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I Quit My Job

The story I’ve been putting off for two years. The journey to TKS, lessons learnt, and why I’ve left.

Two years ago at 17, I made a life-altering decision: dropping out of university (a month before it began!) to join TKS as their first employee.

Since then – other than having the best job over – I’ve been on a plane almost every month, hung out with some of the smartest people in the world, gotten poached to work directly with billionaires, developed countless 1-degree-from-Elon-Musk relationships (lol, although it’s true I’m not actually counting), consulted for the executive team at Wealthsimple and Interac, went from living in a 2-bedroom apartment with my family to having my own place smack downtown with the sickest friends… and those were all things that happened on the side! My bestfriend and I dryly joke that we can’t share 90% of the experiences we’ve had over the past two years until we’re older to avoid unintentionally stunting on people. Yes, even moreso than I already seem to have.

This story has been a long time coming. It’s supposed to give you insight to the lessons I’ve learned from the crazy adventure it’s been, but mostly it’ll finally let my high school class know wtf it is that I’ve been up to 😅

Let me paint the picture for you: it’s 2018, I’m 17, and having the best summer of my life. I’ve found a community of people I LOVE. We’re all having a blast going through our first summer internships. Some are paid ones with the biggest corps. in Canada and some are even more interesting jobs at lowkey startups. Every evening, we’re rushing out of office doors at different spots in the city to hangout with each other – eager to develop the most meaningful friendships we’ve come across in our lives.

I’ve never felt like I belonged somewhere more. I’ve always been passionate about building the future, and although I never felt completely alone – it’s changed my life to have a group of people I would call my family. Not because we’ve spent a lot of time together, or that we happen to be in similar crazy-teen-circumstances, but because of our values. We believe and practice growth mindset, being ambitious, supporting each other (how tf is it that a group of teens came together without any sparks of jealousy or competition!?)… and we’re serious about changing the world.

At the same time that summer, I was meeting people I was supposed to spend the next 4 years with through university. It only took a few weeks to know this was not the place I’d find my future co-founders. I’m sure based on luck and prep by the end of the four years there’d be a few people, but it was not an investment I was willing to make. And I already had the sickest friends ever.

This is literally why I was contemplating not going to university.

Also let’s be real, getting educated on computer science by a prof in a classroom was the last thing on my mind. I could learn how to code through the internet. The value in university for me was supposed to be the place, the people, the social experience…”finding myself”. And it was the same value held by founders who’s opinions I valued, and advice I was seeking.

The reason I met all my dope friends was because of a program we went through together called TKS. It’s the shit. Every day that summer we’d all go hangout with the founders (Navid & Nadeem Nathoo) at their office space. We were literally there past midnight playing mafia and just jamming. In between the shenanigans, I would share my doubts about university with the brothers.

Meanwhile during the day I would see them going through interviews with candidates for their first full-time employee position. At some points I even overheard bits of conversations they had about a candidate.

A few days later, Navid asks me to join the team.

They can’t find someone who’s the perfect fit. Someone who get’s TKS, is mission-driven, and understands the community.

I was the fit.

Lesson #1: Mindset trumps knowledge. The best skill I had was that I knew how to learn, fast. I didn’t know how to build a community, or to grow TKS to 5 major cities in 8 months. I had never been handed a +$20,000 budget to put a stage together for Canada’s largest tech festival. I didn’t know how to send invoices. Or email 500 people at once. I think I learned how to send a calendar invite 4 months prior. But I knew how to learn and unlearn, and that was valuable. More valuable than the bachelor-degree and experience holding candidates interviewing for the same role.

Spending the next year with two of the smartest people I knew – hell freaking yeah! In retrospect I straight up learned more important things within the first two months than I think I would’ve in all 4 years of university.

My answer was an instant yes. Navid gave me 2-3 days to think it over, but it was an instant yes.

Then came the tougher conversation..

My mom didn’t give me permission. For the first time in my life I made a pro’s and con’s list with her (which is SO unusual to do as a brown person). She agreed (which took a long time in and of itself) that everything logically made sense, but still said no.

I didn’t even tell my dad!

