Have you recently been asked a question that you struggled to answer? I was in that situation a few weeks back. I was attending the 2013 Leaders’ Quest Pow-Wow in Jaipur. People from all over the world got together at the fabulous Samode Bagh and Palace to push ourselves as we discussed issues as diverse as leadership, ‘what really matters’, moral courage and the lost art of dialogue and also meet some great NGOs, like Bachpan Bachao Andolan, operating in and around Jaipur.
So here I am sitting with a smaller group of people from England, Brazil, Palestine, China and Israel on a Sunday evening when bang comes the question, “What is your dream?” Rene, who asked me that question, grew up in Ghana and now lives in London where he has had a fantastic career. “What is your dream?”
I did not know what to answer. And it bothered me because I have always been a dreamer and have always had dreams of doing great things. Often I have preferred living in my dreams than in reality because my dreams were more interesting.
“What is your dream?” I struggled to give a half-baked response and told my group that this question had stumped me and I was not happy that I couldn’t have a proper response. Maybe it was the excessive drinking the previous night at a friend’s party in Bandra that had made me incapable to dream at that moment.
The next four days were a mix of interesting introspection, deep discussions, random walks through villages, some great meals in exquisite locations and a trip to spend a day with kids who were rescued from bonded labour. I met some fascinating people, including Basu Rai, who at the age of 5 found himself orphaned on the streets of Kathmandu. I was introduced to an NGO called CORO that works at grassroot community change in Maharashtra. I had long conversations with a lady who faced death threats after publishing a book on Islam and is now weary. We discussed the serious challenges facing humanity. I learnt about life in Palestine. I learnt about the challenges kids in Brazil faced. I met an American who was going to spend 6 months looking after the dying in Kerala. I was reminded once again that India may be poor economically, but we are rich spiritually and emotionally. We talked about ‘active hope’. But I couldn’t find my blasted dream. Does one need a dream at all? I questioned the need for a dream.
“What is your dream?” I tried concocting dreams. But they did not excite me. Three years back I quit my full-time job in private equity, climbed Kilimanjaro with our son and struggled to complete the Athens Marathon. I got a tattoo. I spent the past three years in the company of some incredible people who are doing amazing work in a variety of social enterprises, NGOs and for-profit ventures. I hung out with college students discussing the roles of the State and the Markets. I travelled with my wife and kids to enchanted places like Bhutan and Leh, where we spent three weeks volunteering with an NGO (17000 ft Foundation) setting up libraries in remote government schools close to the Chinese border and the Pakistan Line of Control. I controlled the pace at which I worked. I would go for long breakfasts with our daughter. I was on the board of an IPL team. But I had stopped having a dream.
After four days of trying to find my dream, I came back home and told my wife about my frustrating search for my elusive dream. She gave me that loving look that only wives can give their husbands when we have done something really stupid and simply said, “You don’t have a dream, because you are living your dream, you idiot!” Sometimes what we are looking for is staring back at us – we only need to know how to look. Now why didn’t I discuss this with her four days earlier?