It’s that time of the year finally – to reflect on the year gone by and ready ourselves for the new year ahead. But, as in the past, I find that there’s no perfect way to appropriately and completely describe the events of the past year. Words, in fact, seem inadequate to capture all those moments of joy, pain, triumphs, losses, and wins of the past year.
Because the truth is, there’s so much that we experience in a year. And yet, I’m sure you’d agree that there are always those one or two or three big moments that define the year for us. And from these, emerge that one big learning(s) that change our thinking, shape our personalities, or redefine our outlook in life. At least, that’s the hope, when we introspect.
For me, if there’s one thing that this year has taught me, it’s this: expect the unexpected and shed all preconceived notions. Because nothing is permanent. Nothing is routine. And there’s no such thing as an obvious or a predictable outcome/result.
For instance, all through this year, be it in our very own startup ecosystem, or in the business world, or in the international and national political arena, or even in Bollywood for that matter, there were far too many moments when we were caught unawares by the events that unfolded.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia lifted its age-old ban on women drivers in June, and Saudi women and their families celebrated this with their new licenses – a development some of them saw as sudden and unexpected, albeit positive. In Asia, we witnessed the thawing of the standoff between South and North Korea, as well as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s first meeting with US President Donald Trump – events we couldn’t have fathomed as possible when we started the year 2018.
With big corporations too, this year, we witnessed Facebook – a company that has so far been celebrated, lauded, and even envied for its swift rise to becoming a major tech giant –suddenly caught in the centre of an embarrassing data privacy scandal. We saw Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg having to testify at Capitol Hill before the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Facebook’s use of user data to target voters in the US presidential elections of 2016.
But it’s not businesses and corporations alone. We saw the unseating of established heroes too, even as new, less predictable ones emerged to take their spot in their stead.
The year also exposed the flaws of seemingly unquestionable businessmen and influencers, and their fall such as ex-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn. This year also revealed the human side of people we’ve accorded a God-like status to and the even more important revelation that this “human side” is acceptable and can even be endearing.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s many highs and lows (mainly the lows) is one example. Elon Musk, for all his brilliance and ingenuity, showed the world he was only human when he tweeted that he was poised to take Tesla private, starting a furore in the financial markets and costing him $20 million as SEC fine.
Musk showed us his human side later in interviews where he confessed to the physical and mental pressure he was under from working up to 120 hours a week to meet production targets for the Model 3 cars. He also opened up about having to take pills to help him sleep and called the year, the “most difficult and painful” of his career.
Source: CBS Minutes
Away from the business world, we mourned the sudden and unexpected death of much-loved chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain by apparent suicide – the same Anthony who just a few months earlier had said he was “happy in ways I didn’t think I ever would be.” So for many of us, even the people we envy and look up to have shown us that their reality may not be as enviable as it may seem.
Closer home too, during the recent state elections, the results from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh were a deafening cry of rural India’s discontent with the ruling party in the centre. The results were unmistakable proof of the tectonic shift in the way Indian voters behave, particularly in the speed and magnitude of their judgment of and reactions to the government’s policies.
In Bollywood too, as in Indian politics, the message was clear: the masses have evolved and their reactions can no longer be easily predicted based on the cast or the budget or even the plot of a film.
For example, Sriram Raghavan’s AndhaDhun, despite being a relatively low budget film with an unconventional plot and no “big” star cast, had a successful run at the box office and is being touted as one of the best films of 2018.
On the other hand, Yash Raj Films’ action adventure Thugs of Hindostan, which had everything AndhaDhun did not – including a megastar cast that featured the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan – failed to impress Indian audiences, despite being touted as one of the most expensive movies to have been made in Bollywood.
Indeed, if there’s an overriding message that I took away from all these events, it was this: shed all preconceived notions and expect the unexpected for nothing is permanent.
Even entrepreneurs, like you and me, who live and breathe our ventures need to remember that our venture may well be a major chapter in our lives, but it’s not the whole story. That everything we achieve and set out to achieve is transient.
So let us usher in 2019 with that sense of realisation that we’re all part of an impermanent reality – a thought that is at once realistic and optimistic, for it means we have it in us to challenge and change the status quo.
To quote the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh,
“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.”
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