Musings on a BITSian Life: Basics

I wanted to keep this short and sweet. I couldn’t.

Over the past few years, I have received many questions from BITSian juniors about career, applications, relationships etc. The questions are very specific but I see an underlying pattern that doesn’t have much to do with the exact professional choice but which shares something more common and abstract.

Also, I had many burning questions when I was younger and I saw batch after batch coming in with the same fire and same confusions. Here is me looking back, ‘thinking’ about the experiences I know of and trying to make sense of it in the context of these patterns and questions. Hoping that all of this will be of use to some motley soul.

When you think too much, you invariably end up giving yourself a hard time. It’s the nature of Thinking. Anyone who is too happy/proud with themselves or the world around them has likely spent little time in this exercise, whatever their IQ and (past, present, future) achievements may have been.

I write this because I want to address all those daring souls who actually ‘thought’ during their college life. I write this to ease their burdens a little bit. I write this to tell them they are not and have not been alone.

Question

Let’s get the basics out of the way.

First things first, something that everyone wants to know indirectly or directly. Some people are ‘too cool’ to acknowledge this. (I will address that kind of self-delusion shortly).

Namely,

To GPA or not to GPA, that is the question

GPA is an interesting attempt to summarize a young person’s experience with a floating point number of 2 digit precision.

If you have had the good fortune of studying information theory, you would know that a single signal that is attempting to encode information about something as complicated as life experience, is likely to be extremely noisy. (It is then natural that most higher education adcoms across the world look for more signals, IIMs => high school grades, US univ => recommendation letters etc. etc.) So, I am not sure why people in general are so quick to judge each other based on GPA inside and outside of college.

Admission committees are working on a large scale and so they have systemic limitations to how effectively they can get a sense of a person’s experience. However, I see no reason why that same principle should carry over in one’s personal life where you are operating at a much smaller scale and can find out much more about a person apart from their GPA to truly get a sense of who they are. I would, at best, call the former kind of decision making stupid.

Most people try to place other people on this visualization of the scale of various approaches to GPA:

Figure 1: Scale

I would like to twist this a little bit because the scale might as well look like:

Figure 2: Scale

Let me talk about the two seeming ‘extremes’ of this scale.

On the one ‘end’ are people who decide to live out their ‘Americanized’ high school fantasies during college. Because who are we kidding. It is likely that you have jumped ahead in a huge rat race to get to BITS Pilani. It is likely that you have made the rounds of many coaching centre sweat shops (*1) to get here and just getting here was so mentally/emotionally/undesirably exhausting that you decide to put on a Bob Marley’s song, smoke your lungs, stomach and brains out, and look weirdly, condescendingly on anyone who still has some fuel left in them to try more.

On the (seemingly) other end are people so in love with GPA that it is the main thing that gives meaning to their lives. Its jumping from one rat race into another. And doing it because its a clear path to prestige in this kind of setting.

Many people exist in between. People who don’t care and still get a good GPA. People who care and still don’t get a good GPA. Sincere people with low GPA, smart people with low GPA, insincere people with high GPA and the list goes on.

The point is that it’s a pretty poor metric to judge someone or yourself. Blind maximization of this metric or giving up and ignoring it in all its complexity, both sound like sub-optimal strategies for your college career. Hence, while the 2 ends of the scale look at each other with much condescension and strangeness, they are actually very similar in their lack of thought about it.

Coursework, the origin of GPA, is widely known to be outdated and behind its time in most colleges (in India).  I am not sure why there is no comprehensive/effective review process for the curriculum that we are being taught and its quality of instruction. There seems to be no GPA equivalent for the GPA issuers. Moreover, with the availability of online courses, I don’t see the need to force such a large group of young people through poor teaching methods.

I don’t necessarily mean this as a personal insult to anyone because there are many complicated factors that go behind not having good faculty to teach in our country. The vicious cycle that ensues can be broken by technological innovation. Namely MOOCs and the larger internet sphere.

In my BITSian life, I found myself increasingly agitated at the prospect of being “forced” through an examination system for an outdated curriculum when it was so painfully obvious (to me atleast) that it had little real world value. I only mention “examination” because lectures/ instruction methods and all that other stuff, I don’t even want to go there.

Also, and again, I only mention “examination” because at the end of the day, that is what it is. A long drawn branding exercise, finding different (and yet lacking) ways to measure you and in the end stick a brand on you. (Some people actually relish this so much that they go onto do more of it, people of the em-bee-aayyy persuasion :P). In my career I have benefited greatly from being proactive about finding out what was important to learn and learning that from excellent books, MOOCs, peers and anyone who had something valuable to add to my perspective.

I think the world would be a better place, if some education institutions (global and otherwise)recognized that they are actually glorified certification/placement centres. And stop pretending that there is real knowledge/training going on there. Let the good teachers rise, get more credit and decision power while other (sometimes downright evil) “instructors” be prevented from wasting everyone’s time, money and energy. I did not appreciate this enough when I was at BITS but having an operational, honest system for grades, examinations etc. is also a relative luxury from many perspectives. If institutions want so much credit, at least let them have it for the right reasons.

BITS alumni are doing well but I think the system hides behind the law of large numbers. The sheer size of the youth of our country and a brutal selection process results in some people doing well because things lined up for them, or because of putting smart young people in close proximity to each other etc. How much of that happened because of, or to be more accurate, despite the current system is the real question.

Now I do think that armchair critics have a special place reserved in metaphorical hell and whatever “judgement” may be in store for me, I do not want to join that group. So now that our wonderful respectable honorable older generation has decided to subject us to this ill-designed objective, what do we about it?

Courses are a little bit like a buffet meal. Just as you are not required to (/should not) eat everything that is served in a buffet on a platter, similarly not every course is automatically worth your time. What is worth spending time on? This is the real question. The only one that will really ultimately matter.

GPA is a number. Treat it like one. The system designed it to apply a few rules on you, so you of course decide your rules for it. What is worth spending time on and how much of a GPA do you need to negotiate from your BITSian constraints to get there? That is the question.

And its answer is usually neither easy nor obvious.

No point in being a 9 pointer and wasting precious time of your life if that is not going to help you negotiate anything that you value. And worse, leave you with little time to think about what you might want to value.

No point in pretending to be a “cool” 6 pointer when you have a business set up by your “baap” to keep you busy for the rest of your life after college (yes bro, that pretense aint working :P).

You are not required to have this answer at the start, but whether you work towards it or not is pretty much going to decide your future.

(Answer)

We have talked a bit about the question part. Lets talk a bit about the advice part. Most advice or responses to your questions may fall in some leaf node of the tree in the following figure:

Figure 3: Advice Categories

Lets walk through this tree a bit.

