Success essential for sense of accomplishment?

It seems ironic that a sense of accomplishment is dependent on success or extrinsic validation. Should it not be more of an intrinsic validation, that you have done the best that you can within the environment available to you? This is something that I have been increasingly reflecting upon.

Eleven years ago on this day, I met with a road traffic accident which led to a lengthy recovery process, including a six month period in which I was hardly able to move. During that recovery period, nudged by my mother, I started typing random thoughts on my laptop from the moment I was able to move my right hand fingers even when I could not move the rest of my hand or body for that matter. It eventually resulted in my first book – The first step, something that I should feel a sense of accomplishment about. For having been both a cathartic process and something positive that I was able to focus on other than the frustrations and pains of recovery, the completion of that book should in itself have elicited a sense of accomplishment. Yet, I began feeling that only when my family and then my friends and acquaintances started reading it and giving me positive feedback. While during the writing of my book, I had simply focused on the pleasure of writing and not on who would be reading it or how it would be received, it seems surprising that once the book was completed and published, I seemed to expect external validation for my sense of accomplishment. The book is available on Amazon and given the limited sales of the book, I seem to feel the sense of accomplishment even less. I hesitate to call myself a writer, even though writing has always been a passion of mine since I was eight, simply because the two books that are out there have not received either sales success or critical acclaim. The question I ask myself is why should it matter whether people read the book or if they like it or not, all it should matter for my sense of accomplishment is that I transformed a traumatic experience into a positive one through my writing.

What baffles me further is that even when I have received recognition or external validation in my professional work or academic efforts and I did feel a sense of hubristic pride at those times, it was fleeting and not a real sense of accomplishment. Is it because I felt luck had a far greater role than my efforts in the recognition that I received?

Ever since I read J.D.Salinger‘s novella, Seymour – an introduction, this excerpt from the novella has been floating around at the back of my head.

“Could you try not aiming so much?” he asked me, still standing there. “If you hit him when you aim, it’ll just be luck.” He was speaking, communicating, and yet not breaking the spell. I then broke it. Quite deliberately, “How can it be luck if I aim?” I said back to him, not loud (despite the italics) but with rather more irritation in my voice that I was actually feeling. He didn’t say anything for a moment but simply stood balanced on the curb, looking at me, I knew imperfectly, with love. “Because it will be,” he said. “You’ll be glad if you hit his marble – Ira’s marble – won’t you? Won’t you be glad? And if you’re glad when you hit somebody’s marble, then you sort of secretly didn’t expect too much to do it. So there’d have to be some luck in it, there’d have to be slightly quite a lot of accident in it.”

While luck has a hand in the external validation of efforts as it involves others and their own goals/ motivations and you are aiming for success or validation by them when you expect them to provide it, it does not have much of a role in your own part of the work. It is not luck that I wrote during my recovery nor is it luck that I put in a great deal of effort when working on causes I believe in and it is certainly not luck that I have travelled extensively in the past decade. It was more a prioritization of which of my passions I wished to invest my time and energy and then putting in a lot of hard work to achieving them. I certainly should be feeling a sense of accomplishment for having achieved several of my goals I set out for myself. I don’t though. Perhaps because my goals are constantly evolving.

Why is authentic pride or the sense of accomplishment so much more difficult to feel than hubristic pride that relies on external validation such as success and recognition? Dr. Raj Raghunathan, or Dr. HappySmarts of the Coursera course A life of Happiness and Fulfillment, would say that our happiness depended on nurturing authentic pride and reducing/ eliminating hubristic pride and that by changing our thoughts consciously, we can achieve it. It is a difficult process as we live in a global society that values success, power and money, all of which are extrinsic and have no bearing on our happiness or sense of accomplishment. Except for the few lucky ones, most of us have been raised from our childhood at home, at school and subsequently at work and among peers, to expect external validation as an indicator of our accomplishment.

I have finally reached a point in my life where I have realized that success is not mandatory for a sense of accomplishment. My current goal is to nurture authentic pride rather than hubristic pride.

