind to it. Case in point is your recent early admission exercise to your dream course. You are one more step closer to achieving your dream to become a part of the aeronautical industry. You know I teared up when you called me with the news and I know you were so thrilled that you could not speak for a few seconds, that’s how excited you were.

I know you made an impact on the panel that was discussing the candidates who are worthy of an early admission and are one of those few who showcased their passion for this industry and got an admission even before you sit for your O level exams. This definitely takes away some heat away from you towards getting the grades needed, but I push you more than I do GG because I know you are capable of far more than what you are currently achieving. I don’t want you to settle for something, rather I want you to reach for the stars and become as successful as you deserve to be.

You both are on the cusp of adulthood and as you move from the safe environment of school to the more adult environments of tertiary education, here is some advice from someone who has seen more of life than you.

Know yourself. Dig deep inside yourself and find out who you really are. Find out what your passions are (though to a large extent, you do know what you like, but passions change and likes and dislikes evolve over years, so keep reaching inside and check in once a while). Know what your strengths and weaknesses are and work towards enhancing your strengths and minimising or working towards eliminating your weaknesses.

Always be true to yourself. You are unique and there’s no one like you in the entire universe. Embrace what makes you, you and special and never compromise on your personal integrity. Learn to navigate this world, but on your own terms. Don’t be a people pleaser, but always keep friendly terms with everyone around you. Believe in yourself and the fact that you can do anything you set your mind to. Your self-determination, coupled with hard work, self-confidence and a positive attitude will take you far in life.

Push yourself. Make sure you push yourself out of your comfort zone and push yourself to excel in everything you do. Be cautious, but not at the cost of having regrets later. Failure is nothing more than a stepping stone to success. Einstein failed 99 times before tasting success so don’t fear failure. Learn from your mistakes and know that’s another way not to do something. Keep trying and you will find success. Put yourself out there and explore the unknown. This is especially true in your twenties when you are not really burdened by life’s realities. Take calculated risks at this point and push yourself to the max and success will soon kiss your feet.

Keep learning. Learning does not end when you finish studying. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to stop learning. Continue to educate yourself, both in the hard knowledge of the industry you are in and the soft skills you need to succeed in the corporate world. Watch and listen all the time and learn from everything and everyone. Every second of life is a learning experience. Just be genuine to the people around you and treat everyone with the same respect, whether the most exalted or the most ordinary person you encounter. Make a pact to learn something new each day.

Practice gratitude. Be grateful for the world around you, be grateful for where you have some from and where you currently are. Try to thank some part of your life daily and you will find youself happier for it.

At the end of the day, find your Ikigai, your reason for being, your purpose in life. When you reach that magical space where passion, mission, vocation and profession collide, life will become so much more meaningful and special. I hope and wish with all my heart that you soon find this space and I promise that I will do all that I can to help you get there.

BB & GG, I wish you the best of birthdays and exciting times ahead as you start a new and exciting time in your lives. Thank you for coming into our lives and our lives have become so much better because of you too.

Happy Birthday and may you get all that you aspire to

Ikigai: Your Raison D’être in Life

A couple of months back, I came across this Japanese term, ‘Ikigai’ which essentially means finding your passion in life and leading your life according to that, in other words, your ‘raison d’être’ and the term really intrigued me. In other words, Ikigai is what makes you get up each morning and jeep going even when the going gets tough.

When I read more about this term, I thought that perhaps this was the missing link in our lives. If we lived a life worth living, if we did something which makes us jump out of bed each morning and looked forward to each new day, then wouldn’t that be the best thing ever? We would never have to work a day in our lives and life will be so much smoother without the usual angst work generates within us.

Ikigai which is pronounced as it is spelt, is a Japanese concept which means, “a reason for being”. The word “Ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. The word translated to English roughly means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”

Each individual’s Ikigai is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. It reflects the inner self of an individual and expresses that faithfully, while simultaneously creating a mental state in which the individual feels at ease. Activities that allow one to feel Ikigai are never forced on an individual; they are often spontaneous, and always undertaken willingly, giving the individual satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life.

According to best seller author Dan Buettner, Ikigai lies at the cross section between your values, what you like to do and what you are good at. When you are able to figure that out, you have found your personal Ikigai.

So how do you find out your own personal Ikigai? Make four lists – the first one being your passion in life or what you love doing, the second being your mission in this world or what you feel this world needs, the third list being the able to figure what you are good at or your vocation in life and the last list being what you can get paid for doing your vocation which is essentially your profession. The intersection of these four lists will allow you to figure your personal and unique Ikigai.

