Living the dream

Nearly 2 years after my first post and nearly 3 years of pursuing the “Indian dream” I’ve decided to post my last blog and focus on the next chapter of this incredible journey.

Tonight/very early tomorrow morning I head back to the UK.

Anyone who knows me personally will know it is always with mixed emotions that I head back to the UK.

This time is no different but there is an increasing sense of excitement about it, as this time, the trip back, is so much more than being back with family and friends.

Setting up Empower has been without doubt the best decision I have ever made. The last 4 months have been challenging but my decision to do this and the clarity of what I think can be achieved has never faltered.

In the UK

The focus for the next few months is clear and thanks to a recent interview with SSE India the clarity has never been greater.
The discipline to do this greater still.

For the first time ever my decision to be back in UK is entirely based on what I think is the right thing to do, not on what other people perceive the right thing is.
For both the business and me personally.

I will miss being in India but I know that a couple of months focused on building the company in the UK now will ultimately lead me back to India and enable me to continue “Living the dream”.

All about choice

It has been a rollercoaster of a journey.
What I don’t know about myself now is no ones business.
Looking back at my early blogs its odd to think of where this all began.
From a volunteer experience in the rural communities of Tamil Nadu, to employment with one of the UK’s most successful social enterprises to now setting up a new social enterprise.

I’m sure people will laugh at the simplicity of this but, after 3 years of challenging every aspect of convention and discovering what I want to do, it has all come down to choice and being bold enough to know what choices are right for me.

It is all about finding our own voice.  By this I mean knowing where our true skills, talents and passions lie and having the belief and conviction to use them.
Which is hard.
It takes a lot of introspection and knowing yourself.

Making choices based on this is even harder as we are all conditioned and moulded by our culture, religion (if we have one) and societal values on what the ‘right’ choices are.
We all live in a society that breeds fear into making unconventional choices.
A fear that is too often used to control peoples thoughts, emotions and actions.  But how much this fear controls us is a personal choice.

Who are the most influential people you know?
The people who inspire you the most?

Is it those who seek to control you (albeit in the name of love and cultural values) or those who believe in your potential?
Believe in you?

Teachers are often cited as people’s source of inspiration. Why?
Because the most effective teachers see potential in you that you don’t.
They use their talents to bring out individuals skill, talents and passions that are often stifled in the name of convention.
They create an environment for individuals to realise their potential and opportunities for these to be harnessed.
They don’t at the end of your school years try to keep you in school longer because they believe they have the monopoly to your success.
Excellent sports coaches don’t try and keep hold of talented individuals because it means their team/club is more likely to win every year.
They help individuals create and follow a path that enables them to achieve their true potential.  They see past convention and set people free.

In a digital world with increasing societal pressures, to be amazing, always perform, have the best job, family, house, car and life many of us are at a breaking point.  The pressure to conform leads to burnt out, broken, stressed and depressed people.  A result of years of control, conditioning and belief that this perceived success is only possible by following a certain path.  

To recognise this, is hard.  To change this harder still.

All about personal choice

I’ve lost count of the people that have said “I’d love to do this but I can’t”.
My response is always “why not?”
I totally accept that not everyones view of “living the dream” is living in rural Tamil Nadu in a basic house with a bucket to do your washing and neither should it be.
But how many people have taken time to know what they ultimately want to do and more importantly do it.

The only thing holding you back is you.

Finances, job, commitments are practical things that can be managed.
Family, friends and cultural pressure – it’s all a choice in how you respond to that.

It’s not about disrespect, its not about being a rebel.  It’s about weighing up choices and knowing the consequences of each of them and using this to make choices that are right for you.

It isn’t easy. At all.

But how many of us are people pleasers, doing what is right in someone else’s eyes and continuously limiting ourselves.
It isn’t about some hippy dreamy idea of us all being happy.
It is about people realising their potential and using this to create lasting positive change.

The real challenge

The challenge to do this in the west is huge but I believe that people in the west have much greater opportunities to do this than other countries and cultures.
“If you truly want something you will make it happen” but too many people limit themselves to what they have been told is possible.

In India I think the challenge is even greater.
The digital age is opening peoples eyes to what is possible, a different life but this is in direct conflict with traditional ingrained cultures that confines people to what they know, not what is possible.
So many people feel confined, held back and controlled (particularly women) all in the name of family respect and culture. 

India is known for its family values and rightly so, this is looked upon with envy from people in the west.  The community spirit is strong and people look out for each other in a way that long disappeared in western cultures.
Every family strives for strong social upstanding and respect.
In principle this is good but sadly this often achieved by controlling people to conform to what is culturally seen as acceptable.  It isn’t about empowering people to fulfil their dreams.

If I had a £1 for every story I’ve heard of people giving up on their dreams, of not using their skills and passion to carve a career out of what they love because the family do not perceive this to be the right thing to do, I would be a very wealthy person!

As the saying goes, “you love someone you set them free”. In India you love someone, you do everything you can to control them, to keep them close, out of a fear that setting them free means you will lose control.  Of course it is not called control, it is called cultural values.

Arranged marriage is still the norm in India and in my view is probably the greatest example of how people are controlled.  Of course in theory to have, or not, an arranged marriage is a choice but the family pressure not to marry is immense.
Purely my interpretation but it seems in India marriage is all about security.
Not security for the people getting married but security for the rest of the family.
Based on a principle or belief that people can not grow or thrive or even survive unless they are married.  And once married the control in what people do heightens further.

Of course family trying to control people happens all over the world but the intensity of this and the battle between new and old cultures and traditions is far more visible in India than it is in the west.  I’ve never more firmly believed in creating the opportunity for people to find their voice.
It is a combination of this and finding my voice that has led me to set up Empower.

The last 3 years have been full on but I have not regretted doing any of this for even a second.  It has been a bumpy journey but one that has ultimately led me to make choices that are right for me.
Has it impacted negatively on my relationships with friends and family?  In short no.
Yes they see me less and they definitely find it a little difficult to understand at times but giving me the freedom to do this has ultimately me brought me closer to them in every other sense.  Empower is all about enabling many more people to do the same.
Empower is not seeking to change the world but empower people to change the world in a way that is right for them and their communities.

A huge huge thank you to everyone who has followed, read and commented on this blog over the last 2 years.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing, ranting and sharing my experiences.

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