9 May 2011, 1:11pm

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Unable to focus on Job Search — Take it as a full time job

It was the economic downturn in 2008, and I was working with a company in Indiana. One day, my boss told me that they would have to let me go, as they can’t afford to give me a permanent position. Since I had an engineering background and a B.Tech. Degree from IIT, I thought my chances would be much better in Silicon Valley, the hub of IT industry. Hence, I decided to go to California in the lookout for a job. In Bay Area, I couldn’t concentrate on job search, and I was feeling really depressed. During the whole day, I hardly looked for a job for at-most 2-3 hours. Rest of the time, I was groping and sulking in the bed or the sofa. I slept for about 10-12 hours, and didn’t even feel like talking to my old friends as well for the fear of what I would say if they ask me as to what I was doing.

I am sure a lot of laid-off people or college graduates would be able to identify with this situation. A lot of people who are doing job search find it extremely difficult to focus and concentrate. Negative thoughts and stress make it difficult to maintain the mental peace. Some of them find it difficult to even tell people about their situation — and try to avoid their friends and relatives, as they become fed up of answering this commonly asked question — what are you doing? One of the best ways to land new job opportunities is through networking only – and if you are not comfortable sharing with your close friends and relatives, your chances get slimmer. So, what can we do to maintain our focus?

One of the best pieces of advice, from one of my mentors, was to “Take Job Search as a Full time Job”. Imagine if you were in a traditional 9-5 job, how would you approach your day. You would get up at 6 or 7, and get ready by about 8 to 8:30 and will reach your office by 9, ready to start the work. You would work hard till about 5pm, take a lunch break in between, and then go back to your home – take rest for sometime in the evening – and maybe work 2-3 hours more later in the night. In a similar vein, I suggest looking at job search like a regular 9 to 5 job. First, you create a proper place where you can work un-interrupted, it could be your study, or even a nearby coffee shop. Then, you can start working there doing all your job-search related activities during your regular 9 to 5 pm. After taking some snacks in the evening, you can do some phone calls – as people are usually freer in the evening after their office work.

I utilized the same mindset and it worked wonders. Instead of groping and sulking, I could go out and work in a much more focused way. I even used to dress in formals. Once, I got my focus back – I landed a great job within 2 months.

25 Nov 2010, 8:20am

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How to handle the Fear of Failure

Most of us feel a little scared when we are trying something new, or doing something where our performance is likely to be evaluated, e.g. exams. This fear can stop us in a lot of situations, which are important to us.  It can also stop you from pursuing your passions, and venturing out to follow his heart’s calling. For some people the fear is so intense, that almost all of their life is crippled by this morbid fear.  Before we do anything about it , we have to first understand what is this fear, where does it arise from.

Fear of failure is a feeling of anxiety that anyone experiences when doing any activity he doesn’t feel fully confident about, or is worried about the consequences.  If the activity has a chance of something he dearly wants, being denied to him, or people mocking at him for failing, it results in anxiety and nervousness, e.g. public speaking. How did this anxiety feeling develop ?? It was not there when we were born.

Once there was a time in everybody’s life when we had no fear of failure. In our childhood, we fell down innumerable number of times before finally learning how to walk. The same thing was repeated when we first learned to drive a bicycle. At that time, the word failure didn’t exist in our vocabulary. If we failed in doing something, we simply tried again. As school started, something strange started to happen. When we made mistakes, other people laughed or mocked. When we didn’t do something right in studies we were being criticized by teachers and parents. When we dropped that glass of milk from the table, we were again being shouted upon. In general, whenever we did any mistake, we were made to feel bad.  The end result was that we started to do only what was required, and stopped trying to do new things. We learned to conform to the rules. As we grew up, this fear had a tremendous negative effect on our life. It stops us from growing, as we feel scared to try out any new thing. We remain stuck in dead-end jobs even if we don’t like them at all for the fear of failure. So, how do we deal with it?

The best way to deal with fear of failure is to realize that “there is no failure in real life”. It is nothing but a mismatch in expectations, and it our chance to try again with more information. This fact can be realized by the example of Edison, who is supposed to have tried about 10,000 times before finally finding the formula for creating the light bulb. He said he never failed. He only found one more way by which a bulb could not be made.

