Midlife thoughts, mid-week

“Failing at something you really want to do should be worth more than succeeding at anything else.”

When you start something, you start with a bunch of ideals, you want to be different from everyone else.

You start working and you come in contact with people. You work for them, you work with them. As you go and grow, you will come across people and situations where your idealism and your urge to do good seems to be a disadvantage.

A point comes where you are overwhelmed by the number of times this is happening. You start thinking about snatching the advantage back. You start questioning the practicability of your ideals.

That point is the real test of your fortitude, your commitment to what you really want to do. The easy path is to turn into everyone else.

That path will eventually lead to failure. Have no doubt about that. You may ‘succeed’ but that ‘success’ will not be at what you really wanted to do. It would be a completely different goal, even when you score it.

That is the time to think hard and look close. Choose the people and situations you work with. Grow slowly. Focus on building a community of like-minded people. You will notice the ‘overwhelming number of times’ go down to manageable levels. With any luck, they will eventually disappear.

While all of this happens, hang in. Take care of yourself and your well-wishers. At the same time, be ready to let go. Failing at something you really want to do should be worth more than succeeding at anything else.

Have a great year!


Last chance to save your Orkut pictures – September 2016

Or How I ignored all warnings, then needed some pictures last night and grabbed them just in time! And may be you should do the same, now!


I used Orkut last in 2012 and Google shut it down sometime in 2014. During this period, I was reminded a few times to save my data – pictures, testimonials and scraps (how weird this word sounds now!!). I ignored all of them.

Last night, I was trying to put together a face book album for my son’s 10th birthday, with a picture from each of the 9 previous birthdays. Suddenly, we found we were missing birthday pictures from 2009. After a bit of all round panic and searching through a couple of drives, missus remembered that there was an album on Orkut.

But Orkut shutdown in 2014! They reminded us to download data and we ignored!! An immediate Google search then revealed that there is still a way to get the pictures. You go to Google Takeout, log in, make a couple of choices and, your data is downloaded. You can save it to the drive as well.

And that is when I noticed the deadline was September 2016, and had I not run into this difficulty this week, I would have lost a few important pictures. Hence this post!

Now that I have the data, I went through it and discovered that about 70% the friends I had on Orkut are still my friends on Facebook. I am thinking of getting in touch with some of the remaining 30%…should be fun!

I am looking forward to it and if you are in that 30%, you have been warned 🙂

IIMBaba: Time is NOT Money

On a calm Sunday morning, Baba said, to no one in particular:

Don’t believe in the adage “Time is Money”. This belief seems to imply that you need to then convert your time into money.
Actually, (and here I speak with the benefit of an immense amount of hind sight), Time is much much more valuable than Money.
The time you did not spend living your life cannot be brought back. It certainly cannot be bought back with any amount of money you could possibly make.
Use your time living life the way you want. Start now, if you haven’t already.
– As recorded by His humble servant, namely, myself venu GVGK, on the 24th day of the month of July, 2016 of the common era.

The single biggest reason you are unhappy…

…is the easy availability of comparisons. Here is how it goes.

The grass has always been greener on the other side. In this social age, we get to see the innumerable other sides and the lush green grass on each of them…in real time and with perfect clarity. Obviously, it has not always been like this.

There was a time when a man was born, lived and died in the same community. He learnt about the life, universe, and everything in it from the community around him. He learnt how to be good, how to live and love. And he would be done learning by the time he was 25, if not sooner.

Then he lived his life accordingly. His beliefs and his world were in sync and changed slowly enough for them to remain so.

Periodically, he would learn of other things, from far away places, about people he could hardly relate to. These did not bother him much as he believed these things were beyond his reach and he was beyond their influence. Occasionally, when he felt something more than that, the people around him reminded it was just the grass being greener on the other side. And the other side was too far to reach.

Today, thanks to the various information and social  products, the other side is never far from your thoughts. Wherever you are, whatever you do and however you live, you always get to see something better, something more productive, something more comfortable. And, here is the key difference, you know that the people on the other side are just like you…you get to see their lives much more closely.  Things are no longer in the realm of the unattainable but you don’t have them. If only you had a little more luck, if only you were a little more rich, if you only you worked a little more harder…you are never really happy with yourself.

And you will never be if you just spend time working hard for your career, scrolling Facebook feeds and wishing you were happier.

How logic can help keep friendships

​Here are a couple of ideas that have helped me stay logically correct and keep my friendships longer. 

Sometimes, people we think of as friends do things that greatly upset us. More often than not, we are hurt and start thinking of the said friend’s intentions. Given enough time, we end up questioning our judgements about the friend, his/her overall character and tend to reevaluate his/her past behaviour through a more negative lense. Very soon, we are no longer friends and sorry about the fact that we are no longer friends. 

