Monthly Archives: May 2012

Are life’s lessons relevant to today’s professional?

“Tuesdays with Morrie”….this is a book that haunted me…and as a film, no less. Its lessons still linger – and today, I use them as a check point for all that I do.“An old man, a young man and life’s greatest lesson”…this is the book’s signature, and what profound lessons!

Based on true events, this is narrated by Mitch Albom, a very successful sports journalist with a daily radio show in Detroit. He says he thought he had it all – love, fame and money till he accidentally saw his professor Morrie Schwartz on television one evening – and learnt that Schwartz was slowly dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Like all serendipitous twists and truths of life, Albom reaches out to him to resume the spiritually enriching conversations that had meant so much to him in college. Travelling regularly from Detroit to Schwartz’s home in Massachusetts on most Tuesdays, Albom taped the meetings – and ”Tuesdays with Morrie” is the result.

 Who was Morris Schwartz, and what did he have to say that Albom found so life changing? And what does it mean to us as professionals?

 The first profundity lies in the courage we need to display to reject the cultural norm if it is not conducive to one’s own beliefs and happiness. As Mitch transforms from one entangled in the norms of living the life of the young, successful professional (who is too overrun with work to think of anything else) to his actual persona, he breaks  free and accepts debilitation as a natural part of life and professional cycle. The truth is, conformance never breeds brilliance. But then, rejection is a negative reaction. The positive aspect of Morrie’s most important lesson to Mitch is that he must create his own culture or wither away in one that has turned him into a person he cannot recognize. As the pages flip, we see, through the eyes of Mitch, how Morrie has created his own culture and how we can too, in our own ways.  

The second lesson is one that cuts across hierarchy and seniority.It brings home the truth that whatever be the age or rank, each one of us needs a person we can look up to or relate to – and that we need to be one such too. Genuine goodness forms a huge and integral characteristic of such a need.  Mitch reunites with his professor because he is nostalgic for his former self and needs the man whom he so looked up to in college to regain some sense of the man he had been, the man he would like to be. And guess what? The relationship that Mitch and Morrie share, is not one-sided as the professor too benefits from his time with Mitch, regaining his mirthful spirit through the younger man. This rare dynamic between Mitch and Morrie is embodied by the nicknames they call one another, Morrie being the “coach” and Mitch being the “player”. Truly, a lesson of humility especially for all seniors with power and authority and for all others who will one day reach that height.

The third lesson, seemingly laughable at its naiveté, is what Morrie teaches Mitch about trust.Morrie teaches that  that trust is blind and we can only trust another based on an instinctive feeling, not by any rational judgment or method of thinking. To trust someone is to close your eyes and fall back, hoping that the person your instincts have told you is trustworthy will catch you and keep you from harm. In the professional realm, this translates into working with our ‘gut’ feeling and “gutsy” actions!

 Morrie’s advice to Mitch to “detach” himself from his experiences enables one realize that one can step out of tangible surroundings and into one’s own state of consciousness, to gain perspective and composure in times of stress. The value of such detachment reaches a positive high in his words “Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hang on too long.”

 Here are some quotes from the book that radiate powerful impact from not attempting to explain or dissecting them – they are best read as they are

 “…Take my condition. The things I am supposed to be embarrassed about now — there is nothing innately embarrassing about them. It’s the same for women not being thin enough, or men not being rich enough. It’s just what our culture would have you believe. Don’t believe it…..”

“…You see, . . . you closed your eyes. That was the difference. Sometimes you cannot believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you are ever going to have people trust you, you must feel that you can trust them, too — even when you’re in the dark. Even when you’re falling…”

“…As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed as ignorant as you were at twenty- two, you’d always be twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it…”

 “…if you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down on you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone…”

 “There is no formula to relationships. They have to be negotiated in loving ways, with room for both parties, what they want and what they need, what they can do and what their life is like.”

 “…We…need to forgive ourselves…For all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done. You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened…”

 And finally…”The truth is . . . once you learn how to die, you learn how to live…”


Love it or hate it – it always bounces to haunt!

