Keep your own colour

“Wmarcus water colorhatever anyone does or says, I must be a good man. It is as if an emerald, or gold, or purple, were always saying: “Whatever anyone does or says, I must be an emerald and keep on my own colour.”

– Marcus Aurelius



Do you do the right thing but say the wrong thing? Or…err…vice versa?

porcupineOne of my favorite writers Gretchen Rubin comes up with distinctions that help us understand ourselves, as well as understand others. For instance, she says people can be divided into over-buyers and under-buyers, tiggers and eeyores, and marathoners and sprinters to name a few. While human beings are too complex to be neatly bundled into a category, seeing the world through the lens of distinctions can certainly help us navigate ourselves, and those around us, more successfully.

Inspired by this way of viewing the world, I feel a thrill when I identify what seems like a promising distinction. Recently, a distinction struck me that relates to the “Say-Do gap.” The “say-do” gap essentially means that there is a gap between what people say, and what people do. We all know that. What struck me though is people can be divided into two categories based on which way their their say-do gap swings.

  • Say the right thing and do the wrong thing; this reminds me of “all that glitters is not gold.”
  • Do the right thing but say the wrong thing; this reminds me of Adam Grant’s concept of a “porcupine giver;” people who may look gruff on the outside but are generous at heart.

I’ve just stumbled upon this distinction and I want to spend some time understanding this more deeply.

  • What can be the drivers behind “say the right thing, do the wrong thing?” One obvious one seems malintent. Can there be any other driver? Are there any positive drivers that lead people to say one thing and do another.
  • Similarly, why do some people do all the right things, but say all the wrong things? Is fear one of the reasons that cause people to say the wrong thing? Is it that they don’t understand the importance of saying the right thing? Is it that they don’t know how to say the right thing?
  • Does this distinction  at all relate to the other distinction that I came up with – around being harder on yourself, or harder on others? Or not?

What do you think of this distinction? Where would you type yourself? And how would you answer my questions above? Would love to learn more. Drop in your comments.

Did you enjoy this? Follow the blog as I make sense of myself, others around me, and my life in general. Based on whom I’ve been hanging out with, what I’ve been reading, and how I’m feeling, you may get very different blog posts landing in your inbox. Like you, I’m more than just one thing.

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I am a Kangaroo. Who are You?


One year, many years ago, I felt behind. And so, I printed a black and white picture of an “eye of the tiger” and pinned it where I could see it every day to remind me of my goal, which when I achieved it, would make me feel good. I worked, absorbed. I worked till I was done, not till I was tired. I’d look up sometimes and see the eye of the tiger. And I was so engrossed in the doing and the striving that I was too numb to recognize a personal priority when it came up, too numb to know that I wanted to be there, at the hospital. My heart was frozen and I couldn’t hear what it wanted to say.

That winter, I lost someone very close to me. The tears wouldn’t stop. The winter passed, spring came. I achieved my goal. But the heaviness in my heart told me that the cost had been too high. It began dawning on me that I wasn’t living in a way that was congruent to who I was, and more importantly, I wasn’t very sure about who I was. I promised to myself, that it wouldn’t be like this again. And yet, I found myself a few years later, feeling empty, looking for approval outside to make me happy.

Brene Brown talks about a moment in her research when she realized that she was living all wrong: she wasn’t living authentically, she wasn’t embracing her imperfections, she wasn’t living the way she found wholehearted people do. I’ve had the same Brene Brown epiphany.

What does it mean to live authentically? What is real happiness and faux happiness? What real success and faux success? Is success about “coming first,” in anything I’m part of, irrespective of whether I want to be part of that or not? Shouldn’t my definition be more choiceful?  Do I even know what “the eye of the tiger” is for me? And is “the eye of the tiger” even really the right metaphor, given that it carries within it aggressiveness and ferocity, instead of love and compassion and growth?

Our insides are complex. They’re a mix of flowers and stars and shards of glass and knives that remain in us, long after they were stabbed. It’s hard sometimes to know who we are and to know what we want. It’s by chance that we learn about ourselves: by the Jason Mraz songs that we love; the William Wordsworth poetry that calls to us; our love of yellow sunflowers, the Merlot-Malbecs, woody-scented candles, snug blankets, and soft cover notebooks; for hugs and for being “along together”. And sometimes we learn more about ourselves by the tears we shed, the mistakes we make, our losses, our missed opportunities for being at the hospital the whole time, instead of a few days in between. To be in harmony with ourselves, we need to remember our true nature, the one that existed before we were told “who we needed to be.” We need to be willing to shed some of our titles and degrees and badges we’ve accumulated that serve as testament to our success and our worth.

