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.