Swinging the Pendulum

Work and Play

Mike Cartwright was a little different than most of us. I don’t recall when and where I first met him. But I distinctly remember he stood out in the crowd. Tall, athletic, lanky, shoulder-length blond hair, and a heavy accent. He also happened to be the Vice President of IMSI, one of baby Cybage’s early customers.

Around ’98, Mike made his first trip to India to visit Cybage. I drove down from Pune to Mumbai Airport to pick him up from his late night flight arrival. In those days, there was no expressway connecting Bombay and Pune. We traversed through the old beat-up highway, and got stranded in a massive traffic jam in the middle of countryside. Mike’s jet lag ensured that he stayed wide awake, and my vendor status ensured that I matched his alertness. Today, when I look back, I am thankful for that never ending night in wilderness. After all, I got to learn a lot about the real Mike behind the technology genius I was familiar with. Brilliant words were spoken that night. The new virtual world of dotcom. The real world outside the virtual world. The cosmic world outside the real world. He seemed to know most of the constellations in the night sky. And the politics of the turning earth. And the roadside fauna and flora of rural India’s early morning.

Prior to that night, I always rated Mike as one of the brightest digital minds on the planet. But that night I discovered that ‘profession’ to Mike was just a question of making a living—his being an IT geek was merely a ‘chance by compulsion’. He was a gypsy at heart—rock climbing was his only true love! Mike was raised in South Africa, trekking the African landscape of late 80s. Then in early 90s he set up a rock-climbing adventure magazine and equipment company to see whether he can make a living out of his passion. The unusual business idea laden with debt prompted him to take a break from climbing and relocate to bay area for work.

Then as VP of IMSI, he chanced upon a solicitation mail from Cybage and ended up initiating offshore partnership with us. I suspect that beyond offshore arbitrage, his real driving decision was the fascination of traveling to exotic places. His career strategy had no ambiguity—make just enough $$$ to pay off debt, and then set off on a rock climbing pilgrimage across continents! I still remember his target; as per his calculations all he needed was $20 per day to take care of his basic needs while going global trekking.

As IMSI started going down, Mike made his anticipated move along with his new wife Tamara who co-shared his passion. I lost touch with him over the next couple of years as he went dabbling on large hills of Peru and extended climbing trips in the southwest US and in South Africa. As the savings started dwindling, it was time to get back to civilization. This time around, the destination was Seattle based startup—Odyssey Technologies. We reconnected at personal level when Odyssey tied up with Cybage as its offshore partner.

Mike Cartwright
Mike Cartwright

As luck would have it, Odyssey too went down, and Mike zipped off again—traversing the Berg tagging Cathedral Peak, Mponjewane, and Sentinel; then the frequent mountain and trail running in Seattle cascades, usually as an excuse to visit sunnier places in the middle of winter. Money started evaporating again; thus followed a short stint with Microsoft, and finally the incubation of his own startup Solid Documents . Once more, he started working with Cybage, but the startup nature of his needs did not make it conducive for a formal partnership to sustain.

Over the last few years, I have lost touch with him (for the third time)! It was only recently that I got the urge to reconnect with him, specifically for any interesting inputs to be touched upon in this blog. I wrote him an email a few weeks back, but he doesn’t seem to be accessing his emails. But thanks to Google, I have managed to locate his whereabouts from a magazine interview he appeared in about a year back (http://www.climb.co.za/2011/03/southern-rock-magazine/). And it comes as no surprise that he has now relocated to south island of New Zealand to re-pursue his rock climbing passion on a full-time basis!

Today, “work hard, play hard” is a motto practiced by many organizations. But Mike has taken this motto to a new level. As one of Mike’s close friends aptly puts it—Mike likes to “swing the pendulum”. Work 100%. Play 100%. Sequentially! The regular corporate world doesn’t understand this. Most of the successful people seldom switch off completely… the mainstream believes in striking a healthy balance—don’t forget work while playing, and don’t forget play while working.

I too belong to the mainstream. In fact, I extend this approach to almost everything I do. For example I enjoy binging, but I watch what I eat. I enjoy working out, but I need the TV on. I enjoy my vacation, but I can’t have my Blackberry ever switched off! I seem to be forever trying to balance everything I do—‘simultaneously’—it gives me a nice feeling of control. But then, I haven’t seen the other side, have I? Sometimes I wonder—who has got it “more” right: a) one who balances work and play ‘simultaneously’?; or b) one who balances work and play ‘sequentially’? Perhaps, it is time for yet another opinion poll

Purpose, Original, Heart, Style


  1. There was one famous circus acrobat he used to swing from one trapeze to another above 60’feet high from the ground. Ones he was asked a question “are you not scared to jump on another trapeze at such a height?” He smiled and replied that “it’s very simple I throw my heart on the other trapeze and my body follows.” In this article Mike’s heart always there up in the mountains and in your case the heart always revolve around work. No matter how far we can go or try to run away from our passion we will always come back to our heart.