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G12 Adventures – Random musing #2: On a nudge influenced policy and its viability…

Cross-posting this from G12 Adventures blog which I am hosting this month -http://g12adventures.blogspot.com/2015/04/random-musing-2-on-nudge-influenced.html

(G12 Adventures is a blog that the Generation 12 cohort of the Asia Pacific Leadership Programme (APLP) of East West Centre, Hawai’i, initiated and it is hosted each month by one of the cohort members)

I read in a recent Sunday Times Sri Lanka edition about the proposed colour coding system on soft drinks. The authorities hope that system will encourage people to be more conscious of their sugar intake and thereby reducing high sugar levels observed among school children.

Why do I find this interesting? Because I have been reading Thaler and Sunstein’s book on Nudge for my behavioural public policy course under my current masters studies on social policy and development. And, I had been trying to think of examples where the Sri Lankan government might have used ‘nudge’ concepts to influence the public in a direction that they felt was beneficial for the well-being of the individuals.

When I read this article, I felt that this could be considered an example of a nudge. Where the policy does not force people to do something and the economic incentives are minimal but rather informs people of the choices and indicating their own preferred choice by the traffic light coding system on soft drink packaging.

Would this work as it is? The producers of soft drinks are going to be amongst the first to resist the coding system because a colour coding system does provide easily interpreted visual information for consumers and a rational human being would tend to keep away from the red coded food products in most instances. However, the more important question is: will consumers be ‘nudged’ into a more healthy choice in consumption simply by looking at the colour codes?

The key here would have to be the awareness campaign and to ensure that it becomes the latest trendy choice to opt for low sugar beverages. If there is a crowding out of soft drinks with high sugar content due to decline in consumption, then producers would start taking steps towards re-examining their soft drink production and possibly, reducing sugar content in their products.

So, it does look as if the proposal by the Health ministry is viable and could be effective if sufficient attention is paid to the awareness campaign.

However, this proposal assumes that the high intake of sugar content is from processed products purchased from the markets. It does not take into consideration the inclusion of sugar in home made products. According to an earlier Sunday Times article on sugar and salt consumption levels as a positive correlation to a rise in diabetes, heart disease, obesity etc., it quotes the Medical Research Institute chief as stating that 70% of salt consumption of the average Sri Lankan is from home-cooked products and only 20% from processed food. As a similar breakdown was not given for sugar intake in the article, one could perhaps assume that the same holds for sugar consumption until evidence indicates otherwise. Therefore, targeting only soft drinks and other processed food is not likely to drastically reduce the current statistics of high sugar levels.

What do you think of this proposal? Are there other pitfalls that the proposal is missing in its conceptualization? What can be added on to this proposal to make it more effective? Are there similar policies nudging people towards healthy consumption in your country?

My initiation to cooking

Cooking is the last activity that I ever thought I would indulge in. Of course, I have put together a hasty lunch or dinner in the past, when I have had to but most of my meals at such instances were pretty much instant or micro-wave ready meals. In the instances when I took the trouble to cook, I was only prepared to take the effort to cook meals that could be prepared in fifteen or twenty minutes. A simple noodle or pasta dish and at times rice with dhal curry was the most I managed.

Yet, sometime during the first half of 2013 that changed. I can now cook. More importantly, I enjoy cooking.

The reason this change has been surprising to me and my family is that I have never enjoyed cooking before. I always felt it was a waste of time to spend time in the kitchen. I also never had the patience to go through a recipe, understand what seemed like a secret, complex code and make something. Fortunately for me, whenever I am at home, Amma’s excellent cooking and ownership of the kitchen spared me the need of venturing into that domain.

