Author: Veena Vasista
(Reprinted from Veena’s blog: See & Connect)
My name is Veena Vasista. I’m a Yank who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, went to university in upstate New York and left the States at age 23 to live in Europe – first Germany and then England, which – more or less – has been where I have lived for the last twenty years. My parents migrated to the US from India in the 60s.
I started to walk out of the world of social policy in Autumn 2010, after nearly twenty years of being in it. I worked with campaigning organizations, think tanks, business leaders and the British Government. My first step to walking out actually took place in 2007 when I turned down an offer to enter the British civil service. My family thought I was crazy turning that down – especially the financial security of it. Instead, in 2008, I became freelance continuing the same type of work. I continued to have a niggle that I wasn’t in the right space. In 2010, I became particularly dis-spirited after doing a report for a think tank on discrimination in the private sector. It all felt phony and superficial. I felt like I was just another player in a game that I didn’t particularly like. Playing around in the social policy world wasn’t the place for me – the rules didn’t make sense to me and I often felt out of place. In fact, the nature of the game meant that much of my way of seeing the world and my skills and abilities weren’t particularly valued. I didn’t feel nourished at all. Rather I felt like I was suffocating.
In my experience, we rarely seemed to create space for pausing to step back and really see where we are and why we are getting the outcomes we were getting (over and over again, no less). The ways of working seemed dominated by linear thinking; deadlines determined by what was going on in the press, the next election or a budget cycle; an emphasis on what we lack (“We don’t have the resources” echoed throughout meeting rooms and corridors); rigidity and obsession with statistical data and plans; and the passion for experts (absurdly well-paid people with a tendency to churn out banal recommendations). The thing that really got me, though, was the blatant lack of constructive communication. Meetings were usually about posturing, positioning and towing some departmental or organizational line. People didn’t actually have dialogue, didn’t explore and engage with empathy, imagination or mutli-dimensional thinking. I could go on – but I won’t. Hopefully, you get the idea.
My Ah-Ha! moment, which came about a year after I took my first steps out, was the idea that if we are going to create a different world, we have to connect differently with our selves, each other and our creative process.
This idea excited and enlivened me. Still does. And, now that I think about, it always has. Since I was a child (oh so many years ago), I’ve been a discursive thinker – something fueled in me by stories. I’ve always loved reading and jumping into and reflecting on the complex dynamics of characters and worlds unfamiliar to me. As I got older and went from The Great Brain series to the classics and other types of literature, I relished looking for patterns and making connections. I once became totally absorbed by writing an essay in secondary school on the symbolism of snakes and spiders in Huckleberry Finn. I get excited by playing around with perspective – how we see things. I get excited by spotting patterns, by interpreting meaning, by making connections, by storytelling, by reflection.
Ever the literature student, as an adult, I am constantly looking at situations and seeing them from different angles, making the less-obvious connections (or sometimes the obvious – because as we say in improvisational theater, your obvious is not always anyone else’s obvious). My favorite way to understand situations is by getting people to talk about their experiences and to distill a sense of what’s alive in them and their environment – the beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, informal systems and behaviors. I do this with an aim to getting insight into what is defining how we are working with our inherent creative power and possibility.
You see, I want us to consciously own and play with our creative power – like all those authors out there writing books and telling stories.
Thus, I’m now a freelancer guiding people to see and connect differently with their selves, others and the creative process – particularly in times of transition, change and conflict. My main tools are dialogue, storytelling, writing and reflection. My work is perhaps uniquely informed by my experience as a community mediator and my passion for dancing. To me, the creative process is a dance.
These days (I’m writing this in June 2013), I am a nomad. I’ve also walked out of my established life in London. I left London in spring 2012 to be based in Chicago for six months, then Mexico for six months. Post-Mexico, I was in London for two months and now I’m back in Chicago. Different possibilities are emerging for next steps…and next location. Life is exciting. It is also scary – truth be told. A lot of aspects of my life challenge me, are discomforting. It is to be expected – I’m still in that process of Walking Out. I know what I don’t want, I have a sense of what I want – but I don’t have full clarity as to my path and my life is full of extraordinary amounts of uncertainty. I’ve made choices that take me way out of my comfort zone.
So it is, as I continue walking out, that I’m having to learn to trust and surrender to life and my creative power. It ain’t easy. But I have the sense that I have to do it.
That’s my story. I’ll just add – wherever I am, I am a huge fan of hiking, picnicking along rivers and lakes, speaking spanish, cooking spicy vegetarian food, reading books that absorb me, chatting with people whether I know them or not, improv theater, live music, dancing, singing off key/out of tune and laughing until my face hurts.