Chasing Stars

A few years ago, my family and I were visiting our parents in India. My increasing birthdays have made me appreciate them more and more. I feel there is so much I can still learn from him.

Sitting down with them, I was telling them about my friends I was in touch with, and asking them about ones I was not (and they were). The conversation went on to what everyone is doing and I made a comment “I wonder if I will ever be successful like him or her”.

My father smiled, and in his wisdom-drenched voice, asked me, “How do you define success?” I was quick to reply and pointed to him how successful they were in their career. He smiled and asked, “And?”. I immediately knew the class is in session with Mr. retired Professor. Here is a bit of paraphrasing of what he taught me that day.

He started with what his father, whom he called “Bhaiya ji” fondly, used to say.
He said that “Bhaiya ji” would say that the greatest gift a person gets is being able to wake up in the morning because that is another day they are alive. So have gratitude for that. There are some who never wake up. 

Even more blessed are those who have good health. If you are healthy, can get up, walk around, be thankful. There are many who cannot do that. 

If you have two hands, be even more grateful, for you can earn your living with those two hands. There are some who will love to be in your position. 

Blessed are those who can earn for themselves and even more blessed are the ones who can ear for their families and provide for them.

And the most blessed are the ones who wake up, are healthy, can earn living for their loved ones and most of all can help others. Only a few can do that – not because they are not capable, but they do not have the courage to do so.

I was patiently listening to him. Then he asked the question, “What is this success you talk about? Money? Fame? Position? Power?”
He paused. “For what? Look closer at everyone who you consider successful, you will see that it is not that picture-perfect you make it to be. If they are successful in their career, their personal lives suffer. If they are successful in their personal lives, their career suffer. If they are doing it all, they themselves suffer, personally, health-wise. What good is success in one area when you cannot manage other aspects of your life?”

By this time, I knew it was time to just listen and collect these pearls of wisdom.

“In your life, you will have to manage your relationships, kids, yourself, career, relatives, friends. If you put more energy into one, others will get affected. If you try to do it all, you, yourself will be affected. You have to balance. Sometimes when you do everything, even then, life throws a googly (cricketing term for the uninitiated, it means a curveball). The western world calls it work-life balance. Try to give everyone the time they deserve, and be grateful for what you have and where you are. You want happiness, go help someone, that is the happiness that nothing else will  bring. And don’t stress about folks around you; you are plenty successful. Indians believe in destiny and no one can take that from you”.

“Go be a world for someone than being no one to the whole world.
And never lose yourself chasing the stars, be grateful about seeing them tonight. They will come back for you the next night”.


JPS Nagi
April 17, 2021

I … am … home

36,000 feet in the air, flying above the Canadian Rockies, traveling from Amsterdam to Portland, back from our visit to India, I am wondering where is home? Amritsar, New Delhi or Portland?

Let me back up for more than three decades. I was born in the holy city of Amritsar, in a Sikh family, little did I knew that the home for me would be different during different phases of my life.

My early years were spent in my ancestral home of my grandfather, where our family dwelled with my uncle’s. His son is likely the closest of my cousin’s, having spent the most time with him. He was 10 years older than me, introduced me to Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson. Being the only child, I was spoilt. Being the youngest among my paternal cousins and oldest among the maternal ones, I was loved from both sides. My grandfather would carry me on his shoulders and take me to street vendors selling painted clay toys. My cousin taught me how to fly kite, and my dad taught me calculus (yes, I knew calculus as a young child, but that’s a different story). And my grandmother practically raised me. I was home.

