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Inspiring / Startup

13 Big Lessons from 13 Years of My Life

This post was originally published on Safal Niveshak.

I celebrated three anniversaries yesterday –

  • Thirteenth anniversary of landing in Mumbai for the first time on 4th April 2001 to do my MBA
  • Eleventh anniversary of joining my first and last job on 4th April 2003
  • Third anniversary of quitting my first and last job on 4th April 2011

Life has come a long way from that time when I came to this unknown city in 2001…

…from early 2003 when I had lost hope of getting a job after being rejected by the very few employers who attended my MBA college’s placement season, and from the time I had almost rejected my only job because the salary was almost as much as what I would have earned in the role of a peon. So much for an MBA degree, huh!

Anyways, good sense prevailed, and I took on that job. Apart from the fear of becoming an “educated unemployed”, I was also helped by a promise I had made to my ‘would-be wife’ before joining my MBA that we would get married as soon as I got my job so that her family didn’t get her married off somewhere else. 🙂

So, the saying that there is a woman behind every man’s success has been true in my case. In fact, the woman in my life has not really been ‘behind’ me, but has walked besides me, holding my hand through the thick and thin that life has brought.

Well, I am not going to bore you today with my life story (let me keep it for some other day :-)), but would like to share with you a few life lessons these past 13 years have taught me – both in terms of my life, and my financial life.

“Oh! Another boring rant from Vishal!” you may wonder and stop reading this post right away.

But if you are still reading, here are those 13 most important lessons I have lived through these past 13 years of my life…

1. It’s Not Where You Start
After being rejected at a few leading MBA colleges in India (XLRI, MDI, and SP Jain), I joined a second-grade college in Mumbai (thanks to first MBA, then job, then marriage story I shared above).

Life was tough, as prior to Mumbai, I had never lived in a city with population more than a few lacs. Plus, in order to save myself from the guilt of having my father pay a lot of money for the stay in Mumbai and also for buying the books I needed, here is the room (behind the chair) in a Bandra chawl where I began my life in this megacity…

I now realize how important that lesson of prioritizing the use of money was for me.

Books were top on my priority list than the place I was living, and I spent my father’s money that way. And boy, how much has that decision helped me in building my character over these years!

As the song goes…

It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.
It’s not how you go, it’s how you land.

A hundred to one shot, they call him a klutz —

Can out-run the fav’rite, all he needs is the guts.

Your final return will not diminish

And you can be the cream of the crop;

It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,

And you’re gonna finish on top.

2. THIS Moment Is All There Is
I was a pretty consistent student during my MBA, as I consistently ranked among the ones who came last on the merit list.

Now before you dump me because of my poor intelligence, let me tell you the reason I scored average marks during college – I refused to study what my professors wanted me to, and instead spent my time in the library reading up the books I had always wanted to read but never had the money to spend on buying them.

Plus, when my classmates were filling in reams and reams of paper during the exams (more you wrote, better you scored), I usually came out of the exam hall in 20-30% of the allotted time and rushed to the library.

I did not want to waste those precious moments scoring marks that would have not meant anything 10 years down the line. I realize the benefit of that decision now.

Lesson – THIS moment is all we have to create our life, and we have to prioritize things we want to do NOW.

All our worries and plans about the future, all our replaying of things that happened in the past — it’s all in our heads, and it just distracts us from fully living right now.

Let go of all that, and just focus on what you’re doing, right at this moment. In this way, any activity can be meditation….like ‘reading’ has been for me.

3. It’s Important to Keep Promises
I could have waited for a better college, then a better job, and a better salary. But that would have broken the promise I had made to the woman I loved (and still do), of marrying her before her family married her off to someone else.

I now thank my stars I did not break that promise, for my life has been beautiful – despite all the struggles on the career front – ever since I married Vidhi. She’s been a great guide and solid support to me, more than any of my teachers have ever been.

Lesson – It’s very important to keep your promises because when you do that, good things would happen to you.

4. Your Best investment Is…
My best investment so far is the time I have spent with my children. In fact, my decision to quit my job was strengthened when I got the news of my second child.

“Wow, I would have all my time to spend with my newborn!” was the first thought that came to my mind then.

You see, children need to know that they are important. They need to know they are loved and they need to know they are secure.

Your pleasure from your new house and your latest pay raise may subside (and I have experienced that several times in my life). It’s exceedingly temporary!

But the amazing experience you have from the good times you spend with your child will never fade.

Your child needs time with you. She needs your undivided attention. She needs to make happy memories with you. She needs to laugh with you.

Life can pull you in a thousand directions, and you might ignore it especially when your child is little.

Remember – Children don’t stay little for long.

So, slow down…take some time…give some time…invest some time.

5. Avoid Debt
I have realized this for a fact that you cannot go too far in life if you are burdened by EMI payments that eat up a large part of your income.

