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It’s Holiday Season – Don’t Make the Mistake I Made

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I made a bunch of phone calls this week but reached few of the persons I wanted to. Companies are slowing down and executives are more concerned with holiday plans than business.

My wife is in California visiting our daughter and I am holding the fort in New York looking after my mother-in-law who is the most good-natured and undemanding elder relative you can hope to find.

And I am also taking stock and acknowledging the many blessings in my life. And I am remembering my friend.

We had known each other for more than three decades and met socially many times in the early days.

Then he moved west and I moved east so geography intervened. I used to joke that New York was close to the largest toxic dump in the world – a dump called New Jersey. As a new resident of that state he did not agree.

We met for lunch two or three times a year. He would drive more than two-thirds of the way braving both river crossings. Sometimes the trip would take him two hours each way but he never complained or suggested that perhaps I could come closer to him the next time.

We had deep conversations. We discussed family and philosophy and business and where we were headed in our lives.

When I was passing through a turbulent phase in my life he found his own gentle way of supporting me. He was unfailingly encouraging and frequently gave me examples of how something I had told him made a big impact on his life. He was not lying, nor was he flattering. He was trying to get me to expand my thinking to reach more people. And reassuring me that I was OK.

We were supposed to meet one day but something intervened so I asked if we could re-schedule. He was leaving on an international trip so we agreed to meet on his return.

He emailed me when he got back and we scheduled but I canceled again. He sent me alternate dates but none of them worked for me. He called me to set something up in real time. I explained that several projects were coming to a head at the same time so could we meet in six months.

Of course he agreed readily. He emailed me again in a few months and I meant to reply but, somehow, it got lost in my in-box and I never replied.

He called me from Florida where he was vacationing and we had a brief conversation because I was interrupted by another call. We agreed to meet on his return.

I dropped the ball again.

I was in London on a business trip. I came across his old email and determined that we absolutely should get together. It had now been more than two years since our last meeting. 

The next day my wife called me. He had passed away peacefully and she wanted to know if I would be back for the funeral service.

Pancreatic cancer moves swiftly. He was pretty far gone when he called me from Florida. I keep wondering if he would have told me about it if I had not abruptly ended our call.

And I kick myself for not knowing, for not being there for him whereas he always made time for me when I needed it.

And he was gone before I could say goodbye or let him know how much I valued his friendship.

Life always encroaches. The ‘urgent’ rides roughshod over us and sidelines the ‘important.’

There is someone in your life who is important to you. You wish him – or her – well and love him dearly. But you have not made the phone call or sent him the email to let him know this.

You want to. You mean to. But something always intervenes and you resolve to do it ‘tomorrow.’

Sometimes tomorrow never comes.

So, reach out to that person TODAY. Draft and send that email. Make the phone call. Don’t set yourself up for unending regret. You will bring joy to his life.

And to yours.

Peace to you and yours.

Srikumar Rao

This Illusion is Wrecking your Life!

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The Great Illusion

There is an illusion that you hold on to though your own experience shows that it is just that – an illusion. You know it, but you behave as if it were not true.

And much suffering results from this.

What is this delusion that holds you in thrall?

It is the notion that you are one single permanent self that is present all the time.

I know this is not true.

The resolute me that greets the morning with joy and determines to eat healthy and exercise is not the same person who, having had a good dinner and brushed his teeth, decides the perfect way to end the day is with a deep-fried, salty snack.

The good natured me, who fully believes the universe gives hints, is not the snarling brute who emerges when he has sunk into a comfortable armchair to watch his favorite TV show and the universe, in the shape of his lovely wife, reminds him that he had promised to do the laundry.

The book “Sybil” became a bestseller and the protagonist had 16 separate personalities. You may not be a pathological case but I bet you have more.

I certainly do.

Perhaps you can relate to this entertaining piece written by Obi Ejimofo who took my course at London Business School. (Explanation – My course is called Creativity and Personal Mastery and frequently called CPM.)

My Nigerian me was caught on camera last Monday battling with the UK-born me
for control of the kitchen. Spontaneous me sneaked in between the two and
whipped up a spicy stir-fry with ingredients from both warring camps.

Mindless me grabbed the steamy plate, leapt on the couch, opened up my laptop,
turned the TV volume down a notch and began to make a phone call while
furiously blowing on the meal to cool it down.

CPM me wagged a stern finger and negotiated a more mindful experience of the
meal (the TV stayed on as a compromise).

Worry me applauded the choice of fish over red meat and the variety of
vegetables but worried about the liberal amounts of groundnut oil used.
Indulgent me tucked in, cleaned the plate, went for another helping and topped
it all off with 3 glasses of wine.

Sporty me bemoaned my foot injury, no football for a few weeks. Music me
couldn’t decide whether to play Cuban jazz or neo-soul while CPM me denounced
all the other me’s as mere manifestations of mind chatter

Nigerian me was sulking, UK me flicked the Dutch channels for something in
English while Don Juan me wondered yet again whether the ladies at the spinning
class giggled for Sporty me or the Black me.

The Black me chuckled to himself, he felt he knew the answer…

Creative me fretted and tugged and squirmed, he wanted to write and draw and
make music again ‘Damn this MBA’.

MBA me fretted and tugged and squirmed, he missed the classes, the debate, the
broadening of the mind.

