I was reading a wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal about how US universities are encouraging incoming freshmen and freshwomen to take a gap year before enrolling in their first semester of classes. To boot, many are offering scholarships as an incentive to encourage these students to discover themselves and engage with far flung communities before plunging into college life. What an amazing initiative!
What about middle-aged corporate stuffed shirts like me? Anyone willing to offer me a gap year to discover my purpose? No takers, I presume. Well, that did not stop me from taking the plunge myself in January 2018. I ditched my decent hi-tech executive role with a cybersecurity startup to, well, discover my purpose. And what a roller coaster it has been. As 2018 winds down, I thought this would be a good time to look in the rear-view mirror and reminisce on the lessons learnt as I muddled my way through these unchartered territories. I hope that some of these may help you in your journey too!
Lesson No. 7 – The world will judge you as you stop to take pause.Why? It makes people uncomfortable to see you do the things they wish they could but lack the audacity, perhaps. But don’t let that stop you. #PowerOn
Lesson No. 6 – Make sure you have a network of non-judgmental people. Those you can go to for advice, guidance, and just a shoulder to lean on when the burden becomes too onerous. For me, the #RecognizedExperts group (thanks, Dorie Clark), the #LeadersOfTransformation podcast group (thanks, Nicole Jansen) and the #MeetingOfTheMinds (thanks, Jared Kleinart) were my anchors.
Lesson No. 5 – Be persistent yet willing to change. This one was hard for me. You need to have enough conviction to persist through thick and thin yet be willing to adapt when the world is telling you your idea sucks. My #iPoP (In Pursuit of Purpose) experiment was a success for my heart and soul but not as a business, so I’ve had to shelve my dreams of being a coach, for now, after a lot of sweat and heart went into developing the concept. Thanks Ajay Bhardwaj, Harish Babu, Kalpesh Savla, Resha Chheda, Hochan Chung, Roshan Agarwal, Gunna Marripudi, Shashi Bhushan for being amazing supporters.
Lesson No. 4 – Get used to saying, “That’s the wrong question, ask me, ‘Why do I do’ instead,” when faced with the inevitable social ice-breaker, “What do you do?” It unsettles the poor soul and, more often than not, leads to a refreshingly honest conversation even in the unlikeliest of places. I had one such conversation at a huge tech conference lunch, and I am positive ours was the only table discussing purpose and social impact!
Lesson No. 3 – Discover as you go. I love Richard Branson’s quote, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” For me, being offered a paid gig as a podcast host at #RSAC 2018 — thanks, Andy Andersen for the opportunity and Fred Kost for the introduction —when I had no prior podcast experience was such an opportunity. And, I close off 2018 with over 40 podcasts under my belt.
Lesson No. 2 – Stand up for something, yes, really stand up for it. To be honest, for a long time that something was whatever my organization’s mission was. And in retrospect, I was faking it. With my cover blown and standing solo, I quickly had to discover my something. After many false starts, my calling turned out to becoming “The Accelerator” – accelerate the understanding of cybersecurity, evangelize the need for ethics in technology and embracing positivity in people. The highlight of the latter is Capt. Jason Lopez – thanks Captain!
Lesson No. 1 – Give back maniacally, with no strings attached and no judgment. At first, this felt so counter-intuitive. As a freelancer and solopreneur, did I not have to lean heavily on the world and grab everything I could just to survive? It turns out, quite the opposite is true. The more I approached people offering help and with no agenda of my own, the more opportunities showed up. And I met amazing people who reinforced this behavior – Kristina Podnar, Eve Maler, Corey Sigvaldason, Katie Shapcott, Jason Von Orden, Pradeep Aswani. And then the people you expect to respond to your email or text, don’t. Don’t judge. Let it be.
That’s my gap year. The most fun, scary, and fulfilling year of my adult life to date. One where my wife and daughter let me be without prejudice or judgement. And supported me. #Grateful. Am I done? The Hindi phrase that comes to mind is, “Abhi to party shuru hui hai mere dost,” which loosely translates to, “The party has just begun my friend.” #StayTuned.