I still enjoy baking whenever I have the time for it. Just that there’s too little time now – I have a company to run, a startup to market, two new products to launch, and what not?. Yes, life’s busy and there’s nothing as satisfying as a busy life. And thank God for that!
We just closed our accounts and our companies posted positive returns. To be honest, it’s been a largely upward graph for us since we founded our company in 2010. Our IT business has serviced over 150 clients globally and we are moving forward in geometric progression.
But I am not here today to share my success story as an entrepreneur. I am here today to talk of failure…and how I crawled out of it with considerable scares…and how I am determined to ensure that no one has to undergo things that I (and countless other parents like me) had to go through.
When the four of us (my husband, our kids, and I) came to America, our eyes were filled with dreams, wishes, and hopes. My husband had a reputable job and I was beyond sure I would find a job that fits my qualifications in the land of dreams. I graduated from a prestigious tech school in India (IIT, Mumbai), and I worked as a professor in an Engineering college in Mumbai, India.
The pleasantries of discovering this great country brought us a million surprises.
Raising our kids was a shared responsibility as it should be. But being the mother, I felt responsible for the lion’s share of their upbringing. This is where I first encountered the limitations of bringing up children in a nuclear family far from one’s homeland without help. On so many occasions, the two of us felt like we were no less than eighteen hands short of what would have been the ideal upbringing for our children. To give our children the best upbringing they deserved, I had to set aside my dream of working.
When our kids were young, most of my daytime would comprise of regular chores that are typical of any young mother with children. Notwithstanding the bittersweet challenges that life threw at us, the two of us brought up our children with great vigor and passion. It was one of those afternoons when the kids were at school and I was baking their favorite cookies.
Through the window of our apartment, I saw a young lady, dressed in a business suit getting down from her car and walking into my neighbor’s house. She must have been an executive on a sales call. There, at that moment, it suddenly struck me – whatever became of my dream job? Or any job for that matter!
I was educated at an institute that so many people only dream of.
And yet nothing at that point in my life reflected that. In the pursuit of bringing up my children to the best of my abilities, a few more years had passed and if you ask me, it felt like – only few days! Such is the joy of parenting!
The whole day I was restless and felt that I was still half-accomplished in my career. But a wonderful idea struck me. I had realized that we could not leave our children alone at home and go to work. Nor did our financial condition warrant boarding school or full-time professional childcare. Plus, we really wanted to experience the joy of bringing up our children all by ourselves. But as people, all of us are blessed with multiple skills. I figured out ways to tap into my extended set of skills.
Sure, the job I wanted did not come. But the community came to me. I was blessed with some wonderful neighbors. I gave them yoga classes – for a pride. During weekends, I would often organize short day trips to different community events in the city. It was largely in those trips that I discovered the true power of the diverse yet well-knit American community. We would share home-cooked food, songs from different lands, loads of compassion, and most importantly our leisure time among neighbors who had become my extended family. Moreover, each member of the community gave back with some or the other skill that would be of use to others.
Most of us have heard the proverb “It takes a village to bring up a kid”. That was true, thanks to my Neighborhood Community. Truly, my kids, who are adults now, are responsible, compassionate, and helpful toward us, the neighbors, and their own careers! What else can a parent dream of!
Back then, being a part of the community also opened up a lot of small employment opportunities for me. I would take up home-based tutoring assignments, conduct weekend classes teaching chess, and teach in elementary school as a paraprofessional. And the yoga classes kept growing by the day.
Before I knew it, I was contributing some money toward buying my kids the clothes and toys they wanted.
But deep down, I always knew that I was capable of so much more. Notwithstanding the money that was flowing or the joy that came from sharing skills and happiness, the work that I was doing was rarely connected to my hard earned academic skills.
Time flew with the wind. One evening, my husband and I were creating a long list of guests for a party for my younger child’s 12th birthday a week later. I was so excited in the madness of preparations that I totally forgot that this evening would officially unlock my way back to the corporate world. Yes, I would have become eligible for a job in just another day.
