Category Archives: Inspiration

On Remembering–and Welcoming 2015

Daniel Kahneman wrote a fascinating book entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s about the distinction between our experiencing self and our remembering self. Atul Gawande draws on Kahneman’s work in his latest release, Being Mortal as he discusses the way that medicine cares for patients in their old age and what it means to prolong life as opposed to preserving its quality and the happiness it can bring. He has a beautiful line in that book which reads,

“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens…”

Continue reading On Remembering–and Welcoming 2015

My Top 10

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It is hard for me to put into words just how inspiring, therapeutic, and incredibly comforting this past weekend with GLAMOUR’s Top 10 College Women was. In celebrating each other, and sharing our struggles, I can’t help but believe that we’ve forged friendships that will last a lifetime. And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

I have a post coming up about one of my favorite Glamour moments from last week, but till then I thought I’d leave you with these photos and a few of the big takeaways that some of the incredible women we got to meet left me with. I think they’re definitely worth the share :)

  1. IMG_2561Celebrate each other and share your struggles – All of us women talked quite a bit about how hard it is to balance
    confidence and humility and to share our accomplishments without seeming arrogant. In a conversation somewhere between Brooklyn and Midtown Manhattan this is what we all kept saying. In sharing our accomplishments, we can choose to celebrate each other. But when the spotlight shines down, we also have the choice to share our struggles. We have the chance to also make clear to those around us that success, however fleeting and wonderful, has been hard won and is rarely easy. As one of my friends put it, with Facebook and social media these days, it’s easy to see everyone’s “highlight reel.” It’s not so fun to share when you’re sick or hurt or upset about something. But that means that the slice of us that is out there on the internet never captures the full story — it’s a seemingly obvious truth, but one with implications that extend beyond us to the online viewers of our profiles. In a highlight reel of tweets and Facebook feeds and Instragram pictures, it’s hard to get across that even as things might be on the upswing sometimes, we’re still far from perfect. But this last part, well it’s just as important to share.
  2. “Timelines are bad for the soul.” (Colleen McGuinness, Writer of 30 Rock)
  3. “You are your vessel. It [Failure] can feel very personal for that very reason.”  (Danielle Brooks of Orange is the New Black.) For someone who internalizes, well everything, this piece of advice was something I needed to hear. A lot of the times when you put yourself out there– as an actress, as a musician, as an interview candidate– you are the product. When you are not chosen, it’s hard not to feel defeated. I’ve been thinking a lot about this these past few weeks. I’ve been stuck on this concept of things fitting together, much like twins might be expected to. Sometimes there are failures, but sometimes things also just don’t work out because they simply aren’t meant to be together. And that’s not failure. That’s a push in a new direction, the right direction personalized just for you. As one of my friends put it — “If you’re going down a path and you figure out it’s the wrong one, you just choose another.” Exactly.
  4. IMG_2563“Where you came from does not have to be where you’re going.” (Gina Keatley, the host and chef of Healthy Soul With Gina Keatley)
  5. “Be appropriate.” – Colleen McGuinness on what she has learned from Tina Fey, with whom she is currently working on a new pilot. When asked what she’d learned from Tina, Colleen said: “Be appropriate.” It seems simple but she pointed out that it’s hard for anyone out there to say anything bad about Tina Fey. The fact is, she’s always on point. Polite. On time. She addresses people as they should be addressed. It’s a tiny detail but one worth remembering in a world where social media and the internet seem to be breaking down institutions and traditional professional codes faster than time itself.
  6. Failure is the best tool you have because failure makes you angry. And anger makes you do things.
  7. “Go where it’s warm.” (Colleen McGuinness) I really liked this piece of advice. It’s the concept that you should go where you’ll find mentorship, support, and a friendly group of people to work with — not just to the place with the biggest name or the best salary.
  8. “Read books – none of that twitter stuff.” (Samantha Power to me during our phone interview)
  9. “It turns out the real world had a whole lot more learning opportunities for me than grad school.” (Samantha Power to me during our phone interview) If you’re contemplating graduate school, consider the real world first. What do you want to learn and where do you need to learn it? The real world might just hold your answers, and at a more affordable price tag too :)
  10. “Envy is judging someone else’s outsides against your insides – it is also the only one of the seven deadly sins that isn’t any fun.”  (Greta Gerwig)

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Thank you to Glamour Magazine, Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive, Katie Sanders, and so many more for making all of this possible!

the weekly pick me up.

This has been one of those weeks where I’ve definitely needed a weekly pick me up… so here’s to you friends, things that have kept me going, smiling, and pulling through.

I thought this was a brilliant idea. Here’s two of my favorites.

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This made me stop and pause this week. The stories in this TIME cover were really something. To think that some of those first responders on 9/11 could be involved in such an integral way in the construction of the new world trade center, to remember just how far our country has come… #thetopofamerica #resilience

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This song really rung true for me this week.

This struck me as a brilliant idea.

This made my week. Sometimes, just sometimes your friends, family, and neighbors (#ilovethesouth) drive/fly/bus up to see ya… and when they do, when in Cambridge, you take them to Zinneken’s. #foodie #noshame #prioritiesplease

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These words really rung true this week.

