This year, I’ll focus on
- Things I learned about
- Things I did
- Things I failed at
- Things I changed my mind about or am ambivalent about
- Beliefs and learning that strengthened
- People, Books, and resources that had an impact
- Goals for 2019
I’ll try and dig deeper into underlying principles in addition to instances and events. I’ve provided links, references, and acknowledgments wherever appropriate and look forward to hearing back from you.
1. Things I learned about
1.Truth in the best light — In our pursuit of being truthful, we usually forget to address the emotions and mental states of our audience during our interactions. But, as Naval Ravikant says It is almost always possible to be honest and positive. And putting truth in the best light can have a tremendous impact on the outcome.
I always knew this but learned it firsthand from aarjav during fundraising. Putting truth in the best light also impacts almost everything else in life — Relationships, parenting, motivating others and ourselves.
I also believe that putting truth in the best light is a learned behavior that counterbalances our reptilian, survival-focused brain, and social conditioning that default to worst-case scenarios and prevent us from seeing the possibilities and achieving our potential.
The graphic below by Joey Roth sums up succinctly what I’m trying to explain
2. Clarity and Alignment — Elon Musk has famously mentioned that an organization is a sum total of all the vectors.
The magnitude of these vectors is the skill that each individual brings, learns, and delivers; whereas the direction in which the vector is pulling is the Alignment/misalignment that I’m talking about.
In an organization (individual, company, family, nation) if all the vectors are pulling in the same direction, progress is much faster. For an individual it means Health, Wealth, Skill, and Will moving in the same direction; for a company it is the product and engineering building the products that there is a demand for, Sales selling to and Customer Success servicing the same demand, and the support functions doing everything to crank or keep the wheel moving. Sales selling features that Product and Engineering are not planning to build is disastrous. A parent forcing his/her child to get coached in an area that the child hates is a terrible waste of resources and human potential. Alignment is necessary.
Clarity, on the other hand, is the plane on which these vectors operate. Without a proper plane, both the magnitude as well as the direction of the vectors are irrelevant.
Both Clarity and Alignment are notoriously difficult to get, especially in a VUCA world. Things change, people change, there are vested interests, emotions, timelines, and money involved. And a thousand nuances to get right.
But individuals who can create clarity and alignment for themselves as well as their teams are the gold standard of leadership — personal as well as professional.
3. Non-violent communication — This is one thing I’ve been struggling to get good at. If one reads Marshall Rosenberg’s gem of a book, one will realize that almost all of us are guilty of violent communication in our daily lives.
There is a language of needs and requests that if one adopts, instead of the language of demands and judgments, leads to a much more contented and joyous life experience. The kicker is that it starts with the communication that one has with one’s own self.
On the other hand, Anger, Depression, Guilt, and Shame are distorted expressions of unmet needs. When we replace blame — a form of judgment, with mourning for an unmet need, we become more alive and start moving to a place where we can do the same for others.
However, just like Clarity and Alignment, Non-violent communication is notoriously difficult to be aware of, and then to practice.
4. Aging and Nutrition: Insulin and everything that goes with it — I’ve been thinking about my mortality for the past few years. A chronic backache, that I suspected was something worse, was the immediate trigger. Then the birth of my daughter and my desire to be around until she becomes an adult, my mother suffering an almost fatal heart attack, and my approaching the age at which my father died has kept this topic front and center of my mind space.
This year I spent some time reading up on and learning about aging, nutrition, autophagy, Blue zones of longevity et al. And what I read indicated that much of good health is just our body’s ability to manage insulin — sensitivity and ability to absorb and process it.
In general, it seemed to imply that more protein, fewer carbs, fasting, physical activity including exercise, adequate sleep, and a good social circle promote good health and longevity. This is too simplistic an abstraction and is by no means a recommendation I’m making for others. But I’ve experienced it first hand during periods when I’ve given up sugar and reduced carb intake.
