Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Running – A Life Changer


Two months ago I had shared my experiences on becoming a runner and how running has changed my life. Running is just like life, it’s tough and you don’t want to always do it but when you do, its totally worth it. After the pain comes happiness both in life and running. 

Here's another write up on running by a running partner and friend...Anantha Rusum. I hope you enjoy it!

I started running in 2016. Prior to that, I was obese, and was living a stressful life for multiple reasons. Things hit rock bottom, when my father got hospitalised in 2015 May and from then on, his health went on a steady decline. He had to be hospitalised regularly. My husband and I had our platter full with a lot of things, and with two young children, it was becoming increasingly difficult for both of us to cope up with all the stress.                                


Things went downhill when my father passed away in 2016 January. I had lost both my parents within a span of 4 very short years. My stress levels shot up and were far too high to not have any consequences. I began suffering from anxiety attacks, gastric problems and chest pains. After consulting my doctor who advised a Tread Mill Test to check my heart, just 2 weeks after my dad passed away, I became an insomniac. Life was turning out to be a disaster, with things going wrong one after another. It was one of the worst phases in my life.

Feeling suffocated at home, I began seeking ways to escape. I ventured out alone and began going for small walks. I would walk in the mornings, afternoons with the hot sun bearing down on my head at 2’0 clock and nights just to take my mind off things. Less of a walk and more of an escape, I would wander around aimlessly, for at least an hour each time, 3 hours each day. 

Then, one day, I decided to pace up. Instead of a brisk walk, I opted to sprint intermittently. Gradually, this became a norm. Everyday morning, I would wake up by 5:30 AM and start sprinting for an hour. I did this for a few months, and things started taking effect. I was beginning to lose weight and could sleep properly. And most importantly, I seemed to be calming down. When I was running, there were no worries in my mind. And after the run, the head was much clearer. It was working out quite well. I ran alone for almost a year. I could see the results before me slowly taking shape.

In March this year, someone in our apartment complex WhatsApp group, put up a post, saying Captain Subhash Sharma, who is also a part of the FreeRunners group, is willing to coach ladies for running in the evening. As I mentioned earlier I had been running on my own without company or guidance.

Happy at the prospect of some training and company, I went and met Subhash to see what he had to say. There were 8-10 other ladies who were present. He first talked to us about the basics of running and its benefits. And then started us off with warm up exercises. I had been running for a year but these sure were not easy. After the warm ups came the run and then the cool down. 

The first 2 months were very trying. I started off running at my own pace, stopping intermittently and varied my pace based on my capacity. But running continuously needed a far greater effort and determination. Slowly and gradually, Subhash taught us to run 1 km nonstop.  I would run with a water bottle in my hands (my throat would dry up making me cough), and would go out of breath after the first kilometre. I was always the last one to finish the circuit, and was one of the first to be completely zapped out. But as time passed by, my body started cooperating. My first target was to complete two and a half kilometres nonstop. 

The varying exercises for each day, muscle strengthening, hill repeats, fartleks and on other days, a slow and steady run helped me to run better. Gradually, I got used to all the exercises. Albeit at a slower pace, I could then run around 3 Km nonstop.  And as of today, I am able to run 5 Km without stopping anywhere except for a minute pause with a ‘not so bad’ pace. I have lost nearly 14 Kgs. My health issues are more or less settled. I get much better sleep these days.  And am much more at peace. My energy levels have increased and I can contribute a lot more to my family, friends and work, than what I used to do before.

                               



 RUNNING IN A GROUP

Running alone was one thing, but running in a group is completely different. The group energy boosts up a lot of confidence. The person at a faster pace pulls up the person who is running slowly. The first one round is usually a warm up, where we all chatter quite a bit, and catch up on the happenings in our lives on a day-to-day basis. The second round is when we usually pace up. Then we do not talk, we just run. As we run, we hear our footsteps echoing. We like to match it so that they are in sync. We control our breathing, and we usually don’t want to be left alone, so the pace improves automatically. And when we finally finish our rounds, even though we are panting for breath, we are all rejuvenated.

