A Year in Review

So in my last post, I talked a big game about aiming to update the blog more frequently and record memories from my move to NYC. 13 months and zero posts later, it’s safe to say that was a grand ol’ fail.

That said, I downloaded a great journaling app called DayOne a few months back and began writing again on a regular basis privately to record my thoughts, and it’s helped remind me how much I enjoy the act of writing and just how vital it is in my life. Writing provides a seemingly cathartic release, and really forces me to reflect on and grow from my experiences. And let me tell you, I’ve had a lot of experiences this year.

I just moved out of my apartment in Brooklyn, and am about to embark on another international adventure and new career journey, so figured there was no better time then now to get started sharing stories once more. A bunch happened this year, so if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, just check out the tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) summary at the bottom.

My Year in New York

Even calling it my year in New York feels odd for a couple reasons. For one, I am still coming to terms with the fact that I am leaving this incredible city. More importantly, I have bounced around so often since moving to the city last October that I have not actually been in New York for the entire year. Instead, let’s call it a year in review.

A Year in Review

So in my last post, I talked a big game about aiming to update the blog more frequently and record memories from my move to NYC. 13 months and zero posts later, it’s safe to say that was a grand ol’ fail.

That said, I downloaded a great journaling app called DayOne a few months back and began writing again on a regular basis privately to record my thoughts, and it’s helped remind me how much I enjoy the act of writing and just how vital it is in my life. Writing provides a seemingly cathartic release, and really forces me to reflect on and grow from my experiences.

I just moved out of my apartment in Brooklyn, and am about to embark on another international adventure and new career journey, so figured there was no better time then now to get started sharing stories once more. A bunch happened this year, so if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, just check out the tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) summary at the bottom.

My Year in New York

Even calling it my year in New York feels odd for a couple reasons. For one, I am still coming to terms with the fact that I am leaving this incredible city. More importantly, I have bounced around so often since moving to the city last October that I have not actually been in New York for the entire year. Instead, let’s call it a year in review.

A Year in Review

The past 12 months were a total rollercoaster, and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s truly amazing how quickly things can change for better or worse, and looking back, it’s humbling to realize how much I’ve grown in such a relatively short period of time. Most everything tangible about my life today is so very different than just one short year ago.  I’ve changed careers/industries twice, lived in two major US cities, experienced new relationships (and emotions), and evolved my perception of what is possible.

This post accidentally turned into a mini novel. Sorry.

September / October

In the middle of September, I had taken a bus up to NYC to sign my lease, and look back on the ride fondly. I had decided to move to NYC on a whim, and in fact, still had a job based in Washington, DC. It was a travel job, and the company never knew until we parted ways. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but there was something about New York which had been calling my name, and I felt compelled to chase the voice. The city that made me feel so alive – the energy, the ambition, diversity, and opportunity – it all felt surreal, and I could not wait to be a part of it. We signed the lease, and at the end of September, I packed my bags and took off for Brooklyn. I took a u-haul up from Gaithersburg, and we arrived at my new home in Williamsburg – 28 Scholes – right in the heart of hipster Brooklyn.

I had big plans when I moved to the city. At the time, I had been working intensely on Globe Year (www.globeyear.com), an international education program for recent college graduates. Early on in 2013, I very quickly realized that I did not want to go to graduate school. I knew that I learned more from travel and experiential learning than anything else, and began designing my own master’s program. After sharing this idea with a few friends, I realized I was not the only one who felt this way, and I decided to begin developing a program for others like me.

I became increasingly involved in the worlds of education and social enterprise, and became enamored with the space, and it is to date a true passion of mine. Upon moving to the city, I heard that the Social Good Summit (hosted by Mashable) was coming to NYC just a few days after I arrived and I decided to pick up a ticket. It was one of the better decisions I’ve made, as I saw one of my idols, Sir Richard Branson, speak on stage along with many other inspirational folks such as Al Gore, Melinda Gates, and our most recent nobel peace prize winner, Malala Yousafzai. I left recharged and ready to take on the world.

The unfortunate side effect of this enhanced motivation towards Globe Year and the social enterprise space was that I still had a more than full-time job, which became less and less of a priority by the day. My plan had been to leave the firm upon moving to NYC, but alas, seeing as rent was roughly $1400/month, I didn’t have the balls to take the leap and decided to hang on for a bit longer. This general sentiment of ambivalence, boredom, and disdain towards the job led to interesting outcomes a few months down the road.

