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The half a century journey for the 3 W’s

From What to Who to Why

When we meet someone for the first time a common ice-breaker is ‘What do you do’ and the answer is a description of what they do for a living ‘An engineer who works at Facebook’ or ‘A teacher at an elementary school’ and so on. I stuck to this script for the first four decades of my life as it seemed solid and reliable and I did not know better. The script changed temporally through the first four decades but it was the answering the same question “What do I do outside of home” – A student at REC Warangal, an engineer at Wipro, a Manager at Nokia, a Product Manager at Juniper ….- nothing you can really poke holes in but nothing that would raise an eyebrow either. And then as I crossed the 40 mark, it started to ring hollow to me. I needed something more jaw-dropping, something that would further balloon my ego, something that made me stand out and keep up with the Joneses. I learned about ‘branding’ and ‘establishing instant credibility’. It was all with a singular aim of defining the ‘Who’. A simple ‘Product Manager’ transformed into a ‘visionary business leader who can drive through ambiguity and inspire teammates’. #Sounds cool. So much so, I almost started believing that rhetoric.

And then over the course of the last two years, as the half-century mark starts to loom ahead, the feeling of inadequacy and incompleteness started gnawing at me. And without quite understanding what the problem was, I started seeking answers. (BTW, the topic of how you need to do more, discard a majority of it, and draw conclusions from the few that resonate is a topic for another day). I started stretching boundaries in search of solutions – even unconsciously. One such activity that started giving me satisfaction was mentoring. It wasn’t a premeditated focus area, rather an organically developed pastime. It could be advising budding entrepreneurs during lunch, connecting with random people at lunch at conferences and MeetUps with a view to learn and help, actively canvassing for friends in the job market. And over time it became my first pillar of the ‘Why’. #Pillar1. Being in the technology industry, there is the curse of jargon and disruption and innovation that can be (and is) very confusing. I started to revel in driving simplicity through examples and analogies to take complex topics and make them consumable. I knew I had something of a knack for this when my fellow VP of Engineering came to me one day and said that his wife finally ‘got’ what he did for a living after reading my blog post. #Wow. Since then it has become a mission to write with a vengeance to simplify and demystify via a variety of online publications. #Pillar2 Another funny transformation happened as my penchant for turning complex topics into memorable write-ups started to take root outside of work as well. That of taking mundane (and sometimes not so mundane) activities – walking the dog, United pilot’s pre-flight message, 25th college reunion … – and drawing meaning and life lessons from that to educate and evolve us into better human beings – enrichment. #Pillar3.

That’s it. That’s my ‘Why’. – Connecting people, Demystifying complexity and Enriching (the) mundane. All with the purpose of making us better human beings. That’s my mission statement. And it took me almost 5 decades to get there.

I am done – JK – not even close. Why? Because I am always seeking to expand beyond the current definition of ‘Connecting’, ‘Demystifying’ and ‘Enriching’. As an example, as I started venturing beyond the landscaped roads of Sand Hill Road and the cafe lattes of University Avenue in search of connecting with ‘more people’ for my #Pillar 1 – the homeless of Silicon Valley exploded in my face this summer, and what an awakening that was. Ditto last year, a 2nd grader at an elementary school needing after-school tutoring expanded my definition of ‘connection’. More on both of those later. For now – these pillars keep me grounded and I am can answer with precision if “I had a good day”? How? Simple. If I touched all these pillars – it’s a great day, if not – it sucked. What’s your definition of a good day?

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