Running has been a game changer in my life. Not that all my issues are still settled, but it helped me look at things in a better perspective. It helped me meet a lot of people with different outlooks. People have noticed the change in me and I have received lots of compliments, the best one from my mentor Subhash. While running in the Free Runners marathon, he being one of the volunteers handing out water bottles to the runners, handed one to me too. I had almost completed 4 KM and nodded a quick no to him. "Remember, just 6 months back you wouldn’t even run a single step without a water bottle," he said to my retreating back. He has been our inspiration and the pillar for our progress. All the women in our group are committed, they make an effort to take that one hour off their hectic daily schedule for themselves. For, it is worth it. 

Most women have to make a lot of adjustments in our life styles because of our families, our children and work. And in due course, somewhere down the line, we lose our focus on ourselves, especially our health issues. It is imperative that we take care of our physical and mental health. So, if you have not started, it is not too late.

Go out into the fresh air and take that one deep breath, go take that first step. Let go of all your worries and start running. Feel your breath. Celebrate the Woman you are. And prove your worth to yourself, your mind and your body – your two best companions in life. They need you to take care of them.



Saturday, 12 August 2017

Mediocrity Thy Name




I have never been a winner. I have had the distinct misfortune of never winning any medals, honours, awards or laurels in any form whatsoever.  It has also been to my not so great dissatisfaction that I have never ever stood first in anything, be it, school results, debate competitions, dance completions, sports competitions and so on and so forth.
                             
What I am trying to say here is that not being a champion at anything since childhood has not really bothered me so much that I was totally frustrated with my life until some years ago when I hit midlife.

                                          
Not that I became too exasperated or discouraged by my life or that I was so tired of my life that I was spurned into action to suddenly wake up from my slumber to do something so phenomenal that would make my dreams of being famous, wealthy and a high achiever come true(Don’t most of us dream of that?)
                       
              
I was sublimely satisfied with my above average, “a jack of all trades and master or should I say winner of none” status. At least I had done a lot …achieving what to be exact I still ponder in my free time which to be true to myself I have a lot of.
                          
                            
Have I done enough, have I contributed enough to this world, have I left a mark, has my “above average but not a winner personality” done its job, have I been able to prove that my existence has been of benefit to this world and my parent’s hard work has come to fruition? Have I been or am I still a good role model for my children? What have I really achieved? Have I been justifying my not being able to be unique and exceptional in my endeavours?

Is it only the winners and achievers who have actually done what they were put on Earth to do…learn, perform, succeed, invent, discover, theorise, create, build, conceive, craft, fashion?
                                           
                                    
           
Well to be honest I discover that I have learnt…what I could without putting in too much effort, performed… at being a student, a dancer, an actor, wife, mother, homemaker, employee… again at mediocre levels, succeeded…at what really I wonder, invented…maybe a few dishes, nothing the world can thank me for, discovered…to my disadvantage that there was so much I could do but had not done, theorised…sorry guys, again nothing I could write a paper about, created…does creating a loving home for your family count, built…no Taj Mahal, conceived…2 beautiful children, a great achievement I dare say for me at least.
                                         
Is it because I am wont to get out of my comfort zone and actually strive to be the best at whatever I do? Or is it because of how life is? Or is it because I, like most of the population have inadequate time, dedication, imagination and energy, to actually become extraordinary at more than one thing, if anything at all.

So, what do mediocre achievers like me have to show for themselves? Nothing much I glean. This brings me to the point that aren’t we all, for the most part, average people. The huge majority of us will never be truly unique at, well, anything.

Is it ok to be a mediocre person? Which leads to an important point: that mediocrity, as a goal is not good. But mediocrity, as a result, is OK. Because being mediocre is not just a degree or measure of performance, it's an attitude, choice and approach to life. It's a choice to not do your best, to not risk, to not think out of the box, to not work hard and push yourself, to not learn, to not attempt, to not struggle or endeavour, to not pursue and to not discover.
                                     
