Reflecting on a year at Booth

I just wrapped up a year of business school – technically I started school 9 months ago, but that’s how we count years. It has been a whirlwind of a year – a year that has pushed me, a year that has taught me a lot and a year that I have absolutely loved.

Friends who started at school two years ago (21 months ago, not 18 months) are graduating now. Graduation means social media is filled with a barrage of photos, emotional messages and accounts of how much they’ll miss Booth. Some thank their friends, some thank their family, some start new fashion trends (tasteful knee slip). My batch mates, though not in as much rigour, have also taken the chance to profess their undying love for year one of the two year package. I endorse these actions(through likes on Facebook), I would do the same too. I’ve loved my time at Booth. But I’m a rebel, I want to say it differently.

I’m also a reflective rebel, so I ask myself a question. A question that partners ask each other, a question that has many right answers yet one I always find incredibly hard to answer, a question that can make or break partnerships. “Why do you love me/X/her/Booth?”.

Why do I love Booth? I have answers, many answers. Answers that almost everyone seems to repeat. I’ve loved the people here – yes sure. I’ve loved the energy I’ve had through days packed with appointments – appointments that should only be on the same day if you are a maniac or if you are in b-school. I’ve loved the classes, they’ve engrained in me frameworks to think with and I’ve been a fan boy to more than one professor (sorry Goolsbee, Kamenica is in now).  I’ve loved the trips we took together with school mates. I’ve enjoyed the geeky conversations about life, school & company strategies.

So why do I love Booth?  Its all of those things, all combined. The combination taught me a lot. I grew. It’s this growth that I loved (#selfish). It’s knowing that you can continue to grow. It’s the feeling in the morning – knowing that I can experiment, make mistakes and learn something today. I’ve loved that. That’s my #WhyBooth.

What have I learnt? Boy this post has many questions. Lessons from year 1 to follow.

 

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3 Lessons from Improv (A)

Improv means different things to different people. For some it’s a skill to make a living, for some its a hobby, and for some its a way to build confidence and presence.

When I joined Improv classes, I expected  that it’d make me funnier, better on my feet and an all round winner. To some extent it did (some say otherwise), but it also taught me many other things. Here are my top 3 realisations.  Let me caveat them though – none of these are “new” and I think that is the essence of Improv. To me, Improv is a mindfulness exercise with immediate feedback loops. In an effort to be more effective on stage, I learnt lessons that translated directly to my effectiveness in daily life. 

Team before me – The essence of  “Yes, and”

“Yes,and” is a rule-of-thumb at Improv and frankly should be a mantra for life. It means you accept whatever your team throws at you, accept it and volley back. No rebuttals, no belittling, no arguing, no “making it better if we did it that way instead”. Instead keep building with the team.

Think about using that spirit in a team meeting.  I’ve forced myself into that rule (as often as I can remember) and its been tremendous at meetings. It means I don’t need the limelight. I don’t even need to force myself to contribute. I need to watch out for the team and add value to make the whole better. Team before me.

 

 

Stop thinking about yourself! 

I’m going to borrow a friend’s story. He was in a scene and a team member slated to join him on stage. Just before the team member’s entry – the audience started laughing hysterically. My friend spent the rest of the scene wondering why they laughed so hard – he didn’t think he said anything that funny, he was scared he accidentally made a mistake and he even wondered if there was something wrong with the way he looked. Why did the audience laugh? The team mate entering the scene had apparently walked in a funny way.

WE SPEND SO MUCH TIME IN OUR HEADS! We think about ourself, we think about what others think about us. So many questions and so much doubt. At improv it causes stage fright, and you may freeze on stage. These doubts in life have more dire consequences – they drive the lack of confidence, they stop you from executing efficiently, and often they stop you from even taking a shot.

Does Improv help you get over this fear? Yes, it trains a muscle. A muscle that makes you take the first step before your thoughts overpower your judgement. Sure, you’ll make a fool of yourself a few times,  but you’ll also learn to get comfortable with that.

