It’s been exactly one year. One year from September 29, 2018. One year from my 38th birthday. One year since leaving my job working as a Data Engineer.
It’s been a year.
“So what have you been up to?”
I get this question often.
Such a tough question to answer. And yet one year in, I ought to try.
I wish I could tell you, I’ve replaced my regular salary and beyond. I wish I could tell you I’ve got a perfect formula for you to follow. I wish I could tell you that I have it figured it all out.
That’s not the story that you’ll hear here. I’ve heard those stories. But that’s mine to tell.
Let me start off by telling you something that happened yesterday.
My dad called me. I missed his call and so I called him back. A few minutes into it, he asked me when I was going to buy a house. That question hit me like a punch to my gut. I couldn’t hold it in.
Tears started running down cheeks.
And that was when my now 8-year-old daughter, Ishika, walked in. She asked me why I was crying.
Then she hugged me. I accepted the comfort she gave me then.
You see, September 29, 2019 was a day I never saw coming. It just wasn’t something the old me would do. I did something that the risk averse, “don’t leave an opportunity without something else lined up” me, would have never thought of doing. I quit the job without anything lined up. I left because I knew the role I was in was no longer the right fit for me. I also wanted to explore an idea that had been taking shape within me for years now.
I wanted to equip students with the knowledge that especially in the post-industrial, knowledge-economy like we are in now, just getting that good grades and going to that good school wouldn’t be enough. I wanted to work with them, mentor them, and coach them to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
I as a 39 year-old-now know that I was never taught to be entrepreneurial. I thought I was but really I was not. I was hard-working, yes! I tried to make the best of the opportunities that came my way, yes! I always did strive to do better, yes! And yet, I was not entrepreneurial.
In fact the very word, “entrepreneur” was not too far from the word, “businessman.” In my mind the two words represented the people who were ruthless and money-minded.
Now that I am a little wiser reading books, watching all the TED Talks, and spent time with coaches, artists, and more, I now know wrong my assumptions were.
I love this definition of Entrepreneurial Mindset by Lisa Bosman and Stephanie Fernhaber in their book, Teaching the Entrepreneurial Mindset to Engineers. “The entrepreneurial mindset is the inclination to discover, evaluate, and exploit opportunities.”
You see, for the most of my life, I had operated from the following mindset: I’ll work hard, get good grades, attend good school, earn scholarships, and someone will find me, I will be great at what I’ll do, and they’ll want to keep me, see my potential and keep me and even give me promotions.
For me, the opportunities existed in this curtained off space which would only be unlocked after I had earned my way to the door. Now that I look at it, I really had no choice in where I would land up. And this is how I see a lot of us operate because we were taught so. That was the easiest and surest way to achieve success. For a certain section, that still is the case.
It’s as if the cosmos had other plans for me and wanted to test me a little.
I digressed. Now back to the question of what have I been up to.
First a small list of things I’ve failed at this year:
- Numerous job applications that I never heard back from: Yes, I did apply. The risk averse me looked for remote and part-time and contract positions and a few full-time ones too. Ones that I felt would still allow me that steady paycheck while I got my consulting and coaching business off the ground.
- Several rejections after the first interview: Yup, I’ve had those. When it came to technical questions, I seemed to be on a self-sabotage mode. And my radical truthfulness may have backfired at some.
- A “not yet” for a facilitator role. I was really rooting for this one.
- A “not now” from a new school with a lot of promise. This would have meant I could work with students and really see what my consulting and coaching ideas could result in, in terms of increasing their learning appetite to becoming critical thinkers.
- A failed TEDx audition.
- A loss at the club level Toastmasters International Speech Contest
- A “we are not ready yet” response to a proposal from a school district’s assistant superintendent.
- A failed program launch.
- The title of a “meeting monster” for taking Ishika to the numerous meetings, masterminds, and lunch & learns during her summer break.
Now onto the wins.
You Find People Who are Willing to Walk the Distance with You
First off, Adrienne Pluss, Past President of the Chesterfield Toastmasters Club and current Division A Director, was the first person to say I’m with you in anything you are working towards after one of my speeches where I had let the attendees know of my plan to leave my job and pursue opportunities to support high school students in developing their entrepreneurial mindset and personalize their learning so that they know when to follow the systems in place and when to break off and find their own path forward.
