Forced Self Reflection: How India Won’t Let Me Avoid My Problems

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In college I had one semester that I called my reflection semester. Three out of my five courses were focused on thoughtful reflection of spiritual, leadership, and social practices and included an emphasis on self reflection. I loved that semester of college; it was filled with slow methodical mindfulness, journaling, and breathing deeply while quietly sitting in beautiful natural settings. I’m sure there are some people who will read that and conclude I wasted my time and money attending some yuppie liberal arts school, but I have to disagree. I learned more about myself and more about the world in my reflection semester than in all the rest of my educational years combined. For the rest of my time in college, I kept up some of the mindful and reflective practices I gained that semester and benefited greatly. Then a terrible terrible thing happened; I graduated from college and had to figure out how to make it in the adult world.

It turns out the minutiae of office jobs (repetitive hours, back and forth emailing to set up a meeting where nothing gets done, and the exhaustive process of negotiating for the largest piece of cake at office birthday parties without looking like a glutton) did not really inspire me to intentionally reflect on my life. Instead it inspired me to spend my commute home yelling and cursing at other drivers, grab a brick of cheese as soon as I walk through the door, and spend the evening binging one of my favorite shows on Netflix. Although I never became particularly unhappy living in the beautiful city of Nashville surrounded by wonderful friends, I knew I wasn’t living up to my potential. It was easy to avoid thought processes that would lead to conclusions I wasn’t willing to face; like the fact that I wasn’t living out my vocation, I was wasting my passion and talents, and there was a gap between my lifestyle and my values. Who would want to stop and reflect on those things when instead I could retreat to the comfort of a favorite TV episode? (Just in case your wondering they are: 30 Rock, the one where Liz thinks she meets Oprah on a plane; Parks & Rec, the one where they all get accidentally get super drunk on Snake Juice, Arrested Development, any of the episodes with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a blind but not actually blind lawyer; The Office, the one where Michael organizes the Rabies 5k Run)

Now I find myself in crazy, chaotic, loud India away from all of my comforts, my beloved Nashville, and friends and family with just myself and my thoughts. These thoughts and questions about myself and the world around me that I have been putting off for years, because I don’t want to deal with the realities or the consequences of the answers, have come flooding in without invitation. When I walk down the street here and it so very different from what I’m used to and I am so very different from everyone else I am forced to ponder my place in this world, the smallness of my existence in this big country and even bigger world, and a million other questions. Although I am working in my field of social enterprise here, it is certainly not without frustrations (even in India they email back and forth to set up meeting where nothing gets done) and I find myself questioning all of my professional choices. Can I be satisfied with an office job? Why do I even want to work in the development sector? What is my vocation? Is my work aligning with my values?

Hundreds of these types of questions are coming at me everyday here and without the distractions of my normal life my mind can’t find ways to avoid them. Frickin’ India is frickin’ forcing me to be frickin’ self reflective. There have been a lot of tears involved as I’ve realized that years of avoiding self reflection have allowed me to stray from my authentic self and who I want to be. There have been moments of joy and immeasurable peace as I’ve worked through some hard truths about myself and filled in a piece of the puzzle of self understanding. There have also been A LOT of questions that are remaining unanswered and maybe are simply unanswerable. I know this is part of the reason I came to India, but I never expected or intended the self discovery to be so personal, at the very core of who I am. Self reflection is not an easy process, but I know it is worth it and I will be grateful that India brought not just career growth but emotional growth.

I apologize to you if you actually read through to this point in the post. You just endured almost 800 words about my personal emotions, God bless you for your patience. The good news is the next post will be about some upcoming weekend trips I am taking to the ancient city of Hampi and the beach town of Goa. I also promise lots of pictures, yes that’s right, I will post multiple pictures of India proving that miracles happen and people can change! (The picture from this post is the view I had from a hillside in Hampi) Also, I have had a few people email and message me with specific questions about what India is like and about my time here and I just quickly want to encourage anyone to jump in with questions. There is little I love more in this world than proving myself an intelligent and knowledgeable person by answering questions. In fact the only thing I love more than that is cheese.