I looked for some of these answers when I visited my sister in California. I looked for the answers inside as we did some art work together, talked about books, chatted over pumpkin spiced lattes, and explored bookshops.

I’d stumbled on Pinterest as a tool for exploring my many curiosities, and one day, as I lay on the black couch by the window, I came across a cool infographic that categorized each MBTI personality type as an animal. Personality theory can be complex and a little overwhelming, even for the aficionados, and heuristics are always helpful. As an INFJ, I was typed as a kangaroo. It was cute. I liked the thought, and then I forgot all about it.

As my sister and I continued our explorations into metaphysics and coloring mandalas and shopping for art supplies at Michael’s, I said on a whim: let’s go to the zoo.

I wanted to see giraffes, never having seen them before. And so we went, pretty much the only two adults in the zoo on a weekday, without any toddlers in tow. We looked at the giraffes, enamored. One came over close and looked me in the eye, her long beautiful eyelashes curled beautifully. Having contemplated each other peacefully for some time, the giraffe glided away like a beauty queen, and went to meditate in the trees. We walked, gazed at the flamingoes; posed with the beautiful peacocks that sauntered freely on the road, basking in the sun; looked at monkeys, chimpanzees, and something that looked like a rat-monkey. And then I saw them: the kangaroos.

A bunch of them huddled together nibbling food, peacefully. Gentle creatures, they didn’t make a sound. A few others explored the grassland enclosure, examining the little treasures they ran into, closely. None had a little one to carry around, so I couldn’t see them in their role of mom or dad. They seemed happy that day in the San Francisco zoo: peaceful, in the company of their friends and family; curious about the treasures of nature around them; co-existing peacefully when peacocks came in to visit; enjoying the food that was their spread that day; basking in the beautiful day that it was, a chill in the air, the sun out; and accepting of the human beings and human children who had come to visit them.

I stood there, gazing at them, living their life. I remember thinking as I watched them:

I am a kangaroo.

The world sometimes makes me want to forget that and be a tiger or a horse  or a rhinoceros. But I’m none of that. I am a kangaroo.

Who are you?

Time for your own self-discovery experiment:

Here’s one of the places where you can take the MBTI test. Once you’ve taken it, here’s where you can see what the corresponding animal for your type. Full disclosure: some latest studies are questioning the reliability and the validity of MBTI as an instrument, but I’ve personally found it a very useful tool in self-discovery. The mapping of MBTI types to the corresponding animal is also subjective: for instance, when I was digging up the link to the animal categorization, I came across some with slightly different categorizations too – e.g., in another categorization, INFJ’s are pandas. Would love to hear whether you agree with your MBTI / animal assessment or not.

If you enjoyed reading this, I’d love you to join me on this road of discovering who we are and crafting a life that feels right.

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What I’m learning from an astronaut and my hula hoop


My husband is a big fan of all things space and has recently been digging into Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth,” and when something particularly catches his fancy, he reads it to me, as we sit reading for a bit before turning in. He recently read this passage out to me:


When we got back to Earth, a lot of people asked whether everything had gone the way we’d planned. The truth is that nothing went as we’d planned, but everything was within the scope of what we prepared for. That was one of the fundamental lessons of STS-74; don’t assume you know everything and try to be ready for anything. 

                                                                                                                 Chris Hadfield

The “planners” among us like to plan ahead and have a plan B for good measure. The danger is that we can be disappointed, or even broken, if our plans don’t work out. While it’s important to plan, its equally important to be flexible about our plans. The problem is that while we get it, we don’t know what to do about it.

How do I become more flexible in my approach to life? Telling my brain to plan less or worry less won’t work. I’ve learned in recent years, that I need to get out of my head, and into my body and my intuition to live like I want to live. I can be more flexible in the way I live my life, flexible about goals, flexible about paths, if I can be more flexible in my body.

And so I hoop, on the weekends, with my hula hoop teacher, little kids, newly weds, older women with empty nests. In the Delhi winter afternoons, we get together for an hour and we hoop. And as I learn to hoop, I move from my head, into my body; hooping sometimes clumsily, sometimes in flow; with the hoop around my waist, or my hips; walking in with the hoop, in front, sideways, and back. Sometimes the hoop falls and I pick it up and start right over. I stand on the green grass in the afternoon sun of a waning winter. Inside me is the little girl who thought she always needed to plan, the teenager who lived by the plan, the woman who’s examining this all and trying to fuse planning and flexibility, and the hint of a wiser woman with a plan, but more importantly, with faith, flexibility, and resilience.

