What is the point of education?

I am blessed to have grown up in an environment where education has always been highly valued. It led me to push myself to learn and grow in school and then in one of the most reputed engineering schools in India.

People always asked me what it is about IITs that made them special. For me and majority of the folks there, it was never about the superior technical education. Most of us never cared much about it. However, I always knew and told people that it is the people we are surrounded with that pushed our mindsets to aspire and achieve success.

It was always the ideas, the discussions about every possible topic in the world that germinated new insights and perspectives in our minds, without any discrimination of any kind. Thoughts of our backgrounds – cultural, geographical, caste, religion – never ever as much as crossed our minds.

That is what education is all about.

To be able to understand different perspectives and create your own self. Not to be bogged down by age-old customs and traditions. Respect them but do not chain yourself to them.

And hold them close to your chest so they becomes your self-religion or spiritual self or whatever hipster term you would like to use. It could be a combination of a belief from Quantum mechanics, another one from Quran, another one from Newton’s law, another one from Bhagwad Gita and so on. Religion and science will not be differentiated in that enlightened self. In fact those terms should not exist in the purest sense of spirituality. The ability to approach ideas with a reasoned open mindset would create calm and peace within yourself.

Again, that is what would be education. Learning and appreciating the different perspectives on the same issue within their respective contexts. That is why I believe education is the only solution to several issues facing the world – whether it is global warming or terrorism. My past self would probably just hope for such an ideal future – however, my present self wants to make a difference, in whatever way I can. I need to explore and contribute. I hope I can. Amen!

Year 2015 – Phew!!

2015 has been the wildest roller coaster of my life so far. Just incredible. Considering that my current state is a relatively happy one, the year is worth a storied post on this blog. I am not sure where to start or end – should I put it chronologically or through the wavy ride of emotions?

The start of the year was gut wrenching bleak. When I look back at what I was going through, I am amazed at my own inner belief and strength. I wasn’t brought up to deal with such tough times. I hurt a lot of people during that time period, none more than myself. I felt and still feel guilty of hurting my loved ones. However, I was mostly alone in that period. I still don’t know if I could have done anything better to handle the situation. I still shiver remembering the pain I suffered then and somehow I dealt with it. Books and music were my closest friends. They didn’t suppress my emotions but let me swim through the emotional waves.

The experience changed me. For better or worse remains to be seen. I was always an independent living life on my terms – but the experience walled me inside even further. Very few people remain in my life now to whom I can open up completely. I am blessed to have such 4am friends in my life, however few they are.

One final failed attempt in January allowed me to finally close the chapter, however, heart breaking it was. I did not have any more energy left to deal with the craziness. I finally steered my life ship around after numerous failed attempts. I hurt a couple more people before I finally met someone truly nice and special. Just a gem of a person. I feel so lucky to have her in my life now. Touchwood!

Even that wasn’t smooth sailing for a long stretch of the year. Somehow, possibly due to my past ¬†experiences and more so because of my trust in her, I never panicked. I was silently confident that things would work out when they could have easily fallen apart. Things were quite tense at times. But her courage and love showed the way. It is kind of funny – she believes in destiny while I do not. However, she is not the one to just sit on the side and let destiny play itself out – she stood up for our love time and again; and even more so when even I thought she would succumb to the pressure. I feel like just applauding her efforts. She handled the tense situations incredibly well. I trust her and love her more than anything now. I would do my best to never hurt her and always keep her happy.

Obviously, I have to thank my parents as well. I haven’t been the best son to them over these tough times, but they have been incredibly supportive and patient especially in the last six months. I hope things to settle down and get better in the future. Another round of thanks to my bhaiya and bhabhi – they are always there for me. No words would suffice or do justice to their love and support.

The story has moved forward very quickly in the last couple of months, and things now finalized between the families as well. I have been communicating with her family now over the last one month and it has been just great. They have made me feel so comfortable. I am so much looking forward to this new phase of my life. Again touchwood!

