Dynamic. This is the one word to describe the ten months of the AIF Clinton Fellowship experience. Dynamism is part of life, and I got to experience it every day of my time on this program. There were innumerable lessons for me to learn every day from the community, my supervisors, my colleagues, and the Fellowship Team. When I reflect on it, there are many things I could have done differently leading to different outcomes, but isn’t this what the journey is about. In this blog post, I wish to discuss the 9 most important things I learned during my time being an AIF William J. Clinton Fellow in India, hoping that it will inspire future change makers.
- Getting Hired is Only the Beginning — Getting selected as one of the 20 Fellows from hundreds of applicants was only the beginning of the long, transformative journey of ten months that was ahead of me. The real challenges came after the selection process. When I look back, I think the selection process was rightly developed to reflect the opportunities and challenges that a Fellow could expect while placed with their host organization. My mind has internalized the fact that there is never any conclusion, but the journey always continues with its own ups and downs.
- Be a Serial Problem Solver — If there is one thing I can say that left a deep impression on my psyche and my personality, it would be problem-solving. I can now call myself a fearless problem solver. I feel like a Gamma-ray that penetrates all the surfaces and there is no challenge in its way because solutions and alternatives are always there to find. Yes, there can be operational, technical, financial constraints, but this all makes the projects even more exciting. Without challenges, there is no growth.
- Have a Bias for Action — Your actions impact others so be careful of what you do. Action speaks louder than words, and it couldn’t be more true anywhere than the social sector in the country. Yes, planning and deliberations have their importance, but the real excitement comes with the agility of changing actions on the basis of constant feedback from the community you serve. If you have to decide between theory and action, prioritize actions over concepts.
- People Are like Stories, Read Them — When I meet anybody now, I try to think of every person as a storybook of sorts. There is always a beautiful story that lies with every person you interact with. Often there are stories you would never expect. Everyone deserves to tell their story. This helps to empathize with the person and makes it easier to work with them and understand the world from their perspective. Perspective taking is one of the essential skills I learned from a colleague of mine within the AIF Clinton Fellowship.
- Carve Out a Space for Yourself — Yes, it is true that fulfilling, purposeful, and meaningful jobs make one happy, but sometimes one needs to get away from the ecosystem of the job and devote a space for themselves outside of work. It is important to regather strength and equilibrium. In my case, I used to go hiking in the pine or deodar forests of Uttarakhand, which was close to my house.
- You Can only Control Your Own Actions — Take ownership for what happens to you, because you can only control your own life. I am highly grateful to my current mentors and supervisors at my host organization Alaap for ingraining this into my thought. The simple mantra that they have is that enjoy things, and if you are not able to, then change them. Never regret or feel miserable about anything. This is highly important, as one can only control their own life and actions, and work for the betterment of the lives of others, but it’s only others who would be the real change-makers in their own lives.
- Words, like Time, Are Precious; Don’t Waste Them — While working at my host organization, once I was staying at a rural homestay. There was an old granny there. She called me and told me “Aayush, one needs to understand the importance of one’s words and time. Both are precious and non-materialistic resources, yet the costliest things you can spend.” This has stayed with me till now and I am highly mindful of what I say to whom now and how I spend my time.
- Stay Away from Organizational Politics — They don’t do good, only harm. Don’t ever indulge in gossip. I had gone through the impact this has on your personal and professional life. So, in simple words, this is not beneficial at all. It’s always better to stay away from this and maintain neutrality, especially as an outsider coming into a community.
- Colleagues Are Not Your Best Friends — Professional emotional intelligence is the core soft skill that you need to learn. Your colleagues can be the most instrumental person in your professional development, but it’s better to respect the boundaries of professionalism and always make the distinction clear between your colleagues and your best friend.
I feel highly grateful for this amazing opportunity that I had as an AIF Clinton Fellow, which entailed working with the rural communities of Uttarakhand. I hope this experience stays with me always. It has become instrumental in shaping my thoughts and personality. Thank you to the AIF Clinton Fellowship Team, the American India Foundation, Alaap, and Avani!