The Art of Staying Here and Now: New Lessons from an Old Fable

It is 2021, and one thing everyone told us to do with 2020 was to learn some crucial life lessons.

It is like a recorded message at this point- gratitude, being present in the moment, making use of the resources we have are some ‘lessons’ we were told to learn. Lessons to be learnt are never ending, even when the year ends. So, for a little novelty here, and not to repeat the recording, we shall add a twist.

We shall talk about a crucial lesson to be learnt, but we shall talk about a story, a fable, which would be familiar to most of us but we may or may not have delved beyond what we were told the moral of the story was.

Remember that hare and the tortoise story?

There was a challenge between the two- the hare wanted to prove he was the fastest in the jungle, and the tortoise wanted to prove how the slow and the steady win the race. The hare was far ahead in the race; the tortoise was nowhere to be seen. The hare decided to rest, and since he was already in the lush meadows, it was not at all difficult for him to fall asleep under a giant shady tree. And thus, the tortoise quietly and steadily treaded along, and won the race.

They say the hare fell prey to his overconfidence and laziness.

Well, that’s one way to look at it.

Let us take on the character of the hare. Let us pretend he gave an interview later. (After 2020, nothing is crazy anymore.)

So, we ask the hare if he is the one who lost the race- indeed he was!

We ask- do you admit to your laziness and complacence? And that the tortoise had more persistence and dedication?

Yes, the tortoise was more persistent and dedicated but I was not lazy and complacent; no, let me explain, says the hare. And the explanation goes this way.

The hare was assured of his lead, but he also found himself admiring the beauty of the meadows, the gentleness of the breeze, the musical sound of the water gushing in a pond nearby with ducks cackling, and the shade of the tree. He wanted to drift off on a log of wood. Who wouldn’t, when the nature around was so abundant and so pleasant?

An old meditative looking man, in his flowing beard saw the hare and asked him what he was up to and why he was running a race.

We know the hare’s answer- To show all the creatures in the jungle that he was the fastest; to win that coveted medal; to be remembered and respected as the fastest of all.

The old man asked if he knew who the last fastest creature was. The hare didn’t know.

The old man asked what he would do when someone else challenged him tomorrow- today a tortoise challenged, tomorrow a snake shall do it, and the day after, a zebra- the challenges will never stop. Would he continue to race all his life? Did he want that?

And suddenly, the hare knew what he wanted. He wanted to jump into the pond, and after a good swim doze off under the tree. He did exactly that. The ducks in the pond looked at him quizzically, asking him about the race. No, said the hare, I am here and now, and that is all that matters. I want to live. I don’t want to become a part of this endless race.

That day, the hare realised the value of living in the present- just the anticipation of competition was enough to drive him to get into unhealthy competition.

That day, the hare realised the gift of resources it had, and the power of gratitude- he realised he did not need any race to prove how gifted he was

That day, the hare realised the power of staying in the now and the present- he assessed his needs based on where he was at present, and made a decision about what he wanted to do based on his real, current scenario, and not rushing on to a decision which was wrought in unnecessary anticipation and unhealthy competition.

That day, the hare lost the race but got his life back.

They tell life is a marathon, and not a sprint. But whoever said life was a race in the first place?

In a bid to prove ourselves to critics who might not even matter, in a bid to make a statement, in a bid to prove a point, we often forget to live in the present. We forget to see that we are doing just fine, and there is no need to join a race we don’t even need to be a part of.

Remember, not participating in the ‘race’ doesn’t mean giving up on competence, healthy competition, and doesn’t mean we give up upgrading our skill-set. It just means we keep upgrading what we need to upgrade, without the need to prove a point. It just means we look at our goals with an intention to enjoy the process, and work because we genuinely want to do something for ourselves, without the need to make a statement.

It just means being present in the moment, where all that matters is looking around and doing what makes us happy, contributing to our personal and professional growth.

Lessons to Learn from 2020

The year 2020 is finally coming to an end. To say this year had its ups and downs would be at best an understatement, and at worst, plainly wrong for all of us who had more downs than ups.

The year 2020 is finally coming to an end, and we are in a position to look back. And boy did it not teach us so much!

