Feeling Right

During my recent travels, I was looking for a good North Indian restaurant. In my search spanning a few weeks, I tried a few restaurants based on recommendations, but felt underwhelmed in many ways. I remember lamenting about it in my weekly virtual chat with my friend, who wondered why I hadn’t given up on it, given the same story I was repeating week after week. Even though the restaurants I tried served the same cuisine (in their own ways, of course), most of them didn’t feel right for many reasons. Yes, it was about the food, but it was also about how I felt being there. It had little to do with how upscale the restaurant was; in fact, I was rather disappointed from one of the premier chef-run fine dining establishments in the city. The last thing you want is to spend more money on food (or anything really) only for it to not to meet your expectations. It didn’t help that I was spoilt for good taste from the food I grew up with (thanks to my Mom!), but I’m hardly complaining.

Needless to say, most of the restaurants I visited during this time, I found the food to be strictly okay and it didn’t feel right, until I finally found the one, where I could see myself going regularly to satisfy my weekly craving for the said cuisine. The food was decent (for the most part, authentic) and the ambience felt moderately hip and accessible sans any pretense, where I felt comfortable.

As I share this story with you, I’m reminded of one of Seth Godin’s marketing ideas, which is, people like us do things like this. In this example, what it meant for me was people like me went to restaurants like these. In other words, this restaurant catered to people like me (at least in my mind). This isn’t to say I was the only type of person this restaurant was for. You can appeal to the select few and serve a wider market. They are not mutually exclusive.

While I tried to explain above why/how most of the restaurants didn’t work for me, here’s what I’ve come to learn. When something doesn’t feel right, it does so for a reason. Trying to articulate our reasoning and justifying ourselves won’t help. In fact, we’ll only be disappointed by failing to do so. It’s enough to know something doesn’t feel right and that itself should raise a yellow flag. The best we can do in these moments is to listen to our feelings by not letting our thinking get in the way.

You see, there are things we like and dislike for a reason. It’s not illogical. At the same time, it’s not imperative to know why. Think of a book, a movie, or a track you like. You can try to explain others why you like something more than the other, but its hard to articulate those feelings. It’s hard to share why you like one track over another, for instance. Either someone (or something) is right for you or not (and that’s okay). No amount of logic will prove otherwise. There is nothing you can do about it (and there’s nothing they can do about it).

The French polymath Blaise Pascal reminds us:

Heart has its reasons of which reasons knows nothing.

There is a reason we fold our hands one way versus the other. Try explaining that to others who fold their hands differently than you. You can’t (nor can they) and that’s okay. Similarly, when someone says (or does) something, and it doesn’t feel right to you, it does so for a reason (even if you can’t articulate it, which isn’t necessary anyway). The best we can do is listen to that feeling.

Here’s another example that you might relate to. There are times in the past where I’ve watched movie trailers to decide if I wanted to watch the movie, but even after feeling less than excited for those movies, I went to watch them anyway because of a certain actor/director associated with it only to find it disappointing and regretting my choice. For instance, I recently watched the Rian Johnson film, Glass Onion, which I found less than great (too flashy for my taste). On the other hand, I quite enjoyed the original Knives Out, which I thought was a significantly better film in every way.

Richard Feynman has said:

We are the easiest person to fool and we must not fool ourselves.

Of course, I’ve now learned not to let myself be carried away by my rational mind in those instances. I now know better than that, so now if the story/premise doesn’t appeal to me, I won’t watch the film irrespective of who’s acting or directing it. For instance, I chose to sit out the film, The Fabelmans by Steven Spielberg, whom I greatly respect as a filmmaker, but the story/premise didn’t excite me (as some of his other movies have in the past), even as my rational mind was fighting hard for me to watch it by justifying how it might be his last directorial venture (given that he didn’t direct the upcoming Indian Jones 5) and that I would regret not watching his (potentially) last film on the big screen. I ended up not watching and I don’t regret it. Regardless, I’ve decided to watch fewer films, because (as with many things) I think life is too short to be watching films that we don’t feel strongly about. In other words, unless we feel hell yeah about something, then no it is (by default).

Likewise, when we find ourselves working with those who we feel a friction with, we can try to let them go (if that’s an option), failing which, we finish our work with them (to the best of our abilities) and decide not to work with them again. We can chalk this up to learning from our mistake and then spend more time in the future to ensure we are working with the right people (right for us).

Similarly, I’ve been in relationships in the past, which started great, but then didn’t feel right even as there were red flags along the way (which I ignored to my peril). It was in those instances, where I let my thinking get the better of me, because when you’re in love, everything feels like rainbows and sunshine, and it’s easy to lose all objectivity in the face of our emotions.

In another relationship not too long ago, I was naive (optimistic?) in thinking things would somehow improve, but that turned out to be wishful thinking. I learned this lesson the hard way. When things don’t feel right, they do so for a reason and we should take notice of it without trying to articulate why, and move on. Reconciling is not an option. In fact, it’s usually a sign to bring peaceful closure to something beautiful. I’ve learned it’s better to leave things as is than to leave on a sour note.

Here’s the thing. Either someone (or something) in your personal/work life is right for you or not (and that’s okay). There is nothing you can do about it, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Instead of trying to reconcile and make things difficult for ourselves (than they need to be), we can part ways amicably. We can calmly acknowledge they weren’t for us (and vice versa) and move on; not only for our sakes, but for theirs as well. Rather than question our thinking, we can learn to trust our feelings. They will usually guide us in the right direction to which our thinking will take a backseat (as it should).

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