Sunday, 13 November 2016

Finding your Ikigai

After a really long silence I decided to don my writers cap. (Too many people are asking me if I have stopped writing, I feel guilty that I am letting them down.(!) So here goes .

Ikigai is that sweet spot that the Japanese refer to as the ‘reason of being’ or the discovery of one’s passion or the reason to get up every morning; the meaning of life. The reason why we continue to do the things that we do, things that we are proud of. I wake up every morning ready to make a difference in someone’s life , every single day.  There’s nothing that makes me feel more alive than knowing that I have helped a young person make better informed choices and that continues to be our mission at Varsity Connections.  That’s my Ikigai.

It has been a busy October for Varsity Connections. We were proud to partner with NAJAH to host their knowledge Zone at the 3-day event in Abu Dhabi.   As part of this,we had put together a series of workshops for students , parents and School counselors.  I am so proud to say that all our sessions were well attended and the feedback that we received after the event has been phenomenal.  The counselor forum that we coordinated was a platform for school and independent counselors to come together to knowledge share and continually develop in their professional lives. A lot of prep went into this event as we wanted to make sure that we delivered sessions that would be useful to school counselors. A survey was done to understand what might be possible areas to concentrate on. One of the most common refrain from my counselor colleagues is the fact that there is a major motivational dip. With a small team to cope with large numbers of students , the annual inspections at the schools with  the  additional    documentation ,it can be challenging  to stay motivated.  These professionals are pulled away from their calling in many ways and eventually lose sight of what their Ikigai is. We see it often. Young school counselors eager to do their best for the students, with a lot of projects and plans for the academic year and then barely 18 months later, more or less resigned to the fact that a lot of their plans might not see the light of day.   So high on the agenda, was for us to develop programs to help maintain their momentum, to focus on what is important, to prioritise and re unite with their ikigai. We had sessions covering Peer Support specific for School counselors and Year heads, The growing relevance of psychometrics in Academics, Developing excellence as a habit, Preparing students for the 21st century and so on.  I thank all of our wonderful trainers who came unconditionally and enthusiastically to support us and for making the sessions so interactive as well.    

I’ll be honest. I was quite nervous about the response that we would get from the Abu Dhabi schools as historically for us at the office, it has always been an uphill  task to engage with them. Although there were close to 30 registrations online we were on tenterhooks as experience has taught us that the online ‘yays’ often never translates to physical presence.  But every seat was filled for our sessions and there were overwhelming requests for more platforms like ours after the sessions. Clearly there is a dearth of training sessions like these in Abu Dhabi unlike in Dubai.  We were humbled by the fact that a couple of schools in the far far Western Region , Abu Dhabi more than 2 hours away came with their team. And they came back every day and what’s more, brought a busload of their students as well on the last day. We quickly tweeked our sessions to cater to their specific requirements on the final night at NAJAH. As I type I can see those faces in front of me , eager for information, guidance, full of enthusiasm, all of them  trying to find their Isigai.  It was a very humbling experience for me and my team.  We were so touched by the fact that the chairman and owner of one of the schools had come along to thank us personally.   My entire team was in our Isigai element making all the hard work so worth it and I believe it is this temperament that sets us apart from many others.
Find your element parents, find your Ikigai and nudge your children along the path of self discovery to discover theirs. Don’t forget to give us a shout out to us if you need help with that .


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Why can't I just chill??

Its that time of the year again. The heats on and everyone is retreating indoors. School ‘s winding down and us parents wonder how to survive the 2 months of hols. Most of us plan holidays overseas or to our home countries. There used to be a time in the UAE when it felt as if everyone had left. Times have changed dramatically.  A lot of people are opting to stay back and shoulder on during the hot months. And on every parents’ lips come forth the inevitable ‘So what are your children going to do these 2 months’ Are you sending them to a summer camp?
Schools out??!!

For us parents with older teens it’s a challenge to find stuff that they will appreciate and really be motivated to get involved in. It’s a definite challenge. At work, we are often asked by parents about summer programs and what their child should do during summer.  When we pose this question back to said Teen, 99% of the time we get the stock answer ‘I just wnt to chill’ . Yup they just want to chill.’  And every time I do an inward eye roll cos this is something I hear at home all the time as well

In the UAE recognizing this need, summer camps have mushroomed in every corner. Sports camps, Theater workshops, Swim Club, Summer computer programming etc. All to get your child engaged in some form of meaningful activity.  Its easier when the children are younger because you more or less made up their minds for them if you get my drift. But the older lot are more vocal and selective.  So the question is how can we get our children to make use of the summer months better without the grumbles.

