I’ve walked through the empty Santa Clara campus every day for the past few months trying to avoid thinking about the word I’ll have to say too soon: goodbye. I remember when I needed to look at a map to find my way to Locatelli or Dowd; now, Santa Clara’s campus feels like a home I could navigate with my eyes closed.
I walk past my freshman dorm where I learned to be independent, past the Bronco statue where I met for countless retreats and car trips, past the small classroom with those modern swivel desks where I took my C&I class, and past the Benson parlors where I met many of my friends. Practically every building and lawn invokes a memory of a person or experience that molded a little part of me.
I usually say goodbye to chapters of my life by squeezing quintessential activities into the final moments, like when I forced down a freezing cold cup of gelato in the freezing cold rain on my last day studying abroad in Italy. But the pandemic has removed the traditional senior year goodbye rituals, so I’m left wandering the empty campus alone with my thoughts and the swaying palm trees.
Reminiscing on the past four years, I primarily feel gratitude. I’m grateful for the professors and staff that challenged me to think in new ways and encouraged my learning. I’m grateful for friends with whom I shared wacky, whimsical, painful and joyful memories. Most of all, I’m grateful that Santa Clara has given me a fresh perspective on who I want to be in the world.
I knew nothing about Jesuit values before stepping foot on campus, but now I deeply appreciate and want to embody the ethics-driven, service-oriented pursuit of contributing to the common good that Santa Clara emphasizes.
A big part of my college journey has been about following my curiosity and asking questions.
At the beginning of sophomore year, I started a podcast called Voices of Santa Clara for fun. I wanted to learn from the unique and fascinating professors, students and staff on campus, and share those stories to inspire and connect the community. After over 90 episodes, I’m convinced that a genuine desire to learn from other people’s stories and perspectives is the first step to changing the world.
Through the podcast, I got connected with The Santa Clara newspaper and joined the staff in junior year. As the opinion editor this past year, I’ve gotten to help publish dozens of articles on everything from state-led environmental action to laughter to woke capitalism to eating meat. I’ve also written my “fresh take” column exploring topics including meditation, friendship, homelessness and social media. I believe writing is one of the best ways to spread ideas, and I’ve loved seeing the diversity and passion of writers across campus represented in the opinion section.
As an editor, it’s thrilling to watch a piece of writing evolve over rounds of editing to more clearly express its core idea and tell a coherent story. The staff members at The Santa Clara have been instrumental in this process—helping me grow as a writer and human, in addition to being kind and hilarious friends.
One fun aspect of the opinion section is that any thought or idea can be the seed of an article. There’s no need to report on a specific event or stick to the strict rules of a prompt. The creative possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.
In that way, I think college—and life—are kind of like the opinion section of a newspaper. Sure, some articles will work better than others. There’s always room for improvement. But mostly, the creative possibilities for your Santa Clara experience—and for the rest of your life—are limitless.
Podcast guests have reinforced this lesson for me time and time again: there exist an infinite number of ways to live a competent, conscious and compassionate life. The journey to creating this life begins with an authentic hunger to explore, serve and continually question the status quo.
As I finish my quiet walk around campus and return home, I know that even when I graduate, the friendships and memories I’ve built will remain with me. The class of 2020 had to leave Santa Clara earlier than expected, but Santa Clara will never leave us, and we will never leave each other. Despite this fractured finale to our college experience, we can find hope in the individual and collective growth that we have experienced. Though the world feels like it’s crumbling, our future is bright.
I don’t like goodbyes—never have and never will. But goodbyes aren’t just endings; they are also beginnings and thank yous. I’ve heard that starting post-college life can be pretty fun. And saying goodbye provides an opportunity for me to thank the people that have supported and shaped me. So my goodbye to Santa Clara is complicated and bittersweet. I’m both sad to leave and excited to move on; but my heart will never stray too far from my years at Santa Clara.
I’ve wanted to write about homelessness for the past year, but I’ve been too afraid. I was worried I would say something wrong and that I wouldn’t have anything to add to the conversation. But my urge to learn more persisted.
To be unsheltered, hungry and without health services in the region of the world that has generated more wealth than any other is morally wrong. Billions of dollars virtually zoom through underground fiber-optic cables while thousands of people struggle to meet basic needs, and thousands more live one unexpected event away from being forced onto the streets.
Once the pandemic hit, I became increasingly concerned about homelessness. I watched governments spring into action with initiatives like Governor Newsom’s Project Roomkey—an effort to rent hotel rooms to provide housing for the unsheltered. I read that the number of tents in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district had increased 285% since January. I wondered what it felt like to live through stay-at-home orders when you don’t have a home.
I figured that the best way to get an accurate perspective would be to speak with people experiencing homelessness on the ground and to listen to their stories. After weeks of procrastinating, I worked up the nerve to drive to Guadalupe River Park in San Jose. I spotted a few tents and drove toward them.
As I got closer, more and more clusters of tents became visible. The streets were dotted with vehicles sheltering people inside. There were several people pushing overflowing shopping carts and others resting on the side of the road. I’d been in this area before, but there were at least twice as many tents, cars and people as I remembered from before.
I pulled into a parking lot and sat in my car, full trepidation mode. I felt horrible, frozen. Like an outsider, an intruder, an imposter. My plan to ask a few open-ended questions flew out the window. There was no chance I was getting out of the car.
I also felt bad that I felt bad. I thought, We’re all humans, what’s the big deal? I should have had the courage to say hello to someone. Nothing in this scene should have been surprising to me. I knew that homelessness existed. I knew that the pandemic has been hitting low-income and minority groups the hardest, both medically and economically. But knowing and seeing are different.
I pulled out of the parking lot and drove home, angry and sad. I felt guilty that I have multiple part-time jobs, that I have plenty of food and that I have had the luxury of spending the shelter-in-place sheltered from others’ suffering. I felt a sense of disconnection and otherness—like the car had been a barrier between my humanity and the humanity of those experiencing homelessness. I felt powerless to do anything, and thought my interview attempt would have been unwelcome and unhelpful.
Although I know that having conversations would have been a valuable experience, my failed attempt felt genuine. I was confronted with my privilege and comfort, and reminded just how real and widespread of an issue homelessness really is. It’s easy to discuss three-point solutions while forgetting that homelessness is about human rights and dignity. The people in the tents by the park and I share a common humanity.
But the needs of this community are evident, and I am in a unique position to advocate and help. But what can I do?
She cites data on how, despite massive amounts of funding going into affordable housing and homeless services, the homeless population is dramatically increasing in San Francisco. Numbers are up 17% from 2017 to 2019 (San Jose saw a similar increase). Mac Donald argues that San Francisco should invest less on shelters in expensive neighborhoods and more on facilities for treating mental illness in locations where taxpayer money can be used more efficiently. She criticizes San Francisco for normalizing and tolerating the rampant drug trade, recklessness and abuse that violate baseline societal norms. Above all, she believes that “the rule of law does not have an income threshold; its application should be universal.”
