Last week, I had brief interactions with 2 different entrepreneurs – one came across with very high self-confidence and another came across with somewhat low self-confidence.
Normally these differences are not so stark to notice it, but in these cases, I immediately noticed it as the former came across more like – arrogant and delusional, and the latter came across more like – humble and pessimistic.
My first thought was – is one better than the other?
We have been told by motivational speakers that having high self-confidence is the key to success in life. But based on my limited information available on the public internet about their financial success, both seem equally successful.
That got me thinking, what’s the correlation of someone’s self-confidence with their success. Initially, I looked at it only from a financial success perspective, then quickly realized, that’s a very narrow way of looking at it.
In addition to financial success, some people might also care more or equal about other factors in life like relationships, friendships, legacy, etc.
Another factor is – some people are not always authentic. They may show themselves as someone else than who they truly are.
I think there are 4 kinds of people:
People who have high-self confidence, and also display high-self confidence
People who have high-self confidence, but display low-self confidence
People who have low-self confidence, but display high-self confidence
People who have low-self confidence, and also display low-self confidence
Let’s dive into these in detail –
1. People who have high-self confidence, and also display high-self confidence
These people often come across fearless, but also arrogant and delusional
They have high self-confidence due to their past success, but that quickly turns into “I know it all” mindset
These people don’t seem to be more open to feedback from other people, listening to other perspectives and ideas
Because of these reasons, my hypothesis is they may not have many true friends or long-lasting relationships – people who are around them for their financial success and status
2. People who have high-self confidence, but display low-self confidence
These people often come across confident, ambitious, but also self-aware and approachable
They seem to be more open to listening to other people’s ideas and feedback and because of their humility, more people seem to relate with them and often have open and authentic conversations
They tend to under-promise but end up over-delivering
Because of these reasons, my hypothesis is they have true friends and long-lasting relationships, and people genuinely care about them and want them to be successful
3. People who have low-self confidence, but display high-self confidence
These people often come across humble, self-aware, and ambitious
They are authentic about their confidence in personal circle, but fake it in professional circle
While they doubt their abilities and have more pessimistic views, they prefer to come across positive in achieving their ambitions, and because of that, people are open to give them chances and willing to help them
They seem to over-promise but fall short on delivering some of their promises
Because of these reasons, my hypothesis is they have true friends and long-lasting relationships, and people genuinely care about them and want them to be successful
4. People who have low-self confidence, and also display low-self confidence
These people often come across more pessimistic, less ambitious, and unsuccessful
They often doubt their talent and skills, and it often causes other people to also not believe in them too
They have more pessimistic views about feedback, ideas and advice other people give them
My hypothesis is – they struggle to build long-lasting relationships as while people genuinely care about them and want them to be successful, eventually they stop helping them when they realize their advice is going in vain
In the end, it seems neither of the extreme conditions is great (#1 and #4), and it’s better to be more balanced (#2 and #3) – i.e. it is better to be a little less confident in certain situations even though you are very confident and at the same time, it’s better to be a little more confident than what you feel in certain other situations.
Amongst the better ones, I think it is better to be someone who truly believes in themselves and have high-confidence, but continue to practice being humble, self-aware and open-minded by displaying low-confidence.
How to achieve success by focusing first on not doing the wrong things than doing the right things.
For the past few months, I have been taking Tennis lessons. It’s a group setting and all students are at the intermediate skill level. Last week, during a typical drill session, all of us were hitting the ball into the net more often than hitting it across the net. Finally, the coach paused the drill and advised us –
“Just try to hit the ball across the net. It doesn’t matter if it’s IN or OUT. If you hit it across the net, there is a 50% chance that at least it will be IN. And there is another 50% chance that your opponent might make a mistake. So you have a 25% chance to win a point.
But if you hit the ball into the net, there is a 0% chance you will win a point. Your opponent doesn’t have to do anything to win points. She just needs to wait for you to continue to make mistakes.”
Unlike professional players, who play and place their shots wherever they want, amateur players make endless mistakes of hitting the ball into the net. Professional players win points. Amateur players lose points.
As our coach advised, to achieve success (i.e. to win a point), avoiding the downside (i.e. not hitting into the net) is probably more valuable technique than achieving the upside (i.e. hitting across the net and IN the court).
