On mental health...

Sent this email to some co-workers. Publishing it on my blog because I think this deserves a larger audience. 


Disclaimers first.
  • You are getting this email because you work with me. And I work with you. In the capacity of a partner, employee, employer, friend, mentor, intern, associate, client et al.
  • This is going to be a long email. Please DO read this. It's important to me that you do. No, you don't have to reply.

So, you, of course, know me. And you know that I have always taken pride in pushing people out of their comfort zones. To a point that I zealously justify that "Good Job" thingy in the movie Whiplash. I love the idea of going all-in. Your work has to consume you or it is not your true work at all. I like the idea of NOT having a work-life balance. I have worshipped hard and long work over anything else. People that are famously workaholics are my idols (not just for what they've been able to achieve but the work ethic they had - and yes apart from a few exceptions I have not seen a lot of people work less and yet get successful). To me, you either went BIG or you did not try. I would push EVERYONE I know to try and aim for a large objective. With the rationale that even if you failed, you would have achieved things that were beyond your imagination. And I thought it worked well. I mean it DOES work well. I have enough evidence.

But something happened this week that is making me re-think the very core of my belief system.

So, the day before I met this young boy, A, for a coffee. He is one of those typical young people that I like to spend time with. Young, intelligent, ambitious, hungry for success, believes in self and his ideas. Hustles hard - travels through the length and the breadth of the city to meet people. Closes loops. Follows up. Actually does the work. Creates opportunities that don't exist. Finds work wheres there no scope of it ever happening. In one line, if you asked me, he is on the fast track of success. Has EVERY ingredient that I always wish I had. I would've bet my life that in 5 years he would be amongst the richest and most famous people!

But then one minute into the meeting, I realized that something was amiss. And while talking excitedly about what he plans to do, he started sobbing. In the middle of a coffee shop. In the middle of a sentence. In the middle of a slide. Took him a few seconds of crying and then he was back to normal and continued where he had left! As if nothing happened. I figured that he is suffering from some mental ailment that I did not have an inkling of.

I saw him breakdown in front of my eyes.

Normally I am good at spotting signs but this one escaped me, even though I was meeting him often. Since the meeting, I've read quite a few things and I know that mental health issues can hide in plain sight and people suffering don't even realize that they are suffering!

Coming back. So A, otherwise articulate, in that 20-minute meeting was hyperactive, jumped from topic to topic, cried a few times without realizing that he was, made the same point multiple times (he lost track of what he was speaking), talked about how he will rule the world (and he was damn serious about it), popped a few medicines (I hope they were legit) and could barely sit still.

This was the first time when something like this happened so close to me. And I was, I am shaken.

I am not exaggerating that it was THE most painful meeting of my life. I have been in meetings where people have lost their loved ones, lost business, flunked years, broken up with the loved ones and more. Those were comparatively ok. This was so painful that I could not sleep. And I was mostly like a vegetable for almost a day. I could not process that life could be so unfair. As I write this, I still can't.

But what I did process was that my approach towards work may not work for all. Of course, I've been told by a lot of people that there is never a one-size-fits-all solution. I've read it multiple times at multiple places. I've even discussed it with close friends but never believed in it. I would dismiss these as easy reasons to be lazy, short-sighted and un-ambitious.

And I've never been more wrong!

So wrong that I am probably going to reevaluate my whole life. And like I said, my belief system.

I believe that all human progress was made by people that did not have work-life balance.
But at what cost? By having broken people living in misery? Or may be misery is indeed a fundamental truth of life? I know I am going down the existential-nihilism dredge and I ought to stop.

I believe that we need to work hard and do nothing else.
I believe that every waking minute needs to be spent on chasing growth / money etc.
I do not believe in the concept of breaks.
But does that really make people more effective? Does that deliver more? The whole of tech-space yesterday was debating about this on twitter. None of the sides was a clear winner. No, it's not about winning or losing. It's about people. And understanding that both may have its own merits. And you cant diss others for their unambitious, slow life. That is their decision to make and I can NOT push them to see things my way.

