Almost everyone is struggling. Here is how you can manage the struggle

Apologies to anyone and everyone riding high on a recent success or mega-success, who can’t associate with the word struggle.
Generally, most of us are struggling with something or the other lot of times. And most of the times it is associated with achieving a goal. The usual saying is that if you aren’t fighting, you aren’t moving.
In better words:
“You will never be entirely comfortable. This is the truth behind the champion – he is always fighting something. To do otherwise is to settle.”
― Julien Smith, The Flinch

The purpose of this post is to provide a perspective to make this discomfort comfortable.

5 ways to think and do differently to feel good while struggling:

1) Set up TINY EASY achievable goals
& achieve them. Not achieving small goals kind of confirms that you are struggling. Not with goals. But with discipline. Make it very easy for you. To be honest I have been struggling with this blog. So, what did I do? I decided to just write 3 lines everyday. I am sure that’s not what I intended initially, but I am progressing & I am sure I will finish this blog. And you will read it. Very tiny. Very easy.

2) Struggle is a STATE OF MIND
This is not something that you can tell someone who is struggling for basic amenities in life, but for the rest of us, if you feel you are struggling, you indeed will. Simplest way to start enjoying your current state is to not bother about your current state. Basically we all know this. Attitude matters. But then, when things are not going right, how do you have an awesome attitude all the while? I will tell you one of the things that I do. I watch comedy. Whichever form makes you laugh. Stand up comedy. Any language that you are comfortable with. Comedy makes you look at the lighter side of things. Another thing that boosts me up is spending some time in the sun. When I am out in the sun, I feel nothing is impossible. Not that I spend hours there, just enough to feel that spark and ease back in you. Find your “sun”. And do it everyday!

3) DO NOT COMPARE yourself with others
Without a doubt, we all tend to do this. And it always hurts when you compare “up”. Or compare with people you feel are ahead of you and so on. The fact is this: it doesn’t change things unless you have the tendency to get inspired by comparing with others. The other thing is that the other person in most cases would have started way before you, and might have worked very hard too. He/She might have “struggled” too. Let go of comparison. Compare yourself to your previous versions.

4) Pick up RUNNING (Newton’s first law)
Running is body in action. And action is fundamental to feeling good. Running may feel like “struggling” sometimes and that’s where it resembles life.. If you just push a little and continue for a while, the struggle goes away and towards the end of the run you feel blessed. The idea is, everyday after you finish your run, you feel very good and triumphant. Your mood and positivity soars and you feel everything is possible. Doesn’t matter how hard or fast you run, just set easy achievable targets and go for them. This somewhere makes your life way easier and stress-free. Trust me on this one. Try out running if you aren’t already doing it.

5) Take a VACATION once in 2 to 3 months
Need not be a lavish. A 3-4 day getaway from the regular daily routine sets up things in the right perspective. Even planning out a vacation is stress-relieving. You have a date to look forward to and that makes the wait worthwhile.

6) ASK FOR HELP
The simplest and most powerful tool we all have. Most of us get into this “it’s my fight, I will do it myself” mode lots of times without realizing it. As a toddler entrepreneur, ever since I have been building and working on the sales for feetapart.com, I have realized how much is left unattended if you don’t ask for it. There may be several NOs you may need to hear before a YES, but those were all NOs anyway if you never asked for them. One of my friends just asked for complimentary passes for a popular tech event for around 6 of us, and got it. Keep in mind the power of asking.

There is just one life, get busy living!

The influence of social on Health & Unhealth

When I was a kid I had never imagined many things that would happen to me later in life. Or rather I would do some activities ever. And do them with addiction. Although the list is long, two things that stand out are smoking & running. I was a “seedha bachcha”(simple & shy) and smoking couldn’t have ever happened to me. In fact, I used the word “saala” in its full glory only when studying at a boarding school in Varanasi at 14 and that too out of happiness.