Doesn’t matter-> Current Older Student

This answer usually says more about the Current Student than anything about the answer you might be looking for. The person may fall on one end of the scale in Figure 2. The other reason could be the existence of a hidden agenda. A hidden agenda to recruit you to some purpose of their own, e.g. “Department” work, “hangout with me/my group” etc. I usually took a figurative run in the opposite direction, when I met such people. Not only were they not helpful, their advice was potentially detrimental.

Doesn’t matter -> Alumni

I have found some version of this advice repeated by some alumni. The “sab-kuch-moh-maya-hai” types of advice. I think it is a convenient stand to take after one has already benefited from one’s struggles and labour. It’s a borderline taunt, “Hey, you know that number you are obsessing over, or that interview you are preparing for, or that project you are sweating over, and twisting your panties over, really, all that stuff doesn’t matter.” “Great! gee, thanks! That was so helpful (and btw, not hypocritical at all :P).”

This kind of advice could come from people who either have no idea how they got wherever/whatever they got or don’t want to shed light on it. Or it could come from someone who has regrets about how they spent their time in college. Unless they outline their learnings from that regret, hopefully this post will prevent you from being in that position (:D). In any case, not helpful and hence not worth your time.

Convention matters

This kind of advice may come from a person who falls on one end of the scale in Figure 2. If it is not backed by any kind of deeper analysis as to why GPA or analogous conventions are worth it other than that following convention is just easier, I think this should be borderline redundant/outdated information.

Depends -> No Nuance

If this is followed with no nuance, then either you are being dismissed nicely or they are out of time/energy/ways to articulate what they want to.

A lot of advice falls into some of the above categories.

Depends -> Nuance

There is a small subset of people who might say ‘It Depends’ but follow up it with a perspective/summary of what they did and how it did or did not help them.  This nuance with at least a tiny bit of curiosity for where you want to go, and how their experience might be useful to you is the real deal.

I have received a lot of advice in my life that wasn’t worth it. But occasionally and very rarely, I did strike gold too. It was the people who gave me nuanced advice, tried to understand what I was asking. And then, connected me to people whose experience could better answer it. This has made most of the difference.

Summary

It is important to formulate a good question. It is important to select carefully the people you will ask it to. Both require work.

It is unlikely that a person who hasn’t been curious in their life about the “buffet” they are being served will be able to help you with these questions. Personally, these are the kind of people who amaze me the most. People who have rarely thought about what they might want to make of themselves if they weren’t given a “buffet”, measuring stick and a prestige obstacle race.

A crude (yet personally effective) thumb rule has been: if a person is still worried about their grade in meaningless courses towards the end of their BITSian career, it is a good indication that they have learnt nothing from their time here and have little insight into how to proactively shape it outside of BITS.

Also, IQ provides a big momentum to some people early on in their lives. And that momentum lasts for a while. This does not necessarily mean that they have spent time evaluating how they will design their future and are worth taking advice from. I have covered this in its abstraction in an earlier post: “The Contrarian Question“.

Criticism

One of the most interesting criticisms I have received for the ideas I have put forth here are that everyone cannot afford or handle clarity. E.g. if you need to be tied to maximizing your GPA for ‘Merit-cum-Need’ scholarships, how does it help to realize your lack of freedom?

In a larger sense, how is it a good thing to realize the external limitations to your dreams/desires?

I guess it is true that clarity is not always pleasant. At first. But clarity is quite liberating eventually because I do believe that there is some value in understanding how much of your choices are a product of your circumstances and how much of it is actually you. That kind of understanding may clear the path for better life choices and lead to more sustainable/meaningful happiness or outcomes.

History may not be on my side. Because this small question of clarity is actually analogous to the larger question of understanding the reality of your place in the world. Which can be a very harsh truth. Most historians, philosophers have cited that inability as the major reason behind Religion’s success.

Currently I take side with hard earned clarity. It may be because of my current phase/state in life. Maybe I will arrive at a different conclusion a few years down the line. If and when that does happen, I will reach out with an update. By different I mean that maybe I will develop more appreciation or acceptance for how much someone may want/need to live in denial.

But for now, this is what it is.

(*1) – which is not a reflection on anyone but the dilapidated education set up of our country.

This one’s for you my Love

When I was around 12 years old, I had the (mis)fortune of observing a girl’s (Indian) wedding from very close quarters. While most people partied, danced, ate and generally wasted themselves to death, something about the society’s norms and expectations from a girl and her family turned me off. Like, massively.

My prince charming for most part was going to be no one. Yeah, that sounds unromantic. But through my younger years I came to understand that girls like me had very little place in the world. When I was small, I was too quiet. When I was a teenager, I was too intelligent and just too disinterested in ‘peer pressure’. And when I was a little older, I was too independent. There are no brownie points for guessing what these labels progressed to in the latter years of my life. Here is a sampler: too stuck-up, too ambitious, too self-centered. Sometimes I was an outsider because I was an introvert. Sometimes because I was a girl. Sometimes because I was too different. Sometimes, because I was all three (*1). Pretty much always falling on the wrong side of the stereotype, I was starting to stare down an abyss.

And then, somewhere in the middle I turned out to be a late bloomer. Suddenly I found myself catapulted from being invisible to something of a new shiny object for male attention. The contrast amuses me to this day. The way one looks, elicits such a massive change in the world’s response. In some ways, I am still trying to digest that difference.  Many a time little of this attention comes packaged with consideration, respect or curiosity for who you really are.

Systematic sexism is in-built. Which is why some men can joke about it but still be great at a personal level. But girls are more serious about dishing out direct sexism to each other. A certain section of my so-called girlfriends (taking inspiration from ‘Gossip Girl’, maybe) tried their best to give me a hard time for my ambitions. And at some point, their pettiness was so tiring, so exhausting.

It did not help either that I disliked being vulnerable, something that is so nauseatingly acceptable for girls, by everyone.

The rhetoric in that damned institution media is always of guys wooing girls in trouble. Feeding off their vulnerabilities. What is this cultural frenzy that teaches men that their manliness depends on the weakness of girls? Is it not manly to respect someone you feel sexually attracted to?

I was lucky to have landed in a nurturing ‘first’ relationship with all this wariness in my heart, for a brief time, which deserves its own story someday. However, things were taking their toll and in 2012 I found myself in the final year of my college, a deeply unhappy person. By this time, I had outgrown the environment. I desperately wanted to get out and when I couldn’t do so, I descended into a curious kind of depression. I was tired of everyone. It was not that I couldn’t play those games, but I was very, very uninterested in them. Surely there were better and more important ways to spend one’s time? So, followed a year of internal recession. I would go to the library at ungodly hours to catch some alone time. Simply to be away from everyone. ‘Loneliness in a crowd’, the first time I understood that phrase. (Ironically, I did make some of the closest friends I will ever have during this time).

