Coming Home

I think one of my favorite smells is the one as the plane opens and you get a whiff of Mumbai, and the halls of the Mumbai airport.  I can’t explain it, but it makes me smile every time (seriously, ear to ear, everyone stares at you like a crazy person smile)- ever since the second time I landed about 7 years ago.  It may sound strange, but right now, I consider India my “home”.  To me, the concept of home is simple- it’s wherever you feel the most comfortable being..you.  And for me, at this point in my life, India gives me that freedom.  And I appreciate it so much.

I guess in some ways I am running away from the social constructs that I created in my immediate environment in the US.  And that doesn’t have anything to do with the US perse, because people in India probably feel the same way about their life here.  I think it’s the simple concept of being a foreigner.  When you’re a foreigner, people don’t have expectations of you- at least in India they don’t.  You can get away with pretty much anything, from social faux paus to business meeting slip ups.  There’s no pressure really.  Actually, this could be particular to India, because I just finished reading this book about being a foreigner in France, and the woman did not seem to think the French were all that forgiving.  But India is.  And people welcome you with open arms.  Also, it helps to have family living in India- I seriously discover new relatives all the time (that welcome you and treat you like they’ve known you forever) which is one of the best feelings ever. I absolutely love Indian hospitality and the tie to family (both a blessing and a curse, but right now I’m celebrating the best of it)

But just putting things in perspective historically, I think coming home after this trip is especially exhilarating because the more I learn about the history of the world, the more I realize how interesting a time it is to be in India.  I was watching Lincoln on the plane ride back, and it was really an eye opener.  100 years after the US gained independence from the British, we decided that we hated each other and started shooting each other up re: Civil War.  Not only that, in order to see everyone, regardless of color, as the same under the law, Lincoln had to essentially buy his way to these votes.  Which makes me come to the (hopefully) logical conclusion that buying votes was the status quo in the US at that time.  Not that it isn’t the same way now (just disguised as “lobbying” and at higher levels behind closed doors) but really, corruption was at the same level as it is in India at that time- an inconvenience to the common man.  Or so it made it seem.  I have to look into it more, but now the seed is planted.  Now imagine that movie, and imagine Lincoln tried doing that, but we had the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and citizen journalism to expose anything unseemly. That’s India.  It’s absolutely NUTS.  So maybe it’s all the same in every newly independent country, but we only have more record of it now. Not sure, but that is my current hypothesis.

I’m reading this really fantastic book, We Are Like That Only, and it essentially comes to this interesting conclusion.  India is “this AND that”, “East AND West” and there will never be “One India”.  The more I learn about this country, the more I realize it’s a series of fascinating contradictions, competing ideologies, and vastly different cultures and values.  India gets media streaming in real time, keeps apprised of global trends not only socially but politically, can call people out on things that need to be called out on, but also have this undying tie to tradition.  It’s a mix. It’s creating it’s own identity.  You simply can’t transplant the West cookie cutter style and hope it takes off in India.  India will never get rid of the autorickshaw– it will just get a more fuel efficient, and technologically advanced version of this 3 wheel wonder.  Arranged marriages will never go away, India just uses technology to now put it online.  India will never get rid of it’s traditions and it’s habits- it will just use technology to make what they do…easier.

And I guess the reason I feel so at home here, at this point in my life, is that…I feel like I”m under construction as well.  And when I’m just discovering the world, and trying to build something great in it, I want to be in an environment that lets me focus on just doing that.  Just focus on the work, don’t worry about fitting in.  Because in India, since there are so many different India’s within this country, anything goes, and every foreigner fits in.

At the end of the day, I know that I want to end up in the US.  Things are definitely getting better in India re: women (which I think deserves a separate post at a later point about how fast India changes for the better) but I still don’t see myself living here permanently.  I can’t tell you if it’s a year or 5 years, or maybe just until NextDrop takes off, not really sure.  I think I”ll just…know.

But until that fascination and the benefits of being a foreigner wear out, I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.

It feels good to be “home”.

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Filling Holes & Answering The Question: Why Was I Unhappy?

It’s been a year and change now since I’ve been here in India, and I think I can finally answer the question I posed to the ether in my first blog post.  It was the reason I quit my job and moved to India in the first place: Why am I unhappy?

Now, pretty confidently, I can tell you the answer.  Because in my previous life in the US, I wasn’t growing at all.  It’s as simple as that.  Well, to be fair, I was growing I suppose.  But I wasn’t growing at the rate at which I knew I could be.  I think I’ve realized that doing something meaningful is incredibly important to me.  Creating something that has some value to the planet is important to me.  But most important, I’ve realized, is that I need to be doing something that I am proud of- I need to be living up to my own potential.  You know what an incredible feeling it is, to know that every day, you are living up to your own potential?  Do you know how few people get to say that?