Sometimes, WE do things that greatly upset our friends. When we become aware of the fact that the friend is upset, we set out to explain – “please understand WHY I did this”. The friend asks – “why would YOU do something like this?”

Note the difference in focus – we find it is easier to take into account the impact of situations, circumstances and external factors when explaining our behaviour but find it difficult to account for these factors to explain the other person’s behaviour. This is a cognitive bias called “fundamental attribution error”, also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect. This bias, as defined on Wikipedia, is the tendency of people to place undue emphasis on the character or intentions of people, rather than external factors when explaining another person’s behaviour in a given situation. This contrasts with interpretating one’s own behavior, where situational factors are more easily recognized and can be taken into account.

When we recognise that it is common for us to blame character or intention for other’s actions and ignore situational factors, it becomes that much more easy to  stop the negative cycle of questions, be more open, have a conversation, and clear up things.

Hanlon’s razor is a less tedious and more fun way of saying nearly the same as the above. A version of it goes – “Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice”, or “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness”. 

Both of these ideas help us broaden our focus when we are dealing with people and allow us to take more factors into account to explain or enquire about their behaviour.  With the right mindset and the right set of questions, we can understand each other more and remain friends much longer.

On ‘being yourself’

We are all constantly advised to “be yourself”. While we all want to ‘be ourselves’, we obviously don’t like it when Salman Khan continues to be himself. Here is my solution to the conundrum of being yourself and also, a path to the same in a more graphical form.

Being yourself is fine once you have reached a stage where ‘being yourself’ is worth something. Getting there should be the goal of life. 

So, how we do we get there? Here we go.being yourself (2)

Have fun!!

Paul Graham’s Disagreement Hierarchy

This is especially for people who like to interact with others, on Facebook and elsewhere. Awareness and understanding of this hierarchy (and obviously, the willingness to use it) will help you, whether you are a writer or a reader. It will likely increase the quality of conversations and make people having them happier – as outlined by Graham in his 2008 essay How to Disagree.

I think it is important because the predominant mind set of the ‘interactions’ these days seems to be – ‘I have an opinion and however uninformed it might be, I am going to defend it with my life and honor’. Anything that changes this is indeed likely to increase the overall well being of people.

The following is a pictorial representation of the disagreement hierarchy.  The hierarchy describes levels of disagreement DH0 to DH6 starting from the bottom.

Graham's_Hierarchy_of_Disagreement-en.svg (1)

Source: Wikipedia, By ‘Loudacris’. 

Read the original essay for a more detailed explanation. Paul Graham says the following about why it is important to classify and label forms of disagreement.

It helps the readers

“The most obvious advantage of classifying the forms of disagreement is that it will help people to evaluate what they read. In particular, it will help them to see through intellectually dishonest arguments. An eloquent speaker or writer can give the impression of vanquishing an opponent merely by using forceful words. In fact that is probably the defining quality of a demagogue. By giving names to the different forms of disagreement, we give critical readers a pin for popping such balloons.”

It helps the people who are writing

“Such labels may help writers too. Most intellectual dishonesty is unintentional. Someone arguing against the tone of something he disagrees with may believe he’s really saying something. Zooming out and seeing his current position on the disagreement hierarchy may inspire him to try moving up to counterargument or refutation.”

Such an awareness will decrease the need to be mean and make people happier

“But the greatest benefit of disagreeing well is not just that it will make conversations better, but that it will make the people who have them happier. If you study conversations, you find there is a lot more meanness down in DH1 than up in DH6. You don’t have to be mean when you have a real point to make. In fact, you don’t want to. If you have something real to say, being mean just gets in the way.

If moving up the disagreement hierarchy makes people less mean, that will make most of them happier. Most people don’t really enjoy being mean; they do it because they can’t help it.”

Happy conversations!!

PS: I have some immediate evidence in support of “you don’t have to be mean when you have a real point to make”. My original first paragraph (which I am now reproducing from memory as I had deleted it) was:

This is especially for people who like to interact with others, on Facebook and elsewhere. Note that I am saying ‘interact’ and not ‘argue’ or ‘discuss’ because at least in my mind, an argument has some logic to it and a discussion has some sanity, some scope for nuance, and some space for disagreement. The predominant mindset behind ‘interactions’ today seems to be ‘I have an opinion and however uninformed it is, I will defend it with my life and honor.

As you can see, the current paragraph is much less meaner than this and that is because after the first draft, I think I realized that the sarcasm may not really help much to get the point across to the demographic that needs it most. Or I have a strong confirmation bias. Whatever.