I believe that we need to surround ourselves with others that are on the same path and trajectory as us. And more importantly, chase the ones ahead, the ones that seemed to have it figured. Chase them till you die. Till you reach where they are (which is never because by that time they are further ahead). You know, rat race?
May it's this rat race to the impossible top that sends people off the cliff? What if there is never a cliff? Just a treadmill?

I believe that we need to workship these heroes that have done superhuman things. And live with the maxim that if they can, then you can as well!
Of course, they have had different circumstances, lives, opportunities, ideas and all that. But who are we to think about those? What is important is that we have a cultish fervor towards these heroes.

May be, just may be, this entire startup culture, youth revolution, row your own boat, blow your own trumpet life is what is pushing people over the edge? Everyone is surrounded by so much media, content, information, signs that you can do so much more, that you can be the king of the world, that life is beyond the comfort zone, that you are special etc, etc. We hear about people next door that go on to raise a billion dollars, people that come out of nowhere to become the next Bollywood superstar, people that start with nothing and go on to captain the most prestigious team ever. These things are supposed to inspire you. Their stories are meant to help you push harder. After all, they cast-off, did their own thing, worked hard and achieved fame. 

Is this the real culprit?

If they did not have glory, we'd not have heroes. May be there is indeed merit in remaining anonymous. Or may be not. What would make a man get up from his bed if he did not have his brethren to make envious?

I have ranted for so long now. And trust me I thought about A and his condition for hours before I could gather the thoughts to be able to write this.

And the point of this? 
Well, if I've pushed you beyond your comfort zone, it is to help you see things that you probably aren't able to. Now I know I have no right. If I've said anything out of place, caused you discomfort, belittled you, I am sorry. 

And if you ever think you need some sort of intervention, if I can help in any way, PLEASE do let me know. PLEASE speak up. You ARE important to me. And to a lot of other people! 

And please keep looking for signs around you and when you spot someone in distress, please please intervene! 

And that's about it. 

Oh, one more thing. I love you! Really do. 


PS: No, please don't call me and ask who this person is.

PPS: If I sound incoherent, please excuse. I am writing after a while. And I am still shaken. To a point that I took a break for a day before resuming work. I can't even imagine when A must be going thru. Or how any of you is.

The feeling of being listless

So I have been feeling listless in the last few days. Even before I went to Bangalore. And I don't know why. May be it is the new place that I have moved to. Or may be that I don't have an AC at my place and thus I have had inconsistent and fitful sleep. Or it could be that I don't have an office place anymore (the guys I was sharing an office with, they moved onto a new place and they no longer have a vacancy). Or may be I am stressed about something important to me - my work, relationships, money.

I can't seem to put a finger on things but I am being so useless that it is not making me listless. You know, spiraling down the feedback loop? You do something because you are not well. That act of doing that something makes you all the more unwell. And because you are unwell, you do that something. And you get in that loop.

Lemme give another example. You are fat. You want to lose weight. But because you are fat, you can't seem to gather what it takes to go ride the treadmill. Rather, you eat more as you struggle with the misery of not going on the treadmill. And because you can't go to the treadmill and you can't stop eating, you get fatter.

Fuck. I am doing such a bad job of explaining this! I need to brush up my skills to explain things.

Anyway, I have been so listless that I am actually miserable in the head. I am so out of sync with how I identify with myself, the story that I tell myself, the narrative if you will...

Who am I?
What is the story that I tell myself?
What is the song that I sing to myself?
What is my narrative?

I am someone who wants to improve every day. And help others around me improve. And in the process, make money, create impact and move the world forward. This quote summaries me well...