A long, lonely winter

October came and went, and in early November the longest, coldest, and most challenging winter of my life began. I had been dating my girlfriend at the time for roughly 10 months, and one weekend in early November, I made the decision that it would be best to go our separate ways. It was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, but I felt it was the right thing to do – and that fateful decision sent me into a downward spiral for months to come.

I grew in more ways than I knew possible and opened up parts of myself that had been closed off for a long, long time.  She was a catch by all standards, and many a friend called me a fool for letting her go. She had been my first real girlfriend, and my best friend post-college – and then she was gone.  As it was my first real relationship, this too was my first breakup, and I really wish someone had provided me with a relationship manual when I entered to let me know just how painful it would be to exit. Breakups suck!

Professionally, my clouded mind, split between constant agony over the relationship decision and trying to figure out how to start a company had no space left for anything work related, and my performance suffered as a result. While disappointing, I wasn’t overly concerned as I had planned on leaving in the near future anyhow. Finished with my last project, I found my self in the odd limboland in between projects, kindly referred to as “The Beach” at the beginning of November.

The beach (not an actual beach) is a strange place to be, as you ‘work’ remotely, but do not have any real project work or tasks to complete. At the time, I thought this would be brilliant, as ‘working’ from home would allow me time to work on Globe Year without having the constant distraction of real work. Ideally, an employee is incentivized to be on the beach for as little time as possible, as one of the key metrics for year end performance evaluations is utilization (amount of billable client hours) so you theoretically would actively look for new projects as you would not want to be on the beach for long if you wanted to score well. As I had planned on leaving the firm in the near future (a vague and undefined term) I figured I would ‘hide’ on the beach for as long as possible, get paid while working on Globe Year, and then leave the firm before year end in March. This ambitious plan proved flawed, however, as I had not accounted for the unexpected variables of human emotion, heartache, and analytics.

Following the breakup, remote work was one of the worst things that could have happened to me.  I became a hermit, staying inside, rarely leaving the house due to the frigid weather, and worst of all had minimal human interaction and structure at a time when I needed it the most. Lost in my mind, I passed the months of November and December staring at the ceiling, unable to accomplish anything productive or noteworthy.

Peru

As my 23rd birthday approached on the 24th of December, I knew I needed to do something to shake things up and try to get myself back on track. Travel had always been an escape, and I thought getting a bit lost abroad might help me find whatever it was I was looking for. On Christmas day, my little sister and I took off on a trip to Peru to visit our close childhood friend, Naomi, along with two other friends, Vikram and Leo.

It was my first time traveling with my little sister, and I was to have some much needed fun again. We were set to have a 17-day excursion, and the trip was off to a great start as we went to visit Machu Picchu and climbed Machu Picchu mountain a few days after landing. Unfortunately, we received some unexpected news that resulted in a rather drastic change of plans.

On New Years Eve, as we were preparing to go out and celebrate the start of 2014, I received a phone call from Naomi. My parents had been trying to get in touch, and she passed along the news that my nanu (grandfather), at the wise age of 94, had passed away. We had never been extremely close, but had lived in the same house together for many years, and he was an incredibly kind and intelligent man who meant a great deal to me. Despite his age, the news was unexpected, and resulted in a mad scramble to adjust flights on NYE to find a way back home in time for his services. Thank goodness for Allianz travel insurance – seriously, always buy it if you are traveling abroad, you never know when it will come in handy.

After celebrating his life that night, Saba and I showed up ticketless and flustered to the airport on the 1st morning, and miraculously managed to secure the last couple seats on the flight back, landing in the states just hours before the procession. Talk about a strange start to the year.

It was a tough couple weeks back at home, and it was about to get tougher. Mid-January, I received a message from Deloitte, asking me to come into the office. I had never received a message like this in the past, and immediately did not have a good feeling about it. I figured it would be related to the fact that I was on the beach for so long. I was correct.

Letting Go

I was up for promotion that year, and to be promoted one needed around 90% utilization. My utilization was significantly lower than this number, and I was indifferent about this fact as I figured I would be gone before the year end evaluations in March. About this much I was correct, but I had not anticipated just how rapidly my exit from the firm would be approaching.

I entered the room, and sat across from the partner who had actually interviewed me before I joined the firm. He very matter of factly stated that the firm was overstaffed at the time, and looking at my low utilization, they realized that even if I joined a billable project from that date until year-end, I would still not be close to the required 90% for promotion. It is an up or out system, and as I would not be able to go up because of my low utilization, it was time for me to make my exit. The conversation lasted all of 3 minutes until he handed me off to the HR woman on the phone who would provide me with next steps. The partner said “just remember to hand in your laptop and computer by 5pm,” and that was that.