There were no takers for strength. And I simply wanted to disappear.

Amidst all this chaos I took refuge in my work. Sahil was a stranger enough for me. I could work with him and step away from everything familiar and still not be uncomfortable. For the first time in my life, I started enjoying coding and reading with someone else. Two otherwise intensely private activities. From speed coding each other, to giving hilarious names to our compiler versions, to working hours and hours on a pointless compiler to fix the most random errors, it was just so simple and so much fun. For the first time, I found it easy to be in sync with another person. And enjoy activities that I had only loved doing alone.

In my final year, I was set to go to London for 6 months to do research and before we could take it any further, summer had arrived and it was time for me to leave. And leave I did with great happiness. Finally, I was getting out. Sahil skyped with me over my lonely lunches in Regents park and from a million miles away he never let me feel lonely at all. It is an impossible feat I think. To make someone feel such companionship so far away. Here I was half the world away with quite literally no one to call my own and yet I did not feel lonely. In a land of strangers, he made me feel taken care of.  All my life I searched for freedom in my solitude but I was starting to find it in his company.

With Sahil, my world was very different. I had someone who could understand my whole perspective so well that it unnerved me. Who offered me a level of partnership that I did not think was possible and did not have a name for. I did not know but at that time I did not care for labels. The rest of the world does not afford you such a luxury, however. For some odd reason, everyone is in a great hurry to define and label everything for anyone but themselves.

Nothing is a bigger turn-off (for me) than a man interested in me who proceeds on that initiative by impressing upon me how much bigger than me he is. Whatever his notions of big are…money, intelligence, achievements etc. Because this instant flurry of attraction is usually followed by a relegation to a chapter in his life. But I did not want to be a chapter in someone else’s life. I wanted someone who could instead read my book with some amount of interest. Even that was good enough. But Sahil came along and at some point asked me, “Hey, by the way, you want to try writing the chapters together?”

I don’t need diamond rings, a nice house and pretty dresses. (I was raised to believe that I was capable of achieving / earning anything in life if I so desired, as long as I worked for it). What I needed was someone who would be as excited about my dreams and ambitions as I was, who would share my darkest hour and my happiest moments with as much intensity as I felt them. Who knew what passion meant and who would understand without explanation the pain that comes in the struggle to venture out into the unknown. Who would be the reason for my strength in my risks, who could see through my façade and help calm the storm raging within. Someone whom I could completely trust in every situation to let me know what was right even if that meant saying something I didn’t want to hear. Someone who was so wonderfully complementary to me and yet so fundamentally similar. Sahil brought all of that to the table and much more. Without asking. Without demanding.

Ultimately, the best gift that Sahil gave me and will ever give me is the gift of an open mind.

He was someone who was more interested in understanding me rather than placing me within the lens that society/culture sub-consciously teaches a male to look at the female.

When Sahil finally asked me out, he said, “I want to win the world with you”. Not for you. And that made a world of a difference.

There is a section of our fore’mothers’ and forefathers who worked hard, put their ingenuity and creativity to rich and painful realizations to show us the freedoms that we are capable of as human beings homo sapiens. Freedom from labour, freedom from slavery, freedom from chance. These political, economic, cultural & scientific creations strive to make us ‘human’. I live my life attempting to contribute to this effort in my own small way.

I spent the better part of my first quarter-life thinking about the 100s of ways in which I would cope with the eventuality of a marriage with these goals, being a female. And yes, I used the word ‘cope’. The universe gave me a pleasant shock in Sahil. That I could find such a soulmate to be with me on this journey. That I can be his strength and he mine. That we are equals and together more than the sum of persons we could be individually.

Over the past 5 years, I have been pretty silent about my relationship with Sahil. But that was only because I wanted to wrap my head around so many things about something that was so important to me. Also, I am one of those weirdos for whom words fall incredibly short of expressing the magnitude and intensity of everything that I understand and feel. So writing this and even more alarmingly, to ‘put it out there’ has been one of the most unusually hard things I have done yet. (I have mulled over this for at least a year now).

Sahil often says that I am too shy about talking about us. Well, no more. Here I am, 5 years after that starry evening in Dharamshala, on this virtual rooftop, proclaiming “I love you and cannot wait to get started on a new chapter with you.”

J.K. Rowling once said, “…….to have been loved and accepted so deeply, must provide us some ‘protection’ forever……”.

And in that sense, I did find my Prince Charming! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(*1)-The running stereotype for girls is of talkative shopaholics with high pitched voices who are routinely accustomed to swallowing their self-respect. I am the very antithesis of this idea and I have paid its price. And let only (that intensely male conception of) god help you if you are beautiful or naturally effeminate. Because femininity is usually associated with everything frivolous, trivial, weak or stupid. You will have to work twice as hard, be twice as serious and twice as scary to be taken on an equal footing as men. This would be to make up for all the men who assume you won’t be worth it and for all the women who will be forced to, or worse, willingly oblige them.

The Myth of Wonder Woman

William Moulton and Elizabeth Holloway. PC: Moulton ‘Pete’ Marston

So finally the much ado about (definitely something) ‘Wonder Woman’ has subsided. A female superhero who so far was only a sidekick in other male superhero movies, has her own thing now, her own story solely focused on her.

Last summer I decided to tag along with my friends for the (in)famous batman vs. superman movie. With all the assignments and deadlines, it didn’t take much to put a very sleep deprived grad student such as me, off to sleep. I only woke up with a startle at the landing of wonder woman on the battlefield in that movie. While my friends enjoyed a good laugh at my expense, I was genuinely surprised by her entrance. I can write a book about how disappointing I find (B/T/K/H/<insert whatever letter you like here>)ollywood’s depiction of women. I have grown up accustomed to disappointment. I took nothing away from that movie for spending my precious time and $17 on it except for my wonder for ‘Wonder Woman’.

What followed was a long obsession with studying her character. Who made her? Why did they make her? Why does her story progress the way it does? Why did this character come up when it did? Why so late in the movies and how come so early in history?

I am not sure why more people aren’t talking about all the people who were behind the creation of Wonder Woman. There were 2 main (and then some) characters of this story. William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway. I find their stories and characters (if you will) even more wonderful than ‘Wonder Woman’ herself. So let me take you on this ride. If you are not up for it, you can skip to the last few paragraphs of this blog post. I swear, I have a point that is more important than a comic book superhero and her creators.

