What’s your Calcutta?

A recently divorced woman, who felt very alone in the world, wrote to Mother Teresa asking if she could join her Sisters of Charity and work amongst the needy. Months went by without any answer. She finally received a hand written letter from Mother Teresa which simply said ‘Find your own Calcutta’.

Mother Teresa was simply making a point. We all tend to look elsewhere to show our love. And through this statement Mother Teresa was simply stating that needs are all around us and we can be useful to the needy right in our own environment.

How very profound!

One bus ride, became a turning point for Rosa Parks.

One train ride, spoke to the heart of Gandhi’s journey.

Inability to pay rent triggered a journey that became AirBnB for Brian Chesky..

Trading Pez dispensers became Omidyar’s Ebay.

Countless examples. Moments that triggered an emotion so strong that it leaves an indelible impression on our minds. Emotions strong that it serves as the catalyst for a life long journey.

From for-profit to not-for-profit there are stories abound that tell of the grit and determination that followed a life altering moment and how that led to a enterprises and charitable endeavors so big that we talk about them for years on end.

As a passionate storyteller, I cannot resist looking at these as inflection points in a story. The point in a story where something happens to the protagonist, or in some cases to the antagonist, that compels them to take some decisive action. Without that inflection point, there either will be no story or one not compelling enough to read or watch.

My inflection point was spending countless hours in the office, sometimes forty-eight at a time without a break, even at the expense of seeing my children grow, then ultimately not being able to connect it to soul satisfaction or any sort of reward that would last a lifetime. That is what pushed to do what I am doing now, including writing this article to share my experience.

To each his own. The action I take as a result of my inflection need not be yours. What if Mother Teresa had decided to monitise her efforts like the entrepreneur’s quoted above? The world would have been a sadder place. Or what if Brian Chesky had decided to create a non-profit hoteling application making for a company that would be valued at zero dollars as opposed to the $25 or so billion it is now. To each his own.

Every story has a moral. And the moral of this story is

  • How do we recognize those inflection points?
  • And what do we do about them?

I would love to believe that it is easy to recognize an inflection point. And in most cases it is. Sadly though, our lives are so hurried that only something super profound matters as an inflection point. The threat of a divorce. A debilitating illness. An imminent bankruptcy. Or a betrayal by a long time friend or spouse.

Those certainly count. And should. But not every grand finale happens in a flash. Some do. But most build up over a period of time. Failing to spot those series of incidents is part of the whole problem. Ignoring them for any number of reasons certainly results in profound experiences that we simply cannot ignore.

As for how to respond to the inflection point in our lives, there simply is no magic bullet. No one size fits all solution that will magically cure all ailments. The solution would be a philosophical exercise, one that involves slowing down one’s life enough to acknowledge and appreciate the reason why the inflection happened in the first place. Contemplating the life experience should certainly compel us to do something about it or because of it. At least push us towards seeking a solution.

Innately, we each have the intelligence to know what to do in each of these cases. Or have the wisdom to seek the knowledge to cure the ailment. If not, there are mentors, coaches, parents, teachers, religious leaders or Google who can help guide us towards potential solutions. At least to get us started. The rest will be a pursuit of that ideal over a period of time. For Mother Teresa it was a deliberate set of choices and consistent action that helped change the face of Calcutta. So with Rosa Parks. And Gandhi.

“What is your Calcutta”? And more importantly, what are you doing about it?

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