Managing self

When I look back at my early career (high school and early part of college), and wonder how I was so successful back then, I think it was primarily because back then I was pretty good at managing myself. Even at that early (!! ) age, I had a good idea of what I was good at, and was able to either take paths that were aligned to my strengths, or outsource cleverly, in order to do a good job of things.

For example, back when I was in 12th standard, I was “Maths Association President” in my school, and was in charge of organizing the Maths section of the school exhibition. The first thing I realized then was that while I was technically good, I sucked at managing people, and the first person I recruited was someone who I got along well with, and who I thought was an excellent people manager. I think together we managed to do a pretty terrific job.

Another example was when I was preparing to get into IIM. I recognized that CAT was something I was inherently good at, but wasn’t sure of my ability to do well in interviews. So I decided to prepare hard for CAT (though I thought I didn’t really need it), so as to maximize my performance there and render the interview irrelevant. Thinking back about my IIMB interview, I’m surprised they let me in at all, and I guess that was because of my CAT maximization only.

There were several other such occasions. Like when I decided not to prepare for JEE at all in my 11th standard in order to “conserve myself” for the push in 12th. Or when I spent a week doing nothing after my 12th boards, so that I could time my “big JEE push” such that I peaked at the right time. Or when I decided not to care about grades in courses that I loathed (as long as I passed, of course) so that I could spend more time and enjoy the courses I liked. In short, I loved being my own boss.

5 years of work in 4 different places has been largely unsatisfactory, as the more perceptive of you might have inferred from my posts. The biggest challenge so far has been in motivating myself to do something that I don’t just care about, only because I’m being paid a salary. And thinking more about it, it might be because I never really grasped the full import of what I was signing for every time I signed for a job. And I must admit there were times I lied, though not consciously. I tried to convince people I was good at getting things done (something I absolutely suck at). I told them I’m a decent programmer (I’m an excellent programmer but a lousy software engineer). And so forth.

In essence I realize  that over the last five to six years I’ve failed miserably at managing myself. At getting myself into things that I enjoyed, at taking routes that I enjoy rather than one professed by someone else, at doing what I really want to do rather than what someone else wants me to do, and so forth. Essentially, by mortgaging my time to someone else, in exchange for a salary four times, I’ve actually lost the right to manage myself. And for someone with unusual skills and weaknesses (as I think I am), it is no surprise that things haven’t gone too well at all.

I do hope I can make a career in a way that I don’t mortgage my time in entirety to someone else. To be able to work, and be paid for it, but to do things my way. In other words, I don’t want to take up a full time job. To paraphrase a line I read in an extract of Aman Sethi’s A Free Man I need to recognize that I need my azaadi also, and shouldn’t give it up for kamaai.

More on food in New York

Just a collection of pertinent observations:

  • It’s amazing how so many restaurants which might get classified as “fine dining” in Bangalore are run out of such small places in New York. Of course, in Manhattan real estate is at a premium but the amazing thing is how these restaurants maintain their class despite putting tables within a foot of each other.
  • Tipping here is serious business. For the first time in my life I’ve left a minimum of a 15% tip wherever I’ve gone. And despite paying the tip by card, I follow the standard Indian policy of rounding off so that the total amount is a round number.
  • I’ve had mediterranean food thrice in three different places and each has tasted much different from the other. Hummus and pita bread has been the common factor in each.
  • Went to an Indian restaurant once during these two weeks (when I was catching up with some IIM friends) and it was surprisingly good. Especially since my benchmark was the Bangladeshi places in London, I suppose
  • As I had mentioned in an earlier post, large cosmopolitan urban agglomerations such as New York lead to extremely niche restaurants. What are the odds of finding a “high class vegetarian” Korean restaurant (called Hangawi; brilliant food and even more brilliant ambience) or a Caprese (serving food supposedly native to the island of Capri) restaurant?
  • I’ve taken a fetish for soup – had soup thrice this week. Veg dumpling soup at Hangawi, fawa beans and green peas soup at the Capri Caffe and a mixed vegetable soup at The Hummus Place. All extremely thick and excellent. I should try soups at more places.
  • I had the much-recommended ethiopian food the other day. The main item is some dosa-type thing. It’s a bit sour and is served cold, though. Extremely large and similar to home-made plain dosa. I had a veg platter for the main course. Got four dals (two of which tasted like the pappu you get in Andhra meals and one had wine) and four sabzis. Not ideal with dosas but was good only.
  • The Greenwich Village area seems to have a good congregation of high quality (but cheap looking) restaurants.
  • The way they make the omlette in my office cafeteria is interesting. First they just put the vegetables onto the tawa and then they take pre-beaten egg/egg white and pour it on top of the vegetable using a bowl. And they spray something on the tawa so that it doesn’t stick. And they actually toss the omlette in the air to flip it around on the tawa!
  • When we were kids we would hear that American kids can’t do arithmetic and use a calculator even to add two single digit numbers. Restaurants have taken advantage of this. For example, on today’s dinner bill, at the bottom it said something like “for 20% tip leave $4.64” or something. So basically since most people don’t have patience to do the arithmetic for 15%, they just take this number given to them and put it. Profit for the waiters!
  • I hope to eat many other kinds of tasty food in my one remaining week here.