Elizabeth Holloway was a remarkable woman by all standards. It was 1910 and this young American “package of dynamite”, “whip-smart tomboy” decided that she was going to get herself a proper education. To quote from Boston University’s Alumni notes: she started off with an A.B. in psychology. And then set out to fulfill her ambitions of law school. She applied to prestigious universities across the United States. Harvard Law did not accept women as a rule and usually turned them over to Radcliffe college. This was a policy Harvard continued up till 1950.

It is so common to come across such stories right? Yes? We tend to gloss over them because we are so used to them. I want to put this little tiny factoid into perspective.

2017-1950=67 years

Up until 67 years ago, Harvard Law did not admit women as a rule. This is at best a generation or less ago.

A few years back I found myself in a hot debate with a classmate over feminism. He believed that the overall statistics of female representation in every profession were so poor that there had to be something fundamentally missing in them. He shouted in exasperation, “Where are all these wonder women you talk about?” At other times, my very educated (sometimes even Harvard educated) male colleagues and friends have pointed out to the “unfair” advantage that women seem to have in higher education admissions. “Why should I pick up the weight?” (Several exhibits ,stored for another day, another blog post, from history are proof, that this small little question summarizes the ultimate human tragedy).

So here’s a picture. Just a generation ago, however bright you may have been, if you were a woman, you did not have access to the best educational and professional networks as a rule. Like, no questions asked. You were out because you were a woman and that was that. Today we publish report after report citing the lack of women in any meaningful decision-making sphere of life and today’s young expect them to make up for such blatant exclusion, obsolescence from the system in just 1 generation.

If you ever opened Harvard’s registers and simply counted the women who ever graduated from there, obviously, they would fall terribly short in numbers. But this would never be because women did not try or weren’t good enough. It was because, Harvard did not want them, something that no western publication will ever bring to your notice.

Coming back to our story, our heroine rejected Radcliffe politely, “lovely law for ladies”, and “because those dumb bunnies at Harvard wouldn’t take women”, opted for Boston University. She asked her father for support and he had this to say to her: “Absolutely not. As long as I have money to keep you in aprons, you can stay home with your mother.” Courage is a rare trait but lucky for Elizabeth (and for the rest of us), she took up many odd jobs over the next few months and managed to save enough to pay her tuition. She married William Marston around the same time and would go on to financially support him through his professional (mis)adventures as well for the better part of his life. She graduated one of only 3 women in 1918 from BU.

Once again, while William Marston started his doctorate in Harvard’s psychology department, and because women could not do so, Elizabeth had to settle for a Masters at Radcliffe. The couple worked on physiological responses to emotions and William would go on to invent the polygraph. William never recognized Elizabeth as a collaborator in his work but many writers and researchers who built upon his work in the future referred to her work directly and indirectly.

Head on to her wiki page and it is not difficult to see that Holloway was by all measures a ‘Wonder Woman’ for her times. She was a career woman at a time when society was not ready to accept her as such. “She indexed the documents of the first fourteen Congresses, lectured on law, ethics, and psychology at American and New York Universities, and served as an editor for Encyclopædia Britannica and McCall’s magazine.” In 1933, Marston became the assistant to the chief executive at Metropolitan Life Insurance, a position she held until she was 65 years old. It was not by accident that someone like her could not become an acclaimed Professor or professional, it was very much by that day’s design.

William and Elizabeth ran a household that is modern and original even by today’s standards of family life. Elizabeth not only accepted Olivia Byrnes, a paramour William developed during his brief stint as a Professor but supported him, their 2 children and Olivia’s 2 children fathered by William throughout their lives.

William Marston wanted to create a new superhero who would conquer not with fists but with emotions and love. “Fine,” said Elizabeth. “But make her a woman.” Comic books were going through bad press during the 1930s. William Gaines, the founder of DC Comics released Superman in 1938, Batman in 1939 and Marston’s Wonder Woman in 1941 as a face saving movement for comic books. It is a succinct reflection of our society that it took so long to make a movie solely dedicated to Wonder Woman even though all 3 superheroes were introduced to the world within 3 years of each other. (A sentiment also captured in this Daily Show segment).

I don’t know what to make of William Marston. While on the one hand he declared that he created Wonder Woman to “combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men”. On the other hand, his explicit sexualization of wonder woman was deliberate, stemming from such ideas as: “the secret of woman’s allure, is that women enjoy submission—being bound.”, or, “You can’t have a real woman character in any form of fiction without touching off a great many readers’ erotic fancies. Which is swell, I say.”(1)

Marston drew heavily from the works of Margaret Sanger, the leader of the birth control movement in America. But he was also determined to keep this a secret. Wonder Woman’s staff artist, Harry Peter was involved in the suffragist and birth control movements of the time both of which used ‘chains’ as a dominant symbol of bondage. However Marston’s interpretation of these chains was very sexual and eventually problematic.

Very predictably, it can only be so long that a strong, independent, sexually charged woman strolls through public imagination before she invites censorship. As in history, as in religion, so in comic books.  This pattern is sadly, a pattern.

The National Organization for Decent Literature (led by Roman Catholic priests, surprise surprise!) set the wheels in motion by blacklisting Wonder Woman for being insufficiently dressed just one year after her release.

A decisive blow came when a psychiatrist and activist, Frederic Wertham, created so much noise against Wonder Woman and comic books that a U.S. Congressional Inquiry was set up to explore the psychological impact of comic books. Wertham testified as a direct retaliation to one of Wonder Woman’s female board members, “As to the ‘advanced femininity,’ what are the activities in comic books which women ‘indulge in on an equal footing with men’? They do not work. They are not homemakers. They do not bring up a family. Mother-love is entirely absent. Even when Wonder Woman adopts a girl there are Lesbian overtones.” This was in 1954. Today while the CBFC in India refuses to certify ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’, not much has changed.

It was only in 2010 that Wertham’s private papers were made public. It was discovered that his hatred for Wonder Woman had more to do with professional jealousy with the said female board member rather than any real social apprehensions about Wonder Woman. (You could google the meaning of the word ‘douchebag’ at this point if you don’t already know what it means). Anyway, the hearing ruled at the time, “The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage.” The said female, Lauretta Bender, was duly removed from Wonder Woman’s advisory board.

