December 1, 2006

It is a strange aspect of academics that to get deep work done, you need to get far away from your place of work. Proximity breeds inefficiency.

The past few days I have been away in Hyderabad at the Indian School of Business (ISB). I live on campus, walk to my office, and lead a quiet life, eating three large square meals a day, which I don’t need to prepare. No cooking, cleaning, driving – just time to myself with no distractions. Even working a few hours a day, good work gets done. The work feels good, and quality trumps quantity in the output. The students are excellent and life seems complete, even when I am doing far fewer things.

So why does life back at home base get so complicated? Because I don’t know how to keep to myself and just say no? Or is there some debilitating human condition that leads us to get overinvolved even when deep down we know its bad for us? Having been led to believe that a simple life is a failed life, we proceed to complicate it, so that feeling stressed, we may feel better!

We all need to get away from our routines, to somewhere that less is more. Not take a busy holiday rushing around seeing all and more – what good would that be? No, we need to become anti-tourists! Not just on holiday but in life at large.

Visiting another academic institution is a great way to simplify life without actually changing it. Same familiar routines of pleasurable work, but no interruptions. No emotional pitfalls because one is unplugged from the politics of home base.

Today I went into the library and spent two wonderful hours browsing the excellent collection of books. It has been so long since I last went into my own university library. I used to think that it was because books were becoming redundant, victims of this electronic age. But now I know I was wrong – it was just the lack of time, calm time to myself, which prevented me from getting around to doing something that I clearly still enjoy. So I read a while and then decided to blog, after a hiatus of almost two months. I learned a good personal lesson: to be oneself required no effort, just time. Do less, be oneself more, give in less to the structure of society, just be.

Of course, the culture here in India is different – its like a kaleidoscope – because there are more visiting faculty than permanent faculty – and the mix changes every term as the kaleidoscope gets rotated through another iteration. The culture gets a blood transfusion every six weeks. Seminars have been fresh and invigorating – every one comes, no one needs to be dragged to them. Its simply because all of us visitors have this gift of time for enrichment, unlike back at home base.

In a short time, I will return to the real world in California, back again from this idyllic visitation. I look forward to that to, for I plan to be as much a visitor in mind set in my real life as well, so that I get the freedom to do more by doing less. Slow and fulfilling days, cheers to them all.