The third day rolls around. “Hey Ammi, so can I submit this gap-year form?” “No.” “Okay I just did it”. (lol…).

I still hadn’t told my dad.

At TKS I was a swiss-army knife, a juggler of all things. I don’t know how to tell you what my role was. It was project managing, it was working with my best friend (who joined during my second year) as her manager, it was owning relationships with hundreds of schools, generating applications across 5 North American cities, building strategy for our community, literally managing our revenue stream and payments totalling over a million dollars… the list could go on forever.

It definitely wasn’t your typical teenage experience. It changed my life. I’m damn beyond grateful towards Navid & Nadeem for making this possible for me. Not only because of the meaningful work, the incredible story, the awesome memories, but also because of the endless list of important lessons I’ve internalized:

Lessons for Life

The world isn’t well designed, and it’s not run by smart people

or as many smart people as you’d think. Within my first few months at TKS, Nadeem asked me if I wanted to take on a large project. I’d be working with executives at a medium-sized Toronto startup, with a founder that everyone in the tech community knew. Of course I said yes! A few days later a meeting to get the ball rolling was set between me, Nadeem, and 4 people from their team. I went in with a conception of what the agenda would probably be, and was excited for this would-be-half-hour official meeting… My expectations were shattered. There was a 40 page slide deck in front of us with a few words per slide. The meeting lasted two hours and we discussed almost nothing. I remember leaving that meeting explicitly saying “WTF!?” to Nadeem in our Uber. These were “executives”. People in their 30s, who’ve been working for years. The founder was very well recognized and connected with every major person in our tech community. No doubt handing a lot of money and having influence in their cities/the world. How does this happen!? Unfortunately this was the first of countless experiences where C-Suite level people I met from the largest corps to local startups who did a lot of things that didn’t make sense. I’ve watched millions and millions of dollars being wasted by unproductive decision making.

Age doesn’t matter. Yes, you can do anything.

Steve Jobs also knew that the world wasn’t built by people much smarter than him (and you). Internalizing and experiencing that really helped me understand that I can do everything I perceive, and perhaps even more than I know I’m capable of. I went from being stuck in 2 hour meetings with people all older than me, to being the youngest one leading more efficient ones.

Throughout the past two years I’ve felt fulfilled with how I’m living, been offered to work directly with billionaires, had experiences I couldn’t have even dreamt of as a child, and seen my same-age friends sell their startups. It’s all possible, and it’s up to you to be the activator of your own life.

Relationships matter.

People build everything. Everything around you is built by other people. The systems, the furniture, the art you consume, our capability to explore the universe, the device you’re using to read this. No matter what you want to do in life – but especially if you’re here to create a meaningful impact on the world, you need to learn how to love, work with, and understand people.

Luck is real. And you can maximize it.

I don’t have wealthy parents. Or a well-connected family. But I was lucky my parents moved to Canada. It was not a decision I made, or could have even been a part of – but without it I wouldn’t have had a higher-success-potential zip code. I got lucky.

Probably 50% of the experiences that have happened over the past two years have been because of luck. The interesting thing about this though is that luck alone did not make things happen. It’s actually the intersection between luck and preparation at which opportunities lay.

Unlike the situation with my parents deciding to move to Canada, there’s a lot of room for you to foster luck by how much you “prepare”. You can create serendipity. How? Be in environments with people who can help make interesting things happen. Write blogs. Create a personal brand, and amplify it through social media.

You can activate and wield your life a lot more than you think. Perhaps not entirely, but definitely a lot more than you think. That’s powerful.

You decide.

’nuff said.

Lessons from Working at a Startup

Also applicable to long-term meaningful projects.

Learn how to be relentlessly resourceful.

Figuring things out is a skill, and it might sound simple but it’s not actually popular. Learn how to do this, and you’ll be super-powered.

Have high standards.

Some teams might not value this, but having high standards is what helps you be legit. Whether that’s high standards for what you’re building, or for how you’re promoting it. And yes, even work that needs to be scrappy can be done at high standards without taking much effort.

GSD Get the right stuff done*

aka GtrSD. ****The right question to ask isn’t “what can we do?” it’s “what should we do?”. In addition, something Navid mentions to the team is also helpful: Correct > Done > Perfect.