After 3 decades, in 1985, Wonder Woman found an unexpected savior. George Perez. A star artist at DC Comics, he was not a fan of Wonder Woman as she existed back then. But for the right reasons. To quote him, “The stories were rather silly. She was basically the male concept of what a female hero was, with the stereotypical trait that they gave to a lot of their female characters, in which she was worried more about having a date than saving the world.”(2) He set upon redesigning Wonder Woman doing more justice to her character and making up for all the dilution and mismanagement of her storyline.

So we are back to the present day. Some of you may wonder, “so whats the big deal?”, “Its just another comic superhero, movie character etc.?” or even “I think the mainstream depiction of women is really just a social, cultural problem. It has nothing to do with anybody’s bottomline.”

Here is an article from The Economist “Equipping people to stay ahead of technological change”. Head on to the last paragraph of this op-ed: “Not everyone will successfully navigate the shifting jobs market. Those most at risk of technological disruption are men in blue-collar jobs, many of whom reject taking less ‘masculine’ roles in fast-growing areas such as health care.” The article outlines several remedies such as education, training programs, relaxed certification requirements etc. etc. but no where in those 1000 words do I find even a remote suggestion for fixing the perception mismatch of what the common person thinks as ‘feminine’ (and sometimes by default derogatory) jobs and what a ‘man’s gotta do’.

If the future of productivity and economy depends on improving efficiency, it depends as much on recognizing that the old norms of what a man should do and what a female should do did not have very ethical or humane origins to begin with. It depends as much on opening our minds to consider new possibilities in contradiction to old definitions. Today’s advancing technology exposes and challenges some of those archaic and hypocritical structures with each passing day and the best suggestion ‘The Economist’ has is essentially, ‘lets just babysit some of them through it till we can create an alternate reality where we provide jobs that they will find acceptable’. Yeah sure, good luck with that.

We live in a world where the work that women do in shaping the future of humanity (literally by raising children) and safeguarding the health of families has no formal recognition in that ever enigmatic metric of honor, GDP. Apparently I am not alone in thinking this. I could write a book on the damaging effects of this inequity (but that’s for another day, another blogpost).

Its ironic that while the sun was forced to set on Wonder Woman citing a lack of motherly activities in her depiction, in the real world this same work carries little formal economic importance. The strength of many wonder women who exist in our daily lives is completely ignored by just about everything and everyone. So much so, that the leading publication of the western world is claiming that many would rather do no work than ‘feminine’ work. I know this maxim holds true enough on this side of the globe.

Ultimately, the people who will be better ‘equipped’ for the future (that is not so far away in the future) will not always be the smartest people trained in the latest AI fad or management profession. It will be people who will be willing to readjust their old beliefs to adjust to the new possible freedoms of our times.

(1) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/origin-story-wonder-woman-180952710/?page=2

(2) http://www.vulture.com/2017/06/wonder-woman-revisiting-the-comics-story-that-redefined-her.html

3 years of Swimming. In Data.

As 2016 is *finally* coming to an end, a year whose repercussions will be felt for many more to come, I cannot but help reflect on the past few years that I have spent swimming. Swimming in data that is.

I have had the opportunity to be a productive participant in the field of data science from many perspectives. Having spent time both in academia and industry, and as both a producer and consumer of data science solutions, I have plenty of lessons that I remind myself of.  Here are the key takeaways from all those years of swimming in data and finding things that would hopefully be useful for someone:

It takes a village.

‘Big Data’ was a big hype word very recently. Until everyone realized that the ‘game-changing’, ‘life-changing’ and ‘world-changing’ data either did not exist or was in the hands of very few people or companies.

There is an unhealthy disregard in academia and industry for collecting data. The way research progresses in AI, ML and all the related fields which collectively affect our abilities to make the most of our data, there is a race to publish the most sophisticated mathematical solution.

In an article on ‘Why Deep Learning is changing your Life?‘ I was happy to note that there was a small paragraph dedicated to Fei-Fei Li, a Stanford AI professor who started the first serious concentrated effort to collect data for computer vision. It was only after she created ImageNet, that the computer vision researchers of the world could show-off their sophisticated math skills at making sense of complex data. It was this effort that created the arena where thousands of researchers having Olympic levels of math skills could finally meaningfully use their expertise.

Which brings me to my first point: Creating and having good datasets is essential, crucial and possibly more useful than all those complicated math models that some people pine away hours at first to build and then to make sense of. A good dataset with a simple model can sometimes tell you far more than the most complicated function approximator run on a bad dataset.

In short, the prestige incentives of academia are not always efficiently aligned with the real world need for making (game/life/world)-changing data science advances.

Now onto why I title this section as ‘It takes a village’.

My hunch is that the ‘Big Data’ hype was generated because the way the world operates, what matters to the big guys is usually projected as what should matter to everyone else. For all the hype and McKinsey reports on the big data revolution, the number of big data companies that actually exist in my opinion are exactly these: Google, Facebook and Amazon. (Apple & Microsoft notably have their foundations as product companies).

Analogous to how the problems of the developing world are never even discussed, let alone be fixed, the real data problems of the rest of us don’t garner enough attention. Most research problems in the field today are trying to solve problems for scenarios that largely exist for these companies (and NSA, shhh, secret).

Most questions in the industry that people now want to answer in a ‘smarter’ way because they know that a (smart) phone exists in every hand don’t have the right datasets to answer them. And definitely not in the context of the developing world. (There is a connection that I see between this gap and the recent wave of the Indian Startup scene, but more on that in another post).

There is another hurdle to the willingness of creation of such datasets. Data collection takes time and it also takes time and resources to start generating dividends. In industry, the Chinese whispers that happens between the sales team, the deal makers and everybody else where it is necessary to quickly book profits and revenues, solutions are sold before there is time to figure out whether the questions the client is asking can even be solved with the data available.

It takes guts to ask that question: ‘Do we even have the data?’ and consider the possibility of hearing back a ‘No’. Then it takes deep pockets to fix that issue. And then it takes perseverance to come up with a meaningful solution. Which is why I am not playing a blame game here. Businesses and companies need to be run and what needs to be sold to that end needs to be sold. But in the end only long term thinking can produce anything valuable.

So, in the industry too, the incentives are not always efficiently aligned with the real world need for making (game/life/world)-changing data science advances.

So as a data science PM/engineer/researcher etc. what does all this mean for you? As much as possible, fix that misalignment. *It takes a village* to build a useful data science solution right from the engineer who makes the system for data collection (if you have the luxury of having such a person in your vicinity) to the designer who can finally make your beautiful insights visible to those who matter. Get in touch with all of them and take them along, up and onwards with you. Every link in that pipeline matters.

Get your language right.
When you offer insights about/from data to someone, you operate in an abstract space of ideas. In such a scenario, you could be talking about the same thing and still not be on the same page. This is usually the case because you are quite literally using words that mean something different to the other party or using different meanings of the same word.

