Silver Linings

The motivation for this blog is a recent realization that since the end of March 2020 when a lockdown began in India in response to the virus outbreak, until now which is almost mid-November, I have met more people and established more connections than I have in the last 10 years or more of my life. This was completely unexpected.

Most people I know think that I actively network. The truth could not be further away. I have always admired the way certain people actively connect and network. I am also aware that for the nature of work I do, which is consulting and coaching, consciously cultivating a network is a good habit.

My manner of networking so far was almost entirely based on

  • if I knew the person well enough from earlier, to re-establish connect
  • if a good friend recommended or introduced me
  • if I had to as part of work, establish a connect.

Apart from old friends from school and college. As a child I would talk to almost anyone all the time. Somewhere along my timeline, that spontaneous outreach and connect simply disappeared. Until a few months ago, which is why I am sharing my experience via this blog.

Here is how it all began. Many of you may have read my blogs on volunteering as a covid warrior in the early lockdown period between March and May of 2020. Here are the links for those who are curious( Blog 1, Blog 2). Beginning here, I was suddenly interacting with nearly 100 new people. I have learned about how businesses in  our neighbourhood work, what people do, what affects them and learned to ask what I can do to help. I had never spoken to shop keepers or street vendors, as I do now. I always feared walking into a police station, and it is no longer the case today. I have also begun to learn how our civic structure and governance work, perhaps for the first time ever.

Shortly after, a colleague asked if I would be interested in creating content for an online learning course for a group of rural NGO’s in Karnataka. That led me to meeting people who work in the social sector and understanding andragogy or adult education as opposed to what is commonly known about pedagogy or child education. I learned instructional design to develop content for adult rural learners. Alongside this new skill I also learned about storyboarding, scripting, video editing and voice overs. I now appreciate what it takes to make a film.

I was asked to volunteer and reach out to a group of 250 class 10 students preparing for their public exam. The children came from low income backgrounds and didn’t have access to devices to continue education online. They were at high risk of dropping out of school. I was given 15 children to talk to and see what help they needed. I first had to talk to their parents to establish trust and then the children. I learned about their daily challenges, struggles and aspirations and how I could help them. I now am writing small stories on health, nutrition and fitness for them which will be delivered in a combination of physical and digital media.

Through my covid volunteer network, I was speaking to at least 3 new people a week helping them face fears or provide support about how to deal with health and where to seek help. I accompanied many to hospital as well. Many continue to stay in touch.

Speaking through online events on the topic of service design gave me the inspiration to sign up for a course to learn about it. A conference submission enabled me to meet people across geographies and get connected with a few. I was reluctant to do so initially.

Although I have been a podcast co-host much before the pandemic, hosting people during the past few months has made me more attentive while listening to their stories. I previously only hosted people I knew and now am hosting new people. Listening to their stories has contributed immensely to my learning and enriched my experience.

I met at least 200 people across these interactions. I felt my learning about the ecosystem I live in, people, their lives and livelihood has multiplied manifold. It has changed the way in which I engage with people. Through the experience I have –

  • Hundreds of stories around hope, courage, kindness and compassion. Maybe, I will write a book some day and certainly use them while coaching.
  • Learned new skills around service design, instructional design and online content creation for remote learning. I never thought I would or could.
  • Understanding a world beyond my usual and knowing that there is much to be done. The quote by Swami Vivekananda “Arise, Awake and stop not till the goal is reached” means much more to me.
  • Shed several biases and become aware of many more. I now know that learning and un-learning are a constant.

I had not done any of what I have mentioned, previously. Connecting with so many people in a short span of 6 months has opened my mind, broadened my understanding and inspired me to continue connecting and learning.

Have you had similar experiences? What have they revealed to you? Please leave a comment or message or write back to us.

Chitra

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