I struggled reading this because I felt that it failed to acknowledge the complexity of homelessness and the humanity of unsheltered populations. It failed to acknowledge the hard-working nonprofits and government agencies providing essential services grounded in evidence-based approaches. And it falsely stereotyped all unhoused individuals as addicted, mentally ill and lawless. In reality, many do not fall under these categories.
But I think many of Mac Donald’s points still stand. All residents of a city deserve to feel safe, and that means enforcing laws on what actions are permitted. Allowing widespread drug trafficking should not be the compassionate policy choice. Some homeless individuals may prefer the freedom of a life unhoused over accepting services that require them to make certain lifestyle changes.
The article left me with a question: is it possible for a city to take a firm stance against unlawful behavior while also providing essential services, opportunities, and compassion to people experiencing homelessness?
Between 2007-2012, Santa Clara County conducted the most comprehensive survey in the nation on the costs of homelessness. The survey found that about five percent of the unhoused population accounted for 47 percent of total costs, amounting to over $100,000 per individual per year in health care, social services and criminal justice expenses. In addition to being the right thing to do, focusing efforts to house these individuals can lead to massive public savings, which is good for all social service efforts in the end.
To test this theory, the county implemented a campaign called “Housing 1000” to measure the effects of housing individuals. The initiative provided housing to 850 people over three years and found that 83 percent remained stably housed. For those that remained housed, the cost to the county decreased from over $60,000 to under $20,000—an enormous reduction. The success of this program led to the formal adoption of the Housing First approach, which prioritizes providing stable housing, then layering on social services to meet individual needs.
This approach informed Santa Clara County’s “Community Plan to End Homelessness” which extends from 2015-2020. The plan admirably focuses on both systematic and individualized solutions. The program has brought once-separate government agencies and plans into unity, and clearly defined targets for helping individuals and building housing for the future. As of the end of 2019, 14,132 individuals received housing, and 96 percent of those individuals remained stably housed for at least 12 months.
Is the plan working? I was blown away by the comprehensive, data-driven, and innovative way Santa Clara County is working to address homelessness. But the number of people experiencing homelessness is still growing. Between 2007-2017, the county’s homeless population hovered around 7,000. In 2019, it jumped to 9,700. This was before the pandemic. I worry that the January 2021 data will be much worse.
Three days before the shelter-in-place went into effect, I spoke with Heather Bucy, the Director of Santa Clara County Shelters & Services at LifeMoves, a nonprofit dedicated to finding solutions to homelessness in Silicon Valley. LifeMoves operates 23 shelter locations from Daly City to San Jose, and provides essential services, case management and community outreach.
Bucy told me that LifeMoves programs successfully return 90 percent of families and 45 percent of individuals to stable, long-term housing. Contrasting Mac Donald’s article, Bucy listed several common misconceptions people hold about people experiencing homelessness: “That they’re all mentally ill, that they’re all addicted to drugs, that they’re lazy, that it’s truly their fault. In our programs, people are always shocked how many people are working two or three jobs.”
LifeMoves plays a role in developing the county’s next five-year plan for 2020 and beyond, and Bucy told me that their committee was getting more community buy-in than ever before. I learned that nonprofits are working with the City of San Jose to install toilets and start trash pickups in encampments. Bucy also described a new safe parking program that LifeMoves has initiated along with the city. “Individuals living in vehicles can safely park in a city-owned lot. We provide food and services including case management. So it’s a bridge. Community members are more open to that.”
Programs like this one often face criticism from community members about safety and cost. But I was impressed that LifeMoves is working with the city to find innovative ways to serve unhoused clients. Silicon Valley takes pride in its innovative problem-solving spirit and its approach to homelessness should follow suit.
Solutions to homelessness are only band-aids unless they start with our hearts. Yes, we should act quickly to provide essential services and shelter. Yes, we should support the laudable local organizations preventing homelessness. But the first step of solving homelessness is deeper, and it involves everyone—those with housing and those without.
I was confronted with this reality after my confusing and discouraging interview attempt in San Jose. Before thinking about solutions, I needed to reimagine my viewpoint and perception.
Heather Bucy also touched on the deeper way we perceive people experiencing homelessness. “We like to fill in the blank with whatever our comfort level is. We define people not by who they are, but by where we see them. Then we put all these assumptions on them.”
Homelessness is a symptom of a much deeper problem of disconnection, a fracture in the web of our local community. To solve homelessness, we first must see all people, regardless of their appearance or situation, with eyes and hearts of reverence—reverence for the burdens they carry, reverence for their resilience, reverence just because they’re human. People need housing, and people also need to be seen and heard.
As the pandemic rapidly expands the unsheltered population, we must both work toward tangible solutions and guard against seeing those without homes as “other” or “different.” The pandemic is exactly the type of bad break that often causes homelessness in the first place. But the dedicated work of local government and nonprofits can hopefully house people who find themselves on the streets as quickly as possible. Local organizations like HomeFirst, Second Harvest Food Bank, and LifeMoves are doing incredible work and facing additional financial challenges during the pandemic. They need our help.
It can feel overwhelming to simply exist right now, even without the complexity of considering those who are experiencing more difficult circumstances than our own. With many traditional ways to serve others now removed, giving money is one of the only ways to help. Not everyone may be able to donate based on their own financial situation at the moment, but we can all strive to remember that all members of our community carry equal dignity—housing or not.
Homelessness is solvable. We know why it happens, and we know the steps we need to take. We have the resources and the heart. We need to celebrate and emulate the great work currently being done and rise to the growing challenges.
When my business capstone team wore Mickey Mouse ears and presented about Disney+ on Monday of Week 10, I had no idea it would be the last time I ever stepped foot in a classroom at Santa Clara. In the final five minutes of class, the first coronavirus email arrived, canceling classes for three weeks. Seven days later, what remained of my college career evaporated.
So many things I took for granted were gone: random encounters in the library, gatherings with friends, friendly waves between classes, casual chats in the gym and events around campus—even those awkward handshake-or-hug moments, which seem unfathomable now.
I’m especially disappointed in the abrupt finale to my college experience. I have felt more at home at Santa Clara during the past two quarters than ever before, and it’s unfortunate that my senior peers and I won’t get a traditional spring quarter to celebrate how far we’ve come.
In the days after the shelter-in-place order was announced, I found myself spiraling into the death grip of Twitter and news feeds, becoming more informed and increasingly helpless.
Each day seems to bring a new death count, a new economic loss, a new country in crisis, a new falsehood from the Oval Office and a new infographic showing how the healthcare system is doomed.