While the only loan I had till 2010 was the one on my house, my decision to quit my job and reclaim my life was taken only after I had accumulated resources to repay my entire loan.

Debt can help you realize your dreams earlier than you can do that from your own money – especially a housing debt – but it’s important to not get burdened by it.

This is especially true of high-interest debt like credit card debt, personal loans, and auto loans.

We think they’re necessary but they’re not, at all. They cause more headaches than they’re worth, they can ruin lives, and they cost us way more than we get.

6. Compound Interest Works
Ever since I started my career, I’ve spent less than I’ve earned and that has helped me enormously. Of course, you need a great support from your spouse on this front, and I am thankful to have found it from mine.

My investments have already helped me meet a lot of my life’s little goals, and have also helped me take my life’s biggest decision so far – to quit my job and start on my own.

Invest early, even if you have to start small, and it will grow as if by alchemy. Live on little, don’t get into debt, save all you can, and invest it.

Watch your money grow because if you let it grow, it does grow.

7. Fear Will Try to Stop You
On 1st January 2011, when most people around me were making resolutions to lose weight and eat better, I was making up my mind to do something else.

I finally did it on 4th January. I told my boss – “I quit!” With a notice period of 3 months, 4th April was my last day at job.

Quitting my job was a tough decision to come by, as I was surrounded by extreme fear of an unknown life, and mixed views from all around, including from within me.

“You’re sure you want to quit your job?” asked my concerned father.

“How could you quit when we have spent so many years training you?” asked my boss, forgetting that I had also spent so many years serving the company.

“Are you mad to be leaving such a high-paying job?” said my friends.

“Yes, you can do it!” said my wife.

“Yes, Papa will be at home to play with me at all times!” exclaimed my seven year old daughter.

Now, here is how my mind was playing tricks with me.

“Vishal, are you mad to quit such a well-paying job?” my mind asked me. “You have the responsibility of a family! Change your decision right away!”

“If not now, never!” my heart told me. “You’ve worked long enough for someone else. It’s now a time to work for yourself, and to live your dreams.”

As I look back to that day three years back, I thank God I went with my heart that pushed me to move beyond my fears and give my dreams a chance.

You see, doubts will try to stop you. You’ll shy away from doing great things, from going on new adventures, from creating something new and putting it out in the world, because of self-doubt and fear.

It will happen in one tiny corner of your mind, where you don’t even know it’s happening.

I have learned that it’s important to become aware of these doubts and fears, shine some light on them, and then beat them with a thousand tiny cuts.

Do it anyway, because they are wrong.

8. People Will Think You’re Crazy but That’s OK
A lot of my MBA classmates thought I was crazy to take up a low-paying job in 2003, and then a lot of them thought I was crazy to leave a high-paying job in 2011.

Some people also thought I was crazy to start on my own, given the extremely high failure rate of small businesses.

“Who will like to read your story?” they would say to frighten me. “Who will pay for your writing?”

“Doing what you love works only in fiction,” a friend told me.

Now, this is what I remember Steve Jobs saying at a Stanford commencement speech in 2005…

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

In 2011, I decided to NOT live my life according to anyone else’s notions and expectations, except mine. And I am happy to report that I am doing fine.

9. Failure is Inevitable
Life has often hit me in the head with a brick…like in the form of rejections at MBA colleges and then jobs. But thanks to my stars, and also my wife, I have never lost faith in myself.

“Be careful,” we’re told as kids. “You don’t want to make a mess.”

“Double check your answers,” we’re told in school. “You don’t want bad marks.”

“Better achieve your performance goals,” we’re told at work. “You don’t want to get a poor rating or low raise, be demoted or lose your job.”

Failure seems to come with negative consequences. Always!

In fact, so much is written about success and how to achieve it but virtually nothing is written about failure and how to exploit it.

I have realized through my own experiences that failure is inevitable.

In fact, I have learned a lot about failure seeing my daughter grow up. Like when she was just a year old and was trying to take her first steps and repeatedly fell down, she tried again…and again…and again.

Sometimes she laughed. Sometimes she cried. Sometimes she laughed and cried at the same time.

But she kept trying and trying…laughing and crying. She did not labelled her experience as a “failure”. She just enjoyed it.

Unlike us adults, our babies don’t know the possibility of a failure, so they happily keep falling down until one day they take a few steps, and then a few more. Before long, they’re jumping and running. All their trying pays off. They fall but never fail.

As grown-ups, what if we also simply choose not to fail? What if we treat our mistakes and failures as not things to be avoided but things to be cultivated?

Like Warren Buffett said…

You’re going to make mistakes. You can’t play in the game without making any mistakes. I don’t think about it, I just move on. Most business mistakes are irreversible setbacks, but you get another chance. There are two things in life that you don’t get another chance at – marrying the wrong person and what you do with your children. Business, you just go on. It’s a mistake to dwell on mistakes, it’s unproductive. It’s like Mark Twain’s story about the cat that sat on a hot stove – he never sat on a hot stove again, but he never sat on a cold one again either.

