Sleeping with doubt

Case in point 1:

There was a time when I had to do lot of effort to get a new client; all kinds of sales pitches, demos, references in print form, company profile, showing up in a nice business dress and what not. After a certain years of work a new customer now usually means is a phone call and some negotiations on price and deal is closed.

But this new client was different. There was a long phone interview which was not ‘satisfactory’ to them and I had to invite them to my office. The business owner visited with his IT manager who brought a written list of questions to ask before the deal could be closed.

What if we grow 300% next year? Will your software able to manage our business?
What if all the 3 internet connections we have stop functioning?
What if the place your server is hosted is flooded?
What if you stop doing this business and start some other business?
What if there is a technical problem which you cannot solve?
What if all the data backups are destroyed?
What if you go bankrupt?
What if you get too rich and do not have interest in doing any business?

IT manager kept asking me these questions while the business owner was sitting on the other side enjoying his tea and pretending that that he was ‘above’ those petty questions.

I have shared just a sample of the actual questions asked. These questions were enough to offend me. But since it was first meeting with this future client and since a big amount was involved I had to show exceptional level of patience.

Patience paid off and deal was closed. And none of the questions he asked ever mattered to them afterwards.

Case in point 2:

Few years ago I used to deliver a one day session on how to do business through Internet. The basic theme was introducing people how websites worked, how internet payments worked and how difficult or easy was to setup an online web shop using free or paid online tools. This session also included some online marketing tips.

Attending one session was enough to get an idea. Since it was a free session some people attended more than once. But there were a few people who attended as many as they could.

There was always a question/answer session after my presentation. One of the regular attendees was always quick to ask many questions every time. A few of which I can remember off my head were like:

What if my product is not liked by my customers?
What if customers return the product misusing COD terms?
What if a competitor starts selling a cheaper product?
What if my website goes down during peek hours?
What if my website gets hacked?
What if my competitor builds a better website?
What if my supplier does not supply me products when I need?
What if my marketing fails?
What if my partner cheats me?
What if I get a very big order?
What if I don’t get any order?

That guy never started any business.

My case is that we cannot answer all future questions today. Let us leave some questions, may be most of them, unanswered today and start doing something. The doing part is more important then keep inventing questions in our mind and then looking for their answers. Let us live and sleep with doubt and trust ourselves to be able to answers tricky questions tomorrow or day after tomorrow or next month or next year. Getting rid of the habit of ‘deciding-everything-today’ is not easy but worth the try. You may sleep well by sleeping with doubt.

How do you know you are stuck in life?

Yesterday evening I attended the funeral prayers of an uncle of mine who died at the age of 75. Last few decades of his life were so miserable that people often quoted his example when describing how bad life could be. He did not have any kids or friends and his house was at a terrible place surrounded by garbage and dirty water from sewers. His wife, a very intelligent lady who died few years ago, lived a terrible life with him. She had to relay on her own income of teaching for her pocket money. She probably could have lived a better and beautiful life if she had not married at all instead of marrying him.

But the irony was he could change his miserable life himself without any effort. He had good amount of funds in terms of hard cash, gold and a real estate property which he made from his hard work in his young life. He could, overnight, become a different person by spending that money. But instead he choose to live a miserable life and left all his wealth to people who were hardly part of his life.

He was stuck in life; a stagnation that had happened many decades before his death.

While sitting at his house, close to his dead body, my brother asked why this happened and, despite all life experience, why he was not able entertain a thought in his mind which could change his life?

It was a difficult question to answer. We could think of all small things he could do for a better life but that was not the answer of the above question. Why he did not actually take any step to improve even when knowing every thing and having the resources to do that? What was in his mind which prevented good things to happen in his life?

Or did he really know he was stuck in life?

Probably not.

It is so easy to single out other people who are stuck in life but probably close to impossible to point out the same thing about ourselves. But if getting stuck in life is a possibility for others then it is also a possibility for us. And this departed soul was facing the same dilemma; he did not know he was stuck and he did not change his life for better.

This is a terrible thought, but real possibility, that we are also stuck in our life in a way we are not realizing.

Having a life style where we keep experimenting and changing our work habits, keep questioning the our ideology of life and keep helping others may be the simplest recipe to not get stuck. May be there are other ways to not get stuck but we can find them by keep questioning our ideology of life as we live through life.

That uncle …

Everyone has that uncle who had his fair share of achievements in life and is now living a retired life. But his future plans at the age of 70 still make sense to ears. You sit with him for few minutes and he will quickly chalk out a perfect looking grand business plan. Like ..