Again the Chinese whispers that happens between the sales team, the client management and company management means that by the time the data and the problem reaches the engineering team, several things have been lost in translation. In academia, when you have researchers from different backgrounds or fields collaborating, there are several different ways of expressing the same ideas creating potential space for misunderstanding.

For example, when you talk to a natural language processing researcher, the audio and visual information is ‘context’ or background, i.e. all the extra information that they may or may not want to include in their machine learning models. Similarly, when you talk to a speech technology researcher, language and visual cues are ‘context’. As someone who has worked on building machine learning models to combine all these communication media, I very quickly realized that while discussing or presenting my work, I would have to avoid the word ‘context’ like the plague if I had to get my point across to everyone together.

Listen. Listen. And then listen some more.

To get the previous point, you must listen to your audience’s language in the first place. But there is a bigger reason why there is a need to keep one’s ears wide open. In my short stint so far, I usually find that people actually don’t know the questions they want answers to. However, people do know very well the pain points of the problems they are facing. Try to listen to these in detail and with great patience. Even to the egoistic (a*holes) who might come to you full of insight and in no mood of listening to what the data is actually saying.

This does 2 important things for you. First you can decide whether a person really has a problem or has something that they have already decided to hear. Next if they do have a problem, it is better for everyone if you can quickly assess the situation and come up with the questions that can be answered and then the questions that need to be answered. Many times, they are not the same. If you are ever part of a project in which these happen to be the same, jump at it with all you’ve got. This does not happen often.

This is analogous to the famous Steve Jobs mantra that the consumers do not know what they want. So, you must get good at listening because before finding a solution, you must transform a problem into a good question.

Math is beautiful.

When I had just started out, I was brash and naïve. I wanted to apply the full force of my training and change things everyday. But there was a slow and painful process of realization that the world does not a) know its problems b) is not always looking for solutions to the known problems c) so many years of my education had not quite prepared me to face the factors that were important in solving problems.

I immediately changed gears to try to fix some of those issues in my life. The world is hard and disappointing. However, Math is only hard, not disappointing. As a data scientist I place my bets on Math and it is that bet that inspires me to get up everyday and get to work, no matter what.

I hope this was useful! Here’s wishing a happy productive 2017 to all!

Winter

He swiped back his blonde hair with his huge hands. To get a better look at a beautiful woman walking past him.

The leaves of the bush heavy with snow, still swayed in the chilly wind outside the coffee shop. Just as he felt a little too warm in his fuzzy overcoat, the snow laden landscape outside ran a chill through his mind. Here he was sitting alone, while a thousand miles away, he pictured her sitting at her window, wondering where her life was going. A happy jazz song ’…you will always shine…’ pulsed through the background. A stark contrast to the environs of his mind.

What if they hadn’t met? What if he had stayed longer? What would happen?

It was that moment, when he walked away from her, catching a last glimpse through the glass shades, in the airport line, that her memories ran past his mind like the reminiscence of someone on a deathbed.

She walked away too. 22 hours of isolation would follow, with just a trite entertainment box for company. Two pulsating hearts, trying to overcome the negative void of absence. There was energy in love and there was energy in heartbreak too. It pushed everything down, against your brain, against your mind. Like anti-gravity. Cognitive dissonance.

“Would you like a painting? Would you like a portrait, Sir?” asked the lady outside the café.

“No not today. I don’t want a portrait madam. But could you draw me a heartbreak instead? Because if you drew me today, that’s what you would find” he thought to himself.

The song and the happy tourists walking past him were a contrast to the winter that had set in his life. He had come at a contradiction too early, too soon to understand. For the largeness and variety that the life and the world was, one’s life was too short. There was too much to do. There was too much to understand, too much to take care of.

Maybe he would win some awards. Maybe he would taste success but would this make it on his resume or blog or on any particular record of his life? Would anyone know that there was a huge part of his life, himself, that just walked away from him? Would anyone care to know? And then for everyone he would have to pretend that this was all easy, that he was here because it was meant to be. But would they know that behind the smoke screen lay a forced choice?

The Swartz Fellowship

circa 2011: Brijesh, Saurabh and me were standing outside the LTC. The last hope for a Conquest sponsor had pulled out. We simply did not have the money to pull off Conquest the next week. (We eventually did somehow).

But that day I went back to my room and wondered, “Why am I doing this to myself?” I could be doing so many other ‘expected’ things with myself. I could be doing ‘laccha’ (laughing & chatting with friends) and dispel some unflattering labels that my so-called ‘girl-friends’ loved throwing around in my absence. I could be ‘ghoting’ (generating heat on the table i.e. slang for studying) and gathering outdated knowledge. I could be on a date.

I guess I was obsessed with CEL a little bit because that was the only place where you could talk about not jumping hoops created by others. And be taken seriously.

In my meanderings since then, none of those efforts or hard work ever fit. The Indian MBA scene was a humungous turn off. Job? MS? What did all these people want? Grades? Smooth talking? Glorified internships in Europe? I don’t know.

The hardest and the best moments of my BITSian life were not even there on my resume, in some sense. I knew some of those moments will shape me for a long time to come. Yet I had no way of expressing the costs and the risks that I took with my time at BITS. Almost no one seemed to care and understand

circa 2016 : Swartz Fellowship Interview.

“One of your recommenders said: “There is one thing about Aaksha. She can be obsessed with making the right things happen.”

Welcome to the Swartz Fellowship.

And just like that. Someone finally cared.

#SwartzEntrepreneurialFellow2016

(A yearly fellowship awarded to CMU graduates who show the most potential for excellence in Entrepreneurship and Technology)

El Capitan

(PC: Sahil Shah)

For a thousand years
I stood…
Faceless in their minds

Witnessing stories,
Of all kinds

I too have wisdom to share,
If only they cared

I too have a soul,
A voice,
their squabbles stole

The birds sing my song,
And occasionally moan

But they
They only think
Never reach that unknown

~Aaksha Meghawat

The Truth about ‘Still Life’ Painting

“Don’t only practice your art,
But force your way into its secrets,
For it and knowledge can
Raise human to the Divine”

-Ludwig van Beethoven

In a world of Instagram filters, Photoshop and DSLRs, one might question, what is the point of Still Life painting anymore. The genre that, in definition, tries to create on paper a replica of a few objects placed together as seen in their natural state. The genre that, in intent, tries to emulate real life as closely as possible.

