Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Life lessons on relocating to India: Six lessons from a six year old

About a year ago, I was at the crossroads, wondering about work-life decision I had to take. My dad, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a while ago was starting to gradually slow down. My aging parents lived alone in Bangalore, and I got the dreaded phone call from my mother on the verge of breakdown herself, asking for help.

After a rushed trip to Bangalore to assess and assist – I arranged for a caregiver to help them at night – I began to reflect on the course of action to take. I was living the American dream thousands of miles away - a well-paying job with a multinational, a cozy house in the suburbs of Anytown, USA and our pesky six-year old enjoying the early years at his elementary school.

 If this were a business decision, a simple SWOT would indicate a rather uncomplicated way forward – delegate and outsource. There exists a mushrooming, albeit unorganized cottage sector in urban Indian cities catering to such demands of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) with aging parents. With some research, I could easily find a senior-care center or nursing home that would take-in my parents and provide oncology and other day-to-day care in return for an assured sum that I could remit in dollars.

Of course, this wasn’t a simple business-outsourcing decision to abdicate my responsibility, content to monitor Service Level Agreements (SLA) of an impersonal business entity. Also, I had to come to grips with the Indian values I had grown up with: wasn’t I thinking about my parents who nurtured me and made me the man who I am now? Interviews with management gurus and business leaders generally end with a stock question : if there was a chance to relive one decision, I would …. << spend more time with my family or xyz in my personal life etc >> Very rarely it was about a business dilemma. So, here was such a decision waiting to be taken.

One evening while walking around our subdivision with my little Vijay riding along in his bike – he had just graduated from training wheels – I wondered if I was overcomplicating things here. Shouldn’t we just be thinking of this like six-year-old Vijay would? Later that night I began firming up my thoughts with my wife, Suja:

  • Keep it simple – the decision weighing on Suja and me was seemingly complex. Do I outsource and delegate the responsibility of elderly-care while remotely monitoring and managing SLAs, or insource myself by relocating to Bangalore and take on the responsibility? Management Guru, Peter Drucker was quoted saying “For every problem there is a solution that is simple, neat—and wrong …. and every solution has an alternative.” In this case, alternatives in front of us include sponsoring a green card for my parents and having them relocate and live with us in the US. Over-thinking problem, solution and alternatives are a recipe for analysis-paralysis too. 
    • Think of a simple way forward is something we can learn from a six-year-old. Suja and I had moved and lived across three continents, and we were willing and able to change. 

  • Single minded determination – if you have seen a cranky child at a fairground, chances are she wants to go on “that” ride or wants that cotton-candy. Once our mind was made up, Suja and I decided to adopt that simple and single-minded focus. Working off a simple checklist, we began palling and acting on unwinding. 
    • There were times of self-doubt and questioning but this is where a child’s dogged persistence comes to play: no time or need for self-doubt. 

  • Tell it like you would to a six-year-old  - this is a cliché one often hears in the corporate world while trying to explain a seemingly complex idea or decision. This is easier said than done. However, after our mind was made up, Suja and I had a simple message for our friends and colleagues. Interestingly enough, I began testing this message with our six-year old, who instantly got it. He had already appraised his first-grade teacher of our impending move before Suja and I met her during the PTA.  
    • At work too, the message to my manager and HR was simple: I needed to relocate to care for elderly parents, and I was going to make it happen. Negotiations for time off with manager, HR, FMLA applications etc followed, but the message was simple, and to the point. 

  • Minimalize and focus – ever seen a six-year-old with a roomful of toys focus quickly on the one toy that is going to engage him? This thinking came really handy while planning and executing our relocation and move. 
    • Questions on the impact of relocation on my job and finances and other logistics that could be emotional began to simplify with a lens of minimalism. 

  • Don’t carry excess baggage – if you have ever traveled with little ones, they are sure to let you know what is important – it may be that Teddy, Doggie, blanket or favorite pyjamas or the mobile app on the tablet – All else is replaceable and redundant. 
    • Keeping this in mind, it was easy enough to decide which of the basic essentials and a few mementoes would be packed and shipped. Much of the furniture and odds-and ends accumulated over the years were posted on Facebook groups for friends and neighbors to pick, while the rest went to Goodwill. 

  • Focus on opportunities ahead – a six-year-old with a box-full of Lego blocks doesn’t dread the eclectic colors and shapes, but rather sees a house, car, plane or robot that he can build. Some call it making lemonade when life gives you a lemon, which we forget in our daily grind.
    • Moving to Bangalore has helped me reflect on work-life beyond meetings, projects and corporate transformations aspiring to save or make a few million for yet another corporate business unit. 

A Year that was !

Fastforward a year. I have come to appreciate how those diagnosed with terminal illnesses and their caregivers quickly learn to appreciate the glass half-full. Thanks to the “extended family” being around, my parents seem much more relaxed. Little Vijay, now Seven, gets to spend quality time with his grandparents and is learning a couple of Indian languages with his new school pals. As for Suja and me, we are learning to enjoy and re-live a bit of the contemporary Indian-dream; till the winds of change blow our way again.


ps: The most recent Trip 'back home' was on Lufthansa. Submitted for #MoreIndianThanYouThink