The Reckoning

Growing up all over the world without a stable sense of identity, my journeys have taken me through the tip of privilege to the bottom of the pyramid. Interaction with diverse communities has led me to discern an unchanging center within my being that I share with our planetary community and the rest of the cosmos.

My childhood ended when I enlisted in the Singapore Armed Forces to fulfill my national service obligation as a citizen. Having lived outside of the country for most of my life, I felt little kinship with my fellow enlistees, and struggled to determine my rational for devoting two years of my life to the service. Little of my old identity remained as new clothes, routines, and behaviors were thrust upon me. My dedication paid off and I was selected with other outstanding recruits to attend Officer Cadet School and receive advanced training in preparation for leadership positions within the armed forces. It was a grueling program that pushed me far beyond my preconceived limits. I experienced an acute sense of cultural dysphoria as I stood at the front of the commissioning parade mouthing the words “carrots and peas” to make it seem as though I was singing along to the national anthem, the words to which I did not know. Despite external success, an eroding sense of self cast a pall over me. I spent weekends alone in a time lapse reality wandering the commercial boulevards as ceaseless formations of consumers whirled in and out of focus, the world marching to a beat I could not hear. Challenging ideas, tinged with melancholy and beauty, welled up from within about the nature of reality, and it was difficult to search for answers when I could scarcely frame the questions. I yearned for freedom, and nobody seemed to have more of that than the navy-blue suited business consultants who strode in and out of the revolving doors of an expensive hotel where I used to perch in the corner of the lobby.

I enrolled in NYU Stern, a Wall Street feeder school, and traded my jungle green uniform for patterned ties and polished oxfords. I found that I excelled at the art of messaging--digesting complex information and persuasively delivering it--leading several teams to finalist positions in sales pitch competitions. Meanwhile a storm was brewing, and I could almost hear the fault lines of the Great Recession buckling underneath as I flew over the Atlantic to begin an international business honors program that would take me on to London, Shanghai, and Buenos Aires. While abroad I witnessed protest rallies attended by thousands of people, and found it difficult to reconcile my chosen career path with the collective rage being directed towards globalization and the financial industry. Whispers of bittersweet longing grew more insistent as I wandered the crumbling ruins of bygone European civilizations, and the windswept gorges of China’s epic landscape. Few of my peers were concerned with the deeper questions behind the crisis such as the essence of human nature, and the transformative role business could play in society. Back in the United States, enveloped in the womb of New York City, my soul began cleaving into two pieces as my ego spiraled into the chasm of depression. The corporate life I had been groomed for, and the locomotive pressure to material prosperity, seemed a candle in the sun compared to the overwhelming love and affection I felt for the planetary community and the larger cosmos. I had intelligence and talent, but needed to muster the courage required to walk towards a unique destiny I heard calling from within. Guardian angels in the form of courageous intellectuals flocked to my rescue sharing soaring, integrated visions including Carl Sagan, Joseph Campbell, Karl Marx, and Mohandas Gandhi. With graduation marching closer, I reneged on a job offer from one of the largest banks in the world to instead explore the intersection of business and social impact in the villages of India.

I remember clearly the day I arrived in Machur, a cluster of villages located in a tiger preserve in South India. I had been enduring a head splitting, rickety public bus ride for several hours when I was gestured off by locals into a cluster of huts in the middle of nowhere. A slight drizzle softened the setting sun, and a heady chorus of cicadas melted in and out of the broad leafy trees around me. Groups of villagers sitting around the bus stop eyed me over cups of chai, smoke from their leaf cigarettes curling around their finger tips and melting into the lengthening shadows. I had been in uncomfortable situations before, but in that moment I was struck with an astounding clarity that I stood before the greatest challenge of my life. I was there on behalf of Dr. Sudarshan Maini, a highly successful entrepreneur who was committing his energies to rural upliftment through a variety of projects including low-tech manufacturing, microfinance, infrastructure development, and basic health care. His advanced age made it necessary for him to live several hundred kilometers away in the city of Bangalore. A substantial trust deficit had developed between the NGO and the community due to communication and implementation challenges. I had reached the end of civilization and scrambled to suture my Manhattan finance training onto what was essentially a medieval market context. Every day I struggled with some combination of cultural, physical, emotional, social, and material challenges, and it was my military experiences that I turned to for support during those grueling initial months. Through the struggle there was a tremendous amount of growth. Dr. Maini was one of the first authority figures in my life who actively encouraged my spiritual development and spiritual critical thinking. He was a deeply stabilizing spiritual force and shared a wealth of experiences in applied spirituality, including a his firmly established meditation practice, and an unwavering faith in a relational God. My self study intensified and I began building a small library on history, geopolitics, spirituality, and business out in Machur, hauling suitcases of books from Bangalore on eight hour bus rides through dusty towns and bustling depots. My day to day experiences and intellectual pursuits merged together and I began to comprehend the ideological and technological dynamics that had accelerated the West out of Renaissance society, through industrialization, and into the modern era. I learned how societies lurched from epoch to epoch sparked by teams of dedicated intellectuals who spurred larger segments of the population to action by leveraging a mixture of art and reason. Most strikingly I acknowledged that for all practical purposes there was little difference on the ground between essential services that were administered by a government versus a private social enterprise. My time in Machur was an experience in diving from the heights of academic abstraction down to the brass tacks of market reality. With this perspective I decided to return to the developed world and learn how market innovation was being scaled to create planetary institutions through the power of the Internet.

I relocated to California, taught myself graphic design, and began selling the messaging services I had honed at NYU Stern. I worked closely with founders across a variety of industries and countries to articulate their unique value proposition through digital marketing collateral. I took up residence in an entrepreneur incubator called StartupHouse in the SoMa district of San Francisco, where I shared ideas and ideologies with coders, designers and entrepreneurs as they hacked away on problems that had the potential to scale to billions. As I gained more clients, I designed a company to take advantage of global price arbitrage, and spent some time in Mumbai training local graduates on messaging and design strategy. From the farthest reaches of Machur to the beating heart in Mumbai, I acquired a great sense of the variety of markets that made up the mosaic of an emerging economy. I took an opportunity to attend a Buddhist Vipassana retreat and spent ten days in complete silence meditating from dawn till dusk. By witnessing the tangible shift in my own consciousness and the sensory incentives of mindfulness training, I concluded that enlightenment was a genuine neurological achievement that was universally accessible. I could no longer ignore the impetus to spiritual activism that coursed through my veins.

The business toolkit is a great way to organize resources and circulate values within a  population. But it is the spiritual toolkit that enables us to realize what direction we must head in the journey towards genuine satisfaction and increasing productivity. I do not see the spiritual and the material in opposition, but as a mutually balancing dynamic of progress. Despite redundant material supplies, citizens of developed economies are still pushed to destructive extremes, engaging in homicide, suicide, addiction, and depression. This kind of activity underscores a spiritual deficit that heritage religions and fragmented new age organizations have proven themselves unable to meet. For the regenerative powers of spirituality to be unleashed, it must be freed from the chains of autocratic centralization that guided the political and economic processes of pre-modern society. A business model is a form of culture, and culture is the fastest form of innovation--culture is to biology what DNA is to chemistry. I am committed to advancing the arc of evolutionary consciousness, and so I have arrived at the doors of CIIS.