Perspectives from ISB

Neetu Kapasi (Student of AMPPP 2021 Class)

Leading Policy Advocacy, Corporate Affairs, Stakeholder Relations for IKEA India.  

Take time to upskill and bring spring into your career and life

You may be a director, head of a department, CEO, CFO, police officer, government bureaucrat, team manager or co-worker in any company, institute or industry, immersed in your work and content 🙂 or maybe not 🙁 in your career and life path. Being a leader you are, have you ever thought of taking a pause and reflect on your life, well-being, self-development and happiness? Upskilling can come from a gap year, to reflect backwards and forward: a study break, pursuing a course while you are working, mid-career MBA or PHD, or maybe advance studies in the stream of your interest; enrolling into a new evening or weekend course to enhance your current skills; an off-month to hike in the mountains, enriching yourself through travel; rejuvenating yourself by writing poetry, reading books or enjoying the joy of clicking photographs. Anything, which is a simple divergence from current work or life status, is what you should gift yourself.

Let me first begin with ‘Why’?

What creates ripples in still water is a stone or a slight movement, or what makes a bird fly is wind beneath the wings. Similarly, taking time to upskill yourself is needed for bringing the spring back into your career or life. I believe, to find a new path, one must refresh her/his course on the current path. It could be like that fresh and crisp mountain air which your doctor recently prescribed you or you have been longing for. Many studies have shown the benefit of following your interest or advance studies outside work or deep diving into your passion helps in building mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. This also helps you to be more effective at work; build risk appetite; face challenges in a better way; improve your performance and career prospects. An old proverb, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ Similarly, making work or job your life can be a big bottleneck or rather a hindering block, which decays you. It leaves you so dependent and inadaptable to the world around you that you may not be ready for a crisis or uncertainty, despite knowing how crucial in the current times is resilience and agility for a leader. So, when you take time off or pause to upskill and channelize your energy to adapt to the fast-changing world around you, treat it as a mental medicine to steer your mind on to something new and meaningful, infuse freshness in outlook, enhance creativity, gain knowledge or simply learn to be resourceful with your time.

‘The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.’ Robert Greene

The pandemic has been the biggest crisis we as humans have everseen. Many of us have lost loved ones, faced health deterioration, are missing on mental calm, have lost jobs orhada pay cut or are unable to cope with the new world, bombarded with technology or virtual connections. Above all, the psychological cost of not being able to meet your family, friends, teams, or peers is heart wrenching. Do not let this take a toll on you. Use this crisis, not as an excuse for things you cannot do or miss out, rather as a fuel for finding a‘new you’ or a refreshing life. Use it to give a new turn or twist to your career or life.

I have been fortunate to realise the value of investing in myselfand take time off as an anchor to ground myself to many things, which matter beyond work. Be it to courageously take a 30-daybreak twice a year to hike with family, to travel, to read, to explore food in my kitchenor learn from people and culture of another town or region. This also includes enrolling for online courses over the weekend; volunteering my time to help a cause I want to champion; creating memories through my camera lens; or to pursue my passion in policymaking and advocacy; taking a stretch to join a yearlong advance course in public policy from ISB (my recent adventure to go back to college) along with my intense professional and personal life. Words will never be enough to express what I am gaining.

 Second, what are the gains? More than the hardware, think of the software!

