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Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The odds of hitting a hole-in-one in golf, according to an authoritative source, are one in  150 000. This feat is so rare, in fact, that insurance companies offer hole-in-one cover to professional golfers in the confidence that the majority of takers are unlikely to ever draw against the insurance policy. Golfers who hope for this miracle need insurance cover because tradition demands that the player who achieves the feat throws a party for all the members of his club. Guess what-yesterday I beat the odds and achieved a hole-in-one on a longish par 3 at Delhi Golf Club, a championship course in the Indian capital. Yes, I do have a headache now because I am not insured against this sort of calamity, and all my golfing friends are clamouring for a party. I did, however, walk away with something good, other than the trophy and the citation (yes, that's me in the picture with the trophy and the grin)- a valuable lesson about how inexpensive optimism is.
Picture this: as we walked towards the green, none of us in the four-ball was aware of what had just happened there. When we got to the green and my ball was not in sight, I searched everywhere, including in the bramble thicket that flanked the green. In the best traditions of amateur golf, my playing partners joined me in the search, which went on for several minutes. All hope lost, I was preparing to chip a penalty ball from the edge of the thicket when a caddie exclaimed "hole-in-one!" as he peered excitedly into the cup at the centre of the green. We all converged on the green and confirmed that I had just joined one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, and yet we had spent so many anxious minutes looking for bad news!

I have to learn-as perhaps you too do-to expect good things to happen as I pursue my dreams in life. At the very least we must drop the habit of assuming worst-case scenarios, as such negativity makes us miss the good news that seeming bad news so often carries with it. Perhaps, as it were, the ball we hit is sitting in the cup, waiting to make us famous, while we are courting scratches and insect stings in the bramble bush all the while.
Do you, too, have a story that illustrates how assuming the worst can delay our recognition of good news? Please tell us your story. If you have no story, at least congratulate me on my hole-in-one!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


A few days ago I had a conversation with a truly remarkable man. I had just finished the task of sticking a vehicle license disc on my windshield when I became aware that someone was standing a few feet away from me and my open car door. "Pardon me", he said. "I didn't mean to startle you. My name is Daniel. I couldn't help admiring your car, enthusiast that I am. The power of the 3.2 liter engine under that hood is phenomenal." My interest was engaged immediately, and I introduced myself in turn. A highly animated discussion about cars ensued, and several minutes flew by.

When at the end of our conversation I parted with a ten-dollar note, the gesture was made to help out a friend who was temporarily down on his luck, and not as a matter of alms extended to a beggar. Strictly speaking, the latter label would not have been misplaced; I understood from our talk that Daniel used to be a reasonably well-off racing car owner who had been reduced to penury by the vagaries of the currency market. Now meals were coming his way courtesy of the kindness of strangers he met on the street. From my encounter with him, though, the identity that lingers in the mind is that of Daniel the knowledgeable car enthusiast, thanks to the effect of his references to torque, thrust and the like. Curiously, I feel an occasional pang of guilt that I couldn't give him more than the ten dollars I was able to spare, because psychologically he left the sense that he "deserved" more, not because he demanded it, but because the status he projected seemed to qualify him for something more than charity!

The lesson that Daniel taught me is worth sharing. Whether it be in meetings with bank managers to seek loan assistance for our business, in boardrooms where we are pitching our services to corporate executives, or in a first encounter with congregants who are considering offering us a pastorate, the attributes we choose to project our identity can make or break our prospects. Are you a hapless fellow who got nasty surprises when he tried his hand at business and now needs to be bailed out, or are you the visionary who will raise the bank's profile when it is known that the bank has associated itself with your success? Are you a chancer who is trying her luck with a fly-by-night advertising idea or are you the ad wizard the marketing managers have been waiting for all their lives? You will definitely be treated like the persona you choose to project in any context in which you hope to succeed in life.