I can’t help but think of people in India where I traveled last summer on the Global Social Benefit Fellowship. The Indian government’s 21-day strict lockdown is both necessary and tragic for the hundreds of millions who rely on a day’s wages to eat. While many people globally are devastated by the pandemic, I’m incredibly privileged to stay at home reading, watching movies and working on classes.
For those who have lost their job, their stability or their life, we collectively grieve. And it’s completely justified to grieve for all the smaller losses, too, such as the vibrant in-person community at Santa Clara.
But there’s another side to the pandemic I’ve started to notice. As sadness and anxiety evolve into new routines, I think we have much to learn from this new season.
Winston Churchill once said, “Never waste a good crisis.” This crisis has the potential to change us both individually and collectively for the better, though the growth may not be welcome or comfortable.
I believe that the biggest potential benefit from the pandemic is the urgent reminder that we are united in our shared humanity.
Blogger Tim Urban wrote that the virus is “the one thing that could make all humans in the world feel like they’re on the same team against a common enemy.” An alien visiting Earth from space would certainly find our political disagreements petty and wonder why we didn’t spend more time marveling at our pale blue dot spinning through the universe.
Hopefully, we will wake up to our interconnected humanity—there are countless examples of creativity and kindness all over the internet to prove progress on this point.
On a societal level, many of the systems in government, business and public life that we take for granted are being upended. This instability is scary, but I’m optimistic that we as a society can rebuild these systems in more just and sustainable ways.
Filmmaker Astra Taylor called our crisis “an unprecedented opportunity to not just hit the pause button and temporarily ease the pain, but to permanently change the rules so that untold millions of people aren’t so vulnerable to begin with.”
On a personal level, I’m finding that the pandemic is revealing the need for increased intentionality with how I spend my time. Without the on-campus community and structured gatherings, staying in touch with friends requires more active effort than before. I’ve found the extra alone time to be an excellent opportunity to read and reflect, but I’ve also appreciated spontaneous calls to friends when loneliness creeps in.
The shelter-in-place has also radically emptied my schedule and thus offered a new way for me to look at time. Our fast-paced culture encourages a view of time as something we efficiently exploit rather than simply exist within. I’m hoping to practice slowing down and being present to daily life during this strange in-between season.
I hope that we can eventually meander from grief to gratitude, from anger to acceptance. And along the journey, I propose that students take a moment to ponder a seemingly ridiculous thought exercise.
Let’s imagine that in 10 years you’re sitting at a dinner party and the topic of the Great Quarantine of 2020 comes up. You say to a friend, “You know, from where I’m sitting, spring of 2020 was actually one of the most impactful experiences in college. It was during that time that I learned and grew the most.” If that preposterous statement happened to be true in 10 years, why might that be?
Think forward. What would you have done or learned during these three months?
Perhaps you’ll start a new project or hobby. Perhaps you’ll worry less about what others think of you. Perhaps you’ll find delight in something simple that you previously ignored.
Now certainly, the opposite of our hypothetical rosy scenario may be true. You may feel more lonely than any other time in college or life. But imagining a different story is the first step to living it.
I’m trying to establish a new way of living, and I’m grateful to be safe and healthy. I’m saddened by what has been lost and fearful of the global challenges to come. I miss fist-bumps and hugs. But the best routine for spring seems to involve finding a rhythm where creativity, intentionality, virtual connection and self-compassion can flourish.
Perhaps one of the most difficult obstacles that students must overcome in college is making friends. Not just acquaintances who they spend time with, but genuine, deep, honest friends.
Many students come to Santa Clara having spent four or more years bonding with a close group of high school friends, whether it be through sports, other extracurriculars or classes. The rigid structure of life in high school combined with the comforting year-to-year consistency of student cohorts makes building friendships a relatively simple task.
In college, those structures fade away, and many students find themselves confronted with a wide-open calendar, overwhelming workload and no close friends.
Feeling lonely in college is quite common. A 2017 American College Health Association survey found that 64 percent of college students had felt “very lonely” in the past 12 months. With numbers like that, it seems necessary that more thought and attention is devoted to this crisis of companionship.
The most common solutions are for students to spend time with whoever ends up living near them, or to join a fraternity, sorority or sports team.
But proximity doesn’t equal depth.
Even many seemingly connected students feel a lack of emotional closeness with their early college friends. And the problem isn’t limited to first-year students—making close friends can be a struggle throughout college.
My high school and college friendships have been a bit atypical. I started tenth grade at a new campus and struggled to make friends. I was surrounded by people, but emotionally alone. My situation steadily improved through my junior and senior years, but I still desired more depth in my friendships throughout high school.
In college, I had the opposite experience. During my second week at Santa Clara, I met a whole group of friends at a Christian club, and many of them have remained my closest friends even as social groups shifted.
Despite my good fortune, I remember feeling isolated at times during my sophomore year. I joined a fraternity and met quality people, but didn’t quite feel at home.
Now as a senior, I have more trusting and vulnerable friendships than at any point during my life. But for most of my college experience, I have felt simultaneously appreciative of the friends around me while craving deeper connections.
Here are my tips for making close friends in college, whether you’re a first-year or senior.
First, put yourself out there and join multiple groups or activities that align with your interests. Go on an Into the Wild trip, apply to be on the leadership board of a club, go on an immersion trip, play an intramural sport or go to residence hall events. In the beginning, you’ll only have surface-level relationships, but these seedlings can later grow into deeply-rooted friendships.
Second, take an active approach to cultivating your friendships. Make a list of people you know that you might want to be deeper friends with and reach out. The fear of rejection when asking someone to hang out never fully dissipates, but I have realized that people almost always appreciate the effort. Some people on your list may be uninterested in friendship, others may become uninteresting to you or naturally fizzle out. But beautiful friendships are usually born of intentional effort.
Third, learn to befriend yourself. Although you do need friends, most social struggles are born from internal struggles. If you pursue friendship from a place of emptiness, your relationships will become transactional and need-driven. When you are secure in your identity, you can love your friends not for what they do for you, but for who they are.
Rather than thinking “this person makes me happy,” you can think, “when we hung out, we were happy.” This subtle shift in language can allow you to be more secure in your identity and drop some of the anxiety about what others think of you.
Remember, the one friendship that will continue throughout life is your friendship with yourself.
One final note on friendship: It’s normal, healthy and inevitable to have different people fill different roles in your life at different times. I like to call this landscape of friendships your “friendscape.” Your friendscape will naturally evolve as you grow closer to some people and more distant from others.
Rather than clinging to friends solely based on routine and past experience, you can recognize when it’s time to change who you spend time with, and practice being present with the people in front of you.