Life teaches us each day that stuff happens (and sometimes shit happens!), but we don’t need to give each of our experiences a label.

Good, bad, hard, easy, success, failure etc. do not exist but as labels in our minds.

All we need to do to hold our head high is to break through these labels.

10. Slow Down
One of the most important lessons these last few years have taught me – looking at myself and people around me – that rushing is rarely worth it. Life is better enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Rushing for train, rushing for office, rushing for meetings, and rushing for home is what I used to do prior to 2011. Not anymore!

I now work not more than 4-5 hours a day, and the rest of the time is spent leisurely with my family and with my books.

Mahatma Gandhi, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

But in today’s times of power, wealth, technology and fashion, people seem to have forgotten that there is indeed more to life than increasing its speed.

They have forgotten that the true essence of life is to live it in the slow lane.

Of course, amidst the rat race all around and in a world where we have to be “seen” to be working, slowing down might seem an aberration.

But then it’s also important to understand that those who run too fast too soon often stumble.

So, slow down.

11. Know What to Avoid
Charlie Munger said, “Don’t do cocaine. Don’t race trains. And avoid all AIDS situations.”

It’s important to know what we must avoid in life. I have been through times when it was easy for me to fall prey to requests from a few of my friends for taking just one puff of cigarette, and just one glass of alcohol.

Thankfully, I knew within my heart what I wanted to avoid. And thankfully, I have avoided those and a few other such things.

12. Life is Exceedingly Brief
I have been in good health throughout, but have heard horror stories of people being unlucky to not survive beyond their 30s – largely due to bad health habits and rashness on the road.

Life is short, my friend!

You might feel like there’s a huge mass of time ahead of you, but it passes much faster than you think.

Like, it just seems yesterday when I came to Mumbai, finished my MBA, got a job, got married, and quit my job. What is more, it seems that my kids are growing up in a flash!

You see, it’s ironical that it often takes us a lifetime to learn to live in the moment.

We seem to think that we’ll live forever. We spend time and money as though we’ll always be here. We buy stuff as though it matters and is worth the debt and stress of attachment.

We put off “living happily ever after” for another year, because we assume we have another year. We don’t tell the ones we love how much we love them often enough because we assume there’s always tomorrow.

And then, we fear. Oh yes, we fear!

Just because we are afraid of the risk of moving out of our comfort zones, we stick it out in miserable jobs and situations.

Just because we are worried we will fail, we don’t reach high enough or far enough, often forgetting that it’s better to fail spectacularly while trying than it is to succeed at something we never really wanted in the first place.

These three words – life is short – are what I tell myself almost each passing day, and they have changed the way I live my life.

Appreciating every damn moment is what has been one of the biggest lessons I have learned over these years.

13. This Too Shall Pass
A bad day at work or at home often bogged me down, till I read this Persian quote – “This too shall pass”.

We meet life’s experiences wisely – only when we keep in mind that they are temporary. Whatever they may be, painful or pleasant – they will soon pass away.

We need not be too greatly troubled by that which is hard – for relief will soon come. We should not be too much elated by prosperity – for it will not last always.

I have lived through this lesson during my bad times, and especially during my good times. And it has been very enriching!

I’ll Be Dead Soon
I have these words from Steve Jobs as my screen saver – “Remember – You will be dead soon.”

Jobs said this in his Stanford commencement speech…

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

After having shared my key life lessons over the past 13 years, and after sharing these amazing words from Steve Jobs, I have nothing left to add. 🙂

About the Author: Vishal is the Chief Tribesman at Safal Niveshak, where he works with small investors to help them become smart, independent, and successful in their investing and personal finance decisions.

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8 Comments

  1. vishal…

    i broke my rule of no moderation over the weekend.

    will comment again tomo. so many things resonate!!

    both my husband and i work for home – moved to goa for the better life when i was expecting 🙂 and our six year old is the center of our universe! (well, she claims therodinhoods is the center of my universe!)

    🙂

  2. *liked*

  3. I not as experienced as you nor as sucessful but i can relate most of the things mentioned in your article, one of the best article i ever read. Thanks for sharing your experience . May be you need to write a book and am sure you will do wonders…..

  4. I liked it….  Thanks for it… 

    You made the article so interesting… 

  5. Great summary !

  6. Discovered this gem after a month.. great read Vishal.Agree with most of what you have written – the best one being on spending time with kids. Good luck.

  7. You made the unlucky 13 the luckiest one by these big and positive lessons. Thank you.

  8. Getting out of the rat is so important but very few of us are able to do it. We don’t realize but the best and bold decisions come in the slow lane of life. 

    Vishal, 

    Great write up. Would to meet you in my next Mumbai visit. So much to learn and discuss with you. 

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