So, without further ado, let us take a look at the lessons 2020 taught us, professional ones as well as about life in general.

There is Never a Wrong Time to Learn Something:

It is always, always a good idea to keep learning, to keep upskilling, to keep upgrading.

You never know which skill or skillset you might have to end up using. Tons of people of the older generation who learned about new technologies and got a hang of it before the pandemic (and the Zoom meetings) hit us must have felt thankful towards their past selves. Similarly, tons of new graduates who got very limited opportunities at internships and training this year must have heaved a sigh of relief when they would have realised that the one-month certificate course they took up randomly to pass time was the reason they got selected.

Always be Prepared, but you can never be prepared Enough:

It is good to be prepared. Having plan Bs and plan Cs is a good idea. Like we talked about in one of our previous articles, in a VUCA situation like this, being prepared for the worst-case scenario is necessary even when you feel like the odds are really low. You never know.

But it is also something paradoxical about the VUCA situation which makes any amount of preparedness inadequate. And it is during these times that it becomes necessary to be flexible, and be ‘prepared’ to change plans, professional or personal.

The year was all about being flexible and adaptable.

It’s Not in Your Head, the Fatigue is Real:

A lot of us found ourselves working from home during this time. Initially, we might have been happy to ditch the commute, and attend meetings in pyjamas. We were happy to have time for ourselves. But before we knew it, work started to take over our homes. The line between work hours and hours of leisure began to blur; the days seemed to be merging into each other, with each day looking the same.

Overwork and exhaustion lead to burnouts, and it is not something to be taken lightly. Whether you are at home or at the office, it is necessary to take breaks, and not feel guilty for not working all the time. The year 2020 taught us that fatigue is real, and it is not always about making excuses. It taught everyone to look out for their colleagues, to communicate, to celebrate as and when they can, however small the achievement might be.

Everything can be Figured Out:

As the title of the book by Marie Forleo says it all, ‘Everything is Figureoutable’. This is probably the biggest takeaway from 2020. We thought we would not be able to take the stress, the sudden changes in our lives, the sudden worries about our loved ones, the sudden joblessness or the suddenly hectic routine, whichever side of the coin you found yourself on.

But here we are. Despite the losses we suffered this year, despite the crashing of plans, despite the vulnerabilities we found ourselves faced with, we have made it. We found the compromises; we found the middle grounds. We accepted the situation, and we tried to remain as grateful as we possibly could.

We are more prepared than ever to keep going. We have no illusions about the coming year, and we are ready to take it head on. Everything can be figured out, indeed.

Thinking Fast When You Are Put in A Spot

There is a meeting going on. You are making a presentation. Or maybe you are speaking, making a really good point, all eyes on you. Then someone makes a polite interruption and asks a question. It sounds like a good question but you don’t know what to answer.

Or picture another scenario. You are to make an announcement. An important but somewhat of an uncomfortable one; you never know with these pandemic times. Before you know it, there is a barrage of questions and doubts. You feel flustered.

Scenario number three- an interview. A panel of experts sitting in front you behind a desk, and you are sitting in front of them in a chair, with copies of your resume under the said experts’ intense scrutiny. One of them, the one who looks really experienced and intimidating looks up and asks you something. (Need we say more?)

The kind of scenarios described above demand answers from you. They demand quick decision making. Sometimes, they demand a quick yes or no.

In other words, they demand you to think quickly on your feet. They demand you to not jump up in panic.

So, let us, ahem, jump into some strategies which can help you to think on your feet, when you are put in a tough spot and some fast thinking is needed from you.

Be Prepared:

We all have heard this so often at this point owing to the pandemic that it’s almost tiring. It has become a cliché. But things become cliches for a reason- the motto to be as prepared as possible is a proven advice, which works.

When you do the prep for any situation which you know has the potential to put you in a tough spot, prepare in advance. Anticipate the kind of questions you might have to answer. Anticipate the kind of responses or reactions you might get, and think of plans to combat that in advance.

Even if you might not be able to think of answers straightaway, just keeping these worse case scenarios in mind will keep you mentally prepared, and you won’t feel as flustered as you might if you were unprepared.


To put this very simply, and once again in cliched terms- do not panic.

