Recently, at a gathering of GE’s women employees in Bangalore, I was asked to give a talk on ‘Knowing No Boundaries’. I was both surprised at the pick of the topic the HR Manager at GE had made and excited. A few days before the talk, I got thinking about how I define boundaries and where I got them in my head in the first place. And I really, for the first time – looking back, I observed how boundaries had evolved in my own mind and why I am today far less influenced by these.
The Known Boundaries
The boundaries we know as children are often those that we learn from our parents. And by boundaries I mean those that dictate what we dream for ourselves, how big our dreams and imaginations are, what we wish our adult identities to be, and what decides what’s okay and what’s not. Most often these boundaries are dictated by widely tried and tested formulas for happiness and ‘safe’ social identities.
My parents hoped for me to become a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, or a lecturer. Of course, by the age of 24 I’d be happily married, and by the age of 30 I’d have two kids plus a down payment made on my young family’s new middle-class apartment. My family would probably own a small car too. This aspirational adult identity is absolutely normal: by my parents’ standards, by the standards of the community they belonged to, and by the society we still largely belong in. And of course, at the time, they seemed perfectly good to me too. I imagined I would be a happy adult and that my parents would be happy grandparents. And so, I, like most children, grew up with these boundaries firmly etched in my mind
I still remember daddy’s friend’s asking me, when I was about 9 years old, what I would ‘become’ when I grew up, and I remember saying in response that I would become a lawyer – well, at one point that was the dream but that changed later to a doctor, at another.
Testing the Boundaries
The boundaries so firmly etched in my mind were beginning to be questioned as I grew into my
teens. The ideas in my head were getting all mangled up. As I witnessed, day in and day out, that my parents’ ideas on life weren’t necessarily making them happy, and that the society I lived in was full of stark contradictions, I questioned the boundaries I knew. I think school nudged me along too: there were feminist ideologies being discussed in classroom and this got me questioning the idea of a perfect Indian woman (the shy bride, the adjusting wife, the unconditionally loving mother, the perfect homemaker or the working mother who makes it all happen, and so on). I also went from wanting to be a lawyer to a doctor to wanting to be an artist. I was painting a lot (well all kinds of things; I was even making greeting cards out of my paintings and making a small amount of pocket money at school by selling these), and it was making more sense to become an Interior Decorator or a Textile Designer (given I knew nothing about becoming a talk show host at the time). I even nurtured a secret fantasy of becoming a film star.
In my teens I also began asking what real happiness and real love was, and this got me thinking beyond art and about social work. I guess I wasn’t around a lot happy people at the time I was growing up, or, at least, I wasn’t a happy teenager, and therefore a pursuit of developing such understandings. I wanted to cure the world I knew if its contradictions I was aware of (ambitious little teenager, wasn’t I?).
This is when I really began testing boundaries, but – I think – still within the realm of acceptability. I was going from aspiring from an identity that was a known and accepted box to pushing the boundaries a bit and becoming what seemed like a bit more well-rounded. I figured no parent would have a real problem with a creative career or work that involved social good. But mine did, especially with social work. But I resolved to do what I thought was still acceptable, and at 18 I left home to do voluntary work in the poorer sections of society, much against the wishes of my parents.
Questioning the Boundaries
Social work was no easy ride. A lot of was happening in my newly found independent personal life and it wasn’t going right. I was disconnected from ideas I grew up with, yet to completely grasp the depth of the ideas that I was subscribing to, and, at 22 I was already separated from my marriage of 2 years and utterly confused.
What all this shaking up in all corners really did was question me deeply: question my approach, question what I subscribed to and why, question my choices, question my notions of God, questioned my interest in social work, and question what I wanted to be in life. That’s a lot to handle at that age and it wasn’t easy. So, I wandered. I let life, for the next few years, mostly carry me through from one thing to another. Whilst I stumbled into modeling and later into marketing (well, this was more of an aware ‘stumbling’), I still had some ideas of ‘acceptable boundaries’ leftover in my head, but by the time I touched 30 – these too were on their way out of my deeper conscience. And when I say acceptance: I am referring to familial acceptance of the kind of social identity I would have, the kind of clothes I would wear, the kind of man I would choose for a life partner, the kind of work I would do, the amount of money I would make, etc.
Knowing No Boundaries
2010: there finally came a point when I was ready to, again, think deeply about my long-term life choices for the future. By now, I had made something of my career in the eyes of my family (by acquiring a postgraduate degree in the UK in marketing and becoming a researcher as well as a lecturer), and this allowed me to forgive the difficult results of the eager choices I’d made early on at 16, it allowed me to heal from the sadness, loneliness and shames of the past, and start thinking about the future without a strong influence of the past.
I realized, around this time, that many of my choices until then were a reaction to the boundaries and need for acceptance deeply set in my mind.
It helped to have stable friends, it helped to have money in the bank, it helped to have a good apartment or room to live in, and it helped to read books. Some of these are
- ‘Radical Acceptance’ by Tara Bach
- a range of books by Paulo Coelho
- ‘Adapt’ by Tim Harford
- ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman
- ‘The Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell
- ‘Letting Go of God’ by Julia Sweeney
- ‘On Becoming Fearless’ by Arianna Huffington
- ‘He Said / She Said: Women, Men and Language’ by Deborah Tannen
- ‘Women Don’t Ask’ by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
- ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ by Richard Dawkins
- ‘The Fountain Head’ by Ann Rand
- ‘The Law of Attraction’ by Esther and Jerry Hicks
- … and more
I finally realized that I would have to let go of every fear and most perceptions of myself, society and genders as I knew it – those that I learnt from people around me, that got into my head when I was little. And I learnt that I would have to tune in only to my intuition to understand what my dreams really are and where my heart really lies. And I would have to read avidly to learn about the world all over the again.
I realized that I wanted no boundaries. I wanted no decisions based on fears. I wanted to laugh at my failures and move on. I wanted values and awareness that directed my pursuits. I wanted great acceptance from within, positive dreams that I would truly love to live in. I will never be the same. I will not need to be what people can understand by fitting into a box or a circle. I may be a well-defined person today, but I will change and I will continue to evolve; my identity will be my journey now, not who I am at any given point in time and how I am accepted.
My journey is my life, and my life is my journey. And on this joyous journey I will creative something positive for the world I belong to, for the life I have been gifted.
And so, I taught myself to Dream Fearlessly
… for when you dream with boundaries set by fears, you will never truly dream.
Dream fearlessly to truly infuse life into your dreams.
Dream fearlessly to discover the inspiration that’s within you.
Dream fearlessly because that is what dreaming is about.
Dream fearlessly to discover no boundaries.