Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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Five things I learnt from NaBloPoMo

memo-383982_640I don’t read posts that have a title like this one. A list of things to do, a finite number, usually less than ten, of lessons learnt, practical tips and guiding principles. Life is too complicated and extremely subjective to be condensed neatly into a “one list fits all”. Most of the time, one list doesn’t even fit one life. I have made and torn up several lists in my lifetime. Revisions to previous lists have been incremental at times and subsequent lists have held radically different if not totally opposite views.

Given this background, I have decided to take the plunge and summarize my experience from this month of intense blogging. I begin with the disclaimer that the views expressed below are my own and are true as of this writing. I reserve the right to change my mind in the following days, months and years, including any subsequent attempts at daily blogging marathons. It is entirely possible that I may learn different lessons the next time I attempt something like this and highly likely that these lessons will be promptly forgotten.

So here goes:

  1. Quantity and quality are not inversely related: Writing everyday didn’t mean I wrote badly, considering the amount of writing involved. Since I did write everyday, the improved efficiency should have but didn’t greatly improve the quality either.
  2. Look more find more: Waiting for inspiration – I didn’t have the luxury for that. So I lowered the bar and found out quite surprisingly that inspiration is easily found. All I need to do is look.
  3. Discipline and forgiveness: Are essential. The discipline to write everyday required effort. But the willingness to forgive myself required greater effort. I knew I had to write. I wanted to write brilliantly. I had to pick one.
  4. Response and responsibility: Getting a response from readers was great. Getting caught up in stats was not. I loved receiving comments and counting new followers. But my primary responsibility was to write. Sometimes I forgot.
  5. Write or do something worth writing about: I think some famous person said this. I agree. But so much of what I do does not provide fodder for writing. How do I change that? I still don’t have an answer.

Hemingway said – There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

And that is the truth.

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Who’s counting

coffee cansI exercise regularly but don’t calculate the calories burnt. I walk everyday but do not own a pedometer to tell me exactly how many steps. I monitor my body weight but do not have a weighing scale at home. I look healthy and feel good. I just don’t have the numbers to back it up.

I am not on Facebook. I don’t know if people would care about my trip to Prague or my Prada bag (fictitious examples of course). Their “likes” do not determine my next holiday or shoe purchase.

I do not have hundreds of connections on LinkedIn. It doesn’t affect me professionally because people who are looking for me, find me, even without a LinkedIn invite.

I don’t count as friends people who remember my birthday from social media prompts or database reminders. And I don’t think poorly of those who always seem to get the date wrong, but show up whenever I need their support.

Such was my simple un-quantified life until I started writing this blog.

Now I spend time on my writing but also on checking my stats. I am concerned about the lack of response to some posts and am surprised at the number of likes for another. As a reader, I wonder about hundreds of comments to mediocre posts and worry about the gems I might be missing. I am anxious because I am not using my blog to “build my platform” on social media. I receive advice about leveraging other tools to publicize my presence. My pathetic number of followers and likes can mean only thing – I am a flop.

I feel like Alice in Wonderland. How did I get to be a numbers-obsessed blogger when all I wanted to do was write in a public space? Express myself in a milieu where other writers share their work in a virtual community.

As a scientist, I should love measurement and the unambiguous conclusions that numbers can provide. I do. What I do not appreciate is the quantitative oversimplification of life by using numbers.

Do you see yourself as more popular today because your social media post got more likes? Do you consider yourself more successful the day after your video (or photo or essay) goes viral? Are your thoughts of value only when endorsed by many others? Do you really believe that “if you cannot measure it, it doesn’t exist”? Is your life worthy of living even if it goes unnoticed by the masses?

Life, your life, is not a game of numbers. A longer life is not always a better one. A thicker book holds no more wisdom that a sheet of paper. Better to pen a blog post that marks a personal breakthrough even if it is viewed by only a few than pander to popular demand and feel hollow inside.

When DQ was little, I looked up infant growth charts to track her progress. With each passing month it seemed like her height was stagnant, her weight was dropping and her head circumference was below the minimum number! As per the charts, my child’s growth was sub-optimal. Therefore I reached the logical conclusion that I was a complete failure as a mother. Fortunately, the wise pediatrician first pointed out that the chart was not strictly applicable to a child of Indian origin since the underlying data came from a different racial demographic. More importantly, at each visit, she showed me how DQ was holding up her head, rolling over, responding to verbal cues and doing what she should be doing. In short, DQ was thriving.

I learnt then that my assessment of my child (my product, in some ways) and my responsibility to her (my mothering ability) was a very subjective and extremely personal matter that could not be distilled into simple numbers and plotted on a graph. All the statistics in the world could not describe my joy when DQ took her first step. The day she called me “Mama” didn’t matter to others but made me feel like a million bucks (in the days before a million views).

“What we know matters but who we are matters more.” Brene Brown

Yes, data is useful. It provides information. Not necessarily insight.

The quality of our life is expressed by our feelings, not described numerically. Pursuit of larger numbers and better stats may provide a context for your life but not it’s meaning. That is embedded in one-off moments, which are intensely private, celebrated in intimate settings and valued at an individual level.

A close, loving family; a few concerned friends; some interested readers – I will take these any day over a thousand distant strangers.

But who’s counting?