An Ode to Taking One Step at a Time

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I always get anxious when I think of a big task or chore. I look at the outcome and its tediousness instead of focusing on the small steps that can lead to the result.

When you shift your attention to each step, things appear simpler. The overwhelming burden of the goal dies down, and you feel more energized to begin the task. On the other hand, shift your focus to the task in its entirety, and you are sure to feel stuck, without any motivation to move any further. Yet, this is what I end up doing – concentrating on the big, chunky, mammoth of a task instead of slicing it down into small digestible bites.

Last year though, I had decided on some resolutions, and I broke them all down into achievable steps.

Here’s how they went.

Walking 10,000 Steps

I had gained a bit of weight because of work stress. I hardly moved from my seat, stuck to my never-ending workload day in and out. This weight gain affected my mental and physical health. That’s when I decided to take things back into my control and I started walking. I set my goal as 10,000 steps, 5 days a week. Sounds overwhelming, right? It certainly was for me – someone who has never walked anywhere near 5000 steps, let alone 10,000.

I decided to go easy on myself.

The first day, I walked 2000 steps and continued it for a week. The following week, I increased my target to 4000 steps. I kept doubling it every week until I reached 10,000. I continued this for one whole year without a break. It worked; I lost the flab. My immunity and metabolism also improved considerably. I did not end up looking like a supermodel with my walks, but I now feel healthy, and that’s what matters.

Here’s the secret to how I could sustain my walks for one whole year – I had decided I would not complete all my steps at one go. Instead, I would distribute it throughout the day. That way, I was constantly moving without exerting too much pressure on myself. It also did not take up too much time in between work. When you force yourself to exercise only at a scheduled time slot, it eventually sucks the joy out of fitness (at least it does for me). When that happens, you are naturally tempted to stop exercising after the initial enthusiasm dies down.

The book, Ikigai, talks of how the Japanese, ever-famous for their longevity and happiness, thrive by walking and moving throughout the day, engaged in their hobbies and interests. They do not sit still for long, as opposed to most of us. Our routine may or may not allow us to follow the Japanese mantra, but we can try to get up from our seats every one hour and walk around for 5-10 mins. It might make a considerable difference

Completed a 60-Hour Long Online Course

I am a working woman with a full-time job. I love to write a bit on my blog (right here) during my spare time. It keeps me energized. Other than that, I do not get much time for anything else. I love to learn new things, but I never found time for it. Last year, I finally decided to take up a course to help me understand my work better. It was 60 hours long. A bit overwhelming for someone who hardly had any free time. But I completed it (yay!) by slicing it down to small lessons each day.

I would dedicate a learning timeslot that would range from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on my energy levels. It’s not much, right? But look at what 10-20 minutes every day can do. It can help you finish an entire course. It took a lot of time to complete overall (one whole year!), but never once did I feel overwhelmed or tempted to leave the course midway.

Started Learning a New Language

The only foreign language I had any chance of using for real was Arabic. I travel to the Middle East now and then. I wanted to learn the language so that I could understand the shop boards and converse in simple Arabic if required.

I dedicate 10 minutes every day to learning new alphabets or words.

I am still not fluent, but I can read and understand basic sentences. Again, all by committing just 10 minutes every day.

Conclusion

Anything can be achieved if we break it down into small achievable steps.

If you want to start reading more, spend 10-15 minutes every day. From experience, I can tell you that you will end up surpassing your allotted reading time.

If you want to start waking up earlier, start by waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual for one week. Then, 30 minutes earlier, and so on, until you reach your target.

If you think this way, you can achieve almost anything without losing steam. You are being kind to yourself, so there is no chance of fatigue. You won’t get far (at first), but at least you will be a step closer to your goal. After a while, when you look back, you will be astonished at how much progress you have made.

Sometimes, all we need is a push to take that first step.

Do not look at the outcome and enjoy the journey. Relish the whole process, and the results will automatically follow.

An Ode to Being Aware of the Two Most Unfair (But Less-Talked-About) Comparisons

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His job profile is the pits. He is not earning much.” (Comparing the person’s job to someone else’s probably one’s own.)

I enjoy my work and my salary. But almost everyone I know is changing their jobs, and I am feeling restless.” (Comparing our job to someone else’s.)

The things we get in our country are far better than this.” (Comparing two countries that are poles apart socio-economically.)

My friend is visiting a lot of places. She’s so lucky!” (Comparing the friend’s “travel luck” to your own.)

Comparison is the ultimate joy stealer. And I do not mean just comparing yourself to someone. I also mean comparing others and their situations to our mental model of “the perfect life.” I have seen people comparing themselves to friends, relatives, acquaintances, some random person on social media and making their life miserable. I have also seen people feeling miserable right after hearing someone’s comparison. In the first instance, we are unkind to ourselves. In the second instance, others are being unkind to us. Either way, rest assured, comparisons bring no happiness.

Still, people just cannot seem to stay away from comparing, sometimes unintentionally. There are many types of comparisons, but some of them have been normalized beyond our conscious awareness, so much so that we don’t think twice before blurting them out.

