Monday, October 15, 2007

Long personal post ahead. Read at your own risk.
I had a brief but interesting feedback session with my manager and my VP the other day. It was part of a performance assessment ritual that happens now and then. More to the point, it was my first such session at the new place having joined the company in February this year.
Among other things, they told me that I had a lucid structured thought process, that I communicate well and report early, that I seem to lead my team by example, that they are happy with the rapport I share with my superiors, my peers and my juniors, and that, in their opinion, I've gone beyond the call of duty when it came to maintaining good customer relations (the customer being our collaborators in Hannover). They didn't have any negative feedback and wound up the session asking me to raise the bar a notch.
I somehow downplay achievements and tend to obsess over my failures to the point of losing sleep. I think it's a throwback to a middle-class upbringing where one was told not to 'think too much of oneself' and that failure was always around the corner. To be fair to my parents, I think it probably was their way of instilling humility in their children (and God knows my brother and I needed to learn that quality!). And there have been times when I've regretted not feeling good about things I've done. So I left the cabin with a grin plastered on my face and a warm feeling climbing up my back (no, it wasn't the difference in the AC).
I guess what made me happy is that a few months after I started working three-and-a-half years ago, I came to the painful conclusion that my thinking wasn't as good as it needed to be, and that despite being good at my job, I sucked when it came to communicating (not just talking and arguing, you know). More importantly, I could never fit snugly into a team. I guess it was due to my inability to take sides, my commitment towards being unbiased and a strange principle that personal relationships at work could only hinder professional output. My team-mates tended to look at me as this humourless guy they could turn to for help but not someone they could feel comfortable with.
Introspection and self-improvement are something I'm big on. Looking back, I think my interest in philosophy seems to have paid off in other areas of my life as well. Being an engineer, in my opinion, asks you to play the devil with yourself on a daily basis (which is not to say other professions don't; I'm just talking from my experiences and from a purely personal viewpoint). It somehow is never enough to solve a problem. You need to solve it in the right way. And at times, the most beautiful way possible, even if 'most beautiful' is synonymous with 'cheap' (or 'cost effective' to use jargon). One somehow needs to cultivate the dual ability to tirelessly generate solutions (De Bono anybody?) and choose between them without being sentimental. Philosophy, to me, seems to ask of you the same. To look at various truths, see if there are any others that have been left out in the bargain and evaluate them objectively purely from a need-to-use basis. This is where people get it wrong when they say philosophy is such an arm-chair science (or art, if you want) and that poetry is for the jobless. If poetry is about acknowledging human frailty, philosophy is about the human ability to gather the courage to find ways to live with that vulnerability. Philosophy is all about practical usage.
This blog seems to have affected me in ways I can't quantify. If anything, I've learnt to communicate, to write for an audience logically and clearly, to listen and argue patiently, despite the few occasions when I've lost my cool (For a SWOT analysis at my first job, I wrote 'Weakness - inability to tolerate fools'; I think I've improved on that too :)). I can't overstate the importance of keeping an open mind, to acknowledge that you were wrong (and stick to your guns when you're right) and to understand that the point of a debate are the perspectives that one comes away with. But then again, I've learnt to be ruthless when dismissing trite, poorly reasoned arguments. It's a tricky balance and one I struggle to achieve on a lot of occasions. I've learnt that when communicating, it's not enough to be professionally blunt but that with every word you speak and with every line you type, you are building a relationship that will help you do your work better (I know that's a very capitalistic way of looking at it but let's not give in to romanticism here). That, in many ways, is the single most important lesson I've learnt. Anything that will help you work better without sacrificing your integrity needs to be worked upon.
Leading is something that comes naturally to me only under certain situations -- either on a playing field or where there is an established hierarchy of authority. Whenever I find myself outside these "set-piece" situations, a social outing for example, I'm a very reluctant leader. I think I like it when people don't have a choice but to obey. But if it comes to coaxing or cajoling people or using one's charm, I shy away (too egoistic you see). It's not something that comes naturally to me. But then like everything, it's something I've worked upon. You see people like Ganguly and Dravid and you learn that charm and man-management are as important as leading by example. One without the other is useless. Grovel when you need to grovel; yell when you need to yell. Like I said, anything that helps you to work better without sacrificing your integrity. Earlier, in my first job, my boss used to like me because I would "call a spade a spade" and that I would not think twice about "challenging people outright". While I still think those are qualities one must have, I've realized that the "packaging" matters. That you need to take people along with you. Iniya ulavaaga innaadha kooral / Kani iruppa kaai kavarndhatru.
While I'm glad that I've been able to break out of a 'personality-shell', I can't help but think if I've lost a little bit of myself in the process. Like I was telling a friend the other day, I seem to have lost the ability to write poetry spontaneously (not that those poems were any good but still ...). Whenever I write a poem these days, it's with a lot of effort and exertion of every nuance of the craft that I've learnt. I used to be able to sit back, not let pressure get to me and generally be lax. But now I'm running all day to meet some deadline or the other, professional or personal. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. I think the trick with self-improvement is to indulge in it only as long as the marginal utility of improvement remains high and let go once the law of diminishing returns sets in. That is something I still need to figure out. But in the meantime, there's a bar I need to keep pushing higher.


