My thoughts and experiences about the nuances and hazards of dealing with money

Of all the factors that has divided and fragmented society, money has risen to top that list. Now money is not the same as wealth. It is commonly said that someone is wealthy and prosperous. Wealthy denotes someone who possesses wealth but there is no similar word to someone who possesses money. It is never mentioned as rich and prosperous and there is a reason to it. Wealth adds value to our lives in many different forms and that is how we become prosperous. Money only helps us to buy things and every one of those things are perishable. This is why money does not add value to our lives which in turn never makes our lives prosperous.

Back in 2008 when it was supposedly my “peak age” for marriage, my parents wanted me to buy an apartment in Bangalore where I was working at that time. I was aghast. There was no point in buying an apartment under the assumption that my marriage was going to happen. Then there was the demon of the housing loan to reckon with. I am bemused by how people queue up to take housing loans to buy apartments and houses, especially in burgeoning cities like Bangalore and in exhausted cities like Mumbai. Now let’s say I take up a housing loan for 20 years. I am effectively committing myself to paying back the EMIs every month without a break for 20 years. And how can I be so sure that I am going to be alive and healthy for the next 20 years? The funny part is, people look to reducing the monthly EMI amount by extending loan repayment period. Banks are all the more happy because they know they will end up getting back more money. The sinister thought behind it is, the longer the repayment period, the less likely it is of a proper full repayment which means when borrowers default, banks can easily take over the properties. The ideal way of repayment is to pay almost double of monthly EMIs and close the loan as quickly as possible. The advantage here is, even if we default on payments for a few months, banks will not proceed with any sort of action. But the catch here is, if we try to close off a loan faster, we have to pay some extra money as penalty on foreclosure. This is the best indicator that banks are more interested in what the borrowers have given as security to the bank than the money they have lent.

In cities, parking space for cars are available only in apartment buildings. This means to own a car, we need an apartment that costs may be 5-10 times or even more that of the car. This is how money lures us in into it’s honey trap. The education system trains us to become employees in the corporate world. Then everything that is associated with money takes over our lives. Then social status comes into the picture and social status rises when we start “owning” things. This perception pushes our needs to ridiculously high levels. Own a house, own a car, the list goes on and we embark on our Sindbad journey in the pursuit of more and more money, with little realization that we are being turned into money churning machines. We are simply working hard and enslaving ourselves to the banks to hold on to the things we have bought with money. Add to this the fact that everything we have bought is perishable and may need to be replaced anytime means even more money required.

Money never makes us prosperous because it does not allow us to add value to our lives and without adding value to our own lives, we cannot add value to other’s lives. How Antilla, the mansion of India’s business tycoon Anil Ambani stands out in the extremely crowded and tough living conditions of Mumbai is the shining example. Prosperity reflects on us only when our surroundings are also prosperous. Money keeps us locked to the extent that we actually stop noticing the value of everything else in the world. I was deep in my search for employment in 2013 after completing my MBA when my dad went down with a cardiac arrest. Because he is physically very strong, the experience did not shake him even though he had reached the brink of death. But taking the advice of reducing salt intake too seriously, he literally stopped taking salt. After a few days I noticed strange changes in his mannerism and behavior. On a Sunday evening I insisted and dragged the doctor into the hospital for dad’s check up and that was when we found out that his sodium level was fast declining and he would have had possibly gone into a coma in the next couple of days.

Now what if I had been employed at that time? First of all I would have had been working in a city away from my parents. My mom would have had never noticed the changes I saw in dad. He would have had most likely ended up in coma and I would have had spent almost all the money I was earning on his treatment and my travel. It was a massive learning curve. My keen sense and better understanding of human anatomy made sure I did not have to spend money when I was not earning. If there is a way to earn money there will always be ways to spend the money as well. We can never hold on to money. In a place like India with ever rising inflation and decreasing value of money, the concept of “owning” a house, having a “decent” bank balance and living a “retired” life has taken the biggest hit. We have evolved into a situation similar to that of animals and birds in the wild. They have to seek out their food each and every day regardless of all difficult situations or they will die. If they stop trying they will die. We have also reached that critical state where we have to find ways to earn money till we die. Ironically, as per the Bible, when the “Gods” created us, we were created as beings that were meant to lord over the animals and not live like them.