Modern tools (compared to traditional tools of brushes, palettes and colors) also call upon our aesthetic sense and are an opportunity to make rich use of our creativity, to choose and define what appeals to us at any given point in time. I love this new revolution because it has suddenly made the concept of aesthetics accessible to everyone. It is also interesting to see the amazing and different ways in which some artists combine new tools with older ones to create more interesting works of art.

Why go through the pains of creating a still life painting then? What could one possibly gain from something that increasingly seems futile?

When I was a little kid, cameras were not as common as they are today. Nonetheless, I had the same questions. Art period in my crowded classroom reduced to this task of reproducing as exactly as possible some objects, a landscape or people. If art is freedom of expression, then this class felt the exact opposite.

Fortunately, I was saved from this narrow perspective of art and introduced to the way people have used it through the ages in an art class outside of school. Here every week we explored a different art form from across the globe. This was a huge contrast to the art period in school because I increasingly came to find that general art forms which are adopted by communities are actually very simple (think Warli, Mithila, Aboriginal Art or Rangolis) and yet intricately aesthetic. They must be simple if they are to enjoy wide adoption. The weird, almost idiosyncratic shapes and different colors or techniques opened up a pandora’s box of expression. I have talked in an earlier blog post about how this exploration inspired some of my own early work.

Of course, none of this passed for ‘art’ in school.

This tug of war plays out on a larger stage in history and society. Those who followed the classical school of thought imported/derived from Europe would scoff at the what had been community art for centuries in other cultures.

In Europe, the likes of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci etc. were pioneers in the art of perfection. This culture continued during Renaissance. Impressionists suffered and struggled to shift the primary focus of a piece of art from the object to the self. The impressionist’s philosophy was to express the object the way one felt about it.

So then why is it important to strive for re-creating objects exactly as you see them on paper? For the longest time I thought that this was just an archaic vestige of an old training system. And that it was being continued simply because it had existed for so many centuries.

Again though, I was saved from this narrow perspective. The real reason why still life painting would be important for any artist was a long process of realization that I was very privileged to have during my training at the Art Centre in Sahyadri School. It was only possible thanks to Salim Sir and Poorna Aka who nurtured and enriched the wonderful environment of the Art Centre, almost like a zen enclave. I don’t remember Salim Sir ever saying more than a sentence or two in any art class. He always moved around us, added a brush stroke or two and moved on. But in his brevity he taught us things several lessons worth, many times over.

Fruit Basket

When one practices still life painting over a relatively long period of time using different media and tools, the most important learning is not painting but it is the art of observation.  The art of still life painting is actually just that. The more intently you observe an object’s form, proportion, shadows and highlights, the better you connect with the object.

The 2 years in which I intensely practiced art, we experimented with painting many challenging surfaces. And one of the most important things I learnt was not missing out on the small details that make a huge difference. For instance, I observed this wooden chair. Getting those few strokes right that emulate the way a wooden surface and its polish reflects light was key to making this chair come alive.

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Each surface has its own way of interacting with light and this interplay is what makes it unique and challenging.

Clay

book

 

For instance, above is a simple and common enough still life study. There were however two major challenges in this work. One was depicting the depth of the glass. The other was achieving the cumulative surface that is formed by the pages of a book.

Creating an illusion of 3D depth on a 2D canvas is one of the most challenging tasks of a painter. Most people imagine that depth can be achieved by adding a dark shade in the relevant area but how do you show depth in a white bowl where the light was falling right into that depth? That was the challenge of this study.

bowl

Depth in a white bowl

Another important point that I realized with this training was that white and black are possibly the most useless colors in a watercolor palette. If you are imitating real life, both are too strong and too artificial (just as in the real world of ideas and opinions).

Surfaces that consist of several smaller parts are again more challenging than a usual flat surface. A tree with all its leaves, a thread roll with all its thin threads, a bamboo net with all its strands…

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The surface and light combination that was the most challenging and the one that I also enjoyed the most was metal. Metal is really challenging because it reflects everything like an obfuscated mirror. I love painting metal because the more challenging it gets, the more interesting it is to paint it.

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Towards the end of our time, we tried our hands at one of the toughest assignments yet: glass, steel, brass, copper all rolled into one. This was one of the most challenging pieces I have done. This task revealed how difficult the same surface can be in the same setting. While I captured the steel base and the glass surrounding the burner well, the convex glass just above that was too daunting. The reflection of the green cloth and the glass in the brass plate gave rise to shades that I found difficult to emulate on my palette. Even then, I thoroughly enjoyed working on this one.

metalglass

Many people think that art is a form of implicit expression but maybe it isn’t. A painting or a piece of work is a bridge between the artist and the viewer. An artist must observe deeply and intently to better connect with the object. The more you connect, the more the object becomes a part of you. The more successfully you develop and express your own unique, authentic perspective. Your painting forever carries your idea with it and a viewer who can connect with that unique perspective is someone who has truly understood what you were trying to express. After all, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

There is a certain flexibility and ease of the hand that becomes your natural way after much of this kind of work. The ultimate dream of any artist is to find the act of creation so natural, to find one’s art so effortless that it originates from you in a natural flow. That if somebody watches you, they successfully fall for the illusion that what you did was effortless and simple. Yet what you produced was beautiful.

This dream inspires much  of my philosophy in my research in artificial intelligence and machine learning today.

On a different note, this is also where the two seemingly divergent paths of the perfectionists and the impressionists meet. There is a reason why Van Gogh’s Starry Night evokes such a powerful response from people or Michelangelo’s sculptures touch people’s hearts. Irving Stone’s biographies ‘Lust for Life’ (Van Gogh) and ‘The Agony and The Ecstasy’ (Michelangelo) beautifully describe the passions and arduousness that led to the timeless works of these two artists. These two biographies have deeply influenced my relationship with art and my views on life.

Personally I think one’s best creation is where one does not have a very clear memory of creating something. I have experienced two such moments, one in poetry and one in painting, something that Salim Sir asked me to call my ‘Masterpiece’.

But more on the two masters and my masterpiece in another blog post. For now, I have said enough.

 

Why I love ‘Zero to One’: The Contrarian Question

I am overwhelmed with Peter Thiel’s ‘Zero to One’. Do not confuse that with admiration. I am simply overwhelmed because I have rarely ever read a book that is so insight-heavy. The book’s title goes something like ‘Notes on Startups’. I feel you might as well replace that with ‘Notes on Modern Day Wisdom’ and that would be more apt. Peter Thiel mentions that this book is an exercise in thinking and I think its a very good one at that. So although I don’t completely agree with a few things and I am wary of his libertarian conservartism, this book is superbly exciting.