I would recommend following P. D. Mangan, if you are interested in further exploring this line of thought.
5. The power of Distraction and Bullshit — I’ve learned this from none other than the President of the United States, Elon Musk, and the entire political establishment of India. Distraction is a very powerful tool to influence the gullible, which unfortunately we all are at some points of time. And as Ayn Rand said, ‘Reason can be fought with reason; how do you fight the unreasonable?’
6. Not Feeding the Trolls — I’ve become relatively good at avoiding or shutting out the trolls in my life. But there are few that one cannot avoid. These are the ones who try to change you or keep telling you how wrong you are without addressing your basic concerns or issues.
The best way to handle these is to treat them as Furniture or as any other inanimate object. We usually don’t judge inanimate objects, nor do we get into arguments with them, nor do we complain that those objects don’t get us. We just let them be.
This, I’ve found, is one of the most effective ways to address the trolls in our lives.
7. Information asymmetry, mindset, perception, and reality: Perception and reality can be diametrically opposite. And the same reality can be perceived very differently by two different people.
I’ve learned this as part of all the selling, convincing, and hiring I’ve done over the past year.
I believe that the two reasons for this are information asymmetry and how one frames the situation in one’s mind.
Information asymmetry is both good and bad depending on the situation one is in. If one is trying to convince someone on the vision, depending on the situation, one needs to work hard on either creating information asymmetry or on eliminating it. Most of the times it is just good to be able to show the other person the possibilities that one can see in one’s own mind.
On the mindset, I’ve had the dubious pleasure of working with people at both ends of the spectrum — The hustler who sees a mere first conversation as a sealed deal and a rabble-rouser who sees even a slightly negative comment as someone being out to get them.
One will see the situation based on how one frames it, how one chooses to view it. Sometimes a 10% possibility of failure can be a bigger block than the incentive of 90% possibility of success.
2. Things I did in 2018
1.Fatherhood — My three year old now has a full-time father. This was probably the only 2018 goal that I’ve managed to achieve but it was also the most important one. We spend over 90% of the time we have with our children in the first 20 years of their lives. I’d already lost a good year and a half of her first three years and am delighted to change this.
2. Raised Series B for my company — This has been a great chapter of my professional life so far. I won’t get into the details, but the learnings were tremendous, and the experience fulfilling. Must thank aarjav for taking me on this ride.
I learned about relentlessness, optionality, optimism, putting truth in the best ligh, during this period.
You can find the press release of our fundraising here.
3. Became a level 3 Improvisor — I’ve been learning Improv for the past 2 years with the Bay Area Theatre Sports company. This year I discovered my own voice as a clueless, wonderous, gullible, hapless comic.
The journey took me across The Great Raccoon migration of San Meandro, to Lord of the Redneck Rings, to portraying an emotional jock of African and Russian descent with ocean blue eyes and disproportionate endowment, among other things.
As I had mentioned last year, Improv has helped me discover how addicted my mind had become to structure and process, and how much fun it is to let the rascal race and ravel through the rapturous ravines of roaring, rib-tickling ruminations.
4. Random encounters with really famous people — The greatest perk of working with a fast-moving startup in the heart of Silicon Valley is the people you get access to, ideas you get exposed to, and the possibilities that it engenders in your mind.
I’ve had the good fortune this year, and completely because of my workplace, of meeting, gatecrashing events of, and learning from some of the most amazing people in the world.
People who’ve lived in the White House, People who make spaceships and deliver packages, and People who built the front page of the internet. Almost ticked off a couple of meetings from my bucket list.
5. Saw Bryan Adams live in concert — I know more songs of Bryan Adams by heart than of any other artist. I’ve ardently been in love with his music and with Bryan Adams as a musician and role model for the past 22 years. You should Please Forgive Me if I Can’t Stop This Thing We Started because when I listen to his music, I’m in Heaven.
