Two years or so ago, I was selected for a Stanford programme for entrepreneurs. It was, of course, a prestigious programme, and it had taken a while to get to that stage.
But the news came just as I had arrived at another level in my evolving consciousness. And so my answer was an absolute no. I gave up my spot to one of my team members. He almost couldn’t believe his luck. I think, even now, sometimes he doesn’t.
I was glad to do it for him. But I was just as glad to do it for myself.
I looked back at my life and I realised that every single milestone in my life was precipitated by a book. Whether it was How to Stop Worrying, or 7 Habits, or Americanah, or Good to Great, or Surprisingly Unstuck, or Reading the Bible with Western Eyes, or Sapiens. Or it was via watching a video – of Warren Buffett, or Jeff Bezos, or Iyanla Vanzant, or Oprah, or Brene Brown.
My most miserable experiences? Sitting in classrooms. Or in group settings – some seminar, or conference, or business school, or bootcamp or something. Probably it’s not about these things in and of themselves, it’s about how they are produced, packaged and presented. But uniformly, they conspire to steal my energy, and almost never activate my passion, no matter how useful they turn out to be. They never transform my life.
I spent 6 years in law school, I spent one year on a Master’s Degree. And what if I told you I gained more internally (I don’t mean prestige, or accolades, or perception) from reading every single thing Yuval Noah Harari ever wrote? You would struggle with that, of course, you would tell me that ‘no knowledge is lost’ (as if the fact that a thing isn’t lost means it is valuable), you would compare 8 years to the cumulative 5 days it took to read those books and you would gravitate towards quantity, most likely. I wouldn’t blame you. It’s intuitive.
But here’s what I have learnt so far in my short life. There is no one way to be a human being.
People will tell you that a man who has been divorced three times does not know how to make good choices. Until you meet Paulo Coelho, who did the same and got it right the fourth time. He has been married now for 35 years.
Or they will say ‘If not now, when?’ Until they meet Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who will tell you he procrastinated on writing his book until he was well near fifty, and he has been churning out bestsellers ever since.
That billionaire went to business school. The other one didn’t, hated the thought of it. Yet both of them made it to the Forbes list.
You were not created to fit into any particular mould. You were created to find yourself, to look for what works best for you, and to be true to that, entirely and joyfully. Not to take your own experience and make it law insisting that everyone must follow that path, but to encourage and support everyone to find their paths, and to follow those paths wherever it leads.
You are supposed to find where you thrive the most, how you thrive the most – how you learn, how you love, what you love, who you need, what makes your heart sing, and to do your best to stay true to that unique mix.
One of the most important experiences in my life was spending glorious months sucking in the incredible depth and vastness of Yale. Yale, like Stanford, is one of those schools that look very gorgeous on any CV, or any profile. But it wasn’t the Ivy League that made the difference. One – seminar, classroom, group-work, assignments, deadlines, predetermined concepts, dogmatic lecturers – was made for other people. The other – time alone, solitude, unlimited access to a library, any class you want, customise your experience, have mental space in between, free-flowing conversation – connected deeply with my spirit.
Here’s what I have learnt so far in my short life. There is no one ‘best’ way to be a human being. You will be incredibly lucky to find the path that best suits you, and to refuse to be distracted from it.
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