Fragility of Everything

The day before heading to Neurips, I packed my luggage as usual at the last minute before going to bed (early am flight). As I was packing, I received a call from India. It was my mom. My dad had developed “breathing issues”, which we later found out was a combination of congestive heart failure, pulmonary edema, and some as-yet unexplained kidney issue that is keeping his blood creatine levels high. Soon after ending the call, in a daze, I threw my winter clothes for Vancouver out of my suitcase and stuffed random India appropriate clothes. Within minutes, I had my Vancouver hotel and flight canceled (thanks Ashley) and got a Bangalore flight instead.

Over the next two weeks, everything became upside down. My daily routines went out of the window. My screen usage went almost to none — mostly to take Ubers between my parents’ home and the hospital. All work priorities vanished from my mind simply because I did not have any mental capacity for it. I am ever so grateful for my team and everyone at AI Foundation who supported me during this time when only one thing was front and center for me — deal with dad, and do my best to help my mom who is taking care of him. Moments like this solidify what culture means in a company. We can talk a lot about it, but these pivotal moments act as tiny kernels around which your team’s actions crystallize in that saturated solution we call culture.

There is not much I can do now other than to create a medical/service team to help my dad medically manage the situation. I am teaching my mom to be a project manager. She needs to learn how to delegate — not because you cannot do something or you do not care, but out of respect for what is in front of you and the trust in the people’s abilities to do their job. I am finding out that even in personal life, some people like my mom will always be fierce independent contributors and will resist doing what it takes to be a successful manager. She has no choice now, much like a strong IC becoming a startup founder.

As I am returning to work this holiday season, I am thinking about the fragility of everything. My dad was the most energetic person I knew, and I inherited some of his resilience and hustle. To see him lying helpless in intensive care shook something very personal to the core. When flirting with death, I ponder the senselessness of everything and the purposefulness of everything. There is no time to waste. It is a matter of life and death.

Happy Holidays.

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