Like the advice to be prepared, the advice to not panic is overused, and perhaps a little poorly explained.

When you feel a flurry of questions coming at you, listen, and pause. It is sort of natural to feel the urge to either answer everyone, but that only makes us feel more flustered and chalk up incomplete and often incohesive answers.

As psychologist Daniel Kahneman tells in his book ‘Thinking Fast, Slowly’, pausing gives our ‘thinking brain’ time to…think.  Panicking makes us start thinking of responses, leaving us little time to think. Pausing makes us listen and gives us time to think.


A question has been asked and you are not sure how to answer that. You paused, thought a bit, but still can’t seem to think clearly. What to do now? Rephrase the question, and ask them if this is what they meant. A rephrasing from your side means you add extra information, a sort of a counter question, which makes them pause and think. Rephrasing also helps you buy some time to think.

Moreover, when you rephrase, chances are they would tell you what they mean, and might add in some extra information from their side as well, which will help you to think of a response.

Admit If You Don’t Know:

Trying to think of a response for a question you were not prepared for is one thing; trying to make sense of a question you didn’t understand is one thing. However, trying to answer a question when you just don’t anything about its subject is unwise.

When you are put in a spot where you genuinely can’t think of a response, and any amount of extra time or information will not be helpful, just admit that you don’t know how to answer that question.

Just as panicking and trying to answer everyone will lead to more panic, answering when you don’t know the answer will lead you into deeper circles of confusion.

Professional life, and the decorum associated with it comes with its set of discomforts and situations where you will need to think on your feet quickly. Whether it is an interview, a presentation, a make or break deal, evading would not be an option. But what we can do, from what we saw in the points above is to direct our energy into looking for solutions, rather than trying to focus on the unpleasantness of the situation.

Taking Care of Ourselves in Times of Gloom

managing the post festival blues, seasonal blues, pandemic blues

It is no surprise that we are working under tremendous pressure in these times. Some of us are tired of the ‘permahours’ of working from home, where the line between work hours and hours to relax is blurring with every passing day. Some of us are working in the office, with literal shields around us, desperately hoping for the well-being of one and all. And then there are those of us, with the best (worst) of both worlds, shuttling our time between offices and working from home.

As if this wasn’t stressful enough, we are approaching a slump in the festivities after weeks of quiet and happy celebrations.

This is a classic recipe for a spike in the stress levels, overwork and overburden. Before one can realise, exhaustion, cynicism and feelings of low self-efficacy could creep in, leading to an eventual burnout, ultimately affecting the cognitive and physical health.

Winter is on its way, and the sun sets early, the darkness comes in before one can even begin to enjoy the colours of the sunset. It’s a bad combination of the pandemic blues, the seasonal blues and the post festive blues! So, what can we do in these times to take care of ourselves? Let us quickly take a look!

The Art of Staying Connected:

These days, staying connected consistently, and not waiting until the last moment when one begins to feel isolated, is indeed an art. One has to be connected in just about the right amount, so as to keep a check on the near and dear ones, to have a sense of (virtual) community and to be communicative when it comes to work. And one has to be disconnected in just about the right amount too, so as to not end up working 24/7, to not have a Zoom fatigue and not make the notification sound a trigger of anxiety.

The latter part is where most of us are struggling.

Fix a time and make it a point to stop checking notifications related to work beyond that timeslot. If possible, decide upon a code with your colleagues about high priority messages which everyone should use in case of work-related emergencies. Life can become easier when we know which messages and emails one should pay attention to immediately and which ones we can save for later.

Ask and Clarify:

Communication is indeed the key, for a well-functioning relation. This includes your relationship with your work. If you feel unclear about a task, ask. If you feel you are not sure how to go about an objective, ask.

Often, because of a lack of clarity in our understanding of a task, we end up spending an inordinate amount of time on it, leading to overwork and overburden. We tell ourselves, ‘I’d rather do extra work than fall short.’ A great attitude to get stuff done; a not so great attitude to reduce stress or prevent a burnout. 

A way to avoid overworking is to know exactly what you need to work on.

Setting Your Goals for the Day:

When it comes to aspects about self-care, avoiding stressful blues and preventing burnouts, it becomes necessary to set goals of all kinds, and not just the professional ones.

