Book Review: A Life on Our Planet

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A Life on Our Planet by Sir David Attenborough

A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future by David Attenborough

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book like this can only be written by someone like Sir David Attenborough. He has not just written about the things elaborated in this book, but he has actually lived and experienced it. And this lifelong vision brings up long-term big picture which is clearly evident in this book.

The key takeaway of this book is that we humankind as a whole are close to the tipping point of long term sustainability and survival. If we continue to act in the way we have in the past with massive deforestation, melting snowcaps, ruining oceans, increasing global temperatures and more, the future is bleak. However, we are smart and innovative and have solved grand challenges in the past and we are capable of doing that now. It is an urgent need of the hour to work in ways such that we can sustainably coexist on the only place we know, our planet Earth!

The book is wonderfully organized. It starts with a section on the experiences of Sir David Attenborough around the planet, of his journeys around the world capturing wildlife on camera so that we could watch it from home. It is like reading NGC / Discovery! However, the adverse effects of exponential unsustainable growth are evident and presented with real-life examples. The next section looks at the future and predicts what will happen if we proceed to act as though everything’s fine. And the picture is definitely scary! Next section is how we the mankind can take steps in order to move towards an alternate version of a more sustainable future with a lot of biodiversity and where everyone can coexist. And it is presented in very well defined indicators. It is almost like a dashboard of key factors on which our survival depends which is called the doughnut model. Final section highlights how building a sustainable future is the greatest opportunity for our generation indeed! We can together build the future we imagine!

Major changes are required in many aspects of our lives, like adopting a plant based diet, recycling every thing that is used, using clean energy, minimizing carbon footprint and in general empowering everyone around the world. And it won’t be sufficient if just some people do it. We need to build a system where it makes sense and is possible for everyone to adopt such lifestyle. Thus everyone including the government, agencies, regulatory bodies and individuals need to come together will a common initiative to build a future we want.

Only when we give back more than we take, can we bring back balance in the ecosystem. In the past, drives for saving a specific species have worked, now it’s time to take steps for the “whole natural world”. We are not “saving the Earth” but rather “saving ourselves” by building a sustainable future.

Profound and highly insightful book! One of my best reads of 2020!

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Book Review- Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective

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Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read. And I could relate even better because I work in the area of AI like the authors and many of the examples and the final case-study is from this area. Also it’s inspiring to see such deep insight coming from the tool they built called Picbreeder.

The core idea presented in the book is that “objectives” are unnecessary and rather a hinderance while solving “complex” problems. Objectives might be useful for simple problems where it is easy to chart out a path to the goal. However in case of more complex problems where the route to the goal is not known, objectives cause more harm than good.

Next, an alternate model is presented called the novelty search. It finds solutions based on how “interesting” the solution is rather than how close it is to an “objective”. The authors connect this idea to the stepping stones, which is a great analogy. They argue that a complex goal lies somewhere in a hazy lake with a very low visibility. It is difficult or impossible to reach a specific goal in this lake and an objective in this case is like a “broken compass”. However, it is much more relevant to explore the lake by finding new stepping stones based on novelty or interestingness and how many new stepping stones it can lead to. True success lies in exploring the space of the lake rather than trying to reach a specific imaginary point.

Finally, a variety of use-cases are discussed from education, innovation to evolution and AI where a novelty based approach makes more sense rather than an objective based approach.

This book presents an intriguing idea which can literally change the way we operate in life. Sometimes it gets a bit repetitive but overall it drives the point. I highly recommend this book!

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Goal vs Process

In this post, I’ll elaborate on the two kinds of approaches we can have while working on any task– goal oriented approach and process oriented approach. We’ll see what do we mean by these approaches, how these are characteristically different, some interesting examples of both these approaches for the same task and finally if one of this approach is better than the other.

Goal oriented approach primarily focuses on the end goal of the task. With this approach, we try to reach that aim in the easiest possible way. No wonder, we optimize and do whatever least is required to reach the goal using this approach. How something is done– is not as significant as long as we finally obtain the goal. Also two people who have achieved the same goal are similar from this point of view although they might have taken different paths to reach that goal.

