A Letter to My Younger Self - 2019
31st Dec 2019
Every year end I take some time off from normal work to review my personal and professional life over last year. This activity makes me learn the most about myself - my failures and my successes. And the document helps me preserve it so that I can come back and relearn all of the lessons.
Following are some important lessons I wish I had learnt before which would have helped me to be a better and more effective person. Now that I know, I look forward to incorporate these in my life in the coming year.
1. Don't be afraid of more visibility.
Now that I look back, I feel most of my personal projects have very little visibility among the people who know me. That is partly because I have always wished for a separate identity in my professional life. I am sure no one in my professional circle is aware of my dreams and aspirations and my work and how I spend most of my life outside office (with an exception of one or two).
This invisibility has provided me with some freedom to take up very ambitious projects in the past, without the fear of being judged on my failures. But now I realize that I have missed an incredible amount of support and connections I could have had otherwise. I could have made myself more accountable for the outcome if more people knew what I was doing. I also feel that this was partly driven by my Imposters Syndrome where I was afraid if I was not good enough. One such project was the Scholarship Program I have worked on for last one year.
I feel the only path towards growth is the one where you exposure yourself to uncomfortable situations and you do that regularly. You may face a significant chance of failure which is visible to bigger audience but the more you do that, the more you will be able to rule out 'random success' from the outcomes. Also, this world is not bad as I thought it is. I should have asked myself more often "how bad it could be?"
This post is the start of my self improvement. I have written such posts every year for past several years and the reason why this is being published is that I have decided to be more open going forward. After all, how bad it could be?
2. Learn to really engage with people.
Time and again, I have got feedback from a lot of people that I live in my own world. I know this is true and it has served me some good. As I am always juggling with multiple projects outside office (all the time), by being able to step back from day-to-day nuisances and gossips I am able to give a lot more of my mental attention to problems that matter. This has made me move fast and try different things in shorter amount of time.
But all of this comes with some consequences. At times when I was deep thinking about a crucial aspect of my journey, the people sitting by my side thought I was genuinely being disinterested in them. It was not them I wasn't interested in but the crucial nature of my situation I was more engaged in. This was unfortunately perceived as me lacking social skills leading to be disconnected emotionally with people.
Social connection with other humans is very important for us. It is one of the fundamental desires of human beings - being able to connect and form meaningful relationships with other people. My younger self should have been more careful in handling these kind of situations. The magic lies in finding the right balance between the two. It is super important to be able to give uninterrupted mental effort to your work, but not at the cost of your ability to form connections with other people.
3. About having kids at home.
Neither I am married nor I have kids (Disclaimer!) but I do have a young, naughty, super cute nephew back at home who just turned 1 late in 2019. Looking back, there wasn't a time more joyful than what I have spent with him. I always thought having kids is the most difficult phase of life. I have seen people earlier who get their 'shit together' after having kids, as they ultimately understand their responsibility in life. But what if somebody already had his/her shit together? It would be challenging and difficult time as they get to do less of work. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Having kids is one of the best times of one's life. I have felt it by being with my
nephew. All of the good moments I had earlier at work or otherwise stand
nowhere near to the good times I have now with Avi. And I have those kind of
moments very frequently. The process of taking care of them teaches you a sense
of responsibility that nothing else could. You just don't regret the time you spend
with them, no matter what is being put on hold. Yes, you have to wake up at
night, you have to be ready for their every wish, but all of this is very beautiful.
You feel fulfilled by making them happy. It is one of those few things in life the
intensity of which can only be felt with first hand experience.
I already feel sometimes that I should have spent more time with Avi. But I guess you just can't spend enough time to not have this feeling. You always want more. If I have to re-live, this part is going to be the most exciting one. I wish I understood all of this in advance, but since I know now, I am in a better position to work on things to make his 2nd year in the world more awesome!