Actively reflect,

and then act on it. That’s how you practice a growth mindset.

Here are two reflections I found that I sent to Navid & Nadeem last year. I’ve done a version of updates that included reflections every day for over a year. It’s what’s helped me grow fast + consistently:

Move fast. And when things break, be able to slow down.

Navid does this really well. In 2018 and 2019, I managed the operations for our program launches. And shit would hit the fan, often. I can’t even express to you how often.. It’s a year later, we’ve built the systems we need – and we still haven’t perfected these methods. That’s a story for another day, but Navid being able to recognize the integral parts of TKS to flesh out as we grew and hiring a Director of Operations (who is SO KICKASS) was a small decision that had a big impact. He makes these iterative decisions often, and when things break he’s able to identify which part of the structure not only needs fixing, but needs to be rebuilt.

Burnout is real.

I’ve seen every single person on the team experience some level of burnout. It’s real, so figure out systems to be productive while still taking care of yourself. Or if you’re willing to sacrifice your health to go “all in” on a project – know how to breathe after a sprint so you can run your next race well.

Productive Hours > Long Hours

There were many times when I was in the office all day, sometimes past midnight. Sometimes the methods I was using to get shit done were the right methods, and sometimes they could’ve been more productive. If you find yourself working long hours or doing the same tasks often, those are good signals to evaluate if you can apply the 80/20 rule to your work.

Lessons from Working with Others

Understand them.

Learn how to get aligned quickly. It’s easy to do with people who share the same communicating and working methods as you, but it’s more important to do this for those who don’t. You’ll always work better together if you can understand how the other person flows and sprints.

Motivations lead people.

Some people are mission-driven, others by money, fear, status, and career-success. These motivations drive how people make decisions, and what their values are. Sometimes it’s clear what motivates someone, and other times it’s not. Sometime’s people bullshit their motivations – it happens. Life is a game of mafia, and understanding what drives people will help you determine who you do or don’t want to work with.

Develop trust.

This was something Navid & Nadeem actively taught me in the first few months of TKS. They were excited for me to go grow with them, but I also needed to earn their trust so that they felt comfortable with me completely owning important projects. How did I do this? Developing ownership, learning how to be on the ball, and over-communicating. If I wasn’t able to show them they could trust me, I know they wouldn’t have kept me on the team.

Make the world work for you.

I learned this one from Nadeem. Send emails early in the morning. Do them before major important tasks, because while you’re heads-down is when people can read and reply to them. Text people ideas and asks as soon as you know you want them to support on something. Have bias towards action when it comes to getting things from other people. Doing this makes the work more effortless on your end, and gets things moving fast.

People develop culture.

And when you’re with a small group of people, every new person will shape the culture. Our team felt different when it went from 3, to 10, to 15, to 20 people. It was noticable, and it was significantly positive every time we’ve hired the right person.

Be early!

I’ve done over a thousand meetings over the past two years. Every time you’re late, it shows you don’t care about the other person. Even if it’s a casual meeting. Even if it’s a coffee date.

Remember, people make everything happen.

So… head scratch. After such a daaaaaaaazling and life-shaping 2 years why the heck am I leaving!? And during COVID? (Yes I do feel insanely privileged to be able to leave at such a time).

I wouldn’t go if I didn’t have such a compelling desire to do what I need to do next: I think one of the next major evolution points for humans will be through our understanding and tapability into human consciousness. I have a can’t-ignore desire to deeply understand this.

What does that actually mean for the next few months? My main goal is to map out what reality(/ies) could be, and our experience of reality. That entails understanding the universe (big bang, dark energy and matter, time, space, theoretical phsyics, quantum mechanics) and understanding the human experience (neurobiology, psychedelics, consciousness as a science and as theories/philosophies, energies, the science behind emotions).

Is there an end goal in mind? Only to have understanding of what truth could be. I know my purpose in life is to impact billions. And I think this area could be the place I’ll do that through.

I’ve had so many other topics and opportunities I’ve dived into over the past year, but the magnitude of how compelling this one is needs my full attention.

