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2022 is special. Globally, it is the year of war, inflation and recession. Personally, it is the year of terminal illness, death, corporate and community.
As I walk down the memory lane, here are some precious lessons that I learnt on the way. They range from silly to significant and in no particular order.
- My father-in-law passed away on 3 Dec 2022. It is the first death I have seen so closely, and it did have a huge impact on me. He was more a father than an in-law to me. For someone who grew up without a father, his loss hit me like a jolt. He battled lung cancer for 780 days. 2.5 years ago, doctors said his stage 4 lung cancer typically gives him only a few weeks to live. But looking back, we got 700 bonus days for us with him. We made the fullest use of all those 700 days and made memories. As an experience designer, mortality was staring at me and asking what will you do in the limited time we have? One of the hardest questions I must say. But as a family we got more creative. Starting from playing cards every evening with him to asking all cousins/siblings to make a trip from all parts of the globe, we did everything to make moments memorable. I am proud that I could face the ticking clock and still make a life experience worthy. We are complete with everything we did together as a family. Death is inevitable but dying well is optional. When death stares at you, coping with what cannot be mended is hard. It is a helpless feeling. The control freak in us freaks out. In this process, keep doing your best but every time ask the person who is dying what they want for themselves and then do it accordingly. Don’t push your agenda and assumptions. We can’t stop death and fill the void they leave but we can make it memorable and complete.
- For various personal reasons I took up a corporate job in June 2022 and I let go of what I built for a decade. I joined Microsoft's India design leadership team. I know I wasn’t ready, but I had to make the shift. I had mixed feelings about this decision. Despite everything I took a plunge. All corporates are not evil. All managers are not monsters. When you work for great leaders, they truly strive hard to take care of you. They pay you; they give you budget, problem statements, experts, systems, space and freedom to do your best work. I love it. A part of me says I will continue to build for upcoming billions hereafter. After a decade of entrepreneurship, I saw the other side of me play. It felt awesome. I truly felt the autonomy and empowerment. It is awesome to be surrounded by geniuses. The myth that corporate sucks is broken into pieces. I am grateful for all the support. Choose employment or entrepreneurship based on your context. It is a personal choice. Grass is greener on the side where you water. Whatever choice you pick, your career is your responsibility, and you can make it count for you.
- In the beginning of the year, I reached out to a few folks (whom I respect) to mentor me. I wasn’t sure about a few decisions, especially something as big as corporate shift. So, I wanted to make sure I talk to someone. Either I got a rejection response, a drag in response or a big bill for starters. Even when I paid big money, no one was invested in me like I was. My clock was ticking, and I was growing impatient. I trusted my raw intelligence. I stopped looking out for live, synchronous, walking talking mentors. I started focussing on ideas that made an inner shift in me and not the modality. I doubled down on reading with intensity. Reading is an underrated growth hack. Books are the silent mentors that are available cheap and all the time. I felt like an idiot for not using it all along. I read and skimmed more than 300+ books. Yeah, that was crazy but I needed it. My hunger was voracious. Now I have a better language to articulate thoughts. When my eyes got tired, I listened to long lectures, podcasts and more. YouTube premium is truly worth it. Thanks to all the authors who sculpted my thoughts and shaped my understanding. I will not waste my time anymore on searching for mentors ever in this lifetime.
- I started writing in 2019. I have written about 400,000 words so far. I never cared about personal branding, audience building or career growth. I wrote because it made me think better. This year, something else happened. I didn’t write for clarity. I didn’t write for work. I wrote and something in me healed. Every time I write a part of me healed. And that was new and surprising. I discovered a lifetime therapist for free 🤓 I felt like a kid in a candy bar. Writing is an underrated healer. Connecting dots backwards, it was my go to medicine to pull me up from my day to day abyss. I have written more than 500 pieces this year (including both short form and long form). I must say it was my best me time.