When you reflect back on college, your friendships and social experiences will likely be far more memorable and impactful than any class. I’ll remember a late-night trip to BJ’s, camping in Yosemite and getting lost in a neighborhood near Santa Cruz far more than any trip to the library. So put down the books, grab a friend and make a memory.
The recent coronavirus outbreak has sparked international fears over a global pandemic. Although U.S. citizens have little reason to worry, the effect of the disease on global markets shows just how fragile and intertwined our world has become. Statistically, the coronavirus is a mere blip on the radar in terms of the death count. So far, 560 deaths have been reported worldwide, compared with almost 80,000 flu deaths during the 2017-2018 season.
But the coronavirus brings a worrisome question to the forefront: How might the human species end?
Certainly, a global disease pandemic could do it. Just 100 years ago, the Spanish flu killed 50 million people worldwide—one out of every 20 humans alive at the time. We have made enormous progress in vaccines and antibiotics in the past century, but the risk of a pandemic remains. The World Health Organization warned that a comparable virus today could spread across the globe in 36 hours, bolstered by air travel. But as the technology to heal has advanced, so has the technology to harm. In addition to natural outbreaks, we shouldn’t discount bioterrorism: the intentional spreading of bacteria or viruses with the intent to harm or kill.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped two percent on Jan. 31 over fears of coronavirus, its worst day in five months. If that’s the impact that such a relatively small outbreak can have on the economy, imagine what a pandemic killing tens of millions could do to shut down the economy and create chaos.
A second possibility for the demise of humanity would be a nuclear war. An all-out nuclear battle between any nuclear-equipped nation would immediately kill many millions, but the impacts would extend farther than the craters left by warheads.
Nuclear weapons would cause massive firestorms in the cities they hit, sending tons of smoke and chemicals into the atmosphere. The resulting smoke clouds would cause temperatures to drop for decades in a so-called “nuclear winter.”
The American Geophysical Union, a large non-profit supporting Earth and space science, reported that even a relatively small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could eliminate 20-50 percent of the local ozone layer and send temperatures there colder than they’ve been for 1,000 years.
Nuclear war is a worrying prospect because the power to use the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons rests in the hands of one man: the U.S. president. Previous presidents have admitted to nearly detonating nuclear weapons, and human error or impulse could ignite a global conflict.
The least sudden and most concerning existential threat to humanity is climate change. While destruction by nuclear weapons would be immediate, a slowly warming climate will cause prolonged malnutrition, sea-level rise, natural disasters, water scarcity and displacement.
Although the risk of humans going extinct anytime soon is extremely low, millions of animal species could go extinct, and over a billion humans could suffer.
While the wealthy will remain sheltered from the worst of the consequences, poor people living in dry areas or coastal cities will face the worst effects. The disease and war doomsday scenarios would require active decisions or bad luck, but the only input climate change needs to affect humanity is complacence.
Climate models debate the likelihood of various temperature rise scenarios, but none can predict whether our climate crisis will unite humanity around a common mission or spur division and unrest.
A global pandemic, nuclear war and climate change seem like the most likely apocalyptic events, but the curious mind can find other causes for concern. Aliens could invade. An asteroid could hit the earth. A supervolcano could explode. We could create artificial intelligence that turns evil or ends up killing humans as a side-effect of another goal. Over 99 percent of species ever to exist are extinct. One day, humans may face the same fate.
So should you be worried about an end to humanity? Nope.
Besides getting your flu shot, voting for a mentally stable president and doing your part to reduce carbon emissions, you can’t control any of these scenarios. So why worry?
There’s something strangely attractive about imagining apocalyptic scenarios; these scenes make perfect material for popular movies and books. As civilization lies on the brink of collapse, a hero comes in to save the day. We like to romanticize a dramatic end to our existence.
The fact is, your life will almost certainly end in a quite boring manner, independent of human extinction. As a 20-year-old, you’re much more likely to die in a car accident or from alcohol consumption than from nuclear war or disease pandemic.
Imagining how humanity will end can be enjoyable in a dark way, but these scenarios are unlikely to pass within any of our lifetimes. The world is safer today than ever before in human history. But please, buckle your seatbelt.
Meditation is hard, but mindful habits are possible for all of us
A friend and I recently decided to undertake a mission: meditate every day for 10 minutes. For many years, I’ve heard countless successful people rave about the mind-clearing, zen-building, productivity-boosting, magical benefits of meditation—the classy word for “sitting there and doing nothing.”
My favorite podcaster Tim Ferriss interviewed over 140 people from a wide range of fields for his book “Tools of Titans” and reported, “Some type of morning mindfulness or meditation practice would span I’d say 90 percent of the respondents.”
So there it is—meditation is the silver bullet. The one obstacle I need to clear to levitate above the general public with my enlightened mind. The secret to success.
It was an online article called “Why I Meditate” by Oshan Jarow that prompted my meditation mission. Jarow writes that most of the thoughts streaming through our minds all day involve language. Language, though powerful, represents only a fraction of our human experience. Meditation offers a way to access consciousness, which Jarow calls a “vast, unexplored landscape.”
Our minds create stories all day to make sense of the world and our identity: that we have friends, do important work, and that each action we take has a purpose. Meditation brings us beyond this self-centered stream, allowing us to appreciate our small-but-mighty place in the universe.
I spent most of my summer in India, the birthplace of meditation over 7,000 years ago. I even visited the hometown of the Dalai Lama: a small region in the Himalayan foothills filled with greenery, goats, and men in traditional dark red Buddhist garb.
Although many aspects of the trip were peaceful, I was unable to absorb meditative benefits solely by existing in a mindful country.
So how did my experiment go?
The first day I tried meditating at night and almost fell asleep. The next two days were a bit better, but my roommate walked in halfway through, and I couldn’t focus. I forgot for the next two days. And in the subsequent attempt, my mind was racing from a cup of coffee.
After about a week of on-and-off attempts, I gave up on a consistent practice.
However, I wasn’t quite done with meditation yet. I signed up for Campus Ministry’s silent retreat at the end of fall quarter, hoping that forced solitude would put me into a meditative zone.
I didn’t spend much time “meditating” on the retreat, though the whole time certainly had a reflective and relaxing mood. Every day I spent time journaling, napping, hiking, eating (silent group meals are fascinating), reading and just staring at the wall doing nothing. Although I didn’t become enlightened, I walked away with something potentially more potent: a realistic optimism about integrating aspects of meditation into my everyday life.
Although not everyone may want to commit to meditating, I do think that every person should integrate elements of a broader concept—mindfulness—into their life.
I learned I need daily space to detach from the speed and busyness of classes. I like morning and evening walks, daily exercise or even just a few minutes of quiet breathing as ways to intentionally slow down and let my mind wander.