On the other hand, process oriented approach focuses on the way of achieving a goal rather than the goal itself. With this approach, we care about how things are done. There is an inherent motivation to do things well rather than just getting things done. With this approach, we are okay if it takes longer to get something done if we are able to improve the process. And when we look at two people who might be at same level, we focus on how they reached where they are instead of where they are.

Let’s take an example, consider a student who is learning a new course. A goal oriented student who aims for an A grade will do what it takes to get that grade. He might not focus on aspects of the course which will not contribute in adding to the grade. On the other hand, a process oriented student will focus on learning all the skills he can from that course. There is an intrinsic motivation to actually learn and know more about a variety of aspects of the course.

Similarly, take a person working on a project at his workplace. A goal oriented person will do whatever he has been told to do, and nothing more. On the other hand, a process oriented person cares about the work he is doing and takes ownership of the project. He does not just stop at doing what he has been told. But goes a step forward and thinks of ways in which the project can be improved by maybe automating something, updating the algorithm of a module etc.

Also, it’s not the case that goal oriented people don’t care about the process and process oriented people don’t care about the goal. It is not just possible but likely, that a goal oriented person follows a process and a process oriented person has some goal. Thus both these aspects go hand in hand. But the approaches tell what we primarily care about while working on anything– is it the end-goal or is it the process of achieving a goal?

In my opinion, mostly it is lot more fun to do things in a process oriented way instead of goal oriented way. In goal oriented approach, we think that we will be happy when we achieve the goal. It is indeed true that we are happy on achieving a goal, but that happiness and satisfaction is short-lasted and pretty soon we are ready to go after another goal. On the other hand, following a process oriented approach, one can be happy of following a particular process and there is also great satisfaction is improving a process. If we quantify the total satisfaction, I’m sure we are lot more happy and satisfied following process oriented approaches rather than goal oriented approaches.

Failures strike much harder in a goal oriented approach. There can be a variety of reasons due to which we might not be able to achieve a goal we planned to achieve. And a goal oriented approach makes it much harder to accept failures, and it is likely that instead of learning from the failures, we might take these failures personally due to our inability to achieve a goal. On the other hand, failures are very different in a process oriented approach. Failures are about a particular process not working well for the task at hand. And there are always other alternate ways to try and different lessons to learn. Thus it is easier to understand, accept and learn from failures this way!

Goal oriented approach is useful in situations where it is urgent to get something done. Sometimes the intense pressure can be useful to innovate and optimize the way of achieving a goal. It can be productive and useful in the short run. However it might be difficult to sustain this approach during the long run.

Goal oriented — Stepping stones || Process oriented — Steering ship

I thought of an interesting analogy of these two approaches. A goal oriented approach is like jumping on stepping stones. We are completely focused on landing firmly on the next stone and then on the next stone and then on the next stone. All our efforts and vision is focused and directed on the stepping stones and everything else in the background is a blur. On the other hand, process oriented approach is like steering a ship. Ofcourse one has a goal to reach but in this case, the primary focus is on how the ship is steered. Also on the journey, one can look at the scenery around, spot birds and fishes and enjoy. It is not a distraction from reaching the goal, but overall a more satisfying experience.

Thus, we can approach the things we want to do in life using either of these approaches. And the same thing can be done very differently using either of these approaches and in turn it can be a very different experience for us. Process oriented approach can let us enjoy and learn during the journey while goal oriented approach can make us strongly pursue the desired outcomes! Finally the choice lies in our hands regarding which approach we choose!

Image Credits:
1. Stepping stones – Background photo created by kjpargeter – www.freepik.com
2. Steering ship – Vintage photo created by v.ivash – www.freepik.com

Book Review: The Midnight Library

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The Midnight Library by
Matt Haig

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, it’s an amazing book with a very unique storyline!