The only time we really fail, is when we don’t learn from them and keep trying to do it the same way. We only fail when we give up, or we don’t try. So, try your best and keep trying till you succeed. Use failures as an important lessons, and part of the journey of success.

25 Nov 2010, 8:10am

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How to live everyday as if it is the last day of your life?

We have heard several people say that in order to live life to the fullest, live everyday as if it is your last day in life. But what does it really mean when they say that. If it was the last day of their life, most of the people would just relax and take it easy, or do all kinds of enjoyable activities. Living everyday as if it was your last, doesn’t imply any of the above actions. It doesn’t mean that you can give up being responsible and live everyday recklessly.

The essence of the saying is that you live your life to the fullest. Each day is important, so make everyday count. Decide on the most important 4-5 things in your life and focus on them. A lot of people spend most of their time in one area of their lives, at the expense of other areas, and that results in difficulties down the road in those areas, e.g. a lot of people spend almost all of their time at work, and don’t spend any quality time with their family. It results in their feeling alienated from their family members, and lack of respect and understanding in the family. Some others spend almost no time on exercise and healthy nutrition and it results in frequent illnesses, and health difficulties plaguing them later on.

The saying also means willingness to follow your heart and conscience and make important changes in your life.  Our heart may be urging to meet someone, or go somewhere to do some important work. We procrastinate on these important matters and keep postponing them to a later date.  We think we have years left to our life. This framework of living everyday as if it is your last, makes you to think of the most important tasks in front of you and live accordingly.

Moreover, the phrase also says that you pursue your passions, and your dreams wholeheartedly because you don’t know whether you will be alive the next day. Keeping our mortality in front of us, helps us to do our best everyday. A lot of times, we keep delaying and don’t pursue our dreams and aspirations, or what our heart is urging us to do, thinking that we will do it later on.

In summary, living everyday as if it was your last means to live your life to the fullest, prioritizing on your most important 4-5 things in your life, having the courage to make changes in your life that you heart is urging you to make, and not postponing our dreams, by knowing that we will dead one day so there is nothing to loose.

4 May 2010, 5:02pm

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When you do what you love, you work harder — A clue to finding your passion and doing great work

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”   — Steve Jobs

Today, while reading some comments by one of my favorite authors Steve Pavlina, an insight hit me with lightening speed, that you work harder when you do what you love. I always used to think that when you do what you love, you actually have to work less, and things come easily to you. NO !! Its OPPOSITE.

When you do what you love, you work harder than when you work on what you hate or dislike. The reason is you care about what you love, so you are willing to spend that extra effort on it. It also makes clear why all the people who do great work tend to be working all the time. They love and care for their work so much.Now it becomes clear why Tendulkar is such a great player – not because he works less than others, but because he loves his craft so much that he works harder than others, and wants to keep learning about it, and improving it all the time. Same is true for all the people who are considered great in their professions — like Lata Mangeshkar, Amir Khan, M.F.Hussain, etc.

This insight provides an important clue to finding your passion. The activity that you love to do, you generally work a lot harder, and you have an insatiable appetite for learning and improving. So, if these elements are present about any productive activity that you do, you have found your passion.

It also makes clear that why software was never my passion in-spite of being quite good at it. I was not willing to spend effort on it. Even though, I enjoyed the sense of achievement when I completed any major assignment, I never put effort to enhance and improve my skills in this area on a consistent basis. Or, in other words I didn’t work hard in this area. I just worked enough to get by. My passion was in psychology and personal development. In-spite of never studying these subjects formally, I read through almost 50 books, and experimented on myself, as well as helped so many other people without actually noticing that it was my passion.

23 Apr 2010, 1:19pm


Purpose — The only thing you are lacking in life

All of us seem to be running after something in life. More money, power, sex, beauty, girl friends, etc. etc. It appears as if once you get these things magically all the life’s issues will get resolved, and life will become a bed of roses. However, it doesn’t happen ever. As soon as some desire is met, it is replaced by another one. As soon as you find a girl friend, you want her to be your wife, as soon as she becomes your wife you want her to respect and care for your family, and so on and so on. Such is the fleeting nature of our desires that we are running after. Then what is it that will give lasting satisfaction and fulfillment in life ??