Some people are more introverted and need recharging time after socializing, while extroverts gain energy from being around people. I find myself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum; I love being with people, especially one-on-one, but also need daily alone time to recharge. Regardless of how much you enjoy being alone, spending some time each day in solitude is a healthy way to check in with yourself—even if it’s just for 15 minutes before bed.
One mindful habit I have recently tried to cultivate is being more aware and engaged in the present moment. I naturally ruminate on the past and make plans for the future, but I don’t want these habits to detract from my ability to enjoy the moment, especially when I’m spending time with people.
Although I’m still not a consistent meditator, I still highly recommend trying and believe that intentionally practicing mindful habits is a key to a happy, healthy and peaceful life. Don’t be too hard on yourself when building new habits—give yourself some breaks while also choosing times, mindful activities and environments where you can succeed.
If you’re not up for the challenge of meditation, try to develop mindful habits like reflection and solitude. At its core, mindfulness is a gift to the parts of your brain and body you can’t access with conscious thought. By letting your mind make subconscious connections and rest from the chaotic playing field of life, you’ll be more prepared to play the game with a positive mindset.
What is the primary reason people go to college? To get a good job. Hopefully, a more holistic process of learning, discovery, and friendship takes place during a student’s years on campus, but it’s difficult to justify the investment of college for a non-career reason.
Given this goal, it’s surprising that students aren’t better prepared for landing their dream careers. College career centers offer excellent in-person support, online resources, and employer connections, but many students either don’t take advantage or can’t find what they’re looking for.
If you want to be a doctor, accountant, engineer, lawyer or take any more traditional path after you graduate, you need to play by the rules of that game. Get good grades, go to graduate school, network with people at your desired companies, and go to on-campus recruiting events.
But what if you don’t know what you want? Or what if you want to work at the intersection of a few different fields and don’t know where to start? What if your dream job asks for 10 years of experience? What if you don’t want to work in a job typical for your major?
These situations require a more unconventional approach than what you’ll find in most career blogs or by asking older generations. Landing a dream job is a challenging feat, but there are steps students can take to get that final-round interview.
First, create a consistent personal story and share it online. This could be as simple as spicing up your LinkedIn profile with more thorough descriptions of your prior experience. If you’re willing to invest more time, create a personal portfolio website showcasing your prior work, art, writing or experiences.
Think about how you would share your career journey in 1 or 2 minutes during an interview or at a networking event. How do your past experiences relate to your current trajectory, and what are you looking for in the next stage of your career journey? What specific skills and broader character traits would you bring into a job or internship? Writing, design, coding, sales, data analysis, marketing, and research skills are a handful of concrete skills valued by employers.
At the beginning of every interview or career conversation, you will likely be asked to share about yourself. Thoughtfully crafting your approach to answering this often-overlooked question is essential.
The second step to getting your dream job is to conduct informational interviews. If you’re just starting out in college, reach out to on-campus organizations or upperclassmen you admire. If you’re a senior, open LinkedIn, search for your university, click “alumni,” and you can sift through thousands of alumni in companies or industries that interest you. At the end of this summer, I spoke to over a dozen alumni myself to ask about their job-search process, and I was blown away by how helpful everyone was.
What do you talk about in an informational interview? If the person is a young professional, ask about their journey into their current role. If they are working in a job you’re curious about, you should ask about the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of the role. Let your curiosity guide you. At the end of an informational interview, asking if there is anyone else the person thinks you should talk to is a great way to expand your network. Never directly ask for a job, but you can mention that you would be interested in roles at the company.
Conducting informational interviews is one of the easiest ways to test your assumptions about what a career actually entails while building your network.
Third, you need to apply for jobs or internships that look interesting to you. Perseverance is a vital trait here. Most online applications are like a black hole: you’ll never hear back. And when you do, polite rejection is the norm. Remember that the company is not rejecting you personally, they are simply rejecting a snap judgment of your resume.
Rejection can sting, but stay in the game and look for opportunities to search for jobs through recommendations and personal connections. If you can find a recruiter or employee at a company willing to talk to you, your chances of landing the job will exponentially increase.
For large companies, you’ll likely have to play by their rules and fit into their recruiting cycle and procedures. But for smaller companies, you can and should be creative in your application by going above and beyond expectations.
Think about what type of work you would love to do for a company. Then, brainstorm what problems you think the company is facing that you could help address. Armed with these two answers, create a small project showing your ideas for improving the company.
If you love designing apps, sketch a new feature. If you love writing, write an article like the ones the company posts. For almost any position, you can pick an aspect of the company’s business and share your ideas for improvement. This project can be as simple as a document you type up and send with your resume, but it can go a long way in showcasing your passion and job-specific skills.
In interviews for my Voices of Santa Clara podcast, I often ask older guests who are quite successful what their career plans were in college. I typically hear two answers. Some people had no idea what they wanted. Others knew exactly what they wanted, only to discover years later that they were wrong.
I find comfort in hearing how so many ambitious people have such ambiguous and winding career paths. It can be overwhelming to confront the wide-open chasm of the job market and tiring to turn in dozens of applications. But the right combination of luck, relationships, creativity, and grit can land you a role that acts as a stepping stone to your future career.
Social media has taken quite a beating recently. Facebook is selling your data, Instagram has you addicted to scrolling through pictures of memes, Twitter is where people argue about politics, Snapchat is slowly dying, and TikTok is ruining the minds of our youth.
We’ve all seen the article titles: “I deleted social media and became a perfect human and you can too,” or “How I fulfilled all my dreams after deleting Facebook.”
So, should you delete social media? Nope.
I’m not convinced that deleting social media is a better option than using it responsibly. But to use social media to your advantage, we first need to be brutally honest about its negative consequences and side effects.
Social media companies employ thousands of the brightest engineers and psychologists to find ways to hold your attention and keep you scrolling. And it’s working. Globally, social media users spend 2 hours and 23 minutes every day on social media. Instagram daily users average 53 minutes per day, a figure that has risen each year since its release.
When we frequently check these platforms, we harm our ability to do what Georgetown professor and author Cal Newport calls “deep work” where we intensely focus on one activity. To become great in any aspect of life, we need to retain the ability to avoid distractions and give our full attention to the people and tasks around us.
Additionally, social media often inspires unhealthy comparison. You didn’t get invited to that party, you’re not as pretty as that celebrity, your friend is eating pasta in Italy—all while you are lying in bed alone.
But used correctly, social media can be a springboard for in-person events, a source of creative inspiration, a way to connect to people we admire, an educational tool and a fun place to stay in touch with old friends.
I have three tips to harness social media for good.
First, take control over how much you use social media. Outsmarting the attention engineer-wizards isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Move your social media apps into a folder instead of your home screen (preferably deep within a folder). Instagram has a “your activity” feature that allows you to set limits on how much time you spend on it per day.
