I grew up thinking there was some formula for life. And if I just followed that formula – work hard, get a 30 year fixed mortgage, work at a big place…and I’ll do fine. It worked for a while. But over the last 10 years or so, life and work became so much more unpredictable and uncertain.
Stress and anxiety became my new norm. I didn’t know how to deal with uncertainty. I didn’t know how to deal with anxiety and stress of an uncertain future. I didn’t know how to move forward with so much unpredictability in my career and my life.
I was stuck in limbo land. I was paralyzed by what I perceived as an insurmountable problem of life so complex, increasingly uncertain, highly unpredictable, interconnected, fast and full of shocks and surprises. The more I thought about trying to plan my future, the more stressed and anxious I became. It felt like each path that lay in front of me looked worse than the other.
No Formula for Life – The Ladder is Never Straight
Everything I thought I knew to be certain became no longer so. From the uncertainty at my job (if I continued to have a job), to the disorder of life at home trying to raise kids and balance work, to unpredictability of starting a new business with my wife and my parents figure out retirement, I felt overwhelmed, paralyzed, under prepared and always worried about an increasingly uncertain future. I didn’t know how to handle the chaos all around and how to manage uncertainty.
Frozen in Chaos!
I stopped making any decisions or choices. I got paralysis by analysis. Feeling the uncertainty and constant change at work, I stopped growing. I thought about moving but held back because I thought about all the negatives of what a new career path would look like. I over analyzed everything and felt in control of nothing. As a result I felt stagnated and like I was slipping down a spiral of anxiety and frustration.
The root cause of my inability to move forward was that I felt as if my life, at home and at work, no longer had any order to it. I used to know the formula but now everything was different. The economy was changing. The world was getting so much more complicated. I was trying to identify the new rules in a changing world. I was trying to define the right path to success. I couldn’t figure it out and so became paralyzed. I couldn’t move forward.
A trip that changed my life
Then something unexpected happened that changed my life forever. I said “yes” to a friend who had asked me to accompany him on a business trip to India. Having been born in India and living there for a part of my youth and more recently having worked there for a few years on business, I was delighted to take a side road for a week to help my friend figure out how to do business in a country of 1.2 billion people.
Driving on Indian roads full of chaos!
The “It” moment happened as I was accompanying my friend Ben on his first car ride to a business meeting in one of India’s most populous cities of 7 million, Ahmedabad. Navigating through the city’s roads with a local driver was the first time Ben experienced a moment of sheer uncertainty and shock since landing in the country. There were no markings on the ground, not many traffic lights and no one paid much attention to the traffic signals anyway. Road brimming with bicycles, carefree pedestrians, motorcycles, scooters, small trucks, rickshaws, and “3-wheelers” (scooters that are small taxi cabs). The occasional cow or buffalo became our road companions as our driver weaved through the mess to our destination.
The driver was a local and while he wasn’t too knowledgeable about all the roads, he sure knew how to handle moving the car in and out of the chaotic traffic. At one point I was in the front seat next to the driver. Looking in the rear view mirror I noticed a motorcycle approaching fast, trying to pass us on our left. Up ahead, also on our left, was a huge tree. Seeing this guy on a motorcycle try to speed up to pass us made me a little nervous. Our driver was speeding up too, and I thought surely the motorcycle guy was going to hit the tree.
I grabbed on tight as we approached the tree and with ease, our car veered slightly to the right and we passed it. Relieved to see that the motorcyclist was also fine, and impressed with my new best friend – the driver- I asked, “Wasn’t that a little close? Weren’t you concerned that by speeding up, you were risking that guy’s chance of getting hit?” His answer resonated and has stayed with me forever. He said, “Sir, in this crazy road which is my daily life, I have learned a life truth and that is that I cannot count on anyone else or anything else to be predictable. Each road has a surprise. Either a cow comes out of nowhere, another car races to pass, a child’s ball enters the road, or a scooter or a rickshaw, with a total surprise. The only thing I can do is to be prepared and think of only my car and the passengers in my car. I can only control my own driving and not worry about all else around me.”
I couldn’t figure out why but the driver’s words on that day had deeper meaning to me than I realized at the time.
How does anyone get any work done in all this chaos, here in India?