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And this is what I learned.

Through it all, when things get tough, really tough, look for the fighters – the ones who, through it all, keep on fighting for you. They’re the keepers.

Lots of love for this week ahead – may you enjoy the sunshineeee! Even if it only lasts for just a little while :)

xo Inesha

 

 

Last Sunday, I was religious.

Today is a day of the week that many religions around the world deem sacred or worthy of a special kind of observance amidst the chaos of our otherwise bustling lives—in other words, it’s a Sunday.

I was born and raised a Buddhist, the religion that is predominant in our sweet Sri Lanka. But I didn’t grow up going to temple on a regular basis, and certainly not every Sunday. While it’s true that Richmond, Va has few temples to boast of, mostly I think that our family’s lack of religious regularity is a testament to the fact that religion for me and my family has never really had a schedule. And gcals and sticky notes aside, I like to think that this is the way I live my life, too–well, for the most part :) Buddhism is a “go-with-the-flow” religion I would often tell my friends when I was younger; you just have to be a good person. Turns out that most religions believe that. They would grin in a “yeahh, right” sort of way. But I also felt responsible for portraying this anomaly of a religion as honestly as I could to friends who had most likely only ever met one Buddhist in their lives. To my five-year-old self, this seemed like a pretty good way of going about it.

I may not know all of the Pali words of the ancient text, but even if I am not convinced entirely of the ritual of saying them , I believe wholeheartedly in their purpose. They grant solace. Familiarity. Comfort. Peace of mind. Sitting next to my mother as I hear her quietly repeat the chants that I have grown up listening to, I am comforted as I feel them come to my lips as well. I don’t remember learning them, but yet they are an inextricable part of who I am and how I was raised. From the days when I would walk with my sister and grandmother down the lane from our home in Colombo to the temple that has not changed in 20 years, to the snow-ridden homes-turned-temples that I visit with my parents in the dead of a U.S. winter, I can find those chants anywhere. Even before the books that I love, these chants were the first to show me the power of storytelling. And now, I can usher them forth even when the walls of a temple do not surround me. They give me the power to build my own.

Besides the lightly falling snow that made for an idyllic setting, last weekend was a peaceful favorite of 2014 because of one thing in particular: mom & dad came to visit me here in Cambridge. Yes, they made the 10 hour drive from Richmond. Yes, my mom still rolled up her sleeves and spent hours helping me pack and clean my room. And yes, my dad willingly helped and provided “instructions” as to what he thought should be packed where (my mom and I let him believe that we were paying heed).

Nevertheless, they came. And that means the world to me. It’s a funny thing that happens when you all of a sudden turn 20 and are no longer the one who is always walking through your front door at home to see your parents before you gallivant off on your next adventure. I suppose it’s a sign of my transition from teenhood to adulthood that my parents now come to visit me. They come to make sure that I’m ok and to wish me well. They come to buy me the things that I need and many more that I don’t. They shower me with advice and love and warmth amidst this frigid Boston winter. They may not be the family I choose but I would never choose anyone else.

I’m glad that I could go to temple with them last Sunday. It is something that my mom has been wanting to do for a long time. It is rare, though, that I was the only one in tow. But with my sisters elsewhere, it was just me and mom and dad. Parents + one college miscreant—we made quite the group.

I miss them already, but just like those Pali chants, it’s a good thing that I can always carry them with me.

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Ophelia Dahl on imagining your own solutions

“She has two claims to fame. One, I would argue, she doesn’t have very much to do with, but the second she certainly does.”

That was how the moderator began, standing before the group of undergraduates and other community members who had gathered in the Hastings Common Room of Pforzheimer House to enjoy an evening discussion series event.

And then Ophelia Dahl stepped up to the podium.

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The world might have known her first as the daughter of famed author Roald Dahl (famous of course for such classics as James and the Giant PeachThe BFG, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and actress Patricia Neal, but the woman whom I saw standing before me in the warm evening glow of Pfoho’s Hastings Room was, first and foremost, the great advocate for global health who I had come to know as the co-founder of the now world-renowned nonprofit healthcare organization Partners in Health.

I’ll admit, though, that this incredible health advocate’s first claim to fame–her connection to her father–had me practically giddy with awe. I have always been a voracious reader, but for me my love of books really began when I was very young and going through my grandmother’s book shelves in Sri Lanka. For some reason, almost every book that I could find was written by a man named Roald Dahl. I read every one of them. When I would return to the States at the end of the summer for the start of a new school year, I quickly learned that the rest of the world had also discovered Roald Dahl and, fortunately, this meant that his titles lined the bookshelves in America too. I remember picking up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and one of my all-time favorites, The BFG, when I was in kindergarten, without knowing at first that these were all part of the legacy and incredible imagination of the same author whose name had lined the spines of all the books on my grandmother’s shelf. I came to love these books and the author who dreamt up such fantastical stories so as to keep my childhood imagination running wild and free. And here was his daughter. I could only imagine what it would have been like to grow up and have Roald Dahl in the house as chief bedtime storyteller. Fortunately, Ophelia gave us a glimpse.