While all this was going on, I realized with my half baked application from last year, I could have a shot at applying to INSEAD MBA for 2016 entry. I thought the timing could probably work out well as we both would then graduate in 2017. Frankly, the idea was to stay busy outside work. I never gave myself much of a chance.

Before the application, I had started spending lot of time to create more structure in my life to stay productive. For example, the idea of flexing the idea muscle. Or even reading ‘waitbutwhy’ posts.

So when I started the application process, those examples gave me frameworks to apply and go to the bottom of my heart and mind. I believe that effort poured out into the essays to some extent. It led me to the interviews. The whole time I was immersing myself in productive activities such as reading about exciting futuristic technologies or TEDTalks etc. The research on the interviewers and the significant interview preparation gave me enough self confidence and belief to ace the interviews. The whole journey began with a half-wish but when on December 16th, I saw a call from +33 number, my heart skipped a beat. I rushed to end the meeting I was in, and when I got another call from that number, I rushed to pick it up. I do not remember listening anything after CT said ‘congratulations’. I was elated. After the heart breaks from 2013-2014, I finally have an offer to a business school. Touchwood, again!

Last but not the least, I should definitely mention the work at Pfizer. It has really been a great learning experience for me with all its ups and downs. The mundane cubical life definitely pales in comparison to my outside work activities this year, where I have not even talked about tennis, hiking, skiing, Lake saranac camping and the best of all, the backpacking trip.

2016 is going to be a crazy year. Hopefully all good for a change. While my finances are expected to take a major hit due to the MBA, I expect it to be worth the intangible experience and the fascinating people I would meet from all over the world. More importantly, I will not be a bachelor by next summer. I am incredibly excited!

Pursuit of Happiness or Pursuit of Meaning?

Why am I being so fickle? From the highs of getting admission at INSEAD just a couple of days ago, to the current state of frustration is so puzzling.

During the application process, I kept pushing aside my true feelings of whether I want an MBA or not so I could focus on the application. I thought I could make that decision if and when I get the admission. However, during the process, I probably faked the ‘why mba’ question so well that I actually started believing in it.

So here I am – with an admission offer for a year to spend across France and Singapore. Is it the opportunity my quarter-life crisis is desperately waiting for to open myself to a plethora of opportunities and make life more meaningful? Or would it just be a wasteful exercise and just dialing back my career by a couple of years?

Let me put it this way for you Nikhil – if money was not an issue, would you go? Yes absolutely. The answer is obvious. It would be an exciting adventure and just homage to one of my favorite life quotes – ‘it is not the number of years you live, it is the life you live in those years’. I would meet a ton of interesting people from all walks of life. There would be fun, studying, friendships, hardships, success, failures. It will add so much to my life experience.

So – the simple answer is yes. I will go ahead and join INSEAD no matter the associated financial costs. What I have to ensure is that I maximize my experience. I have to be fully committed to study and network inside and outside the classroom.

I have to accept that INSEAD or even marriage is clearly not the final destination. Frankly, there is no final destination. The acceptance of life as is, and enjoying the journey with its ups and downs, would lead to inner peace and satisfaction. Continuing to challenge the status quo and building upon new ideas will be the cornerstone of flexing my brain muscles.

Broadening my perspective to understand the same problem from different viewpoints would open new doors, and possibly some of those would lead to even more doors and one of them just might capture my true imagination as my life’s meaningful pursuit. So cheers to a life in pursuit of meaning rather than happiness!

 

Strength to endure pain!

Good times fade away the bad memories. However, after going through long periods of struggle that at one point never seemed to bottom, I appreciate the current good times. On one hand, I stress to not take anything for granted though I realize my basic nature and associated feelings are still intact. I have not changed drastically as a person. So while I intend to not over rejoice at the good times, on the other hand, I hope I won’t be too dejected at the failures.

I have realized how critical it is to capture my thoughts straight away at times. Otherwise, I lose the right feeling. For example, I wanted to express my feelings about pain and failures a couple of hours ago. However, after talking to the special someone, I feel lighter and that prior emotion has bubbled away to a corner.