.. We shall construct a big plaza on mall road (100 stories high to be exact) which will be built by acquiring land from a friend on the promise of quick payment once project starts rolling. Then we shall design and sell shops and offices in that plaza with advance cash from customers. Since the location is a prime location, all shops and offices will be sold out quickly. Then we shall build that plaza with the collected money and we shall also payoff the land owner. The top floor will not be sold and we shall keep it for our offices. And of course, with the newly earned money, we shall buy a helicopter which will use the helipad built on the roof of top floor.

Planning the future is broad level thinking and makes us feel good. It is important because unless we have a plan and we have a target to achieve we cannot go any where. But it is also addictive because sometimes the difference in do-able planning and day-dreaming is not much.

On the other hand detail level thinking is about getting things done; to move your grand project one step further into success. Detail level thinking, and work, involves small steps to be planned and taken. Every project worth doing requires lots of small steps. Many times, these small steps take lots of time; especially when new learning is involved; like learning some jquery to create that special effect in the website requested by you new client. Unfortunately planning and doing these small steps is not as sexy as day dreaming the big picture.

The reason is that small steps don’t really give us a sense of achievement and force us to leave our comfort zone and do something. So we keep postponing as long as we can and here enters in our life what is commonly known as ‘procrastination’. By procrastinating we waste much more time than was needed to complete those small steps which would have push our project in the right direction and would have give us real sense of achievement; and pleasure.

When we have procrastinated long enough, we start questioning the worthiness of our project-in-hand. It is already delayed so is it worth while to spend more time on it and complete? Will it be any good at all? Isn’t it time to plan a brand new project which is do-able? Let us day dream.

In June, 2005 one of my friends announced that 2007 will be the year of freedom for him. He was doing an office job and was sick and tired of his job due to his bad boss and long working hours. I asked why not today, instead of 2007. His reply was that he wanted to make a good foolproof plan and he was confident enough to plan and achieve by 2007. Fast forward 11 years, it is now 2016 and that gentleman is still doing the same job with the same company and under the same boss.

There was a time when we took pleasure in doing small things without big planning and that was when we were kids and we were addicted to learning by ‘doing’ which was called ‘playing’ at that time. For most people that time has long gone. It now takes strict personal discipline to do new learning and to take small steps for success.

My own ‘cure’ is that once I have made the big plan and wrote it somewhere, I try to switch off my brain from thinking for few hours and start doing things, the small steps, as a robot. In 1995, I completed my first big project in six months and the secret was that I forced myself to work two hours, just two hours, every day; without worrying about achievement or consequences. Although it looks simple but working two hours daily a very hard discipline to adhere to but the final reward was worth the effort.

Writing a todo list for broad level and detail level plans, even if we do not follow it strictly, plays an important role in helping us start doing detail level work. With our broad level planning frozen in writing, we literally delegate the thinking work to our todo list and stop worrying about forgetting any thing important and suddenly we have energy to do the detail level work.

