“The time has come. I think I should retire. But what should I do? I want a new challenge,” said my dad.
“Dad, I think you should join the fellowship. I really think you will love it,” I replied.
After a long pause in our video call – I thought I got hung up on due to my WiFi – he replied, “If I was 40 years younger, I definitely would have.”
Perplexed, I asked why he thought so. And the reply made me feel proud of the decision I had taken last year during this time.
It was during this conversation that I realised the importance and depth of everything you do. And unfortunately, the work I was doing before did not provide me with the kind of learning that I was looking for. Even though it provided me with all the things that society thinks are necessary, on a personal level I was stagnant.
And then something excited me. Was I ready for the challenge? I still remember all the battles, the conversations I had to convince my family as to why I was leaving a life everyone dreamed of to pursue something which nobody in our entire family approved of.
But now my dad – one of the strongest, most adamant and stubborn of men – was thinking that he should have done something like this during the early years of his life. “So what changed?” I asked him. His reply empowered me.
“As a dad with you as an only daughter, I was never okay with the idea of you giving up a life which you dreamt of having since the time you were young, just because you wanted to learn about life in a deeper way and do something that challenges you. I understood the latter because you’re my daughter. I never thought that by teaching, you would become the person that you are today. Maybe this is the first time I’m wrong. We don’t get to meet much due to our work and travels, but whenever I’ve met you in the last eight months since your fellowship started, I have seen a different person,” he said.
“I still remember when you came back to Bombay for the first time, you were calmer than ever and more assertive about things. I remember the video that you sent me of your 4th-grade class running around and I understood how you’re developing your calmness! It took me 13 years of meditation to develop the calmness and stability that you have now.
“Never had I thought that a girl who used to get up at 10 o’clock every single day would make sure to get up regularly at 5:30 am and be in school on time. I wondered how this was possible. Then I remembered you telling me how your kids were becoming sarcastic like you, and then I realised that you would not want them to come late to school the way you used to be late, and so you should be on time. This is where I realised that this challenge is also a challenge for the self. Self-awareness, self-reflection, self-care, and most importantly, making yourself better every single day. A life skill that no job can teach you.
“I thought that your engineering degree would be wasted. But looking at your innovative, exciting ideas, I can see an engineer in your approach to teaching. I think what you are learning – which you needed the most and four years of engineering didn’t teach you – is how to plan. And I can see you using it in everything – even if its planning my trip to Pune or even buying clothes. This was probably the most shocking and interesting change to see in you.
“Remember this picture when you told me about this kid Ashfak whose father was battling alcoholism and I told you to stay out of it? But as usual you did the opposite. When you shared his story I was more proud of you than I was when you ‘excelled’ in anything. I never thought that you would be able to battle this with so much of conviction and strength. And I realized that you need strength, dedication and, more than anything, just simple human connections to make a difference.
“Let me tell you one thing. Results are not immediate but yes, the fact that these people will remember you for the rest of your life is the biggest reward. And always remember that yes, you need empathy and compassion for doing this. But most importantly, you need courage to just even ask someone if they are okay. To step into someone’s household and be a part of their house to make a change. It takes guts and only a few have it. The courage and ease you have now to help or just make a human connection are tremendous and this is my favourite thing about the new you.
“Lastly, I always wanted you to see in a place where you are leading people and creating an opportunity for people to work in their own space, but also learning with them. This photo gives me satisfaction because if you can create the space with your kids, you can definitely do it later in your life. Eight months and you have gained so much from this journey I can’t wait to see a new different trait the next time we meet.
“And as I said before, only if I had had this opportunity earlier, where I could learn lessons of life through a classroom and kids, I would take it. Everybody in our generation would have become teachers,” he concluded.
When I accepted the challenge, there were doubts about many things; from my ‘strange’ decision to whether I’ll be successful or not.
But the battle against such thoughts and against some people are worth fighting for. It may seem difficult to struggle with everything – family and self – but the battle is worth it. Because what’s on the other side is a journey. Even though you will be a teacher to kids, the fellowship will teach you lessons and skills of life that no one has taught you before.
And when the battle is over you will discover a teacher. A teacher who not only teaches kids but teaches oneself how to lead a life.