Things have been progressing pretty nicely on the personal front – touchwood. At work, it hasn’t been fun – I am kind of surprised I didn’t realize this earlier, but I cannot be working in this job profile anymore. It is stagnant and boring. I can make efforts to expand and do more interesting stuff but 80% of my role would still be the same. I just hope the next few days are positive as they have the potential to change my future. If it doesn’t happen, I have to make my future happen. Be proactive and explore other opportunities.

Either way, I hope the experiences especially the incredibly heart breaking 2014 have made me stronger as a person to deal with future disappointments. I am going to take more concrete actions moving forward. One of the highest priority ones is going to ‘become the fittest I have ever been’. I will go to gym daily if not twice. Improve my diet and just eat healthy. It is not just to look better but also to avoid the sort of skin outbreaks I have been having recently.

Upwards and onwards! Cheers!

Tamasha Review – Pot of tea?

Watching the movie Tamasha on Friday was a reaffirmation of the belief to chart your own path in the limited time one has on Earth. However, the treacherous path is to find one’s purpose and meaning in life. It is like making and tasting a cup of tea. Everyone has their own approach and method to make tea and then even the same cup of tea is liked differently by each person. Someone likes it strong while others like it sweet. Someone likes ginger tea while the spouse likes cardamom tea.

We need to understand and appreciate others’ perspective that they could like their tea to be different. And most importantly, it is a personal decision.

Similarly, everyone has to chart and make their own life. Each has their own likes and dislikes that shape their perspective of the world and what makes them happy. Molding someone into a shape that is approved by the society leads to tremendous inner conflict. Some can handle it while others cannot do it easily.

Hear your inner voice. Try working on different elements of your hobbies in spare time and actually do something about it. Make your own cup of tea, just the way you like it – only then you will enjoy it to the fullest.

Rambling

It has been a busy past couple of weeks. After hitting rock-bottom in January this year, it has taken a lot of effort to put things back on track. Reading a ton load of blogs, articles and podcasts has helped in the perseverance to even try and make sense of life and its meaning and purpose.
Having the right partner is an important choice and factor in one’s happiness. Hopefully I am on the right track there. Having met her earlier this year and knowing her more every day, I feel incredibly lucky that she would be my life partner. She is just too nice a person. The fact that she is so beautiful is just like the slight hint of delicious icing on an already perfect cake. I frankly do not seem like good enough for her but I am glad that she picked me as it allows me the opportunity to grow as a person and become wiser. I consciously try to be aware of when I get irritated or angry, and that process should make me recognize the stupidity of such measures.
Anyways, with all the uncertainty around our relationship, things have taken a turn for the better in the last couple of weeks. The families have agreed to take things forward and hopefully 2016 will be THE year (keeping fingers crossed).
On the other hand, I have been trying to find what excited me. Reading a lot about the futuristic technologies in conjunction with the ancient history is captivating. Virtual reality is the next big frontier on the cusp of changing the landscape of how humans perceive the world. Space is another key frontier that people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos are ready to explode into. Artificial intelligence and the questions surrounding the origins of life, once answered, are set to change the destiny of the human race. Tremendous research and advancements in our understanding of the human brain, the field of neuroscience, is so fascinating. Especially since the majority of the people with my background are focused on app building and startup phases, I have the opportunity to jump over the hoop and try to play a role in these exciting technologies. There is a very limited probability that I would do that but I really need to step up and do it for a change.
It is just an incredible time to be as a human not withstanding the terrible happenings around the world due to terrorists wrecking havoc in some places. Such events are so sad. Just imagining the hardships being faced by such a large population in terms of refugees and the people facing such grim life situations in the Middle East, I should feel incredibly lucky. However, it does lead to discussions around the possible solutions and it hurts to hear the often intolerant views on religion. But then, it is introspective as well. If I do not want others to have such strict opinions on these very complex issues, how am I in any way qualified to pass judgements on their opinions? I just wish media realizes its importance in shaping the opinions of the world and make efforts to develop feelings of love, empathy and compassion amongst everyone. People have to start considering religion as a personal rather than cultural phenomenon. The goal of a person’s life should be to grow wiser and not just old – by growing the ‘good’ feelings of love and compassion while trying to get rid of negative emotions like anger, jealousy and hatred. Or should it? Solutions cannot be generic – they should be customized for every individual but overall, they should lead to peace and prosperity. But then, who am I to even say anything? Just wish a peaceful future for humanity. Amen!

