Saturday, October 31, 2009

Need a holiday?

Here's an interesting article from Trent Hamm of the 'The Simple Dollar' on the importance of not making your work the most important thing in your life. There's a fair bit more to life than 9 to 5, and I whole-heartedly agree. So all you workaholics, go on, give this a go...

“One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdowns is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.”
- Bertrand Russell,
The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

When I worked at my previous job, I always felt like the things I was doing were vitally important to the success of the project. In one way, this was good – it kept me focused on making sure that things wouldn’t fail. Yet it created several additional problems.

For one, I was often really stressed out. I felt hugely responsible for everything that went on, even for things that I couldn’t actually control. Eventually, I became quite proficient at solving the technical crises that others were responsible for, often because they were completely oblivious to the disasters.

At the same time, I became afraid to push myself to try new things. Since I felt so strongly responsible for everything, I became deeply afraid of change. I already felt the stress of managing all of the things that were already in place – the idea of changing things or adding new things stressed me even more. As a result, I would often subtly resist such changes.

On top of that, the birth of my children caused my priorities to change, adding further stress. A big part of my job involved traveling to meetings and conferences and other such things. After my children were born, the travel responsibilities gradually went from an enjoyable part of the job to a burden. Instead of going out on the town with colleagues, I’d spend the evening calling home to see what my kids were up to and would often feel as though I was missing them grow up.

The real message underlining all of this? I was so caught up in how important my job was that it was stressing me out, affecting my personal life, and keeping me from innovating and taking chances at work. That’s a terrible mix for success.

Looking back, a much more appropriate perspective would have been to realize what my role was – to develop data interfaces – and do that to the best of my ability, ignoring the other things that were going on. If the database went down… well, I shouldn’t have seen it as my responsibility. Instead, my responsibility should have been to simply push the envelope and find new and clever ways to get people the data they needed. It wasn’t “important” work – it was creative work, work that should have been purely fun.

What did I learn from this experience? The moment you begin to think of your job as “important,” you become more stressed and less innovative in your career. Your health and energy fail you due to the stress. Your job becomes less enjoyable because you’re focused on maintaining the status quo instead of doing the best job you can. In the end, you simply become less vital than you were before you began to see your job – and yourself – as “important.”

This is an issue I see popping up even now with my writing career. When I begin to view what I do as “important,” I begin to be less effective. I write less interesting pieces that essentially just reiterate core points. It becomes dull – and I can feel that just as much as you, the reader, can.

Instead, I try to remind myself that what I do really isn’t all that important at all. When I feel that way, I tend to write more from the heart, no matter the consequences. I often get attacked when I do things this way because I’ll express things that are different than what’s “expected” of me, but it’s more enjoyable.

Here’s the truth: your job is likely nowhere near as important as you think it is.Sometimes, employers will try to convince you that you’re more important than you actually are because it’ll scare you into being a good worker – but it will, at the same time, prevent you from being a great one. In the end, most managers – who also think of themselves as more important than they actually are – prefer a workplace full of good workers who are afraid to step outside the box than an office full of a mix of great workers and bad ones who are constantly trying to innovate. After all, that same sense of inflated importance guides them, too.

Here are three things I often do to keep my sense of importance at appropriately low levels.

First, I imagine worst case scenarios in terms of the greater world. For me, that would probably be a lack of ability to continue updating The Simple Dollar. What would happen to the greater world? For the most part, very little. The Simple Dollar often adds a little “positive” to people’s lives on a regular basis, but if it went away, their lives would continue. They might find another web site that provides a similar boost – or they might not. Either way, it’s not a major crisis for the world if the worst case scenario happens.

Most jobs, if you peel them back to their true impact on the world, have very little real impact. Yes, there are a few captains of industry and top political leaders who really can affect a lot of lives. Outside of them, though, the worst case scenario of most jobs has little impact.

Second, I imagine the positive impact of just not worrying about it. That type of scenario frees me to try new things. If I realize that the worst case scenario really isn’t that bad, it becomes a lot easier to imagine best case scenarios for taking pretty significant risks. What if I write articles that are seriously outside the box on The Simple Dollar? I might chase away a reader or two, sure. But I also have the potential to grab the imagination and attention of a lot of people by doing that.