  2. I think its not about which is more right but its about what your passion is. If someone is passionate about his work then i think his opinion will be balncing work and play ‘simultaneously’. On the other side if someone has passion about something other than work, he would preferably love to have balance between work and play ‘sequentially’. Till now i belong to the second category so i really enjoy having balance in work and play ‘sequentially’. Mine personal thinking is that while doing something which you are passionate about, you should give more than 100% to that and this can happen only when you just forget about evrything else that time.

  3. Mike’s adventurous life is really bodacious, but sometimes responsibilities play a major role as a decisive factor choosing between work and play. It might be the case
    that apart from what one desires balancing “simultaneously” becomes a necessity. But, at personnel level I feel each moment of life is precious and should be enjoyed to fullest.
    So why to wait for next sequence 🙂 just balance work and play simultaneously and whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly giving your best !

  4. As an Indian we do feel and carry lot more responsibilities in early stage of life. Therefore we are more responsibity driven rather than own choice. To better realize own passion, we should has to have very good self-understanding.
    Some time I get confused as to how we commonly used word ‘passion’. During childhood majority of us wanted to spend most of the time in playing games, Is that a passion? When we realize the importance of school, started study seriously and got interest in physics or maths, we spent most of the time in solving complex equations, Is that a passion? On getting good marks in 12th, though our passion says something different than also we go either for engineering or medical. When we start professional life, we realize that we can bring some change and result in to better outcome, we spend most of the time to think and speak about work related topics, ultimately concept like ‘workaholic’ comes in to picture, Is it a passion?
    If we take a close look, we are doing many more activities some are routine and some are occasional. We often more interested towards occasional one and by which we feel relax, sometimes for these occasional activities, we might come up with new born findings and ultimately which becomes passion.
    In several readings we could find there is battle between passion vs daily task/responsibilities. Can’t we make our daily responsibilities as own passion? Really do we require something extra as a passion and which is different from life responsibilities? I think it’s only state of mind and by doing which we feel relax and happy, and often we named as passion.
    On the top of all, IMO if we find and make our daily responsibilities as our own passion, definitely we come up with more happiness and success, rather than having something different as a passion and try to achieve by doing something different. Yep it’s totally depends on us by which way we would like to live life!!!
    At the end of day, we are designed to choose and defined by choice. Period!!!

  5. It is like deciding if Mike was right or wrong. Actually Mike was keeping the balance as he could not neglect the needs of the people dependent on him. Now after a long time he could take his passion on a full-time basis must be because the people dependent on him are no longer dependent on him.
    I am a mainstream person myself and I have tried to do what came my way subsequently. I have done what I have to do at that time giving my 100%. I know I had to cut a little bit on play but that was worth it. I will not say I have not seen the other side. We all shall agree to the fact that getting everything in one life is impossible. So why repent do what is required of you at that moment with full passion and give your 100%. Be it work or play. You will alway be at peace.

  6. Anthony Ryan says “Life isn’t what you want it to be, it’s what you make it become.”
    Healthy quality of life helps you to be consistent and focused while you are at work , and for doing a quality work you need be consistent and focused. As per my opinion if we work and play simultaneously without disturbing the quality of Life, we should keep doing the same. Vice versa we can do it sequentially .
    And yes , quality of life should not be confused with the concept of standard of living .

  7. While growing up we are conditioned to give more weightage to family. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to that idea is not left alone to live his life on his terms. Many among us give in and start living someone else’s idea of life. A life with importance on family means starting your own which leads us to increase our liabilities. Mike’s approach is almost philosophical. He is not attached to the material things in life. They are only the means to an end.
    We all have interests/ hobbies but we stop short of pursuing them with a passion. Most of us prefer to follow our hobby or interest to a point where it complements our work life. We stop when it starts to interfere with our money making skills and call it balance. I am doing it and I envy a few people I know who gave up a steady source of income to pursue their hobby fulltime. Because to even come close to master something requires you to devote a lot of time and energy to it and to do that we can only chose one. If our work and passion are one then we are fortunate otherwise we are just kidding ourselves.

  8. In response to Kiran’s comment:

    Interesting thought! However, I have a different take on it.

    Passion seldom makes you relaxed and happy, I think it rather does the exact opposite. Real passion makes you restless. You can never have a content moment if you are not chasing what your passion is. As they say, all the while, people are cussing, complaining, struggling, and fighting to get what they set out for. They lost their night’s repose in the quest for what they wanted. And when they finally got there, all they said was ‘It was the journey that was fun’. The end result starts seeming quite obvious in the light of all that was done.

