Monday, May 23, 2016

Are CBSE results the turning point of your life?

CBSE results 2016 are out! But is this the turning point in your life? (Photo credit)
The CBSE results for this year are out. Girls top again. The wait for the college cut off begins. Another generation of kids is going through the same mixed emotions we went through. Jubilation - for having cleared their exams, maybe with good percentage for some. Apprehension - whether their marks will get them through the cut off of the college they desire. Some kids are the stars with their sterling performance. Some others barely scraped through and are probably facing the wrath of their parents. And some others did not live to find out their results. The stress that our society, parents and the education system puts on scoring well got the better of their will to live.

I have always believed that how you fare in school has little to do with how you turn out in life. Yes, it is important for kids to study well and take their course work seriously. But there is no need to make it an end-of-the-world situation. Because it is not. When I look at this whole results drama and compare it to the times we live in, it comes across as so anachronistic. Times have changed rapidly in the last few years. And yet here we are stuck to the archaic system of marks to give our kids an identity, a sense of success, a boost to their self esteem. I think going through schooling is a part of growing up but not really the only thing kids should focus on through those 15 years.

Coming back to the changing times - I still remember my friend and her spouse talking about their 4 year old boy who was very fond of playing with the pots and pans in her kitchen - "Jo banna chaahe ban jaye. Baal lambe karke rockstar bhi ban jaye chalega. Bas shaadi kare aur ladki se kare tho bahot hai hamare liye!" (He can choose to be whoever he wants to be when he grows up including a rockstar with long locks of hair. We just hope he gets married - and to a girl - and we'll be happy). Such are the awesome times we live in! I feel sad that the education system is still the same as it was when I was in school. That hasn't evolved to address the changing needs of the world. Every student is expected to do well in a set of subjects which are deemed important to learn - for ages now! And this is not fair, if you ask me. I accept that I'm not really clued into the details of extra curricular activities. But I am sure everything finally boils down to how you do in your exams. Class 10 is still the year parents warn their kids about. Only to repeat that in class 12 too! Isn't it more important to help a child find his or her own identity without comparing it to others? And inculcate a value system that will stand by him (or her) through out their lives? And give them the freedom to be who they want to be. Irrespective of what Sharmaji's son/daughter is upto!

So what I'm trying to say is - if it's not already apparent - it's time we loosened up a little. Stop scaring kids about how their life depends on a their ability to mug up a set of subjects randomly chosen for them. And kids, no matter what you scored in your exams, it is not as life altering as people around have you believe. Do your school work well but most importantly, find your passion. Unless you love what you do, you'll never do well. And when you indulge yourself in what you love, the drudgery of school that the society heaps on you wouldn't seem that bad at all! :) So go ahead! Be who you want to be!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Weekend I Was Compelled To Do Nothing

What is your break time activity? (Photo credit)
How many times do we check our phone in a day? And how many times is that an unconscious, almost a reflex action? Imagine if the very act of looking into the screen and trying to read a message made your head spin that you just had to give up? Sounds funny, right? But that's how I spent the last weekend and a couple of more days - couldn't look at the phone for 2 and limited use for the rest. My laptop lay forgotten for almost 3 days. I suffer from Vertigo usually when I travel to places at an altitude. But since I hadn't done that in the recent past, I was surprised on feeling dizzy. looking back, I recalled that I had it once last year due to lack of proper sleep too. But that also wasn't the case this time. The only think I could pin it down to was the extreme humidity in which I was out for meetings and other work the previous week. And the resulting dehydration.

While I did take it casually when it started on Friday, I had to pay the price for it during the weekend. Browsing on my cellphone - which is usually my all-time, any-where activity wasn't possible. What next? Watch a movie? Manageable but that made me dizzy in a few minutes. All I could do was prop myself on pillows and stare at the ceiling or close my eyes. (Lying down was impossible because of dizziness).

So what happens when we are forced to do nothing? Our mind wanders! And for obvious reasons, my mind started grappling with this unusual, unfamiliar state of doing nothing. Not even idly fiddle with my phone! And I started thinking about the last time I was doing nothing - like this? I couldn't come up with an answer for as long back as I could jog my memory. It's usually the frenzied pace of work - blogging (3 posts a week on some lucky weeks), social media, reading (definitely trying to at least), trainings, meetings, business plans, re-planning of plans that don't work, networking events or the frenetic activities of personal life - laundry, cleaning, cooking, bills, running errands, working out and the biggest part of my life - making to-do lists! I realised how much at ransom I was being held by these lists. I even have some for the weekend - household chores to take care of or errands to run - before manic Monday starts all over again.