As my dad bought his first house, we moved out of my grandfather’s home. I was 7 or 8 years old. The new home was alien a bit. I remember that I’d ask my parents to “Take me home” as they would put me to sleep. I missed our ancestral home. Over time, I made friends in the neighborhood, played cricket with them, and, most importantly, my grandfather came to live with us. The new house became home. I shared the room with my grandfather and before going to bed, I would ask him to “sing me a song”. He would oblige with singing “sacred hymns” or Shabads, which I would understand much later. He lived until the end of his days with us. That home also gave me the first experience of death. I do not believe I fully understood the gravity of it, as I was protected, and did not attend his funeral. It was maybe it was my parents’ way of protecting me. I also lost a friend to cancer at that young age – someone who was just a few months younger than me. My time there was not that melancholic though, I had lots of fun, learned to ride the bike in the neighborhood. I also started biking to school with friends from the neighborhood, eventually got a moped (yes those tiny things) much earlier than I should have been licensed to drive. I grew until late teens in that home, and the time came for us to move once to our current house within India. I think all three of us got emotional as we handed over the familiar sound of those jingling keys to the new owners. But were also excited to go to our new home.

The new house, where my parents still live, became my home for the next few years. My dad constructed it to home a decent size family. A jingling sound of new keys became part of our lives and we started to get familiar with which switches would turn on lights or fan in different rooms (we have way too many switches in each room). I did not get to live there much, because I left for studying engineering in Chandigarh and then move to New Delhi for a job. A couple of years later, destiny brought me back to Amritsar for two years and I was living once again with my parents. That was almost 20 years back, filled with some good memories. We bought our first car, and I drove it into our outer wall while bringing it home. I blasted classic rock music while occupying the top room in the house. I collected thousands of audio cassettes (my father keeps them as a memory of me). Got my first PC – Intel Pentium PC. And I dreamed of going to the USA. I also met my wife during those years.

My move to the USA was both less of a culture shock than a climate shock. I moved to cold, snowy Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the middle of January. My wife joined me a year later and a few months later, we moved to wet Portland, Oregon in 2001. We are now settled there. We have created our lives around our work. We found friends who became family. Got a house in 2007, became our home where we are raising two incredible human beings.

During this last visit to India, in November 2019, as I walked into the home in Amritsar, memories came flooding back. My brain brought memories of nooks and corners around the house. My muscle memories activated while walking around a broken floor, which my parents got it fixed, still, I kept skipping it. I started looking through the old photographs and fond memories of all the places I have been to. I saw colors in those black and white photos – the red seat of my tricycle, the stripes of my shirt, or the dress my mom wore. Vividly, I remembered the places where that photographs were taken – as an infant in my parents’ arms in our ancestral home and to see my kid’s photos in our home in Oregon.

As the trip was coming to close in India, someone commented that it seemed that “we were ready to go back home”. That made me think, where is my home?

Maybe it is at every place that I have lived or maybe it is where my heart lives and mind remembers or just maybe it is where I am with those whom I love and who love me. 36,000 feet above the ground heading back to Portland, makes me wonder, am I going home?

And as I look at the faces of my kids, I know … I … am … home!

JPS Nagi
November 30th, 2019
Written on the iPhone, 36,000 ft in the air, above the Canadian Rockies!

He-Man and Managing Your Universe – Five Management Lessons learnt from the TV series of the 80s

1024full-he--man-and-the-masters-of-the-universe-photo[1]Few weeks ago, I was surfing the shelves of a local bookstore when I came across an omnibus of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. My daughter, who was with me, was surprised that I knew about He-Man. Little did she know that I used to get up early on a Sunday to catch up on the show on TV during the 1980s.
As I look back, the lessons at the end of the show, which I used to find “interesting”, to say the least, are so relevant.
Here are five (plus a bonus) management lessons that we can learn from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

