When Fears Don’t Govern Decisions in Life

Professor was going to interview a young woman in the early thirties as his Executive Assistant (EA). He sent me her CV on email to take a look and called me in the morning.

“Dr Modak, why don’t you join us at the usual coffee shop. Meeting Tanya (that was her name) should be interesting.”

I could not refuse Professors request. But honestly the CV was so compelling that I had to meet this woman.

Tanya was a globe trotter. Born in the family of people working with the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) her schooling took place in various parts of the world – mainly in the Middle East and North African region. She did her graduation in liberal arts from Williams College in the Massachusetts. Williams College has three academic branches – languages and the arts, social sciences, and science and mathematics. Tanya opted for Science and Mathematics. Williams is known for its small class sizes, with a student-teacher ratio of 7-to-1. In 2016, Williams was rated as the best national liberal arts school in the US.

After graduating from Williams, Tanya worked as UN Peace Volunteer in Cambodia for a year.  Later she moved to Hongkong to work with a Travel agency for 2 years for organizing tours to China. She learned Chinese in this process. She lost her job as she couldn’t get along with her Chinese boss. She sounded pretty bitter about this.

Tanya’s brother worked in London. He found a job for her as a Manager in Sainsbury (a Supermarket having a chain across UK). At Sainsbury, she was a part of the Green Procurement team and that is where she got introduced to working for the environment. Her job in London was on contract, so she returned to India (Uttarakhand) to look for the next steps in her career. She came across Professors advertisement for an Executive Assistant and when she saw his profile, she decided to apply and take a shot.

I was observing her as she narrated us her story.  I could see a “carefree confidence” on her face. She was all cool to say what was on top of her mind and looked an easy-going person. Her hobbies were painting and playing keyboards and She was a fan of Wilheim Kempff – legendary German pianist who I greatly admire.

Professor heard Tanya’s story and lighted his cigar. He then spoke about his expectations.

His expectations ranged from making a good coffee (not just in taste but also ensuring an aroma), doing a Google search for references, editing (polishing) his drafts, preparing presentations, attending with him meetings (that involved travel) and prepare minutes, do all the follow ups, take the phone calls, fix the appointments and remind.  Tanya said yes to everything that was said or expected. Professor however did not seem to be convinced – “Remember it’s a technical job really – not a job of an office secretary”. He said this to her in a thick voice.

He continued

“Your career has been so chequered Tanya. I really don’t see any clear focus. I was actually looking for someone who has gone through some formal training in environmental policy and management. But I still called you for a chat as a close friend recommended you”

Tanya looked a bit disappointed

I thought of butting in now. I asked Tanya “What would you like to do or become over a long term? What’s your career plan?”

“Yes, Dr Modak, I do have plans. But these plans keep changing as I get to travel, read more and get more experience. I thought working with Professor will help me to cut across various perspectives of environmental management and importantly life. I may then decide what will I do with rest of my life”

When she said about what will she do with her life –  I remembered the famous book by Po Bronson What Should I Do with My Life?

In his book, Po Bronson tells the inspirational true stories of people who have found the most meaningful answers to this great question. With humor, empathy, and insight, Bronson writes about remarkable individuals who have overcome fear and confusion to find a larger truth about their lives and, in doing so, have been transformed.

Sometimes we let our fears govern our decisions; rather than challenging the validity of those fears, we accept the boundaries set by those fears, and end up confining our search in life to a narrow range of possibilities. Its like someone looking for his car keys under the streetlight because he’s afraid of the dark. We mix for example education with vocation to earn. These two could be different. I remember one of my IIT mates running a restaurant in Pune after his PhD in geotechnical engineering.

To build his book, Bronson spent two years interviewing more than 900 people and out of the 900 narratives, 56 lives were chosen.

The inspirational success stories of Po Bronson include woman in Tech PR company who decided to become a landscape gardener; an English diplomat who spent six months in hospital and became a School teacher; a corporate lawyer who changed his life to become a long-haul trucker. I saw that Tanya too was experimenting and that was nothing wrong to me.

I saw Tanya in Po Bronson’s category. I was sure that she knew how to overcome fears to be different; and look and go beyond the obvious choices. For her, making a choice of the career, was not just a matter of finding the right puzzle piece to match her skills; She wanted to grow as a person first. Few think this way. But let us face it – not all can take this “luxury”

We ended our conversation and Tanya left the coffee shop. Professor opened his folder and flashed me a CV of another woman. This woman was Masters from Michigan University in Environment, MBA from Stanford and had interned with the World Bank. “I am taking this one Dr Modak – see how focussed and competent she is”. He said this while extinguishing his cigar. So interviewing Tanya was just a ritual that had to be done and the choice was already made.

A month later, I was chatting with my wife and narrated our encounter with Tanya and told her story.

“Oh, you should have offered this girl a position of Executive Assistant with you right away! Your Professor friend is simply orthodox. Tanya would have been a perfect EA for you – given your temperament. This girl would make your otherwise drab life to something worth living. Go and find if she is still free” My wife nudged and coaxed me.

Just yesterday, I sent an email to Tanya to check out her availability to work with me as an EA. I hope she is still free and interested.


Getting a supporting, vibrant and risk taking Executive Assistant is so important when you want to live life differently. For the past three decades, I am looking for such an EA but  have never found one!

If you know someone like Tanya, then please let me know. I am still looking. My expectations for the EA are similar to the one stated by the Professor except for an addition that there must be some discussion on music during the day!

And do read the classic What Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson

Image sourced from www.thegeekanthropologist.com


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One thought on “When Fears Don’t Govern Decisions in Life

  1. This is story of majority of the people who travel alot and see differnt opportunities. This abundance of opportunities distract them from what they thought to do in their lives earlier. Adding to that, it’s not fear that made them do that but the surrender to the situation which would let them explore the newly-discovered opportunities.

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