So, in my midlife as I ponder over my life choices, I learn that I have chosen mostly to not give my best, not share the full measure of my gifts and talents, and maybe just maybe chosen to shun opportunities for personal growth and development and chosen to hold back my potential contribution to the world in which we live.
                                           
I have been content with my above average performance believing that it was the best I could do. And now as I finish writing this I realise I have so much to give to the world and all I need to do to make sure of that is to get off my back and begin…begin a new journey of striving to be a winner, striving to do my best, striving to be not mediocre, striving to work to my full potential, striving to stop justifying my shortcomings, striving to evolve.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
                   





Saturday, 15 July 2017

Run Like the Wind



I have always shared a love and hate relationship with my body. My weight has gone up and down since I was a child just like a roller coaster ride which I hate as much as I hate my weight issues.

I have abused my body over the years by never giving it the respect it deserves. I have gorged on food as if there was no tomorrow, eating being my hobby since the day I realised that food could be the answer to not only my physical but also my emotional hunger. I did not believe in working out. Isn’t there “work” involved? Eventually I just gave up…healthy food and exercise were just not my cup of tea. Wasn’t life about enjoying? And enjoyment for me constituted of being a couch potato bingeing on TV and food.

Meanwhile here was my husband who after joining a runners group had become a running enthusiast. He had lost 8 kilos in one month after he began running and looked fit as a fiddle. As he extolled the many virtues of running to me every day I ignored what he had to say blindingly oblivious to the fact that  I was running too, running away from the benefits of exercise and eating healthy and most importantly I was running away from myself. 

I was running away and hiding not willing to go through the pain that is involved in achieving a healthy body and mind.  Life was not what and where I wanted it to be and that I was doing nothing to make it better was making my life and health both physical and mental, worse than ever before. I was dangerously close to a breakdown.

It was only when I saw the happy place my husband was in that I decided it was time to stop running away from myself and start running literally. I joined the runners group in my building complex who were ironically being trained by my husband, and though my stamina was as bad as my body and mental state were it was time to stick around and run for the sake of a better me.

Well for once I persevered and this time around ran as if my life depended on it. Truthfully speaking my life did depend on it and I have been running every day for the last 4 months now. 4 months is nothing you would say but in just such a short span of time everything has changed.

I have lost weight, and lost a lot of my negativity and the baggage I had been carrying for far too long. Running keeps depression and anxiety at bay and takes you to a happier and healthier place. The pain and struggle of running has taught me to never shy of the pain and struggles of life. Running has taught me to never run away from the troubles and travails of daily life but to face them head on.



Running has changed my life, my husband’s life and the life of all the others who run with us. 

Running I read somewhere is just like life, it’s tough and you don’t want to always do it but when you do its totally worth it. After the pain comes happiness both in life and running.

The best part about running is the simplicity of it. As you put one foot in front of the other you forget everything…all you want to do is reach your goal. And the high you get being out in fresh air beats being in a fancy gym any time of the day.  

So if your aim is to become fit and be happy running is the way to achieve it. Go ahead run…it’s empowering and will boost your self-esteem and improve the quality of your life. Buying expensive brands, clothes, the newest phone, being a social butterfly will boost your self-esteem to an extent but they are all shallow means and won’t last too long.


So run like the wind, do something different, be persistent, push yourself to be better, and stop making excuses.


Running has changed my life it can change yours too! Get out there today…

Monday, 6 February 2017

Life is a bitch!

“He who binds to himself a joy, Does the winged life destroy.

He who kisses the joy as it flies, Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
William Blake


Or is it? For the last some years, life has been a bitch to me. It feels like nothing is going my way and every moment, every second feels like a struggle.  Why does it feel that I am being deceived, cheated and fooled by life?

Why does it feel that I have lost my laughter, the mirth I found that life had to offer? Why am I moaning and grousing about what and how my life is?

Or at least that’s my perspective. Is life really a bitch?

As I walked back from the gym today as usual complaining to God about how he is so unfair to me, not helping me in my quest to lose weight once again (this would be the third time that I have gained weight to unhealthy levels) calling life a bitch, a small voice in my head spoke up…who is the real bitch here? If you use me and abuse me and have totally unreal expectations from me, and can’t handle me, can it work?

