Maslow's hierarchy of needs AKA the only self-help advice you'll ever need.

by Puneet Sandhu in

In all my trips to bookstores over the decades, of which there have been many, I have avoided the self-help section like the plague. This aversion came partly from a naive arrogance that I was above advice of that sort, and partly from an innate bullshit detector that has only become sharper over the years. Either way, I don't think I've missed out on much. 

That's not to say I haven't asked for, looked for, or received advice on how to improve myself and my life -- I have -- and I like to think I've been able to put some of it, at the very least, to good use. But what's worth noting is that this advice has come from the most unexpected sources at the most unexpected times. A perfect example of this was when I was reading about Maslow's hierarchy of needs last week, as part of an online course about a TV show depicting post-apocalyptic human life -- not where you would expect to find wise words about bettering your lot now, is it? But I did. 

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is one of the most positive-minded theories I've ever read--he studied the brightest, most accomplished people accessible to him to see how they came to achieve their full potential. When you think about it, that's essentially what some of our contemporary, much-loved (at least by me) sites like Fast Company and The Great Discontent try to do. While they are fantastic in their own right, I find that Maslow's 70-year-old theory stands solid ground even today. So without further ado, and with some side commentary, I submit to you the winning traits of "self-actualized" individuals in 15 bullets, distilled carefully by Mr. M.   

  • Perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
  • Accept themselves and others for what they are
  • Spontaneous in thought and action
  • Problem-centered, not self-centered
  • Unusual sense of humor -- No one gets my jokes. I got this covered.
  • Able to look at life objectively -- To this, I'd also add: able to put life in perspective.
  • Highly creative
  • Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional -- This one is my favourite.
  • Concerned for the welfare of humanity
  • Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience -- AKA it's the small joys.
  • Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people -- This is a very late 20s/early 30s thing to do. I am now doing this thing.
  • Peak experiences
  • Need for privacy
  • Democratic attitudes
  • Strong moral/ethical standards -- This is a grey area, I know, so how about we re-phrase to: don't be amoral.

Some of these ideas may sound trivial and/or obvious, but I find myself asking: how many of these am I actually practicing when I most need to -- when I'm angry and in vehement disagreement with someone; when I'm stuck in a rut at work and feeling directionless; or when I regret things I've said/done and need to move on from them? The sad answer (for now) is: not at all. And that's why I'm glad I met Maslow and his little pyramid. I just didn't expect it to be in the post-apocalyptic world. 

Apocalypse studies, anyone?

by Puneet Sandhu in

I've written before about how much I love studying. I've also written before about how much I love The Walking Dead. So imagine my glee when I realized that there was an online course on the Walking Dead, available for exactly $0 and hence, totally within my budget. (Thanks, Canvas Network and UC Irvine!) 

I signed up right away -- obviously -- and have been quite the diligent student so far, going through my required and non-required readings, sogivemeanAalready! And while I'm super kicked to be pondering some life-altering questions here (such as: which of the WD characters is the most self-actualized according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs?), I am more kicked to be rubbing the following course description in the face of the haters of my favourite show, who think that it is nothing more than a gore fest. I have tried many times to counter their flimsy argument, but I will admit, my exasperated annoyance gets the better of me. So I will dutifully shut my trap and let the course topics show the world just how rich, interesting and intelligent The Walking Dead can be:    

  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—is survival just about being alive?
  • Social order and structures—from the farm and the prison to Woodbury
  • Social identity, roles, and stereotyping—as shown through leaders like Rick and the Governor
  • The role of public health in society—from the CDC to local community organizations
  • The spread of infectious disease and population modeling—swarm!
  • The role of energy and momentum in damage control—how can you best protect yourself?
  • Nutrition in a post-apocalyptic world—are squirrels really good for you?
  • Managing stress in disaster situations—what’s the long-term effect of always sleeping with one eye open?

If you're still reading, I'm assuming you were either really intrigued by the course description, or really amused by it in a you-want-to-make-fun-of-it kind of way. If it's the former, come be my friend and virtual study buddy so we can be awesome together. And if it's the latter, all I can say is -- it's OK; I understand, but please don't come running to me for help when the apocalypse is upon us.

