Intangible intellect

There are many things you can learn from the best and the worst of moments in this ride called life. Everyone talks about hard skills and soft skills and I stand firm on the argument that if in life, you’ve got one or the other at a time that complement each other in any shape or form, the ability to accrue the missing pieces can take you very far in life. In my case, all of that education (at this point in my life I find myself racking my brain to reconcile which bits of it) has served its purpose – It has taught me how to grasp certain things, helped build a keen lens to spot things that are amiss, and the passion to use what’s known a priori to launch a game-changer or to aggrandize or otherwise bolster the world as it is today.

Building the next big thing?

This one, though is to speak to the things that we begin to learn as children – toddlers, even. The red flags. The things that’ll hurt later. The things that’ll hurt immediately. The things that’ll get you into trouble….

Or do we? Over the past few months I’ve been wondering how many of my choices are borne out of the same clueless innocence, bordering on the stupid. What drives adults with fully formed brains (knowing me, a fair few people would undoubtedly disagree) to drop logic and go after fantasy? At this point in time, blind assumptions of success, growth, a feeling of ownership and belonging seem like a long lost dream that led me into a path with lanes that change so fast that I’m left waddling around like a headless chicken. The one comforting, albeit concerning caveat here is that absolutely nobody goes through an entire lifetime without feeling like that. In examinations, in loss, in pain, in challenging classes, in their minds, in desperation… it’s frightening to think about.. In my life I’ve come across a LOT of motivational quotes – ‘Nothing is bigger than the human spirit’ and the like….While by and large I strongly believe in those sentiments, even the best of us feel defeated for that one moment.

It looked cooler when I was clicking it, I promise!

I got stuck writing this one – the best I got from an incredible friend of mine – “If nothing teaches you, life will” and that’s how I’d like this one to be seen – that it wont be easy, it wont be nice. It will probably get even worse. But never quit. There is always at least one person that’s backing you to get yourself out of your rut. I’ve been very fortunate – to the point that I (with a touch of hubris) know I have people rooting for me, to whom my success feels like a feather in their cap. Ultimately, that to me sets us apart. We do cry we do lose and we do get defeated, but the value we place in the people around us, the life around us all makes us stronger and better than all the animals out there. Are there bad people around? For sure. We all even have elements of that inside us. But, by and large, people’s willpower as a collective has the potential to help you out of any hole you dig for yourself or are forced into! If nothing teaches you, life will.. and what it taught me is that the habit of helping and being there for people never ceases to pay off. Hoomans need hoomans. Find your hoomans and things will eventually be just fine!

Or.. be a monk(ey) and give up on everyone!
One person in this picture, but a thousand reasons to smile – and that’s all of you! 🙂
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To finding beauty

Have we hidden it, or is it embedded?

In strength?

In the will to fail, to lose, and to embrace the fear

Within sorrow?

Within the numbness, the nostalgia, and under the bitterness

Along the seas?

In their ebbs and flows,  their tempestuous chaos

Behind the mountains

Hiding the light, basking in the anti-glow..

Around kindness?

Dragging the pack into the light, a hand to meet the crippled

Or ingrained?

In the medley of them all?

A part of an entity, greater than the set..

Constantly behind your baggies

Your spirit,

More powerful, and beautiful than the rest

Your happiness.

Greater than them all, until the next trial

To finally finding it – the happiness in the rainbow, and the spirit in the calmness

Inspiration

As I write this, one thing is for certain : If you ever think your life is bad, your job is a dead end, your relationships are burned, think again: If your job is a dead end, the interconnected corporate world spares no one their thunderdome moments. If your relationships are in disarray, the same is true for whoever else is involved – your family, partner, friends or just about anyone else. Nobody, absolutely nobody goes through life knowing exactly what today is, precisely what tomorrow will be, or the after.

My favorite movie comes to mind.. ‘Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.. the thing about chaos? its FAIR’ Sometimes its scary how the stupidest most mundane things like an 11 year old Batman movie can resonate so much with reality. In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, what I got back was ‘Everybody pays their dues.. maybe it’s your turn’. And that is what brought me back to Heath Ledger – chaos, comes for all. Chaos, is fair.