A tribute to all dads

Today is father’s day and, while I don’t like these ‘days’ much, I still feel the need to write something about fathers; my father, your father and all fathers out there.
My late father was a great dad, as great as your dad is or as anyone else dad is. I cannot imagine there are any bad, or even not-so-good, dads.
There may be some dads who are extremely successful in their lives and have been able to buy everything for their kids; bikes, cars, big houses, foreign travel. They are great dads. Their sons and daughters love them and are proud of them.
Then there are dads who have not been able to become as successful as they wanted to or as much as their kids wished. They have worked hard but probably not able to buy every thing for their kids; good house, good clothes and not even good education. And some down the road have not been able to buy even good food for their kids. These dads are not lesser heroes than any other dads; they are, in fact, bigger heroes than other successful dads. They have not only worked hard but also, unnecessarily, kept the pain of regret in their heart to not come up to their own or their kids expectation; If you have such a dad, you need to take care of him while you can.
Then there are dads who ultimately commit suicide because they cannot bear the thought of going empty hands back to their house from their work and face their kids. For them humiliation of a failed father is way too much. Without realizing that being bankrupt is not their fault but the failure of people and society around them. These are the dads who would have been super dads, better than all dads, if they lived and were successful.
My father was a learned person with two master degrees to his credit, author of over 100 books in Urdu and English and countless articles published in The Pakistan Times, The Nation, The Muslim, The Frontier Times and other newspapers. He started writing on Islamic Jurisprudence from the age of 26 and his last article was published at at age of 72, 6 days after his death. His home library contained thousands of books in Urdu, English and Arabic. He has given me big enough target of hard work to match and I have long way to go to match it. When I think about his achievements I feel good.
But that’s not the point of being a great father. My father could be completely illiterate, done something other than literary work, like work as a laborer in factory or somewhere else, and still a great father. Great fatherhood does not come from a particular kind of education, job or wealth. My grand father was like that and he was still a great father.
Some of the great things that happened to me because of my father are:
  1. He actively helped me pursued my hobby of playing with electronics and then computers, buying me an expensive computer, without worrying what I will do with that. I remember that he had announced a Rs: 100 prize for me in my 8th class if I could create a working radio from components.
  2. I was asked, expected and motivated to actually work (as a salesman on a shop) after my 10th class exams and then 12th class exams. The biggest learning of my life and getting rid of any shyness and ego of working outside my home and by doing a petty job.
  3. I was never forced in the choice of my study subjects or future direction. I was free to become whatever I wanted to. I could change my decision every day and he was not worried.
  4. My grades never mattered to him. He was ok as long as I got passing marks.
  5. I, along with my brothers and sister, were regularly taken to library to study and borrow books. This was the start of the development of self-learning which then never ceased.
  6. He actively worked to help me setup my business after my education helping me with setup of my office.
What could I ask for more?
In addition to wishing your dad a happy fathers’ day, you can also do one more thing to make him happy. And that is to become partially or fully self-reliant as much as soon as possible.
Let us get rid of our local tradition of completing our masters degree on the expense of our fathers money. Start working, start doing something, and earning money. Let your father live his life without worrying about you; the grown up adult.
One final note; Don’t worry if your dad is old fashioned. All great dads are simple and old fashioned. Celebrate that.
Happy father’s days to my father, my kids father and all fathers out there.

Power of focus

Ok, I am as ambitious (is this word a nice substitute for being greedy?) as anyone can be or as every one wants to be. Which means I want to do lots of things; lots of projects; lots of clients; lots of programming; lots of marketing activity, lots of every thing. Unfortunately whenever I try to do lots of things I fail. My productivity grinds to halt which in turn depresses me which then again affects my productivity which then … You get the idea what happens. This is especially true with tech work like computer programming which I have to do as part of my job; I am least productive when I am not focused.

I have heard about people who are multi-tasking and can do many diverse things in one day and still remain producitve. Where are those people? If you know any one let me know.

And the opposite is just as much true. If I do one thing, and just that one thing, then I am super productive. But that then means I have to ignore friends’ calls, any marketing work here and there, need to completely delegate support calls, avoid errands, avoid any ‘recreational’ activity or just about any activity which can take some part of my mind.

This is power of focus.

Focus does not requires effort, it requires will; a strong one. Effort then follows ‘effortlessly’.

power of focus

Why I broke red traffic signal yesterday

Yesterday I was late from my office and I was in real hurry. I had to cross many traffic red lights without stopping so that I could reach my office on time. Don’t get me wrong. I am usually a law abiding citizen and I do wait at a crossing with red light to turn green before I move. But that day I had some real urgency and I had to break the law.

Now that made me feel guilty as I crossed that red signal. Feeling guilty is not a comfortable feeling. After all who wants to think himself a bad guy? At least I am not the person who will consider myself a ‘criminal’.

So *after* breaking the law I started looking for ‘genuine’ reasons why I broke the law.

… I was doing it once and first time so it was not that bad.

… I was not trying to harm any one, so it was ok.

… I could get fired for being late, make it difficult to provide bread and butter to my family which is a much bigger responsibility.

… Our government is not doing anything for jobless people and I could be jobless. I had to take the law in my hand by breaking this traffic signal because government is not doing enough. Makes sense. Right?

… I help a charity organization with regular contribution which works to help people who are suffering from poverty and that cause would be hurt if I would not cross that signal. May be God has sent me in this world to take care of these vulnerable people with my contribution.

Slowly I started feeling better from that guilt. In fact I started feeling stupid for that feeling of guilt and I praised myself to take that step to break the traffic signal. The last justification I mentioned above, being part of a bigger cause for the sake of humanity, made me feel warn.

Suddenly, on my last turn, a big truck, driven recklessly, broke traffic signal and rammed into my car. My car was crushed and I was dead; instantly; right on the spot.

(Dedicated to those people who think killing others for a reason, they have justification for, is ok. Written on the day of deadly bomb blast in Gulshan Iqbal park, Lahore which killed 69 people. Photo by Dawn newspaper.)