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November - 1999 - issue > Sam Pitroda Column
Just Chill
Monday, November 1, 1999

Our work has a tendency to eclipse the rest of our identity. We introduce ourselves to others by saying, “I’m a lawyer,” or “I’m a banker,” and sometimes forget that we are actually so much more. Professional achievement is important, but it’s dependent on a more fundamental sort of success. In today’s fast paced work place, because of the emphasis on IT and the whole transformation that’s taking place, people are constantly in a rush. They have to manage family life, work, health, interpersonal relationships and a host of other complications. Because of our fixation on the items that are immediately pending, we lose sight of the things that really count, and that provide us with the energy and purpose for our work. Through my career, I’ve constantly attempted to find a balance between the immediate and the permanent, between the ephemerally important, and the things that count in the long run. Here are a few lessons that I’ve learnt – and that I’m still learning.
Beauty in Chaos

With all the pressure at work, I constantly need to focus on three core areas: The Self, family, and friends. Ultimately, I draw all the energy I need to work from these sources. It begins with the “Self.” I think I’ve been influenced more – consciously and subconsciously – by the Eastern concept of Self than the Western. The Eastern concept, to me, is more holistic, and is comfortable with chaos. It accepts chaos as part of life. Growing up in India, your eye sees an Indian mosaic of disparate things. You see placid water buffaloes and a swank Mercedes on a dirt road, with little kids gawking at its gleaming exterior. The colorful drama is played out in front of you. There’s variety and of course, constant chaos. Yet you feel comfortable in the midst of this – people eat in the streets, they enjoy their environment. In the West, everything seems compartmentalized. People associate with people their own age, their own type, and organize playgroups for their kids. In India, you cut diagonally across these lines. The elderly tell stories to children and if you miss the bus, you just hop on to your friend’s scooter. You’re a part of everybody’s life, and not just in your own compartment. I believe these images have played an important role in my adult life. They teach you to live with chaos, to realize that life has its ups and downs. And it’s not always very structured. Having learnt to appreciate these instances of chaos has given me a great sense of comfort in trying times.

Do Your Work, Through Thick and Thin

You have to have a stable self-esteem, or else you can’t maintain your efficiency. In India, you often have to have an alligator thick skin. People poke and prod. If they draw blood, they poke even more. You have to have a firmly grounded sense of Self; else you’ll be in trouble — if your boss says something to you, you can’t sleep at night. If things aren’t going well, you get uptight. You can’t let these things get to you, because in the larger scheme of things, they’re insignificant. What is important today will seldom be important tomorrow, just as newspaper headlines from yesterday are forgotten the day after. People have short memories, so don’t worry about what others will say. If it feels good, it must be good. Just do it, and learn to laugh at the Self.

Another thing I’ve absorbed from India is the concept of karma, by which I mean the philosophical principle more than the religious doctrine. You do things because they need to be done, without looking to see what they can do for you. It’s another way of looking at the Self. Your actions shouldn’t simply be coded into an equation, which you hope will yield a positive output. You should concentrate on doing your job well and not worry about the fruits of your labor. Cement this with a sense of discipline. If you are disciplined – when you write down things, follow up on things, keep yourself organized — then things become clearer. You can have a tighter assessment of your performance. This wider picture really keeps you balanced. Stay focused on the future, because the present is just a journey to get to where you want to eventually be.

The Human Community

After the Self, there is the family. Wife, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles – you derive energy from all these different people. You derive energy from the young and wisdom from the old. And after a hard day of work you know you can put your feet up in your favorite corner and you can just drop in at your uncle’s house without calling ahead. There’s a place to go and people to meet. Even if you’re having a bad day, they will accept you. You can share in their joys and sorrows. This is the beauty of human community, and man is a social animal. Family is the reviving epicenter of your day’s joys and frustrations. To me, the quality of time spent with the family is more important than the quantity of time. I don’t often get to spend extended time with my family, but the quality of our time is always excellent. Wherever I am, I try to keep in touch with my family. Even if it’s for a few brief moments.

Good friends are a crucial aspect of my life. I think that if you don’t have good friends, you should reexamine your life. And not just like minded friends, but friends of all types. I have friends who are diametrically opposite to me in many ways. I have a group of very religious friends, though I’m not a religious man and a group of hard-wired intellectuals – sometimes I can’t even relate to their conversations. Some of my friends smoke. I don’t. I have one friend who is heavily involved in the Rama Krishnan mission. I have friends that are sportsmen and doctors. And I’ve learned something from all of them. My psychiatrist friend taught me invaluable lessons about interpersonal relationships. It’s very important to have friends who like you for who you are, people you can joke with and cry with. Sometimes, in taking care of our relationships and affairs, we forget to take care of ourselves. But its very important not to forget to take care of your health – it’s the beginning of happiness.

Self, family and friends. The three are crucial in maintaining a balance in your life, and a focus on the things that really matter. Our immediate successes and failures sometimes absorb us completely. My father had told me that life was a journey, and you have to experience the entire journey. There’s often a fine line that separates our perception of success from failure, and its drawn quite arbitrary. Rather than concern ourselves with the results that our actions will yield, we should concentrate on doing our jobs well and maintaining happiness. Real success is sure to follow.

In my next article, I will discuss a few qualities that help facilitate success, both personal and professional.

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