Lately, I’ve been examining the education space quite a bit. While examining this space, I naturally turned to the question: why education? What’s the purpose it serves and why it
is useful? What difference does it make if I know 16′s table or not? Why my elder daughter has to learn drawing, why I need to develop deeper knowledge of some technologies, why
someone should attend Digital Vidya’s training on social media marketing? In general, why person X should be educated in Y to the extent Z?
After a while, I came up with 5 different areas where education fits in. This is not the only way to frame it but it made sense to me. Here they are:
Education that enables you to have routine transactions with the world around you. Basic knowledge of language & mathematics comes in here. Basically, you should be able to talk t
o people around you and carry out basic stuff that you need to carry out for survival. This is kind of primary education.
Education that enables you to start earning money. This is the vocational training or the professional college. Your BE, MBBS, MBA fits in here. This doesn’t have to be formal edu
cation. After all, I don’t think farmers go to some college of agriculture before hitting the farm.
Education for your professional growth. In a simplistic model of the professional world, you start earning money at some position/role in the industry and than over time, you “gro
w” and play a “bigger” role, handling “more responsibilities” that also happens to translate into more earning. Majority of this education is on job learning. There are very few o
fferings in this space and most of them are in the form of short term trainings (like 2-3 days kind).
Education for quality of life. This category is pretty interesting. At the end of the day, all you want to do is lead a good quality life (whatever that means). And that actually
doesn’t happen automatically for majority of people. The objective here is to understand what makes people happy; what makes you happy; and how you can do more and more of that. The education here is mostly by experience and partly by self-help books, spiritual organizations and a few others like Landmark Forum.
And finally, education for hobbies. Learning a sport or a musical instrument falls under this category. People don’t necessarily make it their profession (in fact, most of the times, they don’t). In some way, it impacts the quality of life but then, everything impacts the quality of life, so, I’ll keep it as a separate category.
So, what does this model mean? Frankly, I don’t know as much. But it surely makes me look at the current academics or education system in a different light. And it also makes me q
A big problem with unfinished projects is that they leave you incomplete. When a project is complete, you get a sense of completion in your mind. Otherwise, it becomes a dangling thread of thoughts in the mind. It keeps taking space and mental cycles (even if it is in the subconcious). And that leaves little room for exploring new ideas and executing them. The mental space starts looking cluttered.
At the same time, there is this problem of when to call a project finished (or completed). As such, everything in this world is ever changing and ever evolving. And that means cal
ling a project complete becomes more of a mental thing than a well defined state of the project itself. For example, if I start working on a movie now, I may feel complete by making the movie, or by making sure that it is seen by as many people as possible, or by creating a sequel that’s even better than the first movie etc etc. In fact, in this example, the project goes through multiple well defined stages but there are projects where there are no well defined stages. Things like blog, business don’t have well defined stages. There is nothing discreet in their progress. There are jumps but it is still a continum which goes on and on and on.
When I look back, I feel biking is one project I finished. I wanted to own a bike and travel around since college days. I bought one when I got into a job. I travelled to many pla
ces. And then during one trip, I felt complete from inside. I felt that I had done as much biking as I wanted to do. I could have done more; in fact, I did travel to more places a
fter that. But there was no urge to hit the highway on bike anymore. Same thing happened with photography. I wanted to do photography. I bought a camera, shot many pictures and th
en eventually, I stopped clicking photographs because I started enjoying the moments better without a camera.
So, while it is important to complete projects, completion itself is a state of mind. Which makes it difficult to complete a project with the “intention to complete it”. Because c
ompletion is not “about the project”, it’s about how “you relate to the project”.
It’s been a long time for me in the corporate world. Or at least, that’s how it seems to me after all these years. One underlying theme at workplace has been “ownership mentality”. Especially, the startup category.
Though it appealed to me in the early days when the blood was hot and the experience was less, it started feeling shallow as time went by. The first big realization came when I saw my colleagues getting fired in the first startup I worked for. The people who were supposed to have the “ownership mentality” till yesterday had their workstation locked, access cards taken overnight.
And it happened again and again. That’s probably the meaning of the “ownership mentality”: you don’t have the ownership but you need to act as if you are. But it’s significance started fading away for me. I’ve acted professionally for the majority of my corporate life. Which essentially means that I acted to the best of my capabilities and intentions 8 hours a day and 5 days a week. But I stopped thinking about the “ownership mentality”.
