My carefully constructed plans are all coming to an end. Simultaneously, like a perfect domino.
A season for new beginnings is here.
The pandemic got me into a mindset. Of waiting. Of believing things would sort themselves out with the passage of time. It's that quarantine mentality. And, while I never stopped, the way I imagined life and work was defined by this, a sort of trench mentality, survive to see through.
However, I had no lack of ambition. At work, gradually, I arrived at a plan to transform global higher ed, yet again. It started modestly, just a specialist college in London; but soon, I was into products that could be plugged into all college curriculum and a network-based delivery method to scale it. It was an imperfect plan - I knew there was lot to be done - but I didn't hold back on dreaming.
Things changed in 2022 for me. I think it's the post-pandemic bounce that people talk about. I, boosted by vaccines, stopped fearing the pandemic. I started travelling again. My work aspirations expanded. I started building a small team, based on deep comradeship, that can make things happen. It was like one of the startups, though we were not one in any measure, where we talked about in esoteric terms such as values and commitment. It was suddenly more than just work.
I enjoyed it while it lasted. The first time in my life, I was thinking of that escape momentum. It was all post-pandemic lightness of heart, I know now, and the post-pandemic frailties would eventually undo it. But there was a brief moment, in February or early March, when I tried to move forward.
Then, it all collapsed. One thing after the other came unstuck. Partly, it was personal. My father, who is my strongest link to India keeping me grounded, fell ill: First losing his voice and then to more complicated illnesses. At work, the empire struck back, metaphorically speaking. My assumptions about people came unstuck - the purpose I was offering wasn't strong enough to keep the team together and committed. All those values proved superficial when reality stuck. I realised my personal power of persuasion was quite limited, even with people who I trusted very much. In summary, all those penny-dropping moments came thick and fast!
Therefore, August, my season of atonement, of fresh start! I am letting things - and people who I held close to heart - go. My father battles on, but I know my links with my homeland are now tenuous. The project I envisioned is coming to a full bloom but I am only half present. I have confronted the question I long kept suspended: Does a global edtech company float my boat, or I am more a person for a small specialist college, perhaps a teacher even? My trust broken, I am now back to doing things alone again. So, a hundred-days plan, like ones I have done before, to change everything.
The first step, and I am on day zero, is to calibrate my work and to change my approach. I worked to build a closely knit team based on personal commitment to each other, but realised that this is only possible in a true start-up environment (with shared ownership) and where people are truly committed to each other due to friendship etc. A team that opportunistically came together to work may not have the essential characteristics to build such an organisation. Therefore, I am back building a more bureaucratic structure, and process-based organisation. This would mean a different organisation of work built around a different team, which I shall be building.
My goal is also shifting from the global edtech work to more building of key hubs to offer specialist training. I have once been a believer of mass higher education, but after experiencing Indian engineering colleges, that faith is shaky. While I still believe that exclusively educating the elite creates social division and undermines democracy, I am now after a 'better' model of elite education. In short, I am less of a believer of bottom-up change (revolution) now than I was earlier, and perhaps I am pinning my hope more on top-down initiatives (reform). This is a fundamental change in my educational practice and in its early days, but I am now consciously looking for different models of engagement than world-spanning networks of mediocre education.
I am also mentally preparing to shift from India. Much of my work is still centred around it. Even if I am sitting in London, I am often thinking about the challenges and opportunities out there. That's how I started my professional life and 22 years outside India haven't changed it yet. But a combination of factors, personal and some political (a disenchantment), makes me feel that I shall perhaps never go back to India to live. People like me who lived a cosmopolitan life tends to have this confusion: Where home is. I never actually embraced England - always saw it as the land of our colonial masters, the source of disenfranchisement of my own people! When I came here, I came to see and never ever settle! So I still perhaps don't know where I want to put my anchor. As India fades from my view, that confusion mounts in my mind: I am about to embark on a search.
So, in the end, everything is up in the air! My season for ending is the search for new beginnings! New purpose, new profession, new friends and new homeland - all these are in front of me. I am stepping into this with trepidation but a lot of hope: I have left home once and I know there is never a way back.
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