Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Work-Life Balance: The Fallacy

Prabhudev Konana

You have been advised by some very successful people to have “work-life balance.”   Ironically that advice came from successful jet-setting business person away from home and family J Work-life balance is not static and not the same for all.  That balance is different when you are 18 years, 25 years, or 40 years old and at different stages of your life. Each person will have different objectives and commitments that make work-life balance different. 

Often we talk about the desires for balance, but the reality can be very different. You strive to seek balance, but circumstances force you to compromise and that compromise is not always bad. 

Your objectives immediately after graduation may be to acquire experience and build reputation. If you want to build reputation as a young professional, whether you like it or not, you will work longer hours and on weekends. You will quickly recognize that you are evaluated only on your output (result) and not input (hours you put).  Unfortunately, very rarely we get desired outcomes by putting in just enough hours.  You will put in long hours to accomplish the desired outcomes. Bottom line, your work-life balance is compromised as work success becomes your life success and they are intertwined.  Do not expect your bosses to understand work-life balance since their reputation and their own personal goals cascade down to you!

An entrepreneur who has a great idea is challenged to bring that idea to the market will likely work 14-20 hours a day and seven days a week to accomplish that goal. There will be disappointments, challenges, failures, and anguish, but the balance is skewed to accomplishing the objectives. However, the balance is enjoying those small successes every day.  If you do not like and are upset, distressed, and depressed, yes you want to step back and ask what your goals are. May be, you need time to think something different if you are unable to cope up with the pressures than being depressed.

The real work-life balance comes up when you start a family. However busy you are, you have to make time to take care of yourself and your baby, to wait for the first step your child takes, to attend first day of school, and to organize birthdays or other social events.  You have to make reasonable time in the evenings and weekend for various events like soccer games. These small memorable events remain with you and those moments cannot be recreated for your convenience.  Of course, you need to find time to make an impact to broader society, which may be part of the work itself (like, mentoring students in your alma mater).  And, you find balance in reading something beyond work related, and keeping your mind fresh. 


Work-life balance is about being practical that there is life beyond work! A recognition that there are numerous small moments in life that you should make time for. A recognition that work-life balance shifts at different stages of life and compromising at times is perfectly fine.  

Reality of Becoming Successful


Prabhudev Konana

Congratulations graduating class! You all joined McCombs as teenagers with great aspirations and now ready to take on the world as matured adults. Wish you all the very best.

It is a great pleasure to know you all and have witnessed the extraordinary intellect, energy, and passion.  As you take the next step in your journey, I am convinced your energy and passion will change the world. Like me, you should always remember UT’s motto “What starts here changes the world!” 

There is no greater joy than to see everyone becoming productive citizens changing the world a little bit better every day.  That change can be accomplished being an entrepreneur, business leader, or community leader, championing social causes, and raising a great family.  

Yet, there are some things that you want to remember.  You are never measured by the input (i.e., working long hours), but only the output (i.e., results).  Your value is not measured by how much wealth you accumulate, but by how much you change this world to make it better for the future.  You will be only known in this world for what you do to someone you don’t know, than to someone you know.  Impacting an unknown person is pure love, everything else is biased J So please remember to serve for the greater good.

Irrespective of the path you take, there are no shortcuts to success.  And, there is no straight path to success either; in fact, the path is very bumpy! You will have to overcome hurdles, challenges, disappointments, rejection, failures, and other things that will make you angry, upset, and dejected.  Success is about dealing with all these challenges effectively. Perseverance is key.  That is when you need great friends and family. My own experience will tell you that the best friends are always those you have made in college.  Keep in touch with your friends and cherish and relish all the memories you had last four years.

There are very few people in the world who have succeeded without mentors. So, make sure you identify the right mentors and seek their guidance.

You want to be humble yet, wherever you are, show confidence and make your presence felt. The saying goes “Don’t be too humble, you are not that great!”  It is OK to recognize your weakness and improve on that, but perception becomes reality when you show weaknesses too often! Of course, when you are enormously successful being humble makes that success even better!

Frankly, none of what I wrote may be new to you. Nevertheless there is no harm in repeating what you may have heard many times.   Wishing you all the very best. Make us – the McCombs family – your own family and friends proud.

And, do not forget to give back to McCombs J

Professional Success in More than Just Performance

Prabhudev Konana

You worked very hard in your job and surpassed every metric that your boss had stated.  Your boss always wanted you by his/her side for key presentations and even asked you to make the selling given your communication skills. You participated in every important event in the organization and helped organized these events. You took leadership roles. You were a great citizen of your organization and everyone thought very high of you. They acknowledged how wonderful it is to work with you.

You are on Cloud Nine and everything is going smoothly as planned. You are now dreaming being promoted to the next level with a big paycheck. You also realized none of the peers had accomplishments like you on paper and you were a natural heir to the next level.

Then reality hits you. Someone you knew who socialized with the senior bosses and key customers gets promoted with a huge raise.  There was nothing wrong with that person but you and others knew that his/her performance wasn’t that exceptional even though that person was closer to the powerbase.

You drive home dejected thinking that your bosses were unfair and the world is unfair to you. You question your own ethics and motivation to give everything you had for the organization. You are tending to become cynical.    Yes, you will lose sleep over this and whine to peers why no one ever asked you what you wanted. You wonder how someone like you with great track record be ignored like this. You are now getting angrier by day and complain endlessly to colleagues.

Sadly you realize colleagues distance themselves from you except for a few who think like you that the system is unfair.

You recollect that famous quote – “You are judged by the output and not by the input” and you scream out loud that neither matters!