The Most Notorious Comparison—”We Are Better Off Than You”

When we say something like, “The chocolate we get in our country is far superior in quality,” we are not exactly sharing any valuable information with the other person. We only sound like an elitist. It is akin to saying, “I have tasted something far better, and you, my dear, will have no easy access to it.” The info might be accurate. The chocolate might be of better quality. But the person we are talking to might have a reality that is different from ours. For them, this particular chocolate might be of the best quality—because they have no other options to compare it with! In my opinion, to destroy that sense of joy in someone is the most insensitive thing one can do.

Unfortunately, this type of comparison is notoriously common. I am sure we all have heard something of the sort. The listener can only nod in agreement when such comparisons are made. They do not want to be rude by disagreeing, or they genuinely have no idea if the information shared with them is valid.

People pass judging comments without thinking twice about the interlocutor’s feelings. “Would they benefit from this info?” “Would they feel better after knowing these details?” Of course not. Yet, this is a type of comparison that is notoriously common.

Recently, on a news channel covering the unfortunate Ukraine-Russia war, a woman said in a state of shock, “The unthinkable has happened. This is not even a developing third-world nation. This is Europe.” She compared Ukraine’s situation to that of war-torn developing nations. It was a privileged, unkind statement, making it seem acceptable if poor countries face violence and unrest. She might not have intended it as such, but for a person from a “third world nation,” listening to such statements can be a harrowing experience.

Similar types of comparisons include:

  • “{Insert Country Name} has a superior standard of living. This is why I chose to settle there instead of staying in {Home Country}.”
  • “Food tastes better in {Insert Country Name}. In {Home Country}, everything is of low quality.”
  • “The quality of education is poor. So are the wages. I left the country due to these reasons.”

Sometimes, the listener might have chosen a life that is different from ours (like staying back in their home country). For them, these comments may seem like an insult. While advocating for something we believe in, it is equally important to not sound disrespectful (unintentionally or otherwise) of the life choices made by another person.

“I Am Happy, But Should I Be Happy?”

Everyone seems to be in the midst of a job change nowadays. Pay packages are on the rise, especially in the IT industry. This is inspiring a lot of workers to make that much-needed career shift. And why not? Without an iota of doubt, people should chase their dreams—we have only one life after all.

But then there are people like me, who are happy with their jobs, doubting their happiness, because everyone seems to be in a rush to exit their current companies.

Are you still working for the same company?” asks an acquaintance. It almost sounds like I have sinned by staying loyal to the company that I’ve enjoyed working for so far. This made me doubt my happiness—another unfair comparison.

In all aspects of life, and not just work, the happy wayfarers eventually start comparing their life decisions with the next person’s ambiguity, wondering, “Am I truly happy? Is this really what I want?” The hysteria around can make you question your well-thought-out decisions.

This is a type of comparison we should be wary of. We are getting swayed by someone else’s dreams and ambitions—and forgetting our own goals in the process. Your dream may not be another person’s dream and vice versa. Sometimes, we make impulsive decisions based on external factors and end up regretting them. It helps to double-check yourself whenever you face such doubts. Outline your core requirements (necessities that can make you unhappy if absent) and ask yourself whether the new path fulfills each of these demands. This self-questioning helps to build more clarity and to confirm whether you are following your own dream or someone else’s.

Let’s Take a Step Back..

It helps to take a step back and introspect our opinions before dishing them out to the next person.

As Haresh Sippy said, “Comparison is the root cause of all evil. Why compare when no two people are alike?

An Ode to Self Driving Cars – Because, Let’s Face It, Some Of Us Hate Driving

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I can’t wait for driverless cars.

I know it might not happen while I am still alive, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming.

I hate driving, especially in traffic. I have given up on driving altogether in the city I live in – because the place is not exactly a driver’s paradise with its bumper-to-bumper traffic and the lack of parking space.

My location is equipped with good public transportation – I am able to catch an Uber or an autorickshaw the moment I step out of my house. So at the most, I take my car out maybe once every month.

I would like a driverless car for the following reasons though:

  • I can let my car take all the headache (or should I say bumperache?) of finding a parking slot. Or I can order it to go right back home, if there are no parking slots available anywhere.
  • Heck, I wouldn’t even need to own a car if there are driverless robocabs hovering nearby. This is what Zoox has in mind – not to sell robo cars but to offer them as taxis.
  • My elderly mom could go on a solo trip without depending on anyone.
  • People with disabilities would be able to travel on their own.
  • People who hate driving can avoid driving! Whaaaat? You thought everyone liked driving? Tsk tsk.

Change is difficult, I know. And scary. History is a key witness to such skepticism and cynicism evoked by changing circumstances. Every new discovery or invention is met with stubborn resistance. For example, the automatic elevator. Did you know elevators used to be manually lifted before? When the automatic elevators were invented, many were adamant about not using those strange machines. Too dangerous, they said. Sounds familiar? Now we know how that story ended. 

