If companies can set up advisory boards to help them think through tough problems, why aren’t more individuals setting up Personal Advisory Boards (PABs)? I’m not exactly sure who asked me this first, but as a writer trained to connect with people from different disciplines, I was able to see value in the observation. Over the years I have worked to create my own PAB. It includes people of different kinds.
Brainstormers: These are people with more wisdom and experience than me. Smita Krishnan, my former zoology professor, tops this list because when I solemnly confessed to her that I had a crush on a classmate and it was hurting my grades, she listened to me and instead of telling me what to do , she helped me find my own way. Now I turn to her for parenting advice. She listens to me and only offers advice when she thinks I need it.
Also at the top of that list is Indrajit Gupta, my co-founder of Founding Fuel, who I throw my wildest ideas at. He, too, listens and allows me to play with the thoughts in my head while he quietly draws boundaries to make sure I don’t cross them.
Challenger: Which feedback should I ignore? What difficult conversations do I put off? Why? Nobody had asked me such questions until Delhi-based life coach Vivek Singh came into my life. He pushes me to think about all the things I don’t want to face. This forces me to think about what I want and crystallize ideas about what I’m chasing and why. I now recognize much more clearly that my top three goals are family, health, and money (because money is far more important than many of us will admit).
Similarly, my colleague NS Ramnath challenges every assumption I have about technology, an area I think I understand deeply. It forces me to wander down thought paths I had not seen or explored before.
Financial Advisor: My approach to a retirement fund should have been to set aside a portion of my income each month, invest in various instruments, and become a crorepati by my late 40s. But it wasn’t. With hindsight I now know that I should have listened to voices like my friend CS Swaminathan, with whom I also now work closely. He is my go-to resource for financial planning advice along with Santosh Nair, editor of CNBC-TV18 and author of Bulls, Bears and other Beasts.
Health Specialists: In order to be truly healthy, one must understand oneself at a fundamental level. That’s why I think it’s important to talk to a psychologist. My contact person has been Kuldeep Datay for several years. My time with him allows me to banish whatever is building up in my head and I get an outside perspective on the mood I’m in.
I am also actively seeking advice from Dr. Rajat Chauhan, a sports medicine physician whose workout regimen, when practiced religiously, is nothing short of life-changing.
Explorers: What is it about the world that you are curious about and don’t understand? Is someone working at the top of this domain looking at the world from a very different perspective? I’m fortunate to have close friends who are embedded in the pure sciences, working at the intersection of computer science and neurobiology, for example. Listening to you talk is like exploring another universe.
Reverse Mentors: Never stop listening to young people. The exchange with people of another generation is invigorating. So I asked my alma mater to teach. I now teach modules in journalism at my former college. And while there are things I can share with the youth, I also see reverse mentors, people a generation younger who can teach me about the world as they engage with it and look at it. This is very different than staying connected with my children because reverse mentors offer worldviews that are set in vastly different contexts and life experiences and this is an important link in the endless chain of learning and teaching.
Way: Sometimes you have to go home for the best perspective. That’s why I love listening to my mom talk about her life, my past, everything she’s seen, loved, lost and regained. She speaks of people whose dreams have been extinguished. Why is that happend? It provides context when I might be swept away. I listen carefully. Because few people in the world know me like you do. And even her sternest voice is full of caring.
(The author is co-founder of Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)