Most of the time, the regular people – the non-extraordinaires, if you will – do not set out to upset the archaic order. They set themselves up for success, doing absolutely everything they can to live to fight another day. Nobody wants to fail, do they? Life, though, is nowhere near as obedient as are we : it was never meant to be. It pretty much always throws you a curve ball! And chaos ensues. Every. Single. Time.

Light hain, bro!

Okay, now that the uninterested people have closed this page, what DO you do when things go so hilariously wrong? Here’s the answer: I did nothing. Nothing at all. No excessive spending, drinking, eating, ‘new year new me’.. just endure. Every day, the challenges keep coming. Find a good spot to beat the rain, and even the ground won’t smell so bad after. At least, that is what I keep telling myself, over and over. If you feel alone, remember you’re one in seven billion who all feel like one in seven billion. If you feel cheated by this life, you probably were… but never, not for a split second, believe that it is the end. When the next bump will come, it’ll take away a teeny tiny bit from some place else. And if you keep at it, perhaps fittingly, in all that chaos, you’ll find your balance.

Need to do this more often

-Lettersforbetter, July 2019

Where are we, and where are we going?

In my near two months back in the bearably cooler climes of Bangalore and the ease of life under the (too?) watchful eyes of so many loved ones, it became evident that it takes very little time in life to feel like one does not belong. I grew up in that city, and often lay claim to it as though I somehow own it, blindly supporting a flailing local sports team with “ESCN” passion to almost no pay-out for thirteen years. In the winter past that I spent around friends and family, sometimes I felt like I’ve been left behind, while the city I so adore has morphed into a completely different being, a being that I do not recognize any longer, and that does not greet me as one of its own any more.

Still?

Then, I had to fly back to what is now an adopted home, albeit a different place from the quiet overall pace (and rapid Duke pace) of Durham. Now, I live in Sun Josss, a wonderful suburb that is considered a technology hub across the world, with nearby locales such as Suryanagaram and others also popular haunts for H1B seekers and holders, and revered USiliconA degree holders. In the first few months (and I do count Summer 2018 in among those) I’ve realized quite quickly that perhaps this isn’t where I belong either. I want to say and do stupid things. I want to sing random songs on streets, not wear wireless headphones and carry Peets around. It’s going to take a lot more than a few paychecks to belong to this place. That’s not to say this is a come-get-me cry for help like a vast population of Facebook’s data is….. Just that I have come to realize that this next chapter of my life that’s being written in the NOW, is just precisely that : finding a place where I belong, and finding a way to feel content in the knowledge that I do. Within the confines of my office – more, perhaps than my house, I feel like a person that has slightly more than statistical significance. And in various conversations with a lot of my friends in the US, I’ve also come to realize that this feeling is weird, but not uncommon. So far, the only solutions I’ve found are to pay roughly 400% in taxes, and get a local driver’s license. (Not much use on a walking trail, but its a start!)

This image has NOTHING to do with this blog. I just clicked it and wanted to share 🙂


Our generation, and the annoying one after it – are the loneliest in recorded human history, and such stats don’t make for good reading. A lot of that loneliness and confusion comes from feeling like one does not belong – to another person, to a place, to their profession or to their own way of life. The ‘power of choice’ is beginning to look like a myth. From my own standpoint, belonging to a place, to a person or people, and even to a way of life takes time, effort and resilience. None of those come easy. Our parents pushed harder than any before them, particularly in terms of effort and perseverance, to fit, to belong, and to make the best out of what they were blessed with. Us, we have too much and too little, all at the same time : too many choices, too little direction. Too much money (in comparison) and too little appreciation. It always pays to take a step back and feel good, that you are who you are; the way you are; that you are in an A380 on an impossibly long flight – so many feet above the world, and so close to every part of it. My mantra: Take one step back, breathe in, appreciate, and take the next ten steps forward.

Here’s to finding our purpose 🙂

PS : Here’s to finding the purpose of that picture. See how it all fits?

Thank you, Duke!

