I dedicate this article to Amma, Appa, my monkey (a.k.a sister) and Ammamma.
“Good, better, best.
Never let it Rest.
Until the good gets better.
And the better, best”.
Mrs. Hornett, my maths teacher at St. Peters CE Primary School, wrote this simple and yet poignant message in my little leaving book on my last day of year 6. A message that was going to reiterate throughout the rest of my life. Whose rhythm was going to be the essence of the poetry that I was yet to create with Kan Do Med. Kan Do Med is the soul I’m yet to fully discover, the love of my life.
Who am I?
My journey: Colombo – London – Amsterdam – Boston – Geneva
To give you an insight into my journey, I was born on the other side of the world: the capital city of Sri Lanka. I have also been fortunate enough to live in Zambia and to study in Geneva and Boston whilst being a medical student. I have the greatest respect for the innumerable students who are willing to cross seas to study medicine abroad. At the age of 18, I guess I was willing to sacrifice everything – family, friends, home-made food, my beautiful hometown– for a life in a country where I would literally have to start again from scratch. I didn’t know the Dutch language so prior to Medical School, I took a gap year during which I enrolled on a Dutch Language Course at Leiden University. After the 4 months Dutch language crash-course I was meant to be parcelled and package ready for med school. Except, I was late to my first lecture as I couldn’t decode that ‘CZ1’ was short for “Collegezaal 1” which means ‘lecture room 1’. When I was finally proud that I had in fact discovered where I was meant to be, I entered a hall of a thousand eyes staring at me. When I finally sat down, I believe the lecturer was emancipating intellectual words that seemed so close to the illegible noises that babies make. I understood not a single word of Dutch. I asked myself the question: who thought it would be ‘cool’ to study abroad again?
Six years passed. In those blessed seasons, I made friends and family for a lifetime. In fact, interestingly, a Dutch couple kind of adopted me into their family. I met them via the Sathya Sai Organisation in The Netherlands when I was looking for a place to stay. Dr. Jacques Witteveen and Marsha Witteveen have been my Dutch world ever since. I am truly grateful to swami to present such pure souls in my life to act as a source of guidance and wisdom. Whenever I wanted to discuss something important or difficult I would pass it by them. They have been more than an extension of my brain. With their plethora of life experience, they have taught me about life itself. In some ways, they have given me eye-opening experiences and teachings that my parents alone could not have provided me. To this day I call them my ‘oma’ and ‘opa’ and treat them as if they were my own grandparents. As Jacques was a retired cardiologist, he gifted me my first stethoscope when I graduated from med school. I must say that cardiology will always be my most favourite field, regardless of the fact, that I have currently applied for GP training. I hope perhaps to run specialist cardiology clinic or become involved in healthcare policy-making, specifically in the field of cardiovascular disease. Sometimes love and passion for a subject are not the only things to take into account. Practicality plays a vital role too!
“Tell me who your friends are and I tell you who you are”
The Mentorship program: Natwest bank’s Entrepreneurial Spark, TopFem
Then, I was looking forward to joining the Natwest Entrepreneurial Spark (that Mr. Rajeswaran had successfully completed) as Rajeswaran advised it would be a cutting-edge learning experience. Unfortunately, I failed to get selected for the program. London is a very competitive region for this program, so I might consider applying to a program outside of London next year. Next, I applied to the TopFem mentoring program. TopFem is a Dutch-based organisation with the goal of helping ambitious women to climb the professional career ladder. TopFem’s philosophy is based on five core principles: Ambition, Empowerment, Network, Mentorship, and Leadership Development. They believe that mentors have great “added value in personal development” and “connect their members to experienced and professional mentors.” After 6 months of joining TopFem, I have been connected to a Dutch mentor called Nelleke Geel who is a translator and publisher of foreign fiction in Holland. In the end, it’s important to realise that a rejection is just a redirection to something greater, something better suited to your own goals and aspirations. This is why one of my favourite quotes comes from Paulo Coelho: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
How did my entrepreneurial interest develop?
