I was riding in the backseat of my car, driven by a chauffeur, relaxed, planning my year ahead in peace. I make enough money to fulfill all my desires. I have a beautiful and caring wife who I want to share my whole life with; I probably bought most of the things I wanted 10 years ago. I am not worried about tomorrow or 10 years from today. I don’t go to meetings these days stressed out about the outcome, and I don’t talk to investors worried about if they will invest. In fact, I turn down a lot of investor meetings if I don't see a fit. When I think about it, it's not because I don’t have problems. As an entrepreneur, I take risks every day, things go wrong every day, and I make mistakes every day. Then I realized the reason was something else. I found my light.
As strange as this may seem, I thought about writing this note in a dream, and it just came to me. Every day I meet people who've been there and done that and people who are struggling in their life. There are people who have found their light and people who haven’t. The good news is that there is no playbook for life. You are free to make your own. The bad news is that there is no playbook, you have to make your own.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what worked for me and what didn't. I try to be objective and data-driven whenever possible, but when I look back, all I ever did was never stop believing.
When I was young, I never had any idea who I wanted to be when I grew up. I always wondered how other kids had a definitive answer to it. I finished school and went to college and still had no idea what to do. Somewhere along the way, I realized I loved computers and programming and built a business around it, and when looking back it was so obvious. That's why Steve Jobs famously said you cannot connect the dots in your life looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward at your life.
I had a friend in school who always used to say he'd be doing business when he grow up. He did. There are a few people around us who figure it out early on and we meet some of them and wonder how they figured it all out. But there are tons of others who have no idea and are worried that they can't "figure" it out. The problem here is most people try to live by a timeline set by society and the people around them. You are born, you go to school, go to college, get a job, you get married, have kids, you move to the US or get "settled" in life, you grow old and die. You meet people who are “going by the timeline” and you have no idea what to do about it. Here is a secret, life doesn't have a timeline. It's never too late.
It'll take a while to figure out that your life is not defined by someone else's timeline, and that's a journey on its own. Now, if you understand you are not bound by someone else’s timeline or definition for your life, you are already in a better place. Now all you have to figure out is what works for you. In my opinion, one cannot truly experience the peak of happiness unless they had truly experienced the valley of despair. For me, the valley of despair was closing all the doors in front of me, waking up not knowing what I would do each day, seriously contemplating suicide, and feeling like the world had ended for me. Do you know how to fight that? One day at a time. It will add weeks, months, and years before you know it.
We never truly understand the power of compounding. How did Warren Buffett build so much wealth? It’s the power of compounding. He kept going and amazed most of his wealth after 50 and even more after 60. Every choice you made every day in your past compounded into what you have today. Every choice that you will make today will decide where you are going to be. Do you know the single best thing you can do to lose weight? It’s not getting the best trainer in the city or lifting 100 Kg or anything for that matter. It’s showing up at a gym, every single day. Do it for 365 days and tell me you are still the same. Sometimes we can do small things that have a massive impact on our life. All you have to really be is someone with the fortitude to relentlessly stick around for the long game. I remember my early days in programming. I used to show up every day to learn more. Every single day for 100 days I showed up at StackOverflow and talked to people, sometimes I answered, sometimes I listened, sometimes I just watched them, most notably all I did was show up every day. The second-order effect was meeting people from Google who played significant roles in my life in the later stage.
Finding your light
Finding your light is a culmination of many things coming together over many years and sometimes decades. If you are reading this to find a shortcut to apply tomorrow and get your results the day after, you are in here for disappointment. However, if you are willing to put in the work, and have enough courage, patience, and perseverance, then maybe this could be helpful for you.
I've met people who are worried about life every day, but they never take any action. Actions change your life. Simple, conscious choices can help you find your light. The first step is finding what you want to do for the long term. The only way to do it over a long time is if you enjoy doing it. How to find it? Try everything. There is no shortcut here. Do as many jobs as you can. Learn as many things as you can, break it down into chunks of 2-3 months, and spend time on various things. Love engineering? Make something. Love art? Draw something. Keep doing more and more stuff until you figure it out. You’ll just know when it’s the one. It’s the same way you find the love of your life.
Figuring it out is only the first step. I had a friend who is an artist, and he figured out early that he was good with music, instruments, and a bunch of other art forms. He picked up something else, he was “sort” of good with it, and more importantly, his family liked it, and it was a respectable profession, and then he settled with even lesser. He never ended up an artist. It’s never late for him, but he lets his life be controlled by others, their timeline, and their ambitions and is living someone else’s life. You got a dream? You got to protect it, fight for it, live for it and make it a reality. No one else is going to do it for you. It’s easy to be misunderstood for a long time, and that’s okay. You have to get comfortable being misunderstood. When I got my first job, I was paid less than all my friends. Deep inside I knew I was meant to do something big, but I never had any clue how to do it. When I started my first business, it was in a small room near my house. I never had the connections or money or anything for that matter. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else. Protect your dream.