Idea Machine : Day 5/200 (Calm!)

Having gone through an extended period of emotional turmoil, every ray of hope seems delusional. Things seem to be turning around for the better. I feel more calm despite the swarm of thoughts. The past few weeks of pondering and flexing the idea muscle has brought much needed calmness to my mind. There are still bouts of emotional upheaval but I would like to believe that I am getting better and improving as a person.

I still hold very strong beliefs despite knowing that there is so much I do not know. Probably – it is not a bad thing as it allows me to have an intellectually stimulating conversation with anyone. I can be fun and quirky and stupid with one cousin, while being all romantic and nerdy with my loved one. I love playing these different roles in an obvious non-chameleon-like manner.

Anyways, back to flexing my muscle:

One new idea related to technology
How can we leverage the human evolution to revolutionize technology? We are already starting to leverage neural networks to construct AI platforms. In an advanced version, can the memory storage be also built through neural structures such that only contents that matter to us more is highlighted in the memory? It will help in bringing up the critical contents to the user much faster and fade away the rest. Basically, prioritizing the storage memory for the user.

In a further advanced human society, probably just a few years down the line, when technology is able to record everything our eyes see into a memory chip, it will be even more critical to be able to have a memory like our brains so we do not expense it on unnecessary useless information.

One new scientific learning
I recently listened to another ‘People behind the Science’ podcast that had Dr Adam Gazzaley as a guest talking about Neuroscience, a field that does seem very exciting to me. He works more specifically on the cognitive aspects of the impact of video games. He provided a glimpse into the future – where the virtual and augmented reality will have such a critical role to play, and more importantly, how video games will lead the way in this exciting highly innovative field.

One new life lesson
Religion is not useless. I had weaned myself off religion over the last few years. But with all the emotional turmoil, I could have used religion to bring some sense of calmness into my life. Anyways, better late than never as I have realized that religion is very personal. It does not have to fit into the typical societal definitions. I do not believe that there is a Ganesha sitting above the clouds watching over us or for that fact, any such force. Maybe I am wrong about it as I probably could be, since we as humans, ‘probably’ know a very very tiny fraction about how this universe works.

Back to religion, I want to use it as a meditation tool. Singing religious hymns is a practical way of forcing your mind away from the daily mundane matters – essentially meditation. Today being Diwali, I decided to force myself to perform puja and it wasn’t that bad. I felt quite after those 15 minutes of puja specifically singing Hanuman Chalisa and trying to avoid thinking about anything else.

‘One new idea related to work’
Just need to explore other opportunities so I can get out of Xeljanz CDA role. I am excited how things are already happening possibly due to this blog series – one, I was able to create a slide about my vision at one in the morning, but it was appreciated and brought into the main deck. Second, I reached out to others to be part of a market research project, so that I generate exposure to other functional areas. Keep up the good work.

One new idea related to love/relationships
Have patience. Forgive others. Stay calm.

One new idea to further explore
Though financial investments has evolved to become a large part of my life over the last one year, I fail to write more about it. I do spend a large chunk of my free time either listening to music, talking to my loved one or following the stock markets.

I learned over the last few weeks about tax-loss harvesting and I need to complete that tactic by end of the year. Basically, claim loss of over $3000 dollars that will be offset against any gain (that I do have from Netflix shares and all those dividends piled up). I plan to combine this tactic by switching over to much lower expense funds or ETFs. I am paying too much in expenses reducing my overall returns.

Next – I need to write about the value of stock markets. The time spent is worth the vast amounts of knowledge and learning that I get about not just the financial markets, but also the global economy as a whole that in turn runs the world.