Second Acts is a series of interviews with interesting people who discovered new pathways midway through their lives.
Bob Miglani is a successful businessman, husband, and father. He moved to the United States from India at age nine, grew up working in his parents’ Dairy Queen, and went on to become a senior director in a Fortune 50 company. Even so, in recent years he found himself stuck in self-doubt and worry over an increasingly uncertain future, unable to decide which direction to take.
Then he took a friend on a business trip to India that changed his life. He came home with a new outlook and began writing and sharing what he had learned. His book, Embrace the Chaos: How India Taught Me to Stop Overthinking and Start Living (Berrett-Koehler Publishers), is a collection of lighthearted tales that entertain while uprooting some of our most familiar assumptions about the way things should be.
AK: You took your friend with you to teach him about doing business in India. The first chapter of Embrace the Chaos tells the story of your crazy taxi ride in Ahmedabad. Is that the moment that turned your life around?
BM: No, the turnaround came before that, when my friend called and said, “Hey, can you take me to India with you?” and I said, “Yes!”
That might not sound like a big deal, but I overthink and overanalyze a lot. That’s the way I grew up. I’d say, “Should I do this?” and my mind would say, “Well, if you do that, you’re going to get into this kind of trouble,” or “This is going to be really hard,” or “If you do this, well, I don’t know if it’s really something I want to do.” So the breakthrough was that moment when I took action without overthinking. It was just, “Sure, I’ll help a friend. Let’s go!” That led me to the experience in the taxi and other events that allowed me to make realizations that altered the course of my life. But it really began with yes.
After I came back from India, I said, “What I tried to teach him to do, I have to do here at home in America.” People talk about India as a place to do business and that’s fine, but for me, it’s a classroom. There are a billion people living in a country one-third the size of United States. How do you get a job? How do you survive? How can you be happy in a village with nothing? How does anything get done?
If you think things are bad here, let me take you to India. It’s so difficult there! Here you go to the post office and you get a passport in a month or so. Do you know how many hoops you have to go through to get a passport in India? The lying, the corrupt officials–it’s brutal!
Yet people there can be happy and fulfilled and embrace their inner beings and move forward. If they can do it there, we can do it here.
AK: How does anything ever get done in India?
BM: Somehow it just does! Things come together in some cosmically random way. Driving is a great example, because you want to get from here to there, and there’s going to be a cow just sitting there or maybe a tree in the middle of the road. There’s going to be a traffic jam. There’s going to be a protest, people walking by. You’re so frustrated that you end up taking a different path, and sometimes that path is so much more rewarding. It wakes up your senses and breaks your pattern of thinking, and then you start experiencing life. You start looking around and realizing that it’s about the here and now.
AK: What do you want others to learn from your experiences?
BM: The three steps I bring out in Embrace the Chaos have worked for me. I don’t know if they’ll work for everyone, but I think many people can benefit from them.
AK: Can you remind me of the three steps?
BM: First, you have to accept. Accept that life isn’t perfect. Accept that it’s not going to be a straight line. It’s going to be a zigzag. Accept that there’s no order to the world that we live in. Accept that you can’t control everything, but you can control yourself.
Second, don’t overthink. Don’t try to overplan. Don’t try to predict what could happen. Yes, you have to have some idea of your goal—absolutely But we try to overanalyze so much because we want more data. We want more information. A good example is going on vacation. You say, “Well, what hotel should I stay at? Let’s go to Expedia and take a look.” There’s so much data and conflicting information, you get confused. “Oh my God, who should I listen to?” Don’t overthink it because you can get lost in that whole process.
Third, move forward. Take action. Do something. Do anything and you’ll learn from that experience and you’ll grow. One thing will lead you to another and to another and to another, and you’ll find yourself in a great place.