Again, the same holds true for most jobs. When you consider the absolute worst case result of a certain choice, then compare that to the potential positive results of making that same choice, you’ll often find you’re better off just letting go of the status quo and trying new things. Completely re-do your filing system. Do a presentation that completely bucks the rules of what typically goes on in your workplace. Write some interesting utility code that helps everyone by making some common tasks faster.

Finally, I try things that are way outside the norm. Sometimes I’ll end up using these things that I create. Other times I won’t. In either case, I usually find something worthwhile.

What really makes this stand out, though, is that it’s fun. Trying something completely new and different adds an element of fun to my work that simply isn’t there if I’m overly careful and just follow the status quo. That sense of fun keeps my work in the area of things in my life that make me happy instead of things in my life that drain me.

In the end, my advice is simple: let go of the sense of importance you have about your work. It’ll be the best career move you’ll ever make.

One final note: if you have your financial ducks in a row, it’s even easier. Paying off your debts helps your career because it reduces the importance of your job. Your need for a salary is much less if you have your ducks in a row, which in turn opens the door to greater success because you’re no longer tied to such a sense of importance.



Sunday, October 25, 2009

All The Best

Puerile at its worst and mildly chuckle-inducing at its best, Rohit Shetty's 'All the best', starts where his earlier films, 'Golmal' and 'Golmal Returns' left off. A mad cap tale of mistaken identities, this juvenile piece of cinema deserves a watch only by the particularly optimistic, for whom the realization of three irrecoverable hours will not seem criminal.

The story involves Veer (Fardeen Khan), a struggling musician, who needs extra pocket money from his stepbrother, Dharam (Sanjay Dutt), who lives abroad. Prem Chopra (Ajay 'I've changed my surname' Devgn), his best friend, married to Jhanvi (Bipasha Basu), schemes to inform Dharam that Veer is married, thereby making a case for an increased allowance. The incredibly wooden Mugdha Godse plays Veer's girlfriend, Vidya. Things meander along aimlessly for this motley crew until big brother Dharam decides to drop in and mistakes Jhanvi for Veer's wife. Much confusion ensues and the friends swap partners to keep the bluff going for as long as they can. In the mix is a mute don, played by a returning-to-form Johnny Lever, and a Pran-impersonating vagabond, played by Sanjay Mishra and a Malayali maid, Mary, played by the wonderfully talented Ashwini Kalsekar and a bizarre car race, something the director feels obligated to include in all his films.

It is actually this support cast that keeps the film from being a complete wash out and more screen time for these competent comic talents would have made for more pleasant viewing. The film's 'falling down/getting slapped' brand of slapstick comedy is repetitive and some times achingly unpleasant. Shetty tries hard, but fails to create a good comic experience for the viewer, even after ripping off an American play. His only redeeming effort comes in the form of the cinematic references to the classic 'mistaken identity' films of the 70s and 80s like 'Golmal' and 'Chupke Chupke'. Pity he doesn't learn from them.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blue 2 in the offing???!!???

Be afraid, be very afraid... if this article from the Mumbai Mirror has even a shred of truth to it...

If you think that the latest release Blue was made on a lavish budget, think again. A sequel to the film is already in the offing and is being planned on a much bigger scale.

Blue actor Sanjay Dutt informs that they will be starting with the sequel immediately. "It was a thrilling experience shooting for Blue in the Bahamas. Tony (director) is ready with the idea for Blue 2 and he has promised that there will be more sharks and action in the sequel," says Sanjay.

Sanjay says that shooting for Blue wasn't a cakewalk. "For me, Blue was an extremely difficult film to shoot. The same goes for the director Anthony D'Souza. Hats off to the producer who believed in the film and invested so much money in it. I don't know about others but I had a tough time while shooting as I was scared when I saw 50 sharks around me."

Blue 2 will be shot in Australia and will have one more key male actor other than Akshay Kumar, Sanjay and Zayed Khan. While Blue has several sharks, its sequel will have deadlier sharks such as Great Whites and Bull Sharks.

