Friday, September 03, 2010

Journal Entry: The First day of Fog

It was good to get up early today.

I am usually a morning person. But, after joining the college, my daily schedule has changed a bit. I never get home till very late, and then my studies and other commitments keep me awake. The alarm, as usual, goes off at five, but I have struggled to get up that early.

But, today, was different. In fact, today, as the alarm went off, I felt lazy. There was none of the early morning summer sun to be felt through the curtains: It was all dark. It felt different. Though it was tempting to stay in bed for longer, it was the mixture of guilt and curiosity that pulled me to get up. And, then, I saw the mist outside.

So, the autumn has finally arrived. On time, and in full glory. Now, surely the leaves will go. Warm clothes will come out. Days will become amazingly short. The chill of the wind will soon turn into rain. After a long, dry and hot summer as it was this year, I have almost forgotten winter, but it has now made its presence felt.

It felt the right time for me to start fresh. Yes, I keep starting fresh, renewing myself, and give the feeling that I don't know where I am going. But that was the nature of my life for last four years or so. I now know: I must pursue, with single-minded commitment, the purpose I set for myself: A World College.

In fact, a few things in the last couple of days only helped me firm up my mind. For example, an offer yesterday, a lucrative one, to work with a businessman to set up colleges in different countries, one that will dispense British MBA degrees in different countries. He was honest and upfront: He told that he would be in it for money and didn't care which MBA we end up giving. He was impressive, but too clever for me. I realized how much I have changed by experience. Few months ago, I would have been excited, thought about this opportunity for a few days, and would have at least made an attempt to get going. But, I reached the conclusion almost instantaneously this time: I am not going to work with people who are in it for money.

This is such a change. Finally, the dot-com ghost, the ideas of flashy businesses and quick exits, which dominated my life for the last ten years, is off my back. Yes, this indeed means giving up the dreams of becoming a paper millionaire any time soon: Accepting that this is not going to happen. However, I am almost happy to be here: Knowing that there are more ways than one to be successful.

What is amazing is that once I have reached the conclusion that such businesses are not for me, I feel much less confused now. Yes, I feel a bit old, bit too wise not to hang around with speculators of the world, and a touch cautious not to waste my time anymore: A feeling of mortality is now coming to me. It is coming at a good time. The mistakes I have made over the last few years in my career was about this - the idea that a good business can be built notwithstanding who the money came from - and getting involved in myriads of wrong associations, relationships that was not too last beyond its immediate context. The oldness, despite its misty feel, is amazingly clear in contrast: I now know what I can do, and feel an urgency to do so.

So, this post is a fresh start, a quest for a new new thing. Some things are becoming clearer. For example, the 'World' College is nothing but an University: I forgot that Universities are supposed to be places of universal knowledge, a sort of a global thing by definition. Despite my training as a marketer, it is time to look beyond the skin and know that it is not the label, but the content, which matters. However unexciting the idea of a place-based university is in this day and age, what I am after is actually an university, with one difference.

That bit comes from my father, who was a great teacher, but worked for a mediocre, inner city college all his life. He would proudly say that he has done more in life than the teachers of elite institutions, as he taught people 'who no one would take'. I obviously know those people, being an inner city boy myself. This also made me feel a deep distrust of academia, with its elitism and intellectual skulduggery, but more at home with business, with its democratic spirit and commitment to 'anyone can buy' spirit. I could not bring myself to dream about an university, because this meant closing the doors to underserved people: the term 'college' sounded just right. But, indeed, what I was planning is not new or novel, just one of the places of learning; nothing new, my yesterday's contact would have said, but something in short supply.

So, as I start the workday, I feel focused again, rejuvenated again. Back to old form, I would say. The idea of working my head down for two years and learning new skills is back in the agenda. Pulling a team of smart people together is also central to this idea, people with commitment to good education. I am also conscious that I have to complete a learning agenda - my education at UCL and outside - and I am better off focusing myself on that rather than seeking a short-cut.

The first day of fog, then, may be my first day of clarity. A sobering return to earth, in many ways. Time to cut some ties, but to invest on other ones. A day of feeling old, perhaps, but at the same time, the day to commit to creation. A day of start, a day of waiting, of broken embraces but renewed fidelity. A day of return. Of eternal return.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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