What started out as brainstorming and planning sessions in one of the St. Louis County libraries became about writing and masterminding. Then my Toastmasters Mentor, Kevin Desrosiers joined us. We’ve pushed each other, helped each other further along that each of us couldn’t have done on our own.
Do you remember the International Speech contest that I mentioned above? Yes, the one I lost! That one was my best speech ever. You should have seen my first speech to really understand the level ups I went through in just a couple of weeks because of the coaching both Kevin and Adrienne offered me. Curious about that speech?
If you haven’t watched it already, here’s that speech.
Now, would you call that a win or a loss? Had it not been for Kevin who asked me a very important question, I wouldn’t have thought that my story was important, was worth sharing. But that’s just one of the many things they’ve helped me with. The most important has been their belief in me. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you’ve helped them too. And now, we don’t second guess ourselves when we need help. We just ask and know that if one of us can help, we will.
You Validate that what you are Offering has Value
That “we are not there yet” answer I told you that I heard from the Assistant Superintendent from a School District, Well, he admitted that the personalizing learning is the way to go but they were not ready yet. There’s another validation for the work I was trying to do. I got valuable feedback and other meaningful introductions from it.
You Choose to Invest On Yourself
Choosing to invest in my growth has been another win for me. I chose to receive mentoring from Dr. Gladys Ato, a former University President, a leadership mentor, speaker, and author of The Good Goodbye: How to Navigate Change and Loss in Life, Love, and Work. Working with her and polishing my ideas was an experience on its own. And then to receive her strongest recommendation for both the need for students and youths now to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and my work was something I needed to keep me going this untrodden path that I had dared to take on. You can watch my interview with Dr. Gladys Ato below.
Your Mentor Says, “I Think You’ve Got Something”
There are some relationships I’ve maintained and nurtured over the years. Steve Roller, Copywriter, Business Coach, Author of the Freelancer Manifesto, father to four entrepreneurially minded and independent kids, and my mentor is one such a relationship. I couldn’t believe that a person who has seen such success like Steve and has an active Facebook Group with over 9,000 members would be willing to just set up a video call and talk to me for over an hour. I’ve mentioned the need for personalized learning for students for years now and to hear him say, “You are onto something. How can I help?” was just what I needed to hear when I was feeling lost and drained of energy. You can watch my interview with Steve below.
You See You’ve Touched Someone’s Life
How do you know what you are trying to do has real value? Especially if the work takes time to show it’s effects? Results like this humbles you and pushes you to go on. As you are starting, you need someone who’ll listen to you, take it all in, believe in it, believe in you, implement your suggestions, and see results.
My first client Emily was not just my client, she was a fellow Data Engineer, co-worker and a friend. When we both started talking, we had one thing in common, we both felt the position was not a good fit for us. The thing was, I saw how good she was at what she did, the value she brought to the team. Her technical expertise, her deep dataset knowledge, her SQL mastery, her people skills. At a fast-paced organization like we were in, there are always people who we find to be smarter, more knowledgeable, and better at some skills that you deem to be highly valuable. I knew my strengths were in seeing people for their strengths, even those that they themselves couldn’t see. I was also good at noticing how each of our strengths when applied to the right tasks yielded in better and faster results. For me, the automation space the team was going deeper and deeper into was not the right fit. I knew given the present space that we were in, I needed to leave. However, as Emily started understanding it was okay to seek help and ask questions, she was quick to learn what was needed to take ownership of her projects more efficiently, with more confidence, and with far less stress than she had done ever before.
A few months into my exploration, I heard from her that the seed I planted in her and helped her change the very outlook of her work and how she operated. And she successfully negotiated a $20,000 raise in her salary. I saw the change in her. And I saw the change in me. We continue to fuel each other by staying in touch and going on walks. There’s a bond that lets us know that each of us has contributed to boosting the others’ confidence and the journey each of us are in.
