Building Quality Re·la·tion·ships

A major regret people often have at the end of life is not sustaining relationships.

Activation Energy

A newsletter to provoke thought, to inspire, and to catalyze action.


Getting Started…

The first relationship that is necessary to build—but is often neglected—is one’s relationship with self. For most of our lives we’re too focused on building relationships with the people immediately around us. We seek to be accepted by our families, friends, teachers, and potential romantic partners. What we often forget is to accept the unconditional self-love we all have deep within us.

I’ve realized this viscerally over the past few weeks. My personal life has been a bit of a roller coaster and has made me deeply reflect on what makes a quality relationship. The hardest part isn’t learning what to do but rather is un-learning programmed behaviors from my childhood. This has been an eye-opening epiphany.

An example of a behavior learned as a child is throwing a tantrum when we don’t get what we want. Many people will carry this into their adult life in the form of passive aggressiveness. It may also manifest in other attention seeking behaviors. Unchecked, this is unhealthy and can lead one to hurt the people closest to him or her.

This journey of self-reflection has led me to ask friends from a variety of different backgrounds about their experiences. Some of the insights they’ve offered have been perspective shifting.

I must confess that I’m no relationship building expert, I’m simply sharing some of the micro-behaviors I find myself engaging in and the insights my friends have shared with me.

Let’s first define what a relationship is…

Re·la·tion·ship (n): the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected. (source: google dictionary)

I believe that a relationship with one-self is signified by how congruent one is in her actions, thoughts, and behaviors. Often, she may not know all the ways she’s incongruent due to emotional baggage accrued from the past.

Overcoming that emotional baggage is a crucial part of building congruency.

Although there is no blue print to build a successful relationship with oneself or others, something that’s helped me is recognizing that we all have an unconditional amount of self-love within us.

A thread amongst all the conversations I’ve had over the past several weeks is recognizing and accepting that self-love gives one the ability to unselfishly share a relationship with someone else. This applies to all relationships in one’s life, a family member, friend, or a significant other.

How does this self-love manifest in the day to day encounters one may have?

Let’s says someone says something or does something to upset you. If don’t speak up in that moment or in the following moments a sense of resentment towards that person may start to build. Being unable to voice that resentment may cause it to turn into resentment towards yourself due to your inaction.

In small doses this is pretty innocuous but over time this can seriously begin to damage your relationship with yourself and in turn the other person.

What’s the one thing you can do today to improve your relationships?

For me that one thing is being less self-centered. As much as I say I listen to what others have to say and truly care about their feelings, it’s not always true. It’s human, not to be perfect. What matters more than being perfect is showing effort unselfishly.

In no particular order, I’d like to thank all the friends who took the time out of their day to share their insights: Rustin, Abhishek, Brad, Harsh, Shyama, Palak, Hena, Umair, Pankti, Chris C., Nikhit, Chris P., Maas, Muaaz, Tej, Erik, Mike, Bhargav P., Aman, Siya, Shreya, Ruchir, Veer, and you the reader.


Providing a Catalyst

Every week I’ll share key insights from a conversation I had learned a lot from in a series called, Providing a Catalyst.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with two friends from school.

Both were on the pre-medicine track in college. One of them had a minor in the humanities and graduated last year. He’s currently taking a gap year for creative pursuits before attending medical school.

What astonished me from the conversation is the necessity of thinking independently.

Both of my friends mentioned how easy it was for them to get distracted by the social pressures present in college. Despite its positives, they found it to hinder their growth significantly.

For those who have left the comfort of college they start to feel all the insecurities that were swept under the countless hours of ‘studying,’ board positions, and social events.

In college the focus is for one to have a major, get a job, and sustain a social life. While senior year the focus begins to shift towards you and upon graduation is completely on you.

This transition is often not talked about because of the emotional baggage that comes with it. However, it’s a crucial part in building congruence in one’s actions, thoughts, and behaviors.

What my friends and I have found to be most helpful is continually making time for creative pursuits that seemingly have no end or beginning. Whether it’s writing, cooking, building wooden cabinets, filmmaking or reading—make the time to do it.


Lighting a Match

I hope something here inspires you to do something or learn something new.

So You Want to be a Chef - Anthony Bourdain

As someone navigating the sees of senior year of college, barring some of the excessive negativity, I found this read to be painfully truthful.

