Are you overworked? Stressed? Worried about money, health, family, your job?
Instead of running from the chaos, what if the answer was to embrace it?
Bob Miglani is a senior director at a Fortune 50 company in New York City. He came to the US from India in 1979, and grew up running his family’s Dairy Queen business. He is the author of two books: Embrace the Chaos: How India Taught Me to Stop Overthinking and Start Living and Treat Your Customers.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about his journey from “overwhelmed” to “embracing the chaos.”
The very first chapter of Embrace the Chaos: How India Taught Me to Stop Overthinking and Start Living starts with a powerful statement: “You cannot control the chaos. You can control you.” A business trip back to India taught you this in a fresh way. What’s the story of how chaos in India influenced this book?
There was a period of my life where I was stuck. With so much uncertainty in my job, career, unpredictability of life and the speed of it all made me freeze. I looked to the future, and every path in front of me looked worse than the other.
India is full of uncertainty and unpredictability. Go to a business meeting, travel on the dilapidated roads or visit a tourist destination and things have a way of going wrong. It’s easy to find yourself in a place where you have no control and everything seems to be falling apart.
There were a few times that this occurred to me, which I talk about in my book. It was after these events that I came to this profound realization that so much of our stress and anxiety about the future rests on this perceived notion that we have control over everything. But the truth is that we don’t. We can’t control our customers, our bosses or our colleagues. I have a tough enough time trying to control my kids; so to think that I can possibly control all these other aspects of life is fruitless.
We should stop trying to control those things because that’s what causes us stress and worry about the future. Instead, we should try to control ourselves – our thoughts and our actions. Taking action and moving forward in life gives us that certainty. That’s what I learned from India, where I met so many others who were working, engaging and living fully.
Usually we do everything in our power to create a planned, organized life. And yet life doesn’t work that way. Accepting and adapting to circumstances beyond our control is another area you explore in your book. How do you develop that mindset?
When things don’t go according to plan is often the time when we grow the most because we rediscover the resiliency that we have deep inside of ourselves. Understanding that for true growth to happen in our business, in our relationships and in our lives, we have to let go of our notion of a perfect plan. We have to shift our thinking and our own skills rather than direct attention to the problem that might have occurred.
Learning to develop that mindset isn’t easy, but it is possible. One way to cultivate acceptance is to put ourselves in challenging situations, either by setting hard-to-reach goals or taking on tough assignments or projects. What this does is force us to realize that our actions are what matters, what we did when we faced uncertainty, not that we fought the change but how we adapted to the change.
Would you share one of the stories from your book? I immediately think about you catching the bus with your cousin, Vivek. What did that teach you?
I was in India with my cousin Vivek, and I had asked him to take me on a typical bus that he takes to work because I wanted to do what the locals do: take a bus to work. On my insistence, he agreed.
While we were waiting for the bus, I heard him say, ”OK. Start running.” I looked over to my right and saw this completely full bus barreling down the dirt road. Passengers were hanging to the sides of the bus using their fingernails and sometimes parts of the arms inside the window. The bus driver had no intention of stopping as there was simply no room. So what people do is to run along and somehow wedge themselves into the huge pile on the bus.
There’s no way I was getting on that bus, I thought. It was just too full. There had to be a bus that was less full; so I’d wait for the next one.
The second bus came and it too was brimming to the top with people, and I started thinking these negative thoughts: You’ll get hurt. It’s just too full. Wait for the next one. And so on.
The second bus went by without me on it because I was overthinking what could happen if I tried to catch that insanely crowded bus.
At that point, I was frustrated with myself, and my cousin wanted us to leave and take a taxi instead. I didn’t want to give up so easily but was also very afraid of getting hurt. I also thought there would be a bus that was less full.
Finally, the third bus arrived and it was the same scene: lots of people filling the bus with some scrambling to hold on to the windows on the side. As it approached, my mind started to go into the default mode of overthinking the negative, holding me back from running and trying to get on. At that point, I became angry with myself for not being able to do what others were doing: running and somehow getting on an overcrowded bus.
I wanted to silence the self-doubt in my head and started taking steps forward, which turned into a slight jogging pace. I found myself running and was able to find a small spot where I jumped and caught a small area to stand wedged between some other people. As soon as I exhaled, I realized that my hold was slipping but felt the hand of another helping me back onto the bus. Finally, I had caught the bus.
The lesson for me in that story is that so many times in our lives, we wait for the perfect moment, the perfect time, the ideal job or the perfect relationship or career or business. What I realized that day is that there is no perfect bus, no perfect career, job, business or relationship. And if we wait for perfection, we will get nowhere in life. The key is to see something coming your way and to stop overthinking and start running and having faith that when you do fall, someone will help you get on the bus, once you take action.
Modern life is full of stress, anxiety, crossing off “to do” items and running to the next event. We are worried about job security, finances, health, our family. What techniques, to paraphrase the subtitle of the book, help you stop worrying and start living?
The key to stop worrying for me has been to redirect those often useless thoughts to my efforts toward pursuing a goal. When I am fully engaged in meaningful action trying to achieve a specific and clear goal, the worries melt away. Replacing thoughts of tomorrow with actions of today is a powerful way to start living.
You have experience working as an entrepreneur with your family, and you now work in a large corporate setting. If I were interviewing you for a job in your division, or in your family’s business, would you look for someone able to embrace chaos?
What’s really important today is to have skills and traits that are non-linear. What I mean is to have the ability to navigate an up and down path full of curves. The ability to drop your best laid plans when they don’t work, to shift your attitude when you’re down and to be able to jump into a problem at a moment’s notice without any resources. The key for the jobs of the future is to be able to move forward despite the storm that might come at you.
If you could go back and visit the 20-year-old Bob, what advice would you share?
My advice to my younger self would be: Take more chances, more often and have more fun while doing it. Because that’s where passion comes from: to jump in and do something memorable.
You say that joy and happiness often come from doing for others. Today it seems we are living in a me-first society. How do you encourage others to learn the joy of giving back?
It’s not just about giving back to others. Happiness and joy are often the fruit of our effort at building something, contributing to something or helping someone else. By connecting what we do each day to how it contributes to someone else’s life, we gain a reason that compels us to do better and keeps us moving forward despite the roadblocks. When we have a person we’re serving, we can get through anything.
I used to think that when I’ve made it, I’ll give back. But that day might never come because we’re always playing catchup. The truth is that we have to find ways to serve a cause or a purpose that is meaningful, where we give of ourselves each day, not just in the Fridays of our retirement, but on the Mondays and Tuesdays of our lifetime.Embrace the Chaos: How India Taught Me to Stop Overthinking and Start Living