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Do you have the courage to go looking for the magic in you?

breatheMany of us have been taught to be safe. The world is scary, unpredictable. Do the safe thing, for who knows, what might happen. And so we are safe. We don’t take risks. We don’t speak our truth. We skim life, instead of diving deep and getting engrossed in the juicy, messy business of living our life. We do the best in the situation we find ourselves in, instead of choosing to put ourselves in worlds where we want to be. Sooner, or later, we find that we  can’t hear ourselves anymore. There’s a deafening quiet where there should be an inner radar. And then, because we don’t want to feel like hiding our gifts and our voice and our  idiosyncrasies in the treasure chest that stays locked in our hearts anymore, we start…opening up. We begin, in the search for ourselves, and in search of the magic hidden inside of us.

I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us as human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels-that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Enjoyed reading this? Do follow the blog for more thoughts on becoming more of who you are.

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Feeling alone? Remember our shared humanity

Sometimes when we’re in new situations, it can feel overwhelming. Sometimes, we feel alone, esMApecially if we’re not used to talking about our concerns, or there is no one around we trust to share our difficulties or sorrows. At times like these, it is useful to remember our shared humanity. This is not the first time this has happened. This is not the last time this will happen. And to remember, as alone as we feel in this, people ahead of us have walked this road. They understand. Reach out, to those you trust. But only to those who are worthy of your trust.

Constantly reflect that all the things which happen now have happened before: reflect too that they will happen again in the future. Have in your mind’s eye whole dramas with similar settings, all that you know of from your own experience or earlier history – for example, the whole court of Hadrien, the whole court of Antoninus, the whole court of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All the same as now: just a different cast.

Marcus Aurelius

Relaxing into creativity with my crayola pipsqueaks, mini-Mandala coloring book, and old Hindi movie songs

As my friend and I walk in the dusk in Madrid after a day of sight-seeing, we pass a shop with funky t-shirts on display. One in particular catches my eye. It is grey with the message “Less is more,” only the L is disfigured as if graffiti and now reads “Mess is more.” I stop and stare. Let’s go in, I say.

We look around at the T-shirts, all fun and funky and kitsch-y, but I keep going back to “Mess is more.”

This is my learning from last year: the importance of mess for creative thinking and living, a healthy acceptance of mistakes, the need to follow roundabout, circuitous paths, and being ok about not being in control always. I buy the T-shirt – it is a small, yet landmark moment for me in my journey toward relaxing, instead of striving; of going with the flow, instead of controlling; of consenting to the unknown and recognizing that sometimes what I can’t orchestrate and control might be richer and juicier than the “plan” I create. It is a nudge to myself to not skim the surface of life, but to dive deep.

A few days later, we are in Figueres, Spain, the birthplace of creative extraordinaire, Salvador Dali. The museum that houses his paintings reflects the journey of a multi-faceted, complex, creative man. He is a painter, a sculptor, a dreamer, a scientist. His chosen tools are canvas and mixed media and gems and jewelry. Walking in the museum, I can feel that creativity burst out of this man’s veins. He was not a man afraid of making mistakes or experimenting; he was a man that marched to the beat of his own drum.

A few days later I am in San Francisco to meet my sister. She is an artist extraordinaire; a writer, a dancer, a photographer, and an appreciator of beauty. Around her, I have the permission to be creative. She is not judging my creative work, but letting me be. Her deep sense of artistry soaks into me and helps me get in touch with my creative self, the one buried by books and striving and external definitions of success.

We sit together on the dining table with our own little Mandala coloring books and Crayola Pipsqueak felt pens and we color the mandalas as we listen to old Hindi songs. I have decided not to color the mandalas in the order they are presented in the book, but instead pick ones that call to me. The perfect way of coloring the mandalas would be to decide what color scheme to use and which colors go where so that my mandala looks pretty. But that’s not what I feel like doing. I just relax to the music of Kishore Kumar singing and color away unplanned. I let my fingers choose which felt pen to pick, instead of my brain. They instinctively pick the next color. Sometimes they pause, undecided between two colors. I wait and see which ones my fingers will pick. Within a few seconds, there is a tug, and the right color calls to me. I mix yellows and teals and purples and grays, not something I would pick “rationally.”

yellow mandala.jpg

The beauty of the colors surprises me sometimes. The colors come together, bright and exciting and ALIVE. They have come through me, not from me. In my coloring of the mandalas, I make some mistakes. I color an extra blue in a cell that belongs to the row above. That’s ok. I color the rest of the mandala. The extra blue reminds me of a tooth that grows imperfectly, in between two teeth, to create a smile that you see in a children before their crooked, endearing smiles are perfected my dentists. My little drop of misplaced blue is now my favorite part of the mandala. It is my little drop of imperfection. It pops in the Mandala and reminds me, I am human. My mandala is not pretty and proper – it is beautiful.

pretty mandala

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