preparing for the crystal ball

“n. A seeker is someone who looks for answers, who asks questions, who gets up after every fall and keeps looking. A seeker has a vision and a goal, and won’t stop until he/she reaches it.

 

Students must become equipped to compete in a global marketplace. In order to do this, my students will learn to consistently maintain high expectations for themselves and consequently develop critical thinking skills to adapt to changing environments. They will learn to persevere through both academic and personal challenges, and produce answers where they can’t find them.

As they enter sixth grade, students will increasingly become partners in this creating this change. They will learn how to consistently set their own goals, create concrete steps for attaining these goals, and measure their progress towards them. Most jobs also require students to be able to interact with others, and leverage their own strengths in a team environment. We will simulate different team environments, through structured in-class and outside class activities, over the course of the year in order to create an understanding that teamwork can increase the efficiency and enjoyment of work. “

–   Seekers’ Class Vision, New English Secondary School (2015-16)

 

I spent an entire year teaching a curriculum centered on three core values: grit, ownership, and teamwork.

 

Both hard and soft skills, such as communication, programming, or structured leadership, are unquestionably necessary for today’s students. However, certain values and mindsets set the base for learning any other skills or competencies. And to a large extent, the values and mindsets that are emphasized in school should be contextually determined.

 

For example, I taught in a relatively patriarchal, Hindu community. The girls didn’t have many strong female role models, especially those who followed their careers outiside the local neighborhood. Feminism became a pervading theme of our classroom, encased in the voice of equality. Both my male and female students had to fight against stereotypes and gendered expectations. Boys not just learned to treat girls as equals (they had no choice when the girls’ math scores time and time again exceeded theirs), but they learned to be vulnerable. To express their emotions and not tease each other for tears. It was hard, because it was not what they saw when they went home – wasn’t what their parents and grandparents expected of them. The struggles were both external and internal, and grit became a necessary attitude for all.

 

Moreover, our classrooms were segregated by “learning ability.” This imprecise and sometimes hurtful separation seeded many doubts in my mind.

 

But our high potential classroom amazed every visitor, including my Program Manager. The students developed a growth mindset – which is the key to gaining a gritty attitude – and a strong sense of ownership and teamwork. Even on days I couldn’t stay after school to spend extra time teaching, they would take it upon themselves to make sure that nobody was falling behind. Most students did the homework even for days they missed school, because classmates had visited their house to check up on them and share what happened in school.

 

It was a slow process, a punctuated tap-dance between the teachers and our lessons. My co-fellow structured math class teams to leverage different students’ strengths and made them accountable for each other’s learning. I used texts about ownership and grit, and had each student develop a personal vision. Through repetition and emphasis, students learned how to take ownership of their own learning process, to persevere against all odds, and to do it together. When I left, I felt comfortable that whatever they set their mind to – from professional football to accounting to software —  they were equipped with the mindsets that would help them gain the relevant skills. No one set of skills will transcend across different career paths, but kids have to be ready to learn the skills. When they are prepared for change, they are prepared for the future.

 

 

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girl rising (i, too, have a dream)

Four years ago, my mother started a non-profit whose mission really resonated with me: to grow the pool of global women leaders in organizations around the world. I attended their New Delhi conference in March 2016, and feeling inspired, brought the learnings back to my classroom in Mumbai. Using personal stories, global statistics, and a documentary titled “Girl Rising”, we discussed the benefits of girls’ education, lack of access, and potential solutions. We found manifestations of gender inequity within our own community: many girls realized they lacked female role models with strong careers.

 

One student calculated his parents spend five more for his education than for his sister’s schooling. He vowed never to make such a distinction for his own children.

 

In the end, all students concluded that gender equity mattered to them. They realized they could become change agents even at their age. I emphasized the criticality of boys championing equal rights together with girls. A few days later, one of the most timid boys in the class slipped a story into my hand about a boy lobbying his father to allow his sister to pursue her dreams; it was titled “Girl Rising.”