I appeared for a few interviews in the following weeks. As high as my aspirations were, the lower a salary I was offered – partially because I wanted to work until 3 PM. At last, I managed to land an 8:00 to 3:00 job, albeit outside my domain expertise, in a company of 30 employees, and for half the money I was already making. “But hey! It’s an office after all. There will be new co-workers, more shared knowledge, and the career just might take off from here,” I remember telling to myself. And to add some honesty, it was the only job that ended at 3:00 PM.
I remember walking into the office on the first day. I was dressed at my professional best and was filled with a bucket of mixed emotions. But more than anything else, I was carrying a steely resolve to not miss this opportunity that had finally come.
My first day at the office was a memorable one!
To my utter surprise, I saw my husband waiting outside the office, the moment I stepped out. He had squeezed out half-a-day’s break from work for the first time since the moon was carved out from our planet (not that he never got that leave, but he never found reason enough for it).
He picked me up from office and treated me like a queen. Together, we went to pick up the kids from school. And boy! Weren’t they exhilarated to see both of us come together to pick them up? We quickly strolled to our favorite fast food joint! At home, that day was special for all the four people in my family.
I made a routine to wake up earlier every day. By 6, I would pack lunch for the four of us and serve breakfast. Sharp at 7, I would leave for work and my husband would drop kids in school and I would come back and pick them up by 3 PM. We followed roughly same morning routine for the next several years.Few months have passed away. I had just about settled into my work and was already doing enough to impress everyone around. My days were typically divided into two shifts – the first half was at the work that quenched my thirst for a professional career and the second half was my personal life with my kids, and husband. I was deftly managing and balancing both!
Around this point, I stumbled upon a big challenge.
On one day in the office, there was an emergency and all the employees were asked to stay back till 6 PM. My husband was away from the town and he wouldn’t come until next day! “Who’ll pick up the kids from school?” The question hit my mind faster than anything else.
Those days were not the days of smartphones and even the texting was not so popular! By then, I had lost physical contact with my neighbors, largely because I was super-busy with office, kids, family! But it was just immediate contact that was lost – the community bond that we shared was still present. I ran here and there searching for their contact numbers and calling my neighbors if anyone was available to pick my kid. I called almost every neighbor I knew. Some of them didn’t answer the call and some of them picked up and said that they weren’t available right then!
I was depressed. But suddenly my phone rang and it was Sara! Sara was our neighbor and I helped her kids in math homework. She agreed to pick up the kids I was relieved of the great tension. My kids knew Sara and her kids. She was the TRUSTED NEIGHBOUR I was looking for!
Now I knew Sara from my earliest days in the neighborhood. She was a single mother, had an elderly parent, worked a store job, and was one heck of a fighter. But despite her personal challenges in life, she would never shy away from helping others in the community. She was the first participant in my Yoga classes and had volunteered to introduce me to others in the neighborhood. She had a special bond with my kids. My children would often visit her home on the weekends to play with Hannah, her daughter. When Sara would go out of town, I and my kids would go and spend the evening with her elderly parent. Sara was someone I could trust with my life when it came to my children. My kids often walked her parent – mostly owing to the inspiring war stories they got to hear from the 80-year old veteran and war hero.
But in hindsight, I wonder how difficult it must have been for her to cope with life. She was like me in so many ways, only with more challenges. Yes, we were both blessed with an overly helpful community. But given our circumstances, an ounce of the problem for me would easily be three for her. And yet, she was this kind, helpful, and empathetic human being who deserved so much more than life had given her.
Moving on, a similar office situation occurred many times. And I was mostly relying on Sara! An idea struck me! I called my neighbors for a potluck. Over the course of our casual conservation, I explained to them the need for mutual cooperation among ourselves so that we can help each other in picking up and dropping kids from school, classes, activities, keeping an eye on the house when somebody is on vacation, receiving important mail/parcel on behalf of neighbors absent from home, attending a service call from service providers, cooking some delicious food, etc.