- As a student of anthropology, I always believed in distributed cognition, collective wisdom and sociocultural understanding in tribes. I built many tribes in the last 4 years but this year I learnt something new from communities. As social animals we feel better with more friends around. When it comes to human happiness, it is not about efficiency or effectiveness. It is about trust, belonging, humour and care. A good community is a happiness haven. One big happy family (of strangers) can exist on the internet. More than reading and writing, I made some lifetime friends, and our club members made some lifetime friends. We earned so much love, trust and knowledge together. There are some amazing givers who held the fort and made it better together. Special shout-out to the v-team of both reading and writing clubs. Hugs to Vidya, KB, Harshvir and Madhuri for holding the fort with me.
- This year I participated in the GIVE campaign at work. It was a 6 week celebration of giving. I didn't matter what we gave but everyone gave willingly. Giving was joy. Connecting dots backwards, I always believed giving gets you more. This year, I learnt something else from giving. Giving is an underrated therapy. Giving fills you up inside out. It is just overwhelmingly nice to just give with no expectation to get. I have heard about community service that de-addiction programs encourage, and I never understood why. The secret of giving is it is therapeutic. I don't have a count of all that I gave but I just gave. Whether it is lectures or time or mentorship or club invites or books or money or whatever. I just gave. I didn't have all the time, but I just made time when someone truly wanted it. By default, I was yes & yes this year and that truly made me a better human being.
- The most heart wrenching thing I had to do this year was to leave what I built for over a decade with heart and soul. Letting go was the hardest. It was like giving away your baby. I was also worried that in addition to Xperian, I am going to lose my friends, colleagues and business partners I built along. To my surprise, letting go taught me different set of lessons. Letting go was the best thing I did. My design kids showed ownership (skin in the game) and grew the business better than I did. My role shifted from being a founder to a founder's coach. While they play the game, I watch them from side lines and coach them to do even better. I built my coaching skills by 10x. We missed each other. We made time to catch up regularly. We discussed everything under the sun. Our bonding increased 100x. Our friendship sling shot to next orbit. Now that I am not in the driver seat, I get to enjoy the ride by sitting behind.
- Mom was always interested in Astrology. Thanks to Covid, a number of online courses popped up. She was keen to attend a particular astrology course and she enrolled herself into it. She has only 50% hearing in both ears, and she got her cataract surgery for both eyes in June. Naturally, online classes were not her cup of tea. But her interest pushed her to ask me to attend the sessions on her behalf and tell her what they are discussing in the class. I reluctantly did for first few classes as pure Tamil is not my forte 🙈 For the love of mom, I started understanding what is being said and I started tuning in slowly. I ended up learning some basics just by osmosis. My rational logical mind was stopping me from learning, but curiosity carried me further. Astrology opened me up in ways unimaginable. It broke the rigidity and made me a lot more flexible to look at things that are invisible. The rational arrogance in me broke. I learnt more about influences of planets and stars on human species. It is a deep science. It was like learning metaphysics. Someday I will make time and go deeper into the patterns. The good part is my horoscope say my stars are aligned to excel in astrology😉
- Xperian is a product school and as founder instructor, I taught in Xperian all along. After I left Xperian, I missed teaching. A part of me felt empty. I could not recognize the void when it happened but slowly, I realised my energy being drained for no reason. This year, I learnt that teaching fills my soul. I discovered my IKIGAI. It is in teaching. The moment I understood this part about me, I didn’t miss one opportunity to fill my soul this year. For the love of teaching, I conducted 33 master classes and AMAs throughout the year. I grew leaps and bounds as a teacher. Thank you, Next Leap, Leap Club, Air Tribe, Metvy, INSAID, Microsoft and more folks who gave an opportunity to just pour my love for the subject. For the first time, all my teaching proceeds went to the FOUNDATION account, and we are rich by books and heartfully🤑
- I took some advice from my friends before stepping into corporate. They told me to keep work and life separate. I really tried hard. I was prepared with my guards and armor. I sincerely tried to keep work and life separate. But, to my surprise, I found some amazing friends at work who make your life a lot of colorful and interesting. Work friends are underrated. They fill your day. Working with friends is far easier than working with strangers.
