(running) stitches.

Anne Holton, the wife of Senator-elect (D- Va.) and former Governor Tim Kaine*, has this great story from law school. In a conversation with students about her and her husband’s careers in public service, Mrs. Anne Holton revealed that in those big echo chambers and theater-like classrooms, you wouldn’t find her scurrying to copy down every single word her professors spoke. No, she was too busy cross stitching. Chuckling, she remarked to us: Well, I realized there was a much more productive way to keep my hands occupied.”

Well I was thinking about Mrs. Anne Holton this morning as I flipped through the many links open on my home screen, the news articles I’ve promised myself I’ll read.

You see, this whole season in my life has been about stitching my life together in a way. And it’s been about pushing that pause button to do so. I won’t lie—it’s hard to admit this. I am a go-go-gooooo kind of person and I indulge 24 hour news cycles and ridiculously overfilled color-blocked calendars like they are chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin spice lattees to go (obviously :)

In this world of massive connectedness, I find myself trying to be that bridge between my past, present, and future whilst still traveling between different places and peoples, telling myself that this is the only chapter in my life when it’s ok to not just be that fish-out-of-water but to indulge it too.

But sometimes, I get really scared. I don’t want to whereswaldo my life and there is a certain empowerment that comes from knowing where you’re going and being able to never stop. And so I, as I daresay a lot of my peers do, fill my life with this and that believing on the surface that doing so will lead to something somewhere and convincing myself internally that a full schedules is far better than wide open spaces and a blank canvas to draw my life on.

Needless to say, when I stepped away from school and the busy world I’ve always known this semester, I did something I didn’t quite process in detail till now. Because when I came here, I gave myself a blank page. Without knowing it, I gave myself a season in life with few personal deadlines.

And that, that has been a beautiful thing.

As this time winds down, I’m starting to put together what exactly this has taught me. And on the top of that list has been a reminder far more important than any deadline. A reminder to reflect. Because in reflection, I understand myself better. I process my life. I realize what matters. And I remember that I’m just not capable of doing or committing to all that doesn’t—matter that is.

And in so doing I’m trying to do as Mrs. Holton does: stitch my life together in a way that really matters.

*I would be remiss not to mention that Mrs. Holton is an incredible woman in her own right having served as a chief judge and having been the first woman to have lived in the Virginia’s governor’s mansion as both a daughter and a wife… but whose counting credentials? ;)

Mukhtar Mai, the next Mother Teresa?

Happy Black Friday! On this day which is famously (or infamously) known for mass material consumption of goods and products that–let’s face it–we probably don’t need, I thought I would provide just a quick daily dose of your inspirational woman of the day and a gentle reminder that even on this day when shopping sprees abound, we ought to remember the distinct value of the ways in which we spend our time and money. Enjoy yourself today and everyday (I can shop with the best of them!), but let us not forget that even when money is not at our disposal, there is yet so much to be made out of so little.

“Being famous often damages one’s liberty, and enhances one’s responsibilities.”–Mukhtar Mai

Glamour Magazine, which honored her as Woman of the Year in 2005, asks is this the world’s next Mother Teresa?

Mukhtar Mai (who is also known as Mukhtaran Bibi) comes from the small village of Meerwala, Pakistan. And one girl at a time, she is changing the world by wielding both the pen and the sword: she opened a school to teach young girls how to read and write–a school where she herself later enrolled–and openly fought against those who tried to dishonor her for her defiance of an anachronistic way of thinking.

Mukhtar has left a past of gang-rape and oppression behind, while all the while keeping it around her as a reminder of that initial fire that burned within her when she refused to marry her rapist and went instead to the police to report the crime and demand that the perpetrators be forced to shed their veil of impunity.

Soon Mukhtar had founded the Mukhtar Mai School for Girls using compensation money that Pakistan’s President Musharraf and sent to her after hearing about her case and sympathizing.

However, this empathy would not last and Mukhtar would soon find herself harassed and threatened by the same government which had once lauded her. Because of her outspokenness about the issues she was fighting against, the government would rally behind a cry that Mukhtar was shaming Pakistan and therefore needed to be silenced.

But, of course, this would not be possible with a woman as defiant as Mukhtar. The publicity and fame grew and soon Mukhtar was on the world’s stage, speaking out about her cause and being honored for her work.

Throughout it all– the government pressure, fellow Pakistanis taking out their reage on her, and others who were uncomfortable with the newfound influence that a peasant woman from a village of Pakistan had earned–Mukhtar Mai remained strong and determined.

Against the odds, she truly proved herself to be one in a million.