Now here is what I have learnt through these experiences. First of all, we need to find our balance with nature again. No living being has the ability to destroy nature for it’s own needs except us. We cannot cut the same branch of the tree we are sitting on. The branch will take us on it’s way down. More money is alarmingly proportionate to more destruction of nature now. Bangalore’s geography is dotted with numerous lakes. Almost all the small lakes have been covered up for construction and many of the bigger lakes are being openly used to drain human waste. Then people keep complaining about lack of drinking water. Why? Bangalore has been taken over by the migrant community from all over India who come in search of jobs in the IT industry. Now these people are in Bangalore to make a living and have no time to understand and solve environmental issues of the city. The result is, as per reports, Bangalore is set to become the first unlivable city in India very soon. When we make nature unstable for our needs, nature will take course corrective action to bring back it’s stability and the consequences can be disastrous as we found out with the recent floods in Kerala. More people move into cities like Bangalore every year, creating more need for living spaces and water further depleting the city’s already stretched and dwindling natural resources. We have to stop our war with nature because we can never win it and will only lead to our own destruction.

It is funny how so much is spoken about finding work-life balance without any proper understanding of it. We wake up in the morning at a particular time so that we can finish n number of chores and activities and leave for work at a particular time so that we can reach our work place at a particular time. In the night, we sleep at a particular time so that we can wake up at a particular time next morning. So essentially when we become corporate employees, the corporate takes possession of our lives and time. Our entire 24 hours gets sucked up into our jobs and we get paid only for 8 hours. The balance we need to find is not in work and life but in our need for money. If we learn to find contentment in what we have and look at our needs sensibly, our need for money will decrease considerably. This, in turn, will free our time and energy and help us to focus on creating value in our lives. IT industry in India is notorious for the fact that as employees gain more experience their value decreases. Plenty of IT professionals have become stagnant in their jobs or have lost jobs and are not able to find employment again because they simply do not know anything else to do and did not consider learning and mastering new skills.

It no longer makes sense to “own” anything. This has given rise to business opportunities like renting cars, bikes and even household items. The amount we spend on renting a house or apartment will invariably match up to the amount we spend on maintaining our own. Back in 2008, a colleague in the Netherlands was refusing to own a car because of traffic and parking space issues. Our population has only increased in 10 years. From owning a house the challenge has shifted to living in a decent neighborhood with the availability of drinking water and proximity to essential outlets and services. But paramount now is to not get stuck in a single source of income. Develop skills that would open up potential opportunities for several streams of money. Chasing money should be just like how our body reduces fat when we start working out. Our body instinctively knows how much fat we need based on our daily requirements and burns only what it understands is excess fat. Similarly, if we have a fine understanding of how to simplify our life, we will automatically seek only the money we need to live that life.

I never chase money because money destroys human values and relationships and maroons us in our own little islands. Money clouds our judgement and makes us take wrong decisions. I make sure not to judge anyone in terms of money. It only takes an hour of madness in the stock market for a millionaire to become a pauper. Not having to focus on the money I was earning was what helped me focus on my dad and save him. I seek skill development, self improvement and building good relationships with people. Money, wealth, prosperity, everything will come but there is one question that always keeps bothering me. When all of it comes, will I be ready to use it in the best possible ways? This is what keeps me on my toes and always alert to every potential opportunity. Understanding the nuances of money and it’s potential hazards is the only way to not get enslaved to it.


Hiring for the right fit

Over the years, one of the things I have watched with a lot of interest about the corporate world is how people get hired. Hiring people is an extremely fascinating job and I have spent time with people in HR teams to understand what goes on behind the scene. But like other aspects of the corporate, HR activities have also been automated and become process oriented, with the result that rather than making it easier for the right people to get into the right jobs, finding the “right fit” for a job has become more complex.

