Dec 2021 Week 4 – Art, Brain, Ambition

A theme that stuck with me after reading my favorite book, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, was that literature (or any form of art in my opinion) fills the void where reason stops working.

On that note, I came across a video published by a non-profit from India, NICHE Advocacy Foundation: Art and Brain – UnHIDE (not just an open mic). It is an amazing session facilitated by Dr. Poornima Gauri, the founder of NICHE, a neurologist, coach and artist. She is multifaceted as you can infer from the last line. I got an opportunity to work with her in 2014-2015 and that is where I got introduced to the concepts of emotional intelligence and neuroplasticity. The non-profit has transformed and scaled quite a bit over the last 5-6 years. I really love their multidisciplinary approach. You can check the website: https://nichefoundation.in/ to learn more about their areas of focus.  

Dr. Poornima kicks off the session by giving a context of different art forms and the significance of art in the life of humans since existence. As she explains, art is deeply meditative. She then brings in various Indian artists, who share their art and discuss the influence of art in their lives. Each artist dabbles in a different form of visual art. The artists also come from a multitude of professions. But the common thread is that art is like breathing to each one of them.  

“Art is immersive, helps mindfulness and is a tool for resilience.” 

In another podcast, an opera singer explained this immersive experience of art. She described it as, “When I sing, there is no space left in my brain for anything else”.

So, watch this video and feel creative yourself by listening to these unique artists. Also, follow NICHE Advocacy Foundation on Instagram/YouTube/Facebook/LinkedIn for more content like this. 

P.S. Some parts of the video are in Marathi and Hindi languages so you might need captions or translations.  

Then, I came across something on the topic of AMBITION. I landed on a blog called Neckar’s Insecurity Analysis and an interesting article published there recently – “Workshop Note: On Ambition”.

The author starts by diving deeper into the debate of ambition versus greed. He reflects on the need for ambition in life. One may often run into a question about where does or should ambition stop, how much should be enough. Especially for the ones with a drive, this question can be daunting. Once you reach a goal, there is always another one you can seek. The article borrows the concepts of ambition from another interesting blog post (https://moretothat.com/the-many-worlds-of-enough/). It describes ambition as “driven by self-actualization, or the desire to become a more capable person” and greed as a point “when outcomes become your primary desires”. Based on this outlook, ambition fuels human development. Also, inevitably tied to the concept of ambition is the role of money. The article also touches upon that. 

The author shares an extreme example of ambitiousness, Elizabeth Theranos. He shares the notes from her diary, about her religious schedule and work principles. (Check the article to access that). Seemed like she was trying to create a superhuman aura about herself, which to be fair, leaders often need to. But it was a bit too late for everyone to realize that the hype was beyond substance. It was more of a mind game.

Then, there is a recurring theme about life goals that I am reading in a lot of the self-help literature these days. This article goes in that direction as well. After a point, money doesn’t add much value in life in absolute terms, but it affords freedom of choice. “Being in control of one’s time, being able to choose meaningful work, and being able to remove work and people that are in conflict with one’s values – these are invaluable luxuries.” 

That leads to other hard questions though. What is meaningful work for you? Or, is work even that meaningful to you? But there is a risk of living in your head too much. I could relate to another sentiment shared by the author – “When I look at other creators on Twitter it sometimes seems like they simultaneously build a startup, invest a fund, host a podcast, create a DAO, and write a book. Oh, and raise children while they’re at it. They seem to aim higher, move faster, and scale better. I look at my own life and hear a familiar voice: You’re writing a substack? That’s it? What are you doing all day? Where is your sense of urgency? Where is your ambition?

Have you ever felt similarly? 

The author follows it by saying “…which is why I’m convinced that the “inner game” is the most valuable skill, if you can call it that, I’m learning right now. Not letting these thoughts drive me insane seems pretty important to everything else.” 

Even as pursuit of ambition leads to existential questions and self-doubt, it needs to be balanced with a bias for action. Any effort needs momentum, a push. The author confides “But I also don’t want ‘future me’ to look back and realize that I found a ‘zone of enough’ that was really a zone of comfort. Or complacency.” 

So, he says he will need to slog, as he did in his college and early career, to make it through. But the motivation has changed. He says “This path is something I’ve chosen. It’s mine. And I would like to succeed at it not because I’m afraid, but because I’m deeply enthusiastic and committed to it.” 

Lastly, the author shares a quote from Michael Bloomberg – 

“As I would learn later in my life, it’s the ‘doers,’ the lean and hungry ones, those with ambition in their eyes and fire in their bellies and no notions of social caste, who would go the furthest and achieve the most.” 

Enthusiastic, committed and no notions of social caste. Maybe those are the ingredients of a healthy pursuit of ambition…

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