 

 

Education can change the conversation about gender equality and empowerment. But by not bringing along half the population, we’re stifling the same thing we’re trying to strengthen. Women need both male and female advocates in the workplace. Girls need boys who appreciate their strength – the same way boys need girls who value their vulnerability.
And, even though inequality is deep-rooted, it’s against our natural instincts. No baby boy believes only girls should cry; we teach them that as they grow up. No baby girl thinks she shouldn’t learn to count; we tell them math isn’t a subject for them later on. You think I’m stereotyping, harking back to an outdated notion? I studied Applied Math at Brown University, and yet one of my mother’s cousins (who herself is a doctor) had the gall to ask me, “Why are you doing math? That’s so hard. Leave that to the boys.” (It took years of self-control to not let that family gathering become a complete disaster.)

 

A friend told me a story that challenged my own notions. One of her young male students borrowed her dupatta (scarf) to pull over his head and protect it from the heat. A couple of the other students laughed and teased him, calling him a girl.

 

This young boy stood his ground and defiantly replied, “If girls can wear jeans like boys, why can’t I wear a scarf?”

 

Feminism, in its purest form, benefits all of society. It frees us from the shackles of constructed notions of gender its constraining expectations. It allows us to believe we are all equal – equally sensitive, equally strong, equally determined, equally allowed to wear scarves.

 

Education, for its part, can facilitate conversations that are truly open. We can ask the questions that force children to open their eyes and observe the world around them. We can make them aware of their reality and its inherent injustice, in a way that makes them want to change it. It can help timid boys like Aditya find their voice for their sisters, make strong, intelligent girls like Chinmayee vow to become a role-models for all the younger girls, and all students come to a conclusion that feels natural, that feels right, but most of all, that feels like it’s their own.

 

When society tries to change these expectations, students can remember back to what they believe – and why they believe it. The views they espouse will not be memorized lines from a storybook or TV show, but rather what they concluded from critically thought-out class discussions. Teachers have the obligation to make students think, examine, critique, and arrive upon their own conclusions. I have full confidence that with the honest participation of both genders, at an age when societal beliefs haven’t caught up yet, we can instill lifelong values.

 

So we need to amplify our voices, together. Include all in the conversation. We need to live and demonstrate our beliefs, every single day. Have uniformly high expectations of both male and female students. We need to let boys cry and call our girls “smart” instead of “pretty”. We need to do a million little things. And if we all do a million little things, these millions of little children will become adults who can’t remember a time when girls weren’t CEOs and boys didn’t talk about their feelings. I, too, have a dream.

 

 

(My apologies if this blog sounds more choppy and off-the-cuff; I felt strongly about these topics and let the writing be a more Joyce-esque stream of consciousness rather than a refined editorial.)

some simple math

 

I was reading about this idea of “work uniform” yesterday, fascinated that people from Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg to Christine Lagarde and Vera Wang have all adopted a standard to their dress. As Matila Kahl, an ad executive who has worn the same outfit to work every day for the past three years, explained, “The simple choice of wearing a work uniform has saved me countless wasted hours thinking, “what the hell am I going to wear today?” And in fact, these black trousers and white blouses have become an important daily reminder that frankly, I’m in control.” (You can read her full article here.)

 

It struck me because it’s one of those things you cannot negate. Sure, there are some men who spend a few minutes carefully choosing their outfits every morning – but for the most part, it’s women who can spend hours sifting through their closet to piece together the perfect ensemble. And even if you choose a work uniform and save yourself some mental energy, you still likely spend some time each morning putting on makeup and making sure your hair looks presentable.

 

So I did some quick math. Let’s pretend we’re in a hypothetical world where you’re living with a partner who shares the household chores 50%, so the time and energy you spend on children or the household is exactly the same (don’t scoff – make it happen!). Even then, a women likely spends, say, at least 15 more minutes on hair and makeup, and 5 more minutes choosing an outfit compared to a man. Men do usually have to shave, but let’s say their facial shaving time is canceled by women’s shaving time removing bodily hair in the shower.

Pretty Woman, Makeup, Mirror, Glamour, Model, Blonde

(I’m going to assume these numbers as conservative averages, for the sake of argument. Obviously, there will be women on both extremes of the spectrum, but let’s continue with the expectation that the average female will take at least 20 more minutes in the morning to get ready than the average male).

 

We’re landing at 20 more minutes each morning – which adds up to 100 minutes during a work-week, or 4600 minutes if you work 46 weeks in a year. That’s around 80 hours. Every single year. Over the course of your working life of 40 years, that gets you to roughly 130 days.

