VIJAYA THAKUR: How to Have a Breakdown


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Vijaya is the Founder and Executive Director of Resolve Network and an adventurer. Ever since she learned to love failure and embraced the struggle, she's gotten victories she didn't think were possible.

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  • Start with a Big Deal Problem. Boy did I do this one right. I even had the right setting: we’re talking horrifying, straight-to-DVD movie, sobbing outside the Senate kind of moment. “Why, Vijaya?” you might ask. “What could possibly excuse public crying – nay, full on heaving sobbing
  • in the one city where you never reveal vulnerability?I had just realized I was making genocide worse.  Alright, big problem: check.
  • I don’t even remember what happened next. Somehow, I got home, drew the curtains, turned off all the lights, sank into bed, and just let go. For days, I didn’t eat or anything – just lay there, going between crying, sleeping, waking, and staring blankly.
  • I didn’t even feel like I existed anymore – and this is key.  Sometimes, we’re afraid to fall apart because we want to know we’ll come out on the other side. But it’s really important that you go all in, because otherwise you won’t trust it –I wouldn’t have. I needed to admit the worst was true, or I’d feel like the real breakdown was still lurking beneath the surface, and I’d still be scared.
  • My uncle came by with ice cream and tried to get me to go out. I just told him that I had violated the biggest rule: first do no harm. I had failed at the only thing I ever cared about, I’d hidden my own failures from myself for years, and there was nothing left for me.
  • Nope, no going out for me. Instead, I curled up in my PJs, figured out an effective Cherry Garcia delivery mechanism while maintaining the fetal position, and settled in to watch Gandhi on repeat.
  • He said if we got independence the wrong way, we’d be setting ourselves up for failure: we couldn’t possibly build the nation we wanted to be if we used the wrong means to get there. I had known that my approach wasn’t working… why hadn’t I had the courage of my convictions? Ah, I was ready to dissect.
  • This is the most important part. Chart out the entire process of your failure: how you failed and the steps that got you there. And do it with no agenda, or it might bias your analysis – I didn’t think I was ever going back, but I needed to understand.  There will be layers– start with the facts, but keep peeling till you get to the emotional core of your failure.
  • For the five years leading up to this, I was living my dream working on genocide intervention policy and peace negotiations. I thought I was pretty awesome – a DC Hotshot saving lives. But underneath that bravada, I’d had this sick feeling in my gut for years that I had been afraid to look at too closely.
  • I knew that [it] wasn’t working. No matter how many victories I stacked up on the Hill, it never seemed to reach the people most affected by conflict. In fact, their lives were getting worse. Why? All the data, implementation studies
  • said #1 cause for project failure was a lack of connection to the grassroots. I had turned into a legislative contortionist trying to find ways to make GR fit into the existing model. But it didn’t work. Why?
  • We treat genocide like an event, not a process. Means we don’t strike at the root – just symptoms. Maintained through structural violence – is about power and access to resources. Don’t work at that, and not enough to do token GR work – have to counter structural violence.
  • My work : I celebrated when my headache went away after taking 4 Advils, but I ignored the fact that I had a brain tumor and let it keep growing. Then, underneath these layers, I got to the real question. I had known all this. Why did I stay? That brings me to…
  • For me: 1. I grew up thinking that policy was the only way to create systemic change.2.Said not possible to strike at root yet: political will, etc. Symptoms all we can get right now, will build… and then never do.3. Grassroots not big enough – to really deliver results at the grassroots, would have to work at the grassroots. Too “basic” and small for someone smart like me. Plus, don’t get the glory of DC.
  • But the really big one : Grassroots was too scary: no real path. I was scared I might fail.That was the big one. I realized I had no excuses anymore. I knew what I had to do.
  • 1. Be honest with yourself. Seek out… 2. Identify the core of your goals, and separate it from the frills3. Be dogmatic, uncompromising4. Embrace uncertainty, embrace the struggle5. You can’t be half a person.
  • VIJAYA THAKUR: How to Have a Breakdown

    1. 1. Vijaya THAKURHow to Have a Breakdown@thakuraine
    2. 2. #1 Start Big
    3. 3. What do you think?Big enough?
    4. 4. #2 Let YourselfTotally Fall Apart
    5. 5. No, really.
    6. 6. #3. Don‟t rush (wallow)
    7. 7. Moment recreated for your viewing pleasure
    8. 8. #4. Watch #5. Sneak inspiration, Gandhi.(but don‟t let it make you feel better) Best movie ever.
    9. 9. “3D Morality” Motivation MeansConsequences… gotta catch „em all!
    10. 10. #6. DissectYour Failure
    11. 11. My Peelings
    12. 12. Peeling Through: Fact 1
    13. 13. Fact 2(Genocide PreventionCheat Sheet included!)
    14. 14. or
    15. 15. #7: Identify Your Excuses1. It‟s not possible to strike at the root yet: no political will2. The public doesn‟t care about human rights3. Symptoms are all we can get right now, we‟ll get to the roots next time…(and never do)4. Grassroots isn‟t big enough – too “basic” and small for someone as smart and talents as me.5. Maybe if we start with token measures, it‟ll grow into something more substantial
    16. 16. …Here comes the big one
    17. 17. #8. Evolve: Identify Guiding Principles1. Be honest with yourself. Keep your worst fears upfront.2. Identify the core of your goals, separate it from the frills3. Be dogmatic, uncompromising about shaping your actions to achieve your mission4. Embrace uncertainty, embrace the struggle.5. Find a way or make one. Don‟t ever accept someone else‟s Kobayashi Maru.
    18. 18. #9. Come out of the Failure Closet
    19. 19. #10. Get to work.Be like Encyclopedia Brown, “no case too small.”
    20. 20. What do you resolve? #IResolve @Thakuraine @ResolveNetwork