The antifeminism of women.

by Puneet Sandhu in

I am interrupting this involuntary blogging break to make a mini feminist comment.

While skimming my Facebook feed this afternoon with an inattentive laziness I reserve for the weekends, I came across the image pasted below. It jolted me into the Facebook equivalent of a double-take, which I guess is this alarmed, brisk rubbing of the phone screen to gobackupwhatthehellwasthat. The caption that accompanied this picture said, "Gotta love being different. I know I do!"


The caption in itself reeks of a false sense of self-congratulatory empowerment, but that's another story altogether. My problem with the post is this: where is the feminist movement headed if we women continue to put ourselves and our peers in the same neat little boxes that the world uses to stereotype us unfairly? We are either vamps or saints, wives or whores, smart or pretty, or as in this case, average-looking and smart or sexy and dumb; but never one and the other.

The whole point of feminism is to break these stereotypes; to be seen as real multi-faceted people, you know, just like the rest of this planet's population. My intellect does not depend on how much cleavage I show, and nor does the lack of rouge on my cheeks make me any smarter. (And as I know now, reading definitely does not always make people more intelligent.)

I like to read; I wear glasses sometimes; I wear skirts; and I do a tolerable job in the make-up department (although annoyingly, the eyeliner on my right eye is always infinitely better than the one on the left). I am what most women are like, and we deserve better than to be put down in thoughtless Facebook posts put up to garner likes and soothe egos and insecurities. (Also, make-up is VERY DIFFICULT; if anything, it should be counted as a skill under the "smart girl" stereotype.)

I've read enough about Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In' to know that I'm not going to find myself nodding with enthused appreciation when I get around to reading the actual book. But I do agree with her on this: if women want to get ahead in this world, they first need to work on themselves instead of just crying foul at men and society. Or at least, if they can't improve the lot for themselves and their peers, then they shouldn't  be making it worse by promoting gender biases.

And there ends my feminist rant. And no, there shall be no bra-burning to celebrate -- no one really does that, if you're wondering; they're too expensive.

I got rejected. Ergo, I must be a writer.

by Puneet Sandhu in

This is a belated post in that it deals with events from a few months ago. But, I guess now is a good time to write this as I'm finally beginning to process My First Real Rejection as a writer worth her salt, which also means I should probably re-consider calling myself that.

I have long been a fan of McSweeney's Internet Tendency and when they opened the call for submissions from potential columnists this fall, I couldn't help but dream of my name appearing month after month on the holy white of that webpage. You see, I've always wanted to be a columnist - it's been an irrational childhood dream of mine - especially because I have spent my fair share of mornings reading the likes of Khushwant Singh's "With malice towards one and all." I had an opinion on what was going on around me; I wasn't an entirely terrible writer; I could write regularly; now all I wanted was for someone to think that my stuff was good enough to share with their readers.

I even had the perfect idea for a column -- something I'd been working on for a while -- and it was lying half-naked in a "drafts" folder on my laptop. "Today is your day," I said to the Word doc in question as I opened it lustily.

Three cups of tea and almost six hours later, I hit "send" on my email, worrying that somehow it would land in McSweeney's spam folder and no one would see it, or that the world would regress to 1994 and my email would get irretrievably lost in e-labyrinths. As far as I'm concerned, one of the two actually happened because -- you're not going to believe this -- they didn't pick me.

The names of those selected were supposed to be announced on the last day of August, which was also the first day of my vacation in Maine. My tendency to compulsively check my phone, instead of holding a conversation with fellow humans around me, was at an unusual high that day. I was waiting for a congratulatory email from McSweeney's, or at least, a consolatory one, where they would tell me I had almost made it, but not quite, and that they looked forward to reviewing my stellar work again next year, thanks for my interest. All I got from McSweeney's that day was stony silence, but then again, maybe they got my e-mail address wrong.

I expected to be the brokenhearted wuss who would ruin the trip for everyone and eat one too many lobster rolls to deal with the disappointment. Surprisingly, I remained calm and cheerful. (The lobster rolls, though, are another story). It was only later that I realized why.