 

That’s at least 130 days over your life that disappear in front of a mirror, making sure your hair is in place and your eyeliner is straight. This doesn’t even take into account hair appointments, salon visits, mani/pedis, shopping for makeup and clothes, or the slew of other time invested into beauty – those are arguably leisure activities, so we’ll ignore them here. But the everyday putting yourself together to step into work in the morning – just that time adds up to 130 days over your lifetime.

 

What would you do with a spare 4 months? Write a book? Travel the world? Watch every episode of Game of Thrones – five or six times? Read those 100 books you’ve been adding to your list?

 

The next logical argument is to just skip the step – cut your hair short and don’t wear makeup. And while feasible to implement, there’s a whole slew of studies that actually link makeup with women performing or feeling better, both in school and in the workplace, and being taken more seriously.

 

Is this is a gendered, societal expectation? Of course. Does it need to be countered? Arguments can be made in either direction. Some women feel empowered when they look better, and they believe they look better when they wear makeup. This feeling of empowerment when adhering to traditional beauty standards is likely developed and not innate.

 

I’m not an expert, but changing these norms likely demands media as well as the ~$500B beauty industry to act cohesively in terms of messaging, to allow standards to evolve and change. It also requires a change in perspective and expectations across the population.

 

If we did want to change this norm, as always, one of the most critical steps occurs in a human’s early years. Within the classroom, teachers need to be especially careful that all girls are treated equally – regardless of their appearance or use of makeup. If young girls see pretty classmates getting more attention from the teacher, that understanding will become a part of their consciousness throughout the rest of their lives.

 

I understand there are larger battles to be fought. We’re far from being treated equally at work, in school, or anywhere else – regardless of makeup. Women carry a disproportionate share of the burden for household chores and childcare. Sexual harassment and discrimination are still common occurrences, as 2017 unveiled.

 

Still, there’s something startling in realizing that even our everyday act of getting ready – of just getting dressed to step out of the door in the morning – is a gendered discrepancy that adds up to four months over our lifetime. Even the smallest of our gender-based differences adds up to thousands of dollars in additional spending and lost productivity, and there’s no simple fix. Even I can’t argue that the answer is a quality education for all children. There’s so much more that will need to be done.

 

We have a long, long way to go.

 

 

 

urgent little dots (a.k.a. the paths for 2018)  

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo Tolstoy

Except for in December. As each year approaches its end, we all huddle with our notebooks and coffee, and start to reflect upon what we didn’t achieve this year that we need to or want to get done next year.

For the past several years, I gave up on New Year’s Resolutions. The idea seemed silly – why create an impractical pact with yourself on January 1st of every year, and then feel terrible every year in December when you hadn’t achieved it?

But then I realized, the fault didn’t lie with the concept of New Year’s Resolutions, but with my execution. I had to adjust my approach to something that makes sense to me. Thus, I started reflecting back on the past few years of my life, and bucketed my “resolutions” into rather arbitrary groupings.

Now, not all of these are traditional resolutions. I have decided to continue working out 4-5 times a week (including learning) yoga under my “health” grouping, and starting to meditate and cook regularly as a part of my “personal development” bucket. However, as I lay out my ideas, I realized some of them were more generic plans – like create and execute a project for externship. Many of the things I’m already doing, such as journaling, reading about basic quantum physics, and talking to my parents regularly. Some ideas were new, such as reconnecting with my students with hand-written letters and building financial health.

Together, the six categories – impact, friends, family, personal development, health, and professional development – create an overview of how I want the next year of my life to look. And my real resolution is making it all happen. The two keys to doing that for me are making habits stick and porting of the sense of urgency I had while teaching into my everyday life.

For the things that I’m already doing, I want to make sure it becomes a habit. I’ve started making my bed every morning; I’m going to make sure this tiny step towards organization becomes a constant in my life. I just feel so much better walking into my bedroom with the bed already made.

If possible, I also want to do better across these activities. Currently, I cook (beyond eggs) at least a couple of times a month, but I want to make sure I’m learning recipes that I can reproduce and not skipping weekends. To this end, most of my goals are easily trackable, like the exercising one. For now, quantity will have to be a proxy for quality.