Welcome to reality! It takes more than satisfying the metrics within an organization. You are not promoted for meeting or surpassing the metrics, but how well you are connected to bosses and key people outside the firm.  Your influential champion inside the firm will fight for you and gets you promoted in a competitive world. You have to ask how many times did you spend time outside hours with bosses on golf courses or in social setting. You have to make your intentions known at the right time to your champion and bosses.

For some my above advice is depressing. But wake up and realize this is how the world works J It is the mindset of what you want and work towards that. You have to recognize that system can be unfair, but will most likely be fair for those who play the game well.

Congratulations on your graduation and wish you the best! And, always remember “What Starts Here Changes the World!”  Now go conquer the world. Remember to give back J

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Dreaded Call & Mother's Love and Life's Lessons

Prabhudev Konana

The phone rang around 8:30pm (Austin, USA, time) on October 12. I was busy teaching my son math so my wife, Suchetha, picked up the phone. It was my nephew, Sandeep, and she asked,  “Sandeep what’s up?” Next, I saw my wife run out of the front door with voice cracking, “what are you saying?” My heart immediately started to pound and ran out yelling,  “what happened?” I realized that it was the “Dreaded Call” that I was mentally preparing to hear, but never willing to accept that the day would come.  Suchetha turned the phone over to me only to hear that my “muddhu” (cute/loving) “amma” (mother) of 82 years passed away.  

I called home immediately and pleaded to see my mother’s face on Skype. My other nephew, Anoop, set up Skype and saw my mother in the living room. Holding back my tears I exclaimed, “She is so calm and peaceful!” Her face radiated the same love and innocence. I just wanted to hear her voice one last time and say goodbye. Rest of the night, we watched visitors and observed the last rites including the burial on Skype.  Life became too virtual for comfort, but the alternative of not seeing her one last time was too much to bear.

So many thoughts crossed my mind during these hours. Why am I referring my mom in past tense? Why are we referring to her as “the body?” I thought to myself I must resist that.  Did she suffer? Where is she now? Is this a bad dream? What if the hospital she visited the previous night caught the symptoms?  Guilt started to creep in. Why didn’t I call her last few days? What is it that was so important that I didn’t call her? And most importantly, she sacrificed so much for me and yet I did very little to take care of her when probably she needed us the most.  My mind was turning numb, confused, and guilt-ridden.

As I sat in the plane on my way to Bangalore, my mind wandered around trying to rationalize all these events. Probably, it was God’s way of ending her day-to-day drudge. She was fiercely independent and never relied on anyone until the end. She took care of my father – now approaching 90 years – like clock work.  May be, it was that the God fulfilled her desire to end her life when she was fit and independent. She said repeatedly that life should end when one is strong and not when one turns weak, immobile, and dependent.  She often told us that she had fun and enjoyed life despite numerous hurdles, problems, and sufferings along the way.

I began to think that she had a full life and deserved eternal peace from the daily drudge. After all, we all desire such a life. Briefly I felt guilty rationalizing this way until I realized my father and rest of the family thought the same.

As I bid goodbye to my amma, I vividly remember her tender loving face saying goodbye to me every time I left home.  It was 33 years ago, leaving home for engineering college for the first time, my amma said goodbye to me at the Majestic bus stand in Bangalore.  Tears welling up she gently waived her right hand while covering her mouth with her saree and acknowledging my goodbye with a gentle nod. Nothing else but those eyes and gentle nod can so powerfully symbolize mother’s love. That scene repeated hundreds of times as recently as last July.  However, the last few times were different, as it was getting difficult for her to come to the airport. The last time, her right hand waving gently from behind the iron bars (for security) in the verandah of our house with tears welling she shook her head to acknowledge my shout from the front gate “bye amma.” I felt horrible that I am missing when my aging parents needed me the most. I would lie if I say it didn’t cross my mind if this could be the final goodbye; I am sure she had the same feeling.

My mother grew up in her grandparents’ house after she lost both her parents as a toddler.  A strict grandfather did not allow her to study beyond 3rd standard (my mom said he believed girls should be at home!). But that never limited her acquiring knowledge and reading difficult-to-read novels or spiritual books. I don’t ever recollect engaging her in deep discussions about spirituality; she kept her understanding very private. But her behavior exhibited much greater understanding.  She reflected a much deeper understanding of the meaning of life and how to deal with life calmly and quietly. That was indeed her strength in that cuddly face.  Her empathy and compassion were unmatched. She embodied the notion of tolerance and love.

She understood life and people so well. When I complained about something she would say “You won’t get everything you want. You have to deal with that.” If I told about people’s rudeness, she would coolly say “There are all types of people on this earth. You have to accept the reality and deal with that.”  When undesirable things happen, she would simply say “It’s God’s intentions that we won’t fully understand. If we recognize that we will be fine.” When I lamented about some death or her own health, her response was “everyone has to leave this earth. You just want to leave when you are strong.” When I was upset with someone, she would say “everyone doesn’t have to like you. If you want to get back at them, they will get back even worse. Just learn to ignore.” Her best line is when I was angry about something - she would say “if you become “wrong wrong,” it won’t get what you want.” She repeated the word “wrong” twice for some reason!

She loved to entertain guests and particularly all those relatives she grew up in various villages.  Any relatives dropping by unexpectedly would excite her much! Of course, we would whine when it affected us watching that exciting finish in a cricket match. She never hesitated to prepare food for any guest who comes at any odd hour. She would never express tiredness or complain. She passed away with the same spirit. She chose to get up middle of the night to sleep on the sofa in our living room to quietly and calmly leave this world for a better place.

It is now over 10 days. I have come to accept life and feel comfortable that my mother fulfilled her purpose on this earth and that she is at peace and free from daily drudge. Her life lessons are profound and will continue to guide me how I live, even if I cannot practice those fully. She will remain with my thoughts and me, just the same way I lived away from my “amma” for decades.