Apart from my dislike of cooking, I also had a mental block that I should not be in the kitchen. I remember as a teen, my father used to make a fuss that as a girl, I had not ever stepped into the kitchen and would not be able to make anything in an emergency. He would keep harping about the fact that he had been able to cook rice, dhal curry and a sambol at the age of eight. I would feel discriminated as he never said the same to my brother. So, I would dig in my heels and refuse to go anywhere near the kitchen for cooking. Luckily, my mother has always been liberal minded and anyway, preferred us to focus our energies on our studies and then our career. She just requested us, both my brother and I, to help out with grocery shopping which I happily undertook as my siblings and I took turns with it growing up.

However, over the last few years, I had been increasingly worried about Amma’s health. After returning home last year from some months abroad, I saw that she had become very frail. I felt that the fact that she does not eat proper meals, but rather snacks on a slice of toast or some instant noodles, was also a crucial factor in her weakening health. Amma’s excuse has always been that she has never been able to eat what she cooks. She says that after cooking and feeding the family, it feels as if she has eaten a full meal.

For Amma’s birthday last April, I felt I wanted to do something special. I decided to try my hand at making an apple crumble. As a friend had said that it was very easy to make and I love apple pies, I decided to make it. It didn’t turn out as I imagined it would but it was eatable and everyone at home was surprised. Amma particularly was quite proud of it. When my sisters heard about my attempt at making an apple pie, they started suggesting that perhaps I could think of making some food for Amma regularly to encourage her to eat better.

I gave it some thought and since I had just completed a consultancy assignment and was at home, in between work, I decided I would give it a try. The problem I had was deciding what to cook. Amma was anyway cooking complete Sri Lankan meals for us each day. There was no point in me trying my hand at making a curry when hers was the best. So, I decided to make my cooking attempt fun for me while making it interesting and tempting for my mother. I enjoy travelling and decided that while I was at home, I would look at travelling through food.

I scoured the net and depending on my mood, would select a nutritious, mostly heart healthy, diabetic friendly recipe from a different part of the world each time. From simpler, healthier Vietnamese style tofu noodle lettuce wraps and savoury vegetable pancakes, I soon progressed to making okra and chickpea tagine and mushroom and barley risotto. It didn’t necessarily mean that my food turned out well all the time but at least, they were eatable, flavourful and different.

Amma, while not having significantly improved her eating pattern, at least consumes a little of what I make and hopefully gets a slightly better nutritional balance. She is a very picky eater and I appreciate fully now the patience she must have had with us as kids to experiment and find what we preferred and to encourage us to eat balanced meals.

I still don’t enjoy spending much time in the kitchen and try to finish up in an hour, when I do go and make something. What I am quite proud of though is that looking at a recipe now feels like reading in a language I understand. I can now decode. More importantly, I am able to cook something that tempts my mother to try it out.

As I am sharing this post at The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday #32, I will share one of the recipes I tried out for my mother – this is a slightly adapted version of Eating Well’s mushroom and barley risotto.Cropped risotto

Mushroom and Barley Risotto

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 4 vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in 4 cups water
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup red grape juice, freshly squeezed and chilled
  • 3 cups spinach, chopped
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Chopped carrots and spinach, for garnish

Preparation:

  1. Mix the freshly blended red grape juice with vinegar and refrigerate a couple of hours before starting the cooking.
  2. Bring broth and water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer.
  3. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to release their juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add an eighth of the grape juice and simmer, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute more. Reduce heat to medium.
  4. Add 1/2 cup hot broth to the barley and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding the grape juice and hot broth by alternatively adding an eighth of the grape juice, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed, and then adding 1/2 cup hot broth. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, until the barley is tender and creamy but still somewhat firm, 35 to 45 minutes. (You might not use all the broth or you might need to add some of the water in reserve)
  5. Stir in spinach and cook, stirring, until it is wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in cheese, margarine and vinegar. Season with pepper.
  6. Garnish with a little chopped carrot and spinach and serve warm.

Source: Adapted from Eating Well

Not a book review: Waves

On the eve of the Sri Lankan New Year, I decided to schedule the kindle free book promotion of my short story collection – Waves, for these two days.