“Mukhtar’s courage is having an impact,” writes Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in their book Half the Sky, “she has shown that great social entrepreneurs don’t come just from the ranks of the privileged.”

Indeed, they come from a place of determination and passion which is so strong that it not only lit a fire in Mukhtar’s eyes, but lit a fire beneath the entire world as well. We would be foolish not to take notice.

A Day of Thanksgiving and Thanksreceiving

Dear Readers,

I hope you are using this day (and more) to revel in all that you have in this world to be thankful for and reaching out to actually thank those people who probably don’t hear it enough. We know that we all lead crazy, busy lives, but today is your lucky day because you have room to breathe and take a moment to give and receive thanks with all those people who mean the world to you.

I hope you spend the afternoon and evening eating obscene amounts of food–no matter what kind or of how grand a variety–because after all, there is no better way to encourage a rabble-rousing family to adopt more pleasant chatter than by putting a delicious meal on the table in front of them.

I hope you enjoy that meal after having helped out in the kitchen a little bit–from ladling soups to passing the pepper, there are innumerable little tasks to do–and I’m sure whatever parent, uncle, aunt, grandparent or dear friend is in the kitchen, they  would really appreciate your help (well, except in those extreme cases where you really shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen–in that case, offer to set the table).

And finally, I hope you take a break–from life, from work, from rapid-fire email-sending, and from that to-do list which you swear is leering at you from the corner of your desktop. Today, forget it all and enjoy where you and the people who are there with you. Enjoy :)

Well, that’s it for me–have an absolutely wonderful, delicious Thanksgiving and Thanksreceiving!

xoxo

Ishani & Inesha

P.S. I thought I’d leave you with a few pictures from our visit to Inesha’s apartment in D.C. yesterday. Have a great day!

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When we play, we learn

Harvard-Yale 2012. 34-24. 6 straight years of victory.

I’ve been figure skating for a few years more than that, but needless to say, that’s a different sport altogether. And in the football department, you will quickly find that I’m not just in deep water, but probably swimming in the wrong body of water altogether. So, you could say that I’m not exactly your typical football fan, but on THIS weekend, football was every man and woman’s game, whether or not he or she had a clue what people meant when they started talking about scrambling, downs, and punts.

Last weekend was The Game. The annual showdown between Harvard and Yale which, after this year’s game, has been a 6 year winning streak for Crimson. As I walked across the river to the stadium last weekend with plenty of crimson and deep blue all around, there wasn’t a paper or midterm worry that could touch my mind. My assignment list for the day was blissfully short: 1) Figure out what a “scramble” is. 2) Manage to plaster the small “H” tattoo that was currently in my pocket on my face. You see, on this day, the most important thing was and will always be,

SPIRIT.

The Monday after The Game, I got up bright and early and made my way to the Bright Hockey Center rink to teach my ice skating class before my own day of classes would begin. It was a routine morning and I was particularly cheery to have had a cup of steaming coffee, to still be riding the waves of a wonderful weekend, and to feel the inching excitement of Thanksgiving break. And that morning when I stepped on the ice, I saw the familiar faces I had seen for weeks, except one–Rudina’s.

Rudina is a young woman from Albania, bright and eager to learn as she focuses her blue eyes with a determination that I would more readily associate with my Organic Chemistry class than the ice skating I had been a part of since a young age. But here at this rink, Rudina was my student, and I, the teacher who was demonstrating crossovers and how with power and grace, they could get you from one edge of the rink to the other.

What had become second nature to me, was clearly a new concept for her. Try not to focus your mind so much; focus your movement. That was my blanket advice for the graduate students, postdocs, PhD candidates, and adjunct professors who had been through my class. They were all masters of using their minds, but here–just like the intensity and focus of a football game–there was a clear component that had to be all physical, and not mental.

After class, Rudina and I got to chatting about her studies and how she liked being at Harvard. This was not her first home, she explained, since besides hailing from Albania, she was also a visiting scholar from Oxford, and was now studying international law at Harvard Law School for the semester.

In that moment, I felt like I did while I was watching our team go for victory this weekend. Proud, amazed, and so incredibly humbled. This had been a sports-filled couple of days–a collection of moments, shouts of pride, and realizations that reminded me once again that some of our most memorable learning in fact happens outside of the classroom. But back to Rudina.

Not moments before I had been patiently holding her hand, trying to swat away her frustrations and guiding her through a basic move that had been taught to me when I was just a kid at my local ice skating rink. In that moment I had been teacher to a woman who had proved herself in scholarship in some of the the world’s most famous institutions of higher education. In that moment, I was the teacher and yet, in no instance had I ever ceased being the student.