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Ophelia Dahl and I

She told us a story about one time when she was in grade school and was complaining to her father about how hard her math class was. He thought for a moment about it, and then told her that there was this big, friendly, giant who had a magic potion and would come through at night to take all of her problems away. “I thought, this is great!” Ophelia said, eliciting a chuckle from the room. “Of course, he didn’t think of it all like that in one line,” she added with a twinkle in her eye (alluding to the plot of The BFG which so many of us know well). 

Ophelia went on to describe her father’s talent for imagining solutions to problems around him and how this in turn socialized her to believe that if there was a problem, she need only apply her creativity and insight and she was capable of finding a solution. No doubt it is this mentality that paved the way for her working with Paul Farmer to found Partners in Health as an organization that was dedicated to serving the poorest and neediest communities and delivering better healthcare.

She described how she first got to Haiti at the ripe age of 18–after deciding to take a gap year from school because she truly had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. That’s when she met Paul Farmer (who had a very good idea of what he wanted to do) and they spent a lot of time working amidst devastating health inequities that begged for change.

Throughout it all, she remains humbled by and thankful for her parents. “I had an amazing father, but I don’t want to forget that my mother was equally so,” she said. I loved her for saying that. It truly is amazing how we can be oblivious to how incredible our parents  are when we are children–whether those parents happen to be a world-renowned author and oscar-winning actress like Ophelia’s, or not.

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Coffee cups soon began clacking together lightly and feet were shuffling as the time for the event began winding down. 

Incredible, I thought to myself. Could I have  known that 15 years later that child reaching for The BFG on her grandmother’s bookshelf would end up in a Harvard  common room listening to Roald Dahl’s daughter talk about her father’s inspiration for that story? Absolutely not.

And yet, while I undeniably felt some connection to Roald Dahl through Ophelia, I also needed to accept the fact that as much as I will always love my childhood story chest, I have also grown up since then. There is no magic potion available to solve my problems, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t imagine my own solutions.

The BFG and my collection of Roald Dahl books will sit on my bookshelf for many years to come, and I hope that my grandchildren will enjoy them one day just as I once did. But, now–in this, my 20th year of life and my third year as a college student–I am far more enraptured by  the incredible story that Ophelia Dahl had to share about her second claim to fame. Her’s was a story of compassion, selflessness, and hope in a world where fighting for healthcare as a human right must be the world’s fight if it is to become humanity’s victory. No children’s story can do that kind of work, but they certainly can inspire the hope and imagination that allow us to believe that we can save the world. I saw it in Ophelia Dahl tonight and I hope that I too can share that kind of inspiration with the world one day.

As the discussion wound down, I glanced to my right and noticed the 8-year-old son of one of the Professors in attendance sitting on the floor beside my chair with his head busily burrowed in a book. I smiled to myself. He may not yet be at the age where he is interested in a discussion about systems change in the public health sector, but it was clear that he had grasped the essential message that Ophelia Dahl had shared with us: never stop imagining.

We do that, and Roald Dahl’s legacy lives on.

Unreasonably excited…by grapes

It’s the Friday before a long weekend, and I woke up feeling refreshed. I then walked into the dining hall for breakfast, and lo and behold, THERE WERE GRAPES.

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Now, for those of you who are frowning with confusion at the slight absurdity of my reaction (and the all caps font that I’ve felt necessary to include to express it), I will fully admit that my excitement at seeing these sweet purple orbs of natural sugar in the dining hall this morning is a bit unreasonable. Bordering on amusing, even. But nevertheless, I find it justifiable because in and of themselves, grapes are a novel affair for those of us in the campus breakfast-eating crowd. After all, in comparison to the more humdrum affair of apples, oranges, and bananas that exist at every meal and other occasion in Harvard dining halls, the sight of grapes has the ability to spontaneously become a sign that why yes, today is going to be a good day. (I assure you, I also wish that every other fruit would elicit that kind of reaction).

On a more meaningful note though, these grapes–besides adding variety to my normal breakfast fare–also brought back thoughts of yesterday’s Women’s Faculty Reception, hosted by The Seneca. It was a lovely and intimate gathering of Harvard women and their favorite female faculty members that was designed  to encourage reflection, discussion, and foster the spirit of collegiality that is so important on the campus of any academic institution.

Stephanie Khurana, one of the masters of Cabot House and an entrepreneurial guru of sorts, was one of the invited speakers. I’ve always enjoyed listening to her speak and on this particular morning of grape-induced happiness, I find myself dwelling on one of the things that she said that struck a particular chord with me. Perhaps you’ll find some inspiration in it yourself.

Sometimes it’s incredible how you can create value by making something just a little different than it was before.

Maybe it’s the strawberries that you turn into strawberry pie. Or the grapes that you add to the dining hall breakfast menu. (Or even something unrelated to food.) In any case, I think the lesson is the same:

you needn’t invent something new in order to create value, but in the process of creating value, it is very possible that you will have invented something not just new, but ingenious.

Eat plenty of fruit and have a wonderful long weekend, everyone!