Worry me sniffed, remembering that I turn 34 in less than a month. Nigerian me
concurred, my mum wants to see that me married. Family me agreed, he wanted
kids. Career-minded me joined the thought – I should have been far more
successful by now. UK-born me just wanted to be back in London.

CPM me joined forces with Sporty and Creative, morphed into Positive me, bribed
Mindless to stay out of it and kicked Worry to the curb.

Music me decided on some Cuban jazz…

… All of Me stretched, lay back and relaxed to enjoy the vibes…

…..except Worry me ‘Who was going to do the washing up?’

Do you recognize yourself?

You have many selves. Some of these selves do stuff that greatly upsets other selves.

That is just the way it is.

Your problem arises because you think that there is only one permanent self. And that self is accountable for all your sins of omission and commission.

Recognize that these ‘selves’ come and go. They are all equally unreal.

YOU are beyond that. You are NONE of these selves.

You are the OBSERVER of these selves.

Rest in that state.


How to Straighten Out your Life

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We were in Paris this summer and my wife, being a big Monet fan, dragged me to Giverny. Monet was one of those rare painters who actually made enough money during his lifetime to live a comfortable, even luxurious, life.

Here is what his estate in Giverny looks like and this is a tiny part of it:

TRI Blog Image

Certainly conducive to peaceful thoughts isn’t it?

My wife tries to recreate this atmosphere and I am grateful for this. Here is a picture of a part of my backyard:

TRI Blog 2

I was under the impression that a beautiful garden like this just happens. You kinda wish it into being.

Last week my wife asked me to help her spread mulch around the flowerbeds. And she asked me to help her weed before that.

I found out that gardens DON’T just happen. And I was sweating profusely within 20 minutes and fled precipitously indoor after another half hour because I had important phone calls to make.

Think about this.

Your mind is the most fertile garden that you will ever see. It WILL bring forth.

Whether it becomes a picturesque Eden or an overgrown mess depends on how conscientiously you do the weeding. The unfortunate part is that, because the soil is so incredibly fertile, the weeds grow fast and in profusion along with the crops and flowers you want.

Watch your mind as you go through the day:

You catch sight of Forbes – the 400 issue – on the newsstand and go Why can’t I be as rich as that?

You spy a really good-looking woman and wonder Is she married? And momentarily forget that you are.

Your boss criticizes your last report and you mentally consign her to Gitmo or, even better, a rendition camp in Poland.

Weeds, weeds, weeds.

Thousands of them spring up every day and you are not even aware of them. And, because of this, they take root and grow big.

This is where and how your many addictions originate.

If you are ruthlessly diligent about the weeding, you absolutely will create a splendid garden.

Just try it for one day and see what a difference it makes.



If I Could Just Get Her to Change, Then Things Would be OK

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TRI Blog

I have a number of personal coaching clients and one theme has surfaced many times. Come to think of it, it is also prevalent in the lives of friends and relatives.

A busy attorney is scaling new professional heights but his son is investigating controlled substances and has had several brushes with the law. He knows that if he could get his son to change life would be perfect.

An entrepreneur is grappling a key-employee issue. The guy is brilliant and gets the job done. But he is also brusque and alienates everyone. Including, unfortunately, clients. If only he could get him to change…

A senior executive works long hours. When he gets home he just wants to put his feet up and relax and watch some junk on the idiot box. He was a dutiful father and chauffeured children to various activities when young. But now that they have left the house he feels entitled to his ‘relax’ time. But his wife wants to go our for dinner every day and with persons he finds intolerable. If only he could get her to change…

An extremely house-proud woman has a beautiful, almost perfectly trained dog. But he insists on latching on to the trousers of male visitors and his sharp teeth have left many holes. If only she could get the dog to modify his behavior…

We are all stuck in the same rut.

We are all trying to fix someone – children, spouses, parents, siblings, relatives, colleagues, bosses, vendors, subordinates and even pets.

Think about how you have made your well being hostage to the behavior of others. They do something and you punish yourself by becoming miserable.

They are who they are.

You can try to change them, but success is not guaranteed and failure is likely.

Accept this gracefully. You also are who you are.

Try to make changes in yourself and remember that the hunchback is oblivious to his own crook as he notes those of others.

Does this mean that you do not try to induce positive change – or what you consider to be positive change – in others?

Of course not. It simply means that when you fail, and this will happen often, you do not let it affect your equanimity.

People are different for a reason. Learn to accept and celebrate that difference.

You are not going anywhere!

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I am a public speaker and I frequently used the example of a hamster on a wheel to illustrate our tendency to get caught up in frantic activity while going nowhere.

Virtually everybody could relate to the example.

In fact, hamster-on-a-wheel has become shorthand for a meaningless life filled with unfulfilling action.

An alumnus of my program challenged me. “Professor Rao, the hamster isn’t trying to go somewhere. He is simply exercising and having a fun time.”

And there is a lesson here for you and me and everyone else.

We are going to die someday. Could be tomorrow, could be next week, could be decades from now.

For whatever reason – karma, destiny, happenstance – we are in our present predicament. We frequently feel that we are spinning helplessly because we want to get somewhere but are unable to. And a sense of futility arises.

Turn it around. Do the activity to the best of your ability but give up the attachment to any particular outcome.

The result you want may appear. Or it may not.

Focus on enjoying the activity and doing it to the best of your ability.

Your life will improve. You will be a hamster on the wheel that is having a rip-roaring time.