4. Putting video streaming services off my mind.
I have never liked TV. Unfortunately, one of my cousin showed me a few clips of first episode of House MD one day. I said right away that I am never gonna watch that, I hate TV. Fast forward to the end of 2019, I had spent 120+ hours watching every single episode of an 8 season long series. No doubt it was pretty good, intellectually simulating, funny, emotional, everything you would expect out of 120 hours of your life (seriously, watch House MD). Was it worth 120 hours of my life? Could I have done something better with my time? Answers are not that straight forward.
The thing about TV is that these shows are designed to make people addicted to them. It is very difficult to let them go in the middle no matter how much self control you have on yourself. I have decided to have zero tolerance against starting a new TV series in 2020. At first it sounds harsh. Some might even say "All work and no play makes jack a dull boy" or that you can learn things from these shows, but I think there are better things to do, at least at this point of my life. Also for my past self - DO NOT watch that first episode.
5. If there is one thing you are going to regret in 2019 - its procrastination.
Time to face my demons. 2019 has been the most procrastinated year since my existence. Getting up from bed at 11 in the morning to going to sleep at 4 in the morning to postponing certain things for 6 months to keeping mails unread to revisit for 8 months now, I have been to extreme. Being really really tired, travelling, tv, chasing a deadline, whatever be the reason, it is just not acceptable. I think I am disappointed by myself in this regard.
I have lost my presence from some international platforms, lost an opportunity to work on a project with Facebook's Data team, under performed on my reading schedule of the year and a lot more. This is not something that I am going to allow myself do again in 2020.
6. Not optimizing for the time I spend everyday.
While working on multiple things in office, I always thought I was doing good as far as I was getting things done. Now I have four words for my past self - You are an idiot.
You know what is better than getting things done? - Getting even more things done. You should ALWAYS think about optimizing the work done in a fixed amount of time. You should always be looking how you can do more with same resources and then how you can further improve upon that. Paul Graham suggests the best way to predict future success is to look at growth rate. And he is not an idiot.
7. Setting ambitious targets.
I am really happy for my younger self to understand this. Truth is, if you set really ambitious targets for yourself, and you are into it, you will have very less time available to waste. And I don't want to encourage working like insane just for the sake of it, but sometimes there is no other way around to get things done. I have worked for more than 80% of the weekends of 2019, and not just fun work but 8am to 7pm kind of work. This has allowed me to explore those parts of my aspirations which were just not possible otherwise.
This is not going to change in 2020. Lets keep the goals ambitious.
8. Getting "Lucky".
Most people chase money throughout their lives. Thinking deep about it, it should not be money but wealth. As Naval says, money is just a way how you transfer wealth from one point to another. Wealth is something worth chasing for, or at least I think so. Because once you have enough of it, it gives you freedom to pursue things you have always wanted, on the schedule that you decide, working from places you like to be. We have to find ways to earn this wealth while doing things we like (see the 2-way benefit?).
In order to be able to earn wealth, you have to be in a position to be lucky. Not the lottery ticket kind of lucky, but the kind where you are so good at what you do that people who get lucky (lottery ticket kind) come to you to get things done in exchange of some part of their lottery. Things got slow in 2019 (because of point 5). I'd like my younger self to know at the right time that things are slower than they should be allowed to. And take some action. Making sure to increase my competency at what I do is unquestionably on the list for 2020.
9. Importance of office.
I cannot say it enough that doing good work at office is absolute necessity. Someone has trusted you to get some work done in exchange of mutually agreed benefits. There is no justification for getting away without fulfilling your duties. Setting ambitious personal goals work only if you are already thriving in your office. We should do everything that is possible to be clear, consistent and competent in whatever work is assigned to us. Good that my younger self understood this.
I am thankful that some special people stood by my side and supported me to take the next steps in my journey. Thanks to every individual whom I have worked so far. And I am grateful for the incredible family I have.
I wish for myself that 2020 brings new challenges and joys and successes like never before and that I remain internally driven to change the world as we know it. And I wish the same for you.
I love you.