All through my life, I have been running after things. First, I wanted to get good marks in board exams, then I wanted admission in IIT, after that I wanted a good job, not to mention my eternal search for the perfect girl friend.  Moreover, I was collecting stuff all the while. My wardrobe was filled with all kinds of branded expensive clothes, and I didn’t even know what things were kept where. I was working 10-12 hours a day, earning handsomely, and yet I was deeply pained. I went for MBA to US, thinking maybe United States of America will make me happy. No, I was mistaken. I got a decent job over there, and yet the pain continued. Living in the land of opportunities, I was still pained. Life sucked. WHY — I asked ??

An answer that came from nowhere hit me with a ton of bricks, and it made crystal clear what I was lacking in life. I had been living my life for myself, and I could never find lasting happiness unless I have a sense of meaning or purpose in life. That MANISH lived on EARTH really mattered for something bigger than himself. That Manish lived for a cause higher than myself. We will not get that sustainable peace until we have a sense of meaning or purpose in life. It is the eternal quest all of us have.

Upon getting this brainwave about purpose, my life took the strangest turn. I decided to quit my job then and there, and started looking for a worthwhile purpose that would give my life a sense of meaning. I decided that I will devote my life to enable people find more meaning in their lives, and create a life of their dreams with ample fulfillment and satisfaction, not necessarily more stuff.

Once committed, I was able to embrace all uncertainties of life. The once scared, fearful Manish was transformed into a courageous person almost overnight. I made more changes to my lifestyle in a matter of few months than I have been able to do in my whole life. I started getting up early, and exercising. I made changes to my eating habits, became more disciplined. I was no longer willing to add stuff to my life, unless absolutely needed. It stopped mattering much whether I was wearing a LEVI’s jeans or an unbranded one. All my life I have been searching for such a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, and make these changes in my lifestyle, but never was able to do so, then how did all this happen. This is the power that Mahatma Gandhi wielded, or Mother Teresa had, the power of PURPOSE. When you stop living your life for yourself, and start living for a purpose, you will get unimaginable power that you are able to surmount all circumstances, and problems.

Once you find a purpose to which you wholeheartedly want to devote your life to, your life will never remain the same. Everyday will take on a meaning in the context of that purpose. Circumstances will stop mattering that much. You will not require as much stuff to fill your life. Your sense of identity will rise above brands. No matter what situation / difficulties you are going through they will take on a new meaning in the context of your life.

18 Apr 2010, 11:29am

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Why are students taking JEE exam ? Do they love engineering ?

An engineering labOn 11th April, about 4.72 lakh students appeared for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for entrance into India’s most prestigious engineering colleges. A significant number of them went through some intensive coaching program to prepare for this. For most of them, the reason for appearing in this exam is that they think that IIT brand will give them a great MNC job and the wherewithal to lead a life with high social status, luxury and comfort. It appears as if getting an MNC job has become the be-all and end-all of life. They will pick up any branch that is on offer, as long as they get to study at IIT. A large number of them will be working in some software job, irrespective of whatever field they do their specialization in. Some were good with mathematics throughout their school, and so they thought IIT is a natural extension to that.

How many of these students appeared for JEE because they loved engineering?? How many of them found thrill in understanding the engineering concepts, and their heart was naturally inclined to engineer new machines, new software, new equipments, etc.

13 years back, when I took JEE, my only reason was that I was good with mathematics at school level, and IIT was a prestigious brand. That’s it. I took over an year of coaching with Vidyamandir Classes, and was able to secure a good rank (243) as well. I took admission in the Computer Science dual degree program because Computer Science was the in-thing at that time.

My years at IIT were full of tremendous mental psychological pain. I didn’t like the classes, found assignments real hard, was below average in a class of high achieving computer science students. After 3rd year, I almost stopped doing any of the assignments altogether, and started free-riding on my partners, who did all the assignments. I started getting “F” grades after 4th year. On top of it, I had taken admission in the Dual Degree, which means I did my MTech as well. My degree got extended by half an year, due to inadequate efforts in the project work. I was really angry with my project advisor, but in my heart I knew that I hadn’t done much so I didn’t say anything to him. I had to go through intensive psychological counseling as well at IIT to enable me to cope up with this stress.  The only relief was the humanities and open category classes, especially psychology, and rural development. After graduating, I took up a lucrative software development job with Mentor Graphics, an MNC. The pain that I had faced in college continued. On the face of it, I was earning handsomely, had high social status, and basically had arrived in life. However, my heart was full of pain and drudgery everyday.