And then it dawned on me, isn’t it also true that life treats you the way you treat it?
For two years I ate like the world was coming to an end, didn’t exercise either my body or my brains, held really unrealistic expectations from God, life and people, didn’t look after myself, didn’t learn any lessons and didn’t like the person who was staring back at me in the mirror. So, well really who is the bitch here?

I treated life like a bitch and don’t they say you get what you give! I blamed everything and everyone for what was happening to me except myself. Jonathan R. Wachtel says that “Your relationship with everyone and everything around you is a reflection of your relationship with yourself,” and no doubt that goes without saying about ‘our relationship with our life”.

Everything we are and where we stand today with respect to our families, our work life, our friends, our society is all a replica of how we treated life. I didn’t treat it well for some time and I see it now reciprocating.

My unhealthy and impractical habits, choices, expectations be it from people, friends and family or life and decisions is why I see my life as a bitch and not the other way around. If I want to find myself again, my smile, my laughter and get back to what I was I need to begin treating myself with love and care. I will have to identify what beliefs and outlooks and actions I have been concentrating on and to change those that have harmed me.

I have to stop mistreating myself, my life and see it to be what it’s supposed to be seen as,  a beautiful life filled with love from my family, other people who make my life worth living, and situations and events that depict the marvel that is life.
If all I can say to myself about life is that “life is a bitch” I really need to look inwards and change myself. I have to realise that it’s only me who is making me feel it so. I have to choose what I want from life and how I want to experience it.

Life can be a joy that I need to catch hold of by catching hold of myself. Life is not a bitch until and unless you treat it like one.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Published Author! Who Me?


There’s a very clich├ęd saying that computer engineers are all Geeks and perhaps that was always true in my case. I left a lucrative career in IT to become a full time mom and along the way I wrote a book. My name is Sapna Bhog and this is a slice of my journey.

My love for books started when I was introduced to Enid Blyton at age 9. And since then there has been no turning back. Be it racy thrillers to urban fantasy to super natural to simple romances and many young adult books, I read them all. But I think my ‘all time go to’ books have been romances. They are my happy books. I totally enjoy the happy ever after at the end of such books. They are my stress busters. I was always the type of girl in college who had M&B’s in her bag at any given time. Most of the time I used to face so much flak from friends when they heard that I read romances. “Oh you read those M&B types”, “It’s all fantasy, how can you tolerate them?”, etc, etc. So you can imagine my apprehension when I started writing a romance.


To be honest writing wasn’t a planned endeavour from my side. It just happened. It’s really hard to explain because one day I just woke up with the idea of the book and it took off from there. The characters of my book came fully formed in my head and it’s like they kept talking in my head until I decided to sit in front of a laptop and started typing.

It took me almost a year to get the story in shape and I think I surprised myself when I read the whole story for the first time. My book, something that I had written, actually made sense. That feeling was undeniably euphoric. I just couldn’t believe it.

I sent the finished book to a few close girlfriends to read it and give their opinion and they all encouraged me to publish it. I think writing the book was the easier part of this journey. Finding a publisher was the most challenging.

I researched on the net on various publishers and their requirements for submission of finished manuscripts. Every publisher has a different set of requirements for submission and so many times you just never get a response back on your submission.

But the major problem as I saw it was that romance as a genre is not that big among Indian publishers. If you compare to the West there are publishers whose biggest business comes from selling romance books. But unfortunately that’s not the case here. I tried, unsuccessfully to find a publisher interested in my book and I didn’t find any takers.The book then went into a hard drive on my laptop and remained there for two years or more.

In 2014 I became friends with Nirja Sharma who was from the publishing world and already had tons of experience in publishing. She read my book and loved it and decided to help me find a publisher through her various contact. She tried but she wasn’t successful either. At this point she decided to fulfill her own dream of becoming a publisher and launched Aarahan Publishers and she wanted to print my book as the first book of her publishing house. We faced several challenges together right from struggling to get ISBN numbers, getting the book edited and re-edited so many times till we both were satisfied, designing the cover page and finally launching the book in November 2016.

