Wednesday, November 2, 2016

23

I realize that I have owed you all an update for a while, as I've recently embarked into a phase of my life that even thinking about has made me very anxious for, for a very long time now. Since before college began, I was afraid of leaving it. There was something there about losing "the best four years of your life!" and there was something there about saying goodbye to youth.

The update I owe is that this new stage of life couldn't be better designed for what I genuinely love: work that deeply interests me and contributes to the value I want to add to the world, a balanced lifestyle with space for wellness and reflection, time with friends and loved ones, and white space to explore and create and wonder. Many a tortured moment could have been avoided had I known what awaited me in New York post graduation!

Life is silly and pretty these days. I have my own writing desk. And bed. And bedside lamp. And desk lamp. And futon. And armchair (the love of my life). The list goes on and on. And I have the time to admire them, and go to sleep every night feeling grateful for all that I can provide for myself and enjoy by myself. The simple satisfaction of curating and tending an environment that makes me feel calm, and makes me feel me, is one of the most underrated feelings in this world.


The philosophy and spirit of my workplace align perfectly with the philosophy and spirit I aim to embody as a person. Living Cities is a non-profit "think-and-do-tank" that does research on what it will take to achieve dramatically better results for-low income people at a faster pace than we're currently headed toward as a country. Our research is "applied research" -- conducted through projects where we work with city governments, financial institutions, foundations, etc. to help them collaborate to scale change for underprivileged people, particularly people of color.

We are a learning organization, so we believe that there's no such thing as a mistake -- because if something doesn't work in one city, we can speed up the rate of learning by spreading the word to other cities through our live-time reflections, so that the same mistakes aren't repeated in another place. And likewise, success in one place can accelerate the pace of change in another.

Another belief we hold is that if our work is to make life better for people, we need to be good and kind to ourselves. Vulnerability is not taboo in this office, and wellness and self-care are espoused as necessities everyone should strive for amidst work that can be extremely heavy. So many organizations, even organizations doing really good work for people, forget to be good to their own people. The spirit of Living Cities has allowed my transition into "real life" to be approached with honesty and received with compassion.

(Oh, we also believe that if we work together we can end poverty. Think about that. That's the kind of people who work here.)

My role is to reflect on and write about the lessons we learn through our projects and processes, internal and external, to share learnings within the organization and with the cities we serve. As you likely know if you are reading this post, the instinct to capture, codify, and look for lessons is a natural one for me, but one I constantly try to push myself further on.

What made me think to write today was two interactions I had today around the notion of "youth" -- that idealized time that I was ironically afraid to lose after college. The first came in an email from a friend whom I admire immensely and who completed his PhD as I finished my undergrad at Harvard, addressed to another Harvard undergrad and me:

"You two are my youngest non-family friends. If you don't know by now, let me tell you, I consider that a very important role in my life. It's on you guys to help us maintain our curiosity, our energy, our idealism."

The second was an observation that my boss made to me: "I care for you not just as the youngest person here but as a young professional. You're the purest form of what we have here. Your presence challenges me and reminds me that we have to link the values we have to the work we do, and that's a way you hold responsibility for our culture."

Apart from being wonderfully flattering and empowering, these snippets highlight the role that "youth" plays in keeping people's minds and hearts open and idealistic.

When I visited Brazil in 2011 with my father and a few of his coworkers from the World Bank, his dear colleague and friend Cyprian Fisiy said to me, "Here in Brazil we see poverty, corruption, and crime -- and yet you see beauty and are so inspired by this place. Where does that come from?" I gave some answer that would be laughed out of any economics classroom about the spirit of the kind people there and how that could be separated from the hatred and need so rampant in the country and I expected Cyprian Uncle to push back with cynicism and a correction and instead he said, "Keep that. We need that kind of idealism in our work and our world."

In retrospect, it was silly to think that youth has to do with being in college, or that youth is a prerequisite for optimism. I've been afraid of losing something, but it's not actually being old that I'm afraid of. I think that "youth" might be what people mistake "wonder" for. Just genuine, curious, excited wonderment at this world.

I just graduated college, and I get to be the youngest person in the room again. My goal, on this birthday and onward, is never to lose that -- continuing to believe in what is by all counts crazy and impossible -- because if we can keep that, youth is infinite.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What's next?

Many of you may be wondering where I'm headed next, now that this happened:


Graduation was a blur, but a very beautiful one that filled me with a lot of gratitude. It was especially special to have my Nani and Nanaji here from India for the special day, and campus was appropriately celebratory and sentimental for the last few weeks we were there.

