Do you believe in the power of stories?
And today, on the almost-3rd anniversary of this blog (it’s on Oct 7th, woot!), I want to share with you a story that has driven some of the biggest decisions of my life in the recent years and helped me turn my life around.
This is a story from my college days.
As many of you know, I was born and raised in India. The culture and lifestyle there, particularly 20+ years back was very different than it is here now.
Back in India, parents fund children’s college years. There are no jobs for students to do to earn an income. You learn to make do with whatever allowance your parents give you.
I am a middle child from a middle class family. My years in college overlapped those of my sisters… first my older sister and then my younger sister. Consequently, the allowances we received were pretty meager.
I didn’t think too much about it at the time though. It was the norm. Most students fell into one of two distinct classes — the “rich” or the “others”.
I firmly belonged among the “others” and for the most part, I was perfectly fine with it.
During the first years of my college I received an allowance of Rs. 800 (USD 12) per month, and a little more in the later years. Out of this Rs. 600 – Rs. 650 would go towards my board (a small room shared with two others), food and electric bills. That left me with roughly Rs. 150 – Rs. 200 (about USD 2.25 – USD 3) to for all other expenses — from books to tampons.
The cost of living in India 20 years back was quite low. But still, Rs. 200 didn’t go very far. Ever the resourceful, we — the “others” — made up with creativity what we lacked in the financial department.
We had all kinds of arrangements to stretch that rupee.
The cost of expensive textbooks was shared by buying one copy and making photocopies for the rest of us.
We took turns to keep supplemental books checked out of the library.
Each term we waited anxiously for lab schedules and struck deals with students who didn’t have conflicting times for sharing mandatory lab and engineering equipment.
When my roommate got a motorcycle for her birthday, half the hostel volunteered to ‘help’ her with the fuel and maintenance costs… for a long time there, that was the only way some of us could experience the sheer joy and freedom of having access to wheels!
For a foodie like me though, the most cherished arrangement was the one I had with a few other foodie friends.
Once every few weeks, we would each pool in Rs. 3 and with the money raised, we bought gobi manchurian, a spicy snack made out of cauliflowers, from a street vendor.
We would bring our prized possession back to the hostel and split it among us. Each of us got about 2 tablespoonfuls in our share.
And then we settled on the wide stairs of our hostel, a dinner plate in our hands with the usual inedible hostel fare made immaterial by the few precious pieces of gobi manchurian.
As a cool breeze blew and the sun set somewhere on the horizon, the tantalizing smell, the mouth-watering sight and the exquisite taste of the gobi manchurian chased away all the woes of the world.
In those moments surrounded by like-minded friends, I experienced a bone-deep, soul-satisfying contentment and satisfaction that I cannot forget if I live to be a hundred years.
The Next 15 Years
In the years that followed, I graduated, got a job, met the love of my life, moved to the US and eventually got married.
We then went on to get graduate degrees and land high-salaried jobs. We bought a home. We traded up our bicycle for a clunker, and then the clunker for two shiny cars.
We had our beautiful daughter.
We advanced in the world. And climbed the proverbial ladder of success.
In those 15 years, I tried more cuisines and delicacies than I could name sitting on those hostel stairs. Nothing however, even came close to providing the pure joy – the touch-that-spot-in-your-soul feeling – that the Rs. 3 gobi manchurian provided.
Somewhere along the way in those 15 years, something else had also changed without me quite realizing it… I had gone from a starry-eyed optimist to a seasoned cynic.
Back in my college days I used to curse because I thought it was cool. But now, I did it out of real angst and frustration.
Back then, I didn’t care what I owned as long as I was having fun. But now, I lived in a big house with two cars in the garage… and at the best of times I was blasé, and most of the time I was downright discontent.
Back then, I had roommates out of necessity and they became my best friends. But now, I was married to the person I loved the most in the world, and we had a beautiful little daughter, and yet, we treated each other worse than even the worst roommates would. Our home was a daily battle zone of stress, misunderstanding and unattainable expectations.
The Tipping Point
That’s life in the grown up Real World, right?
Or so I told myself as each day got a little more suffocating than the previous.
I would have likely continued on the unhappy path for the rest of my life too, if not for one life-turning event: on a day like any other, I got a call from my husband. He was in the emergency room. He ended up spending two weeks in the hospital. We spent several months getting used to our new normal.
Stuff like that makes you take a step back and really look at your life. And finally recognize the rut you’re stuck in for what it is.