Some people wanted to offer their services for pride and some wanted to offer price, but everybody agreed that we needed to cooperate, after all, we are in a neighborhood! We prepared an exhaustive list of tasks that the neighbors need and asked each neighbor to pick up the services they would offer! Everybody was provided with the list of neighbors, the services they offer and their contact numbers on a sheet of paper and we distributed copies among ourselves.
We made our neighborhood into a Trusted Neighborhood where almost everyone would offer some of the other services!
Creating this list of services offered by the various neighbors became the much-needed ice-breaker to the hesitation that so many of us experienced when asking for help.
Some of the services and tasks I offered personally included providing play date on weekends, math tutoring on weekdays, picking up or dropping off kids to an after-school activity, etc.
It became a common practice in my neighborhood that once in every month we, our trusted neighbors, meet along with family (kids and husbands in a) for potluck parties to show gratitude and enjoy the togetherness of the extended family.
The cooperation among the neighbors helped me and my husband stay relaxed and concentrate at work while we were at the office. And so was the case with the other neighbors also. Our monthly potluck party introduced more neighbors to our group and added more skills to the bucket. Somebody’s kid offered computer virus removal, and a lanky bloke was ever so willing to give a jump to the battery. Some others sold homemade cookies and ethnic food.
What brought out the Onata Neighborhood concept?
Fast Forward 10 years!
It’s been 10 years since that day when I sought Sara’s help for the first time. Each bit of that day’s memory is fresh as if it had happened this morning. That was not the only day I had to face what I faced. There were many other occasions later too. But I had my preparation on for each of them. I would have at least five people in my neighborhood backing up – all of them with advance notifications.
That was the time when cell phones and text messages were our only options of communication. Now, we have a lot more. And yet, the same problems persist with so many people with kids, elderly parents, and pets. We are not always there when they need us. And we can’t leave them to just anybody. To care for them when we aren’t by their sides, we need trusted neighbors.
When Onata™ was being conceptualized as the Universe of Services, I pledged to make it an ecosystem through which we can usher in the fundamentals of a Trusted Neighborhood. As we are finally launching the Onata Neighborhood Service, we aim to go beyond just picking up and dropping kids from one place to another.
Using the Onata app, people in the community can find Trusted Neighbors for a range of gigs and services. From taking your pet to the vet, finding a cooking instructor, or just watching over your house when you are not present, you can assign gigs to people you know and trust. Moreover, you can trust specific neighbors for specific gigs (say I trust John for manning the house and Lisa for collecting flowers from the florist).
Onata Neighborhood allows you to fill in your calendar with gigs for specific days and dates.
The on-demand service lets you ask instant favors from your neighbors – something I would have loved to have back in those days. If one of them denies it for some reason, you can move on to the next Trusted Neighbor.
The Onata Neighborhood promises to develop regular communities into robust service exchange hubs where no one ever needs to feel awkward asking for help. You can be of help to your neighbors either for price or for pride.
At Onata, we believe the quickest way to social bridging among people of different genders, ethnicities, races, and even political inclinations are to make them serviceable to one another. To know more about the Onata Neighborhood Service, visit Onata.com/neighborhood-service.
To kickstart our campaign, we have launched a unique referral contest – the Onata Insider Program. The contest rewards our early registrants with free $5 Onata credits on signup and free leads and subscriptions are they progress in the contest. Top 5 contest performers get a huge perk of Onata Stock options. The #1 Onata Insider gets a Grand Perk of 100,001 stock options.
One of our earliest success stories has been the welcoming of our idea by Startup Grind. Onata made it to the Top 130 global companies out of over 7000 applicants that made it to the Startup Grind Global Conference 2018.
Have thoughts or questions about Onata Neighborhood? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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*All images used in the article are representational.