I spent a satisfying and relaxing chunk of time after graduation at home in Virginia, decompressing, going on lots of runs, and gearing up for my next phase! I was lucky to be able to see many people who have been instrumental in Priya's and my success and happiness while at home.


I'm now in New York, living in Union Square with my good friend Bianca and commuting to Bryant Park daily, for a summer internship with Living Cities, a non-profit that works on urban economic development here in the United States. I'm a part of the Collective Impact team, who promote solutions that harness the power of both the public and the private sectors to solve the country's most challenging urban poverty issues.


My mornings and afternoons are filled with learning, and my evenings are full of writing and exploring. More than ever, my gap year mindset of taking things one moment at a time is serving me well. 

For now, I'm just happy to be here.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Final Month Feels


I've been nostalgic about this place since before I got here.

One of my friends passed away within a week of graduating from Yale in 2011, and it was enough to send post-gap-year me into this hyperactive appreciative mode from the moment I set foot on Harvard's campus. So the time hasn't flown -- I've watched it pass at a steady speed, for the most part. But these past few weeks have flown by. (Is it currently the week that started with Yardfest? Is senior week coming up after just two more of these short weeks?)

Reading week is weird in particular. Suspended between the end of classes ending and the start of finals that don't really matter, we float through the week of The Formals and hear the final clubs play the same songs over and over starting around the time we wake up at noon most days.  I've been sitting here trying to structure the time so I can savor the time, but end up paralyzed and procrastinating.

I don't think there's a way to make time matter more than it ordinarily would, as we try to make the most of every day over this next month. I don't think you can go to enough parties to make up for the fact that you won't have all of these friends (and strangers) constantly around to party with next year. I don't think you can get enough meals to bottle up your inside jokes with your best friends and keep them intact for posterity. I don't think you can hold someone you love close enough to you that May 27th won't feel rattlingly empty.

I'm dreading the month right after commencement the most. Going home or traveling or doing anything off campus has been fun since I've always known that I'd be going back to my brick haven where I live basically in the same house as all of my friends. I don't know what it's going to be like being situated in a four-person family in a suburban house in Northern Virginia again, without knowing that I'm coming back here soon.

I don't know what I'm doing next year. This doesn't make the dread any worse or better; it mostly just doesn't allow me to picture something concrete to dread. I'm trying to follow my own advice and challenge myself by plunging into my passions and my fears next year, but so far no place has met my criteria: I want to just post an opening for ME -- looking for challenging, interdisciplinary, meaningful work that helps people and isn't boring; email Ratna Gill if interested.

I have no advice. My posts usually end with some way of framing everything optimistically and happily, but today I'm more trying to capture a feeling in words.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Senior Spring

It's my last semester of college and I couldn't be more excited. Here's one last chance to dwell in this web of 18-to-22-year-olds with a lot of ideas and a lot of interests and a lot of stress, all contained in our bubble of Cantabrigian brick with 70 different food options served to us at every meal and the gym and laundry right around the corner.

I'm especially psyched because I'm finally studying the things that I set out to study when I chose this monster of a major (Economics). I'm also taking my last college Latin class (and it happens to be on one of my top two favorite authors), after a 12-year career as a student of the Classics! Below are my courses, taught by a cast of all-star super engaging professors.


Environmental Economics | Provides a survey, from the perspective of economics, of environmental and natural resource policy. Combines lectures on conceptual and methodological topics with examinations of public policy issues.

Race in America | This course examines the causes and consequences of racial inequality in America and evaluates the efficacy of various market and non-market solutions. Topics include: the racial achievement gap in education, the impact of crack cocaine on inner cities, racial differences in health, crime and punishment, labor market discrimination, social interactions and the effects of peer groups, affirmative action, and more.

Economic Justice | Capitalism organizes society around individual pursuits of material gain. But there is much discontent: inequality is growing globally, and many worry about the future in an increasingly economically divided society where access to technology richly rewards some to the exclusion of many others. Capitalism is also closely associated with what is arguably the biggest policy problem of the 21st century: climate change. So how can we justify capitalism? And what are feasible alternative ways of organizing society?

Ciceronian Oratory | The focus of this course will be a careful reading of two particularly significant speeches of Cicero, with an aim towards understanding their full meaning: as both virtuosic literary texts and as rich documents of a vibrant—and dangerous—culture of legal and political speech. While the course will explore issues of Cicero’s Latinity, structure and presentation, and ancient rhetorical theory, our guiding thematic thread will be invective—vehement personal attack, a mode of speaking that dramatizes the intersection of Latin oratorical style and the Roman culture of public censure.

