My Learnings of 2020: A note to the Self

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I am writing this in the hope that my learnings might in some way be of help to you. Right at the outset, I will be honest that nothing really teaches us the way life does. But as beings blessed with intellect, we possess the ability to learn from each others’ experiences, and it is in this respect that I hope to go forward.

Secondly, I am writing this as a reminder to the self. Many of the learnings which I will be listing down, I haven’t perhaps learnt them completely. This collection will act as a reminder for me as to how I can conduct my life walking into 2021 and beyond.

The year has undoubtedly been a difficult one for all of us. I will however, respecting your time and intellect, refrain from exploiting the context of pandemic to my advantage. I will endeavour to lay bare my tiny space of wisdom in a manner that I have built it.

There are two kinds of learnings that I will be writing about:- One has both the context and the learning derived from it while the other has just the summarised learning, where you’re free to add your own context and absorb it accordingly.

In no particular order:-

1. Back the BIG decision you have taken: Making big decisions can be tricky. You are perpetually scared of going wrong. This year offered me one such situation. Having made it to XLRI-HR, I was pondering over whether I should take it or not. It was an incredible opportunity, but I wasn’t sure owing to the pandemic, online classes. I talked to 30+ students+alumni of the institute and reached out to my well-wishers as well. But as it turned out, even with all the data I collected, I felt inadequate to take the right call. I went ahead with my reasoning which was I didn’t want to go for an online-MBA. The point is I will probably never know if it was the right decision or not. It is the same with all BIG decisions. You can never know what would have happened if you had taken the other route. In such scenarios, I have come to the realization that you need to look at both the routes. Imagine a crossroads, you tilt to one side and see as far as you can and repeat the process for another route. Now, you take a call based on what you can see and what people who have traveled on those respective paths are telling you. Whatever it is, you have to back your decision. There’s no looking back.

2. Tracking your inputs will show you the right picture: We always spend so much time setting goals. It’s important. However, we don’t spend as much in tracking the inputs that are meant to take us to our goals. I was guilty of that not long ago. However, this year while preparing for CAT, I decided to track my inputs. Measuring hours spent might not be the best way forward, but I couldn’t find better. I wrote down the number of pure hours I devoted to my preparation. It always helped me to have a proper reality check. Considering preparing for any entrance exam or any such similar goals? This should help!

Tracking CAT Prep

3. Walk/Run: Going for a walk or run whenever I need some rejuvenation and motivation, has helped me a lot this year. Whenever I was faced with even an iota of negative feelings, I went to the nearby park for a walk or run. It is MAGICAL.

4. Learning from the Internet is bliss: One type of learning is our formal education. I am not going to debate on the effectiveness of our education system. That one deserves a blog post of its own. What I will share with you though is that there’s a different way of learning too. Unstructured learning. It’s a vast topic. I will focus on how I have learnt a lot on the internet. I did two simple things- I read quality articles on the internet and followed quality people on Twitter. The process has been amazing. One point of caution though: It can get overwhelming. There’s just so much you can absorb while there’s unlimited content out there. I followed a simple rule. I didn’t read more than what I could digest properly, even if it meant I was reading less.

5. Health is wealth: I struggled with a number of health issues this year- Viral fever, multiple ear infections, IBS/GERD. I will focus on GERD/IBS (acidity). I never knew acidity could be so severe, persistent, and painful. My quality of life went for a toss. It is in these moments I realized how health is truly so very important. Very often we take our bodies for granted. Let’s not do that.

6. The only person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with is YOU.

7. Looking inwards: For most parts of 2020, as it must have been for you, I was confined to my room. It gave me an opportunity to spend time with myself. I was surrounded by nothing but my thoughts. Fortunately, I got into this habit of processing my thoughts completely, or rather at least trying to do so. Very often we don’t pause, we don’t reflect, we don’t digest. I realized, reflecting on an event is as important as the event itself.

8. Writing lends you clarity: The first step is reflecting on an event. The second step is writing it down, your reflections. Whatever peace of mind I enjoyed in the latter half of this year, I owe it to this habit.

9. Family above all: A blessing in disguise this year was the fact that we were forced by circumstance to spend time with our family members. Earlier, we always found out an excuse to keep ourselves busy. The busyness of our lives evaporated in 2020. I am so very happy that I got to spend lots of quality time with my family. In the process, I realized how much I owe to this ecosystem I had taken for granted. I don’t think I can be half as much as I am without my family’s unwavering love and support.

10. People are complex beings. Only EMPATHY and TIME can help us understand each other.

11. Your hobbies are a way to recharge the battery of your soul.

12. Spiritual loneliness: In my view, each human is born with three voids. Void of love, void of meaning, and a certain spiritual void. Life is a path to try and fulfill these voids as much as possible. We bond with other humans/beings to fill our emotional/love void. We pursue our passion/our work to have some meaning in our lives. We are constantly seeking a kind of fulfillment that helps us lend some meaning to our existence. The third kind of void is spiritual loneliness. We are born with a vacuum that seeks to be one with God, or as atheists would argue, seeks to be one with the soul of the universe. Now I am not sure how this spiritual loneliness can be filled. But my best guess (yes, I am still to discover more) is through following certain beliefs. For example- some people don’t eat non-veg on certain days, some people believe in donating food to the poor, some go to the temple/mosque/gurudwara/church/man’s-definition-for-place-of-God. All these to my mind are ways to fill the spiritual void. My experience has been positive. However, I am sure I stand open to be corrected as I see more of life.

13. The year 2020 was an excellent reminder of the fragility of our lives. The most important learning for me was the importance of GRATITUDE. Being grateful for what we have is a nice way to stay positive and content.

14. Each story is unique: We know that comparison is the thief of joy. And yet, we sometimes waste the most amount of time comparing ourselves with others. With social media, it has only been happening more. It comes naturally to us. And to be honest, I am not sure how one can entirely be out of this murky business. What I will share with you though is something which you can tell yourself after you have gone through a session of loathing the self by making unnecessary comparisons. You can maybe tell yourself – every story is unique. We CANNOT compare a person going from 100 to 150 with a person going from 120 to 170. The start points and the journey for all of us are going to be unique. I remind myself about this each time I have spent 30 minutes browsing impeccable profiles on LinkedIn. It works sometimes.

15. Remembering your roots: One way to gauge your journey is to see how far you have come. What’s more important is one should always remember the beginning of it all, the roots. I tried to recollect tons about my childhood days this year and they provided me a solid perspective about my journey.

16. Our mind is malleable. It will become the story we keep telling it.

17. The set-up matters: I will try to convey my thoughts through a picture.

My set-up

18. The analysis of anger: I will try to convey my thoughts through a diagram. It is an analysis. I am yet to learn how I can control my anger in 100% of cases.

19. Lowering the bar but not quitting: This one is very practical learning I had this year. Earlier whenever I was in a situation where I wasn’t in the mood to study/finish a task, I just didn’t do anything. I would quit the entire thing. This year, I have found a small way out of this. Whenever you’re in that “Don’t wanna do anything mood”, try to lower the bar (maybe 30 minutes of productive work instead of the 3 hours session you had planned for) and convince yourself to achieve that small target. This does wonders to your confidence and morale.

20. Hope is the driver of life, even if a sliver of hope.

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