I had missed his last 4 concerts in Mumbai; the 1st one I didn’t know who Bryan Adams was, the 2nd I didn’t have money, the third and the fourth, I didn’t have the bandwidth. This time though, all the stars aligned and Atman was kind enough to book tickets for me.
The concert was everything I had hoped it would be. Bryan Adams was funny, sensitive, talked about his parents and early life, Instagrammed live, and belted out number after number for three hours at a stretch.
It is a tremendous leap of faith and reciprocation when he plays the riff of Summer of 69 and then lets the audience take over the singing. And the audience reciprocates by singing their hearts out.
The whole concert was a goosebump fest for me. This is a man who at 59, has more energy and grace than most people ever have in their entire lifetime.
How blessed is he who brings such joy to people’s lives, keeps doing it for close to 40 years, and is still going strong!
3. Things I failed at
1.Almost all the goals I set for 2018 — Health, Learning, Personal growth, and helping others. I failed at all of those. The only thing I managed and am immensely grateful for is that I’m back to being an ‘in person’ father.
2.Equal time with my daughter— My amazing wife still does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to my daughter. I think it is unfair to all three of us and it is one of my goals for 2019 to be an equal parent
3.Health Goals — Getting rid of my backache, Giving up Sugar, Getting 8 hours of sleep. I’ve been disciplined in short bursts, but haven’t internalized these as habits and am currently not in my best physical shape. The thing that I’ve learned though, is that the best way to cultivate will power is to not have to use it at all. So far 2019 has been promising.
4. Non-Violent Communication — Failed badly at it in 2018. Especially with my near and dear ones. But at least have become mindful of it. And am becoming better at it.
5. Completing Y-Combinator’s Startup School Audit — Atman and I signed up for Y-Combinator’s startup school last year, primarily because I want him to out of his terrible investment banking job. We started off strong but then both got pulled into our respective full-time jobs and had to put this on the back burner. Maybe we’ll give it another try this year. We are slightly wiser, but not wise enough to not try again.
4. Things I changed my mind about or am ambivalent about
1. Success through exhaustion — I saw this in action in 2018, but I’ve usually operated very differently in life. Focus on the few important things and do enough to succeed but not so much to burn yourself out.
I’m not so sure if I’m right or if I’ve wasted much of my potential by not trying hard enough.
2. Optionality — This is another thing that I’m not so sure about. Most of my best and most important decisions have been about eliminating optionality, about burning bridges so that there is no path to backtrack, about focus.
However, working at a startup, recruiting, and fundraising has taught me how important optionality is.
Maybe this is a false dichotomy I’m chasing — maybe there are some areas where optionality is needed and some, where one needs to ruthlessly eliminate it.
I haven’t thought about it in depth.
3. Alcohol and Psychotropics — I’ve always viewed Alcohol, Tobacco, and Psychotropics (Drugs) as a bad thing. Blame it on conditioning, witnessing secondhand and suffering their pernicious consequences, and plain dumb fear of not knowing if I had enough self-control.
Reading Stealing Fire and doing my research about nutrition in 2018 has changed my viewpoint.
The desire to get high it seems is a widely prevalent phenomenon in nature. All kinds of animals, from Dolphins to Elephants, find ways to get high.
I’m still don’t drink (though I will taste once and take a sip of any new kind of alcohol I’m introduced to out of sheer curiosity) and I’m still a non-smoker, but I’ve stopped judging those substances.
4. That I can do it all — I’ve thrived most of my life by being good at many things. I’m now realizing that the best way to do it is to be patient and pick one thing every year and move towards mastery instead of just being good at it.
2016 was all about taking leaps of faith, 2017 was all about reading and adopting the Mungerian way of living, 2018 was about convincing, selling, and becoming self-aware about communication and how powerful a tool it is.
I think 2019 is going to be a year of Deep Learning and Deep Work.