Most Indians do not traditionally conform to the laws of the world. Or the ones that were raised in the great land, anyway. The world follows civil laws, we scoff at them. Everyone in every other corner of the world wants to go to India, to ‘find themselves’.  Me? I was raised in India, and I wanted to leave to ‘find myself’. Graduate school was just a ticket to attempting to become a better person.

When we began graduate school, all I wanted to do was to get out. But, like all of my best-laid plans in life thus far, that didn’t go quite as planned. It took one whole Fall for me to get used to the TP-user lifestyle.

Doesn’t look like it here, but I didn’t really like my first Duke semester very much!
Yet, today, all I can think about is this Linkin Park (old,yes) song..
Sitting in an empty room
Trying to forget the past
This was never meant to last
I wish it wasn't so....

Like I did say before, things change. And so do people. In the middle of the spring, some among the best friends, and above all human beings I met through Duke were about to leave. Just like that, in a fleeting flash. However, self-absorption is an unfortunate consequence of personal failings. Somewhere along the countless rejections, I lost sight of what should’ve been crystal clear: it’s about the person you become, not the Consultant/PM/Data Scientist. It never was to begin with.  Life in graduate school is at its core, about what a dear friend and I concocted over coffee : Information, Inference and Impact. What you learn, how you take it, and what change you can bring to people’s lives (and your own) with it. And in that self-absorption, I never even paused to think about the fact that people’s lives were changing; for the better, for the greater. And to think that all I wanted, was an internship.

An ode to those whose lives changed before mine! I miss you 🙂

Going far, far away and living alone was an incredible experience. That, was the original plan – to push myself , to learn and become a less dependent person. California taught me about common problems such as lack of money (Upmanyu, anyone?), but something far, far bigger – lack of my community around. Having no one to share my cheap thrills with, barring a few days, made me appreciate Duke and the Duke MEM community on a deeper level.

What to me was always community!
Me: Universe, can you give me the greatest apartment of all time?
16: K.

To this day, in my view, coming back to Duke for the third semester was the greatest independent decision I’ve ever taken. Taking a step back (and some easy-peezy courses) gave me the chance to look around and feel the weight of my privilege. How many, even among the smartest people I have met in life, get to live this dream? To stand where history has been made, greats have lived, worked and learned!


Feeling some of that history!

And in this final semester, the real bagal blast began. Many of my supremely smart, sensible and talented batch-mates had had identical summers to mine, and truly begun to value and cherish everyone, and everything that Duke brought with it.

Thus ends a journey that made me a cook, a pseudo homeowner, an adult, a responsible man, a stressed grad student, a hair loss victim, a comedian, a mimic, a friend, and above all – a better person.

And, in hindsight, that is all that ever mattered!


Goodbye Duke, thank you for us. Thank you for everything we are, everything we’ve become. I am stronger today, and at the same time, weaker. Without all of you.

Dedicate this also to that one friend that sang a wildly emotional song, that ruined everyone’s mood. I hope, in my way, that I managed to do the exact same!

-Finally, a letterfrombetter!

Signing off!

#ForeverDuke

Image credits : Instagram!


To losing battles and winning wars!

When I was growing up, there never was a genuine appreciation of how gallantly the adult population treated me, always wanting and hoping that our generation would surpass our predecessors’ wildest dreams. Perhaps one such far-fetched dream for anyone of my proponents was fulfilled when my lazy soul took the decision to challenge itself to the extent of a journey to Duke. It is almost impossible to fathom that this lifelong pipedream has been my reality for each day of the past year or more.

In doing so, the one word that inevitably comes up is ‘adulting’. I despised the word, the feeling it gave me, and its direct correlation with dhiraj-pattern-baldness. As my growth into the worst, most terrifying and alarmingly the longest phase of my life is now complete, the implications of this slang have begun to get clearer. As an individual, and even as a subset of the larger family here at Duke, my emotional evaluation process has evolved. Celebrating anothr person’s success is a feeling that had been quite unknown to me. While I do not expect most people to believe me- the humble machine/lion/beast – I have always considered myself to be quite unselfish. But, quite paradoxically, perhaps my generation and I never learned how to truly be happy for the achievements of others; to smile at the little victories; to laugh at the embarassments of the collective; in recent years, willingly being decimated by my adorable baby cousins at nondescript and mundane games has been nothing short of therapeutic. If, in the same vein, I view the whole experience of growing as a collective as an unimportant step in achieving the end game – being content, life becomes sensible, and frighteningly simple.

