Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rediscovering the joy of playing a sport - it's tennis this time!


Squash kept me sane. It gave me an outlet for all the negative, pent-up energy. I played it at least four-times a week for about 11-years of my life. And then, I had to stop. New job, new coast, and the opportunities to play squash disappeared. Some of it was an excuse, more of it was my broken finger, but the rest of it was about having to start afresh in a new place and building a new community. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to do that and balance everything else that was going on around me. I focused on getting my new life on track. It now is...

I moved to Norfolk two-years ago. These years have been some of the hardest of my adult life. When I moved to a new city in the past, I worked in that same city. Making friends at work is easy; playing sports at a local gym facilitates the finding of people with common interests too. Unfortunately, there is no work for me in Norfolk. The people I met were mostly colleagues of Puneet's, and I realized quickly that I had less in common with them than the tree outside my apartment building!! All conversations somehow devolved into a treatise on the practice of medicine, the day's patients or criticisms / parodies of the doctors at the hospital. I couldn't partake in the conversations, and being thoroughly bored is not something I like to repeat too often.

Another thing dawned on me - I struggled to get along with these people because they were anywhere from 8-10 years younger than I am. Their interests - basketball, video games, gangster rap, smoking hookah or just talking up their achievements - were so different from my own, but not so different from their contemporaries, that I started to think that the disconnect was more due to how, where and when we were raised. I have often wondered when this same issue will become an issue between Puneet and I. As of right now, I don't have much to worry though - she is an older soul than I am, more of a mature adult than I am. For now, I have nothing to worry on this front.

This winter though, a confluence of events changed the status quo. The last time I was in Mumbai, Nikhil and I started playing tennis at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana. His game was weaker than mine, his strokes rusty, his consistency almost non-existent. The 2-weeks of playing in the sun galvanized his passion for the sport, and he found a way to get regular lessons from the pro at the gymkhana. I was to go back to Mumbai in April, and the trash talking had been on since December - "Manoj, you better watch out because I am going to whoop your ass!" If the fear of losing to your younger brother isn't a motivator in life, I don't know what is!

Southern Virginia, the Hampton Roads area, is very tennis-friendly. There are 10-courts within driving distance of my apartment. Additionally, this area is known for balmy winters. Not this past winter - we had one of the coldest winters on record this year. I couldn't get anyone to come out and hit on the courts. I had to figure something out, and fast. It was January already, and no respite from the cold weather was in sight. It's about then that I found a winning formula.

The YMCA has racquetball courts - a concealed space with high ceilings and great hardwood floors. I went back to my days growing up in Mumbai; we competed against one another by hitting a ball against the wall because we didn't have a tennis court outside the summer months. I started slow and built up to adjust to the faster pace off the polished hardwood floor. It took me a week to glide instead of stomp on the court, and my strokes started finding their range. The enclosed space allowed me to get more repetitions on my backhand, build my confidence up, work on my timing. The wooden courts, while great when I started, were not true to what I would have to deal with in Mumbai. I needed a concrete surface. I walked out of the Y after one of my "tennis-ball" sessions, and my next playground was staring at me in the face - the enclosed parking lot of my apartment building!

Every weekend this past winter, my favorite pass-time was stepping out of my apartment door, walking 200-feet and hitting balls against the parking lot wall. A steady soundtrack of hip-hop and EDM played off my Jambox, and Yaser often drove past me as I hit intently against the wall. People stopped and asked me what I was doing, and most drivers-by thought I was crazy. But I didn't care; I was getting more consistent every week, and my play in Mumbai was going to benefit from the disciplined hitting.

The two-weeks in Mumbai were memorable for a number of reasons, tennis at 10am in the 100-degree heat was definitely one of them. Nikhil and I had about 10-sessions over 16-days, and both him and I were officially hooked. When I returned to Norfolk, I decided to give building a community of tennis friends another chance. Piece by piece, I now have 5-folks with whom I can play every weekend. Funnily enough, they are all J's - June, Jay, Jamie, Jason and Joe. Most of them are new to Norfolk too, and were struggling to find a hitting partner. The last 6-weeks have been blissful again. I feel sane, motivated to do work, my relationship with Puneet is flying high, and I am fitter than I have ever been since I left Seattle. I am unencumbered to the point that I have started writing again. If I stay on this path, I might actually get Puneet to start writing too. No I won't; who am I kidding?!!!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Risen from the ashes


It has been a long time that I have put the proverbial pen to paper. I am a strange person - I eschew social networking when I am at work. I have been at work a lot, so I am cut off from the rest of the world. Except the small slice of it with which I interact on a daily basis - my colleagues and my wife. Whatsapp has brought me closer to my parents, and iMessage means I can get a hold of Nikhil whenever I want to hear his voice. But that's it...

As the world goes on about its business, I have grown older and don't know if I have anything to show for it. That's not entirely true, I know that. But when it's late at night and I cannot sleep, the feeling gnaws at me, further delaying the eventual shut eye. I feel like there is a void, and no it's not because I don't have children or am unhappily married. It's something else. I think it is something that every person feels, because my friends have alluded to it in different terms. I am choosing to write about it, is all.

This feeling that there is a void can be pretty consuming. I constantly look for intellectual stimulation and I am easily bored. When I read more and wrote more in the past, I used to be full of ideas. My mind was free to think. The consulting lifestyle has taken this away from me, among so many other things I loved to do. So now even when the synapses fire, the mental passageways congested with vagrant thoughts block the ideas from making their way to their destination. This blog will now house the vagrant thoughts...

At the root of my insecurities is this feeling that I am mediocre. Maybe that's a harsh term - a more accurate term is average. There was a time when I was vain and thought very highly of myself. In fact, multiple people have told me that I come across as vain and cocky. Professionally though, I have spent most of my corporate life in the shadows of my higher performing peers. I have consistently heard that I am smart and sharp, and that is very quickly followed up by a pejorative of some sort. Here are some examples:
  • You're in the wrong role - you need to be a PM
  • You take too long
  • You need to be in a team environment
Truthfully speaking, I was never really into any of mt roles prior to joining Deloitte. Well, except when I was building Elasticfox - that was the best role in the Development world. Designing something that made customers happy made my world go round. That I was not into any of my roles translated into me always doing what I needed to get done, but never having new ideas about how to make things better. No innovative ideas, no extra time spent building reusable frameworks or fixing age old bugs. I just wanted to do my job and get out. Maybe that's because I have always had a life outside of work, a life that mattered to me more than what I did at work. Work was to pay the bills. Then I joined Deloitte...

After my first year at Deloitte, I thought this was going to be just another stepping stone. Another place where I made connections but was always part of the pack that "just did their job". That changed after the first 6-months, and I have never looked back. Knocks never stopped me - I bounced back stronger and found a niche for myself that I can now call my own. A badge that no one else can take from me and something no one else is as good at. And I work hard at staying at the top of my field. I should be happy.

I am not. The void has grown wider. I spent numerous hours absently browsing the Internet. I want to do something else. I want to be someone else. I want to have an idea, execute the idea, no matter the costs. I want to take a risk. Not having done it makes me chase after the elusive dream. That's what's causing the void - it's the feeling that I have missed out on something in life and time is running out.
The sun is the same, in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death
What is my dream? Can I chase it?