So many people hate getting older, but I love it.  I always wondered why. I think it’s because birthdays are a reminder that life is moving on, whether you’re ready or not.  But when you are making the most out of every minute of every day, let me tell you, I can’t wait until I’m 60.  Because at 60, I’ll know so much more than I do now! I can’t IMAGINE what I would have done in another 35 years! So much has happend in 1 year! Imagine 35 MORE OF THESE YEARS?! It’s nuts.  It gives me nerd chills.

The reason I know that I’m living up to my potential is because I’m stretched every day.  I feel like I am an entirely new person from a year ago.  I’ve been through crazy things, I feel like hell and back, and I’m still here, living to tell the story.  How many times do you get to stand face to face with failure, walk in its shadow every day, but learn to deal with it- even start to neglect it?  I’ve made millions of mistakes, learned from those mistakes, still learning that some things that I’ve done are mistakes, made good decisions, bad decisions, hired people, fired people, have people quit on me, make enemies, make friends.  You name it, it’s probably happened, in some way, shape, or form.

It’s the human experience.  I feel like I am finally living the human experience.  Unless you’re put through the gamut of emotion, how will you understand what life is all about?  Unless you’re living on the edge, your own personal edge (whatever that may be), how will you begin to even comprehend the complexity and beauty which is…this thing we call life?

Because ultimately, aren’t we all, either consciously or subconsciously, trying to answer that great, existential question: why am I here?  Why was I placed on this planet?  Isn’t that what we all really want to know?

I am probably no closer to answering that question than you are, but I think I’ve learned a thing or two along the way about how to at least start figuring it out.  I think all humans have been equipped with an internal compass- a compass that really does point us due north, or the direction of purpose.  I think it’s called happiness.  I am pretty convinced that if we have the courage to be incredibly happy and content with our lives, we’ll be taking that first step to start answering those bigger questions.

These are just my own personal hypotheses. I have no way of proving or disproving this stuff- it could be just bizarre and totally nuts.  But it doesn’t really matter, because I kind of feel like that guy from the movie Limitless, starting to break out of the Matrix.  Except I don’t have any magic drugs.  I guess I’m just high on life.

On Life, Jobs, And Being Happy

Excuse the stream of consciousness, but I thought I would have one post that was totally random

We moved into a new office today, and I was surprised at how emotional I was.  We’ve grown so much in the past 6 months.  It’s so hard to believe we’re the same company.  Closing the door on one phase, and opening another.  The new office is huge and fantastic and I love it

My life is amazing.  Its sinking in that I am building a company.  Let me say it again.  I get to build a COMPANY.  You don’t get to choose your family, but guess what, I get to choose my new one- the NextDrop one.  The people I want to spend most of my waking hours with.  How cool is that?

Startups are like roller coasters.  I work 14-16 hour days, and I would work more if my mental capacity and bodily functions were not affected by lack of sleep.  I work because I think it’s cool and fun and I WANT to do it.  I don’t even think about the outcome anymore.  That’s the stessful part.  But it’s also the part I don’t control- so I don’t worry about it.  It’s like we’re in the zone.  We have a cool product.  People obviously like it.  Lets see if we can make it even better, and even more awesome.

I don’t even set goals anymore because our team hits it, and then some.  Now its just about…lets see how far we can go.  How much can we push? How much can we accomplish?

You ever push yourself just to see if you can do it?  Human capacity amazes me.  I want to stretch our limits and see where we can go.  I really think it’s the limitations we place on ourselves that make us fail.

Reading books about leadership, and famous people has changed my life.  Like seriously, opening up new worlds.  I love finding out that we’re like Yahoo when they first started, and hey, nobody knew anything when they were building something great.  Also, everyone thought their ideas were stupid.  I love books on leadership too.  So incredibly helpful.

You ever feel like you’ve just grown so much?  Like you’ve crammed 5 years of…living and learning…into the past month?  That’s how I feel every day.  It’s the best feeling in the world

I think if you’re not 90% satisfied with your life right now, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not questioning it, and seeing if you can change something. Because life is amazing, and it’s such a shame to waste even a second of it

Yes.  I love my life.  I love my job.  And I am happy.  Pretty ridiculously happy.

Reflections: So What Does it Feel Like 5 Months Into Your New Life in India?

It’s been a while, and there’s a lot to write about.  But I’m now back in the US for a few weeks for the holidays- and it has given me a chance to reflect on my time in India thus far (well, that and my inability to sleep due to jet lag).