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Growing into adults.. apparently

There are days when the good things I see happen to other people sprinkle the positivity I need in my day, and the strange adrenaline that comes with it. With great adulting, comes great appreciation. Of each other, of those less fortunate and of those that will carry the torch ahead. Who knows, maybe I’ll ripen to a large enough extent as to take a moment to appreciate the people I stand to influence. It is a silver lining to shut my tired eyes to!

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Zenning!

In 2018, the appreciation hits; people that encouraged me back in the day weren’t doing it out of resentment, unrequited dreams or personal bias ; their evolution came earlier, and in being the zen, evolved beings they were, their ulterior motives were to live vicariously and enjoy our evolution from afar, even if it might have been ever so excruciating to watch.

Growth Mindsets

Starting this one off thanking a friend that got me to peruse through a book called ‘Mindset’. In the crazy few months that have gone by, if I have taken one thing away, it is the vitality of a persevering mentality. Far too often, we think, judge, comment and stress, without doing anything about it. Way too many opportunities have been lost because we dont allow ourselves space to breathe.

Over interview season this fall at Duke, (a fairly unsuccessful one in my case) I’ve had the opportunity to watch people’s ideologies unfolding before me, and realising with each passing day the varied talents within a number of my peers. How does this tie back to a mindset? In this now-long (ugh) life, the exposure to the world around me through peers, friends, cousins, parents, neigbours and in general, those at a different step of the life ladder the underlying theme has been this. The frequqency with which humans allow fear to make us immobile is alarming, and this fear can be so debilitating. Interviews, jobs, examinations, loans, weddings, children and the like..

Somebody rightly said, life is what happens when you’re busy planning something else. My take on fear is on the same lines: Fear is what hapens when you’re preparing to overcome it. I see my own loved ones, questioning others’ credentials, others’ capabilities and devauling themselves. Where do they go from there?nowhere. Where should they be going? Somewhere. Anywhere. In writing my latest peice, do I somehow believe myself to be above all these emotions or thoughts? NO. Habitually, I am these thoughts!An evolutuionary thought that came out of the book is that other cultures are more empowering than the one I surrounded myself with!

So what does the Fox say on this one? You’re fine and will be fine. Take that shot (literally and metaphorically). Go the extra mile. Grow, and never forget where you came from.

The last chapter is being written at Duke, and it’s an intriguing one.

-Letterforbetter

Owning the journey!

Learning is a continuous process. Every day, in my own way, I take baby steps toward being a less flawed individual. The world works in mysterious ways: One day it seems fuzzy, nebulous and to be crumbling around you. Other days, things look crystal clear and fate seems set in stone. On the days where tunnel vision kicks in, every single moment of life ahead looks like another series of  baby steps. The other days you beg for the signs, the directions… Why so serious? Why so vague? Is this a keyword-optimized post? Nope. Just a labyritnth of conflicting thoughts!

One year ago, when I was on the verge of leaving a person (yep I believe that) behind, the emotions I felt were: fear, excitement, happiness,sadness and a sense of accomplishment, in that order. Weirdly the contrast to the F1 version of me could not be clearer today. How is it a contrast? Because; every day, I still feel the same emotions, in that order. The journey has been such a life-changer that I relate to the same feelings differently. My fear then? Starting from scratch. My fear now? Being lost alone. Excitement then? Duke. Excitement now? Adulting. Happiness then? Forennn. Now? the choice of doing my own thing. Sadness then? Leaving it all behind. Today? I’m almost 25. Sense of accomplishment then? Realising a childhood dream! Sense of accomplishment today? Owning my journey. Good, bad or ugly.

If you try too hard to have that tunnel vision, and try to overexecute your ‘plan’, you’re just going to find more reasons to say “it’s this new shampoo”(shiny side up?). Trying too hard to upset the order will leave you a broken, battered person on a bumpy road to nowhere.