“I’ve got to run” gasped my friend on the phone. “Need to prepare for my performance review meeting that is scheduled in 10 minutes…wish me luck!”

Yikes! It’s that time of the half year (not even year). Some sighs of relief, some groans of angst and disappointment, plenty grunts of heartburn and anger – another month to brace for such reactions, I mused. Would it be any different this time?

I have no crystal ball to see ahead..but I sure have enough stories to mish-mash an imaginary performance review scene! Here goes….

Psst…Read the italics to know what the players in the dialog truly think as opposed to what their lips say


Manager: Sorry about not calling you as scheduled yesterday. Hope you have the next 10 min free. (Hope he doesn’t spot that I ‘ve said 10 min as opposed to the scheduled half hour! How am I going to get through the next 10 min?)

Employee: Sure – Have been looking forward to this (Gotta get through this…he knows less about my performance than I do myself…all I want to know is whether my rating will get me a better increase than the measly one last year!)

Manager: Thanks for being a critical part of my team – we did well as a team, I should think. (Good opening to say it was tough choosing amongst your colleagues in the normalization exercise!)

Employee: Glad you think we did well – we worked hard as a team (Is this good news or bad news? 4-rater or 3-rater…..what then would my hike be?)

Manager: Hmmm..let’s see…you seem to have met your deadlines as you were expected to. (now, what was the target I set him..or…did I set any at all? Drat…I should have looked up the goals and his self-appraisal!)

Employee: We put in 12-hrs a day every day for the last 4 months to scrape through an unrealistic target set by sales and endorsed by our delivery group (and that includes you too buddy….are you trying to play down the unrealistic hours I put in on the project? I can see my rating sliding)

Manager: Your technical and functional skills are very good and you showed good use of it to overcome challenging situations… (I am going to pause, and slip the “but…” in – enjoy the moment till it lasts…I am really sorry to put you through this, but I have no choice!)

Employee: Yes, I received a lot of client appreciation for this and I hope you saw the mails I had forwarded you on this (good – I made my point about client’s appreciation – he cannot ignore it now, will it go back to a hiogher rating?!)

Manager: I talked to the client…they also agree, but they say your communication and presentation skills needs to improve, as also your interpersonal skills  – and I believe you also had an issue with your colleagues too (Sorry my friend, I have to say this so that I have a way out for normalization – Robert said this during a casual car-park conversation!)

Employee: (Really? What am I supposed to say now!)

Manager: Thanks for a good discussion – is there anything you want to say? This is your opportunity, please go ahead (Please don’t bring up anything, I have a call in the next 5 minutes!)

Employee: Yes, I wanted to discuss about my promotion and salary increase… (all I need is a decent salary increase, but unless I put both of them to you, you will not consider any of them)

Manager: Yes, you deserve both, but as you know HR doesn’t allow this (Thank God for HR as a socking bag!)

Employee: HR clearly said that our leadership make the decisions, not them… (don’t give me the same nonsense you have wrongly fed us for the last 3 years – we are wise to it now)

Manager: They said that? Let me talk to my managers (I am not going to do it but I really need to run for my next call…please let me go!)

Employee: Also I would like to be considered for a release into one of the newer projects coming up, I have been doing this for the last 5 years… (maybe I will get a better appraisal and raise then…maybe I am burning my bridges with you but I have to take my chances!)

Manager: Let me talk to the client and get back to you in a couple of days. (I can’t let you go right now, sorry – the client will be my excuse for tomorrow, now I must run)

Employee: Thanks a lot for this call… (what am I thanking him for – he has only de-motivated me. But I need to wait till the final normalization is announced – I don’t want to blow my chances, however slim they may look now. I must get in touch with the recruiter who called me last week, just in case….)

Manager: Great call – please acknowledge that you have received your performance feedback. (please don’t shaft me as I did you…I need this for my rating and salary increase, my friend!)

 Ha, ha, ha – if it were not so tragic, I really could laugh!