So, if I am not improving myself every day, I believe I am not living. I am not alive. And how do I improve myself every day? Simple. Create (more) and consume (lesser). Meet more people. Work on my physical, emotional and mental sides of life. Physical - no I don't work out but I like to walk, I like to eat in moderation. I like to sleep better. Mental - get active, keep my head engaged, think of things that I believe need work on. Emotional - become stronger to be able to cope up with the vagaries of life.

And I am not doing any of these. At all. I am not reading. I am not writing. I am not meditating. I am not creating. I am not meeting interesting people. I am not chasing largeness the way I ought to chase.  I am not creating opportunities for myself. I am not consuming media (not reading books, seeing content, listening to podcasts, etc). I am not thinking. I am not actively questioning things and opinions and ideas. I am just being a vegetable. Heck, I am not being a good vegetable - not been sleeping well at all, like I said.

I am not doing anything that I want to be doing with my life or time. And it sucks so bad that I can't seem to put my finger to it!

This suckyness in the head and the inability to think of answers is not the best place to be at. And I need to get out of it. And from whatever limited I can think, there could be a few solutions. Lemme try and list those.

To start with, this...

Found this on Kunal Shah's twitter feed. Very consistent with what I've been saying all my life. Happen to things, rather than waiting for things to happen to you. Become a high agency individual, if you will.

Translating this into specifics, the action items for the next few days are...

1. I will go and find an office place for myself. Just that most of the co-working places are way too expensive and not designed to enable work. Really. They are not. And it's pathetic. So, despite the limitation, I will find something that allows me to start work at 7 AM. And is accessible. Even if I have to spend extra, I will.

2. Get back to that life where work was the only priority and nothing else mattered.
Last few days, I don't know why and how I started to take it easy. Which means that I would do those parties and stay up late and socialize and meet people to "catchup" and all that. Which works well for a lot of people. But not for me. So, I need to get back to that inhuman life and routine where I am up with the sun and spend more of my waking time working (and not leisuring). 

3. Think hard about each thing and cut out parts that are hampering my sanity. If a relationship is not giving me happiness or comfort or peace of mind, I will move out of it. If there is an idea that is not progressing despite all my intentions, I will get out of it. If I have to take hard decisions, I will. Like AK told me yesterday, I am fucked because I am attached to things that I should've let go a long time ago! I mean if C4E does not make money for me, I should think hard about it and put a pause to it, if I have to. If I can't seem to get the book 2 going, I must quit the idea of working on it. You get the drift?

4. Get my sleep in order. Since I've moved to the new house, I've not been sleeping well. And it's affecting the way I operate. May be that it the key reason for my unhappiness and how I operate. Over the new few days, I will get my sleep in order. Everything else can wait. In fact, this should be on the top of the list. But it's too much edit. So let is remain here.

So yeah.

This is the rant for the day.

Thank God I have this blog and a daily journal of sorts to record how I feel. If not for these, I would probably go mad. I wonder how those people that remain quiet operate. I could never. I need something to talk to, someone to rant to. Even if its the blog.

What about you?

The Bangalore Diaries

Started writing this in Bangalore when I was there a few days ago. Edited and published it on 05 Dec 19, from Mumbai. 

So as I write this, I am at a Blue Tokai Coffee Shop at Indira Nagar, which to me will be among the top 5 places. Not Blue Tokai. I mean Blue Tokai is also nice. But Indira Nagar is dope. One of the top 5 localities to live in, in India.

Indira Nagar has everything that you may want. Wide roads, lined with trees on both sides, a mix of international and local businesses, offering you everything that you may want for life. There are cafes that offer healthy, organic food. There are coffee shops that offer you free wi-fi and uninterrupted long-hours of work. There are stores that sell from organic clothes to bicycling accessories to hard to find trinkets to electronics and what not! And on top of everything, the weather is just perfect. It could get hot but there are so many trees that you can take shelter under. There is footpaths that are not encroached by hawkers, bikes, and people. There are quiet lanes and bylanes and small gullies where you don't have creepy people lurking in the shadows. There is fancy modern buildings and larger fancier row houses that put those bungalows in Delhi's Sainik Farms to shame!

