Minimalism at work

Smartly attired in a black sequined blouse and plain skirt, speaker Nandini Bhatt opened her lecture by asking how many people in the audience were attending Grace Hopper for the first time.  Several attendees raised their hands.  “I was you last year,” Nandini said with a smile.  I was impressed that even though this was only her second time at Grace Hopper, she was a speaker!

Nandini shared the following inspirational quote:

On the last day of your life, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.  Anonymous

How’s that for pressure?  Time’s a-wasting so we’d better get started!  Nandini explained that minimalism has its earliest origins in art and music.  The simplest, fewest elements create maximum effect.  She also reviewed the Pareto principle:  80% of the results come from 20% of the cost (paraphrased).

Nandini is a mother of two young boys.  With her second son, she experienced an onset of post-partum depression.  She needed to do something to regain mental health and general happiness.  Her friend suggested a book about minimalism.  Nandini discovered research that stated

  • Mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with belongings and stuff

Nandini showed us a picture of her living room and explained that when she eliminated the non-essentials, she found herself feeling freer, calmer and happier.  This reminded me of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Kondo recommends asking the following question of each item, “Does it spark joy?”  If not, discard it.  Of course, this also reminds me of the TV series Gilmore Girls:  A Year In the Life.  Emily Gilmore, the grandmother, has recently buried her husband of several decades.  One day, her adult daughter finds her disposing of everything in her massive home.  She demands to know why her mother is giving her evening gowns to the maid.  Emily says, “They didn’t bring me joy.”  Eventually, Lorelai gently explains to her mother, “Mom, nothing is going to bring you joy right now.  You just lost your husband.”  Decluttering has its limits in the face of extreme emotional trauma.

Back to regular life.  Nandini elaborated that she used to buy her sons several toys in order to make up for the guilt she felt over “not being there”.  Her focus is now on creating memories and experiences for her children.  I found this very touching.

Nandini explained that mindfulness calms the amygdala.  With practice, you can have a less reactive amygdala.  Nandini outlined a 3-step approach:

  1. Find Your Why
  2. Focus on 3 Things That Bring You Joy (hello Ms. Kondo!)
  3. Get Rid of Stress-Inducers at Work

Nandini quoted Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich.  “When your desires are strong enough, you will appear to possess superhuman powers to achieve them.”  She encouraged us to focus on our purpose in life.  What do we really want out of our time on this planet?

For step 2, Nandini outlined a 3 step approach:

  1. Focus on becoming the best version of you.  90 days; 90 minutes; 1 important task nothing else.  For the next 90 days, spend 90 minutes doing 1 important task and nothing else.  Nandini also recommended cultivating a gratitude mindset.  Ask yourself, “What am I thankful for?”  The answer could be something as seemingly minor as “My son hugged me today.”
  2. Focus on making your job interesting.  It is easy to fixate on why your job is dull, boring and meaningless.  Even the most interesting jobs can seem this way sometimes.  To infuse new energy, celebrate even the tiniest wins.  Also, remind yourself of why you accepted this role in the first place.
  3. Focus on creating a work family.  There has been a lot of humor tossed about regarding a person’s “work wife” or “work husband”.  This is essentially the individual’s go-to person:  a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board and someone with whom to share successes.  Going beyond the spousal humor, create a work family of individuals who resonate with you.  Go out for lunch together; have team building events; share photos.  Nandini took this opportunity to state that one of her priorities is having dinner with her family so she does not do evening team events or networking.  She is happy to cultivate professional connections over breakfast and lunch.  This is a theme that I heard throughout the conference.  Diane Boettcher also emphasized the importance of dinner with family and the decision to network at breakfast and lunch.

The next step is to identify 3 things of which to let go.  These are items that add:

  • clutter
  • stress
  • no value!

1) Let go of becoming someone else

  • Be true to yourself
  • Think of yourself as a market niche
  • You cannot please the entire market so don’t change yourself!

2) Let go of saying “yes” all the time

  • Be strategic about saying “yes”
  • Say “yes” to things that meet your career goals

3) Let go of “office politics”

  • Cease worrying about how others perceive you
  • Say “no” to gossip!
  • Focus on doing your best work

The goal is not to change who you are but to become more of your best self.

Recap:  Nandini’s hope for the audience is that they will take one step today.  “You can make a change but will it be one day or will today be Day One?”  Take one small step today.  Identify your why, identify one thing that brings you joy and identify one thing you can let go of.

Nandini’s talk was extremely well-received and the audience gave her a prolonged and enthusiastic round of applause.  Very well done for a first-time GHC speaker!


About Saranya Murthy

Writing is my life's work.
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