Waves

Waves is a short story collection of my early writing – most of the stories were written during my undergraduate years at Peradeniya university. It is a collection of 10 short stories exploring moments in peoples’ lives that causes different responses akin to the movement of waves.

Two of the short stories from this collection has been included in two anthologies: ‘The Gaze’ in Contemporary Short Stories of the SAARC region 2012 and The Cuckoo’ in Kaleidoscope 2: An anthology of Sri Lankan English Literature (2010).

As I was considering reprinting The First Step in 2010,  I decided to share the short story collection as well and self-published it. Again as in the case of  ‘The First Step,’ based on the feedback I received from readers of the first 100 copies of the books, I decided to make the collection available on Amazon for anyone who might be interested in reading the slim collection of 10 stories.

Having self-published the books, I did not consider marketing it or promoting it as I felt it was sufficient to make the books available online. However, I came across a blog that was primarily a book review site that I happened to like. On an impulse, I contacted the Indian blogger and Samarpita agreed to read and post her review on her site. After reading the collection, she connected me with some of her fellow book reviewing bloggers in India. Their reviews are available on Words’ Worth by Samarpita and Leo’s A Bookworm’s Musing.

Apart from that instance of soliciting a book review, I have not promoted the book. As Amazon does offer the option of holding a free book promotion, I decided I might as well make use of the promotion tool.

So, Waves will be freely available for downloading to your Kindle reader or your computer on April 13th and 14th (as amazon.com runs on Seattle Washington time, the promotion will be activated from Sri Lankan time 1p.m. on April 13th to 1p.m. on April 15th). I invite you to download the book during this promotion period and if you do, please do post a review on either Amazon or Goodreads.

Book details:

  • Title: Waves
  • Author: Ahila Thillainathan
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Self-published
  • ISBN-13: 978-9558535097
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc (July 19, 2012)

Not a book review: The First Step

The First Step evolved during the time I was mobility disabled following a road traffic accident on January 21, 2005. As soon as I was able to move the fingers on my right hand, my mother encouraged me to jot down whatever came to my mind. She knew I enjoyed writing and that it would turn out to be a cathartic experience for me. I started jotting down a few sentences on my first blog, View from my desk, which I had started just a month before my accident.

The_First_Step_Cover_for_KindleA couple of months before I planned to return to work, with the help of a walking aid, I realized I wanted to share my experience with others as a book or booklet. I had avoided people outside of my immediate family and had not wanted anyone to visit me during my recovering days. I knew many were concerned and had prayed for me. I had been touched by the messages received even if I had not been up to dealing with visits. I felt this was a way that I could share what I went through with those who had cared.

I also found that I was suddenly possessed by my writing bug. I had sudden clarity about how I wanted the book to flow and an overwhelming need to write it out without interruption. So, the weeks leading up to the return to work was not in preparation of resuming work but writing feverishly for hours each day, and drawing from my different blog posts wherever I felt they fitted into my story line. My family members gave me their opinion and comments during the editing process.

I self-published the book in July 2005 and printed limited copies that I sent out to my well-wishers as an expression of my thanks and acknowledgement for their kind thoughts. Several years later in 2010, I printed some more copies to raise some funds for an art morning at the Ceylon School for the deaf in Ratmalana.

Eventually I decided that even though this book was very much personal to me, I would like to share it with others who may have had similar experiences or would be interested in reading about my experience or thoughts. I did not want to have to print every few years, either with my own funds as I did before or through a traditional publisher, as I wanted the book to be easily available to anyone who might be interested in it. That led me to Amazon’s CreateSpace programme in 2012. The First Step is now available on Amazon on a print-on-demand basis and in their Kindle store.

The First Step can be freely downloaded today and tomorrow at the Amazon Kindle store as part of a book promotion.

Book details:

  • Title: The First Step
  • Author: Ahila Thillainathan
  • Paperback: 84
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 20, 2012)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1478253174
  • Sold at the Kindle Store by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc