Now that my background is out there (Read This Blog First), I can look back and think of all the places that my life could have gone in the wrong direction but it did not. There are many factors that make us who we are. Some will chalk everything to "destiny". Which may be true, but then it takes away our power of analysis and self-reflection. We will not attempt to do anything, which may also be destiny, but as a human being we should feel we have some control and we should have the ability to do self analysis.
My Home Life - My Parents (years 0-16)
My first credit of strength goes to my parents. We learn our values from home. The main things are written below - I will write details later for each phase of my life (coming later). All of these have brought a center of gravity for me - put me on a path with good foundation.
- Togetherness - We were always together as a family; we traveled together, played cards together, went on walks together, studied together, always ate together. We were a close knit foursome.
- Communication - We talked a lot as a family. All the time at home, at walks, during playing cards or watching a movie - we would be talking - making comments. For a long time we had no TV - so talking was the thing to do in our home. My parents would communicate about so many things - friends, incidences, family structure etc.
- Written Communication - Since we were out of India our only way to communicate with relatives there was letters. So I learned how to write letters from my parents. Even now, I write letters or make sure I maintain my connections. Letter writing is a lost art these days.
- Helping Others - My father is of a very helping nature. He would help anyone, anytime and in any circumstance. I realize now that many people don't have this characteristic. And that help, for most part, did not go unappreciated. I have thus learned that if anyone is in a position to help then one should, otherwise what is the point of earning money or having "things".
- Good Habits - My parents never talked about drugs or alcohol, but their off handed remarks were enough for me. I never even wanted to try any drugs etc. Even now I have no inclination towards any form of neurotransmitters (except caffeine - tea is a must!)
- Social Life - We had a very active social life in the 12 years we were in Nigeria. The friendships were strong and we all depended on each other. I have carried on that tradition of making good friends. Luckily, for most part, I have been a good judge of character and have not been cheated too much. And where ever I have moved I have maintained my relationships.
- Cultural Awareness - We are Hindus but we are not conservative. I grew up with an open mind and heart. Our friend circle included people of various countries, backgrounds, religions etc. I learned to mingle with everyone. Even now my friend circle is as diverse as a botanical garden.
From My School Years (until High School) (11-16 yrs)
These were some of the hardest years of my younger years. But here are the positives. I also learned some things that made me cautious and the depth of certain relationships.
- Competitiveness - since I was the youngest one in all my classes all the time, I had to work harder to get good grades. And I had a brother in the same class, so there was that sibling rivalry. This characteristic always drives me to do better in whatever I do.
- Daring nature - I don't know how, but I have always been strangely fearless. I don't care what people will think about me. It may have started at Vanasthali where I was the foreigner - the girl from Nigeria. I had to be able to do what I wanted to do, otherwise it would not get done. And thus began my independent streak.....
- Its Okay to be Alone - that was one lesson I learned in Vanasthali. I did not, could not make friends, no matter how hard I tried - the Indian girls were just different. So I learned to be alone at 11 years of age. And I still work on this at this stage of my life.
College Years (India) (years 16-20)
Technically from this point onward I consider myself an independent adult. I used to come home for vacations but I felt sometimes like I was a guest in my own home.
- Compromise - Living with relatives for four years taught me a lot of compromise. I really grew up fast in Meerut (B.Sc.). Hazing in college really teaches you to be humble.
- Not Taking Things Seriously - At that time the only way I could teach myself to get through some of hard days was that, "don't worry, its going to be over in a few months!" And that is because I was a guest for most part where ever I was - at home or in the hostel or wherever. This is good and bad. The good is that I can bear anything for a while. The bad is that I have never had to live with anyone in a long term commitment.
- Trust and Friendship - I knew true friendships for the first time during my M.Sc. years. My girlfriends there were amazing. I had genuine, down to earth friends and we were all loyal to each other.
- The Power of Connection - Both my admissions, B.Sc. and M.Sc. were through connections of my uncles. I realized the value of connection and knowing people during those years - here in USA we call it networking.
- Hard Work - After enjoying too much in B.Sc. I realized that I had to do better in M.Sc. So I studied my behind off. And it did pay off.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (year 20)
The best advice I got was from my boss in the AAU chemistry department. He told me this as I was leaving for USA to do my PhD. He said, "Sapna, you don't owe anyone any explanation for your decisions." And boy he was right!
Ph.D. taught me even more about hard work, having good friendships, value of social circle. When I started doing my post doc work I realized that chemistry was not an easy field to get into for women. During Ph.D. I was valued as an "Indian" student, although I did not feel Indian (I also faced discrimination because of my ethnicity). During post doc I felt the discrimination of being a female in the male dominated field of chemistry.
I still don't know where I get my strength or if I am even strong. All my past experiences have contributed to my being able to stand up for myself, make my own decisions and be independent. My biggest comfort comes from the fact that I don't really have to explain myself to anyone. You can accept my decision or not - its up to you because I am going to do what I have made up my mind to do. I can give my reasoning if anyone is interested - and really most people are not.
There have been some heart breaks and major negative events on the way; I had to force myself to not get depressed. I have to keep going - mostly because I have only myself to depend on. If I give up on myself then I might as well give up on life - so better shake off the bad feelings and keep moving. If I stop, then life stops for me. I think being away from home since 16 years of age has given me some ability to protect myself by being stubborn and decisive. I feel I am the one who knows myself the best so I am the only person to make decisions for myself, and I am the only person responsible for myself.
Living alone has made me do things that I would never do when I was with friends: simple things like watching a movie alone or touring places by myself, driving in the loneliest of the highways in the pre-cell phone era (and keep praying that you don't have an accident). I realized that if I don't do these things that it was going to be my own loss. Among the hardest things I have done, is pack up my home 5 times and move to a brand new city with no idea of what I was getting into (that part of strength I get from my parents who did the same thing!!).
This will be a whole separate blog, but I still want to mention that I have felt all sorts of discrimination: as a female, as a short person, as an Indian, as a foreigner (even in my own country - India) and so on. It made me realize that people are not very accepting in general. But since I have always been a fish out of the water, I have learned to swallow bitter pills and not let them pull me down. I don't know if that made me stronger; but it definitely made me more aware and I learned to live with it.
Couple other pieces of advice I got when I came to USA; and I found both to be very useful for me. I follow them at much as possible.
- If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything.
- If you do something, give it your best otherwise don't do it.