  1. Grit, humility, and compassion. When you enrol yourself for something new and challenging, firstly it shows your ability or rather, grit to accept that you could be stagnating and need freshness. It makes you conscientious. It helps you humbly embrace your needs and the sacrifices you will make when stretching time and energy. Gaining anything comes with its own set of pains. Diverting attention to your passion teaches you to be empathetic to yourself and others, as you learn something new with all the required excitement. The compassion to commit and choose a path enlightens you and others around you. If you thought you could never leave office and now you are away for weeks for your course/classes, you will depend on your colleagues more, become kinder to their needs and you will learn to accept and give more. You become a go-giver from a go-getter. If you join AMPPP, the first lecture will be on compassion, so pull upyourselvesand be ready to get inspired by Upanishads and what they say about the importance of giving in life. Helping and giving others is the true essence of our Vedas.
  2. Switch off and switch on. A good machine needs rest. Similarly, humans need to learn to take a break to regulate emotions, thoughts, needs, aspiration, and ambitions in life. Your work is just a small portion of your life, so do not make it your life and drain yourself. Learn to respect yourself and others around you to gain by switching off (taking a break) and focusing on things, which matter more than work or could help you improve your game at work. Remember when we practice yoga, the first lesson is on mindfulness, the trick to take many things off your mind. Pausing and reflecting on what interests you is a test of your disciplineto switch off and switch on. Learning not to get distracted and learning to respect your decisions is an important leadership trait. Remember what R. R. Tolkien said, ‘Not all who wander are lost. When you are stuck, take a little stroll. Who knows, you might even bump into your next adventure’.
  3. Treasure of a great teacher. Any form of learning gives you the most cherishing gift, a teacher. More than the content, it’s the medium, which matters. They facilitate, engage minds, listenand answer to your questions, encourage risks, support struggling thoughts, cultivate ideas, and so much more. Be it online or offline course, your teachersare a treasure to hunt for. Look for their uniqueness and what you can learn from them. Make that extra effort to stay in touch, ask for advice, learn from their style, as they understand the power of connections and can instilla learning attitude for life. Some of my teachers have become my mentors and I find it so enriching to speak or exchange notes with them on things that matter in daily life. Never forget, ‘The influence of a good teacher can never be erased.’
  4. A new lens and perspective. Maturity in your role or age, makes you feel ‘I know it all, I feel and hear it all and I know what to say and when’. Wait till you learn to listen and discover a whole new perspective from your peers, teachers, books, research papers or mentors. Your default belief will be challenged, and your conviction will be shaken, only positively 🙂 You will find how a true leader must learn to pause, hear different perspectives, be curious; find more, dig deep and then act. When you give yourself time and energy, you will gain a new lens to see things. This builds your appetite as a leader for conflicts and confrontations, and ability to handlecontrary views. The concept of Naïve realism and False Consensus will fly out of the window to displace your biases and heuristics, which is important to develop your curiosity and question many things around you. By the way, you will learn to ask smart or clever questions too.
  5. Peers’ power. Peer means someone who is our equal. Someone you can learn from by listening to their views. Try to make your peers become friends for life. The power of peer consulting is often not explored. But when you take time to study in a classroom setting or pursue an online course or travel to another country, it teaches you the power of embracing change and differences. An opportunity to learn from diversity of mind, age, experience, gender, interest, culture, or service field, is exceptional and contagious. For success, a right attitude is equally as important as ability. Here’s few points for forming a lifetime connection with peers: Seeking help from each other, forming new circles of social connect, staying in a big group and not breaking into small ones, leaning in, gluing the class, or challenging yourself to form new cordial relations with diverse people in an inclusive and equal manner, not staying close to your clones, turning to your peers for feedback, joining group discussions and sharing new ideas and promoting public learning. Learning about coercive politics or policies requires cohesion in a team. It is so enriching as it makes you respectful, open, social, confident and in return, allow others to come out of their silos and be influenced for good.
  6. Both/And. Learning is always the case of Both/And Approach. It may teach technical skills, but adaptable skills too followed by managerial skills and leadership skills. It builds your abilities and competence, teaches you to learn and unlearn;give insights into diagnosis and treatment of problems;forms ability to distinguish between challenges and solve them;helps in leading with and without authority; challenging constraints and assumptions; orchestrating conflict and navigating through it.

You may gain knowledge on complex systems, policymaking, the quest for finding evidence, the art of muddling through; leading in the VUCA world; conquering denial; absorbing agility; find known in unknown; valuing variety; trade-offs; cause and effect; biodiversity; counterfactual; human rights; gender equality; social and economic transformation; constructing alternatives; public speaking, negotiation style; a seasonal adjustment in data, market fluctuations; market participation, problems of failing State; the importance ofan outside-inside view; public good; correlation of market economy and human growth; rule of 70; corporate risk management; cost of climate change on the economy; actions we must take today as civil society; politics of poverty; foreign policy, cybercrime; burden of not having enough data evidence; the art of writing research papersand a lot, lot more. This means you learn to visit the balcony and have a bird’s eye view on topics that are relevant for you. Not only they are required in your field, but you can also practically apply them in any area. Policymaking is not for policy practitioners only; it is a frame you can use in any context, be it Human Resource, Risk and Compliance, Policy Communication, Sustainability, Community Work, Finance, Business Operations or Strategy. Do not aim for one thing, look beyond for both. Like, I always learn to adapt and apply.