5. Beliefs and learning that strengthened
1. Being direct and earnest — This is especially true while providing feedback or expressing one’s own needs. Being circuitous or avoiding it just prolongs the agony of the inevitable. It is better to make a clean break and take it on the chin than deal with constant nagging pain and anxiety.
Many a time, our fears are misplaced and being direct and earnest leads to a more fruitful outcome and trusting relationship.
2. It is always a bad idea to negotiate with people who hold you ransom (Not the physical kidnapping type ransom)— Being held ransom is a sign of bad faith. For whatever reason, justified or not, the person holding you ransom wants to hurt you in one way or another. That person will hurt you irrespective of what the outcome of the negotiation is. The best outcome is to cut the cord and take the hit as early as possible than to prolong the agony.
Being direct and honest is the best way to avoid getting into a situation where someone holds you ransom.
Not negotiating and taking the hit as early as possible is the best way to respond when you find yourself in that situation.
3. Things work out for the best at the end (Amor Fati) — This may just be me living in fools’ paradise, but almost all of my greatest struggles have left me with profound memories and learning. Many have ended in successful triumphs, some in disasters and lifelong loss. But in the end, those triumphs and disasters —none of those matters. Because what remains is only the irrevocable poignant change those struggles have left me with. I love the fact that I can celebrate my wins and mourn my losses with all my heart.
I live in a world where ShahRukh Khan says ‘Humhari filmon ki tarah humari zindagi mein bhi end mein sab theek ho jaata hai. Happys endings. Aur agar theek na ho to woh the end nahin hai dosto, picture abhi baaki hai.’ (If things are not okay, then there is another act yet to come, the movie is not over yet).
Living this way also endows me with a certain level of anti-fragility because this belief system invariably pushes me to seek either the opportunity or the satisfaction out of any outcome. This in itself is a win irrespective of what the outcome is.
4. The most important things cannot be learned without experiencing or witnessing them firsthand — I remember experiencing the ‘bulb lighting in my head’ moment when I saw at my first managerial job how setting goals and following through on the planned actions and alternatives leads to achieving of those goals. It was a similar feeling when I gave up sugar for a month and lost 8 pounds. I began truly appreciating the truth in ‘Fortune favors the prepared mind’ only when Amitabh and I were crowned National champions of Mahindra Auto Quotient of 2011. Till the time I experienced each of these things, I didn’t truly appreciate the concept of Goals, Discipline, and Luck.
Accelerators like Y-Combinator spend most of their time and resources advising founders on mistakes that they should avoid — like hiring too fast, spending too much money, being operationally indisciplined, not letting folks go soon enough. Yet most founders go and make those very same mistakes.
This is because the most important things cannot be learned without experiencing or witnessing them firsthand.
6. People, Books, and Resources that had an impact
Richard Hagberg — Rich, as an executive coach, helped me navigate an especially important time and circumstance at work. The best thing about Rich, is his candid, open-minded, conversation style of coaching that helps cut through the clutter and drives home the point straight away. Not to mention he has a tome of immensely useful original research having coached the who’s who of the corporate world for over 35 years now.
Aaron Crum — His cool and calm, unassuming yet very knowledgable, Iceman demeanor, the experience of having done corporate deals for some of the biggest companies in the world, and his dropping of midwestern colloquialisms at very regular intervals was a wonderful addition to my professional life in 2018
Atman Pandya — Atman is my brother. He is also one of the most disciplined, enlightened, and hardworking people I know. He is a productivity machine, and I am in awe of how much he learns by doing and just putting himself out there. I’ve raised him and now he is teaching me a few things. I couldn’t be more proud. You can follow his youtube channel here.
P. D. Mangan — Mangan’s course on Anti-aging is very useful. What I also like about him is that there isn’t any pretense or air about what he preaches. You may want to follow him, if for nothing else, just to get acquainted with a contrarian world view of Carnivorism and its benefits.