Put your phone on airplane mode if you’re doing homework. Check social media in a few short chunks throughout the day, but be careful not to get stuck scrolling. Be self-aware about how your social media use impacts your mood.
You should also banish most notifications from your lock and home screens. No pop-ups, no red bubbles and no emails. You likely check Instagram enough already; you don’t need to get notified for each of the 200 people liking your photo. There are just a few types of notifications that I believe are worthwhile: messages, events and reminders.
Another way to cut down on the quantity of content being pushed at you is to limit who you follow. If a celebrity makes you jealous, unfollow them. If a high school friend posts three times a week about irrelevant parts of their life, unfollow them. Apply the rule of Japanese cleaning expert Marie Kondo: if a person’s social media presence doesn’t bring you joy, throw their account out. Anyone that you don’t personally know (like a celebrity) deserves an even higher standard than a past acquaintance.
Second, you should do less liking and more commenting on posts. Let’s imagine two scenarios for your Instagram post. Either you get 200 likes with no comments or you get 100 likes with 10 comments.
I’d bet that despite your post being half as popular in the second scenario, you would feel happier because you exchanged friendly or funny words with 10 of your pals. Even just commenting a few words or an emoji is more meaningful than giving an anonymous thumbs-up.
Anytime someone shares a personal project, blog or piece of art, I try to comment and support their endeavor. What better way to use social media than to inspire others to create?
Third, be generous and honest with your posts. Share a funny photo of yourself. Share about a challenge you’re facing. Share your favorite music on your Instagram story. Share your poetry, photography or art. Share an article that made you think or a video that taught you something new about the world. Create an event that will bring people together in the real world. And respond when other people do the same.
We need to put the “social” back in “social media.” By using the platforms to message, comment, share and connect in the real world, we can make social media a positive force in our lives. Message that old friend, comment on someone’s post, don’t take yourself too seriously and clean through your list of friends. Use social media to connect, not to compare. You won’t miss the likes, I promise.
As democratic presidential candidates vie for publicity, capitalism has been caught in the cross-fire of political debate. Some defend it with a religious zeal, while others blame it for inequality, global warming and more.
Among young people, capitalism is viewed with an increasingly critical lens. A study found that just 45 percent of Americans ages 18-29 view capitalism positively, down from 68 percent in 2010.
But what is capitalism, on a fundamental level? Are we all talking about the same thing?
Typically, capitalism refers to an economic system where private companies control production and free markets are used to exchange goods and services. But in our society, capitalism often also refers to an ideology, where followers advocate for a small government, few regulations, and lower taxes—closer to the term “libertarian.”
The capitalist system has created the most economically prosperous and technologically advanced society the world has ever seen. Sixty-five percent of the world owns a cell phone, and rates of extreme poverty and infant mortality are tiny fractions of what they were a century ago.
The key to this perpetual progress is a shared belief in growth that leads to the funding of new ideas. Individuals are incentivized to create value and markets determine the most efficient allocation of resources. Both proponents and detractors of capitalism recognize the importance of innovation to help the world move forward.
Capitalists also believe that the government should stay out of the economy, that an “invisible hand” will create prosperity for all. By the measure of economic growth, the capitalist system has certainly succeeded.
But capitalism’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. An incessant focus on growth means that the well-being of people and the planet are under-prioritized. Capitalism leads to enormous levels of inequality, where the rich get richer and the poor become trapped in a cycle of poverty (to be fair, most economic systems throughout history have been even worse). Finally, capitalism can create conditions for monopolies, which discourage innovation and exploit consumers and workers.
For the first hundred years of U.S. history, greedy capitalist motives fueled slavery—an efficient way to grow a business and an incredibly unjust way to treat humans. Even in the 150 years since slavery was abolished, we see the capitalist system striving to pay workers less to produce more. Do I know how the workers who made my clothing were treated? The workers who grew my coffee? Who made my iPhone?
The second loser in the capitalist system is the planet. Our earth doesn’t play by the same rules as our stock market, and increasing production often means increasing the consumption of finite resources. Capitalism teaches that each person is entitled to buy as much as they want of whatever they want, even as our planet recoils. Perhaps the most important economic question of our time is how to design a system that makes environmental sustainability a guiding value rather than a forgotten externality.
Our earth doesn’t play by the same rules as our stock market, and increasing production often means increasing the consumption of finite resources.
So where does all this leave us?
The first lesson is that capitalism has become much more than an economic system. It is intertwined with social and political values and functions more like a religion than an academic theory. Therefore, it is crucial that we define our terms in political discussions, and recognize the strengths of our current system as we work to amend its flaws.
The second lesson is to recognize that capitalism values growing profits. If we as a society have other goals like justice, opportunity, equality, freedom, sustainability or health, we need to intentionally design them into the system. The invisible hand won’t do that for us.
The third lesson is that regardless of what any politician may say, we currently live in a mixed capitalist economy—not purely capitalist or purely socialist. Regardless of who becomes president in 2020, we will still live in a mixed capitalist economy. What may change is the flavor and amount of government policy and redistribution that we utilize to reshape our society.
Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren has proposed a hotly-debated wealth tax, where Americans owning over $50 million in wealth would pay a 2% tax. So, for example, if I had $100 million that was growing at 7 percent per year, I would pay $2 million in taxes and be left with $105 million at the end of the year (sounds really tough).
Although wealth taxes have been difficult to enforce in the past, Warren claims her tax would raise $2.75 trillion over ten years and be used to pay for universal childcare, preschool, and healthcare. Even many billionaires are supporting the tax (perhaps they noticed historical examples of unequal societies revolting and crumbling).
On the environmental front, various democratic candidates have supported representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, which aims to reach net-zero emissions globally by 2050. Under the plan, the government would undertake projects to source all energy from renewable sources, invest in high-speed rails, and provide new economic development in communities that currently rely on the fossil-fuel industry.
Recognizing the power and pitfalls of capitalism is the first step in helping the system evolve towards justice. How can we keep investing, building and creating, but in a sustainable way that prioritizes human well-being and protects the planet? There aren’t many easy answers, but the question may define our time.
This is the first in a series of "A Fresh Take" articles where Gavin gives readers a new perspective on a complex, controversial or overlooked topic. Stay tuned for more articles in the coming weeks.
Growing up, I learned to avoid conflict. One time in kindergarten, I knocked on the head of a friend wearing a bike helmet. The teacher scolded me to keep my hands to myself. From then on, I was a professional conflict-avoider.
Always better to stay quiet than rock the boat, I thought. I wanted to get along with everyone, to be universally liked and respected. I still cringe when a class discussion gets tense or people shout at each other in an argument.
But that way of thinking may not be right.