Shot on iPhone, by Saurabh Garg. More pics on this twitter thread.

Anyhow. So I was here for a TRS event. We had two filmmakers, one almost indie (Devashish Makhija) and another almost commercial (Hardik Mehta) talk about their idea of films and filmmaking. And this was our first event outside of Mumbai. We hoped to get some 50 guests but could only get 25-30. But then thanks to Devashish and Hardik, we made up for the empty seats with the quality of conversation between them. If you want to be a filmmaker, you HAVE to see the conversation. We'd try to put it on Youtube soon. Remind me in a few days if we don't :D

Devashish, Hardik in conversation with Shikha. Here's a snapshot of the event. Photo by Anusha S

So, while I was here for the event, I stayed back for two days to catch up with people that I needed to meet. In fact, I have been planning this for a while now. And a funny thing happened. I texted some 10-15 people and not one responded to the request to meet. This is the second time this has happened to me in the recent past. I really need to investigate the reasons. May be I don't add enough value. Or may be people are genuinely busy. Or maybe I need to revisit how I work and operate. This entire "me being me" doesn't work.

But then, from the ones that did make time to meet, I have to talk about meetings with S, M, and A.

S talked to me about life and work and was easily one of those few people that I automatically opened up to! While talking to her, I could talk about my insecurities, how my heroes seem to have fallen off their high pedestals, how I feel lost for most of my gurus are monsters, how I need to maintain a balance between a life I choose for myself and what I leave behind. It was easily one of the most mind-expanding conversations I've had.

M is a senior from MDI, has sold two startups and onto the third one. While talking to him, he spoke about what makes him decide when to jump in. He said till you get so obsessed with the idea that you can't think of anything else, you MUST not jump onto it. Makes perfect sense. Just that I am not sure if this is applicable to me. As a human being, I am very very curious. To the point that I am a scatterbrain. But if I think about all the great people and the things they do. And they HAVE been obsessed with the ideas that they were working on. May be I need to think hard about my choices and all.

A has been one of my greatest supporters and with time, a friend that I wish lived in the same city as I. We first connected when #tnks came out (#note2self - must write more often - writing allows me to meet more people) and we've been in contact since. She is also a writer (see her work here). And a photographer (check her Instagram here). And one of the nicest people I know. So while talking to her, it dawned on me that I need to be better with the distribution. What this means is that today, once I share a piece once on twitter, I think my job is done and then I don't do anything about it. Whereas, I've been told multiple times by multiple people that as a creator, my larger job is spread what I create. I can't just write something and then hope that it will spread. As a "high agency" person (see this twitter thread), I need to take an active interest in distribution and make sure that everyone sees it. Especially in the times when Facebook and Google and other distribution channels obfuscate your content unless you pay them! We also talked about how she can work on her book more effectively. And I think I quite enjoy helping others. Well, who doesn't :D

The last thing that I wanted to do while I was in Bangalore is to try and meet Lucky Ali. Bangalore. Lucky Ali. How? Well, the gentleman lives there. And I know where's his place. And I thought I would drop in unannounced and try to get a meeting out of him. And hope to get to write his biography (one of my life's ambitions). But then more I thought about it, more I realized how insensitive and obtrusive it would be. I mean imagine someone walking into your home unannounced. How would you feel?

So yeah. That's that. There were other smaller things there. Like the best butter dosa I've ever had in my life is from this place called Sri Udupi Park. I went back again and again to eat. I spotted this cafe that had organic food. The food was ok but loved the vibe. Then there was Jaypore - had like 5 shirts for men but priced very reasonably - I bought one of those 5.

In fact, Bangalore trip was like life in the slow lane and may I say, I loved it! Need to make more such trips! Until then, over and out :)

The Nidhi Kapoor Story

Did you like this post? May be you want to read my first book - The Nidhi Kapoor Story.

Check it out on Amazon or Flipkart?