Daniel helped me sell a few of my books. Fresh from my conversation with him, I went to drop off some clothes at a laundromat, where I chatted up the proprietor. I found myself sharing things I know about business, drawing from my experiences and the tips I present in the book I wrote. In the end, I couldn't resist mentioning my book, and what a pleasant surprise it was when the proprietor asked for a copy! During a chance meeting with a close relative, I offered advice on her transportation and real estate businesses, if truth be told not as a sales pitch for the book, but when we were saying goodbye she insisted on buying a copy. I have a couple more such stories to tell, but let these two suffice to illustrate the point that benefits accrue when we put our best and most relevant foot forward.

Do you have thoughts on this, or similar experiences you wish to share? Do please feel free to share them by clicking on "comments."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Let's face it: most of us live from hand to mouth, and by the mid-point of our remuneration cycle, that hand is stretched out to friends and passers-by, sometimes elegantly, sometimes not. (Isn't it merciful that borrowing from strangers is so elegantly disguised by the formalities of the banking system)? We know we need to break this cycle. The bewildering question is how, and it is in this direction that I want to offer some pointers that are as practical as they are silly-simple.

The three keys I prescribe, because any and all of us can use them, are: Prioritize, Procrastinate and Paralyze. Let's take the three tricks one by one.

A day or two before you get your paycheck, sit down (literally) and draw up a list of items on which your life depends, and don't be frivolous about this. Be harsh, and exclude all luxuries. Each one of us lives in a specific context, so the point here is not to give a standard list, but I want to suggest three guidelines for your priority list. The first guideline is that the first allocation on your priority list must be to the overarching item that gives meaning to your life. When your list begins with funding the core value of your life, you are teaching your mind to be rationally consistent with your life goals. After all, the reason why that dollar fails to stretch is that nothing is disciplining it. Next, list survival items in the order of each item's lethality. To be a little melodramatic the better to illustrate the principle, it would be foolish to delay the ambulance that must rush you for the reversal of your cardiac arrest because you want first to pay the landlord his rent. Much as you might detest him, please don't force him to evict a corpse! Fund each item in strict order of real priority, and give each item no more than it requires. Do not "round off" anything, as this promotes a cavalier attitude to accounting, and many of us are in trouble because we are not accounting for every penny. Your survival list must include "savings account", even if only ten dollars goes there at first. It must also include "contingency", which will cover unpleasant surprises. Only after the must-have list is funded can you move to the "Perhaps" and "It Would Be Nice" lists, which you must deprive of-say-twenty dollars before you make allocations to them. Put the twenty dollars in your pocket.

Most of the spending items we feel an urgency to fund are not items on which our life depends. We can function without them, at least until tomorrow, and that timing goes for tomorrow too. Sit down again if you stood up in the first place, and make a list of the items you will defer. Put them in a queue, with the hungriest of them bringing up the rear. That new, frog green mascara can wait, and wait....On a shopping Saturday, find an activity, perhaps helping a charity or fishing, that puts a distance between you and the shops. Sometimes it is even more constructive to spend the day sleeping. Dreaming about non-essentials is less expensive than acquiring them! Service, fun and rest cost less. A mildly tolerable result of procrastinating on the purchase of these items will be that you will only fund them at a stage in your remuneration cycle where you are sure such purchases will not lead to starvation. The most desirable outcome will be that the longer you ignore them, the less sense it makes to fund these items, and you can put a little more in the savings account.

Remember the twenty that I asked you to put in your pocket? It's not so good if you do, because I want you to forget it. It's not too late, though. A silly truth that I have discovered in my own experience is that I can't pay for that ice cream cone on a whim if the cash is in the wrong jacket in the closet at home. I did this once or twice by mistake before I realised that doing it on purpose can be so helpful. Even if the ATM card is on you, if you decide to walk all the way to the machine, you most likely will find time to ask your spending conscience why it's letting you make such a fuss over an item that will cause you physical and financial pain in the dentist's rooms. Talking about cards, I am assuming you returned those credit cards to the issuing bank and rescheduled the repayment of any debts you incurred so you could stop spending money you have not earned, and might not earn!

Follow this silly-simple prescription and see if you do not still have a bit of money in your pocket-preferably in the wrong jacket-the day before pay day.

Do you have other tips to add to this, or even to replace these? Please share them by clicking the comment link, because in this area we all can use all the help we can find. Feel free to also just comment on my suggestions, even if you don't wish to add any new ones.