I believe in order for us to look forward in our lives with determination, purpose, and clarity of vision, we also need to look back to understand the pivotal moments that have shaped us to get to this point. This week, I am looking back. Twenty years to be exact. Twenty years ago this month, I embarked on a journey that changed the course and trajectory of my life.
I remember it like it was yesterday. At the airport in Toronto, my whole family surrounded me as I prepared to leave the safe confines of the path I was always expected to take. I had chosen the unknown, a gamble, a road where I had no navigation system and no known signposts. I remember it feeling as if I wasn't the one doing the choosing, rather, an unfamiliar force pushing me towards a dream I would have never dared to dream for myself. As I hugged each of them, feeling my father shake as he cried, I could feel a widening between us, like strands of glue between hands when pulled apart. Attached but not.
I was 27 when I left my family home--a lot later than expected in Western cultures. For those who aren't familiar with ethnic cultures though, especially the Indian culture, women are not supposed to leave their home until they are married after which they would leave their parents' house and into their husband's. But when I embarked on a career that was not what my father had expected, or even wanted, for me, I started to feel a need to stretch my boundaries--or if I was being more accurate--build my own. I had begun feeling like I was wearing shoes that were too tight for me and if I didn't get a new pair, one that fit me better, I would forever live feeling constricted and stunted.
It didn't make me happy to leave my family. It broke my heart. But in the few times in my life when I had the strongest gut feelings about something, leaving all that was familiar was one of them. I was terrified. Terrified to spend my very first night in my own apartment on my own for the first time. Terrified to start a new job in a new city in a new country where I didn't know a soul and where the stakes felt they were stratospherically high. Terrified I had bitten off more than I could chew. Still, I felt strongly that it was something I just had to do. And everyone around me sensed I couldn't be deterred. Not my parents whose opinion I valued. Not my boyfriend at the time. Not a counter offer from a competing network in Toronto.
I was only expecting to be gone for a year. Two tops. I told my family I would be back---better, more experienced, more valuable and confident to command a job that could match my credentials, one that would make them proud. Even when accepting the job offer from my first boss at CNN, I told her I would accept a 2 year deal instead of the 3 year contract that was standard at the time. Thinking about it now I can't believe how brazen and naive I was. Here I was being offered a job of a lifetime at the most recognised and respected television news organisations in the world where I would be seen by the world, yet all I could think about was the ties that I was leaving behind. Looking back now, I can see that while I trying to slow down the changes that were happening around me, life had another plan and wasn't going to listen to my emotional stuttering.
That one year became two. Those two years became 20. As I look back and think about all that I have done and felt, all the mistakes I have made, all the challenges that came my way, the place I am in today is a combination of that force guiding me, pushing me towards what was always buried deep in my heart (which was a wish for a stable life, one with roots and simplicity, one with laughter and love) along with the many detours that brought me invaluable insights. Do I regret a few things? Oh yes. But I don't allow myself to wallow in them because those decisions were made with the information I had available to me back then--information that was deeply embedded in my insecurities, my fears, my yet emotionally uneducated soul. That said, it was because of those detours, mistakes that broke me, that led me to where I am today. Those detours led me on a humbling path of asking questions--the most fundamental of which was 'why?'. Not 'why me?' But 'why?'.
By starting to ask myself why I was feeling what I was feeling, why I made the choices that I made, why I wasn't getting what I wanted whether it was a person or a job, I actively searched for answers through books, through therapy, through the people I met and interviewed. I realised that life is a process of trial and error. The secret though, is analysing those errors to find the true answers we need to get us out of the maze of life and onto the path that feels more like an open highway. On it, I began to understand that one of my true passions was, and is, asking questions, exploring who we are as human beings, exploring what we are capable of, and what holds us back.
As I look back 20 years I realise that when something is meant for us, it will happen no matter how much we try to stand in its way or how much we believe we don't deserve it. I realise that being observant of ourselves is so important in order to live a life with eyes wide open instead of blindly making choices that don't serve us. I learned that life is a dance between Free Will and Universal Energy (or Fate). Sometimes Free Will takes the lead, other times it will be Fate. If we get the moves right, the dance just flows---and it flows when we are in tune with the music that is buried inside us---the soundtrack of our hopes, our vision for our life, the choices we make that propel us forward rather than hold us back, and the respect we have for ourselves and for others who are doing a similar dance. Sometimes we trip, we fall, but as long as we get back up, learn to tune out the noise that surrounds us and listen to our own voice inside us, we start to develop the strength to know when to follow it and to know when to trust life to lead us. As Rumi said, "Life is a balance between holding on and letting go."
My mother still has my room pretty much the way it was when I left it 20 years ago. Sometimes my nieces will sleep in it when they're staying over but they call it "Aunty Monita's room". As a mother myself, I feel the heartbreak my parents felt when they saw me leave for my new life all those years ago, hoping against hope that I would soon return. I don't even want to think about when my son might one day go his own way in this world, resting his head somewhere that isn't his room. I do ask my mother every so often "how could you have let me go?" knowing full well that it wasn't about "letting" me go. But in letting me go, as in releasing me into the world, my parents allowed me to fly. In doing so, I could truly see them and appreciate them.
I miss my parents every single day. We FaceTime and with each phone call there is always the "I wish you lived closer" conversation. And I do wish we lived closer, (with COVID I haven't seen them in almost 2 years, the longest I have ever gone without seeing them face to face). But I also know that despite the guilt I feel all the time for being so far away from them, I am where I am meant to be. I guess I learned in order to be happy, I had to make choices that were right for me, not choices to please them. And that's tough. But necessary.
It has taken me 20 years since that day when I left my parents' home to finally feel comfortable in my own skin, to feel confident in trusting my instincts, to be able to look outside of myself to see how I can be of service to others. There have been knocks and heartbreaks along the way but I have realised that while sometimes life doesn't pan out as we had hoped it would, if given the chance, it can surpass even our wildest dreams.