I knew that this was inevitable, and my actions had clearly set this scenario in motion, but it still felt like a punch in the gut. Financially, it actually turned out rather well for me as I did not have to pay back my signing bonus and Deloitte was kind enough to offer me a generous severance package, however that did not remove the sting of being let go. More than anything, I felt a great deal of shame and struggled to understand how to explain the situation to family, friends, and anyone who asked about my work situation.

My relationship with Deloitte was rocky from the start, and I was never a good fit. Ironically, the partner mentioned previously had asked me an interesting question during my initial interview with Deloitte. He said “You clearly have lots of exciting entrepreneurial and creative experience in the past. Do you think you can function in a corporate environment?” Taken aback by the question, I confidently came up with a response that seemed to satisfy him, but the truth was I had no idea. A year and a half later, I knew the answer to that question.

Since a young age, I never wanted to work in a desk job or a large corporation,  but convinced by the support and celebrations of friends and family after receiving the offer, I was unsure how I could turn down the opportunity and salary with nothing else in sight, and I reluctantly accepted the job and decided to give it a shot. As I imagined, to me, much of the work felt like pulling teeth, and brought back memories of boring homework assignments I often struggled to complete. Now, don’t get me wrong – much of it was valuable learning, but given my curious nature, it was extremely difficult for me to sit down and focus on menial analyst tasks as they did not stimulate my mind or require any real thinking or problem solving.

I learned a million and one lessons from my time at the firm, but the main one was to never do anything unless you are excited about it.

Human relationships and dating are very similar to work relationships with companies, and I had experienced my second break-up in a 3 month span. In hindsight, I’m grateful Deloitte took steps to end an unhealthy relationship for both sides.  At the time however, the short-term ramifications were more mindless meandering for me during January and February.

I had uprooted three core pillars of my life since September (Relationship, Career, and Location), and I quickly became a ship without an anchor, floating whichever direction the wind blew.

I had been continuing to work on Globe Year, and had pulled my friend Anna from HS onto the team to help out with the project. While we were making solid progress, my confidence had taken quite a hit post-Deloitte and still recovering from the break-up, I was still not entirely certain what in the world I was doing with my life, and I realized that this lack of conviction would not get me anywhere fast.

As the snow begins to melt, the sun starts to peek through the clouds (March)

I had enough finances to last me a few more months, and resolved that over the next couple months, whatever it took I was going to invest in myself good again and figure out what I wanted to do next, Globe Year or otherwise. It was the beginning of March, and the first stop on my journey was to Austin, Tx. Multiple friends had recommended I attend a conference called Starting Bloc for social leaders and entrepreneurs out in Los Angeles, with many calling it a life changing experience. After enough people I respected mentioned it, I figured it was worth a shot, so I booked my tickets for the LA convention from March 6th – 10th. As I looked at the calendar, I realized that SXSW EDU, an event I’ve been hoping to attend was taking place in the days leading up to Starting Bloc. Tickets were expensive to enter, so I found a way to volunteer, and my Globe Year partner Anna and I headed to Austin!

While I only caught a couple days of the conference, I was in Austin for nearly 6 days, and had an absolute blast. Super cool city, and the people I met at the conference were incredibly inspiring, and opened many new possibilities with Globe Year. We stayed with my good friends from HS, Devon and Steph and they were wonderful hosts. On the 5th evening, I said adios to many new friends from the conference and boarded a flight to Los Angeles for Starting Bloc.

Entering the event, I had no idea what to expect or what I had signed up for. It was a fascinating few days that focused heavily on introspection, understanding your why, and empathizing with those around you. I found a remarkable tribe of people who wanted to make an impact in their little corners of the world, pushed one another to be better, and held each other accountable. Though the experience was only 5 days, it almost felt as though we had studied abroad together.

Looking back, I realize that Starting Bloc served as a pivotal turning point for me in the year, and I’m very grateful to those kind folks who introduced me to the community. I returned to New York rejuvenated, and while I still had a long way to go – for the first time in a while, I was beginning to feel good again.

April Adventures

The trip had been amazing and I had thought long and hard, but I still hadn’t quite sorted out what I was doing professionally, and as my pool of money turned into a puddle, I turned my attention that direction. While researching the education space, I had discovered a company called Experience Institute that was doing very similar work in the field of experiential education. I had spoken with the founder, and was very impressed by his story and his mission, but hadn’t reached out in quite some time. As I thought more and more about it, I realized that our visions were extremely aligned, and I saw potential partnership opportunities. They were already up and running with their first class of students in town, and instead of re-creating the wheel, I thought it would make sense to join forces with them.

