The End that was the Beginning! (Initial Vision at the YIF)

Some very wise man once said that when we reach the end, we look back to the beginning. Well, there are only a couple of hours left for the YIF to come to an end, and I have decided to post ‘my Vision’ as was directed in our first discourse here – Foundations of Leadership by Dr. Dwight Jaggard.

The instructions were to write a little bit about ourselves, our backgrounds, our interests, our strengths (as per the Strengths Finder Test that we had to take) and what our future plans might be. I look back to see much has changed in a year, and yet not so! How paradoxical can Life get!

(For memory’s sake – this includes my vision with his comments, which are the italicized parts  , so it might not make too much sense here!)

“Tell us your story…” Nearly every person at Team YIF keeps repeating – ‘To be a leader, you must first and foremost be a good storyteller.’ I agree.  Yes, Chiteisri, indeed story is powerful.  I am sure you will find this in the future as well.

My only predicament is – How and where do I begin?

My goals?My Life’s dream?My values?My strengths?

And in all this, how do I draw out a vision? The predicament shall remain – but in hope that there shall be ‘self-awareness’ by the end.   (You have the idea!)

My story begins with my Name. Narcissistic as it may seem, my name gives me an identity that lets me stand apart, and there is a story behind it.

Life was not easy for my mother back then. My father had wanted a boy and their marriage was slowly fading into an ugly reality that he wasn’t really the person who she thought him to be. India in the 80s was when divorce was not really an option but those wheels were in motion, on a very uncertain bumpy track that could head nowhere. Nevertheless my maternal grandmother had foresight and miraculously convinced everyone that my name would not be any Man’s. So while my mother reverted to her maiden name post her divorce that is my grandfather’s – my grandmother gave me a surname that does not betray any caste, class, creed, ethnicity and to an extent, even religion. Devi.  (So, she had a lot of foresight!  Is it true then that so many things can be found simply from a person’s name in India?)

So, Chiteisri Devi (Chittakisri ) etymologically translates to ‘Saraswati’ – the Goddess of Intellect and Knowledge. The name is difficult to pronounce and it does not put me in ‘Where-are-you-from?’ bracket as the case is with most of my fellow countrymen. And I adore that. I belong to India but I truly believe that I am a citizen of the world and someday this shall be proved.( I am sure it will be proven true!  Thanks for the background, that all-important context, regarding your name.  It is a beautiful story.  I take it your grandmother played a key role in your life, right?)

The chief actors in my story are my grandmother, my mother and I. Three women surviving in a very patriarchal society that is India. We have always been on the move. My mother being a bureaucrat, and an honest one at that was constantly made to relocate every time she took a decision that was right, sensible and the kind that upset the fragile ‘system’ that is the Indian polity. In the twenty years that was her career we thus moved about thirty-five times, So was this moving so that your mother could take on the next level of responsibility?  I changed nine schools across two countries, but still manage to convince people that I come from only four states in India. Yet, my family sticks together. To this day I am very grateful to my mother for having taken the road-less-travelled, because I had a happy, albeit a bit lonely childhood minus any conflict, violence and misdirection. Which would have easily otherwise been.  (Your mother sounds like a wonderful person.)

As a child my strongest influence was my grandmother. A woman way ahead of her times – she is a pediatrician who studied in England and a true rebel in spirit. She is courageous, self-reliant and has a thirst for knowledge that never brims over. I would like to think they are my core values today. I have an overactive imagination and thus, have very potent and vivid dreams almost every night. So, I am a dreamer and a nomad – we carry a strange travel bug, and at 23 I have visited 23 countries till date!  (Wow!  I would definitely say that you are on the way to becoming (almost literally) a world citizen.  What kind of places attract you most?)

(I hope that you have told all of these wonderful women in your life how much they meant to you and what a role model the play.  If you haven’t (and they are still living), I encourage you to talk with them.)

The constant change in schools affected my academic performance to an extent – I reached my peak potential only in the last four years of my schooling where I stayed in a boarding school for the sake of continuity during high school and graduation. The subjects I enjoyed were the ones I was the best at and I chose Humanities, having realized they were my academic strengths and passion.

I then studied Law at ILS Law College, Pune for my under graduation, which was not my career choice – but was driven by parental and peer pressure. (What would have you chosen at that time?)  While college was enjoyed and I tried to maintain a diverse perspective in my academics, a firm decision was made never to choose a field of study that wasn’t my own again. I am not a practicing advocate, but I worked as a legal consultant with a small non-profit on Environment issues after college. Through internships with a variety of NGOs, I realized that my love for Nature, people and their Environment was a more defined objective to pursue in a career and have been doing so within the ambit of the law and the arts.  (Great!  Sounds like you may be able to combine a number of your skills in this area.  What might you do next, after YIF, to get to this goal?  Who could help?)

