Since we arrived at INSEAD about 3 weeks ago, there’s been a tremendous amount of encouragement and support for us to develop a mindfulness practice. Yes, that’s right – the #1 international MBA program teaches its students about the importance of regular meditation and reflection. Now the question is why…?
It’s tempting to only talk about the good, the future, goals and ambitions, and successes. It keeps things light, interesting, and safe. It’s risky to talk about the past, pain and fear, uncertainties and unemployment, but this is what is needed to unravel and rewrite our stories…
In the summer of 2007, I was interning at the Home Loans Financing department of a bank that no longer exists. Six weeks into the internship, I realized I wasn’t interested in finance. Instead of falling asleep at my desk everyday, I terminated my paid internship early and went back to being a manicurist.
When I returned to Babson College that fall, I switched from finance to consulting and decided to graduate a year early. As we all watched the finance bubble burst, I felt extremely lucky to have a consulting job upon graduation. I had bypassed my fear of unemployment – at least for some time.
I soon learned that a college education is not an insurance policy against personal insecurities. When I experienced unemployment and went through another dreaded job search just a few years after attending a prestigious college, I felt thrown into an unfathomable darkness. I refused to meet new people because I was deathly afraid of being asked, “What do you do?”
I felt shamefully naked, stripped of the security I once had. I withdrew from family and friends just to avoid another mortifying question: “How’s the job search coming along?” It was clear that my self-worth was too closely attached to my employment status. My job was more than a source of income – it enveloped my entire identity. I felt worthless without it, because I didn’t know who I really was.
I doubted all my previous career choices, often wondering where I went wrong. I blamed myself for interrupting my career trajectory to go volunteer in Afghanistan for 5 months. But while I was living there in 2010, I started my meditation practice. I had read at least a dozen books on the topic by then – everything from meditation methods, tools and aids, and resulting benefits.
My mentor had urged me to slow down the reading and instead, practice meditating. However, the mental stimulation from reading was overwhelmingly rewarding as compared to the quietude, which I found to be initially scary. When I returned home, the reverse culture shock was devastating. Nothing felt the same anymore and my fortress of books could no longer protect me from my own mind. The only thing that helped was a daily practice of meditation.
Since I am a Type 4 on the Enneagram Personality system, I exhibit the personality pattern outlined below. Seven years ago, when I was floundering in negative emotions, I was operating at a Level 7 – a very low level of development for my personality type. Today, I’m operating on the healthier side of the spectrum at Levels 2-3. This is precisely how the Enneagram Personality system is a road-map for greater levels of personal and professional achievement.
Over the years, as I’ve moved along the continuum of development, I’ve gathered these key insights:
1. We introduce ourselves through our professions so often that our minds consequently make us believe that we are our jobs and careers. A temporary lapse in employment is a blessed opportunity to examine who we really are, without the mask of a position, title, or function.
2. It’s natural for us to look for certainty and stability. However, we look for it in the material world which is in constant flux. If we look for it inside of ourselves, underneath our emotions and thoughts, we will eventually find it.
3. Each of us has a certain type of patterned personality that serves as the vehicle for self-actualization. It comes well-equipped with its own advantages and challenges. Knowing how your vehicle “works” is crucially important for three reasons: i) to know why you feel the way you do, ii) to recognize a challenge rather than see it as a dead-end, iii) to pause, consider alternatives, and consciously choose the path forward.
4. Once we know our patterns, we are no longer bound by them. The truth sets us free, even if it makes us uncomfortable or miserable at first.
5. Practicing meditation – 20 minutes a day, twice a day – reverses the physiological damage caused by our overactive “fight or flight” stress response. Your back must be erect to ensure you don’t fall asleep. And you don’t need anything – no audio files, guides, or tools. You’re welcome to experiment with these, but you don’t need any of these.
INSEAD is perhaps the safest place to start your mindfulness practice. In many ways, it is a womb that holds us for a year, nourishing us with everything we will need to go out and thrive in the world. INSEAD, with its profound understanding of individual human needs, offers everything I was seeking in an MBA program and more.