Resumes are now run through automated software to search for keywords in the resumes that match the ones in the job description. I am not able to wrap my brains around it. Are companies hiring people or robots? All of us evolve continuously in life and the work place plays a very important role in that evolution in our lives. Who we are today is not who we were when we started our careers. Our personal lives also play a major role in determining how we mature in our professional lives. Describing ourselves completely in our resume is impossible because we are all unique from one another and that is how we have been created. We can only highlight what we have done in our past and present jobs in our resumes, but experience and knowledge we have gained from the jobs can never be written about. Most interviews are conducted based on what is in the resumes rather than how the candidates can add value to jobs they are being considered for. Even though interviews give companies the opportunity to understand candidates better, it is still hard to comprehend someone’s ability to adapt to new challenges and the desire to keep learning.

What we are seeing now is organizations growing irrespective of whether all their employees are also growing as well. This is simply not right. Bose is a company that is not registered in the stock markets and they pump back 60% of their revenue into research and development, which basically means back into their employees. We can now see how Bose has become a market leader. All businesses are by and for the people, so everything that is attributed to the organizations should also be applicable to the employees. If a company becomes market leaders because of more efficient management, it’s employees should also become more efficient. Employees should be motivated to improve their working standards and have the passion to grow. For an organization to stand out and be competitive, it’s the people should be in that mindset first. Throughout our academic lives, we compete with our classmates/batch mates for some reason or the other which motivates and drives us to perform better. For most people, this competitive spirit dies off once the stress of life and work engulfs them and for the rest, it becomes a matter of one-upmanship and usurping the position of someone else in the companies they are working. Neither contributes towards the growth of the employees and the growth of the organization.

People are trying out different things in the name of maintaining work-life balance. But again, planning a trip during the weekend keeps us excited through the week but the thought of going back to office and the back to the same old life makes the return journey dreary. Now all businesses are in a stage where cost is the primary driving factor and this is putting more pressure on employees to perform or perish. All of us are innately talented in one way or the other, be it in arts or sports or in something else. Most of us never find this within ourselves, because we are always busy with academics, work, responsibilities, etc. Increasing number of people are trying their hand at different things outside their work place, like taking up sporting activities or trying their hands at music, theater or some other art form. But this is mostly to beat work pressure rather than to excel in it. If people start taking up activities with the objective of competing and excelling, it could put a completely different spin to the organization’s overall efficiency. People will have an outlet to release pent up energy and they will carry the need to excel into their work place as well. This is why companies should promote and start hiring people who are doing productive activities outside office. Top colleges give admissions to students not only based on their academic skills but also on what else they are excelling in. In one way, this is an indicator of how effectively we manage ourselves and our time, implying that they are checking our leadership capabilities and our ability to handle multiple responsibilities together and excel in them. In short, they are looking for what they call as “well rounded resumes”. This is what companies need to do as well to find the “right fit” for the jobs they have.

Something that puzzles me is the fact that most companies give provision for candidates to upload their resumes on their website. The objective is to inform candidates when suitable opportunities come up. I have tried searching for jobs this way as well but I have never understood the objective. If I, as a candidate is trying for jobs in a company, I must be having a reason for it. Either the company is into a business which I am or have been working in or the company must be having a business unit where I can fit myself in. So I would do basic research about the company before uploading my resume into their website. But when I am doing this, I feel more like a robot than a human because everything is automated and I don’t get the human touch. What I believe will truly work well here is, I should be able to schedule an informational interview with someone in the company I am aspiring to work for. This will give me the opportunity to highlight my skills and showcase my objective and passion for working for the company in the role I am seeking. This will also help companies find the “right fit” for the jobs they have. There will of course be a cost in employing people to do the informational interviews, but it will be more than offset when the company improves significantly.

So much gets written about how to prepare resumes, how to prepare and appear for interviews, how to negotiate for salaries and so on, the basic part I feel is missing is treating candidates as humans and giving them the opportunity to showcase their abilities. The whole process of job search is in itself a revelation because it can give plenty of insights into what we can potentially do and how and where we can extend our capabilities. A little bit of “human touch” to the recruitment process can definitely add a lot of value to the company and people aspiring to be a part of the company.