In the beginning, it is a bit slow and glum, and I’m happy I didn’t leave the book at that point. Actually the story is just building up initially.

The lead of the story, Nora, is just tired of her life and her life is filled with regrets. On a particularly bad day when a lot of things turn out badly for her, she just loses hope and meaning to live and decides to take her own life.

However, there’s a twist and that’s where the book begins. Between life and death, she reaches a library, where there are infinite books where every book is a version of her life from the current point onwards. She can choose any book and try out a different life! And come back to the library when a particular life is too much for her and try another one.

This part makes an interesting read and we understand many aspects of Nora’s personality and life, like her dreams and ambitions, her family and friends, her personal and professional life. And while experiencing multiple Nora’s lives, even we have many lessons to learn on the way. It highlights the importance of following one’s dreams rather than someone else’s dreams. It shows that a life with name, fame or money might not always be how we thought it would be. Sometimes how small and insignificant things in our opinion, might turn out to be so important. It shows the importance of meaning, direction and hope in life. And finally, most importantly, that we are the sailors of our life and we can always change the direction where we are heading! We might not always get what we expected but we have the power to choose what we should do next.

The book has some nice lines, which are quote worthy, some of my favorites are:
* “Sometimes the only way to learn is to live.”
* “And there is no right way to play; there are many ways. In chess, as in life, possibility is the basis of everything.”
* “If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you.”
* “In becoming everyone, you are becoming no one.”
* “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
* “We don’t have to do everything in order to be everything, because we are already infinite.”

Also, it has a great ending!

Overall, it’s a thought-provoking book which makes us ponder on our lives. Ofcourse it has some sadness and despair but it also highlights the transformative power of being oneself! It touches on #MentalHealthAwareness so well!

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Book Review: The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad GitaThe Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Bhagavad Gita is like a guide book for successfully navigating through human life and achieving the highest goal of moksha. Its original verses are in Sanskrit which might be difficult to grasp for most of us and thus there are lot of its translations available from simple to complex, concise to detailed etc.

This translation by Eknath Easwaran is another classic (previously I have read his translation of The Upanishads and it is equally amazing!). He follows the following style throughout the book: he gives an overview of the chapter highlighting some of the key shlokas, describing deeper insights, connecting to other texts and summarising the chapter as a whole. In the next part, all the shlokas are translated in simple English which is easy to understand.

I think this is a nice book to get started on understanding and inculcating the lessons of The Bhagavad Gita. The shlokas are not explained in great detail but on the whole it gives a big picture by delivering the core message of each chapter. After reading this version and understanding the overall message, one can read more detailed translations of the The Bhagavad Gita, if interested. Also, it’s important to apply some of the learnings shared in The Bhagavad Gita in our own lives, and this book is definitely helps in imparting those key messages and action points.

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Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What an amazing book this is! It has been narrated by Enzo who is a pet dog. It is almost like Enzo’s autobiography. It shows how the world would look like from the perspective of a witty and intelligent (and sometimes philosophical) dog. It’s very well written and gradually builds the story for the reader. Some parts are just emotional roller coasters!

Enzo is Danny’s pet (who is a racing car driver) and in this book we look at Danny’s life from Enzo’s point of view. It has all the elements which one would expect and experiences even in real life from love, friendship, family, joy, sorrow, adversity, perseverance, following one’s dreams and more. It is filled with ups and downs and the story just flows such that it’s difficult to keep this book down. And it’s all so well narrated and the characters in the story so well crafted that the readers can easily relate and see it all happening in front of their eyes.

Also throughout the book, there are metaphors between racing and life and most of these are really good, like this one: “But racing in the rain is also about the mind! It is about owning one’s own body. About believing that one’s car is merely an extension of one’s body. About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain. It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you.”

Also I would like to add that I just loved it’s ending! Actually it is one of the best endings ever! It just leaves the reader feeling happy, satisfied and a bit sad…

On the whole, it’s a must read for dog lovers and I guess people who don’t like dogs will also liking dogs after reading this book! Someday, if I have a dog, I hope he is like Enzo! 🙂

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Book Review: Meditations

MeditationsMeditations by Marcus Aurelius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book indeed is an insightful read!