In school, the sense of urgency was supposed to reflect our belief that every moment we spent with our students mattered, and could play a huge role in putting them on a better life path. I want this to bleed into my lifestyle, with bias being towards action. It’s like applying the 2-minute rule to your whole life instead of just your inbox, which I need to get over inertia. I think getting the little tasks done, such as calling the handyman, picking up dry-cleaning, buying gifts, etc. in the moment that they’re thought about rather than delaying will create space in my mind to focus on the things that do matter.

So while my 2018 notebook page is full of ideas to build more meaningful relationships, improve my health, develop personally and professionally, and impact others’ lives, the two keys to making it happen for next year is building habits (not letting excuses get in the way) and operating with a sense of urgency in routine, everyday tasks.

Tolstoy’s quote seemed crazy to me when I first read it, because it’s so much easier to change yourself than the world. After all, it’s something that largely within your control. But I do hope, in some ways, changing myself gets me to the point where changing the world seems a little more within reach – a little more achievable. For me, it’s become a critical step in the process.

“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Rob Siltanen

I’ll leave you to think about the juxtaposition of these two quotes and how you choose to interpret and implement them in your own life.

 

sipping happiness & brewing joy

 

“Joy is a byproduct of a life well lived. It’s much bigger than happiness.”

-The Book of Joy

 

Supposedly, Millennials “over-index” on career as a determinant of their happiness (The Happify Study). That’s why the topic for this blog is happiness.

 

Does my career affect my happiness? Absolutely.

 

We grew up in a culture that’s often characterized as a rat-race. As humans, we’ve been socialized to enjoy doing well, whether it’s good grades or praise from your managers.
And to be honest, being productive and creating results contributes to my happiness, and failures make me upset. It’s only natural, but I don’t necessarily view either of these drawbacks. After all, if failure didn’t bother me, how would I be incentivized to get better?

 

Not doing well can serve as an extremely effective wake-up call. When I wasn’t doing as well as I would have liked in a linear algebra class, and I only had one more exam to turn things around, I spent an inordinate amount of time preparing for it, and ended up getting the highest score in the class. I’m confident I wouldn’t have been able to do so had I been more complacent.

 

Similarly, as a teacher, I constantly saw students I could be serving better. And while the endless number of things you can do as a teacher is sometimes disheartening, it also pushed me to towards the vision we had for our class: to become Seekers. We kept working towards our goals, using our mistakes as learning experiences and undeniably improving week by week. Even though we failed and even though my happiness in the classroom was contrasted deeply with more negative emotions, I think I was still largely full of joy in those two years.

 

I thought about this a lot as I finished reading The Book of Joy. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu tried to distill joy into eight pillars: perspective, humility, humor & laughter, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.

 

Largely, they’re great categories and I found them incredibly applicable to my own life. On different days, you might need a certain pillar more than another. Yet, what I found to be the missing link in these pillars was that none of them would bring you joy without meaningful relationships.

 

While I was never introverted, this was one of the most fundamental realizations I had as a teacher. Even on days that found me crying on the bus to school, as soon as the first student saw me, everything changed.

 

It wasn’t as if I had to pretend to be okay. I was okay. Seeing them reminded me that I was somebody’s role model. That there were a hundred children who looked up to me, who expected me to help them learn. The purpose gave me strength. The relationships gave me joy.

 

One of my students, Shivam, inadvertently showed me how powerful this can be. I had scolded him that day because of his rudeness to the two girls sitting next to him. He had become glum and sulked for the entire class period, choosing to ignore most of my lesson. But he saw me at a nearby vendor as he was walking home from school and immediately smiled, waved, and said “Bye, Didi! (older sister)” That simple gesture became ingrained in my memory and taught me a crucial lesson. What he had done was forgive, but the reason this made us both happy was that we had a meaningful relationship we invested in and cultivated.

 

So maybe I do over-index my happiness on career. But I’m not chronically unhappy because that’s different; my joy lies elsewhere. Applying and practicing the eight pillars will help increase the joy in my life, but what makes my life joyful are the relationships I treasure and hold close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

foregone profits and what we choose instead

Last weekend, I was asking a friend about her experience at one of the most competitive, well-respected research institutions. For six months, she had led a project focused on leveraging private sector influence to fund innovation in developing countries. In my last blog, I discussed how millennials are choosing career paths that are “activist” in some sense of the word. And yet, even though she is passionate about entrepreneurship, my friend decided not to pursue the role because “there was not enough opportunity for professional development.”