As we were preparing to leave India we reflected on our car adventure and numerous business meetings over the course of the few days. Ben asked, in an exhausted voice, “How does anything get done in a country that is filled with so much craziness and confusion – on the roads, in meetings, in daily life- whether it’s going to the market to buy food or getting a postage stamp at the post office? There is so much chaos here. How does it work with a billion people? I just don’t get it. How do people figure out what to do when they have no idea what’s going to happen next?”
I answered, “Well, that’s India for you. It’s a chaotic place. But let me ask you this, have you ever been to an Indian wedding in the US?” He answered, “No. Why do you ask?” “Because participating in an Indian wedding is instructive to understanding how people survive in chaos”, I answered. “Here’s what I mean.
Lessons on chaos from an Indian Wedding
You go to an Indian wedding and you experience an all out attack on all your senses. There’s confusion everywhere. People are running late, you don’t know what’s going on. So many colors, smells, music, dancing and new outfits you’ve never seen before. Some people fighting, others laughing, some drinking, some are praying. Marigold flowers everywhere – in a vase and all over the floor! There’s a horse or an elephant (yes even in Indian weddings in the US) and you’re not quite sure but it’s not for the kids. Nothing ever goes according to plan or according to what is written on the invitation. You feel like you have no control and no idea what’s going to happen next. Instead of a celebration, it feels more like a riot. It’s total chaos. But five hours later, two people get married! They do get married!
What you have to remember is that while you may not be able to know what happens next and there’s no order to anything, two people will get married and everything will seem perfect when it’s all over. It all works out in the end. Just accept it. You just have to go with the flow and embrace the chaos that leads you up to the end. Enjoy the ride. If you focus too much on trying to figure out the order in it all, then you’ll miss the best time of your life. Like our driver, you have to choose to embrace the chaos because that’s the only thing you can control – yourself and the choices you make”, I exclaimed.
Embrace the Chaos was born!
When I returned to the suburbs of New Jersey to my own life in chaos, I had this profound realization that what I was trying to tell my friend to do in India was exactly what I needed to do to help me move forward in my own life, in my own career right here at home in America. I was trying to figure out the order to a life that has never had any order. And that for me to feel better about moving forward, I would have to learn how to Embrace the Chaos.
I Know How To Do This!
As I thought deeply about my life today and my roots of growing up in the US as an Indian immigrant with humble means, I discovered that I had seen this movie before. I could do this! I had lived in uncertainty and chaos all my life but never realized it until now. As immigrants who moved to America with $75 during the 70’s, my family knew how to navigate uncertainty of trying to make it in a new country. We had nothing. Dirt poor. No money, a tiny shared apartment and no guarantees in life.
Moving forward in life despite an uncertain outcome was something we had gotten to know all too well. I also realized that the place I left behind – India could serve as a classroom for helping me learn to deal with uncertainty and chaos. As a country of 1.2 Billion people living on a land a third the size of the United States with the complexity of many languages, customs and a highly fragmented and complex economy with lots of chaos, I realized that in order to re-learn how to embrace the chaos of my life in the US, I would have to reclaim my past by learning the lessons of moving forward in chaos from the most chaotic place I knew of: India.
As I continued to travel to India for work and to visit family and friends, I started taking notes of everyday occurrences and stories of people I had met. Observations led to insights. Insights led me to better understand how people everywhere, especially in India embrace the chaos that is all around them. Over time I became less stressed and more relaxed and energized. I stopped over analyzing. I began to take tiny steps forward. I started feeling better and more hopeful. As a result, I helped my wife open a new business at the height of the financial crisis with a newborn in our lap, I began pitching new ideas at work and felt great despite uncertainty all around me. I was eager and enthusiastic and started moving forward.
About this Blog
In June 2011 as I looked back at what I had learned about how to deal with uncertainty and overcoming stress and anxiety during the last several years of life at home in America, I started this blog to share what I had learned during my journey in India and here in America. Focusing on stories and insights I gain each day from my experience of moving forward in my own life – in my Fortune 500 corporate career dealing with the uncertainty and constant change to my life at home, to starting a new business with my wife in the middle of the doom and gloom. My focus is to positively encourage others to feel good about taking steps forward.
So, that’s pretty much it. It’s been a few years now and these days I write each weekend in between taking the kids to soccer practice and piano lessons. My full bio is here. I do hope you enjoy my posts, my motivational videos on stopping the over-analysis and moving forward in uncertainty and the motivational quotes on my Facebook page. Thanks for stopping by and best wishes and much success!