It was on my books-to-read shelf since some time. I had another version of this book and it was a difficult read. I could not read it beyond a couple of chapters. Then I picked up the edition translated by Gregory Hays and this was a great read. Specially the long introduction in the beginning lays a nice foundation covering multiple aspects like Marcus Aurelius’s life, stoicism, as well as discussion about the contents and style of the book. This gives the reader an idea about what to expect ahead in the book.

Content wise the book is filled with learnings and lessons learnt by Marcus Aurelius. Although I don’t agree completely with his philosophy but most of the messages in the book are deep and thought-provoking. As mentioned in the Introduction, Marcus wrote this book for himself and it wasn’t to be published or read by others. And this is clearly reflected in the style of the book. Although the book has chapters, but it does not seem to have any logical separation of the content. Also some of the ideas keep repeating throughout the book. Probably, it throws light on things which Marcus frequently pondered upon. In my opinion, it might be interesting if all the thoughts can be arranged topic wise. Also it will make a nice calendar book with a message to ponder each day.

Some of my favourite lines from the book are:

  • “People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul.”
  • “The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.”
  • “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”
  • “If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.”
  • “Our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.”
  • “The soul as a sphere in equilibrium: Not grasping at things beyond it or retreating inward. Not fragmenting outward, not sinking back on itself, but ablaze with light and looking at the truth, without and within.

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Book Review: Recursion

RecursionRecursion by Blake Crouch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pick this book only if you have the time to read it till the end. It cannot be put down in between!

I liked the book Dark Matter and thus Recursion by the same author has been on my to-read list for some time. One day I randomly picked it up and just could not keep it down.

The book starts with two parallel stories of Barry and Helena and it seems that there is no connection between the two. However, gradually as the story builds up, the reader starts guessing that they might meet at some point in the timeline (and they do). The key idea of this book is that one can travel back in time by going back to a specific past memory using special equipment. There are an intricate set of rules based on which it all works out, as well as some mind-boggling(literally) consequences.

As the title itself reveals, there are multiple recursions in the story where the key characters live multiple iterations of their life. This book reminds me a bit of the movie Inception in that sense. Overall, they full timeline gets a bit crazy and complex but that’s the fun of this book! And the book is so perfectly written that the story blazes through at some points and is much more elaborate and descriptive in others. This creates a strange effect for the reader!

Also in my opinion, the ending is not at all shocking or unexpected as one would like it to be. The possible ending is hinted in the book before it actually happens and then it happens in the exact same way. I would have been great if the ending had an element of surprise rather that being one which the reader expected.

There might be some inconsistencies in the story related to some specific events but overall the book is an amazing read and a true mind-bender indeed!

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Maze & PhD

Imagine you are somewhere in a maze. And it’s dark. And all directions look almost the same. That’s how things are initially when one starts PhD.

And then when we discuss with our advisor, who knows a lot of intricacies of the maze and the way around it, one of the directions seems better and we start exploring that with a bit more confidence.

After some time (or days) again all directions look more or less similar, we are lost and feel as if we don’t know the way around. A chat with our advisor again, and things seem better and we pursue a direction that looks promising.

This process repeats. Again and again.

And gradually, we ourselves start getting to know some of the intricacies of some parts of the maze. We are not as confused exploring the way around the maze as we initially were. We know some parts of the maze so well that we can literally move around with our eyes closed!

There can be different metrics of success in a maze. Sometimes it is about finding a path out from some region of the maze. At other times, it is about finding something cool and interesting on the way in the maze itself. Not all explorations result in success (actually most don’t)! Most explorations end up in a dead-end!

These results about the interesting things we find around the maze as well as the routes we explored are the things which we share with others at conferences, and in more detail in journals. It’s our way of giving back and sharing our experience of our journey around our region of the maze.