Can I believe it’s been 5 months since I quit my job and moved to India?  Yes, I can.  But not in a bad way.  I feel like…time didn’t fly, but it didn’t crawl either.  It’s funny- usually people use that phrase “time flew by” in a good way.  But to me, that just means that you didn’t actually stop and process what was actually going on around you.  In my life back in the US, my time used to fly by- but that was during the phase in my life when I wanted to pack as much into a day as possible to prevent myself from actually stopping to think about things- and think about life.  That was during the period when I thought less thinking and more doing would fill holes and gaps.  In my new life, I actually hold back, and live- day to day.  And I must say, there are definitely fewer voids.

It’s also funny- being back in the US makes me realize how happy I am with my new life in India.  Being back home in Southern California is almost like a time machine- I remember all the things I used to think and feel growing up. I remember the dreams I had, the things I wanted to do, the person I wanted to become.  I don’t think I’ve fully come face to face with all of it (I’ve done a decent job avoiding it all these years), but I’m slowly going through the process.

Honestly, I still haven’t processed the fact that I DON”T have to go back to a job, doing something I don’t want to be doing after the New Year.  I still haven’t processed the fact that I am living the life I want to be living, and becoming the person I wanted to become.  The fact that I get PAID to do the job I do- that it is a legitimate career (and not some random college project with an end date anymore)- is mind blowing to me.

So back to the question- what does it feel like 5 months into it? I guess…I don’t know HOW to feel.  Confused? Shocked?  Blessed?  Happy?  Content?

I think the best answer is that my new life in India is helping me find…me.  I don’t think any of us are drastically different, but I think that sometimes, removing yourself from one environment and transplanting yourself into another gives you the opportunity to find the undiluted version of yourself.  Which is exactly what I get to do in India- live my life to the fullest- on my own terms.

How Did you Decide to Quit and Move to India?

I think ideally, you need to be able to know what you want out of life.  It sounds simple, but having clarity about that is one of the toughest/hardest things you can do. Because there are SO many things we can want out of life.  And the thing that makes it confusing is that its not just you, there are so many other people involved who want things for/from you as well.  For example, this is what I felt my parents/family wanted from my life:

  • Have a well paying, stable job (preferably using my civil engineering degree)
  • Live in an area where I could visit them every weekend (or at LEAST once a month)
  • Be engaged/married by 25 (i.e. next year)
This is what the UC Berkeley/the people I associated with made me feel that I should want:
  • Live in San Francisco
  • Have a well paying job (to afford living in San Francisco)
  • Spend time exploring nature or the Bay Area in general by hiking/camping/other outdoor activities
  • Find someone to spend the rest of your life with
  • Hang out with your friends on the weekend/after work
  • Use your free time to figure out what your next step in life is
 But what did I want for MY OWN life?  It got really confusing.  And I felt myself…stagnating.  I wasn’t growing as a person anymore.  And I wasn’t happy.  My job was ok, but it wasn’t really satisfying.  I knew that going into the job, but I thought that my fat paycheck would make up for it.  Unfortunately, it really didn’t.   To try and fill that void, I tried doing more of the things I used to love- playing basketball, reading for fun, going out in San Francisco, hanging out with friends- and it definitely helped some, but the hole was still there.  I thought that I needed stimulation- so I tried new things like learning how to cook, meeting new people, volunteering for different things- and again, it helped some, but not to the extent that I was hoping it would.
     So getting back to the question- what did I ACTUALLY want?  I couldn’t tell you.  I still can’t really tell you, but I feel like I’m making progress.  But I have also realized that sometimes, it’s more important to know what you DON’T want.  And deep down I knew that my current life was not something I wanted.  If something sucks, change it.
And that’s what I did.  The only real information I needed to make the decision to quit and move was that a) I was definitely not satisfied with my current life and b) when I had worked in India before, I absolutely loved it.  Now I knew that working there for a few months at a time is VASTLY different from living there, but it was a chance I was willing to take.  All I knew was that I was in a life low, and I needed to get out.  And when NextDrop got funded, I got my opportunity.
     Now you’re thinking, well Anu, you’re lucky.  You were presented with an amazing opportunity- be CEO of an incredibly promising social enterprise in India.  This is true, I am lucky.  But I have also realized, that if we REALLY want something, we need to go out and get it.  We all have networks that we can leverage to get what we want.
So what’s stopping us?  I think what’s really stopping us is our own fear.  What happens when that day comes when we ACTUALLY have to stop talking about how we hate our lives and DO something about it?  It’s scary- let me tell you. At least your current life is a known quantity.  It sucks, but you know exactly how much it sucks.  What if your new life sucks even more?
OR
What if it’s everything you’ve ever wanted and you are filling gaps you didn’t even know you had in your life?  What if taking this leap of faith is the most amazing thing you’ve ever done in your entire life?
And that’s what I did.  I took the leap of faith.
What happened?  Did it work out? I guess that’s what this blog is for- to document the “morning after”.