Why would Anthony D'souza do this? And who's funding him this time? Obviously he feels that Blue - Mark I isn't bad enough, so looks like he's going to try and top it. Clearly our man's cracked the cinematic success mantra. Film dangerous aquatic life and Akshay Kumar together and the crowds will flock to the theatre. The recession is well and truly over folks - when you can spend another Rs. 100 crore on yet another monstrosity, things must be looking up. Should be interesting.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


I'll make this a short one. There's not much to write about anyway. One wonders what happened to the $20 million that the producers spent on this one? Perhaps if the bulk of the cash was used to hire a good scriptwriter, instead of paying the actors' stratospheric salaries, things would have been a little different. This 'titanic' deserves to rest peacefully, as the film's poster screams, '250 feet under the sea'.
The story involves a betrayal between two friends, a lost treasure, an errant younger brother in trouble, family honor and the most boring treasure hunt ever filmed, underwater or on land. If you find the description a tad loose, you need not worry. You won't care anyway. What should have been a tight action adventure film, involving a suspense-filled treasure hunt, is in the end reduced to a few well choreographed action set pieces with some slick camera work. The underwater scenes deserve mention, and there ends the very short merit list of this film. Unless you're a devout Kylie Minogue fan. Even AR Rahman's music is tired and unimpressive. The acting is bad, the dialogue worse and the drama quotient completely undermined by bad writing. Nothing quite works for director Anthony D'souza and this ship sinks pretty fast. Perhaps the saving grace is its tight sub 2-hour running time.
Avoid this one, unless your doctor has prescribed an antidote for excess celebration this Diwali.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Wake up Sid

The first commandment of 'coming of age' films is well known to be - 'Thou shalt always be compared to 'Dil Chahta Hai''. This is no DCH. While Ayan Mukerji's directorial debut bears a certain resemblance to the Farhan Akhtar classic, both in terms of look and certain sub plots movements, the film on the whole is a fresh, simple and sugary take on the inner battles of today's youth.

Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) is a going-nowhere-and-loving-it rich kid, showing no signs of trying to make anything of himself, much to the chagrin of his parents, who want him to join the family business. Sid, having freshly failed his graduation exams, rebels and leaves home, only to crash with his new friend, the out-of-towner, independent-new-girl-about-town, Aisha (Konkona Sen) who's out to make it in the big bad city of Bombay, oops...Mumbai, and there starts both a heartwarming coming of age tale as well as a smartly told love story.

The film, however has its set of niggles. Sid's story isn't as compelling as it should have been. He has no particular emotional anchor to hook you with, not his fight with his best friend, not his failing his exams, not his fights with his parents. We just hope and wait for things to get really bad for Sid, so his redemption can seem all the more heroic and satisfying, but nothing of the sort ever happens, and once we realise that the film is produced by the folks at Dharma Productions, it seems to make sense. Only the track with Sid's reconciliation with his mother packs any sort of emotional punch. Downplay and subtlety is welcome, but Mukerji clearly overdoes it. The pacing of the film is also a tad sluggish, the first hour of the film taking too long to set up the story.

A word on the acting - this is entirely Ranbir Kapoor's film. His consistent and believable portrayal of Sid is a great turn. He single handedly makes this film more watchable than it should have been. Konkona does a variation of her roles in Metro and Luck By Chance and if she wasn't such a fabulous actress, she would be starting to really get on the nerves of viewers with her lack of range in commercial cinema. The rest of the cast are pitched perfectly and are eminently every-day, with the exception of Rahul Khanna, who does yet another meaningless bit part. He seems to be making a career out of doing the handsome boss/other man cameo. Yawn!

Shankar Ehsan Loy's music is fine, suitably young and hip, but none of their tunes hit the peak that guest music director Amit Trivedi reaches with the beautiful 'Iktaara', which immeasurably enhances the film, both aurally and mood wise.

Its a well told, young and simple little story of coming to terms with ones own little problems, and overcoming ones own trials and tribulations, however trivial they may be. Hidden in there somewhere, is a slick, neat little love story and and some great music.