My teams — I work with and lead some really diverse teams at work. They have taught me so much about human emotions, relationships, communication, freedom, mastery, purpose, and life in general. I am grateful to all the individuals that I have the privilege of working with.
aarjav — Aarjav is the CEO at Ridecell. But if I were to describe him in one word, he is relentless. Last year, I thanked him for showing me the ways of how startups work. 2018 is the year I thank him for showing me relentlessness in action.
2. Books —I read much fewer books in 2018 than in 2017. Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, The Most Important Thing by Howard Marks, Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Atomic Habits by James Clear, Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler, and 12 Rules for life by Jordan Peterson shaped some of my thinking, made me change my mind about a few things, and strengthened some of my beliefs. The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis was the best biographical account, and Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman was the best fiction that I read in 2018.
3. Resources —
1.Audible — If you are in India and/or can afford it, getting an Audible subscription and using it is the best investment you can make for yourself and your family. Listening is a much more comfortable and unintrusive way of consuming books, and Audible’s unlimited return for a year policy can help you read as many as one book a week if you are diligent with your workouts, have a long commute, or have some routine that is compatible with listening to music.
2.Adjustable Dumbbells — I used to have a set of weights at home, but never fully used them. Somehow the whole thing was extremely cumbersome to manage. Enter, these adjustable dumbbells from Popsport (or Bowflex if you prefer to pay more). I’ve gone from being able to lift 10 pounds to lifting 30 pounds with each hand because of these beauties. I started lifting weights this year because of what I learned about nutrition and aging and how to avoid it. That it makes me look ripped is a good add-on. In 2018, I’ve had the most muscle mass I’ve ever had in my life because I started lifting weights. Hope to keep getting better at this.
3.Jogger Stroller — Jogger strollers are perfect for multi-purpose uses of jogging with your young one as well as for short-distance commutes in the city.
4.Smart scale — Smart scales are wonderful for self-quantifiers, who want to keep track of their body compositions without the hassle of having to manually record the information. I highly recommend them.
5.The a16z youtube channel — Andreessen Horowitz is one of the world’s topmost VC firms. What sets them apart from other VCs is how much they care about and focus on creating and disseminating knowledge. Every time I feel that I’ve missed the bus on certain things, their videos and podcasts remind me of how much of the future is yet to be built and in which direction the puck is headed. For anyone who intends to be in the business of building the future, this is an invaluable resource.
6.Public Libraries — I discovered the San Francisco public libraries this year, and to say that my mind was blown into another dimension is an understatement. This is by far the best use I’ve seen of my tax money and I encourage everyone who has access to the libraries to make good use of them. They are completely free, you can access both physical and digital resources — up to 50 at any given time, and the libraries also organize wonderful events on career, culture, and communities regularly.
8. Goals for 2019
My Goals for 2019 are relatively simple.
1.Getting back to pristine health — This includes getting rid of a decade long chronic back and knee ache, sleeping daily of 8 hours, and achieving calm in thought, action, and communication.
2.Becoming a better Father — I believe I have 3 primary responsibilities as a father. I must provide Resources, Frameworks, and Values to my child in the same order of short term tactical significance and the reverse order of long term strategic significance.
In 2019, in addition to devoting more time, I’m going to learn how to create life frameworks (and in turn experience values) for a four-year-old in a way that she can understand and imbibe. Examples of this would be how to deal with an obnoxious classmate or with a bully at the playground, how to embrace and fall in love with the discomfort of learning something new et al.
3.Depth in learning — I’ve decided to do much fewer things in 2019 but get into much more depth and do enough work in those topics to be able to have an opinion on them.
The 3 picks for 2019 are Deep Learning, Autonomous Vehicles, and Startup Operations. It helps that these are also things that I do full time for a living currently.
4.Discipline in writing — I’ve been pretty irregular with my writing. The 2018 Codex Vitae is coming out one month later than planned. I plan to write 12 deeply thought through, rigorously researched, and well-articulated pieces of writing in 2019.
Here’s wishing everyone a fulfilling 2019.