I remember reading a post by Sam Altman on his blog called ‘The Days are long and the Decades are short’
The lovely post is about him turning 30 which I definitely recommend you read. I remember reading it right as I finished college midway through this decade.

The title of the post has stuck with me through the years and I’ve found myself thinking of variations of it with different timelines at different times.

I’ve also been following a lot of advice that he listed in that post, I resonate with quite a few points on the list. The one that has had the most impact on me so far is No 13.

What follows is a personal reflection on the decade that is about to go by us all.
Some of these things have been covered on this blog in individual posts in the past, but, I will not be linking to them here, I intend to write this as a standalone post.

Incidentally, this blog will be nearly 4 years old when this post is out, it will also be post #117 on this, which is not a number I ever thought I’d hit when I started.

Its been an eventful decade, looking back, most of these events happened to me rather than happened as a result of me, the only thing that has changed is my perception of the event, which at the time may have led to me defining the event as something I caused as opposed to something that I experienced.

As I started writing this I found the exercise of looking through each incident over the past 10 years quite tedious for me, I can only imagine how much more of a chore it will be for a reader, much more a reader who has not met me, so, I’ll quickly summarize it in the next 5 passages and move on to what I’ve learnt, which will hopefully be more interesting.

At the start of the decade (the nerd in me wants to point out that if the decade began on 1st Jan 2011, then it will end on 31st Dec 2020 and not 31st Dec 2019, it seems more poetic for it to end in 8 days than next year - moving on) I still had 2 years left in school, struggling with what can only be defined as teenaged angst, quite immature, self-conscious, socially inept, incredibly shy and struggling with identity.

I also had this foolish notion that the world was just waiting for me to conquer it.

It was about then that I really started forming political opinions, which have swung from none to incredibly left wing to centrist to libertarian-right and now finally settled on what is described as localism.

It’s also around this time that I started a journey that went from slightly theistic ( personal god etc ) to atheistic to agnostic to what I found out was ‘apathetic agnostic’ which is where I am now.

There’s a pattern there.

Anyway, I kept my social ineptness through college, did my undergrad in computer science, hustled my way into a startup, left it within a year, joined another startup, left it, joined a VC firm, worked for 2 years, moved countries, tried starting a company, failed, moved back, took a long break and now I’m trying to startup again.

On the personal front, I went from being a desperate high school kid who wanted to get a girlfriend to a college kid who had no game, stumbled into a romantic relationship, fell in love, suffered personal loss several times, fell out of love, jumped into all forms of philosophy that deals with loss, dealt with something resembling depression, got out of it, learnt to love in a meaningful way, learnt empathy, learnt to live with loss and grew up as a human being.

There are a lot of things I would do differently if I could go back in time, luckily I can’t. I say luckily because I’ve never felt more content in life than over the past 6 months. A reasonably good way to end the decade I suppose.

Now that I’ve covered all that as succinctly as possible, I’d like to move on to some of my views on life that some people call values, principles etc that I think I jive with right now, this is in no way set in stone and much like everything else about me is a work in progress.

  • Make friendships last

One of the things I’m actually proud of is the number of friendships I’ve forged over the years that I’ve made sure I’ve maintained, my best friend from my school days is still someone I get on a long call with every other week to catch up on life.
Another aspect of this, which is slightly morbid, has to do with what happens when you don’t.
I lost someone really close to me 3 years ago, a cousin, I hadn’t spoken to him for 4 months prior to his passing, and with him died a lot of my shared childhood memories, this was someone I considered a brother. I swore to never let that happen again.

When I did suffer loss, as in the case of my cousin and later my father, the main thing that kept me going (apart from my work) was the several friends who reached out and offered support. To many I was not necessarily a nice person and yet they came back. I know how invaluable just the simple act of reaching out was to me.
I want to be that guy for everyone who knows me, you never know what someone’s going through, take a chance.

