Don’t focus on the “one-size-fits-all” immigration policy: people arrive in the United States for varying reasons — some have a clear path to achieve the “American Dream” some others are fleeing economic instability in their home countries and still, others are fleeing political instability. Revisiting and reviewing the types of immigration visas would be a priority.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rita Devassy, the founder and CEO of Deva Seed LLC. Rita combines a rich technology background, leadership experience and contemplative practice to help leaders manage their work pressures without sacrificing well-being or performance. Combining 18 years of technical leadership experience with over a decade of contemplative practice, Rita’s unique approach focuses on a key element that is missing in much of leadership training and is game-changing: developing the leader’s crucial inner resources required to meet external leadership challenges. Rita has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and one in Computer and Information Science from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis; Rita also has a certificate in Authentic Leadership and Mindfulness Meditation Instructor Training from Naropa University. You may recognize Rita as a speaker from the 2019 Nonprofit Institute Conference, the 2018 CO IT Symposium, 2017 Colorado Technology Association Women in Tech Conference or the 2016 Denver Startup Week Panel “Coaching for the Big Leagues”.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
It is said that our brain develops its mapping system very rapidly in the first seven years of life — and mine got half of that mapping in India, where I was born…and the other half on the Caribbean Island of Curacao! My growing up was a mix of traditional, restrained Indian culture combined with the strict rule-bound Catholic religion and the uninhibited, liberating nature of western culture, all mixed together like a delicious cocktail. A typical day in my early teenage years included attending an all-girls Catholic convent school in Chennai, India under the guardianship of my twenty-something married sister and her husband — and watching reruns of American TV shows like Dynasty and Dallas by night! It also included things like spending summers in Tanzania with my parents who were there on a United Nations assignment or visiting family and friends in Maryland, Michigan, and Florida, on holiday. Bits of America pulsed through my veins very early on.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
I don’t remember the exact point — but it reminds me of how when you hit send on a mobile phone, it traverses many different points along a complex cellular network to reach its destination caller successfully. Well, I had dialed the numbers to reach destination America as a child and it was going to be a successful call!
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
In 1987, I visited a stately white building, mainly hidden behind high walls at the intersection of three or four busy city streets — the US Consulate building in Chennai, India. Pre-internet days, I walked into a room to research American colleges; I flipped through page after page of a large dictionary-style book made with scritta paper, maybe. This book listed in tiny fonts information about American universities. I selected many colleges to apply to, all the way from Ivy League schools to lower-ranked institutions.
In November 1987, I received the much-awaited letter. I opened it eagerly and it was my acceptance into IUPUI (Indiana University and Purdue University’s campus in Indianapolis)!
Less than two months later, in January of 1988, I took my first step to emigrating to the United State of America…on a one-way airplane ride to Indianapolis, Indiana!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
On the day I landed in Indianapolis, I took a cab ride to the IUPUI campus which is located close to downtown. I walked into my three-person dorm room at Ball Hall to find two women in the room. It turned out that it was one of my room-mates, Micki and her mother, Debby. They welcomed me at that moment — and with open arms joined me into their family as one of their own. Sweet family stories aside, I have many a story of Micki introducing me to American culture — and at 19 years, it was just what the doctor ordered!
I was thankful then and now…when I think about the openness, kindness, and love they showed a total stranger who had traveled over 8000 miles, literally from the other side of the world!
So how are things going today?
What is most apparent to me today is the freedom and opportunity that I have had to recreate myself multiple times — and in my opinion, this is only possible in the United States of America.
From being able to switch direction in life merely by going to college and all the way to starting my own business — and many things in-between.
Whenever I have needed to pivot for success, well-being or happiness, I have had options in front of me — and a community that supported me.
From managing a retail store right out of college to then transforming into a software engineer…leading telecom technical teams…to start my own mindfulness-based leadership training company…and now on the verge of joining a health-tech company that helps cancer patients…all the while, growing, stretching, learning and living well. Where else is this possible?
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Whether it is providing mindful leadership training to young adults in tech or volunteering my time with women’s fundraising events or providing my mindfulness expertise at technology conferences, this along with providing monetary support to several organizations has been modus operandi for me.
You have the first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
- Make it more feasible: for some people, a first step to emigrating is having the funds to go to college on an F-1 student visa. Without that ability, it becomes difficult to pursue employment-based immigration. Thinking about ways to make the path achievable, without draining one monetarily and emotionally over decades would be an objective.
- Don’t focus on the “one-size-fits-all” immigration policy: people arrive in the United States for varying reasons — some have a clear path to achieve the “American Dream” some others are fleeing economic instability in their home countries and still, others are fleeing political instability. Revisiting and reviewing the types of immigration visas would be a priority.
- Continue to inform and educate: the history of immigrants in the United States, as well as the benefits (economic, social, etc) of such a melting pot, is to be continuously recognized and celebrated.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Have a plan but be willing to rewrite it — especially if it’s uncomfortable; very early on in my journey to becoming a US citizen, I encountered a roadblock in the form of a rejected immigration application. The very real, potential outcome was having to return to India and end my plans to live the American Dream. So, the plan had to be rewritten. Up to that point, my focus had been on business management because it felt safe for me…and after this situation, I embraced a science and technology focus that took me completely out of my comfort zone…and along a spectacular trajectory.
- Immerse yourself in the culture and explore; often times when people arrive in the United States, for many different reasons, they tend to stick to what they are used to and know. This blocks the opportunity to learn more about people, politics, or history as well as the opportunity to share your perspectives and experiences which can benefit others. Even though I didn’t grow up watching shows like “The Brady Bunch” or “The Monkees,” thanks to my husband, I have watched them as an adult. Pop culture is one great way to understand other’s beliefs and perspectives — and to explore ways to join them on your own.
- Be honest with yourself about whether you want “The American Dream”; the sometimes idealistic American Dream isn’t free of effort, commitment, and resources. So, be ready for that and be honest with yourself if you are really willing to give what it takes to get there. When I decided to leave a very comfortable corporate role to start my own business which was my dream, I realized very quickly that you need to be willing to reveal parts of yourself that you are not proud of, learn things that you are not great at and fail, a lot. But that is the price for success and reaching big goals.
- Allow the “dream” to evolve as times change; from my personal experience, while some parts of the American Dream have stayed unchanged, there are other things that have. For example, my personal tolerance for risk has increased but my tolerance for stress has decreased. This in turn impacts decisions I make today that would have been different 30 years ago. So as you change and as the world evolves, allow the dream to evolve with you.
- Stay humble and grateful through it all; it seems like sometimes we get arrogant with accomplishments. That usually clouds decisions and resulting outcomes. In my case my path allowed me the fortune of being in leadership positions — and looking back, I feel that humility and gratitude would have served me as I battled challenges in those positions…because the opposite of that is fear, resentment, and unrealistic expectations.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- The continued freedom to pursue your own unique definition of prosperity and success.
- The ever-present spirit of fearlessly standing-up for the oppressed or those without a voice.
- The diversity of beliefs, and perspectives — as well an abundance of smart minds in science and technology, and big hearts in philanthropy.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
How about the biggest names in politics? I’d like to enjoy a breakfast or lunch with Former President Barack Obama, yes! His accomplishments speak for themselves — he was the first African American president in his 40s which is impressive in itself! And how he appears to have maintained his integrity, humor, and kindness through it all is inspiring. His early life fascinates me as well. It would be a total dream to chat with him, human-to-human.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Follow me on Twitter @Deva_Seed or like my Deva Seed Facebook page!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!