I fell into an existential crisis of sorts. I realized I no longer knew who I was, how we had ended up here or how to get out.
An Anchor and A Guiding Star
I had gotten very close to a friend at work those days, and we had gotten into a habit of taking a short walk after lunch everyday. One day as she and I were walking, we got around to talking about our college days, and the story of the gobi manchurian came up.
For days after that, the story kept ringing in my mind. I couldn’t let it go.
Slowly, it became an anchor for me and kept me from floating adrift as I struggled to make sense of what our life had become. And then a guiding star for what I needed to do to turn things around.
The Past 3 Years
In April 2013, I quit my job. It is the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
The past 3 years have been an exercise in letting go of every preconceived notion I had developed about what is important and what matters.
And learning to focus on 3 simple things: my relationship with my daughter, my relationship with my husband and finding something meaningful to do with my time and my life.
This blog is at the intersection of #1 and #3 above.
Running it has been a great privilege. I have learnt so much and grown so much, thanks to all of you who have read it, commented on it, wrote for it, emailed me and shared it with your friends. Thank you!
I’m not naive enough to think I can change the world with it. But I do believe in the power of words. And if something that some parent reads here helps them be a little more gentle and a little more positive with their kids, and themselves, it is a far better use of my time than the mindless ladder-climbing I did before.
And the relationship with my daughter and husband has improved by leaps and bounds in this time. We are a much happier, calmer, content lot now.
With our fair share of those little bone-deep, soul-satisfyingly gobi manchurian moments.
For once, it feels like life is good just the way it is.
So, what next?
As some of you know, I’ve spent the past year or so putting together a journal that helps us parents connect more deeply with our kids, and build them up into strong, happy, well-adjusted and good human beings.
It is an extension of everything this blog stands for.
At it’s simplest, it is a memoir you put together with your child.
Underneath though it is powerful parenting tool designed to
- help you connect deeply with your kids
- show them how much you love them
- build up their confidence and self-esteem
- nurture a growth mindset
- encourage an attitude of gratitude
- share values
- build character
- strengthen emotional intelligence
- and so much more.
I’ve spent the better part of last year trying to whittle down a vague idea into something that can be implemented.
So many of you have generously helped me refine the ideas and improve it. Thank you. I am so grateful for your help!
What we have now is a beautifully designed, extremely well thought-out, highly effective product that I am immensely proud to have a part in putting together!
And it is perfectly in line with the story that has been guiding my life these days: live life as a series of simple, meaningful, bone-deep, soul-satisfying worthwhile moments.
Over the next few weeks I will be talking about it a LOT.
It is my new baby, and I strongly believe in it… so I will do all I can to get it out there in the world.
Some of you may find this annoying, and I understand. Please bear with me and tune me out for a few weeks. Soon enough, the launch will be done and we will return back to our regularly scheduled articles.
Many of you though will likely find it exciting. Especially those of you who have read the articles here and thought
“I understand all the theory, but man, I wish there were a simple way to implement all this easily”.
I think you will find that this journal is a fantastic way to achieve a lot of the things we hope for through one simple activity.
And we have put a lot of effort into making this interesting for kids, so they will want to do this with us!
It is a beautiful, meaningful product to bring out into the world. I hope you will get involved in any way you can and support me in any way possible. Please, help me get this out there… the world will be a better place for it!
I will have more details about the journal and the launch next Monday.
In the meantime, it’s time for our action plans for this week 🙂
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
So, I started this blog post by talking about my life, goals and the gobi manchurian story that anchors me and guides me in my choices. Now it’s your turn.
For your quick 2-minute contemplation questions today think about these:
- Are you happy and content with where your life is at the moment?
- If yes, what stories/memories can you use to remind yourself to not slip away from this place?
- If no, what can you do to get to a better place (pick one thing you can start working on today!)
- What are your goals right now? Are they aligned with what you want from your life?
- Again, if yes, what stories/memories can help you stay on track?
- If no, what stories/memories can help you motivate the change?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Stories are very powerful. They can help you transform your life from what it is to what you want it to be.
Take a few moments over the next few days to dig up all the different stories/memories that make up your life.
- Which of these stories can be your guiding star when you stray off the path?
- Which of them are touchstones that will help you stay on the chosen path?
- Which are cautionary tales that can protect you and your family from harm?
Give those stories the power to make you who you want to be!