Now YIF has happened, and it could not have come at a better time. A world of opportunity comes my way and this is actually the right time to think of a vision for the road ahead. Undefined as my life path has already been, maybe this is chance to explore what I need, want and desire.   (I think there will be a lot of opportunities to think new thoughts, consider possibilities and learn from yourself and your classmates.)

With this context, I was not surprised to find my chief strengths lie in Empathy, Input and a Learner – they are simply me. (Great!)  But Individualization and Maximizer have been cultivated over the years, the nomad does not get too much time to ‘adjust’ – just adapt to the immediate situation, make yourself known, understand the people you are interacting with and move ahead.   (I would think that adaptability must also be one of your strengths from what you have written . . . .)

I would imagine that this would make me more resilient to life’s challenges, but my greatest weakness lies in the fact that I am over-emotional about issues I ought not to be. I worry a great deal and this can affect my countenance too. I can smile in a moment and look panic-stricken in the next and turbulent emotions refuse to die down easily. Often this affects my health as well and it was only recently that this is a case of being psychosomatic.  This year, I hope to imbibe some Meditation practices and learn from some of peers in their own words ‘to chill’.  (Yes – the meditation, taking time to be in the moment, could be useful.  In the US we have a number of places that use “mindfulness meditation” as a way to relieve stress and to focus more on the “hear and now” as opposed to the past and the future.  I have found it to be quite useful myself)

I have varied interests and hobbies – Diversity, Art, Nature and Adventure Sports are the main ‘categories’ there. My skills like in writing, developing a rational argument, making the mundane creative and an eye for details in learning the issues I am passionate about – mainly Gender and the Environment. I thus envision myself to be in the world of publishing – either as a columnist or an editor or a magazine and a policy-maker, social entrepreneur, journalist or advocate for Gender issues.  (It seems that gender is undergoing some change now in India – I certainly have seen a lot of discussion regarding it in the press.  Do you think the status of women is changing at a reasonable pace in India?) I would like to be part of a magazine that inspires Hope and Adventure.  It will discuss civil society, women’s issues, the environment and the challenges of India’s position in the Environment vs. Development problematic. The core fabric of the magazine or venture would be of encouraging sustainability and good Indian practices that India has, in every aspect to the changing patterns in standard of living.  (Sound like you are ready to launch this!  You might talk with Dr. Pramath Sinha.)

A more personal vision is to have a girl-child named Neytiri(after the lead character of Avatar) of my own. It is not necessary for me to be a wife to someone, but I would like to be a Mother by choice. I have given this some amount of thought, and still ruminate on whether this is a serious decision. It is a tremendous responsibility but in time I will know if I am ‘worthy’.   (It is a serious decision and not something to be taken lightly – I am sure that you are worthy!)

But for now, I believe that my immediate goal would be to let YIF explore my full potential and for once let the year be about making my own mistakes. Taking responsibility for my decisions and finding the synergy between my top 5 values and strengths. Keeping my demands and expectations to a minimum, but I would like to see myself grow in this space. I shall keep an open mind, an empathetic heart and the occasional thrill-seeking quality (I am certified Scuba Diver) always and find that ‘Leadership’ potential in me.  As of now, all I know is that ‘Leadership is like beauty – you cannot define it, but you know it when you see it.’ Like resonance, I know that the day this ‘self-awareness’ shall be achieved – I will know it … but I hope the day is not too far, as I have awakened and want to ‘feel alive’ each day from this moment.  (Ah, I expect you will find a number of resonances in the years ahead.  Thanks for your expressive writing.)

My Top 5 Values My Top 5 Strengths
Courage Individualization
Imagination Input
Integrity Empathy
Intelligence Learner
Self-Reliance Maximizer

Quirky fact: I would like to be a Dolphin in my next life – they are Intelligent, Endearing and Playful creatures – born free and spirited!

Hi Chiteisri-

You have a great style of writing and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your work here. 

I encourage you to give some thought as to the next steps (after YIF) that you would like to take to realize your goal of becoming a journalist or publisher.  Who might help?  What is the first step?  How would you measure progress?

In your Final Vision, please do spend a bit more time on your strengths and areas to improve.  This will be your final assignment, due next week Wednesday.

Let me know how I can best help you on your leadership journey.

Warmest regards,


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