It is a step by step journey. In every step, you first try to avoid your downside and improve your chances of moving to the next step. The better you get at avoiding your downsides, the longer you stay in the game, and the closer you get towards your destination.
As you get better at avoiding downsides, and as it becomes the skill, you transition from being an amateur to being a professional. And when you become a professional, you start controlling your shots and focusing on achieving the upside.
As you begin the journey, at every step, it is quite clear what downsides you should avoid going to the immediate next step compared to what upsides you should achieve as it becomes apparent very sooner what is not working than what is working. The downside always looks clear. The upside always looks hazy.
As a startup founder, I can also correlate this advice on how we should run our business. The step one is always about what to avoid i.e. what not to do in your business to reduce the risk.
Some examples of things I carefully avoided since we started Avoma —
not starting a company without co-founders
not jumping to building a solution without extensive customer research
not picking up a small market, etc.
I believe to win in the hyper-competitive market, you simply need to figure out a way to stay longer in the game. As long as we avoid making stupid mistakes of burning cash too quickly, building products that no one wants, etc., we will keep increasing our chances of winning in the market.
As long as you systematically avoid the downside in your life, you will continue to increase the chances of achieving your desired success.
It was a typical Saturday afternoon and I was lying on the bed thinking about what to do for the rest of the day. And I saw the stack of my shirts to iron has piled up in the corner. Looking at the size of the stack, I questioned, if should I iron these clothes at home, or should I give it to some ironing service.
After pondering for a while, questioning what’s my worth for an hour, searching for the closest ironing services on Yelp, I ended up deciding to iron the clothes myself only.
For the past 13 years that I have been living in the United States, I have NEVER given my clothes to any dry cleaning or ironing services.
In hindsight, it was mostly a cost-conscious decision in the early days. It typically takes me 5–10 minutes to iron a shirt. So on average, I can iron somewhere between 6–8 shirts in an hour. With $2/shirt, I was saving somewhere between $12–16/hour. And that’s not a lot saving considering what would be my hour worth.
Over the period I questioned if I am spending my time on the “right” i.e. “high leverage” activity, and instead if I should just give this work to a someone who’s specialized in this job. But every time I decided to give this work to an external service, I would get an inertia of searching for a place, commuting to drop the clothes and then again commuting to pick up the clothes, etc. Considering it would take at least 40–50 minutes in total just to give it to an external service, I would end up doing at home only.
And every single time I iron my clothes at home, it reminds me a story of an ironer from my small hometown in India.
The story of a an ironer from my hometown
I remember this ironer who used to come to our house to pick up all clothes, take it to his home, iron them, and then deliver back to our home. He ran this home-based pickup and delivery service for a couple years until he got enough customers from our neighborhood where he became the de facto ironer for most of the homes.
Eventually, he outgrew his business and built a small 3 ft. x 3 ft. iron sheets based shop near our house. It was a very tiny shop. It didn’t have anything other than — his ironing table, coal-based iron, and a kerosene lantern for the night. Now he stopped coming home, and we had to drop and collect the clothes at his place ourselves. He ran his operations from that shop for a couple years.
He again outgrew his business and bought a small 10 ft. x 10 ft. shop in a shopping center of our neighborhood. He then upgraded to an electric iron, had a light and a fan, 2 ironing tables, hired one additional helper, etc. His business was still growing. He looked very happy and satisfied with his hard work and the progress he had made so far.
All of this happened between my 6th grade to 11th grade. And one thing that did not change in these many years was — the person.
He was still the same hard working person I had seen him on the day one. He was still doing the ironing work himself every single day. He still had the same level of humility and humbleness even after achieving so much success.
Lessons learned from the ironer
And every single time I iron my clothes at home, I still remember him. I remember his journey, his hard work, his success, his humbleness.
Ironing my clothes keeps me grounded and humble. It makes me appreciate the journey of hard work to reach to your desired destination instead of being impatient and taking shortcuts.
But you might question if we would not have given our clothes for ironing to him and instead if we would have done it ourselves, then he would have never built his business. So if I give similar work to the local businesses here in the United States, then they could also build and flourish their businesses.