In hindsight, I could have avoided almost 10 years of pain, if I had listened to my heart’s calling. I never liked engineering. I had all the clues: having computer science in school, I had never enjoyed the assignments there. I had taken up robotics as my hobby class in 11th class, but never enjoyed it. I had not worked voluntarily with machines ever in my life. Only thing I used to do was break every toy that I laid my hands on, which is hardly a criteria for excited about engineering.

My passions lied somewhere else. My heart was always set on understanding human behavior, and helping people. I was doing it for free all the time. Its just that I was good at mathematics, and coaching classes prepared me for cracking the JEE. I have now decided to follow my heart’s calling, and enable people to identify and follow their heart’s calling. It’s better late than never.

16 Apr 2010, 5:17pm

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A word for all the JEE aspirants: Try your best and leave the rest

Student mired in exam pressure

This is that time of the year and it makes me feel nostalgic. 13 years back, I took my JEE examination, and I could feel the pressure. Yes, I had huge expectations of myself, and others had huge expectations out of me. So, I thought I just had to succeed. The result was an emotional disaster. 2 days before the exam, I faced a kind of emotional panic, and felt I know NOTHING!! All the hours of preparation couldn’t give me the assurance that I knew it, that I was sure to succeed. The fact is that you can never get 100% guarantees, and my mind was looking for one. Somehow, with the support of my family, I was able to regain my composure after the breakdown. Here are my few thoughts on how you can handle and manage the JEE pressure for optimum performance:

Relax and take it easy in the last week

You have been preparing hard all the year around, and spending 10-12 hours per day, giving up all social activities, and fun. You just want to get through IIT JEE. Your interests will get the best shot by taking it easy on yourself in the last week before the exam. A lot of times, students who are very well prepared, create a mess of it by working very hard in the last week. You may think it is the last week, so you need to work extra harder. However, the results are contrary, as you end up spending your precious energy that you would like to have at the exam time. So, you need to relax and take it easy in the last week. Some tips for that:

a) Focus on just reviewing whatever you have prepared in the preceding year, and don’t solve new problems in the last week. The concern here is that if the students don’t get a few questions right in the last few days, there is a tremendous loss of confidence. Your mind is already under pressure of the coming exam, so you need to give it assurance of your confidence by reviewing your notes, and re-solving the problems you had already solved but found challenging. Do through the challenging problems you had found in your preparation. Focus on going through the general methods in all subjects, rather than trying to solve new problems. Focus on increasing the speed, rather than trying to solve new problems.

b) You may have been cutting through your time of sleep to prepare, prepare, and prepare. Now, take proper sleep, at least in the last week. This will charge you up and keep your mind fresh for the exam.

c) Arrange all the things you would need for the exam, at least 2 days before the exam, so that you don’t get stressed out at the last moment. This includes any logistic details you may have to figure out, and all the stationary, identity cards, etc.

It is just an exam, and not the be-all and end-all of life

Like any other exam that you have taken, JEE is also another exam. Its importance just gets hyper-elevated by society because of the brand value associated with IIT. This extreme importance given to IIT is another major reason why you are feeling so much stress, that you want 100% guarantee that you make the cut amongst the elite. Now, understand that looking at it pragmatically, it is just another exam…and one failure doesn’t doom you to be a failure all your life. If you don’t make the cut, it will not mean the end of the world. It would just mean that would either have to try again, or pursue other avenues. That isn’t such a bad proposition. Even if you don’t get in, you can be hugely successful in life. IIT-JEE doesn’t provide any guarantees for success in life.

Try your best and leave the rest

So, now what do you do when you can’t get the guarantee that you are so desperately seeking, and mounting pressure on yourself. Just TRY YOUR BEST, and LEAVE THE REST to luck, karma, or destiny whatever you call it to be.

Best wishes for your exam

Manish Bansal

AIR 243 (JEE 1997)