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  • Nikhil Dhawan

The Announcement

If you’re thinking that I’ve been completely invested and inspired by what I’m doing in my life, then I’ve been unintentionally fooling you. However, I’ve had the chance to introspect a LOT and get to know myself on a more profound level, and this announcement is incredibly exciting for me to share.

Before I get into the actual decision, it’s important to share some background information. I grew up in a world that was all too comfortable (financially). I never had to worry about food on the table, shelter over my head, clothes on my back, or even a private school education (including my masters). My parents worked their entire lives to earn themselves a comfortable living, and that naturally made it easy for my sister and I. It’s nearly impossible to not take things for granted when one has never been in the shoes of someone who's less privileged. Although I've seen poverty, I've never actually lived in it or done anything to alleviate it.

I moved out to be on my own almost seven years ago. The first couple years of independence were lazy; I slept walk through most of it. Since my college years were spent living at home and commuting, I thought I was behind and needed to catch up. So when I wasn't working or in grad school, I was partying and making up for "lost time." The next couple years involved starting my fashion business, but in hindsight, I was still sleepwalking. It’s not that I wasn’t working hard, but the feeling of authenticity was still lacking. People kept saying that they were proud of me for the clothing line because they thought I had found my ultimate calling, but the search for something deeper hadn’t ceased. It was certainly a creative and emotional step in the right direction, and I truly enjoyed the challenges of starting a line and working towards building a brand. However, there was a void these accomplishments never seemed to fill.

I treated my 20s as an extension of college, and spent most of my time just having fun. Anytime I was criticized for it, I justified myself by blaming my sheltered upbringing and my need to understand how things work outside the bubble. It soon became a habit that I would point fingers and fail to take any responsibility for my actions, and that started weighing on me heavily. The year leading up to my 30th was pivotal; I began to realize that the excuses I was making in life weren’t justified, and this wasn’t the way I wanted to handle situations. In order to become a better person, I needed to dig deeper and ask myself a lot of questions.

The search for my better self began with a lot of deep conversations with my closest friends and family. My peers would suggest books and TED talks that began to resonate with me profoundly. I was most attracted to books written by authors who admitted that they didn't have all the answers but were willing to share their journeys and experiences so the readers could learn from them. They explained why having healthy habits are important and how these practices are compounded over time into great habits (more on this in other posts). By the spring of 2016, my perception had evolved significantly and I had finished reading several books that started to mold me into a more authentic version of myself. I don't think it's possible to pinpoint a single day or event that was "life-changing," but looking back over the last year I can confidently say that something clicked, and I now look at life through a fresh lens.

So, here goes: as a 30th birthday gift to myself, I decided to put my businesses on pause and spend three months in Kathmandu, Nepal, volunteering my time in a teaching program for students in underserved areas. The project begins in early April and goes until June. Initially, I’ll be teaching English to elementary students and introducing the idea of entrepreneurship to high school students. After classes conclude for the day, I’ll be coaching the students in sports (primarily basketball).

For a long time, I had told myself that I was going to travel and volunteer with kids and get involved with sports, etc. The problem, however, is that I live in a society and a world where we always find excuses and reasons not to do the things we say we want to do. As my 30th was approaching, I promised myself that I would stop making excuses and would proactively do everything my heart desired (as long as the intentions were good). It’s not a mystery that I need to work hard to establish myself financially, but if I don’t find a balance between life and doing the things that make me happy, then I'm ultimately working for nothing. The money isn't what makes me happy; it's the financial freedom and flexibility that can eventually help me find how I want to be defined.

I'm not here to preach or impose my beliefs on anyone else. I'm simply here to share my story and what's inspired me and sparked these changes. The more I read, and the more I talk to elders, I've truly realized that they don't regret the things they've done, rather regret the things they didn't do. I don't want to live a life of regret. I'm done sleepwalking through life. From here on out, I intend to make deliberate decisions and live with intention. If it means having less financial stability, so be it. If it means I don't get to see my friends or family as often, it's okay. I know my heart’s intentions are pure and I'm simply looking to grow and learn from my experiences. Hopefully, I can share that growth with all the lovely people I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by.

When I started the clothing line a little over three years ago, I promised myself (and others) that I'd take a portion of the profits and "give back." As time passed, it occurred to me that handouts aren't as meaningful, nor do they solve the ultimate problem. I've never believed in temporary relief (i.e. Tylenol), rather I believe in trying to find the core problem and attempting to solve it. As a kid, I read parts of the Bible (Christian school), and I vividly remember learning that instead of giving a hungry man a fish, we should take our time and teach them how to fish. For those reasons, I've chosen to take the portion of the profits and use that to buy books and materials for the students in Nepal. I'm physically going there so I can spend time with them and help mold them. I'd like to give them an opportunity to reach their potential. They'll be learning English for tourism purposes and possibly even for international business. I intend to do my best to give them a sturdy platform, so they have a stronger, more confident base, and can eventually be the best versions of themselves.

For the record: My original plan was a bit more drastic. I intended to sell all my possessions (including my business, clothes, and all material goods) and put the money into an emergency savings account. That way I wouldn't be attached to anything, and I would feel more liberated in my travels. I desired to visit different regions and volunteer for at least a year, hitting four continents for three months at a time. My family and close friends didn't receive that idea too fondly, so I've decided to ease into it. The three-month program in Nepal is a starting point; a way to confirm my longing in life to travel, explore, and give back. If I fall in love with the life of a volunteer, then I may set that in motion soon after Nepal. It's not the typical life that my family or friends may have imagined for me, but ultimately it's my life, and I'm compelled to go with the flow of the forces of nature. As always, thank you for taking the time to read the words of my mind and heart. Love & respect!

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