Another example of why choice matters
Clara Go, Founder of Be Artsy developed a Menstrual Health Management and Sexual Education Program called the Rato Baltin Project as a way to combat a long-held practice in some parts of Western Nepal where women are forced to live in a shed every month during their periods. As she organized a team, collected funds, and resources to serve the adolescent girls in the remotest part of the countries, she is finding out what happens when girls realize for the first time that they have a choice. A choice to understand their bodies for the first time, and to realize that they have a fighting chance to not follow the practice. Clara told me how girls in the program feel empowered. This program has given them each other, a voice, and a sense that they have a choice, a choice to say no when men make unwanted sexual advances at them.
I have to tell you this too. Clara was laid off her work because she was too sick to go to work. She took that lay off and chose to do something far more rewarding and yet oh so demanding and draining too. Here’s a video about the program that we collaborated on. There’s a GoFundMe Page for you to contribute to. Will you please donate a few dollars?
You Find A Match To Your Vision
When I stumbled upon the website for Our Community Listens and their 3-Day Communication Skills Training Workshop, I felt it in my gut that I needed to take this class. So I and Adrienne decided to participate. As I was learning about myself and about effective communication through a whole different lens, one where listening and not-judging, and yet showing up as the message, I knew I had found a foundational missing piece that we needed to feel heard, to really listen and then talk about things that are usually swept under the rug. It was as if I had found the perfect stage and the perfect language to start exploring this new found me and the work I have been working towards.
You see, what I have realized is that there are missing pieces in how and what we’ve been taught. It’s a bold statement but bare with me here. if you agree that generations before us never used smartphones or had access to the internet, then take a moment to consider that may be in this very connected and information at your fingertips times of ours, we need a newer outlook on how to lead our lives, how to show up, and how to embrace the constant changes that are happening at a warped speed.
Really, we no longer have to memorize the multiplication table to succeed in jobs that require that skill. I’m not saying we shouldn’t memorize the multiplication table or the spelling of all the words but it’s no longer a prerequisite to us being able to solve a problem or write an error-free report. We have apps to help us with those if we need to. What we require more of is this almost foreign idea that each of us have a choice, the right to choose. These lines that I’ve pieced together from Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia’s book, Everybody Matters, best describes it, “[We] can build thriving [communities] that bring joy and fulfillment to all” when “people throw away long-accepted…practices and start operating from their deepest sense of right, with a sense of profound responsibility for the lives entrusted to them.”
It’s almost as if each of us are searching for and waiting for permission to show up, to dream big, to take a risk and pursue something that you’ve always desired, and to just figure out who you truly are. When we assume that we don’t have a choice, we give power over to those who we think has more power whether that power originates from race, gender, religion, education, money, title, age, …
So, now I’ve found a community of people who are advocating for, practicing, and teaching how to lead by valuing each other for who they are. And whether we want to improve the outdated education system or effectively address the problems that are before us, whether it be “how do I succeed at work” to “who throws out the trash” we have an opportunity to look at our problems through an upgraded lens (pun intended), one that will require patience, empathy, and so much more.
I’m actively involved in spreading the word and in creating more opportunities to learn and grow together as a community. Greater Saint Louis Area Chapter Leader Pamela King has so generously offered me her mentor-ship and opportunities to serve and contribute. And Cheryll Knopf, the Logistics Leader has supported me with every request and smallest of questions of mine patiently and with so much care. I co-led the latest Alumni Reunion for the Chapter and there’s more on the way.
I recommend you take this class. It’s free so if you can make it, take!
Ripple Effects Start here
My Learning Partner from Our Community Listens (OCL), Sean Carney introduced me to Dr. Tom Hill, a former Professor and Administrator, successful business person, Connector, Life Coach, and an Author. In his own words, I’ll just say, “there’s so much potential, it’s scary!”
Our OCL Training was held at the Medici MediaSpace that brings together entrepreneurs, freelancers, creatives and business owners for collaborative opportunities. During one of their Open Strategy Sessions, I met its Co-Founder, Brian Lunt who is also the Founder of Seed Creativity Lab, and President of the Saint Louis Business Club. The introductions he has made for me has led to collaboration with Kevin Harrman, Founder of the Bridges For Education and Justin Hilderbrand, Director of The Catalyst Program and Business and Marketing Teacher of the Clayton School District.