So I say to you young adults…
Yes, the summer months are a break from the rules and rigor of school, Yes ,it is Time Out for you to relax and Chill(there’s that word again) which you can do and you should. But the 60 days or so are also opportunities for you to do things you have always wanted to do but couldn’t, due to school. Learn a new skill perhaps. Yes, you can still work your play station and watch movies or games and Chill with friends (who are around) There will still be time enough for you to do stuff. Be honest. You know you will get bored quite a number of times during those 60 days. That’s why a lot of teens put on weight, cos the moment they get bored they get hungry. I wonder if there are some statistics on the correlation between boredom and weight gain.

So how can you make summer a wonderful time for you and your family.
First off, make sure you MOVE. Don’t sleep your summer away. The teen years weight gain is REAL. There are changes happening in your body and exercise is the best way to maintain physical and mental strength. Plus, you will still be able to get into those jeans once school starts. Look out for activities that will feed your passion. Don’t hesitate specially if the price is right and timings great, go for it. Never mind that none of your friends are interested. They might not even be around. So may be a fabulous way to make new friends outside of your school. 

Feed your passion , Try out new things
I hear you when you say things are expensive here in Dubai.   Okay let’s see what else you can do which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  There are wonderful FREE workshops happening around town, workshops on photography, pottery, parkour. What a wonderful way to test the waters before diving in. For you Film buffs, The Scene club is absolutely free and screens those foreign and independent movies that  may not come to the big screens here. There’s a lot of stuff to try out and to learn but you have got to get moving, start looking. Be proactive. I promise you the sense of ‘high’ or sense of achievement afterwards will be so worth it, you know .

How about Volunteering? I can hear the groans already. For those of you going into the last crucial years of high school, know that this can be an opportunity to hone skills and it may be that it relates to your  particular interests as well.  Plus it will be something to add on to your ever developing portfolio which you MUST start to think about. Remember during the academic year most volunteer opportunities are during school hours when you have to be at school.

Getting an INTERNSHIP here is also a terrific idea but in this part of the world it is very difficult to identify suitably structured ones which are ‘legal’. Parents need to jump in to call in favors from friends and family.  Remember, Summers are the only possible times that you can job shadow at a stretch and there’s nothing like a first hand experience is there?  Job shadowing is crucial for one to understand the various processes and functions in a corporate /a small enterprise. A perfect way to understand if a particular job function is for you or not.

What about Summer programs I hear you ask?  Well that requires a bit of planning and research. Most of the universities now offer fabulous programs during the summer months. These programs are wonderful in the way they provide an experience of being a Uni student taking courses at first tier universities. But research is key. A lot of them is all fun but there are well structured programs which involves Uni visits, skills for learning, specialist subjects and leadership modules and others which are credit bearing as swell. If finances are not an issue, go ahead. Do remember that these summer programs at Oxford, UC Berkeley , Yale etc are  not an assurance that you will be accepted into their programs later.  However, the experience will without a doubt enrich you in so many ways. At the least you will be forced to move out of your comfort zone, interact with other International students giving you an understanding of their education, projects, achievements , culture and so much more, which surprises of surprises you may actually enjoy.  AS a parent whose child is in that phase where decisions need to be made , I am always in search of programs where children can rub shoulders with highly motivated students from other parts of the world.. Our children from Dubai, sometimes, need to understand how much more they can achieve all around and in the process discover themselves.  

With a lot of folks here, summers mean going back to one’s home country.  Sometimes especially with more nuclear families, it’s a challenge to keep our teens engaged specially if WiFI is iffy and there’s no easy access to malls etc.  With the high dependence on internet and gadgets, things can get tricky. Irritability, boredom, inactivity and aloofness abound.  Guys don’t sweat the small stuff. Immerse yourself, explore your roots, ask questions, start on a family tree right from your grandfather’s grandfather.  I remember one summer when my son and his cousin both 3rd culture kids sat down with their grandparents and tried to draw their family tree. Not using any APP or a gadget. Boy ,did they have fun and at the end of it us parents  knew a lot more as well.( but I clearly remember the groans and resentment when the idea was first mooted)  But really its just a month or so.  Rather than spending the time feeling bored , resentful  sorry for yourself, do something about it.  Potter around home.  You might discover some antique stuff. Recently at my home a pile of LPs was discovered and with LPs making a huge comeback it was excitement galore and also a realisation that hey Mom and Dad you were a cool lot.  Learn to create a couple of yummy dishes, take photographs, walk along dusty streets with your parents and retrace their journey.  VLog it , Blog it!! Explore the heritage of your country and take pride in it. As expats you know we cant stay in Dubai forever, specially boys. Dubai may only be a stepping stone for many of you . BTW guys its these experiences that you can draw from when you start tackling those essays for Universities.

I didn’t realize that I would have some much to talk about Summers(!) I would like to end on a more serious note. For those of you preparing to enter a very challenging high school program, where you know you will need all the help you can get, start looking around to see how you can address those concerns. 4 hours a week dedicated to plugging skill gaps academically will work wonders. Those of you going on to tough IB courses, a head start in understanding CAS requirements, special project etc is always useful.  I promise you there will be a jump in your steps when you walk in through those school gates come September, your uniform pants sitting perfectly around your waists, knowing that you have achieved so much stuff that meant a lot to you(not anyone else) and are absolutely grade ready. 