I had seen a guy smoking in my school in Class 7(age 12) and was “shocked”. And rightly so. But the degree of the shock had convinced me that I would never smoke in my life. But I did. I didn’t start smoking during phases when others pick up smoking, as in college etc. I started it after getting into the corporate life. The first tech lead(immediate boss) that I interacted with was a smoker. And a pretty consistent and disciplined one. We used to spend time during work breaks when he used to smoke and I used to have tea alongside. The way he used to smoke had an air of comfort and luxury: chin held up, eyes lit up, a wry smile and some imitation of a Bollywood actor. I was around 26 that time and used to take pride in the fact that I hang out with a smoker, but don’t smoke. Talk about pride in self-control. That continued for some time till I joined another company. Still a virgin(smoker) and enjoying it.
Here, I got lonely. There was a team full of people around me but I couldn’t connect with them. May be I was out of sync, may be they were. And then I started going for lunch alone. And the post-lunch walk close to the smoking zone. Smoking zones have a very different feel. Everyone is friendly in an “undercover” way. I felt a bit attached to the people in the smoking zone. More than my team members. 3 months and still a non-smoker. But to make matters worse, a couple of my roommates started smoking.

And one fine day I thought let me try it, just once. I kept trying it for another 5 years, upto 7-8 a day. I had observed that I used to smoke lesser during phases when there were no smokers around. And vice versa. Clearly I used to feel “justified” when there were others smoking with abandon around me. The “social” play had made me a smoker.
Little did I know that time that this very “social” element would make me run marathons. Running Marathons? Are you crazy? I would have said that to someone suggesting me that one day I would attempt them. All I knew about the “marathon” was that it is equivalent to 42.2km. Apologies to those who got hurt at the approximation from 42.195, my General Knowledge book had 42.2 mentioned.
I remember switching channels when some famous marathon event used to be telecasted. I remember having even watched golf, but never long distance running on TV.

Jogging was something that I picked up to lose weight. I would jog 6-8 rounds of a 400m track without timing the whole thing and feel proud about it. On days when I used to be upbeat, I would jog 10 rounds. Those days, I used to feel on top of the world after the jog. Jogging was good initially, but due to the lack of a “social network” around it, consistency suffered.
Then I got assigned to a project in Liverpool, UK for 6 months. The cold climate and the absolute lack of population in Liverpool (& my laziness) made sure that I put on some weight and didn’t exercise/jog those 6 months. And I smoked sufficiently to keep myself in guilt.
Then towards the end of those 6 months I got a mail forwarded by some nice soul of the Bangalore Ultra event to be held in Nov 2007. The distance categories were 26k, 52k, 78k & 104k. Since there was no option lesser than 26k & since by then I was feeling terrible about myself, I registered for it. The longest distance I had “run” prior to that was the full-of-pride 4k(10 X 400m). One more thing that I feel motivated me that time to signup for 26k was the fact that there was a race distance of 104k. Again the power of “social”. I thought if someone could have the courage to signup for 104k, the least I can do is 26k. I came to Bangalore all charged up about my first ” 26km marathon” signup, telling my friends about it. Some of them demotivated me badly. The power of social yet again, although in a different flavor. I guess that motivated me even more.
Fast forwarding to the event, I saw such energy from people of all ages and even nationalities at the Bangalore Ultra, that I somehow finished the run. Had a terrible time after the run though with cramps and all other bad things you can get. But the feeling of finishing an activity with so many people “struggling” with you was phenomenal. Perhaps I call it struggling because the last 6km of those 26kms were the toughest I have ever run. I remember celebrating that run immediately with a smoke. It felt very awkward though with stares from fellow runners so powerful, that could put out cigarettes.
There on, with an year of initially inconsistent running and regular visits to Cubbon park, the runners paradise, I transformed from a smoker to a runner. Thanks to everyone who used to run and still runs at Cubbon park, looking at your discipline, your love for the sport and health, I got addicted to a sport I had never imagined I would ever indulge in.