  1. Teamwork Works!
    If you ever watched a show, you will notice that the theme and format of (almost) every show is same – evil attacks and good triumphs. The good side or the evil side are not just one person – it is a team of people. Skeletor heads the evil troupe, and He-Man is leader of the good.
    Skeletor hatches a new scheme to rule Eternia, and attacks Eternia with the help of his cronies. Sorceress warns Masters of the Universe, who come together to save the day.
    Eternia is not saved by a single person but a team of Masters – Sorceress warns, Mech-a-Neck does reconnaissance, Startos provides air support, Man-at-Arms provide strategy, weapons & gadgets, and He-Man and Teela provide the raw power to fight on the ground. On the other side, Skeletor’s team does not work together, each one has their own agenda that conflicts with the others and hence their every attempt to capture Eternia fails. The same principle applies in our work lives. When working on a project, it is important that the team works together. Everyone contributes to the common goal and move forward. When a teammate needs help, the others lend a hand, pick them up and move on. If the members of the team do not work together, then the dysfunctional team will soon face failure.
  2. Alignment to a single goal
    In one of the episodes, the Eternian bees species do not get along with the bird species. Kings of both the species do not want Skeletor to overrun their kingdoms. They take extra steps to fortify their castles, however that does not help the other. In the episode, each (almost) lose their kingdoms to Skeletor. Although they realize their mistakes that they were not aligned and working together.
    Once they join forces, Skeletor is easily defeated. When working on a team, it is important to move forward “as a team” and equally important is moving forward in the same direction. Project teams have members from different departments and each of them bring their own needs and agendas to the table. It is needed that all the needs and agendas of team members have alignment towards the same goal. The ones who do not align to the common goal should not be part of the team; otherwise the project gets pulled in different directions, which will cause delays or worse, failure. When on the same team, work towards a single goal.
  3. Everyone is important
    One of the Masters, Mech-a-Neck, who can stretch his neck and does reconnaissance work in the TV show, starts to feel that he is not as important as the rest of the Masters. He thinks that even one of the robots of Man-at-Arms can replace him. Of course, the show predictably ends in him realizing that the work he does is important. At some point or the other in our lives, we have all felt or made ot feel that we are not as useful as the others. This is an extreme outlier case. Every cog in a machinery is important when they are part of the team. A cohesive team can work together better and faster than a team where folks have their own selfish agendas.
    When in doubt, just take a 15 min break, and recall all the work one has done in the past few years as a part of the team. You will find ample examples where you have stepped up and rose to the occasion and saved the day.
    Another important aspect is to understand that others are also equally important. I have met so many people who feel that they walk on water. Yes, they are smart, but when you fly solo, you can get a meteoritic rise that won’t last forever.
    Everyone on a team serves a function and is important, including you.
  4. Informed Timely Response
    Whenever Skeletor attacks Eternia, Masters have very little time to strategize to do a detailed planning. If they would have spent too much time in planning, Castle Grayskull would have fallen long time back. They gather information (Mech-a-Neck’s reconnaissance), assess the situation, decide on action to be taken and take action. In the corporate environment, we do not have luxury of endless time. The world keeps shrinking their times-to-market.
    There is a time to plan and then there is time to act. Planning cannot go on forever, and action cannot be without any thought behind it.
    When time comes to act, gather your wits & all the information you need, do an assessment,  make a decision and take action. Not taking an action in today’s world will harm your business.
    When you have all or sufficient amount of information needed to take the next step – decide and act upon it. Do stay perpetual planning.
  5. Looking back and looking forward
    In every episode of show, Eternia is destroyed by Skeletor. And in every subsequent episode, the people of Eternia are rebuilding their home. Home insurance must be very high in Eternia.
    Although it may be tough to live there, it shows resilience of the Eternians to learn from past, and then move forward. Man-at-Arms helps build barriers that are stronger and better fortified. That is a very important lesson I think. There is an old Indian saying, “Don’t fret over spilled milk”. I take it a step forward, “clean up and don’t let it spill, next time”.
    We all make mistakes and face failures. What is important is to learn from past and move on. It is very useful to develop a habit of looking back and deconstruct what went wrong.
    Sometimes we are too attached to a project to look objectively. In such cases ask a friend or a colleague you trust for help. Let them help you understand what went wrong.
    Learn from past mistakes, and take steps not to repeat them and move on.
    Moving on armed with new knowledge not to repeat mistakes is an asset that will prove very useful.
  6. Bonus Lesson – Leadership
    Yes, I did say Five lessons, but as I am writing this, I found another lesson. Every time Skeletor and his forces attack, Sorceress, who is the guardian of the Castle Grayskull, provides guidance to He-Man and Man-at-Arms to help steer them in the direction that will change the outcome of the battle. It is through her guidance that Eternia gets saved, no matter how bleak the circumstances. She is the voice of motivation, the voice of reason and the voice of guidance.
    And thus the importance of leadership – a voice of reason, guidance, inspiration and motivation. Leaders are always needed to provide the team with a vision of a goal for the common good and the team has to be able to buy into it. Too many times the vision does not get shared down to the team members. That always results in loss of motivation for the individual contributors on the team. Leaders at every levels of management need to share the vision with team members to keep them “in the loop” and bring overall motivation and alignment.