It is good to have friends and peers who are in different stages in the maze. We can share our experiences around our regions of the maze with each other. We can help and motivate others when they feel stuck on a route. Together we can be pillars of support for one another!

The maze itself is not fixed, it keeps changing dynamically over time. And experts like our advisors can mostly predict how it will evolve in the long run. And thus sometimes things which worked in the past might not work in the future; at the same time, things which didn’t work in the past might now work due to the changes in the maze!

A comprehensive exam tests if one knows the basics of the maze and is capable to explore it around. It also tests if one is resilient against failures and is strong-willed to try again with the lessons learnt from the past failures.

Similarly, the state of the art exam is where one looks at other people who have navigated around the maze, the actions they took, the routes they explored and the outcomes they got based on it. Based on these learnings, we build upon and answer some new questions regarding some other parts of the maze or even regarding some existing regions which have been explored previously but the maze has changed since then.

Different mazes have different levels of popularity. Some mazes are so popular that there is a lot of buzz and hustle-bustle around. In these mazes, many people are interested in the new results, however, it is hard to do some novel work. Also, in such mazes, there is a tendency of peer-pressure such that people are pulled in the direction which others are moving towards. On the other hand, some other mazes are not as crowded. There may not be as many people around who can appreciate new findings and results, but that doesn’t mean that these mazes should not be explored. After all, to each his own!

Different domains have different types of maze. Each has its own specifics and intricacies. Mostly we are free to choose the kind of maze we want to explore and try to become experts in. And accordingly, we choose an advisor who can help us in the process. Ideally, an advisor is not just someone who is an expert of a specific kind of maze but also someone whose personality gels with ours.

At the end of our PhD, we pen down the whole journey around the maze, with the experiences we had around the maze, the lessons we learnt, the successes (and failures) we experienced on the way, and that’s our thesis!

And we not just become an expert in some part of the maze, we also discover ourself and our own capabilities and strengths in the process. Once someone has a PhD, the person is expected to explore and find the way around any part of the maze. That’s because it’s not just about knowing the maze well enough, but the capability to navigate in any part of the maze!

Happy exploration around the maze!

IC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/devolve/14324394240/in/photostream/

Turning 30: Looking back & looking ahead

I’m turning 30 pretty soon! And it’s literally freaking me out! I was looking back at some of my past posts and I saw my own post titled “Age is just a number!” I’m surprised that I said that! I read through it and I guess apart from the opening paragraph where I say age is just a number, everything else still seems fine…

30 is a huge milestone! Completing three decades on the planet seems like a really long time. It’s also for the first time that it feels like time is slipping like sand from my hands. This brings an image of a sand-clock in my mind, where I don’t know how much sand is there in the top part! Coincidentally, along with my 30th birthday, the calendar decade is also coming to an end. So my 30s, as well as a new decade of 2020s, start almost together! Surprisingly I had never realized this before probably because I didn’t care about my age in the past!

When we complete the first 10 years, we are just kids and it’s like just another birthday where we have fun being kids. Another 10 years and 20th birthday feels good and gives feels of turning into an adult. The twenties pass by where we mostly complete our education and start working. Life is cool! For the first time in life, the 30th birthday seems huge! It’s the first birthday of my life which is such a big deal for me, otherwise, I have always been pretty chilled out and cool about my birthdays.

I think this 30th milestone birthday is also a good opportunity to think, introspect, reflect back and plan forward. At this goalpost, it’s a good time to objectively think of the decisions we have taken, the choices we have made, our successes and failures, the lessons we have learned, the people we have met, the dreams and plans we have, our hopes and our overall Self. It looks like an appropriate checkpoint to consolidate the life we have lived thus far as well as to re-evaluate our priorities and future ahead.

I thought instead of freaking more about turning 30, I’ll collect some of the key learnings of my life which I learned while completing 30 revolutions around the Sun. We remember recent things than things far back in the past and thus even these lessons might be mostly based on recent years rather than from times long ago.