These days, I believe that any person with principles and values should have strong opinions—and stand by them. If you care about the climate crisis, certain U.S. policies and corporate actions should infuriate you. So speak up. If you care about movies, I want to hear a passionate monologue about your favorite scene. If you care about criminal justice reform, you should advocate for the work of organizations making a difference.
The problem with our discourse isn’t that we have strong opinions, it’s that we refuse to listen, stay open-minded and update our opinions in the face of new information. It is possible to disagree with kindness and humility.
In the words of venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, we should strive for “strong opinions, loosely held.” Rather than equating our opinions with our identity, we should treat opinions as scientific hypotheses. By seeking out diverse perspectives, we can update our opinions to better reflect reality.
Here are three ways to disagree better.
First, find common values. Rather than immediately blurting out why someone is wrong, ask questions. Go deeper. I have found that it is nearly impossible to vilify someone after listening to their story for an hour, whether it be in conversation, video or podcast form. Go beyond political parties or stereotypes and learn the roots of someone’s worldview. You’ll likely find huge areas of common ground from which you can address tough topics on the same team. Thoughtful disagreement starts from recognizing shared humanity instead of “us vs. them” duality.
Second, address the point, not the person. Internet entrepreneur Paul Graham wrote about a hierarchy of disagreement in 2008. The lowest levels are attacking the character of the author or style of the argument. The highest form of disagreement is responding directly to the main idea. People often interpret disagreement as a personal attack, so use “I” statements about your personal experience and knowledge. Your statements probably won’t change anyone’s mind, but your questions, conversations, and friendship might.
Third, be radically open-minded. What is something you have changed your mind about in the last year? If you can’t answer this question as a college student, you might not be actively seeking out experiences and information that challenge you to think differently.
Try to reason from your principles and values rather than from your political party or friend circles. This takes active work! As social animals, we find it psychologically painful to go against the beliefs of our tribes. But to live a moral life, we must practice regaining the courage to stand alone. Decide what matters to you, research like a scientist, and admit that you could be wrong.
As the opinion editor at The Santa Clara student newspaper, I hope to be like a gardener: cultivating healthy soil where a variety of ideas can grow and spread. We’ll feature articles about politics and potatoes, San Jose and Syria, ethics and economics, controversy and compassion. I hope that articles from this series start dialogues, bring overlooked issues to light, and help us critically shape our worldview.
On our last morning in India, Rachael and I flagged down an auto rickshaw to commute to the office. A young man named Raj Mahan picked us up, and we zoomed off. On the back of his seat, we noticed a plaque stating that he was a Three Wheels United driver. What were the chances!? Out of over 160,000 autos in the city, we had randomly found a driver affiliated with our company. We briefly chatted with Raj Mahan, then he turned up some dance music on his speakers. In a summer full of unexpected surprises, this one on the final morning hardly seemed out of the ordinary.
In the office that day, Rachael and I presented our findings to the Three Wheels United management team. Lively conversation sprung up about how to best serve drivers and structure a loan product for the New Delhi market. Afterwards, we were given a chocolate cake to celebrate the end of our summer. Later that evening, Rachael and I took an Indian bread-making class, learning how to make chapati and paratha from scratch. Around midnight, we left for the airport, and suddenly eight weeks of work, play, and travel had ended.
This final day contained many of the elements that made the summer in India so special. Serendipitous encounters, intriguing business conversations, joyful friendships, cultural learning experiences. Observations from traveling informed our work, and our work led us into a wide variety of new places.
In the past two weeks since returning to California, I’ve answered the question “How was India?” quite a few times, so I’ve been thinking about how I explain my summer. Capturing the heartfelt conversations, canceled plans, picturesque landscapes, friendly auto drivers, bland sick days, noisy cities, and hilarious coincidences in a few sentences is simply impossible. But after reflecting and sharing for the past couple weeks, a few themes have emerged. So, to satisfy this article’s social-media-ready title, here are the eight lessons I learned from working, exploring, and living in India.
1. India is naturally and culturally beautiful and diverse
One scorching day in Chennai, Rachael and I visited the home of Muthuvel, a driver participating in an electric vehicle pilot with Three Wheels United. We were warmly welcomed into a small apartment and offered mango juice. I was sitting on a bed, and was told three times to take a nap. After continually refusing out of politeness, I obliged (a nap did sound pretty nice). Five minutes later, two heaping plates of vegetable fried rice were brought into the room. Although piping hot and spicy fried rice on a 100 degree humid day shortly after breakfast didn’t sound particularly appetizing, the message was clear: we were welcome. Everywhere we went, Indians welcomed us with open arms and proud hearts.
As home to more than 1/6th of the world’s population, India contains an astounding range of languages, geographies, and people groups. Of the three major cities Rachael and I visited (Bangalore, Chennai and New Delhi), each has a different primary language. India is home to foggy mountains, lush rainforests, dry deserts, rocky hills, and rolling farmlands. Any descriptor of the people or country is likely to be partially correct and vastly insufficient. But underlying the India’s diversity is a sense of tradition, healing, time, and spirituality that infuses meaning into the bustle of life. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity to see, feel, and absorb this eclectic energy.
2. Consulting process: Observations to insights to recommendations
I was a bit worried entering the summer that my experience would be overly focused on research and less on “consulting” than I had hoped. But my worries quickly disappeared when I realized that research and interviewing were deeply connected to creating consulting deliverables for Three Wheels United.
The process looked like a funnel. Notes from our 102 interviews were condensed from five handwritten notebooks into 60 typed pages, then into a 6-slide presentation and handful of deliverables focusing on market research, management practices, partnership strategies, customer experience, and promoting electric vehicles. The value that Rachael and I brought was in spotting, filtering, organizing, and curating concrete ideas amid the expansive landscape of our experience. This process helped me confirm that I want to work in some form of business consulting after graduation.
3. Juxtaposition of modern and old, rich and poor
What comes to mind when the average American thinks of India? Naan? The Taj Mahal? Yoga? Slums?
The real India is much more complex than any of these stereotypes. I saw modern office skyscrapers bordering tent houses. I would often walk out of an elegant restaurant, then trip over a big rock or wobble on a precarious bit of sidewalk. The lake near Three Wheels United’s office was a beautiful oasis and featured an excellent walking path, but half of it bordered a moat of trash and sewage. The influences of colonization, the caste system, a young government, poverty, global development, and rapid urbanization have all helped shape this patchwork of lifestyles and infrastructures.
A few notes in hopes of further complicating any stereotypes.
First, I visited primarily cities and tourist areas, so I don’t have the whole picture. I expected to see more slums than I did, but poverty is certainly a prevalent challenge in both urban and rural settings. Second, I was continually surprised by the quality of the homes of the auto drivers we visited, most of whom earned $8-$12 a day. One area in Chennai that was labeled a “slum” was a street full of 4-story apartments. Small, but homey. I think suburban U.S. neighborhoods have a lot to learn from the tight-knit community fostered by families on this street.