As a kid, I never thought that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe will have so many lessons, much less management lessons. As an adult, I see so many parallels.
There are also allegorical parallels of the TV series; that is an article for some other time.

For now, that’s all folks!

JPS Nagi
July 17, 2016

Life, Philosophy and Beer

A meteorology professor stood before his Meteorology 101 class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty glass mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a jar of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open spaces between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar and of course the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous yes.

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and then proceeded to pour the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — your family, your partner, your health, your children, your friends, your favorite passions — things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

“The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. Play another 18.

“There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.”

This was sent as a part of those annoying chain mails, which I never forward. But this was too good not to be shared with the world. Thanks to the original author.
I am borrowing this because of two reasons. One because it has been a while that I wrote something. Two because this is such a good anecdote to show people that there are things that are more important in life than they think.

Does the Universe talk back to you?

A good man once told me stories of two people and how they handle life’s problems, and decisions.

One of them prays and there is a method to his praying. While standing on a crossroads of a difficult decision in life, this person would turn his attention to God. He lights a candle, writes his problem on a small piece of paper, prays to get an answer, and then burns the piece of paper in the flame of that candle. In doing so, this person feels he is connecting to God and the rising smoke from burning this candle is taking his problem up to someone who will show him the way. As the smoke rises, he clears his mind of the problem, and waits for an answer or sign from Him. And every time, he has been given the answer or gets a sign from God, and feels that He has never been let down.

The second person the good man met, uses similar technique in resolving and facing his life’s problems. This person, sits down and quiets his mind – a sort of meditative state, if you may. While in this state, he thinks about the decision or the problem he is facing in life, and imagines himself standing on a beach. Then he makes a snowball of the problem, (or wraps his problem inside a snowball). With the full force, he then throws the snowball of his problem in the ocean, and watches it melt away as it is floating away from him. After a while, he starts to see the solution to his problem present itself. Our second person too feels that he has never been let down.

The good man met these people at different places and in different times of their lives. What makes this most interesting is the fact that the first person is a devout Christian, and the second is an Atheist. However, in both cases, you can see that there is a similarity in the way they approach a problem or decision in their lives. They both take their problems, and separate themselves from the problem. In the first case, writing the problem on a piece of paper is a way to take the problem out of your system. In the second case, the person imagines, in a quieted state, that he is taking his problem out of his mind and wrapping it in a snowball. Then they both send their problem to someone that they feel will provide help with an answer – towards God, or towards the world or universe, and wait for the solution to present itself.

Our good man heard these stories years apart of each other. He felt overwhelmed (and a bit freaked out) when he heard a totally different second person talk couple of weeks after the first one.

When I heard these stories, they seemed interesting to me. After listening to the two stories, I felt that our second person is not a religious person, but he sure is spiritual. He feels or believes in the existence of a higher being or the universe. I feel that in both cases the answers are inside a person. However, a lot of times we are emotionally compromised, or we are emotionally invested in a problem that we do not see the answer. In these stories, I heard that both people would separate themselves from the problem or a decision, and they can objectively make a better, informed decisions, and thus never been let down.

The key to making a better decision then seems to be looking at the problem objectively. And the universe will talk back to you.

Jatinder PS Nagi
May 6, 2012