Taking risks that change life
Humans are scared for life. We have no idea how we got here, we have no idea who is around us, and we have no idea where we are going. It's okay to be scared. Like any fear in life, you can only overcome them by facing it. You cannot discover new horizons until you dare to lose sight of the shore. I had left jobs without lining up a new one, and I had stopped businesses without figuring out what to do next. I was scared every time, but I still did it. It led to more confidence, it led to more discoveries, and after each time, I became more courageous to take more risks, which led to even bigger opportunities. Do you want to start a new business but are struck at a job you don't love? Quit today. You'll figure it out. There is probably never a “right” time; if you wait for the right time, it never happens. It can be your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, it can be any age. If you look at successful entrepreneurs, you can easily find people who started “late” and still made it. Colonel Sanders, the founder of the KFC Food chain, started it at age 65, and you are telling me it’s “late” for you?
It’s not just about starting a business, it could be a risky but highly rewarding job, it could be taking a leap of faith into something you don’t know. Our CTO had been working in a big multinational company for almost a decade when he quit and joined me in a two-person startup at the time. There are many people who get stuck in a corporate job because they think it’s “safe”, only to realize that in a recession, the corporate doesn’t care about individuals, no matter how important you think you are. Remember, Twitter fired its CEO and COO along with 75% of its staff in a matter of days. I am sure many of them were essential to the company, but not anymore.
A better strategy would be to believe in yourself and your abilities. A bird sitting on a tree trusts its ability to fly and not the power of the tree to hold it. Our CTO trusts his ability as a developer more than anything else. Build your skills over the years so that you can trust your wings to fly and when you are ready, take the leap, go into the unknown and trust your ability to win it.
One of the biggest mistakes you can do is “thinking” about doing it but not really “doing” it. I’ve seen people who want to start a business. They think about various ideas, brainstorm about them, and ultimately figure out there are a lot of risks involved in that particular business. They never really did anything. Do you know how you can start a business? Make something (you think) people want and sell it for money. If they buy it, make more. If they don’t, figure out why and move on. Don’t do the whole business in your mind without actually doing it. It’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay to make mistakes. Most of these seem like they are simple, and well, it is.
Now that brings us to the second mistake you can make here. It's sticking to things that are not meant for you. You start a business, and it’s not making money. You love it because it's like your baby, you spend years on this, and still nothing. You keep adding years and years onto it for nothing. The tricky thing here is no one can really tell you when to keep going and when to give up. You have to use your best judgment. Making a decision is more important than being right or wrong. Whenever I am doubtful about something, I make a decision based on my best judgment with the available information because what is worse is not making a decision and regretting it later. Letting things go that are not meant for you is an important part of moving forward.
“Don’t Cling to a Mistake Just Because You Spent a lot of Time Making it.” — Aubrey De Graf.
Desires and money
At the beginning of this note, I said I make enough money to fulfill all my desires. It’s not the whole story, and in fact, anyone can do it. I made it possible by doing two things, one is to make enough money, and the second is to limit the things I want. We as humans have an insatiable urge to have more, we are hungry for more, to explore more, to make more, to see more, and to do more. In a way, the progress of humans can be attributed to this never-ending urge to have more and never settle. We wander, we explore, and we push our abilities beyond borders, beyond the limits of what we think is possible. No other animals are ambitious as we are. Desire and ambitions are our biggest blessing and our peril. At some point in your life, you have to make conscious decisions about what you want, it's okay to desire something, but wanting everything can only lead to unhappiness. More often than you think, when you walk to work, you want a bike, when you get the bike, you want a car, then you want a sports car. It’s never going to end. It’s okay to want a sports car, an expensive watch, or something else. The key here is not wanting everything in the world. It leads to unhappiness and a never-ending cycle that will destroy you.
A rule of thumb is to make a list of things you want to do, buy and maybe get for yourself. Some of the things I do these days are the ones I wanted to do ten years ago. There was an interesting activity during my time at Draper University in Silicon Valley. You have to write down 100 things you want to do in your life. No particular order, it can be anything and everything and while doing the activity you’ll see that at some point, you’ll struggle to fill in all 100. An exciting activity that you can do yourself sometimes :)
Always remember, it's okay to want something, but it’s not okay to want everything.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations
In business, one of the worst mistakes you can make is tracking the wrong metrics. You may be a very meticulous person, but if you track the wrong things, you are not going to get very far. In the same way, It’s hard to find real motivations. Here I’ll try to explain two types of motivations. One is intrinsic, and the other is extrinsic motivation. One feeds your soul, and the other feeds your ego. Intrinsic motivations are the ones that motivate you when no one is watching. Love engineering? You’ll make and break things every now and then. Do you learn engineering because you get a certificate? Or to graduate from a big college? That’s the wrong kind of motivation to be an engineer. Most people I know who are really good at something aren’t doing it for the recognition, they are doing it to satisfy their soul’s curiosity, for the joy of building something, and for the joy of creating something.