After the foreword, the book starts with this question “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

I remember very distinctly the moment I read this question. I sat quietly as I experienced an implosion inside me. I was commuting back from work and things blurred past me. I lost some sense of where I was in time and space. The last time I was asked this question was probably a decade ago in a class discussion. And this event itself was an exception because I went to a rather different school that occasionally takes the risk of asking students to think for themselves.

There is a famous Zen Koan (come again, whats that?) which essentially says- “Try to see the non-obvious.” It is a puzzle because it asks you to see something non-obvious. If its not obvious, then how can one see it? And therein lies the distinction. It is not non-visible, it is just non-obvious. This means it is something that is very much possible to see, not visible to most people and most importantly will take some effort for one to see, beyond the usual.

Can you imagine what a brilliant question this is? That our entire education system for all its grand claim of cultivating young minds, falls so highly deficient in this small little question? While the thought process that could develop an approach to this question is somewhat encouraged in the Sciences, I think we all should do a better job of encouraging it in everything else. And most of all in History.

“History is a set of lies agreed upon by the victors”- Napolean Bonaparte. I bring this up to argue for not focusing only on the victor’s perspective. I want to make a case for this not only on ethical grounds (what are those anyway?) but for some more useful reasons (More on this in a second).

A lot of our present is shaped by our interpretation of the past and Religion still has a stronghold of most people. So it is necessary to keep asking this question to make some sense of the perceptional chaos, that is the human legacy.

Coming back, in short, I was blown away by this question. When I reached back that day, I wrote furiously for a few hours as I had so many responses to this question. A few days later, after infusing some coherence into this huge thought-download, here I want to write about the one answer that I cannot keep simply to myself (and is also the least controversial).

So here’s something I have for what I have named the contrarian question:

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

People study success to understand what to do. But I believe that one should study failure equally and more to become the next successful person.

Experience is the best teacher but most of us are not good students.

At an individual level, some people are not able to handle failure and so they fail at failure. They fail at learning from it. They become timid in the face of future risks and adventures. Most are not able to study failure in a wholesome way to understand how to deal with it.

When we are trying something new, we tend to seek out those who have already succeeded and take advice from them, learn from them and sometimes copy them. Personally though I have always received the best advice from somebody who failed then succeeded. In short somebody who had tasted failure and learnt how to deal with that bitter taste. Figuratively, they fell down, but had picked themselves up, very well. They not only valued and appreciated what they had far more than someone who only knew success, but their advice was more useful, heartfelt and mature.

So this was the important truth. But why do I think that very few people agree with me on this?

Because basically, I do not believe that this inability to treat failure with the right framework is inherent. It is rather encouraged and nurtured over time due to the way our systems (educational and otherwise) of ‘paying attention/rewarding’ are designed.

In society and in our schools we idolize and worship the winner. We teach young minds that it is important to be at the top and our reward system is indifferent to the rest who tried, however well they may have done so. (*) This conditioning continues into our adult life when our society prizes only the successful and there is little or no appreciation for those who tried and how they did it. Maybe this is even more relevant in India where our society has not made the paradigm shift in appreciating failure. (Things are changing though, maybe…)

But this is not a clarion call to hand out more medals, awards, ‘A’ grades etc. Rather it is to hand out lesser of those and more importantly, pay less attention to them anyway. I’ll try to make myself clearer with an example.

When I graduated from high school, I put myself through the ((in)famous) grueling Indian engineering entrance exams. At the end of the exam session for that year, my school organized a counselling session with the previous year’s topper for some advice on navigating the complicated process of getting a seat in a good college after the results. This fellow had an All India Rank < 10 in the JEE (the largest, toughest exam). So on paper he had the best credentials to give such advice but in reality he was probably the least suited for the job. For one, he had no experience in navigating the messy and chaotic seat counselling process because he had gotten the top seat in the best college by filling up a simple form. He had no experience in resolving the confusions that come along when you have to choose between 2 ‘not-the-best’ options, make lists of pros and cons, all the while managing your inner confusions and others’ expectations. Because he had faced none of it and hence gotten over none of it. This is not to say that what he had achieved was not awesome, it was. Yet he did not deserve the position of the guide-post for the rest of the class for that. A far better person would have been somebody who would have juggled many options and converged on one choice. The decision process of someone like that would have been far more useful for all of us.

Our systems tend to reward people for their skills, advantages, intelligence but rarely for what they end up doing with those attributes. Intelligence, beauty, these are natural attributes that attract appreciation but it almost appalls me sometimes when we do not ask, “Great, you are gifted with some good stuff? So what have you done with that so far?” Or better still, “So you started ahead of everyone on the start line, but how far did you go from there?” But anyway this is for another blog post, another day :D.

It is people who have experienced a transition from success to failure or from failure to success that have the most to offer for good advice. So the next time you are wondering what to do and need some advice, pull out a list of the winners and losers. And if possible, before sounding them out, do examine how they got there. Because ultimately in which category they fall is vastly unimportant compared to how they got there.

It requires great luck and culmination of several factors to become successful. “Luck favors the prepared mind”, so they say. One important aspect of being prepared is being robust, and knowing what not to do is a great step in that direction. What not to do => know what didn’t work=> study failure. A lot of times that can be a great starting point for what should/could be done.

Maybe we are this way because of our history. When conquerors fought wars, there were clear demarcations between the winner and the loser/failure. And the losers were quite literally rooted out of existence. As I walked the aisles of British Museum a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that the ancient Greeks only rewarded and recorded the identity of the winner, rank 1, in the original Olympics. There were no runner-up positions. Maybe they didn’t want to do the paperwork (scrollwork, whatever).

Yet I believe that our systems are obviously far more capable now and our minds are too (even though conventional media would like you to believe the contrary).  In essence failure is important and those who have failed and then succeeded tend to have the most authentic and useful advice.

P.S.: This book has technology as its underlying theme. But I cannot resist pointing out that this question essentially summarizes the entire job description of a financial investment manager.  And for all the nerd-aversion of wall street, asking this question constantly and coming up with good answers is what most successful investors do.

Stranger

Mermaid Vancouver

Stanley Park, Vancouver

To share with the familiar
No burdens
To share with the friend
No hurdles

Will you be my Stranger?

Listeners who only talk
Talkers who only babble
Babblers lost in their cacophonous minds
Everything’s a squabble

Will you be my Silence?

Many have come
And taken
Many have drunk
And walked away shaken

Will you be my Future?

To build a bridge
Of precarious expectation
And leave me stranded
On a ledge broken

Will you be my Keeper?

To hear everything
And judge nothing

Don’t be
My Stranger….
Just be Mine
Stranger……

~Aaksha Meghawat