I got on the phone with VIctor (founder), and pitched the idea of creating a role for me. I piqued his interest, created a potential role/job description and sent it on over. As these conversations were happening in April, I received an e-mail from a good friend I met at Starting Bloc, Alex Haas. She and another friend, Sam, had started an adventure travel company called MBAdventures, that focused on allowing individuals to recharge and refresh in nature while being surrounded by a supportive, spiritual, and inspirational community. They were running a pilot program to Moab in Utah, and they were hand picking friends to be a part of the first group. It sounded badass, so I said why not and signed on board for the experience in the middle of April.

Also, April was awesome because my cousin Wasim crashed on our couch for over a month, and he and I would just hang out and kick it during the days and check out different restaurants with lunch specials. We even started a thriving lunch special blog!

In the days after deciding to go on the trip, I attended an event hosted by the HIgher Purpose Project, and met an awesome dude named Mike Hrostoski. I told him I was in a place of transition, and he mentioned that he was hosting an event out in San Diego called the Conference for Men that I might be interested in. Despite the somewhat cheesy title, it seemed like it would be a unique experience, and looking up the dates realized that I would be able to tack it on at the end of my trip to Boulder for the Moab adventure. It was the first year they were running the event, so I figured it was going to be super lame or really freakin’ awesome, so I decided to roll the dice. I convinced my friend Rahul to come with, and we bought tickets to the conference and San Diego.

Before taking off on the trip, we had planned a party in the backyard in the middle of April. Our good friends from college, Sean and Tim, started a band called Sunbathers (They kick ass, check em’ out), so we decided it would be sweet to make the party a show and have them play in the backyard. It turned out to be one of the best weekends of the year. Twenty-five, yes, twenty-five friends from out of town came and crashed at our 3BR apartment, and the party was epic. The band absolutely killed it, we somehow managed to fit 100+ people in between our backyard and the apartment. It may well have been the best party I’ve ever been a part of.

West Coast Wanderlust

Following the party, I took off for my 15+ day trip out west. I landed in Boulder, and after a night staying in a beautiful house overlooking the mountains, met up with the MBAdventures crew and took off for Moab. The desert was beyond beautiful, and the stars at night were simply breathtaking. There was a chef cooking us healthy meals, inspirational speakers, sunrise yoga and sunset meditation, and most importantly the people were just super awesome. It was perfect.

Upon returning to Boulder, I heard back from the Experience Institute team, and they agreed that it was a good idea for me to come on board for a 4-month contract, and I was to start as soon as I returned from my travels! It was exactly what I had hoped for, and I was ecstatic to learn with Victor and the team.

After a night in Denver, I took off for San Diego where I met up with Rahul for the Conference for Men. Entirely unsure what to expect from yet another conference, we both left pleasantly surprised. The conference was phenomenal, and pushed the men there to be more holistic individuals by attacking many of our limiting beliefs and deep rooted insecurities. It was the first time I’ve seen such a safe space created for males, and allowed many people, myself included, to be truly vulnerable and open for the first time.

May

I got back to NYC, and for the first time in far too long, it felt like things were starting to fall into place. I had started working, the weather was warm, and I was having fun again.

I decided to go back down to DC to visit my mom on Mother’s day, and little did I know what I was getting myself into that weekend. I hadn’t seen my ex in 4 months at that point, and seeing her again finally provided me with a sense of closure on the relationship. Generally speaking, that would have been more than enough for one weekend, but I was to receive some tragic news the very next day. Our family dog, and my best friend, Romeo, had been acting funny so my dad took him to doctor to make sure everything was ok. Unfortunately, it was not – he apparently had a cancerous tumor and the vet recommended putting him down that day. I was at our restaurant, Bombay Bistro, when I heard the news and for the first time in my life, I broke down in the bathroom and began uncontrollably crying. It was really rough. We literally grew up together, and saying goodbye to him was the hardest pill I’ve ever had to swallow.

Fortunately, we got a second opinion and had a few more days with our boy Romes, but his diagnosis sparked a rather fundamental change in me. I had taken Romeo for a walk that morning, and he seemed totally fine. It made me think that something like his situation could happen to any of us, and had me questioning what if it had been me. I had spent the last 6 months moping around trying to ‘find myself’ and life had been passing me by. I decided it was time to become more present, fully experience life, and enjoy the fleeting moments I have left on this planet.

(Enter Romeo Picture)

I came back from the emotionally charged weekend happier than ever before, and excited to embrace all of the wonderful things in my life.  Coincidentally (or not), I met my current girlfriend a few days later.