People

  1. Parents: Parents are special people who genuinely care for us (in most cases). They might not always understand us and sometimes they just fail to get the context of the things we say (probably due to the generation gap). However, it is good to remember that they (in most cases) always intend our well-being. They sacrifice so much of us, their kids, that it makes me genuinely wonder, how and why someone would do that! But they do that and mostly they do that without any regrets! At the same time, they are also humans just like us and make mistakes just like everyone else, including us. It’s best to always shower our love on them and be a receiver of their blessings, as long as we are blessed to have them in our lives.

  2. Mentors: It is difficult for family and friends to be objective towards us. Our friends are sailing the same boat as us, so in most cases, they might lack the larger perspective. And this points to why it is important to have mentors in life. A mentor is like a lighthouse; always there and ready to guide in the right direction. They can give a pat on the back as well as be critical when required. It’s a blessing to find a mentor who matches our personality and on whom we can completely trust.

    “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” ~Bob Proctor

  3. Friends: Friends make our lives fun! It’s not necessary to have a lot of friends. My friends and my friend-list are completely different things. A few close friends to count on are more than enough. At the same time, it’s always good to be on the lookout for new friends. Sometimes we never know that the people we meet might turn out to be ideal friends. Finally, it’s not necessary to have friends of similar age-group. Sometimes people elder (or even younger) can be friends. Also, people’s priorities change over time, so not everyone can be a friend for a lifetime.

  4. Everyone else in the world: Everybody will have an opinion about everything under the sky, including ourselves. And that’s totally okay. The same is true even for us, even we have an opinion or point of view about everything. But the important point here is to take others’ opinions with a pinch of salt, not to care too much about others’ opinions and to take decisions and choices based on our own will and preferences.

  5. Happy to be alone: The world might be filled with people. But there is only one person who knows us exactly how we are, and that’s our own Self. Thus it’s a great skill to be happy and calm in our own company.

    “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” ~Oscar Wilde

    Life

  6. Money: Of course money is important in life. Money can make our lives simpler and smoother. However, it is also important to remember that money is not everything. If we take the major decisions of our life only on the basis of money, then it might not necessarily be the best thing to do. In my life, I have taken some key decisions without keeping money as the top criteria. And I have never regretted those decisions!

  7. Traveling: One of the best ways to broaden our outlook is to travel (like an explorer or local and not like a tourist). It gives us the opportunity to see the world from a bigger perspective. We understand the commonalities and differences among different cultures including why things are how they are! We learn to adapt ourselves to different environments and discover some of our own characteristics which we ourselves might not be aware of!

  8. Hobbies: All work and no play definitely makes Jack a dull and boring boy. So it’s good and essential to have some hobbies in life. It’s good to try and explore things that we are passionate about and spend some time on those. For example, I like photography, playing keyboard, reading books, etc. Whenever I take a break, I do some of these things. And these hobbies are like restarting a computer! It refreshes our brain and then we get back to our work in a much better state.

  9. Learn: Learning is a life long process. It enhances our skills and helps us gain knowledge and a broader outlook on life. It also makes us adapt better in changing times where we are able to learn things that are necessary for survival in the new context. Even otherwise, learning just for the sake of satisfying curiosity is cool!

    “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” ~Brian Herbert.


  10. Passion: Finding something which makes us lose sleep, something which excites our neurons and something that we don’t get bored of, is hard. Not everyone finds it! However, just in case if we think that something is a probable candidate, don’t let it go just like that! Work on it and try it out! In the short term, we might have to sacrifice or give up things to pursue it, however in the long term it is worth it! Nothing can be more satisfying than doing things that we are truly passionate about in life!

    “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” ~Steve Jobs

    “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” ~Oprah Winfrey

  11. Health: Health is wealth! And gradually I’m realizing this. Until my mid-20s, whatever I ate, however much I ate and whether I exercised or not didn’t matter. My weight was constant and my energy levels always high. However, since my late 20s, I have gradually started noticing that my weight and energy levels vary based on the kind of food and the amount of food I eat. Exercise is essential! Also, it is better to stay fit and avoid illness rather than curing it! Maintaining good health requires consistent efforts by ourself, for ourself, on ourself.