So yes, your to-do list for the day might include getting in touch with that client who has been (im)patiently waiting since a couple of weeks now. You might have to work on an agenda that was fixed in a meeting. You might have some coordination to do and a team to put together for that next project. Prioritising is indeed necessary, and we probably know tons of techniques by now.

But your to-do list should also include getting in touch with an old friend you have been reminiscing about. It should also include indulging in a session of watching your favourite movie, putting up a relaxing playlist to listen to after work, and patting yourself in the back for all that you managed to accomplish in the day, no matter how trivial it might be. Goals about being productive and goal about self-care can, and should, go hand-in-hand.

It might not always be possible to avoid overwork, overtime and hectic schedules. Being stressed out is a part of life. Pandemic-, post-festival-, seasonal- or just Monday blues creep up without our knowledge, suddenly and inevitably. But how we respond is in our hands.

And finally, on a lighter note, it is also in our hands to turn around the meaning of ‘feeling blue.’ Blue is the colour of calm, the colour of that flowy music, the colour of the still and relaxing ocean, and what’s more, it’s the colour of India’s sporting jerseys! We sure can turn the blues into something fun if we want to.

Festivities at Workplace in Times of COVID19

The festive months in India have begun. Until last year, October-November used to mark the beginning of a time when there would be fewer and fewer dull moments in the office. Plans for Navratri and Durga Puja, plans for Diwali would be under full swing, with the workplace staying decked up all through these couple of months. In the crisp pre-winter air, dressing up, having good food and having office parties was something many of us looked forward to. A lull for a few weeks gave us some post-festival blues, but before we had the time to get over it, Christmas and New Year would come next! But now, we have a different situation. The big C is still here. We thought it would go away, but it hasn’t. Although a lot of us are back in the office, it is just not the same.

Forget post-festival blues, we might get festival blues now! After all, how does one celebrate when there are so many precautions to be taken, so many guidelines to be followed and amidst the many pieces of unpleasant news we hear on daily basis?

While precautions and guidelines will need to be followed, we can still celebrate the festive season in our own little safe ways. There is scope for a socially distanced party. Here are some more some ideas to celebrate festivals with your co-workers amidst the pandemic.

Let us take a look!

Have A Virtual Party:

By now, most of us would be familiar with virtual meetings and virtual conferences and virtual interviews. Might as well get familiar with a virtual party!

When one has been using virtual platforms for all things work, it is easy to forget that those very platforms can be used as a way to have fun.

Organizing virtual events where talented employees perform can be a fun and a safe way to have a party. Send out a nice and blingy virtual invite, fix a festive dress-code, fix the slots and we have a talent evening right there! Singing, mimicry, stand up comedy, poetry…anything as long as everyone is having fun!

Have A Competition….At Your Own Homes:

Few of the many things people might be missing are the decorations, the Rangolis, and in many cases, the in-office Rangoli competitions.

Well, who said we need to be together to compete?

Employees can decide upon a theme, decide who should be the judge, maybe even fix the colours they are allowed to use, pick a corner of their house and create the Rangolis! Then they can upload the photos on the company’s social media pages, or even just share amongst the colleagues. And here we have a full fledged Rangoli competition!

If one is missing the decorations, one might even have a decoration contest. Employees may pick a corner of their homes, decorate it with all the creativity, share the photos, and again, similar to the Rangoli competition, can share photos and get into a fun competition!

The ideas are endless when we realise a lot can be done together, even when we are apart!

Gifts and More Gifts!

Thanks to this very convenient technology of online shopping and shipping, gifting and buying gifts is still something that has not been affected too much amidst the new normal.

  A simple thing like receiving a lovely festive hamper at one’s doorstep can be a huge mood booster. (Maybe the winners of all those virtual competitions can get an extra package delivered to their doorstep!)

It is thus such simple ideas which can help us feel festive in the new normal. It is time we make an even better use of technology. It is time we make a festive use of technology!

One might feel there is not much to celebrate; that the festivals are just not the same this time; that everything reminds of the times we are living in. But as we have talked about in one of our previous articles, celebrating the little things in little ways can go a long way in keeping up everyone’s spirits.