Aude

A friend from college put me in touch with a girl who was interested in the education and social enterprise world, and a few days after getting back from DC we met up. What I thought was going to be a simple coffee meeting ended up changing everything. Her name was Aude, and the first night we met, we ended up talking for over 6 hours.

We started hanging out a bunch, time was flying by, and the month was easily one of the most fun I can remember. Highlights included a trip to Fire Island with her friends, Gov Ball Music Festival, countless concerts, and lots of late night pizza runs. We’ve been dating ever since, and there are still many late night pizza runs.

As this was happening, I had spoken with the folks at Experience Institute, and a business development opportunity arose in Chicago, and they wanted me to come work there for the summertime. It was totally unexpected, but it was a neat opportunity to work under the Chief Talent Officer at a large advertising agency called Leo Burnett, so on June 15th, I packed my bags and took off for Chicago.

Chicago Summer

Summer in Chicago was an awesome experience. Beautiful city, fascinating architecture, friendly people, and great weather in the summer. It was really interesting to simply up and relocate on a moments notice. I found a random roommate on craigslist, and lived with a 30-something gay brazilian man and his dog, Bebel. I hadn’t seen the place in person before agreeing to move in, and we were in the ‘garden’ unit, which I learned is actually a euphemism for basement unit, but it was cool because I felt like I was living in a hobbit hole.

Work at Leo Burnett was great, and I was focused on designing new experiential learning programs for Leo Burnett employees. I dove headfirst into the worlds of experiential education and advertising, and interviewed people up, down, and across the organization. I was also working on the HR floor, which was a trip as there were 23 women and 3 men, so it kind of felt like I was working at a sorority house.

I had an awesome base of friends in Chicago, and it was really cool building and having that community upon getting to the city. It really allowed me to focus on myself and building healthy habits, and was a great experience.

Rasa Rising

Before I had left for Chicago, my close friend Rahul and I began talking about starting an Indian fast casual restaurant. It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for years now, and after seeing a couple in NYC, I realized that if we were ever going to do this project, the time is now. 23 years previously, our dads had started a restaurant together, and so out entire lives people have asked us about it, but we had never seriously put thought towards making it happen until that initial conversation.

We stayed in touch over the summer, and in July, decided we wanted to make it happen. After a great 8 years, we decided to close down one of our family restaurants, Indique Heights, so Rahul and I both headed back home to help out that weekend. While sitting down with our families, we told them what we wanted to do, and were extremely grateful to receive the support and blessing of our parents.

My contract with Experience Institute ended in September, and so I said goodbye to the team and the city and headed back to NYC in early September.

A fast and casual September

I had planned my trip to Thailand and India from Mid-October to early December, meaning that I had slightly over a month in NYC before taking off. To make the most of my time in the city, I decided to get a job at a local fast casual restaurant to learn from them. I ended up with two. One at an established company called Roti, and another with a start-up restaurant called Fields Good Chicken.

It was a humbling, exciting, and memorable learning opportunity, and I believe the learnings from this month will prove to be invaluable as we work on launching our own concept. All in all, it was an wonderful month, and allowed me to reach closure on leaving the city I love so much.

Travels

As I write this, I’m on a ridiculously long, but comfortable, flight to Hong Kong and my adventure to Thailand and India has begun! I’ll be traveling around Thailand for 3 weeks with my good buddy Jason from HS, and then will head off to India to meet up with Aude, and we will travel around the country together for roughly a month. It’s been a while since I’ve traveled internationally like this, and could not be more excited for the next few months.

The Future

I’ll be gone until early December, and when I get back I’ll move back to good ol’ Gaithersburg and dive fully into the restaurant concept. It’s going to be a hell of an adventure, and I’m really excited to get started.

In Summary

Damnnn that was a long post. I would be shocked if anyone made it this far down, but if you did, I appreciate you reading along! As you can tell, it’s been a pretty wild ride this year, with many ups and downs along the way. As I write this, I’m feeling an immense sense of gratitude towards all of the wonderful people in my life and could not be more grateful for all of the experiences that have pushed me to grow and led to this moment.

Excited to see what the next year has in store – and I’ll aim to update the blog a bit more frequently so the next blog post doesn’t read like a novel.

Until next time, friends. Over and out!

-Sah

PS. I’m in the Hong Kong airport and I don’t have great internet right now, so I’ll add some photos to this later on.

One thought on “A Year in Review

  1. Sahil! So glad you are moving forward toward your dreams and aspirations. I can’t wait to see the fruit of your work concerning the restaurant concept! I’ll definitely be a customer when I’m in the area! Safe travels.

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