When I quit Yahoo! 2 years back and started my own startup, it was different. I “owned” it. After all, it was “my startup”. Of course, it was with 2 partners and there was also an investor. But for majority of time, I would relate to it as “my startup” in a way which is similar to “my phone”, “my laptop”, “my house” etc.
There was nothing like “ownership mentality”. It was like “owning”. They are different. I was not acting as an owner. I believed that I was an owner. Even though I was one of the owners but I’ve been an owner nonetheless.
And now, when I am transitioning out of this startup (oh yes, I am), this whole thing about “owning” and “ownership mentality” came back to me. In this case, nobody asked me to leave (unlike other startups where my colleagues were asked to leave and I was myself asked to leave once). I am leaving of my own accord for my own personal reasons. But I am leaving nonetheless. I am leaving something that I “owned”. Or so I thought till yesterday.
For the first time in last 2 years, me and my partners had a discussion wherein “the percentage of ownership” became more important than the “ownership” itself. There wasn’t a conflict or any heartburns or anything that we disagreed upon. It was just like any other “objective” discussion that we’ve had in last 2 years. And I expect it to be just like any other “objective” decision that we’ve taken in last 2 years. So, there is no juicy “News-Channel” style story here. It’s just that it felt very different to “own” something fully for 2 long years and then talk about quantifying it and dividing it.
It reminded me what Anant Uncle, my spiritual guide, once said to me. It was a time when I wanted to buy a house and was restless in a rented house. I wanted to live in a house that “I owned”. He said one simple thing: “How can you own a house? You don’t even own this body.” It was a forceful realization for me back then and it came back to me today with ever more force.
How can I own a company when I don’t even own this body?
It’s amusing to see that how our mind can play a child (do something “obviously” wrong), play a father (scolding oneself for that “obviously” wrong act) and play the mother (reconciling the matters).
It becomes the desire to indulge and the refrain from that indulgence and the guilt arising out of that desire. All fighting with each other.
And in a flash, all three would be gone.
When my elder daughter (Aarushi) was growing up, an interesting thing happened that I can never forget. She started reading. It wasn’t the reading itself that was so interesting. It was her excitement at the ability to read that made me take notice. After she learnt to read, wherever we went, be it a restaurant or a shop, she would try to read everything and feel extremely excited about it. Her reaction was of a person whose spectrum of visible things suddenly increased many-folds. She could suddenly know the world around her so much better; she could connect with it better; she could be more than she was.
What really changed with her ability to read? A new communication link got established between her & her environment. Through that link, she could absorb her environment so much better.
And recently, I had some interesting experience which made me reflect on this matter a bit more. For an upcoming project, I was designing the website. And this time around, I decided to approach it as “a designer”. So, I started studying typography, colors and other elements of visual design. And suddenly, I experienced the same excitement that Aarushi had experienced when she learnt to read. I could now read “colors” and “types” in my environment. A new communication link got established.
What do I mean? Let me explain further. For designing the new website, I had to design a color palette whose colors will be used in the website. Now, in order to do that, I studied the technicalities about colors. Something like:
- The technicalities: What are hue, saturation and value? What are shades & tints? What are additive & subtractive colors?
- The emotional aspects: What moods are created by different colors? What emotional response different colors create in people?
- Getting control: How colors influence people’s experience of a website?
I spent about a day or two on this and the learning I got was very valuable. Suddenly, I found that my surroundings were all the time “communicating” with me in the “language of colors”. But it was my lack of knowledge because of which I could never “read” that “communication”. Now, suddenly, everywhere I see, I find a communication encoded in the colors. From my furniture & walls to various shades of green in my balcony plants to grays & blues in the sky to the browns of earth and tree trunks. I can now “read” colors. Not very proficient yet but a world has suddenly opened up.
And this whole experience got me thinking. Is it only about colors? What are the other “mediums” that my environment uses for communication but I have not been trained to understand those mediums very well? What about body language? What about language of the eyes? What about the language of how people walk? What about the language of tonality? What about the language of proportions? What about “Hand-writing”?
There is so much “communication” hidden from me just because I do not know how to read it.
No, seriously, what exactly is work? You’ve been working day in & day out but did you pause for a moment to reflect on what is this thing called work? The thing that you keep doing all the time (or forced to do from time to time)?
I never did but for past couple of days, a few thoughts have been dancing around in my head. Thoughts that I was not able to put off. And finally, when a neighbor sympathized with me for working on a Sunday, the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle started settling in.
