In a freewheeling chat with Bookosmia’s Lakshmi Ajay, Rakesh Godhwani spills the beans on working weekend hustles, teen behavior, finding one’s calling, the power of stories and why superheroes matter…
From a full time corporate eagle soaring the IT skies of ‘the Bengaluru of the noughties’, Rakesh Godhwani left the safe corporate shores behind to take a giant plunge into his weekend career of teaching. From successful corporate career at Wipro, Intel and Qualcomm, today he juggles a zany world as a full time academician, counselor, agony uncle, avid reader, podcaster, passion locator, history-buff, ‘emotional education’ enthusiast all-rolled-into-one!
- Your Twitter profile describes you as a nobody. But ‘nobody’ has had a hell of an interesting ride, we are sure. Spill!
I was a very confused soul and still am one. I took engineering as everyone was a doctor in my family. At 17, my view of the college life is one giant party- full of friends, food and lovely things. During my engineering counselling, I was sold on REC Trichy because it sounded sexy! After its seats got filled up, my brother told me that there were 2 top colleges left including one whose name he forgot and that it had a beach. I famously went in and told them “Send me to the college near the beach”. And they laughed. I loved every bit of the 4 years I spend at NIT Suratkal.
After graduation, I just wanted to work. While everyone around me was into GMAT & GRE and US bound, I had a simple dream of buying a bike and Levies Jeans, Adidas shoes and getting a taste of the city. I got a job in Wipro and began working in Bengaluru since 1997. I grew very fast.
I was a natural with connecting with people, even though I am an introvert. I was shy and had stammering issues but I worked on that and slowly came to love communication, public speaking and then writing.
2.Wait, you had stammering issues? How did you get over them?
It started in 8th grade. As a teen, I used to speak so fast that it ended up in slurring and stammering as I would lose my thoughts. I was conscious about it, but my mom helped me a lot. I would pick a book and read it loudly and slowly. And writing down my thoughts helped a lot. By doing this more, by class 11, I got over my stammering and was into debating and overcame my fear of facing audiences.
3. What was the ‘IT’ moment’ that made you leave your corporate life and walk into the unknown?
By 2000 I became very popular teaching workshops on weekends in colleges. By 2002 I had a flourishing weekend career and in 2004 I decided to resign but chickened out, because I had bills to pay etc. In 2007, the IT’ moment came while having a really expensive $80 meal in the USA and sipping wine. I thought, “Is that all there is to life”. I was so bored and lonely. I was watching this family in the garden and they were playing together. That’s when I knew! I took some time off from work to think things through, found clarity and somehow found the courage to quit.
4. So your side hustle became the main one. But why teaching?
I had a 12 year-long corporate career, but I was also a part time kind of guy. On weekends I got myself an MBA. From 1999 onwards I had a parallel profession of teaching communication on weekends to colleagues and it slowly grew on me. I saw everything- from the typical boardroom life, travel, and the perks. I was quoted in newspapers often, but felt something was amiss and teaching filled that void.
5. So you are saying teenagers actually listen to you? How are you doing this miracle? The nation..well..every weary parent of a teenager out there wants to know?
I teach communication through a lot of movie references, stories, case studies, factoids, statistics and by having fun. I teach and engage with ages ranging from 13 year old kids to 50 year old adults. I find that learning elements are similar.
People react to things similarly. The overall feeling in a classroom is ‘tell us something that connects with us, excites us and show us the way’. This is the role of the teacher. I think we should stretch our education system from 19 to 25 years. Now the person is more mature and can handle things better. It’s never too late to learn!
6. What do parents think teens want and what do teens really want from their parents?
Once a week, I am a counselor and volunteer a day of the week at an NGO called Vishwas in Jayanagar. I see that today’s teens are going through a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress compared to previous generations. They wake up to a new reality, a new fad every day. Their fears of losing out are huge.
Secondly, they are keenly watched by everyone and social media is a big high. Teens are conscious of this and are naturally very curious but are also afraid of being misjudged.
Nowadays it is important to teens to express themselves as they see? their idols or celebrities speaking up. Parents have to understand that this is the world we have given them and it’s not their fault. There is rampant alcohol abuse, drugs, abuse, ragging and bullying. Parents should try to understand all this and not just become their career counselors.
Today, parents also face peer pressure and social media adds to that. But their constant cocooning of children in comforts will ensure that they will never learn to struggle or value it.
The only job a parent has is to understand all this and love them unconditionally. Today a teen walks home and the parent asks “how much did you get” and that is not love, it’s a transaction. Rather than be wary, parents should help kids deal with the internet. Parents should also stop hiding things from children as they are more aware these days. I constantly tell teens to see multiple narratives to a situation, rather than just one.
7. In 3 Idiots, Aamir’s character talks about following your passion over the rat race. He can talk. He earns 100 crores a movie. What about those who er..aren’t there yet?
Normally when I am asked this in a class, I get students to seek the ‘why’ behind their question and face their innermost fears. I ask them whether it is family, responsibilities, FOMO or being worried at rejection or giving up success, that drives this question. Meanwhile, travel appeals to all your senses, so there is high gratification in that. But this anxiety about the future among millennials and their constant wish to travel today also stems from using travel as an escape route. I feel that this is where education can give an answer.
8. What drove you to start the School of Meaningful Experiences (SoME) and what do you hope to do?
The idea sprang from a summer camp I ran for my kids and kids of my friends and I expanded on it. Our only mission here is to make our teenagers and young adults be much more confident, communicative and collaborative. If we do that right, then we also have to spark their curiosity, creativity and competence, which are the 6C’s I teach at SoME. The curriculum is carved out of my PHD. Post program, kids report feeling more sorted at school or unafraid to ask questions in class and even stand up to bullies. The child who faced up the bully will now write a case on it and teach it to the next batch.
9. Do you recommend that parents read to their kids?
One of my personal highs has been to introduce my kids to books and read them a story every night. Storytelling is a powerful technique to broaden their minds, spur critical thinking and imagination.So I take stories from Amar Chitra Katha, the Mahabharat, Calvin & Hobbes, Dr Seuss, Asterix, Tintin and blend it in with characters from a current movie we are watching and tell it. But broadly the foundation is what I read as a child. One of the advantages of this has been that my son(11) now writes his own plays at school and reads ferociously while my daughter(8) still enjoys a good story.
10. Why are kids obsessed with superhero movies?
Because they are all about leadership. Leadership is nothing but a critical thinking process to decide what is right and wrong at that moment. Many superhero movies today, like Ironman are nothing but Leadership #101. But why should kids learn this from a comic book, or films is my question? This was the idea behind teaching moral science or the stories our Nana-Nani would tell us. These stories influenced children and taught them values like critical thinking, standing up for what is right, good versus evil etc.
About Rakesh Godhwani :
An Adjunct Professor for Communication for leaders and Business Communication at IIM Bangalore, he is a communication coach to promising startups, professionals, mid-level managers and college students. On evenings and weekends, he can be found teaching life lessons to young adults through his year old- School of Meaningful Experiences in Koramangala. He has authored 4 books including Seek: Finding Your True Calling and ‘Plunnge’ which is now also a popular podcast. He is an alumnus of NIT Karnataka, IIM Bangalore and a PH.D holder from Cardiff Metropolitan University.
About Lakshmi Ajay :
A minstrel at large. Looking at life and that zany moment in between. She is a lifeist, scribe, dance-demon, newshound, Bollywood fanatic/ au fait, outwitter, a contrarian and a dusk gatherer. Pining for Amdavad and some good chai, she is constantly hunting for the best Chat on Bangalore streets with a filter Kaapi in hand.