***
There is also a range of non-nerdy reasons why I'm supremely pumped for this semester. I am so so looking forward to marinating in the friendships that have created for me the four years I've had here. We also all know that I've always had a tricky relationship with transitions -- the whole premise of this blog was that I needed a little more space to celebrate a big next step with some time and some thought before diving in.


So my plan for this semester is to devote the appropriate amount of gravitas and ceremony to the culmination of a titillating tizzy of a college career while looking expectantly and excitedly toward the future.

And my plan for the future is to have no fear. A lot of us have something that the parallel version of our self would be doing -- the thing that excites us and troubles us and wakes us up in the middles of a lot of nights but that is too risky or too immature or too unprofessional or too whimsical to consider doing as a sensible next step. My plan is to figure out (or own up to) what that something is for me, and then do that. If there's one thing I hope college will have equipped me with, it's the courage to be able to do that.

Cheers to senior spring!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Perfect Break

I've made it a point since college started to write at least at the beginning and end of each semester, and after last semester I wasn't being negligent...senior fall was just really hard. Friends, classes, and extracurriculars all lined up in a way that could have made for a great time, but something caught up to me and I found myself stressed, overworked, and overwhelmed most days...I guess it had to happen eventually!

Anyway, I've been waiting until the very last minute to write this post because I don't think my winter break could have been any more rejuvenating, and I've been trying to stretchhh the end of it out as long as possible. But as I return to campus tomorrow for the start of my last semester of college (!!), I just wanted to recount what a perfect vacation this has been, especially the two-week trip to India I got to take at the end and now find myself very jet-lagged from.

Basically, I know when my mind needs to take a complete break and do absolutely nothing, and that's more or less what this trip was. Lord knows there's no better way to relax than at the homes of one's grandparents, so that's just what I did, but first...

Mumbai

I had the awesome  privilege of getting to return to one of my favorite cities in the world after five years to help out HUII Presidents Zahra and Udai with this year's Harvard US-India Initiative conference in Mumbai!! These two days (and the run-up to them) were utter craziness, complete with all the adrenaline and late nights that I'm sure have to accompany planning an event of this size. High school- and college-age delegates arrived from around the country to discuss solutions to India's greatest development challenges of today. I mostly just hung around and tried to make myself vaguely useful for most of the conference, and on the second day I moderated a panel on Alternative Care for Abandoned, Orphaned, and Abused Children which featured Jacqueline Bhabha (Professor at Harvard Law School and Kennedy School), Suparna Gupta (Founder of Aangan Trust), and Meera Gandhi (CEO of The Giving Back Foundation). Getting to learn so much about a topic I care so much about was a really, really engaging experience, and the content of the conference as a whole was hugely inspiring and optimistic. On a personal level, getting to spend time with some of my best friends and their family and friends in India was unbelievably special.


This incredible experience started my time in India off on a high note, and I was feeling full of love for the country as I made my way to my home state of Punjab.

Chandigarh

I always feel different in Punjab. Different from how I feel anywhere else, but always the same as I did the last time I was in Punjab. Since I was a kid. Arriving in Chandigarh was immediately soothing, and this initial impression was only buoyed by the EXTREME pampering I received upon arrival there. Nani had booked me for three different massages during my four days total in town, and each one was flanked with food that was so out of this world I don't know how it can be made of the same matter as what we typically call "food." Mooli parathas melted in my mouth as I moisturized, lazed in the sun, and caught up on sleep. In between my utter indolence, I would give Nanaji laptop lessons and accompany Nani on (light) errands. 


This lasted for not enough days before I embarked on the gorgeous drive to... 

Ludhiana

When I reached Dadi's house, we dove straight into business mode, driving straight to the bank for Gyaan Ghar work and then visiting the Principal of Malwa Public School to ask if we could recruit a new class of primary school students from their ranks (our fundraiser this summer did so well that we're thinking of adding a new class to the learning center!). I spent the evening of Lohri, a winter solstice celebration, in Ludhiana around a warm fire with neighborhood friends, and when one of them told me to make a wish I had nothing to ask for! I got to spend just one class with my students, and we had a wonderful conversation that impressed me and filled me with hope.


After another brief touch-down in Chandigarh, it was time to begin my journey back...

Home

I flew out from Mumbai, full of all the feelings this country fills me with and so excited and inspired to get my hands dirty post-undergrad and start working on some of the things that are so close to my heart, in a place so dear to me.


All of the amazing PEOPLE I got to be surrounded by and spend time with during my stay here, against the backdrop of Punjab fields and the Mumbai ocean, were the perfect reminder, and just the one I needed, that the world is so much bigger than every day.