The interesting thing about most of these mental jigsaw puzzles is that they complete on their own. Not the ones that you are actively trying to solve. Rather, the ones in which pieces emerge from nowhere and start floating around in your head. You don’t know what picture will finally emerge but you just feel that your mind is trying to tell you something. The destiny has decided that you learn something at this point of time. At a time like this, if you are able to give your mind a little bit of breathing space, you are told what you need to be told. And I guess, I was told something today.
Anyway, that was a digression. So, let’s come back: what is work? And I don’t mean to get to a “definition” of this “word”. What I want to get to is an “understanding” of the same. Whole of my life after I graduated has been revolving around this word and it’s high time that I (and even you) get a grip on this. Otherwise, the risk is to just keep working while the life slips by.
For quite sometime, people have perceived me to be working while I was actually not working. At least, I didn’t think that I was working. It’s happened more & more after I quit my job and got into “the startup thingy”. And it’s suddenly happening all too often in past few days. So, what the heck is going on here?
I am writing code. Does that mean I am working? I am debugging some problem. Does that mean I am working? I am on a call with someone discussing ideas. Does that mean I am working? If yes, why is it that sleeping, eating, playing cricket, cycling, traveling and a whole lot of other stuff that I *do* is not “working”?
For me, the answer became clear when my neighbor sympathized with me when she saw me working on a sunday. Why did she sympathize? Because somewhere, she had a mental model that “given a choice”, I’ll not sit in my study writing code on a sunday evening. “Given a choice”, I’ll do “something else” on a sunday evening. And if “given a choice”, I would do something other than what I am doing right now, what I am doing right now is “work”.
Yes. It’s as simple as it is complicated. Given a choice, if you’d do something other than what you are doing now, what you are doing now is work.
And that’s why there has been a disconnect between my perception of what I do and what other people think I do. Others think that I do what I do because I don’t have a choice. I have to “work” long hours to get things done to be successful. On the other hand, in reality, more often than not, I do what I do (whenever I am doing it) precisely because I have had a choice and I made my choice.
And with time (it’s been about 1.3 years since I left my job), increasingly, the work is ceasing to be. In the initial days of the startup life, I did as much work as I used to do in the job. However, over a period of time, I am getting used to making choices. And as I get more and more used to making choices, I am able to align my activities to my liking.
On the surface, it may seem that I was coding back in the job and I am coding now. But that’s a wrong way to look at the situation. While in job, I was just following the directions given by some people. That’s all. Now, on the other hand, either I am bringing people together around a shared interest (NotJustScore) or working in the direction of people getting better educated in areas that impact their life (an upcoming online training center).
Everything may finally boil down to coding but that’s as good as saying that cutting vegetables and killing people are knifing. That’s like confusing the “tool” with the “intent” and the “end result”.
So, that’s all from my side for today. The next question for me is: can I get rid of “working” altogether?
A few years back, I had gone to the Badrinath Temple. As I stood in an hour long queue to enter the temple, I observed something interesting.
Just to set the context (for the uninitiated), this temple is either very far or very very far from almost all the places in India. To get there, you have to take up a really long journey. Now, all these people who were standing outside the temple gate waiting to get in should be really focused only on the God, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of taking up such a long journey and going to the Badrinath temple (of all the places). Yea, it has a beautiful setting but then there are other places which are more accessible and no less in beauty.
However, what I observed was something different. Some people had their mind on how they could jump the queue. And 80% of those in the queue were concerned with other people jumping the queue. Now, remember, these people have taken up days of journey to get here. But now that they are here, right at the temple door, what concerns them is not what they came here for. It’s the queue. And some other petty stuff like chattering with person standing next to you or peeping into the nearby shops selling useless stuff.
And I wondered why this purpose-less-ness among these people who took such an arduous journey and now wasting everything away because they can’t remember what they are here for.
And then I wondered if I had not been guilty of the same purpose-less-ness at that moment. I had also traveled a long distance to be at that temple. And now that I was at the temple, my mind was occupied with observing what other people’s mind was occupied with.
It was an Aha! moment for me. One thing I realized was that there is always a bigger purpose regardless of the situation you are in but it is extremely difficult to cut through the immediate environment and remain aligned to that purpose. And another thing that I realized was how we picture ourselves as smarter than others even though we might be doing the same stupid thing as others are doing