    In fact, passion makes you so incensed, that you feel there’s a fire going on inside you and if you don’t channelize it, it will end up consuming yourself. Passion I think is the attribute of your ‘calling’. Mike’s was rock-climbing. It could be a host of different things to a bunch of us. When you give in to your passion and set out on a full blown voyage to your calling, then, and only then I would say that a person has abandoned the Idea of being average.

    Remember, civilizations have one thing in common. Their forefathers and progenitors were extremely passionate people and hardly saw relaxed, happy and merry times. These people are distinguished by their passion and books are written not on where they got to, but how they got there.

    Coming down to us commoners (for now), I believe passion and life responsibilities are totally different. One can’t pursue both and do equal justice to both.

    We can quote the worth of passion from the following line:

    The Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: “Did he have passion?”

  9. Well many will find it orthodox or conventional but according to me striking a balance between work and passion is better. What Mike did to pursue his passion could have also been done while he was working in an organization. Passion is something you bring it daily in your life, in your routine and if you are able to strike it perfectly then you are among the leaders.
    If we can make a living out of our passion then it is the best otherwise striking a balance between the two would be great!!!!

  10. “Don’t consider work and play as two different things. Work is play (And play is work, sometimes)”, similar thing was said by Sam Pitroda when he was interviwed by the journalist. The path that Mike chose was at a completely different level and absolutely more right (for him).

    If I have a strong urge (I don’t really what measures the strongness) of pursuing some all together different path, some path which would take me to the truth of life, something which could give me pleasure beyond the traditional materialistic pleasures, then switching every other thing off, completely off, and doing ONLY what I think is right is the most “right” way. Following this path will not matter anything else anymore. No problem if markets falls, no problem if less money, no problem if no one knows me, no problem with anything in the world. Because the path pursued gives the immense pleasure to shut off all other pains!!

    However, simply because I like watching good movies, playing Table Tennis, travel new places, etc, I should not switch off my career path for any of these. All similar things would only serve as a refreshment, a change, which would boost my mood and my performance in my actual career path.

    So I would say, its relative.

  11. This is an amazing post , I think everyone professional should read to it. As I know the work is the real meaning of life and if the work which liked by you is the part of your daily life then the life will be became more valuable.

    Another thing is that if the person has putting his whole effort in a difficult work which he/she don’t like then after accomplish the work no guarantee that the end result give happiness but if the person is giving his whole life to complete one big or difficult work and if person get success at the end of the work then the moment give to persons excellent happiness.


  12. Heartily Congratulations….On achieving CEO of the Year Award. You are inspiring us by leading with an Example…

  13. In this case Mike is very clear in his priorities.

    Priorities determines who gets it more right. No one is wrong either.

    The challenge is to set our priorities for a longer timeframe or lifetime. Most of us would spend a lot of years discovering their passion & yet not find one. Once found, finding a right balance between pursuing the passion & social, financial obligations is must.

    When it comes to finances ‘Yeh dil always mange more’, so one starts compromising on their passion for necessities & later luxuries. Once this happens the PRIORITY is shifted. An unchanged priority is my assumption here to decide who is more right.

    However realistically everyone is right in thier own way as many of us are conditioned to shift our priorities for our near & dear ones. If one does so, it can also mean that the passion was not strong enough.

  14. I think Indian work culture makes it difficult to balance work and play sequentially, as even a small Gap in work here makes it difficult for you to get back in professional life.
    One can dare though and still do it , depends on how passionate you are…

  15. Destiny 🙂

  16. Being a mainstream follower, sequence won’t result as best. With the pace things are fluctuating, duration of small or more breaks results into a leg in your professional life. You might find sometime very easy to break, however might end up missing train. Multitasking/ ‘simultaneously’ is not just required in professional life however it’s equally good while dealing with personal life.

    Philosophically also, balancing act is anytime encouraged as running just behind passion might end losing the charm of passion and entire life (Though few top people might not encourage this thought as for them passion is everything, HOWEVER how many have that capability, courage and conviction). Though, every time is time for passion and hobby, however discouraging yourself from main stream work.. should be avoided. Short or long desertion from profession to passion, for masses seems to be lethal, considering the role and responsibility person has to play in every stage of life.

    To be realistic, we all are interrupts driven and if we want to enjoy life fullest for us, family and society, ‘simultaneously’ is the option.

  17. Waiting for the next blog!

  18. How about switching on and off at will. So, if this switch time is very short, say minutes, both approaches works. 🙂

  19. Thanks for this article, Arun!
    Mike seems to be a very strong person! That was extremely interesting to read about his adventures. In a way, I envy him a little bit…I’m not sure I’ll have a change to travel so much.
    Mike has seen so much! I think it’s high time for him to write a book about travelling!

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Swinging the Pendulum - Arun Nathani Blog