service and ego

some reflection during pandemic

This is more of a letter to self. You might be able to take something from it, or you might not. Read ahead knowing that.


Pandemic has humbled me. There's just so much pain. And somehow I am striving to be in the middle of it, helping as many people as possible. But you can't be in the middle of all of this and not feel the sadness.

A few days back I shared a Twitter thread for people who lost their parents in the pandemic. I was coming across multiple DMs, LinkedIn, and Twitter tags for similar requests so I composed a thread. But this thread opened more wounds. Students, who have recently lost their parents came into DM and shared their grief. And I kept thinking about this.

Before this, I had shared another tweet where I pledged to help anyone monetarily who's helping someone with food or supplies. We did a lot of donations and amplified it on social media as well. This all led to some good fundraising for everyone involved.

This thread also started discussions around whether we should donate and keep quiet or publicize it on social media. I believe that we should let others know and inspire as well. And this discussion went into ego, which I have been reading about a lot for the past few days.

Do we massage our ego when we are helping others? That's the topic of this write-up. You can still go back from here, it's going to be long.

let's look in the Pensieve

Last year, just when the pandemic was starting, I had started something called jobChallenge. This was started so that I can refer my best students for jobs directly. Students from tier 3+ college are not even considered for interviews by major startups. And I don't blame the startups, they only have so much energy to select resumes. However, referrals work and I was getting pings from a ton of startups to refer, so I stepped in and we did the challenge. It produced mixed results.

While we managed to place 14 kids out of nowhere into good jobs instantly there were two glaring problems.

  1. Completion Rate: Of the 400 people who participated in the challenge only 40 completed it. The 10% rate is way too low. I knew why, it's hard to do it alone, they needed more guidance, time, structure to come up with 5 full-stack projects. I hadn't provided that.

  2. Of the 40 who somehow completed it, needed more mentorship, interview preparation, and project reviews to make them desirable and crack interviews.

These are big organizational issues and I knew I couldn't do it all alone. I am just one person, with some students. I can't leave my job.

miracles happen

I had published a podcast at that time and it talked about how I want to fix hiring. Swapnil heard it. Now, this guy has been looking for some startup that would do some work with impact. Mind you, he had left his high-paying job at Amazon, an IITian, he wants to make a difference. I remember him saying, "kaam aisa karna chahiye ki kahi koi uncle aunty puchh de ki beta kya karte ho to fakr se keh sake ki kuchh logo ki zindagi me fark la rahe hai Aunty!" which would roughly translate to "do something which you can feel proud of sharing with society".

He contacted me and said he wants to run this as a startup. He came up with the plan and said he will take care of everything. My job would be to give him students who have completed 5 projects and help him recruit some mentors and hiring partners. He then meticulously reviewed every student's projects, did a 1:1 discussion with them, then with mentors, and paired them all before sending them for interviews. (we realized that this isn't scalable as the kind of impact we want to make, but that's for later). Anyway, this guy came in and he took care of the second problem mentioned above.

The other issue was still there, not everyone can self-learn to pass the barrier. So, I thought of neogcamp, but running a boot camp is a massive overtaking. To drive the community, to encourage completion, you need structure. That structure needs to be driven. And then came Tanvi. In a twist of fate, Tanvi had left her job at Amarchand (a top-tier law firm in India) and was looking for something where she felt she would make some difference. I shared the plan with her and told her about the initial success of jobChallenge. She agreed to take care of everything, registering the company, running it as CEO, helping with roc8 related works as well.

Now, I don't understand both these kids: Swapnil and Tanvi. They had a high-paying job, they had graduated from the top institutions of their field, yet they were not satisfied. They had the courage to leave their jobs to find something else They both learned to live with limited means on their savings. Amazing isn't it when you think about it?

So, now we have two initiatives/startups with two amazing CEOs, both working day and night to help students.

why am I telling you all this?

Coming back to the topic of ego and service. If I look back, I can help a lot of people today. But is it really me who's helping? Is it really Swapnil or Tanvi who's helping? I think not. We can only understand our nature. It was in our nature to help and we were looking for opportunities. It's the universe or God, or whoever runs this entire thing, say prakriti. It bought us all together, it created those opportunities before us, and we are just doing its work. So where's the place for ego?

In Sanskrit, there's a shloka, naaham karta, hari hi karta

This translates to, "I am not the doer, God is the doer."

If you're reading it till here, understand that money isn't the ultimate aim of life. Yes, it gives you some comfort and some convenience. But don't confuse comfort for joy. Then what is joy? Everyone will have a different definition. But I feel that it's in selflessness. Rather it's in increasing your self to amalgamate everyone. This is why these folks were not happy in their high-paying jobs, lived on limited means for months trying to find their happiness.

Now, this is all my perspective. This isn't the absolute truth. Maybe Swapnil or Tanvi would have a different take, maybe we all will think differently about this after few years.

continuing on ego and service

I am also trying to understand why everyone with money turns towards service eventually. See Bill Gates or anyone for an instance. Sooner or later, everyone understands that money can make you only so happy and turn inwards. A journey inwards would make you spiritual. You would understand that happiness can be momentary but anandam is permanent.

How can someone get into a state of anandam? By melting your ego. When the sense of I seizes, you're one with this universe, and this universe is in constant anandam

how do I melt my ego then?

I'm also trying to understand it. Have been reading Geeta and Mahabharata, Sankhya Darshan, Buddha, and what not to understand it. And I think philosophy can only point in the direction but you have to come up with your own definition.

So, how do I melt my ego? I think service is the only way. When I pledged 100K, when I went out to help, I understood that there's just so much pain, so much more than I can ever fight. And that melted my ego, I realized I am nothing.

And then more people came in, they joined the crusade, they helped, we helped a lot more people than I could have alone. And that melted my ego even more. I realized that it was never I who was doing anything, it's always the prakriti working its way through me, and through others in the team. We all came from it, we all will go to it. For a very small time frame, as small as a blink, we forget our relationship with prakriti and try to create an ego; an I for us.

In summary, service will help you realize that you're nothing, alone, you are insignificant. Then it will help you realize that when you become part of something big, you can do so much more. It's in your insignificance you find yourself.

thank you!

If you read till here, thank you for reading my extremely personal thoughts. People say writing is therapeutic, I'm feeling it right now. I would love to read your thoughts on this. Please comment whatever you feel. Om Shanti!