Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why Do I Work in Education?

As I mentioned in the last post, a recent conversation about a deal threw me into a mini existential crisis. A mid-life crisis was indeed due, but I perhaps postponed it with my refusal to grow up and settle down for the boring bits, so far. It burst into the scene, somewhat unexpectedly, as I got an offer that I apparently sought, but did not want, at least not anymore.

However, before I try doing something with my life, there was one bigger question that needed answering: Why do I work in Education? I could say that I defaulted into education, which is partly true as I moved between technology and education jobs in the early part of my career, but I had so many inflection points and at each one of those, I chose education. Indeed, the latest escape route, if I needed one, was my work in recruitment in 2007 onwards - I could have made the shift and indeed, it would have better careerwise if I did. But I did not even see that as a possibility then, and have no regrets for not doing that. And, right now, I am not retroactively looking for a wrong turn that I took somewhere, but rather reaffirming the choice I made, not just once, but at every turn thereafter.

As I ask myself this question then, as to why I work in Education, what comes to mind is a train journey: I can not remember the date, the destination or any details of what preceded or followed the moment. But, I remember the moment, as vividly as I could. It was somewhere in middle India, hundreds of miles away from any of the big cities I have known, in the middle of the night, at a train station whose name was too alien to remember. I was travelling coach class, so there was no airconditioning or thick glass windows to protect me from the still-warm air of a summer night or the noise of the still bustling station awake at the arrival of a train from big town. The noise woke me up, or perhaps I was never asleep because it was hot and uncomfortable. It was a long time ago, and a very different world from the breakfast at a Five Star hotel in London last week, but essentially the same question: What am I doing?

I was right to ask that question then. I was younger, and just turned down a training exec job in a Multinational Call Center, though that would have kept me safely ensconed in a city environment. Instead, I took on this role with a training company, which, unexpectedly for me, chose me to work on expanding their operations in the Indian hinterlands. This meant endless days of travel, stays at small city inns and dealing with different kinds of people with diverse motivations, practices and ways of doing things. It meant all the discomfort and loneliness, frozen in mind in this particular moment on the train that I describe above. My comfortable childhood, protective family, big city environment and pretension of entitlement, were all cast aside, and it was a new, alien, different and difficult world I was thrown into.

As I remember the moment, though, I remember it without the sweat, tiredness or anxiety that would surely have been there. Nostalgia is, as someone told me once, memory without sorrow. And, so it is, in my mind, a magical moment of looking out through the train window, on a night of full moon as I distinctly remember, looking into that unknown and unknowable station which I had no connection with, then or since, and should never have been to, except my decision to take on the task of expanding education to remote cities. And, the feeling was one of wonder, of discovery, of the spirit of adventure of Childhood - did I not want to be Robinson Crusoe - and of thankfulness, a realisation that the ship-wreck of my career has finally sent me out to the middle of nowhere, as I wanted to be. Those days, I had faith and I knew who to be thankful to: Now, without such certainties, I can still remember the sense of wonder and that meaning of life.

So, two things, as it was then and as it is now. I had faith then, and felt I was chosen to do the work. Now, my views of the world has changed - I feel I chose to be - but my answer, why do I work in eeducation, remains the same. Because, it gives me meaning: I do not seek meaning in a lifestyle, which is to be achieved through work, but I seek meaning in work. And, also, because, it feeds my sense of wonder, makes me go on a journey all the time, makes me learn new things and explore new ideas. The work I do makes a difference to others and makes a difference to me. It makes the world a better place, to me. It takes me not to fancy holidays but to remote places that I shall never go otherwise, makes me seek answers to questions I would know to matter, makes me dream of a world which otherwise would be impossible.

This is a hard thing to explain to those who has not been to the journey, stopped at those godforsaken stations, felt the discomfort of the hot evening and the tranquility of serendipity at heart. It is, as I see now, too remote for a world of defined goals and measured objectives, where one begins with the end of mind, where changing the world is a tag line and where people, as much as they exist, is a concept and something to be aggregated. I work in education for just the opposite reasons: For its unexpected ends and unplanned discoveries, where the world, full of noise, smell and possibilities, keeps changing as long as one works for it, and where people are an invariable presence, a force that makes the world, an end in themselves, a reason to exist and work for. 

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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