Rather than put in the time or effort—then, when I had the chance, to go work in really good kitchens—I casually and unthinkingly doomed myself to second-and (mostly) third-and fourth-tier restaurant kitchens forever. Soon there was no going back. No possibility of making less money. I got older, and the Beast that needed to be fed got bigger and more demanding—never less.

Suddenly it was ten years later, and I had a résumé that was, on close inspection, unimpressive at best. At worst, it told a story of fucked-up priorities and underachievement. The list of things I never learned to do well is still shocking, in retrospect. The simple fact is that I would be—and have always been—inadequate to the task of working in the kitchens of most of my friends, and it is something I will have to live with. It is also one of my greatest regrets. There’s a gulf the size of an ocean between adequate and finesse. There is, as well, a big difference between good work habits (which I have) and the kind of discipline required of a cook at Robuchon. What limited me forever were the decisions I made immediately after leaving culinary school.

That was my moment as a chef, as a potential adult, and I let it pass. For better or worse, the decisions I made then about what I was going to do, whom I was going to do it with and where, set me on the course I stayed on for the next twenty years.

- Anthony Bourdain

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How Your Brain Keeps You Believing Crap That Isn’t True

How do these false truths come to be so widely believed? The answer lies in a powerful shortcut that our brains use every day: Information that’s easier to process is viewed positively in almost every way. Cognitive scientists refer to this ease as “processing fluency,” and it’s why your knowledge base is probably more full of flawed ideas than you’d like to believe.

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What I Learned About Life at My 30th College Reunion

“Every classmate who became a teacher or doctor seemed happy,” and 29 other lessons from seeing my Harvard class of 1988 all grown up…

  • Many classmates who are in long-lasting marriages said they experienced a turning point, when their early marriage suddenly transformed into a mature relationship. “I’m doing the best I can!” one classmate told me she said to her husband in the middle of a particularly stressful couples’-therapy session. From that moment on, she said, he understood: Her imperfections were not an insult to him, and her actions were not an extension of him. She was her own person, and her imperfections were what made her her. Sometimes people forget this, in the thick of marriage.

  • We have all become far more generous with our I love you’s. They flew freely at the reunion. We don’t ration them out to only our intimates now, it seems; we have expanded our understanding of what love is, making room for long-lost friends.

  • No matter what my classmates grew up to be—a congressman, like Jim Himes; a Tony Award–winning director, like Diane Paulus; an astronaut, like Stephanie Wilson—at the end of the day, most of our conversations at the various parties and panel discussions throughout the weekend centered on a desire for love, comfort, intellectual stimulation, decent leaders, a sustainable environment, friendship, and stability.

  • Love is not all you need, but as one classmate told me, “it definitely helps.”

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The Art of Making You Feel Small

Confidence doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. When you know, love, and are at peace with who you are you can work smarter, better, and harder simplybecause your ego is out of the way. When you remove ego-stoking as your top priority, you’re freed up to actually work! So go, do great work! Don’t just live to feed an ego that will never be satisfied! And even more, unencumbered, you can form more meaningful, positive relationships.

I’m working on more deeply cultivating that solid confidence. It’s a process of recognizing when my ego feels threatened. I’ve found that when I feel my hackles rise, perhaps in self-defense, perhaps in the flush of pride, at that moment my concern for others departs.

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My Favorite Heuristic for Evaluating Relationships: The Antifragile Person

I’ve found it to be an extremely effective heuristic for figuring out if a relationship is worth pursuing.

How long into a conversation does a person go before they call you out on your bullshit?

The Antifragile person both appreciates being called out and aren’t afraid to do it to others. They aren’t so insecure. Antifragile people take failure, criticism and feedback and actually get stronger…

One of the characteristics that people I really connect with is that they’re exceptionally good at calling me out on my bullshit.

It’s hard to find people that will do that because most people are insecure. They’re afraid that if they call people out then those people won’t like them.

And for the most part, they’re right. Most people don’t like getting called out on their BS. And those people are fragile. If you can’t see criticism and failure and stress as an opportunity for growth then you have no ability to improve.

I’ve started being more openly critical of people lately. You might say that’s not fair of me that I have tons of things wrong with me too. That it’s not fair to be critical of other people when I’m just as messed up as they are.

And you’d be right. And that’s the point.

Other interesting links…


Thank you for reading this edition of Activation Energy.

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