Third, the hopes, dreams, and values of everyone we met were so relatable. The infrastructure of a city is much different than the hearts of the humans living within it.
5. Self-knowledge: mental and physical health while traveling
Traveling to three different regions of the country for work enabled lots of fun weekend trips in touristy and picturesque areas. In our 8 weeks, Rachael and I visited 10 cities and took 6 flights, 4 overnight busses and a train. In a span of 43 nights, I slept in 22 different places. One week, Monday night was spent in a hut with a mosquito net, Tuesday night was spent sitting in a bus, and Wednesday night was spent in one of the nicest hotels of my life that served a complimentary dessert with a welcome message written in frosting. I loved it, I chose it, it was exhausting, and it was an excellent learning opportunity.
I learned that constant travel gave me plentiful opportunities for discovery, learning, and exploration, but that I didn’t feel the same creative energy or thoughtfulness that I often feel at home.
I learned how the effects of sleep, diet, and exercise were manifested in my energy levels throughout the day.
I learned how adaptable I can be to different types of social situations, and that I often act extroverted in one-on-one conversations, and more introverted in larger groups.
I learned to be flexible with cancellations, delays, and last-minute changes. More often than not, spontaneity led to memorable stories: one of the most valuable currencies of a joyful travel experience.
6. Collaboration on steroids: working and traveling with Rachael
When choosing a project for the fellowship, I primarily looked at the company descriptions and project proposals. Little did I know how much other factors like culture and collaboration would contribute to my experience. The largest source of growth for me was from constantly working, traveling, and spending time with Rachael.
After attending a project-based high school, and taking dozens of business classes at Santa Clara, I’ve easily done more than 100 group projects in the past eight years. But this summer took collaboration to a whole new level, one that future work projects are unlikely to match.
Rachael and I climbed a steep learning curve: figuring out how to interview together, support each other in tough times, make decisions, discuss what we were observing, have fun, plan our travel, give space for alone time, shape our deliverables, make new friends, and respond to unexpected setbacks. It wasn’t always easy, but I’m so thankful for the fresh perspectives, funny surprises, and deep friendship we built throughout the summer.
7. Electric vehicle adoption: Perception, infrastructure, incentives
Which came first: the electric rickshaw or the charging station? It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.
One fascinating element of my project with Three Wheels United was learning about the current state of electric vehicles (EVs) in India. Because of the heavy pollution, everyone in India intuitively understands that EVs will dominate the future. But, like a drive through traffic in Bangalore, the journey to EV adoption is chaotic.
The Indian government has vowed to make all new vehicles electric by 2030, but it does little to walk the talk. Economic accessibility, charging infrastructure, and range anxiety are the primary barriers. But, there’s certainly hope. Dozens of companies including Uber, Ola, Mahindra, Sun Mobility, and our very own Three Wheels United are working towards electrifying transport, starting with two and three-wheelers. At the end of the day, people respond to incentives. It’s up to private companies and governments to collectively make choosing electric vehicles logical and easy.
8. Home and away: I can do this again
During a weekend in a charming mountain town in the Himalayan foothills, I had an idea while sitting in a café. What if I were to come back here and stay for a couple weeks, working or learning, traveling, and spending time with friends and loved ones? What if I could take a few months off between jobs, or spend a while working remotely while exploring a new region at a comfortable pace?
It’s a privileged option for sure, but one more attainable than I had previously imagined, especially in cheap countries like India. As I feel the pressures of getting a buttoned-up job with a big-name firm and working tirelessly for an imaginary American dream, I want to actively choose my path based on first principles of my values.
In describing my feelings about travel to friends, I often used this line: “The more you travel, the more you want to travel. But also, the more you travel, the more you appreciate home.”
Both are true for me. The comforts, opportunities, climate, and lifestyle of California feel like home. But, travel opens new dimensions of the human experience that my routine in my college or hometown bubbles keeps hidden. I value travel, and I value home.
In my last week in Bangalore, a man gave me this metaphor:
“Imagine a vegetable garden. Over the past few months, you have been collecting vegetables of all different shapes, sizes, and varieties. Now as you go back home, you will have the opportunity to use what you’ve gathered to make a soup—to integrate what you’ve learned into your life, work, relationships, and decisions. It might take a few tries to get the flavor right, but you have the ingredients you need to begin.”
My vegetables from the summer took the form of spontaneous friendships, illuminating interviews, comforting nature, stressful challenges, relaxing reflection, deep conversations, and new ways of seeing the world. I’m incredibly thankful for the experience, and for all the doors it has opened in my soul and future.
Now I’m home, and it’s time to start making my soup.
Questions are keys that unlock new doors of connection and discovery.
I have been fascinated with questions for many years, both the internal questions we use to make decisions and the questions we ask others. Whether you are being interviewed for jobs, meeting clients for work, or just spending time with friends, a thoughtful question can move both sides toward a trusting relationship and concrete action.
Author Stuart Firestein wrote, “One good question can give rise to several layers of answers, can inspire decades-long searches for solutions, can generate whole new fields of inquiry, and can prompt changes in entrenched thinking. Answers, on the other hand, often end the process.” To live this type of generative, exploratory life, building a habit of asking questions is an important first step.
So how can we practice asking better questions in conversations? A genuine interest in the other person is key, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few questions up your sleeve. Here are a few of my favorites.
What are a few moments in your life have you felt most alive?
What is one way you want to grow over the next few months?
Who in your life do you most admire? Why?
Do you consider yourself a creative person? How do you express your creativity?
What little things have brought you joy recently?
What is a new skill you want to learn or topic that you want to study?
What advice would you give to your (insert age 5 or 10 years younger)-year-old self?
What does an ideal Saturday look like to you? What about an ideal work/school day?
If you had to start a company or organization of some type, what would you start?
What are some childhood moments that you remember clearly? What childhood events helped shape you into the person you are today?
These questions offer entryways to conversation, but no specific question is as powerful as a deep curiosity and excitement about the life of whoever you find in front of you.
As I approach the 60th episode of my Voices of Santa Clara podcast, I’ve realized that the best stories and insights often come from asking follow-up questions when a guest hints at a meaningful time in their life. What did you learn from that experience? How did that experience make you think differently moving forward? Why did you pursue that path? The greatest questions aren’t found on the list above, they come when you fully listen and ask about an insight the other person raises.
This type of conversation can help build stronger friendships, and start a mutually beneficial learning process. The asker learns about the other person, and the answerer can reflect and clarify their growth process and values. One hallmark of a great conversation is when someone hears themselves saying something they feel or believe, but have never clearly articulated before.
Which of your relationships could benefit from this type of questioning? What question have you been meaning to ask someone? What would you add to this list?