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Dialogues from the road
Q: How does making time for friendships serve you?
It wasn't planned but we ended up taking a 4 week hiatus from Disco Dialogues. Apologies to our loyal readers who might be wondering about the radio silence. We like to humor ourselves into believing that you missed seeing our words in your inbox every week. We had good intentions but as they say - “Man proposes, God disposes” - and life happened.
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This summer I spent four weeks in India in three different cities, spending quality time with my mom and in-laws, and then two weeks in Turkey traveling around the country. Being on the road with kids, spending time with parents, vacationing in new places meant I lost my moorings and couldn't manage to keep myself in flow with my writing. I realized how easy it is to get out of rhythm when my daily habits are disrupted. And how hard it is to maintain discipline when there are so many distractions around - albeit fun things to do, see, and explore.
Over the years I have grown to recognize how critical social connection is to my mental health. I have used my friends to ground me and pull me out of downward spirals that my mind often puts me into. “The mind is an excellent servant, but a terrible master” and I was aware on vacation how easy it was to get trapped in my thoughts when I went a week without conversing with friends.
Between kids, parents, and husband, I found my mental bandwidth consumed by family while traveling. Towards the end of my trip in India, I made an effort to prioritize connecting with friends that I had not chatted with in years. Being in the same time zone and often the same city made it easier to schedule long chats with them.
These conversations were a reminder of how similar our life journeys are - no matter where we live in the world or what our age is. I connected with a friend in Mumbai who is a founder of a company providing services to social enterprises solving urban problems. Through conversation I learnt that he is grappling with questions around focus, impact and purpose of his company. Do you focus on what you have a passion for delivering (ex. leadership development) or on solutions that are being demanded by clients (ex. fundraising)?
A friend who is a consultant with a college bound teenager revealed how she is torn between pursuing her passion for working with nonprofits that are trying to solve local civic problems and her financial obligations to the family including building up a nest egg for retirement.
I had multiple conversations with working moms who are dealing with mental health challenges. An entrepreneur who is seeing her teenager go through anxiety and depression in high school in Mumbai. A lawyer with a preschooler who is being told that her child might be on the autism spectrum and not knowing who to turn to for advice. A financial advisor who is struggling to balance her desire to spend more time with her young children and her duty to bring in a second income to support the family doing a job that she hates.
I have been in all of these shoes at one point or another and each conversation was a reminder of how alone I felt when I was facing these challenges. Many of these friends have read my posts on Disco Dialogues and I found that my own vulnerability in past posts had created an opening for friends to have deeper conversations with me. It reinforced my desire to use Disco Dialogues as a forum for others, including myself, to share more of our stories so that we don't feel so alone on our journeys.
We all know what it feels like to be in the company of good friends but we seldom focus on what a good friend should actually be like. I found this video to be a helpful nudge on how to be a good friend as well as a way to recognize the good friends that I have in my life today.
Earlier this year, when I received my US passport, I had this vision of spending our summer in Europe. Those of you that have a US/Canadian/EU/British passport are probably not familiar with the weeks of meticulous planning it takes to obtain a visa for pretty much any country you want to visit. Having one of these passports is a huge privilege - apart from being able to fly anywhere at the drop of a hat - it also means you aren’t interrogated at immigration about the reason and duration of your visit.
With a US passport in hand, and an invitation to our friend’s wedding in Greece, we pulled together an itinerary for spending the summer in Europe. It started with time with my husband’s family in Tunisia, followed by Greece. Then we decided to spend a few weeks working from Zurich, visiting my engineering team based there, and exploring the alpine lakes and mountains of Switzerland on the weekends. We finally made our way to Valencia last week and are now in Mallorca before I begin my journey on the Camino this Saturday.
Being on the road is great in so many ways, but with (or without) a kid it can be very unsettling. One has to adapt to a new environment, culture, currency, language, street signs and more with each new place. With my mind and body adjusting to the constant change, I had less time for creativity.
“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind. - Albert Einstein”
I lacked discipline and wrote less during this time resulting in a long break from Disco Dialogues. The time for posts would come again when either Mitali or I were feeling more grounded.
"There is no way of being fully human without at times being fully stuck or even completely absent. We are simply not made that way. There is no possibility of pursuing a work without coming to terms with all the ways it is impossible to do it. .....All tasks are completed through cycles of visitation and absence. We should get used to this cycle and integrate it fully into the way a work or a vocation is achieved and not hold ourselves to impossible standards that are quite often tedious, giftless states in any case."
- David Whyte, The Three Marriages
The continuous change has contributed to the fluidity of my relationship with my husband as expected. Little A’s moods have also been unpredictable as she took time to transition to each new place. The only constant I've had while being on the road is the relationship with myself. The unending questions tend to stay with me no matter which far off land I am visiting. Being an observer of my inner dialogue has been entertaining - especially on my long walks as I train for the Camino. It's on these early morning solo walks that I have been able to shift my mindset. Being by the majestic mountains, still lakes, flowing rivers and the vast sea, I have found my heart full of gratitude and awe for the beauty that surrounds me.
I have also found myself feeling lonely - missing my home, longing for the comfort and laughter from my community of friends that have known each other for years. However, through the fortuitous connections I have built with people over the years, we got invited into the homes and communities of others. In Greece, we became a part of the bride and groom’s beautiful German-Swiss-Afghan community. I engaged in dialogue with independent filmmakers and artists - people that I would have otherwise never had a chance to talk to.
In Switzerland my husband's cousin offered her vacant home to us. After being in hotels for a few weeks, her house was a welcome change - the familiar spices in her kitchen made me feel at home all at once. Eduardo, someone that came into my life through a partnership at Google, invited us to spend time with his family in Valencia. In spite of being exhausted from our travels, we decided to go so little A could spend a week around kids her age after spending three weeks playing by herself while we worked in Zurich. We bonded with Thea - Eduardo’s wife - and their friends over late night meals, talking about everything from our Tinder strategy to the difficulty of getting pregnant and the pros and cons of nuclear power. On another night while talking about work, I was inspired by Eduardo’s story of how he found peak motivation early in the pandemic, by starting an effort to purchase second hand ventilators to donate to hospitals in Madrid that were in dire need.
This summer has shown me the pros and cons of being on the road for a longer period of time. Sacrificing creativity and focus for adventure and awe. Being away from my close friendships and community at home but finding kinship abroad. It’s through conversations with strangers about heartbreak, failed pregnancies, relationships and entrepreneurship and so much more that I have felt connected. The possibilities of finding connection are everywhere - it just requires being open, sharing vulnerably and saying yes to an invitation.
"Ironically, our sense of communion with others is enhanced when we understand how completely alone other people feel when confronted by the forces that surround them. Our ability to receive help in that isolation comes from our ability to ask for help or to be someone others want to help. Our faces - a measure of our willingness to join the conversation and to invite others into a world we inhabit. To close a face to others is to lose a sense of kindness and mercy for others."
- David Whyte, Three Marriages