- This year, I prioritized Radical Candor and took some serious bets with people of my life this year. It was easy to be direct and honest. It was hard to beat around the bush and hide behind nice words. Truth is liberating. I geared up my guts have some tough conversations this year. I did it with absolute consciousness. I was ok, if the relationship went for a toss. It wasn't worth anyways to hold on to a dishonest relationship anyways. Gained a lot in the process. Folks appreciated the honesty. Lost a few in the process and that was ok. After the clean-up, all relationships in my life stay intact and rejuvenated. De-weeding relationships every now and then is important.
- This year, we decided to take a long break from Hyderabad summer to live in the hills. Getting away from city, drenching our selves in nature, taking cold showers every morning, walking up and down the hills is the best way to rejuvenate and clear mind, body and emotions. We wish to do this year after year as a family. If you can take a workcation, please do.
- Focused clubs are underrated learning hacks. I flowed with serendipity and made the product maker clubs happen. I poured my heart and soul into the clubs. I devised systems on the fly. I am super proud of our trackers, 10x30 methods, reading sprints, playbooks and gracefully holding many WhatsApp communities. We truly started a movement for reading and writing. 1100 people came together. We read and reviewed 15 books as a community and reviewed them for the world. We wrote 800 articles as a gang in 100 days. we met our OKRs and more than that as a community. The best part is, we have a place to belong, ask without fear of judgement, discuss things close to our heart, share our wins, own our mistakes and try out new experiments. Looking back, I am proud of what we created together.
- Values are underrated. They are the compass which helps you make better decisions in tough times. At work, I had to make some tough calls. If I take the call, I will lose a head count. If I don’t take a call, I will lose my sleep and mental health of my team. I am glad I had values to stick to and call the shots. It was a surgery and we are still healing from it. But we will be better in a few months.
- Boards exams are overrated. They take away mental health of kids. The performance anxiety is real. As a mother, I kept my bar simple. I kept my focus very high on health and happiness of the child. I am glad I did it without pushing hard. Whatever the results are, we will handle it joyfully. Life doesn’t end at boards was a revelation to me. oh btw! My mother is still digesting the way I am handling boards and mark sheets 🤣
- As a productivity nerd, I love two words. Efficiency and effectiveness. This year I am loving two more words Tripti (satiety) and completeness. It need not be always about efficiency. Falling in love is the most inefficient thing but boy! it completes you and satisfies you.
- BOOX by Onyx is my best purchase of the year. A digital notebook is underrated. For a hyper graphic like me, a digital notebook is a must. My note-taking has skyrocketed. My ability to focus has multiplied.
- TV is my melatonin. All these years I use it as my sleeping medicine. This year, I developed an innate interest in documentaries. I learnt so much about the volcanos, dinosaurs, our universe, a killer's mind, world war, economic engine and more. I am subscribed to curiosity stream from 2022 onwards 🙈 Documentaries are underrated learning mechanisms.
- My move from speedboat to a Titanic pushed me hard to wonder about the nuances of decision making as it affects billions. My biggest learning this year about decision making is to keenly listen to decision makers, understand their point of view, know the history, stay in the context, ask questions and finally share your perspective + why. Being empty and listening with intensity is hard work and no one tells you how to do it.
- Just because I started work in Microsoft, I was deliberately changing everything about my ecosystem. I will be honest; I struggled a lot because change was hard. The impetus to the change was loyalty. I was trying to imbibe the Microsoftie in me and showing in the apps I use, laptops I carry and more. I was forcing me to go against my choice. This forced me to relook at my loyalties and I learnt that, as a designer I am forever loyal to user experience. The beauty is; the user can use whatever experience they prefer. Understanding the context of the user and why behind their choices helped me learn more about our products empathetically. The shift in loyalty was powerful. It has made me a better designer than before. The anxiety of being loyal is gone and I am rooted in human experiences now. Wish someone told me this.
It is human to overrate a day and underrate a bunch of days. A year is an amazing possibility. We all could do wonders in 365 days ahead of us. Wishing you strength, peace, health and happiness in the new year. Have a blast and make it count.
I made a 10-part series here around how to think about your 2023. Hope it helps you a bit.
Wishing you all a significant 2023, folks 🥳