How Totem Poles Can Change Your Life

When knowing is not enough

Totem Poles are fascinating.

In close quarters, I was introduced to them in the deep deserts of Rajasthan, India in an Oasis of college life. I was in my junior year. The context was the annual cultural festival right on campus. That year’s theme was native American Heritage. And the poles sprang everywhere.

I found the cravings, the context and purpose — enthralling. Still do.

Metaphorically, I made them my expression of freedom. Here are my top three.

1. Totem Pole Of Giving & Your Happiness

I always wanted to believe that givers are better off in life than takers. Adam Grant’s research in his book Give and Take reinforced that. And added a nugget that was interesting. At the lowest end of the totem pole were also givers!

The key difference — the givers at the top, follow my mom’s gem of advice — “focus on what is of great value to others but less cost to you.” The ones at the bottom also focused on great value to others but had one change around cost — less became more.

For those givers labeled “doormat” givers, the freedom to be extraordinary became challenged.

You see, in small flips — greatness is born.

When the founding geniuses of Google designed the search engine, their totem pole was slightly different from the norm then. The prevailing pole order was how the pages occurred [like a table of contents].

Google search algorithm made the most reputed page at the top of the pole. That may sound obvious after the fact. Ask the builders of other search engines before the hey days of Google.

Like the flip in the geek world, a flip in relationship building brought me the greatest freedom.

2. Totem Pole of Relationship Building & Freedom of Time

Keith Ferrazzi wrote a book — Never Eat Alone. It had a simple rule — find someone to share a lunch everyday. One relationship at a time.

When it comes to relationship building, the totem pole for most of us goes something like this:

1) at the top of the pole are people we are comfortable with,

2) below them are acquaintances we occasionally meet up,

3) below them are those who have cancelled on us more than twice,

4) last are others we have never met.

Somewhere along the way, flipping the last two changed my life irrevocably.

You see, we do not think too much about the bottom of the pole. But that is where the majority of the world exists.

On the last but one, we spend way too much time as we are creatures drawn to familiarity. Even my most adventurous acquaintances frequent certain restaurants often.

Similarly, we keep knocking the same relationship doors. Sometimes, people behind the doors assign a higher value to their time than ours. Sometimes, they make it up with words like sorry. If you are stood up multiple times — it is time to look beyond.

For everyone who says they adhere to the changed order — here is the truth — our human mind is more prone to familiarity than we give it credit for.

I have known sales people who cling on to accounts that they have offered many times but never closed. I have heard of smart, logical people enduring abusive relationships.

Closer home, I have given people the benefit of doubt when they stood me up — somehow always finding a reason.

The biggest gift we give others is our time. We have within our capacity to be happy about how we feel. Consciously flipping the bottom two on this pole has boosted my self-belief.

If relationship building has been a key totem pole in my life, networking is whole another.

3.Totem Pole of Networking: Your Network is your Networth.

There are two types of people. Those who acknowledge that they are uncomfortable networking. And others who pretend.

For any uncomfortable task, my philosophy is to find the maximum return, minimum effort — the high end of the totem pole.

In my experience, most advice peppered through the Internet prescribes the low end of the totem pole — networking events. “You have to network your way into a job. You may not like it but you have to do it and do it often,” are words of advice you often hear.

It feels more like a kid forced to take a pill. The unspoken part — the odds of good outcome are like finding a needle in a haystack. Ouch.

At the high end of my networking totem pole are referrals. If someone else can cast a common light, it makes life easier.

On referrals, it is easier to get carried away as the panacea for networking. Two stats from the world of personal relationship always bring me a chuckle and keeps me grounded.

Percentage of married couples first introduced by someone they mutually know — 63 percent

Percentage of first dates arranged by friends moving into a second date: just 17 percent

83 percent rejection exists even for referrals on the first date. Roughly 2 out of 10 referral dates go to the second date! If you move past that, the light looks very promising.

That gives me a more realistic portrayal of the impact of referrals for job search to career enhancement.

Bringing It All Together — the Different Totems on Poles

The theme for Oasis, my undergrad college cultural festival, in my junior year was Native American Heritage. Totem poles were crafted all over campus.

My fascination for them- the engravings and the linear structure have withstood the test of time.

Is life as linear as a totem pole? Not really. It is what we make it out to be. My version of it:

Pole of giving elevates my heartfelt joy.

Pole of relationship building makes me thrive personally.

Pole of networking propels me professionally.

The three totem poles of life gave me the gift to soar high with freedom.

Changing the pecking order within each of them — an even bigger gift.

In all this — thank you for your gift of time to read,

Karthik Rajan

P.S. After penning this, the data geek in me chuckles — probability is so intertwined with life — through totem poles. And I wrote this totally in the moments between my children’s bedtime and mine.