8 twisted reasons why I run

1) When I was in boarding school in Class 9th, I could not even run 400m. It used to look so very long to me. I remember once being forced to take 1 “loop” by our instructor and although I was “pure” back then, I had abused him with all my might. I really hated that one loop. When I started running around 5-6 years back, it really felt blissful when I could run 4 X 400m of a nearby stadium for the first time. I didn’t realize the distance was a mile, but it felt 100 times as good as bad it felt that day back in the boarding school. Falling in love with something you hated to start with is amazing!

2) Until the age of 22-23, your body is able to take all the bad food abuse. You don’t put on much weight and look reasonably fit. I started to feel lazy and put on weight around my belly during that time. I was fine with the initial gain until I saw some of my pictures in which I looked “fat”. Although little. I absolutely hated that. I had this feeling from teenage that since I am of average/short height, I just could not afford to put on weight. And I stopped being a part of pictures. I would just not allow anyone to click my pic. Abnormal behavior continued till I started to run. I didn’t mind looking like a “road-side-never-bathed” guy, but not “fat” from any angle. I run and I enjoy being clicked now. Anywhere, any mode, any dress!

3)An offshoot of the first point is that during my very early attempts at running(class 3,4), rather sprinting, I used to be the last finisher. Consistently. 8th out of 8 participants. Either I used to start after everyone had started and never catch up, or I used to get scared mentally thinking “all these guys are also trying so hard, this is tough for me” and give up somewhere. I remember being happy about coming 7th in one of the heats and enjoying the feat with my mom. She was kind enough to “shaabash” me on that. As an adult, I run to practice improving that mentally-weak kid and not worry about others who are also racing and competing. I run to improve my mind.

4) I have been a smoker of 5 years before I started running seriously(long distances). There was an overlap when I was both running mildly and smoking not-so-mildly, and that phase was terrible. I was living in guilt. The guilt after the run used to be worse that the one after the smoke. I quit smoking for some medical reasons as well, but deep down I knew that I had just done a sub-2 half-marathon at the Delhi half-marathon in 2009, and wanted to better that. I chose the activity that provided me with a daily dose of “negative-guilt”. I have never smoked in the last 4 and a half years.

5)My wife picked up running to lose weight, and I am sure my visits to cubbon park every day for training and other running events inspired her to do so as well. 1 year later, she had lost around 12kg and gained some speed and love for running as well. She did a sub-53 10k in the recent Pinkathon Bangalore event. I fear somewhere that if I stop or reduce running, she may too. And that is not a good thing. I run so that we both keep on running and going to running events. One after the other.

6)When you are a part of the indian IT industry, unless you are a clubbing enthusiast or from the city in which you work, your social life is limited to your office colleagues. I know this is not true now, but earlier in the early to mid 2000s, this was the case. As a result of going to running events and meeting fellow runners, I knew some people who did not work in IT. It felt good. It felt good to share a passion with someone outside of my immediate circle. Running binds you with strangers.

7) Over the last 5 years, my wife and I have planned most of our vacations around running events and that has enriched our trips. The ideal way to do this is to first finish the run and then enjoy your vacation. I have done the opposite as well and although the vacation part had been smooth, the run not so much!

8) During my teenage years, I had a sudden surge of ambition to become a cricketer. I have inherited my love for sports (both as a spectator and a player) from my dad, and was good in sports in school. The cricketer angle was not encouraged too much because I had not proven myself by 16, and that was a crucial time to “study” too. Sometime before that, I wanted to become a table-tennis player. Actively running and training for running events regularly helps me to live those dreams every day. A little bit at a time!

Rejection, running & humor!

We all dread rejection. And failure. But sometimes, rather most of the times, the price you pay for not getting ready for rejection is way more than getting rejected itself. I have just stated something which is common sense but I doubt it is put into “common practice”. What I want to share here is that rejection is good for you. I am not talking about the “mistakes are good, failure is the stepping stone to success” theory that we all know. I am taking about the lighter side of rejection. And the future of rejection that can be extremely different from the present.
Without getting into detail, I can assure you that I have got rejected many times in different fields of life. At all ages. Sometimes even in things that I am supposed to be good at. You would have too. Nothing new. I have walked into interviews thinking I am gonna crack it only to be told “We will get back to you”.

