2013

It’s the last day of 2013  and yet I feel like the year barely started.  On January 1 I woke up sick in the slums of Ahmedabad.  A family was kind enough to host me through a program attempting to bring the poor and the well off together.  It was organized through a non-profit that sent several of us into the homes of trusted slum-dwellers.  My host was a grandmother who was a sweeper for the non-profit. She would wake up early every morning to sweep the grounds of the organization and then return home to make breakfast for her grandchildren before they headed off to school.  I was supposed to sweep alongside her in the morning, but because I was sick, she insisted I sleep in.  There must have been eight women in the family sleeping in her one room shack, while the men slept outside, but they insisted I have my own bed.  I was on the fence when I originally heard about the program, considering that I already hate using the facilities when I stay with my well-to-do relatives in India. But then decided to do it at the last minute.  I had no other plans for New Year’s Eve and figured it would be a good experience for me.  I had spent countless other times drunk and cold and tired and hung-over.  I didn’t know what to expect in terms of NYE celebration, but it turns out there wasn’t any – after watching TV, we must have gone to bed at 10pm.  There was no question of doing a midnight countdown, as I was fast asleep when the year changed. For my sweet host and her family, it was a night like any other.  In the end, it was a great experience. I was humbled by the family that took great care of me and even insisted on giving me money from their meager savings for the auto rickshaw ride home since I was sick.

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Eating dinner together in the cramped space. Note that we are sitting in front of a cot that is pulled down into place every night for bed time.

The year started off with me being humbled by many things. Not only by my host family, but also by Raghu Bhai, my host in Ahmedabad who was constantly hobbling around on his hands because his legs were crippled by polio as a child. Though he grew up dirt poor in a village many miles away from Ahmedabad, he refused to beg for food. Instead, he arrived in Ahmedabad penniless. At night he slept on the streets and by day he guarded shoes outside a temple, only accepting donations from well-meaning individuals as compensation.  Throughout his hardships, he remained an inspirational, generous and positive being, always striving to make the world a better place and even considered his misfortune early in life to be a good thing because it pushed him to help others.

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I was humbled by the immensity of our planet and how different things are from the fast-paced cities and internet and constant TV news coverage I’m used to when I stayed with a family in a remote village several hours outside of Ahmedabad.  This was a place without paved roads, where the homes had mud floors and wasted little electricity.  My gracious hosts cooked a meal with vegetables picked directly from the farms nearby and generously gave me and another visitor a small cot to share at night where I fell asleep under the stars listening to the sounds of crickets and restless cattle snorting nearby.

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I was also humbled by my first real taste of failure – attempting to start a business and deciding not to and then figuring out how to tell family, friends and professional colleagues that I felt like a flop.  By having surgery and being reliant on others for everything and realizing how lucky I am to be in good health.

I managed to complete The Artist’s Way.  Definitely a struggle at times, but worth it in the end. When I think of the book, I think of long evening walks in Colonial Park where I saw rabbits and turtles and ducks and managed to regain a sense of calm amid the turbulent waters of home.

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I learned how to sew, which turned out to be more fun than I imagined. I always loved fabric and then to be able to create anything I wanted with the fabric of my choice was pretty exciting.

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I moved to an apartment in Brooklyn that I don’t love and started a new job I am not excited about. But in the end, it was the right move. I needed my space and my sanity back.

A very challenging ten-day silent meditation retreat gave me a lot to reflect on in life and happiness and priorities.  It was profound and life-changing in so many ways and still brings a lump to my throat when I think of it.  I tried to explain the experience to people, but realized it’s impossible. Some things are yours alone.

And now it’s December again and it feels like the year has gone by way too fast. It seems like just yesterday I was waking up freezing cold in the slums of Ahmedabad with an unwelcome rumbling in my stomach.  The year has been challenging and a struggle. I don’t know yet what lessons came out of it. The journey continues.

On to 2014.

