Team InsideIIM is delighted to do an interview with Adam Pervez (website – HappinessPlunge.com).
Until 18 months ago, his career followed a brilliant and predictable trajectory. The steady accumulation of academic and professional accolades began with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Ohio State. A passion for travel and international experiences led him to take up a job with Schlumberger, travelling the world as a field engineer. He then took an MBA from the IE Business School in Madrid, (ranked in the top ten on a three year basis in the FT MBA Rankings till 2013). The parallels with any IIT-IIM graduates and our engineer-MBAs here are almost uncanny.
Post MBA, he decided to make amends for his involvement in an industry that caused irrevocable harm to the environment. That meant taking up a job with Siemens Wind Power, in one of the best places to live on earth – Denmark. But this was not fulfilling enough, and so he took the plunge. By doing something that few B school graduates would dare replicate. He jettisoned his job, and with it a six figure pay check, to travel the world and make a difference. And that is how the Happiness Plunge and the Happy Nomad Tour was born.
Adam has been touring and volunteering around the world (“voluntouring”, as he puts it) over the last 18 months. He writes regularly for the Huffington Post. He has also written for The Economist and been featured on BusinessWeek. Following are the excerpts of our interview.
[Update: If this story has inspired you, you may want to read about Adam’s Crazy Hair FundRaiser for kids with cancer]
Tell us about your journey so far – how your perspectives have changed through the years.
Wow, my journey so far. It’s been the experience of a lifetime. It has awakened me to so much so quickly. It’s like a crash course in humanity and empathy as I choose to experience things my privilege of being born in the West protects me from.My perspectives have changed a lot. Before this trip I thought poor people were happier since their lives were simpler. In some ways this is true, but in many respects it was a very naive assumption. I’ve seen the stark difference between rural and urban poor, and the stark difference between the financial poverty that plagues the developing world and the mental poverty that plagues the developed world.One example relates back to my MBA. There we talked about “the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid.” It’s true. There’s a lot of money to be made from those earning less than $2 per day across the world. Living at the bottom of the pyramid allowed me to see how this often amounts to exploitation.At the bottom of the pyramid you can’t buy in bulk and have to buy everything in small packets. In Honduras I did some math comparing how much the same volume of shampoo costs in poor Honduras and rich USA. In the end, a 750ml bottle of Pantene shampoo costs $6.99 in the USA and the same shampoo costs $12 in Honduras. From this I started a series on my website called “Que Caro Es Ser Pobre” or “How Expensive It Is To Be Poor” after seeing a sticker bearing this logo at an organization I volunteered at in Guatemala. That it’s expensive to be poor and that it’s so hard to break out of the poverty cycle is something I couldn’t have fully appreciated had I not undertaken this journey.At the same time, I’ve met people randomly and through my volunteering experiences that can only be described as full-fledged heroes. They operate in the shadows, attracting less than a millionth of a percent of the interest of Paris Hilton or Amitabh Bachchan. But these heroes do the heavy lifting the rest of us avoid or ignore and make the world a better place.
Tell us more about the Happiness Plunge and the Happy Nomad Tour. How have you been occupied over the last 18 months?
The Happiness Plunge is the phrase I came up with summarizing the process I went through to identify my passions and then go after my dreams. I called it a plunge because I pictured myself standing at the edge of a cliff about to “take the plunge” with no bungee cord or parachute or undo option. I only had the faith in myself and the planning I had done to make the most of my journey into happiness.The Happy Nomad is what I came up with after identifying my passions of traveling, writing, helping others, teaching, learning, and telling stories. I’m truly happy and I’m truly a nomad. It fits (smiles). I started my trip in Mexico, went south through Central America and South America by bus (apart from the Panama to Colombia crossing since there are no roads between the two countries). I then moved to Southeast Asia, then Nepal, and now India. I volunteer in some way with the goal of leaving each place I visit better than how I found it.Between the volunteering, traveling, writing, reading, photo editing, and long journeys by every form of transportation you can think of, there is never a dull moment. But even when there are, like on 30 hour train rides from Bokaro Steel City to Hyderabad, I use the time to contemplate and process all the things I am experiencing. I don’t fear idle time the way I used to when I had a “normal” life.
What were your motivations – what made you quit a high-paying dream job (in most people’s minds at least) in favour of the Happy Nomad Tour?
Yes, working in wind power in Denmark truly was a dream come true. I was atoning for my sins committed previously in the oil industry and I was living in a truly amazing place (apart from the weather). Each phase of my life got a bit better, from college to the Middle East where I got to start my life as a semi-Nomad and traveler, the Middle East to Spain for business school where I got to learn so much and meet so many amazing people, and then from Spain to Denmark where I got to live in a place with one of the highest qualities of life in the world.I was getting closer to where I wanted to be at each big change, but I could also see that although each change seems so big, at my pace of change I knew I’d never get where I wanted to be in this lifetime. Taking the plunge was a shortcut to get me on the fast track to giving myself a fighting chance at reaching my full potential in life. Other motivations were that I knew as a 28-year-old single guy, it was now or never back in 2011. Life often just seems to get more complicated as you get older, so it was best to take the shortcut then when healthy and with no baggage. I also realized, after lots of internal deliberation trying to figure out what was wrongwith me, that nothing was wrong with me. I just wanted something different out of life, and if I didn’t go after it now I might never get the chance.Other motivations were freedom, living life on my terms, pursuing my passions, learning as much as I could, doing my best to make the world a better place with my own hands, and the desire to understand my fellow man better through experience.
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