I’m nervous, in a good way. Kind of scared, but excited.

Throughout this journey I’ll be sending personal updates via email on progress I’m making. This’ll include progress on the project, but also what’s up in my life. I’m not selling anything. I don’t have anything to promote. Just keeping you caught up on the crazy adventures! You can sign up here to receive them (and you can email me back so we can become friends if you want!).

I’m always going to be a part of the TKS community. I’m so dang pumped to have both my feet in as an alumni now! Obviously a huge massive gigantic astronomical thank-you to NN for being so personally invested in my growth, trusting in me and for letting me have ownership. Love you guys and the whole team.

Catch you all on the flip (alum) side,

Nazra


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community thoughts

Deeply Understanding Others

Originally written and published for my monthly newsletter.

The conversations I remember from all of elementary and high school on empathy was the difference between “empathy” and “sympathy”. There was nothing to do with how to be empathetic, the importance of understanding other people, collaborating with them, living with them, leading through life building meaningful relationships…. all things I think that are far more important than the semantics between two words. 

When we do talk about developing empathy, or it’s importance – it’s usually in a situational context. Can you understand how someone feels or thinks through x situation? 

But unlocking how someone experiences the world and wants to experience it is where true understanding lays. 

When you can deeply understand the way in which people experience life, and want to experience life, there is rarely need for situational empathy – you get that person. And it forever changes your relationship and ability to truly connect with them.

How do you start to deeply understand people?

  • Seek understanding.
  • Try to really map out the way they view and understand the world, how the inputs of the world turn into outputs of thoughts in their mind, and how they want to live through experiences.
  • Choose listening over hearing.
  • Establish a truth-seeking environment. Don’t doubt the validity of people’s truth if they’ve promised to be honest with you. 
  • Stop interpreting what other people say in terms of your own models. You’re trying to figure it out through *their* models of the world.
  • Cross check your understanding of their explanations. Where are the nuances? Those are important. Dive into those.

Would you add anything else?


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thoughts

Wth is Creativity?

Originally written and published for my monthly newsletter.

Creativity isn’t great art. Creativity isn’t even bound to great art. 

Creativity is an action that flows from consciousness. This action presents itself as new or innovative, relative to you. 

If you are a janitor, tapped into consciousness, and you figure out a new way to mop the floors – you are using creativity.

If you are a janitor, not tapped into consciousness, and you figure out a new way to mop the floors – you are only innovating. 

So then, what’s the deal with creativity? Why does it matter? What’s the difference?

1. Inner harmony.

2. The ability to utilize it to find fulfillment in your life.

3. With practice, to use it to elevate the consciousness of others. This is tied to great art*.

*Great art = elevating the consciousness of those viewing, or experiencing it. You don’t need to be creative to produce great art. But increased creativity increases the likelihood of your ability to produce great art. If your’e tapped to your consciousness, consistently, how can you not reach others?

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thoughts

Labelling Emotional Experiences

Originally written and published in my monthly newsletter as a reflection

The human experience is mostly emotional. I understand the concept, but I’ve struggled with truly feeling in tune with my understanding of emotions. I know they just are what they are, but also… there’s something to be said about their utility. 

The concept that most negative emotions are “bad” and most positive emotions are “good” has been one I’ve leaned into over the past few years. And it has some truth to it, but for the most part there’s been a gap in my understanding of that concept that’s nagged at me like a fly in a sleeping room. 

Could it be so black and white? No.

Sadness can’t always be bad. Pain can’t always be bad. Joy shouldn’t always be good. How can we label the emotions like that when in some circumstances, feeling pain is good? When pain and sadness can facilitate growth?

And also, how can sadness be bad when it is truly to the core what we feel when we lose the things we love in life? Isn’t that where the beauty of emotions lay? It feels inauthentic to repress emotions that are so true to our experience.

How do I feel!?!? Can we create situational rules for emotions? Again, no. The human experience is too subjective, even if the situation is shared. 

And that’s when I realized: to experience the feeling of emotions can’t be based on the emotion itself. It’s not based on the experience. It’s not based on the situation, the subjectiveness, your capacity to feel, your values in life.. it’s based on awareness.