It took us a year but now my book “Take a Chance on Me” is out there available on Amazon in both paper-back and kindle versions and is available on select crossword stores across the country.
I had asked Nirja so many times before we got the book printed if she was sure about this and she always replied her is usual calm manner than she had full faith in my story and my writing and she wanted everyone else to also read it and love it as she had.

Today I am happy to receive lots of positive reviews on whoever has read my book and I am working towards the second novel in this series, which is already sold to Aarahan Publishers to print in 2017.




Saturday, 31 December 2016

Taking a Chance on Me



Knowing that I was in the publishing industry a friend approached me with her novel. It had been three years since she had written the book but didn’t know what to do as far as getting it published was concerned.

She asked me to first read and give my opinion as a professional. I did that and I loved her proof. I decided to help her get it published but all my contacts failed and none of the publishers wanted to come forward with a new author. They needed established authors who could bring in the money for them.

Not to give up on good talent, I then decided to publish it myself. A tough task indeed. I had no idea about what it takes to become an entrepreneur.  I was also worried if I had what it takes to be an entrepreneur. But I read somewhere that all it takes to begin is the desire and the initiative. And whoever wrote it was right. I had two goals, one to ensure that my friend Sapna Bhog’s words and story was read and the other was to do it myself.

                                  

I took a chance on Sapna’s book “Take a Chance on Me” and decided to take control of both our entrepreneurial destinies. Many hurdles and impediments later which mostly involved obtaining the ISBN from the authorities, getting rid of all the errors in the book and making it almost perfect, and then printing it in paperback and creating an ebook, I was at last a publisher. Of course the day I got my company AARAHAN PUBLISHERS (the name derived from my children's names Aaryam and Ahan) registered under the Shop Act was also a big day and now I truly was an entrepreneur on paper and most importantly in reality. A proud moment indeed.


My journey as a publisher began the day “Take a Chance on Me” by Sapna Bhog was launched amidst much fanfare among family and friends. The book has been well received and has been loved by all lovers of romance. It has been quite a journey becoming a publisher. Well, I finally did it and what a book it is. An astounding success for the young and budding author.




I have a hard road ahead. This one book was just a start... more books, more authors, more stories, humour, tragedy, love, loss, food, portraying life in general in its many hues and shades and maybe just maybe reaching out for the stars is how I see my journey ahead.  

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Investments and Us

My friend an investment specialist bowing to my entreaties has become a guest blogger on my blog to give some special investment advice...


Just the other day I was trying to help a friend with a serious medical condition he was diagnosed with. I was entrusted the job of finding a good but “decently priced” hospital for him. Just to get things cleared up, I asked his wife if he was medically insured. Being self employed, obviously, he had no company paid medical benefits to fall back upon. Fortunately, his wife knew that he had taken a medical insurance policy. When I asked how much medical insurance cover he had, she said he had a cover of Rs.2 lakhs. Seeing the look on my face, she thought maybe she was wrong and then corrected herself and said, “No, sorry, it’s 5 lakhs.” Clearly, she didn’t know how much it was. I asked her to show me the policy and she didn’t know where it was kept. With a figure between Rs.2 and 5 lakhs to work on, I was confused which hospital I should choose. Ultimately when she finally found it, it was neither of them. He was covered for Rs.3 lakhs.

My question is - how many of the ladies here have any knowledge of their husbands’ investments, his life insurance policies, his medical insurance etc etc? If not, one should take stock of it today itself. While we always hope for the best but one must be prepared for the worst. Please understand that, God forbid, if he’s unwell you will have to take charge of the situation. So, starting today, start taking interest in the financial future of the family as well.

By now you must be thinking, who I am. Well, to be short and precise, my name is Vikas Sharma and I’m a financial consultant. To give you a longer introduction, I was born to an army officer in the corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME). Being the son of an engineer, like all children, my mindset too was the same that I also want to do what my father did i.e. become an engineer. So, I chose science subjects in my XI and XII. That was my biggest mistake. I wasn’t made for science and I couldn’t understand it one bit. And obviously, couldn’t qualify for any of the good engineering colleges. But good sense prevailed and I didn’t make it a bigger mistake by going into one of the second rung colleges. I did hotel management (it was a diploma back then) instead, worked for three years in a hotel and did my graduation by correspondence. B. Com this time. I wasted 7 years of my life for that one mistake.