And I completely agree with that. The only rational argument I could use in my defense would be — the unit economics were very different for similar services in India vs here in the United States when I started working in the United States. And now, it has just become a habit.
I also find ironing my clothes a relaxing and meditating activity. You are focused on one task and are trying to do your job well done. Sometimes I also listen to podcasts or music or watch a movie on TV. That way the regret or concern of if I am spending my time on the right activity does not become a concern anymore.
There is also a sense of satisfaction after finishing ironing with the sight of a neat pile of freshly ironed clothes.
By any means, I am not saying this is “the” approach. This works for me — even though financially or opportunity wise it may not be a wise decision, but I’ve learned to find a good meaning out of this activity.
I hope you may also find any such activity that’s not worth doing yourself purely from a financial perspective, but may inspire you or just bring up the good old memories.
Or why instead of following it blindly, it’s time to modify it a bit.
I’m sure most of you have heard of “The jar of life — Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand” story. If you have not, here is a quick refresher.
The original story
A philosophy professor once stood before his class with a large empty jar. He filled the jar with large rocks and asked his students if the jar was full.
The students said that yes, the jar was full.
He then added small pebbles to the jar and asked again, “Is the jar full now?”
The students agreed that the jar was indeed full.
The professor then poured sand into the jar and asked again.
The students then agreed that the jar was finally full.
The professor went on to explain that the jar signifies one’s life.
The rocks are equivalent to the most important things in your life, such as family, health, and relationships. And if the pebbles and the sand were lost, the jar would still be full and your life would still have a meaning.
The pebbles represent the other things that matter in your life, such as your work, school, and house. These things often come and go, and are not permanent or essential to your overall well-being.
And finally, the sand represents the remaining small stuff and material possessions in your life. These things don’t mean much to your life as a whole and are likely only done to waste time or get small tasks accomplished.
The metaphor here is that if you start with putting sand into the jar, you will not have room for rocks or pebbles. This holds true for the things you let into your life too.
If you spend all of your time on the small and insignificant things, you will run out of room for the things that are actually important. So in order to have a more effective life, you should prioritize important things in your life and then worry about pebbles and sand at a later time.
I believed in this story. And I had actually put it into practice in my both personal and professional life too.
Another side of the story
But there is another side of the story too that no one has told you yet.
While practicing this theory for a while now I’ve realized that — if I always try to focus on the most important things or goals in my life, then I would procrastinate the other tasks that seemed a lower priority.
But over a period, these lower priority tasks would start piling up. And the more I delayed taking care of these tasks, the more inertia it built up to complete those tasks.
The most harmful side effect of delaying lower priority tasks was, the longer the list of such lower priority tasks grew, the more stress it started adding to my daily routine.
The problem with focusing primarily on the most important things is — since they’re the most important things in your life, they also take longer to complete and more bandwidth to accomplish. And because you’re constantly swamped up with the most important things, you would never get to the lower priority things in your life.
And at some point, I have decided to stop following this mantra of prioritizing the most important things first. On some days, I would start taking care of the lower priority tasks first. This way, as the day starts, I would check off a few things off my plate, and then in the second half of the day, I would work on the important tasks.
The benefit of taking care of a few lower priority tasks first was — it would start building the momentum. There was a sense of achievement and progress. And that momentum would actually help me to work on the important and difficult tasks with much positive mindset.
So instead of following the rocks, pebbles, and sand story blindly as it was told, I would recommend to modify it a bit where instead of filling the jar with only rocks first, and then pebble, etc., you could fill it with few rocks, then few pebbles, then some sand, and then again few more rocks, pebbles and more sand. This way you’re making balanced progress in all areas.
Another approach you can consider is — at the macro level (monthly or annual), prioritize the most important things, but at the micro level (daily or weekly), keep it flexible as per the situation and needs at that time.
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This weekend I had been to Lake Tahoe with my family (wife, two kids, and mom-in-law). While driving to the Tahoe and also while coming back, there were moments where all family members had slept in the car for some period. When everyone is sleeping in the car, I get my alone time to talk to myself a.k.a. “deep thinking” :).
I love driving, especially the long-distance driving. It provides these opportunities for thinking about the future, retrospecting about the past or doing some deep thinking about topics of interest.
This time the topic of interest was — the long-distance driving and its similarities to living your life.
Driving — when you’re in control
When you’re driving a long distance, there are a few times when you experience that you are in total control of your driving — its direction, speed, experience, etc. You have multiple route options to choose from, and once you choose a route and start driving, there is no other car in front of you, so you can decide to drive fast and get to the destination sooner or decide to drive slow and enjoy the natural beauty around you while driving.
Living life — when you’re in control
In life also, you might notice that you have similar experiences. There are a few times when you have multiple options in front of you so that you can choose what you want to do in your life (e.g. professional career). You can decide how fast or slow you want to work. And accordingly, you also decide if you want to achieve your goal as fast as possible or enjoy what’s happening around you while achieving that goal.
But these are rare moments, where you are in full control of your journey and life.
Driving — when you’re NOT in control
Most of the times, you will experience that you are at the mercy of other factors — the drivers in front of you, the drivers next to you in the nearby lanes, the weather conditions, etc. It is even more evident if it’s a single lane road. You can’t speed up even if you want to. You try hard, but after a while, you realize that there is no option other than being patient and just following the driver in front of you.
Then you start enjoying the slow pace while looking around. And sometimes you get used to the slow pace that you forget to pass the car in front of you and continue to just follow it.
But sometimes you still have it on your mind that slowing down was a not a permanent state but a temporary compromise. And as soon as you find a passing lane, you take that opportunity and overtake other drivers in front of you. As soon you get the lead, you are back in control to drive at your own speed — until you hit the next set of drivers in front of you.
Living life — when you’re NOT in control
This is exactly how our life is. It is dependent on many other external factors — your family responsibilities in front of you, the constraints of society you live in, the larger economic market conditions, etc. And sometimes you are at the complete mercy of any one of these factors. You have high ambitions and plans to move fast but can’t do it even if you want to. You try hard, but after a while, you realize that there is no option other than accepting the responsibility, situation, and constraints in front of you.
Then you start enjoying your life even with these constraints. And sometimes you forget your ambitions and get comfortable with the current life.
But sometimes you still have that dream kindling in your mind, and as soon as you get an opportunity, you seize it and make some progress towards your ambition. And now you are empowered to take in charge of your life, make your own decisions, decide your own speed of execution — until you hit the next set of responsibilities and constraints in front of you.
Driving — when you’ve a responsibility
Another interesting thing that happens when you’re driving — especially with your loved ones (family or friends) is — now you’re responsible to drive them safely.
They trust you and know that they are in safe hands and are free to enjoy the natural beauty around or take some power nap. And it’s very likely that you won’t be able to have the same fun as they can have. You can’t take your eyes off the road and look around for a long time. You can’t just close your eyes and take some power nap.
But when you look around and see that your loved ones are sleeping well, or having great fun, then you don’t feel anything less than proud and happy of your responsibility to drive them safely.
Living life — when you’ve a responsibility
This also happens in our life too. Sometimes you’re responsible to take care of your family — it could be anything — financial, health, or any kind of support, etc.
They trust you and know that you’ll take care of them. And with your support, they might be able to enjoy their life again. And it’s very likely that you may need to work hard or sacrifice few things to give them that support, and as a result, you may not be able to enjoy your life to the fullest.
But when you look around that your loved ones are having fun, you don’t feel anything less than happy of your responsibility to take care of them and supporting them in any way you can.
Hope you agree with these observations. The main take away from these observations could be—sometimes it’s ok to drive fast when opportunity exist, sometimes it’s ok to drive slow when needed to be, and you should feel proud and happy to support the responsibility at hand even though you personally can’t have fun.
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The rollercoaster of thoughts and introspection I had when we had almost lost our daughter.
Last week, we almost lost our daughter.
We had gone to Maui, Hawaii for a week long vacation. One afternoon, we were looking for a particular restaurant in a multi-storied business complex. When we enquired to a shop-keeper on the ground floor, she navigated us to the top floor. When we reached the top floor, a shop-keeper there directed us to the ground floor. As you can imagine, we were going back and forth with a 7-months old in one hand and her stroller in another hand, a 5-years old and my parents running behind us — in general, it was a little chaos.
And in that chaos, we didn’t realize our 5-years old didn’t take a turn from the staircase that we took and she went further down to the other end of the business complex.
A few minutes later when we found the restaurant we were looking for, we realized that we didn’t have our daughter with us.
I was pissed. I was panicked. I wanted to blame everyone — including me. But that was not the time. I ran back to the top floor, came back again to the ground floor, shouted her name, asked few shop-keepers sitting outside if they saw a little Indian girl, but nothing helped. We couldn’t find her.
It felt like my heart was beating very fast and at the same time, it was going to stop beating in a moment.
I was furious with myself. How could I let this happen? How could I be so careless? How could I not hold her hand all the time? Would I be able to ever forgive myself for this mistake? What must be she doing right now? Is she crying? Did some stranger find her? How can I reach out to the police? Can they find her on this remote island? How long will it take for the police to find her?
All these questions splashed in mind in the matter of a few minutes.
And right at that time, my wife signaled from the other end that she found our daughter.
And it felt like I got my life back.
When asked my daughter what had happened to her in those few minutes, she said she started crying as she was not able to find us and told one of the shop-keepers there that she cannot find her parents. Fortunately, that shop-keeper calmed her down and started looking for us as well. And when he saw my wife worried and looking everywhere for something, he figured she must be looking for that missing girl and approached her and handed over our daughter to her.
I was shaken by this incident for the rest of my stay at Hawaii. Especially, while flying back to home, I kept thinking about it and kept feeling how fortunate we were to find her very soon.
This got me thinking that irrespective of how much ever trouble our kids give us at certain times, or how much ever demanding or unmanageable they become in certain situations, we love them limitlessly and unconditionally.
And then I started thinking about how my life has changed — mostly for the better after our kids. I realized how I have become better at many things after I became a father. I’m jotting down those thoughts below so that I’ll have better clarity in my thoughts, but more importantly — I can go back to this essay and be grateful to my daughters for coming in our life.
1. I’m a lot more patient person now.
This is the biggest change I’ve seen happened to me after I became a father. In general, I’m a very patient and well-composed person. You’ll not see me losing my cool in public or in friends circle at all. But I’ll lose it at home — when I’m with family. Well, because you tend to take people at home for granted (and you also love them the most :)).
But as a father, you get stress tested at a totally different level than you’ve ever experienced before.
My daughter’s constant saying “no” to every meal and required daily routine, her unending questions, her constant ask to have candies, her non-stop talking about the princesses and ponies, her constant demand to watch TV, etc. is constantly testing my annoyance limit.
But because I love her so much, I just can’t raise my voice and scold her. I can’t see her crying. But that doesn’t mean, I’m not teaching her good discipline and manners. It’s just that — I prefer to be more patient, take time in explaining things, and wait for her to behave well. It definitely takes more time than usual scolding or forcing way, but by being more patient, I achieve what I want, and she also doesn’t feel forced to do something.
2. I’ve become a better teacher.
As mentioned above, I’ve become a better teacher in general. I started talking a lot more than I used to. I’ve learned to explain “why” more than just telling “how” and “what”. I’ve learned to craft stories on the fly with a hero, a villain and the lessons learned out of any situation. I’ve learned to communicate what I want to convey in the language and at a level that my daughter can understand.
I’ve also learned to teach the same lesson, again and again, knowing that what I teach will not be understood, or grasped or practiced in just one session.
3. I’ve become a better listener.
But just teaching to behave well is not enough. I’ve also learned to be a lot better listener now. It doesn’t happen instantly, but after my daughter repeats the same thing a couple of times, I know I need to stop what I’m doing and listen to her carefully.
Sometimes it’s her some non-sense talk, sometimes it’s her creative thoughts, and sometimes it’s something important that she had heard or observed. I’ve learned to listen and understand what she really means when she says something.
4. I’ve learned to put myself into others’ shoes.
But sometimes just listening and understanding is also not enough. I’ve learned to put myself into her shoes. I’ve learned to focus on “why” she’s saying something than just “what” she’s saying. If she doesn’t want to eat some specific meal, or if she doesn’t want to change her clothes, or doesn’t want to wear specific clothes, then I’ve learned to respect her view points rather than forcing what we had planned.
As a grown-up, even I’m moody sometimes. Somedays I don’t like to follow a daily routine. Sometimes I like to take things slow. Sometimes I like to eat junk food. Then why can’t my daughter have similar thoughts?
Thus, I’ve learned to put myself into her shoes and see things from her angle rather than forcing my plan or decision just because I had planned it that way.
5. I’ve started being in the moment.
I wouldn’t say I’ve become really good at this, but I would definitely say I’ve improved a lot, and I’m constantly trying to improve even more.
As smartphones and wearables are taking control of our lives, and the messaging apps and app notifications are taking control of our attention, we’re not able to give the due attention required to our kids. I know and feel embarrassed when my daughter tells me to put my Macbook or phone down. So I try to spend more time playing with her, listening to her silly stories, doing projects or paintings with her, watching cartoons with her (which I don’t get credit to spend time with her ;)), etc.
But I’ll admit, I’m still not satisfied with my behavior. I’ve definitely become better over the period (I’m less active on messaging apps, have turned off the notifications on most of the apps, got rid of most of the wearables, etc.). But I know there is still room to improve to be more mindful and be present in the moment with my daughters and the family than being with the devices.
6. I’ve started appreciating and caring my parents more.
Raising a child and being a parent is definitely not easy. And I learned it only when I became one. And that made me realize that how much trouble, tantrums, and demands I must have made to my parents, how many times I must have hurt them and tested their patience and annoyance limit as well.
As my parents are getting older and as I’m also getting “smarter” about how to live my life, naturally there are different view points due to a generation gap, exposure, expectations, etc. Before I became a father, I would expect my parents to adopt as per the new generation. I would not bend but would expect them to do so. I would not understand their view point, but would try to force my view point on them.
But as I became a father, and I started bending myself for my daughter, started changing my view points, started becoming more patient, and then one sudden day, it hit me, why I cannot treat my parents the same way I treat my daughter? The level of understanding and compassion I show to my daughter, why I can’t show similar for my parents? And that changed everything. It improved my relationship and behavior with my parents drastically.
I’m more thankful to my parents for what they have done for me.
I’m sure by no means this is an exhaustive list. There are many more benefits of being a parent that I’ve not listed explicitly here. So feel free to share your experience or lessons you’ve learned in the comments section below.
In the end, as a parent, life definitely becomes much more challenging than it used to be, but it’s a choice you make. You definitely need to shift the mindset and accept the new reality. Like many things in life, it’s a baggage of mixed moments — but definitely a lot more beautiful moments than the messy ones :).
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I was having a conversation with my friend, who had joined a new company as a Product Manager around 6 months ago. He was sharing his frustration of how his engineering team does not gel and work with him well yet. I will write a separate post on how to handle these situations from a Product Manager’s perspective, but one thing that struck me was — he had pretty much given up hopes on if things will ever improve with his engineering team after multiple tries.
I shared with him my perspective on how would I handle these things tactically, but the most important piece of feedback I shared with him was — “Don’t give up! Every day is a new beginning. Start fresh, start again.”
I said that and realized how powerful this mantra is to live our life –
“Every day is a new beginning”.
Just because we failed in something yesterday, doesn’t mean we have to fail today. Just because we felt sad yesterday, doesn’t mean we have to feel the same way today.
Every day, we can restate our goals, retake our decisions, rethink our approach, rebuild our relationships — for a new, happy and successful life with a smile, hope, and expectations, irrespective of how was our yesterday.
Every day we have some plans, some To-Do list, some goals, but some days we fail to achieve them. If this pattern repeats again and again for few days or weeks, then that creates a feeling of frustration, unhappiness, and failure. And we start believing that we can’t achieve those things anymore. And we eventually give up.
Every once in a while we lose our motivation, persistence, willpower, and self-discipline. But that doesn’t mean that’s how we will have to be tomorrow.
Who cares if we failed yesterday?
Every day is a fresh new day with a blank slate to rewrite those goals and start achieving those again. If you believe in yourself and stay persistent, you will most definitely find the inner strength, wisdom, and confidence to achieve your dreams and create the meaningful life you want to live.