Saturday, October 27, 2012

Breakpoint: About Starting It Over

I am starting it over again. It is a complete reboot, and I feel like I have gone back eight years, or even fourteen; the good thing is, I am enjoying it.

People love becoming younger without giving up the accumulated privileges. In my case, it is the other way round - it is indeed about starting from scratch while enjoying being older and hopefully wiser - a bit scary but thrilling nonetheless. Being young, I have come to conclude, isn't about the tautness of skin but feeling the weightlessness that comes with such a plunge to the unknown.

I have felt this weightlessness before. In 1998, when I walked out of my job to start a small company, I realised the weight my big company business cards had: Suddenly, even with people I used to deal with in my corporate career, I was somewhat of a non-entity. The feeling was hurtful at the time, but sobering and useful in the long run; I did go back to big company work in a couple of years time, but was never as presumptive as I would have been previously.

The same happened in 2004, when I left the privileges of an expense account lifestyle and a senior position to migrate, without a job or a plan, to Britain: That landed me up working in warehouses obeying orders and shifting goods. I didn't enjoy it at the time, but it had the same weightlessness of shading my presumptions and starting over again. 

I know being able to reflect on these experiences is a privilege in itself, and this may even sound smug to others; I am saying that I have managed to escape the fate. However, the sobering bit indeed is that I am back at Ground Zero in many sense, having walked out of a job yet again (though there was not much left in it) and sticking it out to start a business. It is that sort of time when I get to see what I am not good at more starkly than at any other time. This is also the time to do Dream Benchmarks, a game I play with myself often.

That is, I sometime imagine that I have gone back on time. For example, I am imagining now that I have just arrived in the UK - that takes me back to my time in the warehouse - and having to start all over again. I am older, indeed, and have lost two of my closest persons in the meantime; but I am wiser too, have gained skills and certification, and have become a naturalised citizen, all of which can be counted as positives. This, in short, is my dream benchmarks, counting the blessings from time to time, and acknowledging that our presumptions don't live long; If this means nothing else, I shall claim, despite my various transgressions, this philosophy of life makes me a true Indian.

Through this game, I also become aware what my persistent problems are, or seem to be. Embarking on near-Quixotic enterprises must be one; I am one for big dreams, and in my approach, too chivalrous to be ruthless when needed. However, this has still worked for me, even if in a roundabout way: My life, never a straight-line, moved forward in spurts and jumps, and indeed plunges, but moved forward nonetheless. Also, I realise I am quite naive in terms of playing the system: Those who know me remind me that I am not just ignorant, but sometimes obstinately so. I can safely pass the blame for this to my schooling in life by my grandfather, who ran his small business as straight as he can, without trying to play the system and even scoffing at any suggestion that he could. However odd this sounds, and I am painfully aware that he lived in a different day and age when he could get away being the way he was, I just can't see these short-cut opportunities; my mind remains obdurately focused on the long-winded path of doing something grand, and right.

Surely, it would be honest for me not to try my hand in business once I have become aware of these shortcomings. Yet, I am equally driven by belief that business is not just about taking opportunities, but creating some new ones, a process which is inevitably long-winded and inescapably demanding. Besides, I have taken time to find someone to work with, who has more business sense than me while being on the same page on key values. This is also part of my starting over, and benchmarking my abilities against what is needed to get this done.

I am treating this time as an opportunity to start over in many other things. I am in the final phase of my Masters in Adult Education and devoting my time to complete the dissertation. I wish to complete it this side of Christmas and start looking for new academic opportunities in the new year. I am also planning to step down from my position of a Trustee in a South London charity, where I served for last three years but felt constrained by its scope of operation and what I could contribute; again, in the new year, I shall find new opportunities to volunteer and use my spare time more meaningfully, perhaps with a more international context this time.

For me, all of this must lead to, over long term, to one defining objective that I have - to help create a global education network, where global meets the local, and we can finally discard the narrow national assumptions handed down from another era and build the basis of a true global democracy. I know this sounds suitably Utopian and quixotic as declared, but then, at some point in history, clan fights between European Barons made perfect sense and seemed to have gone on forever; people would have laughed the idea of EU if one had the courage to talk about it. And, indeed they did, the idea originated right around the time when Europe was being torn off in fratricidal wars. Indeed, all progress depends on unreasonable man: And, I am nothing if not unreasonable.

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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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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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