Doing my B. Com was the beginning of life for me. Soon after that I went to Australia to pursue my MBA in finance. And when I did that and was studying the subject of investments, and portfolio management, and security analysis, I realized that this is what I was made for. I finished my MBA and came back to India and started my own financial consultancy business. It’s been 17 years now and I still love it. We help people plan out their financial future, suggest them a model portfolio of asset classes based on their life stage and their risk appetite.

Nirja, my friend, asked me to contribute to her blog by writing some articles for the readers of her blogs and I readily agreed. Though, I have my own blog too at http://www.sharma.es but that caters to an audience which is regularly investing in shares. Here I would be sharing my little knowledge in the form of simple, easy to understand articles. Meanwhile, I would also like to encourage you to post any questions in the comments that you might want me to elaborate on and I’d be happy to answer them. In case of more personal queries you can mail me at vikas@sharma.es.

Thank you, Nirja, for giving me an opportunity to write for your blog.
  
So, after I have introduced myself, it comes to how this blog will help you? Well, I would say, it is what you can take from it rather than what I can give. I believe that financial plans are like clothes. Like the same size of clothes doesn’t fit all, similarly, the same financial plan doesn’t fit all. It has to be tailor-made from individual to individual depending upon various factors. However, to keep this post general, I would just like to focus on a few thumb rules that I usually follow when I make a financial plan for anybody.

But before I can go into the details and the “nitty-gritties” of investments, I would like to classify investments as the following:
(a)    Secure investments: By secure, I mean ones who invest only in sovereign bonds like the RBI bonds, the Provident Fund etc. , which give you a very low rate of interest but give you a fixed rate of return, usually tax-free.
(b)   Safe investments: Are those which fetch you a decent rate of return but are still fixed and are considered safe investments like investments in the money markets, the bank fixed deposits etc. Such investments are usually taxable.
(c)    Medium risk investments: In such investments you get a higher rate of interest but are again taxable, such as company fixed deposits, and bonds issued by companies.
(d)   Risky investments: People who invest in the US dollar and precious metals like gold and silver are called risk takers, even though these investments are considered to be the safe havens for people who invest. They give you a higher rate of return, but the profits are again taxed.
(e)   Very risky investments: Investments in properties, in stocks, in equity linked mutual funds “can” give you phenomenal returns but are considered to be very risky as you can even depreciate your capital by investing in such products.

But in all of these, one should remember, that the riskier an investment is, the higher returns it can generate. But it’s not as easy as picking out what an investor needs, high returns or low risk? It has to maintain a fine balance between preservation of capital and high returns. Now, coming back to the thumb rules, it all comes down to calculating how risk averse an investor is. And it all boils down to how risk averse an investor is, or can be, which can depend on various factors:

  1. Individual preferences: It depends on how much risk a person is willing to take. What is of more importance to him? Higher returns or preservation of capital? Usually, my experience tells me that old people, and housewives value security more and don’t bother about the returns while younger people, especially DINKs (Double Income No Kids), don’t mind taking an extra amount of risk, because it can fetch them higher returns.
.  2.  Age bracket a person is in: I generally feel that not all your investments should be low risk or high risk but again it is a fine mix of both. And it usually depends on the age bracket a person is in. My thumb rule is that (100 minus the age) is the percentage that one can afford to invest in risky assets. Thus, a person who’s 30 years old must invest (100-30=) 70% of his money in risky assets and only 30% in low risk assets.
   3.  Family commitments and responsibilities: As I said, it’s not as easy as just seeing the age and applying the thumb rule. A 50 year old unmarried man with no family responsibilities can afford to take a lot more risk than a 50 year old man with four children who are yet to be married.

Anyway, there is a lot more to know and lies outside the scope of the article. As time goes by we’ll learn everything in greater detail but for now if anybody has any questions, you could just forward them to vikas@sharma.es or post your question in the comments section.

This series on the blog is designed to make the ladies and the housewives readers a lot more finance savvy and will help them take informed decisions and make them more financially independent.