Instead of sitting on my bottom and pretending to be an aspiring writer, I'd actually finished a piece and shared it with someone. And if I was ever to be a writer "worth her salt", that was a very good start. With a full-time job that I want to be really good at, dreaming the writerly dream is about all I've had time for during much of 2012. But having been rejected this first time made me realize how badly I need to stay away from the kind of life where I'm left finding excuses for not finishing and sharing my work. This time, it was out in the world, and despite the rejection, that felt good.

By the end of this thought, I was almost glad to have not been picked -- rejection is such a rite of passage for successful writers, and I was happy to go through it first hand. It made me feel like much more of a writer than ever before, and I then proceeded to tell my vacation party that R. K. Narayan, one of my favourite authors ever, had been passed over by publishers at least six times (the actual number varies depending on where you look) before his first book, Swami and Friends, was released. I plan to follow his lead fully, so as 2012 closes, I hope that the list of rejections I gather in the new year is long, robust and worthy of hanging on my wall - because if I'm not getting rejected, I'm probably not trying hard enough. And that would be a sorry, sorry shame for My Big Dream.

The writing advice you want to hear.

by Puneet Sandhu in ,

Far too much writing advice in the world is serious, predictable and frankly, dreary. (Write everyday! – Umm, yeah, okay. You clearly don’t have a day job. Or a boyfriend. Or a Netflix account.) As well-intentioned as it may be, it isn’t practical for most writers (unless that’s what they do for a living, in which case they don’t need advice in the first place), and let’s face it, quitting their day jobs and living off their rich uncle while they write The Novel isn’t a feasible solution for all writers because some of their uncles are dead now.

For aspiring writers, pretend writers with lazy intentions of getting serious at some point, and serious writers with writer's block, I offer below unconventional but useful advice on how to find the time, energy and inclination to put pen to paper – or fingertips to keyboard – whatever floats their writing boats.

Find a coffee shop to hang out in because nothing else says “legit writer” like writing in a coffee shop. Make sure it has a nice name – something writerly like New York City’s “Think.” Come to be considered a regular – get to know the barista well enough for her to know your name and your order. Spend at least a couple of hours there, seemingly engrossed in research and writing, but actually reading essays reeking of quarter-life crises on Thought Catalog. People watch. Overhear conversations from neighboring tables and don’t feel guilty about it. Write down all you see and hear, with the intentions of using it in your upcoming work. You just gathered a lot of material – now all you need to figure out is where to use it. Leave safe and comfortable in the knowledge that the jacket of your first book will read: This novel was conceived over hundreds of café lattes consumed by the author in New York City’s Think Coffee. And how that might get your photo up on the café’s wall or at least, a free croissant with your next order.

Get boozy. Go to all the boozy brunches and happy hours you get invited to. (And if you don’t get invitations, go to happy hour by yourself and get sloshed, constantly reminding yourself that writing is a solitary profession and loneliness is the writer’s birthright.) I could quote innumerable studies here to show that people get more creative when they’re inebriated, but I think we all pretty much know that from experience. Think about this and order another pitcher of mimosa or your fifth Jack and Coke. When you get home, freewrite the crap out of your keyboard or your notebook.

PMS. No, seriously. Write when you’re PMS-ing. Or when your girlfriend/wife is PMSing. Frustration, sadness and anger have been known to be far more productive emotions for writers than happiness, sunshine and blue skies. Give us miserable rainy days and gut-wrenching negativity any day and watch us produce our most stellar work.

Plan that vacation. What was that famous quote about how reading is like travel and if you don’t read, you’ve only been to one country or something? That. To make the reader feel like they’ve traveled just by reading your book, you need to do the actual traveling. Go to France. Now. On the plane ride home, think about how you’re going to make the Champs-Élysées the setting for that crazy recurring dream your main character will have in your next short story. Or how your novel’s protagonist’s love interest is going to look like your hostel owner in Giverny.

And when you're done with it all, I promise you this: the very least you'll be able to do is write a blog post on how to write.