If you bring awareness and consciousness without a pre-determined decision on the emotional experience, emotions that are valid will stay, and ones that aren’t will dissipate. There is no repression, and no false control involved in this. The ones that dissipate, dissipate on their own. Sometimes you will even be surprised at the ones which go. And the ones that stay, they will stay on their own. 

Then there is no second guessing, no rabbit-hole of questioning your experience, or a “choice” to feel bad about. There just is. Emotions just are. And to feel is to feel, to not feel is to not feel, all on the basis of what you truly need vs. what you want. 


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thoughts

Judgement is on the opposite spectrum of sympathy

This month I had to live with other teenagers (my best friends) in a foreign environment for a week and half. There were mixed genders, and other kids our age that we hung out with every day.

In general, I spend most of my time with people older than me, so although normal for most 19 year olds, hanging out with other teenagers for a continuous period of time made me realize a lot of things I might not have otherwise noticed if this was my standard environment.

One of the most impactful realizations was that:

  1. Feeling judgemental is on the opposite spectrum of having sympathy
  2. Having a high degree of judgement can be detrimental to developing an “accurate” understanding of other people, and the world
  3. Increasing my ability to sympathize with others (not overly, but just enough to not be judgemental) is important.

When people feel lots of judgement towards others, it can be in either the presence or absence of empathy: you can understand exactly where the person is coming from and their situation or you can have no clue.

What we lack in this scenario is the ability to sympathize with that person: we can’t feel sorry for them, and therefore instead feel judgemental towards behaviour we disagree with.

Here’s the thing: most of the time when we think someone else’s behaviour is “negative”, it’s because that person has not built enough resilience to their biological instincts, limiting them from behaving in any other way (i.e. changing our demeanour when we’re around people we’re attracted to, or acting out on anger).

Note: this doesn’t excuse them or mean that they can’t have control over their actions. Instead, what it means is that they don’t have enough practice over having full ownership and control. This is still something they have to work on.

The problem here is that as an outsider, if you’re typically a judgemental person, you won’t be understanding of this and overfit your negative reaction and rationale on that person and scenerio. You’ll think it’s more “negative” than it really is, because of your subjective experience rather than the objective truth that that person’s behavior/scenerio is actually normal, to be expected, or currently outside of their control.

The danger in overfitting your reaction is that it imbalances you’re ability to both sympathize & empathize with that person in the future. It skews your understanding of them, or the world – and that compounding means your perception of the world outside of you continues to become more and more incorrect.

What’s interesting is that this tends not to happen towards people younger than us. An example is middle school students – it is so clear to the outside world when kids change their behaviour for their crushes, or to fit in with the cool crowd. More often, our reaction as a collective seems to be “awh, poor kids” or “awh, that’s so cute – they’re growing up and learning, experiencing life!”. We seem to never be able to judge them – not only because we can empathize with what they’re going through (they’re just being kids, exporing their biological responses to attraction, feeling confused and undergoing emotional rollercoasters) but the sympathy we feel for them allows us to not get clouded by judging their behaviour and in turn actually affecting our overall ability to empathize.

The blend of the two things create the ultimate ability to truly listen and understand other people.

My current environment promotes having high judgement. It’s viewed as a good thing: being critical might make you better at looking at/understanding inefficiencies (whether that directly be in other people, or the world). But I think having a critical lens on the world does not need to equal feeling judgemental. And that’s what I’m really getting at here: the feeling of judgement and negativity towards other people’s behaviour is more hindering that the lens of seeking objective truth and understanding, even if that be through a more critical lens than most people.

Knowing this, I’m personally going through a lot of internal shifts to remove emotional judgement, and truly be someone who can really listen to other people, feel what they’re feeling, increase my ability to empathize and sympathize with them, so that I can really understand and tap into their world.


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thoughts

Meditation: Indirect & Direct forms

Originally written and published in my monthly newsletter, December 06 2019

In October I started meditating with Sam Harris’ daily Waking Up app and it was hard. I thought I was going to go strong until Day 15 – when it increasingly got harder. I stopped after 30 days.