sd said...

"that I would not think twice about "challenging people outright"
I remembered something while i was having lunch :)

"running all day to meet some deadline or the other, professional or personal"
I guess that one creative part of your life gets pushed back. I used to draw before, but not anymore. Somehow its no more a joy with pencil in my hand. Pressure, may be, but i guess the mindset of "packaging" gets to you.

musafir said...


Haha ... were you thinking about what I was thinking about? :-)

Yes, I remember your sketches very well. I guess if you had all the money you needed, you would retire and spend your time sketching. But then you need to earn a living. So you look around till you find a profession where you can use our creativity. Besides, the rat race gets to you at some point or the other, I guess.

PS: What makes me think you have a blog hidden somewhere? :)

~SuCh~ said...

"Iniya ulavaaga innaadha kooral / Kani iruppa kaai kavarndhatru."

Didnt expect that from you. :)

"...a warm feeling climbing up my back ".

Have you observed? In tamil, anything to do with love, affection, happiness is likened to something chilly, breezy and refreshing.. and whereas english resorts to warmth.. To with the climate of the regions, i suppose.. :)

I would suggest, that you book mark this post, and re-visit it a few months later. Can sense some thoughts and ideas/perceptions in their rudimentary stages (although you have tried to give them some form, perhaps to identify) and would like to see how they shape up..

And there is nothing like a word of praise to make one's day, week, month or year, isnt it?

musafir said...


Hullo, I won prizes in school for Thirukkural recitation! Not all of that went to waste :) {Yepporul yaar yaar vaai ketpinum / Apporul meipporul kaanbadhu arivu :D}

And excellent observation -- didn't think of it that way till you brought it up. Then again, there are enough "breezy" references to happiness in English. But then good one :)

Didn't get why you wanted me to bookmark this post. Yes, there are a lot of things one wanted to talk about but it was already sounding too self-centred and boring.

And yes, a little appreciation goes a long way. Especially when it's in recognition of your working towards improving yourself.

unpredictable said...

:) Im a little muddled in the head currently so at a loss for words, but i could echo so many of those thots .. some other time maybe ill write in more detail .. for now just :)

musafir said...


Hey, take your time. There's a time for everything :)

~SuCh~ said...

Nice to know there is a thirukural pro amongst us pseudos and peters.. :P

Amazing how so much of depth can be imbibed into so less words..

Asked you to book mark, as this is one entry that be-fits a personal diary. And everytime you re-visit it, you would gather more and varied insights, depending on your current mood...

Some could be defining, some refining, some merely nostalgic. :)

musafir said...


No, no, not a pro ... I think I recited 300 or so at a stretch once without knowing the meaning of most. A handful stay on in my porous memory because they taught me something. We had a good man who taught us Tamil at school. And unlike now, when it is fashionable to proclaim one's "Tamilness", he was not the kind to go about thumping his chest and showing off his "Tamil-pattru". He somehow managed to cultivate in us a respect for the language without turning us into fanatics.

And I get what you meant when you asked me to bookmark this post. Btw still underground?