Anatomy of a Panic Attack

 

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You come home after your first day at the new job.  All week before today you were having anxiety dreams and stress over the upcoming job and move to the new apartment.  Finally you made it through the first day.  But still can’t seem to find a sense of calm or balance.  So you have a solid plan upon arriving home: you will take a quick pee, change and head to the gym.  Afterwards you will eat dinner, shower, try to unpack more of the boxes in your room and then go to sleep at a reasonable hour.  It seems like a fine idea because exercise is always a good stress reliever and you need to do something to stop feeling so much apprehension.

So you head over to the bathroom and deliberate for a split second over locking the door. You have a new roommate and feel that perhaps in the beginning you should lock the door, but it won’t really matter later once you know him better and feel more comfortable.  After peeing and washing your hands, you pull the knob only to find that the lock comes out in your hand.  You are locked in.

At this point your heart starts to beat fast and you start to get very warm. The apartment already seems to run hot and the bathroom is even hotter.  You are thankful that at least you brought your cell phone with you and can call your roommate or a friend.  Then your mind starts racing through all the possibilities of how long you will be stuck in the bathroom.  Can someone call the building super? How long will it take for the super to get into the apartment and then help to unlock the door? One hour? Two?  Will your roommate get home at a decent hour to help? Can you get a friend to come and help? But wait, your friend doesn’t have keys to the building or your apartment.  Your cell phone doesn’t have more than 40% battery left so it could easily run out while you are stuck in the bathroom.

The whole time that your mind is racing, your shaking hands are trying to fix the lock.  At a logical level, you can see what needs to be done and can perhaps even do it. But your mind says, “what if I can’t do it? How long will I be stuck? It’s boiling hot in here. I won’t last.”   You almost bang the sturdy door in fright and are on the verge of trying to kick it open but know that you will likely only succeed in breaking some of your own bones if you even try.

You have a vague recollection that if you close your eyes and focus on your breathing, you might even be able to calm yourself before it’s too late. 

All of a sudden, all the fumbling with the lock is successful and you are able to open the door. You swear to yourself that you will never again lock this door.  Another vow placed alongside all the other promises you made to avoid this very situation. 

As soon as you are out, you feel relieved, but very shaky. So shaky that your hands are trembling for a half hour afterwards and you can’t seem to catch your breath. You call your best friend and lament over how you very nearly freaked out in the bathroom. It could have been bad. 

You head over to the gym, but while listening to Mary J.’s remake of “One,” you find yourself on the verge of tears while on the rowing machine.  You can’t quite figure out why. 

“Here we go again…”

This phrase kept rolling through my head as I was on my daily evening stroll in Colonial Park.  The reason is probably because the past week or so has been a whirlwind of activity.  I accepted a job offer from a small consulting company, I found an apartment and I have to move within the next week and start my new job.  To say that I am feeling a little anxious over so many changes is an understatement!  I’ve had anxiety every step of the way.  Whether to apply to this company in the first place? Whether to quit midway through the interview process? Whether to accept the offer?  So finally I decided.

I am not sure how to cope with it all. How will I maintain my sense of balance? My meditation?  All the creative things I am trying to do in my free time?  Should I just throw in the towel until January to get adjusted to things and then try to start some new routines to figure out life after corporate???  Will I even have any energy left over at the end of a work week for all this stuff??

I am clearly all over the place.  I largely abandoned this blog over the last six months because I wasn’t sure I had anything to say that I wanted to share on a blog. Thinking about the inception of this blog and re-reading my earlier entries makes me happy.   The last year has been harder.  With trying to start a business, then deciding not to, feeling like a failure, and then figuring out how to proceed.  I had a hard time with the thought of going back to a corporate job but could really use the money and the health insurance.

In the meantime, the idea of writing on a blog again has been tugging at me. But I didn’t have a theme I felt inspired to write about.  I thought about the types of writing I enjoy reading and it tends to be more personal and introspective in nature, such as the Modern Love column in the NY Times.  That is the kind of stuff I want to be able to write.  But I know it doesn’t happen overnight. Like any craft, I need to do it regularly to grow and improve.  I also need to make it a routine, otherwise it won’t happen. And somehow, the act of publishing it on a blog will force me to write more regularly.  That isn’t to say that I will publish everything I write. But it will force me to think more about what I want to say and polish it.

