I received an email from my friend Jeff this week. Haven’t heard from him in a while so we exchanged the usual pleasantries “How are you?, How’s life?, How’s work? What’s up? Anything new?”. Interestingly enough Jeff made a comment about me and my job, he said I haven’t been blogging much about it lately which could mean one of two things: either things were better (and I had no more “complaints”) OR I am now resigned to the fact that this is how things are and have “accepted my fate”. Hmmm … I guess it’s a bit of both. Things aren’t as bad and I’ve accepted that there are just some things beyond my control. "Am I still stressed?" Yes. "Am I getting used to it?" Yes. "Am I happy with what I do?" Well, that’s relative. I’m not exactly thrilled but neither am I unhappy. It’s just where I am right now.
Serendipitously I started reading a book last night authored by a man named John Wood. The book’s title says it all “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”. John was a up-and-coming executive in Microsoft in the early to mid nineties. He lived a successful life (he was a highly paid, jet-setting, work hard-play hard kind of guy). He worked long stressful hours and was compensated well for his talents. But he was not happy. He felt that he missed out too much on life … couldn’t take time off to visit his family, bailed out on friends, and even on himself since he was too busy working. Bottomline, he was there for the company but not for every one else that mattered.
After a trip to the Himalayas, he had a conversation with a Nepali government worker who told him the plight of Nepali school children. Despite being one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Nepal was also one of the poorest and had the highest illiteracy rate (70%). John’s visit to a local school showed 450 students studying in shifts and sharing a 1-room schoolhouse. The school library had about 20 dog-eared books under lock and key (since they were considered too valuable to leave lying out). His heart went out to them especially when the headmaster asked him “please, sir, maybe someday you will come back with books”. That was the turning point in John’s life. He realized that at Microsoft, his leaving could be easily replaced by a long list of people waiting to take his job. But the kids in Nepal did not have a long list of people waiting to jump in and help them. He had to do it himself. Understandably, he had his doubts about quitting a successful job (his safety net) and venturing into the unknown world of starting a non-profit called Room to Read to help children 8,000 miles away. And of course he had his shares of critics who tried to dissuade him. But in the end he did it and has claimed he has never been happier.
The story is very reminiscent of a book I wrote about a couple of months ago (Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea that retells his plight helping kids in Pakistan). Both are equally inspiring and also thought-provoking. I stayed up almost all night last night. I started reading around 9, Jojo came to bed at 11:30, I was still reading. At 2:30 AM, I had to will myself to shut off the light and put the book down. I was awake an hour later still thinking about John’s story and asking myself what this means to me now that I’ve read it?
Surely it can not be a coincidence that I am at a crossroad in my career and I keep stumbling across stories like these. A week ago I wrote about my frustrations in life … one was that I was “stuck” in my job and two that I wanted to be part of something bigger than just living. And a few days ago I wrote about "The Last Lecture" and what I would do if I knew I had only a few months lefts to live … and I wrote that I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. All these posts are random (just thoughts that pop into my mind at a given time … certainly not planned!). But they've got to mean something because now I really feel compelled to do something. But honestly I don’t know what. The statistics the book shared on poverty, illiteracy, health epidemics, were staggering. I had to re-read the numbers to understand how serious things are. John had a line in his book where he says that the lives of children are like a lottery. Your success in life depends on where you were born. Children born in poverty are doomed from the very start. I kept thinking how can there be such a huge discrepancy in the way humans live. How could some have so much while others none at all? And in the end, does having more not mean we should do our part in helping those that need help? Isn’t that what being truly human means? I think so.
I am so worked up about this. I am writing this post on only 4 hours of sleep (and on a Saturday morning too!) I don’t know where this thoughts and this feeling will lead me to and I need to pray, reflect and discuss with family and friends all these ideas I have in my head. Now that I’ve gotten all this out in writing … I’m not even sure how to end this post. After all, I myself don’t really know how all this will play itself out.