With all these thoughts going around in my mind, I realised that when we forget to take breaks, nature ensures that we slow down. It always has a way of telling our body and mind that it's time to restore some balance. I don't think I'd have spent my weekend and a couple of weekdays in bed if I wasn't forced to. I slept like I haven't in a long time. It was the oddest feeling to be napping on a tuesday afternoon! Moral of the story: I think we should just take time off before we get carried away doing more than we can handle and things come to a standstill.

One day in a week when we won't even worry about laundry (chore on my weekend too) or grocery shopping. Set out a day to take care of ourselves. Pause the worries and the never ending list of tasks on our To-dos. My sister used to do this on her weekly off years ago - she'd soak her feet in warm water while applying a face pack. Some times, it used to hair pampering. She'd give herself those few hours away from the frenetic pace of every day life. I think it's a great way to take time out.

A day in a week - maybe most of the weekend - put away my list of tasks and take it easy. Not that I believe in digital detox but being away from the phone would make time for a lot of other things that I enjoy. Catch up with reading, colouring or my puzzle book. Things that I struggle to do on work days. And the guilt of not being able to do it only adds to the stress.

I've made my plans for my break time so that I don't have to take forced time out. Stop for a minute and ponder what is the guilty pleasure you'd like to indulge in on a day away from your usually crazy life. What are things that you'd love to find time for - working out, swimming, catching up with friends, learning an instrument? What is going to be your break time activity? Share it with my in your comments. I'd love to know your favourites. Maybe, I'll find something new to add to my list!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

8 Ways To Keep Geriatric Depression At Bay

Old age can be great time with the right attitude (Photo credit)
I recently finished a project with a PSU. I had to interview employees of all levels for a training needs survey. The average employee was anywhere between 45 to 59 years of age. Some of them had joined the organisation decades ago soon after they finished their engineering diploma. The ones in their 50’s and nearing retirement are on the verge of a huge transformation. Having to give up a life and routine that they have lived for a good 4 decades of their lives is no small thing. Once they retire, it would be like being thrown out of their comfort zone and find a new way of life for the rest of their life. Imagine having to change the way you’ve lived your life at 60! 

I started chatting with the HR manager about this huge shift and how it might affect these people. She informed me that they conduct an orientation program a couple of months before the employees’ retirement along with their spouses to prepare them for this change.  They are encouraged to take up post retirement hobbies. Whether they actually take that advice, I think, is a whole new matter. 

This set me thinking and I decided to explore a bit online. It's hard to find the latest stats but I found this story on Indian Express from April this year which says there's a record jump in the senior citizen population in India pushing it the all time high. The number of citizens over the age of 60 jumped 35.5 per cent — from 7.6 crore in 2001 to 10.3 crore in 2011. And by 2050, it is likely to hit a whopping 324 million people! Given that state support for the elderly and the retired is minimal in India, the fact that 70% of these are illiterate isn't reassuring. 

Statistics apart, there are real issues these people grapple with like finances and healthcare. Although, what hit me more was the psychological aspect of it. The 'being thrown out of their comfort zone' bit. And what worsens the situation is retired people mostly give up their own self worth. The thought, "there's nothing to do and nowhere to go" starts becoming a reality. And with rising life expectancy and crumbling joint family system, it's no surprise that 25% of the elderly population is depressed. A big reason for this could be the cultural expectation that children should take care of parents. (Especially in India and other Eastern countries) This leaves an empty nest syndrome behind when that does not happen. In my experience, older people abroad are better prepared mentally to lead their retired life in a fulfilling manner. I have seen so many couples traveling on their own and enjoying the time off from responsibilities and making a living. 

I am no expert in geriatric well being. But from observation and experience, there are a few things which I feel can make life productive for people in that age group. 

1. Be mentally prepared: Waking up in the morning and having nowhere to go after a few decades of routine can be quite disturbing. But looking at it as time out for yourself can help reframe the whole situation. It's like a holiday where your homework is done and you can use this time to do something on your own. Approach retirement positively than looking at it as the beginning of a phase of 'doing nothing'.

2. Stay physically active: With advancing years, health inevitably takes a hit. Minus the daily trips to office and back and one might not have reason or motivation to step out. But it's important to keep the body parts moving so that you are mobile and active to enjoy life to the fullest. Take a walk in the park, join an exercise or a yoga/meditation class. This will give you an opportunity to form a social circle and a reason to get dressed and get out. 

3. Find and cultivate hobbies: I am forever eyeing the ever growing list of books I want to read and can't wait to be 'retired'! Think of what is it that you always wanted to do but never found the time to? It’s never too late to start anything. Singing, painting, drawing, travel, art - whatever interests you. Spending time and money on hobbies is much better than wasting it on therapy to cure depression and loneliness. So take control of your life before the demons take that space in your head. 

