It’s All About Expectations

I just got back from a wonderful vacation in the Caribbean with family and friends. There is nothing like being able to walk around in shorts, swim in the ocean and grill – all that in the middle of December. But anyways, the reason I mention this is that I was catching up on news from the last couple of weeks and read an article in the New York Times titled “Some Indians Find It Tough to Go Home Again”. Here’s the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/28/business/global/28return.html

I was initially pleasantly surprised opening the article and seeing the photograph of someone I know from my MIT days – Shiva Ayyadurai. But when I read the story, it sent shivers down my spine. It could have been me who went through the same experience that Shiva went through and be forced to return to the US after a stint in India.

As I think about it more, I believe that it all boils down to three words – setting reasonable expectations. Yes, I was born in India and spent the first couple of decades of my life there and hence I could think I know all about its traffic, congestion, bureaucracy and lack of infrastructure. But, the truth of the matter is that the India I’m returning to has probably all the same problems but, at a much larger scale in proportion to the growth of the economy over the past decade. And so, my expectation is that I’m going to find it very tough to settle in and that’s what I’ve told my wife as well.

When I look back at my first couple of years in the US – I found it quite tough needing a lot of compromises. I was in an alien place (Purdue, West Lafayette, IN) and was in an old house with 10 other strangers (who later became good friends) and most of them from different countries. I hated the fast food that I ate almost daily. I had to very delicately balance a budget with my meager teaching assistant’s salary. Many times I ran up credit card bills and hence had to make adjustments to basic necessities (that I would have never done in India) to fix the situation.  I didn’t own a car and used to haul grocery up a hill in the middle of the mid-west winter (considering I grew up in Chennai which never goes below 70F). But, I never once complained about any of the above mainly because I thought of this as the seeds I needed to sow to reap the benefits of a wonderful education in a top-tier school. I mention all this cause this is not my singular experience. If you talk to most immigrants who come to the US for graduate studies they probably went through the same. But we all went through this knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel (a good job). It was all about having the right expectations.

Now, I view going back to India to be just as difficult if not more. It’s probably going to take a couple of years for me and my family to settle down in India. We are probably going to have some really rough patches – both professionally and personally. If I list all the things that I anticipate going wrong – you will think I am paranoid. But, most importantly I think it will be crucial to be “A Roman in Rome”. That does not mean I will cut any ethical corners – but it just means recognizing that India has its own idiosyncrasies that I would need to first understand and then work through patiently. And I would also need to constantly remind myself that the reason I’m moving back to India is the same reason that makes it a difficult country to live in – it is a fast growing economy that lacks a lot of things we take for granted in the US and that my friends, is music to my VC ears.

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10 thoughts on “It’s All About Expectations

  1. Hi Anand Nice perspective. It is certainly "Setting reasonable realistic expectations".I suggest that you continue writing on your experience relocating, so that It can serve as a "What to expect" for people that follow the path.ur junior @ CS Dept @ SVCE !

  2. Hi Anand???. This is a very good one. One thing I can find is that all you guys love both the nations and want the best of both like a kid does???. I think this is not an Issue really but it???s just getting used to a kind of living. If you think it???s really an issue then expecting it in our generation is quite impossible.I got some American friends in the Middle East who are facing the same kind of problems in moving back to the US. The funny part is that they feel that the US is not good enough to move back from the gulf region??? which I consider it as deserted place. So I???m sure your expectations are more valid and genuine??? Keep writing.

  3. I returned to India little over a year ago after having been in the US for over a decade. I worked for an American MNC for a few months before starting a venture. I do deal with the Indian bureaucratic system day in and day out as the govt is the only sector that is spending right now. Having run this company for a year and after having successfully executed few projects for the government, I should say that its not rocket science to deal with the way things are back at home. The key is understanding the system and dealing with it appropriately, without trying to fight the system. You can’t do business the American way here and its certainly not easy to do business in India. India still works on "influence" . If you don’t know the right people it is difficult to get thing done even for personal stuff. For example, getting your kid into school OR finding a doctor who is not going to con you, etc. And there are tons of small things like this that takes your focus out of your real life. There is absolutely no professionalism or efficiency in your daily life in India.There are a few things where you may not want to set the expectation according to the local norms. For example, for me putting my kids in a "0 Sigma" school will never be an option. To match up with the American schooling approach, you will be forced to choose a school that is on right of the "+2 Sigma" border and that comes at a significant cost. The romance of India dies down fairly fast. It then comes down to this – Choice. From a financial perspective, it makes sense to work in a country where I would be able to generate a higher IRR. I think the US wins hands down in this regard, not to mention the better quality of life in the US. But now, if you are moving back to India to run your own venture and not work for some random MNC, all bets are off. The growth and opportunity are certainly here, if you are willing to deal with everything else.

  4. Interesting perspective. I struggle with this question always. When I do get back, how easy will it be? Trade off’s Thanks for sharing….Sunil

  5. Sunil,There is no such thing as "easy" in this transition. I 100% agree with what Subra says. I moved back 1.5 years ago and I completely agree with the struggle and inefficiencies faced in the day to day life. You just have to put your efficiency standards in the US and create new ones in India. There is a COMPLETELY different way of dealing with people here. And I mean people at ALL levels. You always feel like you are at the receiving end even IF you spend a lot of money to get a task done. So my 2 cents to anyone who thinks the transition to India will be somewhat "easy" — FORGET IT. IT will NOT be easy with a US mindset for sure. There is just one exception to this, if you parents already run a mid-big size business and you are joining them, then yes, it’ll be relatively easy. But for most of us who want to start from scratch, It’s SUPER difficult from all perspectives. Esp financially, because having a quality life at low income is NOT an option in Metros in India at all.On the note of "when to get back", there is no right answer. You get back when you are ready to put in 200% of struggle in all directions. It’s like having a first baby. You never know the struggles and challanges and joys your baby brings you until you actually have one, but what makes you a good parent is the "willingness to adapt the change and grow with it" This is exactly like that. You are never 100% prepared for the transition, you just have to have the will for it and by "you" I mean, "everyone" in your family who’s moving with you. 🙂

  6. Someone once said to me, "watch your expectations, forsatisfaction is merely the quotient of your perceived achievements over your expectations"

  7. Very well articulated what I & probably many objective minded have been thinking & talking realistically! Godspeed in your transition & endeavours in India & elsewhere too…Cheers, JK @ Boston??

  8. Guys… who is calling you back to India… dont come back and struggle here… if you dont come back we will also struggle less…. if you want to come back come on Indian terms we have not changed ………. else stay back where you are …. you are not invited back… we are going well without you too….

  9. Hi Anand..this is probably a year later but I moved back for an important and a happy reason. Albeit having fun and being peaceful at the family front I am facing a hit on the wall situation at the professional side. I am also ready to give more time to myself to get seasoned. Do you plan to revisit this blog entry of urs having spent almost a yr since u moved back??

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