It is the story of many automated machines. Some still face flak even if they are widely in use.

Let’s take the case of automatic transmission cars. They are everywhere now. Many prefer to drive an automatic instead of a manual – it makes life easier. No stress of shifting gears, you just need to concentrate on the road. Yet, there was, and still is, a lot of resistance towards teaching new drivers how to drive using an automatic car. I know many new drivers who would prefer to learn in an automatic because they have no intention of driving a manual transmission car in the future. Once you start driving an automatic, there’s no going back. For two reasons – 1) You become accustomed to driving an automatic. 2) You end up forgetting how to drive a manual. So what was the need of teaching such drivers how to drive a manual, anyway? Many learn driving with only one intention – that of traveling from Point A to Point B; not to learn the intricacies and technicalities involved with changing gears. But as mentioned before, change is difficult. When there are alternative automated solutions, we still tend to prefer the conventional methods.

Human beings in general are terrible drivers, even if most believe otherwise. It is impossible to get a 360-degree view of our surroundings, something a machine can do effortlessly, so we cannot really blame ourselves for our mishaps. We end up speeding when we are not supposed to, we drink and drive when we are not supposed to, we get distracted easily by the smallest of things, we make clumsy mistakes that can cost lives, and yet… we have trouble trusting machines.

Self driving cars have a long way to go before they become available to the public. Preparations are in full swing – like in the case of Waymo (Google’s self driving car), which was recently tested on urban terrains.

If driverless cars are approved, I would be first in line – provided it is affordable. Did I say affordable? If only wishes were horses. Till then, I will make do with ogling small, cute cars.

An Ode to Staying Unmarried Forever

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I am in my late 30s, and I might never get married.

Initially, I wanted to. I terribly did. When I was in my teens, I never pictured myself as an unmarried woman with no children. In my dreams, I had a dashing husband, the cutest of kids, and all the usual, regular mush coated with a sugary sweetness that had the full potential to make anyone diabetic.

Then life happened.

Life happens for everyone of course, but for me, my journey took a complete U-turn from what I expected.

I did not get a dreamy husband.

I was not a dreamy wife.

I did not get any dreamy children.

My fairy tale turned out to be a horror story in disguise.. and I got divorced.

I thought my life was going to end. How is a woman in her late 20s going to live without a husband? It used to hurt a lot initially. The thought that life would be so unfair, blessing others with the good things in life while I was left with nothing but despair, was too much for me to fathom. A desolate soul in search of a deeper meaning in the form of marital status – that was me.

In hindsight, I never enjoyed my marital life – if you take away the husband part of it as well. The regular chores, the responsibilities, made me think, “Is this what I am going to do the rest of my life?” I had no time for hobbies, things that mattered to me, my work, or anything that kept me alive, active, and fulfilled. Marital life is indeed a busy world, and you should not step into it unless you are ready to take on the responsibilities, compromises, and adjustments that come with cohabitation.

I was never ready for it.

Within a few years of my unmarried life, I realized how much I was adjusting and compromising in my married life. When I left the relationship, it was as if a chain was broken, and I finally attained wings to fly. This freedom felt like finally finding water in a desert. My thirst, however, did not get quenched. Instead, I found it ever-increasing. The thirst to enjoy the things I want, the thirst to not be answerable to anyone for the first time in my life, the thirst to just be. It was liberating, it was extraordinary, and it felt like love. I never knew love in the form of freedom. I thought love could only be found in people. It took a break from one kind of love for me to discover another. The type of love that I had never experienced before because all through my life I was told: “marriage is important.”

I never realized a woman could live without getting married. I have seen others living a content life without tying the knot, but I used to look at them with compassion. The thought that marriage is mandatory and the only thing that can make a woman happy was so ingrained and indoctrinated in me that any other way of living was callously dismissed.

Why did it take a divorce for me to find freedom? The answer might be that the people in my vicinity finally stopped pressurizing me to get into something I was not comfortable with i.e., marriage.

Note the usage of the word “unmarried” instead of “single.” A good relationship is like a cherry on the cake. It is a bonus—a plus. But I feel if a relationship is what makes you feel “complete,” then it would mean that you are lacking otherwise. This is far from the truth. We should celebrate individuality as much as coupledom, if not more. In the end, it all boils down to choice. There is never really one single right path. But you should have the complete freedom to choose the path you desire.

My dream is no longer marriage. It feels like I have seen the other side, and now I choose the other side – the path less taken. My dream is now to selfishly enjoy my freedom till the end of life. To those wondering how the path is – it is not easy. It is definitely not easy. You always have this big FOMO because everyone around you is following a path entirely different from yours – they find someone they love, they marry, and they live happily(?) ever after.

What happens when you don’t marry? For a reclusive person like me, it is a journey of self-discovery, freedom, and fulfillment. For another, it might be that of melancholy. It truly is subjective. But it is a life that is definitely worthy, liveable, and sustainable.

To end this with the ever-famous lines by Robert Frost:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.