4. Be happy for your kids: The empty nest syndrome that I mentioned earlier night be hard to cope with. Even when children live with their parents, the demanding jobs today leave little scope for personal time. Be happy for your kids, as long as they are doing well and are healthy. You've given them an empowered value system and now it's their turn to work hard and make a life for themselves. Take pride in their accomplishments. 

5. Travel: If your health and finances permit, travel and see the world. Our own country is bountiful in beautiful sites and cultural richness. Start from your own city. I have realised that what's closest to us is neglected the most. When was the last time you went out to see the monuments in your city, learnt about their rich cultural significance? 

Traveling is one of the best experiences one can have (Photo credit)
6. Volunteer: If you are still left with a lot of energy, make a difference to other people lives. Take up volunteering. You have a lifetime of knowledge and skills which you can pass on to the younger, lesser privileged population. Not very mobile, there are so many online options to explore. No online access? You can take up teaching your favourite subject to kids in your building. For free, if you have financial security; for a nominal fee, if you need that pocket money. 

7. Have a social circle: Most of us are busy with our work and family during the prime of our lives. Friends and relatives do take a back seat at times. So, this is a great time to revive old friendships and maybe make new ones.  There are always groups around your building/colony or your yoga class. Sometimes just a walk in the park everyday is enough to start conversations. 

8. Count your blessings: This one works at any stage in life. We are thrown into rotten situations, lose motivation and want to give so many times through out our lives. We win some, lose some. But having an eye on what we are blessed with will never fail to cheer us up. Your health might not be the best or you may have just enough to get by your expenses. But when you look around, you will certainly find things that light up your life. Things that would leave you worse off in their absence. 

So, if you are retired or know people who are, get them to read this. Pick what appeals to the most and start with one thing. Each phase of life has it's own opportunities and challenges. One could either look at the challenges and give up or turn them into opportunities. Whatever be the situation, the best way to live is to see the what we have and make the most of it. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

6 Reasons Why I Love Social Media Week

My favourite click from Social Media Week, February 2015
The year was 2014. I was looking for something interesting to do. The virtual world caught my attention and I sat up to notice its overarching presence. That piqued my interest and I went on a reading spree online to uncover its uses for my profession.  The world of social media, for a novice, can be quite intimidating! But luckily I stumbled onto some tweets about Social Media Week and started reading up more about it. Voila! I found a week long event that covered every aspect of social media - something I was scouring the web for! And since then I have been a part of three such week long celebrations - including one as volunteer of the social team team in February 2015 and a participant in November 2015.

There is definitely something about this event that has me going back every time. And when I pondered over it, I realized a few things that make it the pioneer in the social media space. Here they are:

1. A sound organizing team: It’s impossible to pull off a mega event like this year after year unless the foundations are strong. The talented team behind SMW has a solid comprehension of social media and all its important components. The event is painstakingly put together and the perfection of its execution vouches for it. Having been a part of the team last year, I have been witness to the frenetic activity that goes on back stage to make it the roaring success that it is. 

2. Relevant themes: The biggest challenge in recurring events is to maintain the novelty of content and relevance for the audience. Social Media Week has a new theme each year which is not just topical but also relevant to the times. I have seen discussions around being upwardly mobile - since that is the buzzword today to celebrating the invisible hand of technology in the forthcoming event this year. 

3. Carefully curated content: Social media is a sea of information. It is hard to put it onto categorised buckets and examine each bit separately. But Social Media Week does this to perfection. The schedule for the event spreads across a few pages feel free to choose the ones that interests you. In fact, most often there is a tie and one needs to choose which good ones to let go! Social media basics to analytics, brand stories to start up case studies - there is something for everyone. This is a unique repository of knowledge on social media which has something new to offer every time I attend it. 

4. Expert Speakers: The experts at the event speak volumes about the repute of Social Media Week. They are the best in their fields with proven track record. This makes for insightful talks engaging discussions between the speakers and the audience. For me, Suhel Seth stood out the last two times with his eloquence and inimitable sense of humour. 

5. Variety of content: Not fond of presentations? Join in for the group discussions. The event has various interesting formats to present content. Q and A sessions, talks, discussions, master classes, workshops - the one on creative writing last year is still fresh in my memory.  

6. Great for networking: I not just made great friends as part of the social media team, but also get to catch up with people I know online. It’s a great place to network with people from the industry and your own social media circle. It’s the best confluence of online meeting the offline. 

And as the next Social Media Week is just round the corner, I can feel the adrenaline rush as the content curation is on and the first list of speakers is out! Although, I am not a part of the official team, I sure have my eyes peeled for what's coming up. Check out their handle on Twitter for discounts and other updates on the upcoming event in June.