A world where transition and uncertainty are embraced

I am asked to choose a topic to write about my life during my fellowship at Stanford. I struggle trying to come up with ONE thing. My head is spinning as I try to narrow it down to one.

During the months that I have been in Palo Alto, so much has happened. I have met some incredible people, starting with my fellow fellows, professors, students, staff, and guest lecturers. There is such an intense accumulation of brainpower on the Stanford campus. Sometimes it can be overwhelming; you can feel like an ant. Other days, most of the time, you feel like the luckiest person in the world for being here. And you know that after this year, nothing will be the same. I learn so much everyday that it will take me months after this year is over to be able to absorb it all.

Among many other things, something I love about Stanford is that a lot of people here are where I am: that is, they don’t know what they will do after their time here, and they are OK with the uncertainty. A lot of us here are in a transition.

They came here looking for meaning in their lives, just like me. I have met a lot of people who care about social issues, who want “only” to change the world. Jim Bettinger, the director of the fellowships program, said it during orientation, “Go out there and change the world.” We all laughed but in truth that is why I am here.

When I started choosing my classes in the fall, I was surprised to see that a lot of them had one word in common: transformation. And I was more surprised to find so many people at Stanford going through a transition, just like me.

I met a man in his 60s who had been a successful executive in a company and came to Stanford to find out what he would do in the last 20 to 30 years of his life. He already had the money and the big title; now he wanted to make an impact and help others. Stanford is the place he chose to find a new path.

And that is another incredible thing here: A lot of people, students and professors alike, are interested in social causes. “You throw a stone and it will land on a social venture,” someone said recently.

I met a 30-something engineer from India, who had quit his job in Silicon Valley to study at Stanford, hoping to start a venture to help the poorest people in his country.

At the Stanford Celebrating Founders Symposium, in a panel of five entrepreneurs, all Stanford alumni, two of them were co-founders of social ventures: Kiva  and Sirum.

Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow

I had a conversation with an MSX student from Chile who is expecting the birth of his first child. MSX is Stanford’s Master of Science in Management for Experienced Leaders. He doesn’t know where he is going to work or live in a few months, and he’s OK with that. “Maybe not having a job will push me to start something on my own, which I wouldn’t do if I was too comfortable”.

At the d. school (Hasso Plattner Design Institute), they teach you that failing is a good thing, because it allows you to learn. And that you actually need to test and fail many times if you want to learn. I had never thought of it that way.

Feeling comfortable with uncertainty, experimenting with new things, cross-pollinating between disciplines, prototyping, testing and iterating are some of the things I’ve learned at Stanford.

I heard from a fellow that when you come to this fellowship the real challenge is you. I came here to find out what the next chapter would be, and I have learned that it’s OK to not know. I am learning to be comfortable knowing that the future is uncertain.