My goal, at least initially, is to publish once a week.  I thought about publishing more frequently, but also know that if I am too overambitious then it won’t get done at all.  The topics will be varied for now. I will see how it evolves and maybe in the future I will pick more of a focus.  Obviously topics like career, passion, creativity, and travel are favorites for me – they will very likely continue to be themes.

So today, while walking, the title of this blog came to me.  “Here we go again.”  Into the world of apartment hunting and work and schmoozing on the job and having my days filled with meetings and coming home so exhausted that I barely have energy to do anything but flop on the couch and watch TV.  It feels a little like I’ve been on this ride before. First with pwc. Then with Accenture.  Will I ever do anything else besides management consulting??  But while working out at the gym, Nelly Furtado sang on my ipod:

“I am not a one-trick pony
I really feel no one can own me
I really feel nothing can hold me

Nobody can control me
Nobody can conform me
Nobody can disown me
Nobody can ignore me

I am not a one-trick pony
For you I will not dance
For you I will not prance…”

I am not a one-trick pony.

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Amazing skies over Colonial Park

Anniversary of Bin Laden’s Death…

Every time I turn to the New York Times in the last day or so, I keep being reminded of the fact that it has been one year since bin Laden’s death.  And while I am happy that this is a major step forward in the war against terrorism, I keep thinking back to where I was last year at this time.  I was in such a different place emotionally and spiritually. I remember I had taken a week off of work to attend two weddings on the west coast and also just have some down time to think. I flew into Fort Worth where the first wedding was, stayed with my friend, Kay, and got to see her life there and catch up. She was also at a “stuck” point in her life where she was unhappy with stuff professionally and generally didn’t love Fort Worth.  Although she wasn’t at her happiest, I had a great time in Fort Worth. Kay and Partha were incredibly hospitable and made me feel like it was my home, too.  They indulged me by fulfilling all my requests, no matter how crazy -like going to a bull riding show at Billy Bob’s and doing other cheesy Texas-y things.

They dropped me off at the airport at the end of the weekend to catch a flight to San Francisco. I didn’t have a lot planned for that week…just a stay at the Courtyard Marriott by Fisherman’s Wharf and time to sleep in, catch up with old friends, and head to a wedding in Sonoma Valley the following weekend.   Just after landing at SFO I turned on my phone and saw that I had received two text messages from my brother while en route. The first saying that Obama was going to speak in a few minutes but people weren’t sure about what. The second was telling me that they killed bin laden.  I turned to the New York Times on my cell phone and was shocked and surprised to see that not only had they killed bin laden, but that they found him in Pakistan.

Despite the surprises in the news and the constant chatter in the press about the implications of this latest turn of events, I was so thrilled to be on vacation and far away from home and work.  I took a cab to the hotel and checked in, excited about my plans, or lack thereof, for the week.  I remember taking a run by the water in the mornings and just using the time to think. Taking in the blue sky and cool breeze and being sooooo happy to be away.  I remember eating delicious Mexican food in the Mission and awesome pizza at Delfina’s.  I enjoyed Salted Caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite.  I took the trolley to the Ferry Building, ate a delicious warm egg salad sandwich with cheese on top (sounds gross, but was absolutely delicious!) and sat by the water to unwind. Finally I bought a pretty purple moleskine notebook to think and write.  I must have sat there in the sun for two hours that day, writing and contemplating.

Later that week I headed to Neera’s wedding in Sonoma Valley.  I remember talking to one of her college friends during the rehearsal dinner.  This friend had recently taken a career sabbatical and could see I was on the edge of taking one myself, but needed convincing that it would all be ok and that there was nothing to fear.  She was fantastic with really convincing me that I would be ok – after all she had quit her job in advertising, planned to take six months off, and was offered another advertising job before her six months were up.  I took a deep breath and asked for a leave of absence when I returned to work the next week.