I recently met a person. He is a surfer, he is a cook, he is an errand boy, he is a boxing trainer, he does any job that would pay him some money and he travels all across the country. He doesn’t have a lot of money, and neither is he worried about it. When I met him, he was going to Kashmir, which is the northern state of India, from the southern state of Kerala. He doesn’t have enough money for the travel all across the country, what he does is working in Kochi for some time, makes some money, and goes to Bangalore or Goa, stays there, and works any jobs to make enough money for the train to travel to next destination, then he does the same until he reaches Kashmir, maybe in a couple of months. He is doing what he loves and satisfies his soul, and doesn’t care what the world thinks of him, he does what is right for him. Some people — what society calls misfits, who are the square blocks in the round hole are sometimes living the life that everyone else can only dream about.
Now, after all this, you still decided to do something about it, and here comes the timing and your fit with the idea.
I met an entrepreneur recently who’ve been working on a product for the last 4 years, and it was one of the most perfectly timed products in the market, yet he didn’t make any money. Ran out of investor's money, and had to let go of his team. In many cases, “timing” of a product/idea/business play a huge role, I’ve been there where my ideas were ahead of its time by a few years and decades, and it happens more often than you think. I’ve seen people who built things many years before the market was ready. It’s a common problem for “visionaries” but here what I want to talk more about is the fit of an idea with the person who is building it. Like the entrepreneur I mentioned, the “idea” was right, and the “timing” in the market was right, but it did not work out. It’s because some people better execute each idea than others. You got to have a founder-idea fit.
Spend time to figure out what works for YOU. Now, as you find things you love to do, there will likely be many things you love to do. A good rule of thumb here is to pick an intersection of something that you love to do, something that adds value to someone else, and something that makes you money. More often, this will lead to happiness because you love what you are doing, it's even better because you make someone else's life better, and the best part? It makes you money.
Mindset is everything
One of the most underrated factors in success is probably your mindset. Recently I went surfing with a friend and started learning how to surf. Oh boy, and a very important lesson in Life. The mindset of a surfer. When a surfer gets on a wave, he is ecstatic, he enjoys the ride even though he knows the wave will end soon or might even crash on himself. He enjoys the wave knowing there is always another one coming. This is a very important lesson in surfing the waves of life.
I’ll tell you a story about a time when I met someone creating his own luck. I was riding an early Uber to the airport in Delhi. Toward the end of the journey, the driver gave me a 20 Rupees currency note and asked me to give that back to him at the end of the journey as a tip. This was his first trip in the morning, and he wanted to start the day on a good note and happy tip.
I was skeptical about the rationale behind this thinking for a while, but then I realized it was a good thing. You can wait your whole life for something to happen in your favor, or just go ahead and create your luck. He controls his destiny, and I love him for that. At some point in your life, you must stop blaming others for what happened and go ahead and build a life for yourself. You are only responsible. Your mindset is everything.
A good idea while fixing your mindset is to be around people who are where you want to be. People you appreciate. They say you are the sum of 5 people you spend most of your time with. There are often false indications here, but there are people who have been there and done that. One thing that allowed me to change and prosper was the freedom to grow apart and lose touch with people. Changing yourself is hard if you’re stuck in the same social orbit. There’s a gravitational force that pulls you into repeating the same circular pattern over and over again. Breaking out of that takes tremendous force.
Dealing with sadness and despair
While you fix everything in your life, everyone has personal shit to deal with. You will too. There will be problems in your life. There will be people in your life you have to deal with. There will be sadness, despair, and everything in between. Some are small, and some are huge, like losing someone. The way you deal with severe sadness and despair is pretty much the same in all cases.
You’ll find that it comes in waves. Imagine you are in a ship and the ship is wrecked and you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage, and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s something physical. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, days, weeks, or months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out.
But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, or the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary or a birthday. For the most part, you can see it coming and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
The waves never stop coming; somehow, you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too.
"Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger its roots will be. In fact, it is always in proportion. That's its balance."
― Osho, Everyday Osho: 365 Daily Meditations for the Here and Now
I am not a self-help guru, and this is not a self-help book. Subject all your beliefs to radical doubt so that you can build a bedrock belief and build your cognitive life up on firm principles. You’ll fail a lot in this process but understand that failure is only as relevant as the insight you drew from that experimental result.
Appreciate what you have. Some people are praying for things you take for granted. No one can make you happy except YOU.