    Lessons

  12. Do what you can: Sometimes our actions might seem insignificant. They might not have tremendous effects, as we may wish to be. Yet, if our actions are based on our principles and if it is what we want to do, then we should do it anyway. Repeated and consistent efforts can have a compounding effect in the long run and sometimes it is difficult to imagine that when we start.

    One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”. The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?” The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!” ~adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley.

  13. Ownership: Taking ownership means associating our selves with the things we do. When we own something, we are responsible for it and we take care of it. Similarly, when we take ownership of our work, we connect our self with it and then we give our 100% to improve it, get it to a point we want it to be and be proud of it. Also if things we own, don’t work out the way we want them to be, we feel responsible regarding it and think of solutions rather than escape routes or excuses.

  14. Believe in our Self: When things don’t exactly happen the way we want it to be, sometimes we blame the circumstances and sometimes we doubt ourselves. Either approach is not appropriate. Of course, not everything will happen as planned, that doesn’t mean that it’s due to our incompetence, there might be so many other factors involved. Thus it’s essential to always have faith in our own self and to always be our own best friend!

    “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~A. A. Milne 

  15. Be kind: Each and every one of us is on our own journey. It is always easy to judge others or be critical of others. However, just like nobody exactly knows our journey except ourself, similarly we can never know others’ true story and what is going on in their life. Thus it’s always best to be kind, not only to others but to ourselves as well. Also, not just with the people but with all the beings we interact with (like animals and plants).

    “We are all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.” ~Prof. Charles Gordon


  16. Have hope: Hope is the only thing that keeps us moving forward. One might have big dreams and elaborate plans but if there is no hope, then it is hard to execute what we want to do. Sometimes, the kind of things that happen in the world makes us wonder if this is the place we want to be? Are we heading in the right direction? But come what may, it is important to never lose hope!

  17. Compromise on the small stuff: Not every battle needs to be fought. It’s okay to let go and not delve into small stuff. These small issues if pursued fervently consume a lot of our time and energy than what it’s worth. Thus it’s okay to let go of small things or stuff that doesn’t matter to us and focus on the bigger goals at hand. Know which games to play and which to ignore!

  18. Ask for help: For me, it’s difficult to ask for help. It feels as though I’m incompetent when I cannot solve my own problems. Thus asking for help hurts my ego. However, I have realized that not all battles are meant to be fought alone. Just talking with someone regarding our problems doesn’t make us incompetent. On the other hand, it provides us different points of view of the problem which we might have not known or ignored. It’s okay to talk to someone we trust in difficult times and ask for help. It’s okay to be vulnerable in our trusted circles.

  19. Okay to fail: I am also the one who always strives for success in everything I do. However, practically it is not always possible to be successful in everything we do. And with this attitude, when failure strikes, it hits real hard. Also when we just focus on the end goal, we forget to enjoy the process. Now onwards, my goal is to normalize failures. It’s should be okay to fail sometimes. I will try to synthesize lessons from my failures and try to move on rather than lingering too long over it. (But I also know that it’s easier said than done!)

  20. Perfection: In continuation, my attitude has also been to be perfect in everything I do. And sometimes, it’s good as it leads to outcomes which are of high quality. However, in most cases, it requires a lot of energy to create perfect results which may not necessarily be required. Also, perfection also has human limits because of which however hard we try, for some goals we just cannot be any more perfect. Also, this attitude of perfection deprives us of experiencing and being happy about things in which we might not be perfect. For example, it’s not necessary that I may draw perfectly, but I can be happy about whatever I draw even though it might not be perfect. Now onwards, I will try to incorporate perfection within limits (not sure something like that is feasible!) and sometimes intentionally leave things to be imperfect when perfection is not that critical.