There are a couple of funny incidents from my past that I would like to share regarding interviews and rejection.I find them funny now: back then I was “daypressed”, i.e. depressed for a day. Depression and the “I am depressed” syndrome is a topic for another day, but it does deserve some space. Back to the incidents.

The first one is when I had just passed out of college, had an offer and got another interview scheduled at a big company. Big on the outside. After getting grilled on C programming(which is something I didn’t like) for about 45 minutes, and probably not looking “needy” during the interaction, I came out and sat in the reception area. Since the interview had laster for a decent 45 min, I was confident that I have made it through this round. I had that “virgin” confidence that you have initially after passing out. After about 5 min the pretty lady at the reception gently waved at me and asked me to come over. I confidently went to her only to be told “You may leave now Abhishek! We will get back to you”. This was the first time I had come across this omnipresent rejection line, and took the statement literally. So I asked her “When?”. She did not have an answer and managed to say next week. I obviously went back with pride only to realize next week that I was rejected. Someone out there had the guts to say it to me over phone that I had not made it past that round. Since I had no past of love-life/ girlfriends by then, this was the first time I felt truly “rejected”. One was the actual rejection of not getting selected, since the salary was 1.5 times of the other offer I had. The second reason was the real one. During that 5 min period that I had waited in the office lobby, I had foreseen some friendship/romance with the pretty lady and had planned few things as well. All in vain. It was a double blow to me.

Looking back at and sharing this incident right now gives me more joy and fun than the “daypression” I had gone through back in 2004. At the end of the day I feel good that this “rejection” happened to me. Only that we fail to realize this fact at that point in time. Trust me these incidents happen for a reason. First up, they get your confidence level in the right zone & secondly so that you have stuff to laugh about with others.

Another incident is related to running. I mean “running”, the sport. I started running kind of seriously in 2009. Amateurishly, but seriously. One of my friends Naveen had run the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in 2009 and had finished it. He somehow motivated me to register for the 2010 edition of the race and I did. Although I knew that 42km was a monster of a distance, I did not train for it as much as a first timer should have. So I had not done any long runs. I did not know how the world felt at km 28, 30, 34 etc. The longest distance I had run on whim was 26km at the Bangalore Ultra 2007 and had got fever for a week post that. And cramps. Without knowing that those were called cramps. But I did run(well, walked most of it) the 2010 mumbai marathon and took some 5 hr 38min to finish it. My friend Naveen who had encouraged me took around 6hr 20 min. When we reached the finish line, we were bruised. More mentally than physically. Our “male” egos had been crushed since many females(of all ages) had “overtaken” us during the run. One good thing that happened as a result of this ego-crushing is that the male chauvinist in me died that day. We realized that it’s all about how much you put in and not about your gender. That’s one amazing thing you can learn from running.
So we trained better next year. We ran many 32km runs and would not miss our runs for VIP relatives as well. Saturdays were our long run days. We used to do 40 loops of the Queen’s park at Cubbon park. One loop being roughly 800m. As a result of which we did way better at the 2011 mumbai marathon. Naveen took 4 hours & I took 3:56. Not sure whether we were elated, but we were definitely relieved. Although Naveen had taken 4 more minutes than me, he somehow got more accolades. You know why? Because he had improved from 6:20 to 4 Vs I from 5:38 to 3:56. That temporarily “daypressed” me. You know what I wished at that point? I wished I too had taken more time the previous year. That why did I not do worse last year. This year’s performance would have looked rosier.
The point I am trying to make is that it doesn’t matter. You never know how your mind can conjure up reasons to feel good/bad.

Rejection or failure is just an event. Be happy and proud of your successes, but make sure you laugh off your rejections. They can be very funny, albeit later. Have some patience for the humor though. It will come.