Give yourself the advantage of suppleness and improvisation; flexibility and commitment alike, to change gears when the world is not constant around you, built on this exercise of giving time to yourself. The method to learn and adapt may not match your style sometimes, for exampletoo much reading, several assignments, writing essays, submission deadlines, surprise tests and online quizzes, may be overwhelming, but believe in the process and do it. The adaptability in learning style is also critical for your growth. The academic rigour will help you create urgency for disconnecting from many things and get you on the path of learning and experiencing.

  1. Diversity & Inclusion. Deep diving into a new hobby or course is not an exclusive activity, it rather teaches you how to embrace diversity and makes you inclusive. In a classroom, it’s not your speed which matters, but the average paceof the class is the key. So, leading requires learning to regulate your speed, absorption, and assimilation with others so that no one is left behind. You will learn that to raise your hand first is not important, rather how you wait or allow others to raise their hand is what matters (remember, everyone’s clock to respond is different). Your question does not matter, but how your questioning takes the class discussion further is what matters. In joint assignments, waiting for someone to take a lead is not essential, what is important is how inclusive was the process of building views as a team and working together that how you are doing your part and encouraging others to do theirs or passing the baton to land that task together. Extra class or discussion is not to drain you, rather it is to enrich you. Do not run to close your session to study alone; rather promote group discussion so you learn from shared wisdom. Best decision-makers embrace the diversity of thought. I have learnt, not what we know, rather what and how we can learn from others is an important tool in our toolbox.
  2. Evaluate yourself. The traditional education system evaluates by exams where we gulp and write, on the contrary, the magnificence of new-age learning or short courses is that these assess critical thinking and collaboration skills incorporating research-based learning, moving us from what we learn to how we learn and challenges we take to know more. This allows you to find your capabilities and skills, which are beyond mugging up. The beauty of travelling on this path is that itstimulates your mind, makes you think afresh and turns you into a storyteller. Your skills are bound to get a new dimension. What you obtain from this experience is your own assessment. Marks do not matter, neither do certificates. Measurement is a tool, but it can’t capture the truth. The truth lies in how you appraise yourself.
  3. Take the risk. Your absence from work or home is not a risk, infact, you must be smart to showcase your learning or growth from this break as crucial for your organisation or your loved ones. Share your lessons with your team or colleagues. As Paulo Coelho said, ‘Be brave, take risks as nothing can substitute experience’. This time-off may or may not be a step towards your next journey. At least you know, it could be the springboard to many good things in life. The list of gains is endless. It is upto you to draw your own and try finding it from the wealth of break time.
  4. Fill yourself with new memories. Allow yourself space to do what you enjoy the most. Take a pause and atthat moment connect the dots backwards and upward to make new memories or find different paths. Let late-night study be fun and not a slaughter, put that extra hour to research and not feel it is a punishment, a study weekend is not a crime, in fact, it’s an investment. Online chat with classmates is fulfilling and not draining (a lot of fun happens on WhatsApp groups 🙂 A long essay or research project is not the test of your limits and patience, instead it is a proof of your persistence to give your best at that moment. And when you do that, remember what Dr Seuss said, ‘Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory’.

Third, how will you act?

Dalai Lama says, “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.’ In my opinion, all you need to do after getting convinced on ‘why’ and ‘what’ of taking on your passion, the‘how’ becomes simple. All you need to do is find that passion and dive in. Structure your time, organise things around you, give your 100 percent to it, draw every ounce of experience from it and create new avenues. Believe me, it will not be a linear curve, but an exponential experience. The ‘new you’is waiting to be discovered as it’s time to upskill and bring spring into your career and life. Put wind beneath your wings and fly high.

DISCLAIMER : Any comments, speeches, articles, blogs, podcasts, videos/vlogs, opposite the editorial page/opinions andeditorials page (OP-ED), interview response etc. made by individuals should be accompanied by a clear disclaimer from the ones given below.

“The views expressed in this article are personal. Neetu Kapasi is a student of the Advanced Management Programme in Public Policy at the Indian School of Business.”

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