After that, the last year has been a blur of incredible experiences and general giddiness with life. I had no idea what an amazing ride it would be.  I took the purple moleskine while traveling over the next six months. Initially it was my travel planning notebook.  Then it turned into my journal/travel planning notebook/area to jot down the awesome places I came across on the road.  During the trip I kept turning back to those first few pages I had filled last May with thoughts about how I needed to and wanted a change, but was terrified and felt stuck.  Every time I read those pages, I can immediately picture myself there again and remember that feeling of dread in my stomach…dread about work..dread about asking for a leave…dread about the great unknown.  Ultimately, I am glad I got out of my comfort zone to take the sabbatical.  The scariness has been well worth it.

So the anniversary of bin laden’s death is somewhat meaningful for me in a strange way.  As you can see, the mere mention of his death brings me back to where I was last year and reminds me of how far I’ve come and what an amazing journey it’s been.  It’s like when you hear an old song on the radio that takes you back to a completely different time and place – you can remember all the details, the weather, what you were wearing, what you ate, how you felt.  So for me, the memory of that week is a beautiful one because it was the beginning of a great journey.  Here’s to continuing the amazing ride!

Feeling like myself again

So I spoke with Colleen over the phone a few days ago in our initial conversation about starting a business together. It went really well and I am super excited.  I think we both have very similar ideas on how we want our business to work and so far she is a great business partner with a similar level of detail and attention to the work we are putting in together.  I am really happy that I asked her to partner.

At the end of our conversation about the business, we just started talking about ourselves and how stuff is going. I love her optimism and general happiness about everything. It is one of the things that really drew me to her. She mentioned something that really resonated with me. She was saying that after only two years of working at pwc, she just didn’t feel like herself anymore. And it took almost a whole year longer to feel like herself again.

I could totally relate. That wasn’t among the sentiments I had repeatedly expressed to people (like so many other job-related things that I repeatedly whined about). But it was a sense of feeling out of sorts and putting on a different persona at work. I know I can’t always dress in my college clothes and be a bum. But there is some middle ground, which I didn’t think my life at my last job was really amenable to. I keep thinking back to various situations: feeling envious of my clients in Miami who could comfortably be themselves at work, feeling like I was in a dark tunnel in St. Louis, feeling like I would never want a job like the ones my clients had on Long Island, the sense of dread I felt on a daily basis at Yale and how much I hated that role and being in New Haven as a consultant.  I just didn’t feel like myself in any of those situations.

I have to agree with Colleen that it has taken me a long time to come back to me.  I finally shed the persona of the knowledgeable consultant having to act like I know everything in order to justify our high rates or having to prove myself to peers.  I can pursue things that are important to me now. I can venture to India to start this business and not have to dress in a suit or do “professional speak” to impress people.

Sure, parts of it are valuable – like knowing how to plan and run projects, how to make presentations, and how the corporate world works in general. But I don’t know how people do this their whole life. I really don’t. Yesterday I was describing to a friend how in looking back at my job, I feel like it was this controlling relationship. The company kept trying to make me happy with money and a semblance of the things I wanted (staying local), but it wasn’t enough to keep me in the relationship. And now that I have left, I feel like I am flying. I was so worried about what others would think of my new business idea and how hoaky it is. But that fear is slowly fading.  I have started to post more on Facebook, which I think is fun. I have opened up my blog to the public (though haven’t advertised it), which is huge for me. These little steps are big ones for me.

I didn’t realize that after leaving I would uncover so many layers of myself and of my relationship with my former job. It was only leaving that could have done this for me. The longer I suffered in that job, the longer the real me would stay suppressed and hidden away.  And I felt like I had to have all the answers when I resigned and I didn’t. Looking back now, there is no way I could have had the answers. Just the mere act of being away has given me the space to find the answers. I knew they were there all along, but it took me time to uncover them.

“The Journey”

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Mary Oliver