Cut scene two weeks later, I happened to start taking yoga classes. Initially, it was only a way to stretch out my body – I’m training for a half marathon, and my muscles were begging to stop being pulled. I didn’t intend to make it a habit: but somehow instead of taking only one class a week, I was going to one almost every day. Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Flow, Hatha, doing it all.

A month later, I’m catching myself taking a break from my laptop to practice my crow pose for a few minutes. And it was oddly therapeutic. For someone who’s mind is always on (literally. always. all the time) it was genuinely crazy to have found something that consistently shuts out external inputs and allows me to just be still. 

From this experience, then reading more about what meditation means to different people and philosophers, I have a hypothesis that meditation can be practiced indiretly in various forms. If direct meditation through sitting in silence is difficult for certain people, it might be a good idea to practice indirect ways where you quiet your mind (journaling as writing meditation, painting as creative meditation) to get your mind used to that state, and then advancing to silent meditation.

What are your thoughts?


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thoughts

Balanced =/= Sustained Happiness. We can work more than 40 hours a week.

Originally written and published on my monthly newsletter, November 04 2019

Controversial Opinion: I don’t think the “balance” in life often understood as spending half of your time working, and the other relaxing/resetting is what we should be striving for.

I think our view and understanding of balance is flawed. From a first-principles perspective, the objective of achieving “balance” is for people to experience a sustained amount of joy, and to prevent burnout.

I think that for most people, investing in the things that can help create this (taking care of hormones and your body via diet & exercise, meditating, working on something meaningful, investing in genuine relationships) every. day. is probably more stressful than it is joyful. Especially considering the difficulty of maintaining several habits at once.

I actually think “balance” can be subjective. The objective doesn’t always have to be trying to spend 50% of your time on work, and 50% relaxing. It can be healthy for people who love what they do to work 80-90% of the time, and then spend 10% of their time with friends and family, working out, meditating etc. The key here isn’t the amount of time you spend on both, but instead how present you can be while you’re doing both. My hypothesis is that if you know when to take breaks, take them, and can be present and reset during those breaks – you can avoid burn out and achieve this so-called “balance” life.

What do you think?


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thoughts

Belonging & Purpose

Originally written & published in my monthly newsletter, Oct 15 2019

Here’s a hypothesis I’ve been developing over the past few months: After our physiological needs are met, humans need a sense of self-actualization to feel joy/fulfillment. A lot of the time, what makes people experience happiness both when that isn’t/is present, is a strong sense of belonging or purpose. If someone lacks both, they can feel miserable. If they have one (belonging/purpose) they can trudge along, not the most joyful person but working on something and living at a state that gives them some sort of joy or fulfillment.

Important: I think you can have purpose without a sense of belonging, but I think most of the time when people have a sense of belonging and no purpose, their purpose can develop to helping and caring for the people that provide them this sense of belonging.

If you have a strong sense of both, you can reach a level of joy/fulfillment that allows you to work more deeply on self-actualization. When I think of those two buckets of things as what people need, and the extent to which they have a strong sense of belonging/purpose helping them become superpowered, I think of how they’re primarily established by culture & community.

Personally, I’m using this to figure out the systems and strategies needed to develop community within TKS.

What do you think?


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thoughts

People & Pain

Originally written and published in my monthly newsletter, October 15 2019

When people are being unkind, reserved, or even when they’re scared, they’re often in pain. The average person hurts easily, which translates to most people we meet are or have been usually hurting. 

Subconsciously, because of evolution/biology, we crave attention and care, so when we hurt we naturally self-reinforce that feeling to hurting even more (especially around other people) in hopes to have someone fulfill our need for attention/care. I’ve realized this by observing the people around me, but also when thinking about this at a meta level. 

I don’t think most people have a deep level of self-awareness. As a result, it’s usually up to external experiences to occur for people to move past pain. Especially when people recieve patience and compassion, they’ll be more willing to reflect on what’s actually happening inside of them (either through a conversation with someone or later on their own time). 

Takeaway: Being kinder and more caring allows the opportunity for others to make progress on their experiences. (Pain + Thoughtful Reflection = Progress). Hence, action item, express (even more) patience towards people who seem to be hurting and give them “love”/care.