 

Other friends and I nodded in understanding. Her rationale made perfect sense to us. In fact, 76 percent of millennials prefer “a more creative, inclusive culture rather than an authoritarian, rules-based work approach” (2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey). But this seems so obvious to those of us in the midst of it, guiding our whole life by opportunities that bolster our potential for growth.

 

When I was a senior in college, I had the choice between deferring for two years to join Teach for India or working in consulting immediately following graduation. I gave up a substantial salary for two years because I knew the learning alone from TFI was worth the opportunity cost, without even taking into account the potential impact I would have on my students or any of the other positive externalities.

 

Even the decision to return to consulting after TFI was based largely on considerations of professional development. If I am to contribute meaningfully in education, I felt I needed the skills I would acquire in consulting. I wanted to hone my ability to think strategically, distill insights, communicate effectively, and convince stakeholders and partners.

 

The word I go back to is “impact.” I want to create a positive impact for the stakeholders I choose to work with. But before I can do that, I need to make myself into an individual who has the skills to create change.

 

Part of this mindset is societal. It is common for millennials to stay in school longer. More millennials have college degrees than any other generation at comparable life stages. Post-graduate degrees have become an implicit expectation in many industries and circles. Graduate school enrollment amongst 18 to 34-year-olds increased from 2.8 percent in 1995 to 3.8 percent in 2010, which represents a 35 percent increase.

 

Although formal education and degrees are crucial ways to gain knowledge, I strongly believe learning can be found in most experiences, interactions, and jobs. That being said, there are definitely some job prospects and organizations that lend themselves more easily to personal growth and development. As I seek to develop myself for now, I prioritize those experiences. In a few years, I believe I will shift my priorities towards impact over learning, while continuing to seek learning from all experiences.

 

disenchantment and remedy

Last November, as people struggled to understand the unexpected outcome of the American election, some found solace in the fact that if you filter the election map for those aged 18-35, the US turns blue. Still, only roughly 50 percent of eligible young voters went to the polls (well below the expected turnout of 58 percent) and even amongst those who did, 8 percent voted for third-party candidates.

 

Does this imply that millennials are less interested or will be less involved in politics and activism? Not truly, but those words do need to be examined a little more closely.

 

People do not stop caring about issues that affect the world around them – no matter how selfish the media might portray the generation to be. In fact, one of the positive byproducts of millennials’ belief in their own “specialness” is a sense of agency. Because millennials have been raised to have the highest expectations of themselves, have been told time and again they are special and they can do whatever they want (and whether this is good or not is a discussion for another time), they have strong sense of agency and do in fact try to change their world.

 

Arguably, one of the hallmarks of our generation is a new version of “armchair activism”, which manifests itself in the sharing of articles and discussions with like-minded friends on social media. We applaud Jimmy Kimmel for talking about access to healthcare and denounce Pepsi advertisements that don’t do justice to significant political movements from the confines of our smartphones. There are both merits and drawbacks to this awareness, as it comes with a deep-seated conviction in your own beliefs without engaging the other. Coupled with a sense of agency though, I believe that it has created a generation that is more willing to follow through upon their beliefs.

 

We may not self-identify as activists, because often elicits the image of a picketing protester. But many millennials are more likely to choose careers that match our passions – whether it is sustainability, feminism, healthcare, education, or something else. For many people, activism isn’t a “hobby” or volunteer activity, but rather it’s their life. The change doesn’t have to be dramatic, but can be a simple choice like switching from investment banking to impact investing. From glancing over a global brick-and-mortar retailer because you’re more interested in sustainable fashion.

 

Personally, my purpose is “impact” and my chosen means to get there is bettering education. How can I spend my life making school more fulfilling, more practical, and more equitable for all children? My career trajectory is motivated by the inequity rife across all nations and a belief that I have a role to play in changing the status quo.

 

It would be foolish to believe that I am representative of the millions in my generation, or that my generalizations carry any more merit than the sensationalized media portrayals of the lazy millennials seeking instant gratification. I don’t know whether our generation is more or less likely to be politically involved, motivated, or activist compared to previous generations. But I do think that definitions evolve with time, and as the world around us changes, so should the connotations associated with language. For many millennials, activism is no longer an “activity”, but rather a life-long choice that seeks to mesh together a fulfilling career and meaningful life.