My lesson of the day: you never know who you are surrounded by and the amazing stories behind their focused eyes and requests for help. So help them. Teach where you can and learn in the process. That morning, I had the privilege of teaching an Oxford Law Scholar how to ice skate. Who are you helping today?

Here are some snapshots from Game Day. Enjoy and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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my girls.

There are those friends you go out on the town with, watch a movie with, commiserate with. And then there are those friends you go through life with. The ones who drop everything for a weekend, drive up to see you, and proceed to not ask anything of you but to give you one big hug, wash your dishes, feed you, and make sure that in this crazy big world that never stops spinning, you stop.

So ok, maybe it’s just me that requires those kinds of friends. But I have a hunch, that you too have those kinds of people in your life. The ones who are always sitting on your side of the sidelines, the ones who you call just because. You can pick up a conversation with them even if it’s been weeks since you last talked and you go into a coffee shop and pretty much spend a whole day there pushing that pause button, taking measure of the life you’re living, and showing in vulnerability and honesty that you are loveable, that you do need someone there to take you in and to tell you that in this crazy marathon you’re running, it’s ok to stop and admire the world you’re passing by.

This weekend, I was reminded once more that I am so blessed to have those kinds of friends. When two of the girls I’ve known since middle school wrote to me just days after the big election and said ‘we’re coming,’ I could literally feel my heart swelling. Once again, they proved that they had an uncanny knack for knowing when I needed them most. And while they were here, they made no requests or demands. They took one look at my mess of an apartment and got to work. They figured out the perfect place to go to lunch and navigated our way there. (As I thought to myself, ‘Wait, shouldn’t I know this city better than they?’) They brought pillows and comforters, a gigantic load of movies, and popcorn and didn’t get mad at me when I inevitably fell asleep during the show. They baked cookies and pavlova for crying out loud. And in between walking the streets of Georgetown, sharing a dinner we will talk about for years to come, drinking hot chocolate in cute little French cafés, and meandering through little churches and big grocery stores, they filled the gaps and spare seconds with moments well lived, conversations worth having, and love worth sharing. And all I can say is all of it just made my heart so, so happy.

Here we come Monday! xo Inesha

Outside her comfort zone, Tulsi Gabbard inspires

Aloha! Last week, I wrote a short little post about a Ms. Tulsi Gabbard, the new Congresswoman-elect from Hawaii. And while I was not explicit in saying so, you might have noticed that I was quite in awe of Ms. Gabbard, a woman who from my limited exposure seemed so poised and articulate, so ready for duty.

Well yesterday I had the honor of sitting in the room as Ms. Gabbard, who arrived not to long ago for her freshmen orientation, talked to a group of undergraduate students about her experiences, her journey, and more than anything what she is ready to do in Washington.

Gabbard was refreshingly real and down-to-earth, characteristics that one could cynically attribute to the fact that she has only just arrived in the messy bureaucratic town that is Washington, DC. But to do so would be to miss how this woman carries herself, how she didn’t frame her talk with lofty notes about where she’d come from but about the little struggles she’d encountered along the way, little struggles that she’d encountered as recently as yesterday when she’d had to fly in from Hawaii to New York, catch a train because her flight was delayed, and catch a cab in a city that was not her own, luggage in tow.

But it was not these casual remarks alone that later helped me piece together my understanding of Ms. Gabbard. It was the stories she told, the way in which she spoke. Gabbard remarked that running for office—in any capacity—was a “huge step outside [her] comfort zone,” claiming that she was so introverted that had you asked any of her friends growing up whether she would have run for office, they would have said “there’s no way in hell—that would involve talking to strangers, and Tulsi doesn’t do that.”

It would be hard to believe that now of a congresswoman who at the end of the day just passed the hardest job interview process out there—receiving a stamp of approval from hundreds of thousands of constituents and proving to people that even though she is young, and even though her critics claim she has little experience, she is ready.

A few notes I just have to share:

  • My favorite story. Tulsi talked about how the day after she won her first election she stood on the sidelines of the highway with a sign that read THANK YOU, watching as her fellow citizens—people who had voted for her and those who had not—drove by. On that day, one woman pulled over and in the dashboard of her front window she had written in capital block letters on a little piece of paper a note to Tulsi: DON’T LET US DOWN. “I carried that with me,” Tulsi told us. “That’s when it got real.”
  • From Military Service to Congressional Service. Tulsi remarked to us that the decision to go to war “is personal for me—and it should be personal for the country.” And with those words she underscored a fundamental problem in our society. The fact is the realities of those who serve in our military—and their families—are increasingly growing distant for the average American civilian. These brave men and women are a part of the 1% of our population that we oft forget about. That’s not acceptable. When we go to war they should be the first and the last thing we thing about.
  • On being a woman in Congress. Tulsi made no qualms about it: “Perception is everything—especially for a female leader.” Her advice? Be aware of how you carry yourself and always remember who you work for.
  • For women, it’s a community. I automatically appreciated that when Congresswoman-elect talked about being a female in the military, she said “We can handle it.” It wasn’t just “I” can handle it but ‘I’ve got your back—female or male. And we’re in this together.’ And you could tell right then and right there that Gabbard didn’t just say it to say it. She meant it.