As a student, I have never imagined myself become anything more than a doctor. Naturally with no Entrepreneurial background, nor a degree in business, nor a family with business connections I was not one of those ‘types’ who was meant to enter the business pathway. However, I have always enjoyed being creative and I have always enjoyed teaching. For instance, one of my hobbies is designing my own clothes. I enjoy converting (old) sarees to lehengas or kurta tops. And teaching is innovative communication in its own right. It’s more than just talking about a certain subject. It involves interacting with intelligent minds whilst utilising all the senses and forms of communication. It involves observing, making on-the-spot choices based on the concentration levels of the class and knowing how to evoke attention at the right moment. I feel these two root interests of mine helped me to formally form Kan Do Med – an education designed for life. To keep something sustaining with intelligent tutors who believe in what you believe in is the second challenge. This is the reason why I try to invest a huge amount of time into interviewing and selecting the best candidates after a day of teamwork activities. At the end of the day, the selected tutors should have a ‘click’ with each other – the fundamentals of teamwork. I don’t expect my tutors to have all the skills when they join Kan Do Med, but at least show signs of resilience, the potential to pick up new skills rapidly and the ability to innovate and initiate ideas and solutions based on issues of the moment. And as a devotee of Sai Baba, I have based the very foundation and principles of Kan Do Med on his moral teachings. Consequently, being a Kan Do Med tutor should in my viewpoint, be a life-changing experience. Of course, any teaching experience stands great on the CV of any university student. All-in-all, those who join our team enter with the curiosity to learn and I hope to provide them with the sufficient experiences so that they leave more useful to mankind at large. This means that I am transparent about everything: positive and negative feedback. After all, we are human beings with the a priori potential of making mistakes and that’ s okay. But what’s not okay is to acknowledge the mistake and to repeat it again.
Running your own start-up is a wisdom-expanding activity. Every day is a lesson. Every moment is a challenge. I have never reflected so much about life, about who I am as a person, about the choices I make and about how I interact with others. Running what you have designed is an educational package in its own right, so I am only mentioning one or two out of the many lessons learned here below.
I have learned that networking is essential. I was recently invited to attend the British Tamil Entrepreneurs’ Christmas meet-up at a stunning restaurant in London. In whatever I do, I don’t really have an agenda. I think it’s more important to enjoy the moment and if something beautiful comes out of it then all the better. Perhaps my principles will change as I mature, but, I certainly did not go there to set up business partnerships. I just wanted to meet other like-minded Tamils and learn about the inspiring entrepreneurial choices that they have made in their lives. As a woman, a question that’s always in the back of the mind is how can you combine family life with business whilst also being a doctor. Being present at the meet-up gave me the opportunity to come into contact with the founder of ‘Tamil Women in Business.’ She is such a wonderful soul and we had a good laugh observing other people have intellectual conversations whilst we were sipping our watery chai tea. On a serious note, I am looking forward to being present at their next team-working event and meet-up.
Curiosity is also so essential and can lead you to major accidental discoveries! At the British Tamil Entrepreneurs’ event I got the chance to meet Nelson Sivalingam for literally 1 minute. It was the fastest impromptu meeting in the history of mankind probably. In that 1 minute, he introduced me to another colleague at the event. But when I went home, I couldn’t help wondering what his background was. Hence, I googled him. And that’s when I found out that he was the founder of an e-learning platform called ‘HowNow’. So I sent an email. The next thing I know, I am sitting in their stylish office in London setting up together with Alma (his Spanish co-worker) our first online school. And today, 28th January 2018, we successfully launched Kan Do Med’s first online BMAT Course. Yes, we struggled, in the beginning, to figure out the mystery behind each button and to get everyone online, but once the Kan Do Med Course was running I could foresee a good future with online teaching. Hence, let your dreams flow, no matter how crazy they are. Research everyone who you think may have an interesting background and you never where that path will take you!
Have courage, always. Courage is the stem of everything. I feel a person without fear has no limit and is not restricted by any emotion nor challenge. There will be plenty of circumstances when you will hit bottom, fall down. It’s those moments when you truly find out who is there for you and who was just there as long as you were respected. To be honest, if life was always easy and straightforward, you would never be able to distil the pure diamonds from the dirt.
Be ready to apologise and to be responsible for the failures. I am always apologising to my parents. My mum tells me off constantly for not doing as much house-work as I could. And that’s because I take on a lot and have a huge responsibility to my tutors, my students, my day-time job etc. I used to be someone who never had a smart-phone until I turned 23 and now I am constantly on the phone replying to questions from parents, students, tutors etc. Sometimes I do feel bad that I am not spending as much time as I could with them as my weekends are either packed with studying for work-related exams or BMAT tutoring sessions. Managing everything can be quite tiring and stressful, so I am more grateful now than ever before that my family supports me in so many ways – from cooking great Sri-Lankan meals to ironing my clothes and picking me from the train station after meetings and dropping me off at the airport when public transport lets me down. I honestly wouldn’t be who I am without them. Hence the greatest life lesson of all is to put your family first because when you fall down – trust me – no one will be there for you like your own family. And that’s a fact proven to me several times this year.
Wishing the next generation of Tamils a great year ahead – may 2018 bring you all the luck, prosperity and happiness that you need!