Mindfulness – being present 

Improv requires you to listen to your team and accept their ideas as-is (lesson 1). Then you need to trust yourself, get out of your head and not be afraid of being judged (lesson 2) . And if you manage that – you can take a simple scene and build an enjoyable experience. BUT these skills are so hard that you can only do them when you are fully present.

Improv caught me off guard here. I would be on an imaginary garbage truck in a scene, but my mind would wander to my Accounting homework. I knew my mind wandered, but I never realised how often my mind wandered. This was perhaps the BIGGEST takeaway for me.

My class: Can you feel the love?

 

Since, I’ve caught my mind wandering – conversations, lectures and meetings. If the wandering mind reduces the quality of an Improv scene so substantially, the impact on life is much worse! I don’t think there is a quick fix here, but Improv gave me the awareness to catch myself.

Bonus: Weekly Stress Relief

An Improv class every week is like going to a standup show every week. Not just any show, at this is a show you are great friends with the performers (if you aren’t when you start, you will be by the end).  A combination of laughing and love does wonders when life is rushing past around you. (read:recruiting crash landings)

 

The fun in tough times!

Stressed about this big goal or project in your life? Yes am sure it is a lot of work, but isn’t it also fun? If it isn’t fun – are you defining fun as those activities that have minimal consequences? Watching a movie, visiting a restaurant or grabbing a drink.

Aren’t bungee jumps, scuba dives or hikes also fun? Yes, they have a danger and stress element to them, but the stress goes away when you finish. The gratification is also delayed and frankly compressed to a really short timeline. When you attempt a sky dive, you will probably feel stressed through the training, the plane’s take off and  perhaps even for the first few seconds in the air. The gratification comes in the last few seconds of the dive and in the memories that remain.

Perhaps then, it makes sense to think of your stressful project as fun – where the fun comes in short bursts and the pressure lasts longer but eventually goes away. Shift your focus to the fun – keep the reward in mind not the consequences, learn to enjoy the thrills of the journey as you can’t prevent them and attack those problems as puzzles (hell they need solving). There really can’t be anything more fun than a goal that makes you sweat.

Going Short or Going Long?

There is always a dissonance between what’s in front of us now and what could be.

Taking that well paid job that’ll be stable or looking for that dream job where you’ll learn the most but not earn the most…

Focusing on the problem & task at hand, or concentrating on the growth & emotions of your team members….

Eating an extra slice of pizza or aiming to be healthy when your grandchild turns 18…

Walking away from a relationship because it complicates life today or working through it because it’ll enhance life later…

Do think through the long term implications of your decisions today.

Lessons from Biryani!

For a long time,I’ve been a fan of Biryanis and a few months ago I started a photo album on Facebook about Biryanis. I did on a whim – but apparently it captured peoples’ hearts(appetites). Since people have reached out with their biryani recommendations, share biryani memes/ memories and generally include me in any Biryani conversations. I’ve actually learnt more about (and ate more) Biryanis as a result!

Is it honestly so easy to polarize the world towards certain aspects of your life? Here’s applying to Biryani polarization to more “fruit”ful goals in the new year!

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A snap from my Biryani album!

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Lessons from grandpa

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This is a photo of my grandfather & myself walking by the beach. This photo constantly reminds me of 3 things:

  • Remain curious – my grandpa asks way too many questions – approximately 5 questions a minute(even if he just met you). He asks questions about anything he doesn’t know (often things he knows too – just to get a different perspective). You’re never too old or too knowledgable. Just keep learning!
  • Keep having fun – On the day of the walk, my grandfather of over 85 got into the harsh waves. Given his age, the water would knock him down and he’d have sand & salt in his eyes. Once the waves recede he’d start giggling like a child, pull himself together and go again. It was the most fun I’ve seen a person have. Of course, I guess sometimes that fun comes with a bit of risk and the wrath of onlooking loved ones.
  • Your life outlasts you – I am very close to the grandpa in this pic, but I’ve never met my other grandpa. However, I’ve heard plenty of stories about the great work and impact he had. The remarkable thing is that this person who went before I arrived, now pays (through his pension) partially for my education. An everyday reminder that lives often outlast people.