  21. Take risks: Staying always in the comfort zone is boring. It might be safe but nothing exciting happens there. It is important for us to step outside of our comfort zones sometimes and do the things we want to do. As it is said, no risk, no return! We must be able to take measured risks in life.

    “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” ~T.S. Eliot


  22. Stay strong: In some situations in life, we are helpless. Terminal diseases, deaths, major accidents, etc. are things that are not wished for even for enemies. And yet sometimes we find our loved ones and the people we care about, in those situations. It literally breaks our heart and there is nothing much that we can do about it. Feeling helpless is a terrible feeling! The only thing that we must remember in such times is to stay strong!

  23. Accept both good and bad emotions: In a world that is constantly pushing the message about being positive, it’s relieving to know that sometimes it is okay to be not positive. We have a variety of emotions like happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anxiety, guilt, etc. Some emotions are positive and some seem to be negative. It’s okay for us to feel all these emotions and not just positive emotions. Suppressing “bad” emotions can adversely affect our well-being. On the other hand, a better strategy is to think why are we feeling those emotions and can we do something about it?

    Future

  24. Have goals: It is important to have goals in life. Without goals, life seems meaningless. A goal gives us the purpose to wake up each day and to do something so that we are a little closer to the goal. Goals should be personalized and be regarding things that are important and meaningful for us. For example, one can have goals like losing x kgs of weight in an year or walking y kms every month or writing at least 1 paper per semester, etc.

    If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. ~Lewis Carroll

  25. Plans: Life is unpredictable. We don’t know what will happen next year, next month or even the next day. However, that does not mean that we should just give up and let things happen as they happen over time. Our actions have the power to change the course of what can happen, just that it is not deterministic. Thus it is always good to have plans, both short and long term. At the same time, one must be aware that things might not happen exactly as planned and it’s okay to dynamically update the plans over time. Plans should chalk out a route to attain our goals.

    कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन | मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 2.47 ||

    You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
    – Bhagavad Gita, Chapter II, Verse 47

  26. Dream: Goals are specific. But dreams are generic. It can be about anything we want to do or achieve or see happening in our life or in the world in general. It can be some crazy idea to build something. Or it might be something that might seem to be unattainable or rather impossible. And yet, we should dream. It makes us see and imagine the world beyond ourselves and our limitations.

    Self

  27. Discover our Self: Our Self is intricate. We are only aware of some parts of it. The more we discover our Self the more aware we are. Some parts of our Self, others may be aware of, but we might not know about it. We should do whatever it takes to discover and know our true Self. Our Self is the one tangible truth that is definitely true. Meditate, practice mindfulness, practice stoicism, go on a retreat, talk to a mentor, seek a Guru, whatever works for you, do that, but discover your Self!

  28. Accept our Self: Some aspects of our Self we may be proud of and then there might be some aspects which we might not like. However, we need to accept our Self including all the aspects. Suppressing some aspects just because we or others do not like it or because we are not good enough at it prevents us from being our Self.

  29. Being our true Self: Being our true Self might not sound a bit deal, but in reality, it is! When everyone is trying to be like someone else, to have characteristics of someone else, to achieve things like someone else, it is hard not to follow the crowd! However, we can truly attain inner peace only when we are being our true Self. 

    “Is there a difference between happiness and inner peace? Yes. Happiness depends on conditions being perceived as positive; inner peace does not.” ~Eckhart Tolle

  30. Tune within: Our Self always gives us the signals when something is wrong, when something feels a bit off or when something is not aligned to our principles. If we are drowned in the external noise of the world it is difficult to focus and identify that. We need to be sensitive enough to sense and understand our internal signals. That way, we can detect and modify our course of action. 

    “When I slip outside, I fall. When I slip inside I rise.” ~Swami Chinmayananda

Looking forward to the next decade. 10 years is a long time and a lot happens in that duration. Hope by the end of the next decade, if I’m still around, I won’t be freaking out about turning 40! Also hopefully, I’ll be wiser and more at peace with my Self.

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?” ~C.S. Lewis