In their book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles break down the ten rules that can help anyone find their own Ikigai:

  1. Stay active and don’t retire
  2. Leave urgency behind and adopt a slower pace of life
  3. Only eat until you are 80 per cent full
  4. Surround yourself with good friends
  5. Get in shape through daily, gentle exercise
  6. Smile and acknowledge people around you
  7. Reconnect with nature
  8. Give thanks to anything that brightens our day and makes us feel alive.
  9. Live in the moment
  10. Follow your Ikigai

While the concept has been around for centuries now (it originated in the Heian period, sometime during the period 794 to 1185 AD), the majority of us, including the Japanese people haven’t quite figured it out yet.

There have been studies which say that Ikigai promotes a sense of wellbeing which is probably why the Japanese and particularly Okinawians where this concept is said to have originated live the longest. It was statistically proven that presence of Ikigai is correlated with a lower level of stress and an overall feeling of being healthy. The feeling of Ikigai balances out the secretion of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and β-endorphin. Some studies demonstrate that a sense of purpose or goal in life or Ikigai is negatively correlated with a need for approval from others and anxiety and studies also found that Ikigai is associated with longevity among Japanese people.

Human beings are born curious. Our insatiable drive to learn, invent, explore, and study deserves to have the same status as every other drive in our lives. So go and channel that curiosity and maybe you will be able to find that sweet spot in your life which is your Ikigai. Once you do, use it every day. Find things to do, simple or complex in your day to day lives which would be an expression of your Ikigai and once you have found and pursued it, you will realise that anything else is just compromise.

I am going to leave you with a Youtube video where Dan Buettner speaks in a Ted-Ed video on how to live to more than a 100 where he also speaks about Ikigai.

Snow Plow Parenting: Making life easier for their children

I recently came across this term “Snow Plow Parent” while reading an article online and was intrigued with the term.

The “Snow plow parent” is defined as a person who constantly forces obstacles out of their kids’ paths. They have their eye on the future success of their child, and anyone or anything that stands in their way has to be removed. Other terms used for this type of parenting are bulldozer parenting and lawnmower parenting.

I actually didn’t think this was very wrong, as most of us parents do help our children and try to make their lives as easy as possible. I am myself a snow plow parents, but how serious this is, I am not sure.

Similar to helicopter parenting, snow plow parents also hover and micro-manage their children’s lives, but they do it with an eye to the future. They want to remove any pain or difficulties from their children’s paths so that their kids can succeed. They are the parents sitting in the principal’s office asking about extra courses or for special allowances for their child. According to educators, there is a sense of entitlement to snow plowers: They blame the school when things go wrong and never accept anything less than first place for their child.

Research shows that helicopter parenting can have a negative effect on kids. They are less resilient, and less likely to take risks. They never develop proper coping skills or the maturity to make decisions on their own. Experts fear that children of snow plow parents will have similar issues—they won’t be able to handle failure or solve problems independently. Kids of snow plow parents may quit something instead of settling for second best.

It is said that snow plow parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure and that this parenting style really focuses on short-time goals for parents and their kids. Their question is, “If I could make this easier for my child, why wouldn’t I do that?” And I ask why not?

I do agree that sometimes focusing on short-term parenting goals will take away from the practice of important, long-term goals that kids can benefit from like resiliency, grit, problem-solving, conflict resolution and coping skills. A child, if capable, should learn to advocate for themselves. When parents remove obstacles for their child they are really taking away that opportunity for kids to learn those problem-solving techniques.

These parents often have good intentions and are motivated by not wanting their children to experience struggle. But, these habits don’t provide a foundation for long-term happiness, they can actually strengthen a child’s anxiety of failure. 

I personally don’t feel that there is anything wrong in being a snow plow parent. Even though BB & GG turn 16 this year, I still drop them when they need to get to someplace which is either too far to get there by public transport or is someplace difficult to get to (I mean multiple transfers and unreliable buses). I also helped them edit their early application statements so that they have the best shot at getting an admission into the course of their choice. Though I think I will stop short of being that parent who reaches out to their professors and lecturers when they start tertiary education (or will I?)

I know that they are getting older and hence I need to loosen the apron strings. I am trying, but I also know that as teens, they don’t know (or probably don’t care enough) to see what lies ahead. It’s going to take a while, at least for me, but I hope that by the time GG & BB reach university, I have taught them well enough that they take the right actions to reach their version of success.

Again, culturally most Indian parents are snow plowers by nature and I guess I still have enough Indianness in me that I am programmed to think like that. I don’t want them to make the mistakes I made in life and live to regret it, so If I can share what they should and should not do to get ahead of the rat race, then as I see it, why not?

This is probably one of the most controversial subjects I have written about and one where I have not been objective, because I just could not be with such a topic. Are you a parent who tries to make life a little easy for your child? Let me know in the comments below.