Doing things by the book = dejection. Doing things against the book = eviction. Somewhere along the road, you have to write out your own personal rulebook. What works for him/her, might not for you. There is never one ‘path of least resistance’ to becoming the best you can be. Every road you take, not because it is written, but simply because, deep down that’s what you’re best fit for. Find what makes you happy and do it. Stupidly, unabashedly and regretlessly(if that is a word). I’m still flawed, still annoying, and even the ones who made the mistake of reading this could hate, berate or resent me. It is fine. It’s a personal journey and it was never going to be straightforward.

-Letterforbetter

A summer in the Golden State!

My summer so far in California has portrayed a myriad different emotions: excitement, relief, an added degree of independence, 16-K-sickness, #blockchain (why not?) among others. On a proffessional level, the transition into my summer internship at Santa Clara-based Emergent Technology has been smooth, but far from comfortable. Every day, I ask stupid, unerudite questions, every day I embarass myself and feel out of place but more importantly feel like I am getting something done and learning a little bit.

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Two things have stood out while I have been in the Bay Area: how costly it is and how interesting people’s everyday lives are. First of, I was fortunately unfortunate not to have been able to find accomodation in time for my internship. The experience of sharing living space with someone who is from a culture differrent to mine, and learning a lot from my temp-roomie product-teammate was eye-opening (although that did have a little to do with sunbathers in downtown Sunnyvale!). Through the two weeks, I did hear, share and learn a lot about culture in Africa and the United States from him, and he got a earful of Bangalore-centered gyaan about mother India.

The World Cup, crazy as it’s been, helped in many ways: for me to socialize at work and learn and appreciate the differences in people’s cultures, education and thought-processes. Following this, my move to a house in south Santa Clara has been the opposite; in three weekends here, I was able to visit two temples; one from south Karnataka (home is where the heart is) where I felt more Instagram-inclined than I was in the fanciest places across the States. Personally, peace of mind has been much-needed in these times; something the temple went some way to freeing up more space in a pretty empty mind.

Did also meet friends and famiy, old and new in Los Angeles with my sister, and here in the northern part of California. One part of me is glad I made it here; the other is looking ahead to being a Blue Devil, one last time.

 

When failure hits

There are two kinds of failure – not being good enough at something isn’t one of them. Not being good enough just means you haven’t found your game yet – keep shooting balls, and eventually, one will swish, curl or swing. BOOM, you’ve met your match.

The two kinds of failure from where I stand today are these – giving up because it doesn’t work, and taking every shot, jumping every hoop and ending absolutely knackered – knowing you couldn’t have done more. In my current state, I relate to failing both ways. As a bearded genius recently said, at Duke we’ve learned to unlearn, be uncomfortable and accept. In this world, oftentimes we find that conspiracies run ragged in our minds. Why is X better or worse than me at this? How can Z be good at everything (another outgoing genius) and why am I incompetent?

The truth is, it could’ve worked out for me – for anyone. X,Y,Z, and Beta have all had their days of pain; their struggles led them to where they’re headed. That could’ve been me, but it isn’t me. I always wonder – if I’d grown up in the States, would I have known how to depict model substations on AutoCAD, known what that even means, even? Am I an engineer, at heart? In this conflicted state, pondering over tomorrow’s street address, it strikes me as completely plausible that my calling could’ve been psychology, environmental science or accounting. But I am an engineer, and back in the day I made those FCDs. Today, I know how to define or redefine a business from a strategic standpoint – all courtesy a beginning-to-heat laptop, and endless cups of coffee. Would Dhiraj Bhat have cared, in that alternate universe? Hell, there’s an argument to be made for not having coffee in that life – well, maybe this way isn’t so bad after all!

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Ends or beginnings?

Mimicking my way through the semester to elicit a few laughs, the end of this journey has taught me only one thing- that’s where the imitation game ends. It’s my way for me, and if I haven’t found my calling, perhaps the time hasn’t come yet, or better yet, tomorrow’s blank canvas has a different palette in front of it. Summer intern or jobless, I’ve grown and become a better version of myself. Taking more shots, trying to find my game, on my time. Better yet, the tired engine keeps on moving, through the curves, bumps and extending horizons.

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Good vibes only!