  • Make time for leisure

I’ve been thoroughly influenced in this regard by Bertrand Russell and Ferris Bueller. I’ve also formed my own views on it.
I think it’s incredibly important in this crazy, noisy world we live in to take a break from everything every once in a while, I realise that not everyone has the ability to do this, but, as long as I do, I should.
It’s not so much throwing caution to the wind as it is breaking up your retirement into bits and pieces, weirdly enough, this is the way people used to work in the past, the concept of continual, non-seasonal, employment for 3 or 4 decades is quite recent.

  • Don’t consume passively

I stopped watching TV shows, movies, left social media for a while, went without my phone for a while this decade.
I can safely say that the bulk of my passive content consumption happened before December 2012.
I’ve softened my stance on movies, where my rule now is, someone else has to book the tickets, I’ll pay them back if I like the movie, but, it still weeds out a significant chunk of movies that I mind end up watching otherwise.
I’ve covered my views on passive consumption in 2 different posts in the past.
More often than not, when I bring this up, I get asked what is active consumption : I think anything you cannot consume while doing something else is active content. Note that this is a question of inability (cannot), the inverse is, anything that can be done while doing something else is to be avoided as best as I can.
I get a lot of push back on this.

  • Measure goals

Something I started doing at the start of 2018 and have continued doing till date, I’m glad I got onto this, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made me start measuring, but, the simple fact that I could and I wasn’t was the main trigger.
I plan to continue doing this and continue publishing quarterly updates on my goals.
Maybe I will reduce the number of goals next year though.

  • Read widely and deeply

I lost my reading habit sometime earlier this decade, it took some doing and I got it back, I’ll never let it go again.
I now have a healthy book reading appetite and it is easily the most rewarding habit that I have spent time cultivating.

  • Spend on everyone but myself

This is something I learnt quite early this decade, I try not to spend on myself and spend on everyone else around me instead, this includes charity.
It’s not that weird to get around and easy to put into practice.
My filter for a rule is this : ‘If everyone followed this rule , of their own volition, would the world make sense?’
The answer for this is a strong Yes.

  • High demands, low expectations

This took some time to formulate and simplify, but, a simple duet of rules on life for me is to have high demands of self, and low if no demands on the world around me.

I’ve definitely been influenced by some of the books that I’ve spent time reading especially over the past 3 years : chief amongst these - antifragile, meditations, the bhagavad gita, seven habits of highly effective people, unto this last.

  • Do the important, not urgent things

This is something I picked straight out of 7 habits and began putting into practice at the start of 2018.
This has been the single most effective way to weed out time consuming unnecessary things that pulled me out of the present moment.

  • Do the job you love or love the job you do

This is something my dad used to tell me, it’s a simple way to live.
The first part asks one to go out and find something they love doing and go do that. If they aren’t able to, the second part asks one to love what you’re doing right now.
But, what is left unsaid is the most important, the most important part of this is to stop complaining. I have to make a choice, go find the thing I love doing or love what I’m doing, I can’t be whining, can’t choose to not have my cake and complain of hunger too.

  • Do or do not, do not worry

Which brings me neatly to my latest and hence most fragile rule, something I’ve been trying to practice for the past few months.
It’s simple enough, worked well so far for me, this is something I pulled straight out of my Vipassana experience.

  • It’s not about me

The point was originally - ‘Accept my mortality’ but, I thought about it, and this makes more sense.
It took some learning, but, this has freed me more than anything else on this list.
This could be construed as not caring what people think, and yes, that would be a fair way to put it too.
I wish I’d learnt this much earlier.

  • Be more funny

I’ve been purposefully trying to be more funny about everything around me.
There’s about seeing the lighter side of things, coupled with the meaninglessness of it all topped up with a dollop of whimsy that makes everything just a little bit more bearable ( especially when you support Manchester United )
It might not be apparent given the typically serious or sombre nature of the blog.

It’s been an interesting decade, so much has changed, so little is left and yet, there is hope or the sanctity present in death, maybe they are the same thing.

It was interesting to look back and codify this.
I highly recommend anyone reading this to do the same.

Do leave your thoughts below

Thank you for reading
Sainath