;

“It comes down to who you are touching.”

– Congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)

on Leadership and Service (and why it matters)

Define Your Table

Sheryl Sandberg tells women not to leave the table; Sonal Shah says to define it. No matter what the shape, make it yours.

When economist, entrepreneur, and innovator Sonal Shah walked into our small dinner event tonight and sat at the table, she was joined by a group of excited undergraduate women from the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative and Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business who were there to learn, engage, and join in on a conversation.

They wouldn’t be disappointed.

Sonal is one talented woman–it only takes a glance at her impressive CV with names like Google, Goldman Sachs, and the White House peppering the page to leave you convinced of that fact. But for me and for the other women sitting in that room, what was far more impressive–and indeed, endearing– than her  list of accomplishments was how real, honest, poised, and approachable she was as she shared her story and answered our questions. Sonal will be the first to tell you that you can’t predict what step you’ll take next on your far-from-linear path, even though you can make the connections and develop the work ethic now to ensure that you’ll be ready to take it when it comes. In fact, that’s the beauty of the entire life-career trajectory–it completely leaves the realm of any recognizable geometric shape and takes on a life of its own, with you at the helm.

“When you walk through one door, you think the six other doors next to you will close. But what you don’t realize is that once you walk through that door, another six will appear.”

Sonal made it clear that we’re lucky to be living in the time that we are. “I’m jealous of you all,” she said. “You have so many options.”

As the evening went on, the conversation twisted and turned much like Sonal’s career path–going from a broad discussion of the “do good” mentality of our generation to WalMart’s impressive initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint to the kind of confidence it takes to accept an amazing job offer and the courage needed to turn one down.

The conversation was honest, frank, and inspirational in that non-preachy, down-to-earth tone that is so distinctly Sonal. You could tell from the get-go that she is a woman who  knows what it means to take a risk and can accept a job at a premier investment banking firm when she’s ready to get her hands dirty, but is given no job description to tell her how exactly she should do it.

But that’s the thing with Sonal. She is the type of person who will not just get her hands dirty–but will jump headfirst at a challenge and figure out how to organize and work most efficiently with the talented people around her in order to get the job done.

Here are just a couple of mind mints that I picked up today to hopefully inspire your thoughts on this Wednesday night:

  • Sheryl Sandberg is one successful woman. But she is also persistent. When she wanted Sonal to join her team at Google, she called every single day until she got the answer she wanted to hear. So, know what you want, and don’t be afraid to be obnoxiously persistent in order to achieve it.
  • Help the women around you. You will have mentors who will help you get to where you’re going, and one day, it’ll be your turn to pass the buck.
  • Know what you love, leave what you don’t.
  • Despite the gridlock and the partisanship and the struggles on capitol hill, government remains the place where real, large-scale change happens. Instead of just starting a nonprofit that helps keep kids in school, consider aiming to work on policy that will ensure that schools can attract better paid, better performing teachers to work with children across the entire nation and give them a reason (or many) to stay in school.
  • Go straight to the source. We often see companies like Starbucks or TOMS supporting service initiatives and community development projects through their business models–especially because their products are very visible as you walk down the street. Yet, these two ventures represent such a small percent of each of their respective markets. Instead, think about going to the coffee behemoth (Folgers) or the country’s largest shoe manufacturer. Think about how large you want the impact you make to be, and then go and make it.
  • Know what you love and what you’re good at because, sometimes, a job just isn’t for you. So when it’s staring you in the face, don’t convince yourself that you have to like it just because others think you should. At the same time, that opportunity that just came up may not be at your favorite company, but you know that you’d be working with an amazing team. Go there for the people and get ready to embrace everything that you will learn.
  • Companies and employers are increasingly cognizant of their employees’ desire to use their skills to give back to the world around them. That’s why you can get a certain amount of “you” time as an employee at Google, which many use to go out and work on saving the world–or at least develop an algorithm to do so.

I hope all of you are doing well and getting excited for Thanksgiving! For me, that means I’ll finally be visiting my family at home <3

Can’t wait!

Ishani