And the best part of it is that you would have also chilled.

Friday, 12 February 2016

School – A full time job!

I was invited by TeensIndia  to do a session last month (Jan 2016) entitled “Keep Calm, Its only an Exam” for high school students. They wanted me to touch on how children should prepare for exams, how they should create the right conditions to study and so on to ensure top notch grades. In other words, how to cope with it all.

I had the year 10s and 12s sitting in on the session and I mean it literally. There they were, 150 of them on the floor, looking up at me ,restless before I had even begun.   I have done these sessions a number of times and I know how ‘animated’ 15 to 18-year-old boys can get.

The children were participative albeit noisy as I am sure you might  have guessed, but they were honest, they got what I was talking about and were eager to communicate their thoughts as well. I wanted to share some of that with you all as I think it might help us understand our children better.

The Indian Board Exams!! (Those of you familiar with this will know where I’m going with this). With the Board exams looming ahead, the anxiety was palpable. As I took them through many of the study skills that they could incorporate into their learning process, the tension was evident. I then made a decision to do away with what I had prepared for and changed tracks. Never a good idea when you are dealing with 150 children.(Boys) But after the initial bedlam ,when they understood that they could not get away with just making noise , things kind of settled.

We talked about Stress and how it manifests in each one of us. Some of them were really honest and I thought it was absolutely brave of them to voice their fears and opinions in front of their peers and teachers. Remember these are young boys and usually they are hard wired to carry themselves ‘like Men’.  But they aren’t ,are they?  Not at 16 or even 18 although their, at times cocky behavior, will have you to think that they are mature. For many of them , its all a façade , a façade that hides their fears, expectations  and perhaps a lack of confidence.

Our children, the moment they get into high school, are in a full time job, juggling classes, assignments, assessments, balancing it all with co curricular and social activities as well. So much expected from them . How often have I heard during parent teachers conferences, statements along the lines of ‘ I am expecting top notch grades from you’ or He/she is just not doing his best. There’s something wrong, He’s very distracted these days.’ There are tons of other comments but I am not going down that road. Some of the comments are so negative it’s a wonder the child doesn’t break down, there and then. Rather than stating problems and challenges why cant teachers and parents collaborate along with the child to understand the problem accurately, brainstorm solutions that can help.  In some cases there is a breakdown of communication between teacher and Student  which leads to a lack  of  motivation from both. It could be a test taking skill or lack of , that may be the problem or failure to recognize that perhaps core concepts have not been grounded in earlier grades..

It is hard for me, sometimes,  to listen to them and not  be affected. Theres a lot of swallowing and deep breaths taken to try and relax those knots in my solar plexus . But I digress. Let me share with you, parents and teachers, what these young boys had to say about how Stress  and how it impacts them, in kind of their own words

·      I get headaches often and sometimes they don’t go away and there is a heavy ache for 3 to 4 days. I take Panadol. It goes away then comes back again.
·      I feel like eating all the time . I buy chocolates and eat them.
·      I get tummy aches and have to go the bathroom many times, During my exam also I feel like going and all the time I am thinking about that rather than what to write on my answer paper. No ma’am, I don’t tell my mother about this.
·      I am rude to my parents and they get upset with me. Sometimes it leads to big fights and loud voices. So I just keep quiet when they scold me.
·      My brain seems crowded. So many thoughts and at night I feel as if I have not slept even though I have. I wake up tired and sometimes in boring classes I sleep but I can sleep with my eyes open.(Bless this child)
·      Relationships break up.(I didn’t ask further though I wanted to, I certainly did not want to put him in a spot there with his peers and teachers )
·      I keep tripping and bumping into things.
·      I am always thinking about the exams and although I sit alone for long hours in my room to study , I cant seem to concentrate.
·      I feel anxious and at times I feel breathless and have to take deep breaths.
·    I keep talking fast especially at home so that my parents wont ask me anything.
·      I pick a fight with my younger brothers.
·      I’m always sleepy.
·      I get angry very quickly . I feel like my feet are getting hot and then my ears . There’s a pain around my heart .Sometimes I feel like pushing all the stuff on my table down like you see in movies.

Little cries of help. Parents and teachers out there, do look out for these red flags. Create opportunities for them to talk about whats happening in their lives. In most cases children are unable to understand why they behave in a certain manner and I’m sure many of you may have noticed some of the above in different intensities. I can certainty relate to the chocolates and sudden rudeness.

High school students are in a full time job, as stressed as you are. Help them.  There are so many ways that you can. There are so many resources available. Use them. Talk to other parents, Meet with a counsellor, understand little things that you as a parent can do , change or  tweak the way you communicate with your children if required. Most of all, listen carefully to your beautiful children. You may hear things that they don’t talk about.