When Kevin Harrman and I had our first meeting, our passion for working with students as they navigated their college and career planning became clear. We worked together to host our first Meet and Greet with Parents and their kids who were in High School. To see parents and kids interact with a common purpose of kids’ success was an experience of its own. It was clear that programs like what we offered were as much of a need for parents as it was for the kids. We have been cooking working together on something or the other ever since.
Justin Hilderbrand and his Catalyst program is providing a platform for high school students from now four school districts to interact with experts and also pursue their own entrepreneurial journey. The students who’ve volunteered to be in the program are so eager to soak up the information and are quick to ask questions and engage. I had treat interacting with the students.
It’s been a year unlike any other. There are more experiences that I could list out. It’s so hard to answer in a quick sentence or two and do justice to it all. I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be at the end of the year. And I had no idea these experiences were what I was going to gather this year either. I believe I’ve laid the groundwork for whats to come. Most importantly, I like the person I’ve continued to grow into.
To go back to my call with my dad. I am proud of myself for how I handled it too. You see, the old me would have either raised my voice and told dad how he didn’t understand me at all or would have just hung up. This time around, I did not raise my voice. I however did tell him that his expectation from me at this time hurt me. He apologized and we ended the call in amicably.
I also told you that Ishika saw me crying, right?
I was so tempted to hide the reason for why I was crying from her but I didn’t. I told her how taxing it has been to be on this journey of figuring out my own path. I told her I feel guilty. She just kept hugging me and let me know it was okay.
You see, Five years ago, I wouldn’t have had the inner strength, the right mindset, and the support to handle a situation like this. I would have sulked and stayed bitter. This time, my dad’s desire for us to buy a house hurt me like as it usually did whenever anyone else asks us this question (and believe me when I say we get asked this question a lot). But unlike previous times, I was able to see the comment for what it was, a dad’s love and concern for her daughter’s happiness and stability in life. His powerlessness to help me get through this time of mine came out imperfectly as his expectation, his question.
I cried partly because of my powerlessness to grant him his wish, and partly because I felt pressured. For a time there, I felt ashamed too. Ashamed for being one day shy of 39 and still not have everything figured out, still not settled, still fumbling.
But unlike previous times, I did not feel all alone. For the past year, I’ve felt so much love and support, and grace. I’ve had friends and family who just check up on me and reach out to me to say they still love me and care for me. My husband, Ishwar who is still trying to figure out who this new Sudiksha is and what happened to our crafted future plans. Ishwar and I had never planned for one person to be the primary bread-winner. We had planned to go at it as equal partners. We both have had to dig deep and ask ourselves, “Do we still want to make it work? And if we do, how do we go about it?” Ishwar is still holding on and has been there for me the best way he can, and has been the most attentive father to Ishika.
I have also learned a lot from Brené Brown’s work on building shame resilience that I was able to recognize my reaction and my tears for what it was and what it was not.
I had also prepared Ishika, yes an 8-year-old can understand and process emotions if you continue to have heart to hearts like this. I allowed her to comfort me because we know that sometimes we just need to cry, it’s okay to cry.
So after I let my tears run and the hurt do all the hurting, I was able to look at the situation with empathy. Now, I am filled with gratitude for my dad for the love and care he has showered on me all through the years. And as Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book, Big Magic, “If you love and want something enough — whatever it is — then you don’t really mind eating the shit sandwich that comes with it.” The question is part of that shit sandwich for me but it no longer holds the power to bring me down. Because I have a choice.
I’ve taken up Medical Interpretation as a side gig and there are opportunities in the horizon.
Some things are taking shape as you can see here
I have found a calling, a calling to spread the message that we all have a choice and we all can achieve tremendous feat if we worked together. However, I also understand that this work will take time and resources.
My entrepreneurial journey was never meant to be one where I about going at it alone. It’s always been about building a community, doing things together, building each other up. So, my entrepreneurial journey may or may not have an entrepreneurial entity of my own.
With that, I am also ready to apply for jobs with an open heart and with more purpose. If you know of a position where technical expertise as well as people development, and communications skills are required — let’s say if you have a technical team with high turnover rate or low employee engagement, or you need someone who can increase ROI through effective communication with the business team, customers, end-users, data engineers, management, and the data analytics team — I might be the person for you. If you know of an opening, I’d love to know.
I look forward to unraveling the next 12 months and sharing that with you too.