Freedom and opportunity
That’s what I love about this place. There’s multiple ways to be what you want.
Today marks three weeks since my arrival in SF. I’m on a Caltrain to Mountain View, a ritual commute I settled into quickly, and prefer it to staying in the bay area.
Even though I take a lot of pride in being easily adaptable to new surroundings, it was a bit overwhelming here the first few days. My team was spread across three (and briefly, four) time zones and communicating was hard. 500 startups has a bunch of great folks with startups in various stages of their lives, and being so socially inept I was trying to figure out my place in the what will be my work and my life for at least the next 2-3 months.
Cliched as it is, one cannot help but draw parallels with life back home, as a founder or simply a citizen, trying to deal with the quirks and privileges of being in a huge metropolis.
As I trade stories with with friends (and their friends), acquaintances and the occasional stranger-turned-drinking-buddies here, my biggest realisation is how free this country truly is.
Back in India we like to make fun of our ability to discard all rules and laws as a freedom denied to the developed world. But there’s far more to life than jumping red lights and pissing on the streets, and I couldn’t have put it better than a friend did after a few drinks, who I’ve liberally paraphrased in the opening lines.
My life, up till 2008 at least, has been lived as per a strict template that all middle-class Indians need to adhere to if they want to be “successful” in life. I went to a good school, stayed at the top of my class (mostly), spent more than a year prepping and eventually clearing one of the tougher engineering entrances (IIT JEE). Few years later I graduated with a good GPA from a reputed college and got into Oracle where I spent close to three years.
I’m not trying to brag here, but highlight how growing up, this was the only path to a “successful” career, and for most of the millions of young men and women in India this is THE path - you can either aspire to it or get shoved onto it. And it doesn’t stop at career; hit your late twenties and you ought to be married (to someone everyone approves of) and so on.
It fascinates me, coming from India, to meet someone here and not know what choices they’ve made to be at a certain point in life, with respect to relationships, career or even money in the bank. It isn’t all that predictable, unlike back in India where I can quickly reverse engineer the life story of someone by knowing where they are today.
To me the most important freedom is the freedom to screw up while making major decisions, specially growing up, and yet find ways to get back up and move on. This freedom is very rare in India, and as I look back to my past four years, I am fortunate to be among the few who have tasted it. I’ve long been astray the Indian middle-class path I ought to be on. Is that a good thing? I’m not sure. Would I have it any other way? Absolutely not.