Picture source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Artist: Hasui Kawase

About the author: Swarna Jain is a 2023 IHEID graduate with a Master’s in International Affairs. Her thesis focused on ‘Refugees in the Peace-Migration Nexus’. She has diverse experience in migration, human rights, gender equality, innovation, peacebuilding, conflict resolution, aid delivery, livelihoods, and human security. Swarna has successfully overseen projects addressing the interplay between humanitarian assistance, sustainable development, and peacebuilding in South Asia and East Africa, collaborating with International Organizations, NGOs, refugee-led initiatives, advocacy campaigns, media platforms, and civil society initiatives. Reach out to Swarna at swarna.jain@graduateinstitute.ch.

Embracing the (Extra)ordinary: Weaving Belief and Connection Amidst Uncertainty

Today, I’m flipping the script and starting with a please see note in the beginning. So, P.S: There is no happy ending, no grand event, no life-altering instance, nor a swift remedy in this story; it’s about the mundane routines and seemingly insignificant moments carrying the same fears, doubts, and uncertainties that ripple through each of our lives. This is what the little piece is all about — the simplicity, like of a shared meal. While our life circumstances vary in degrees and forms, we can all learn from the shared experience of navigating fears and worries.

The Machine

In the midst of uncertainty, how do we uncover joy? This question has been consuming my thoughts, fuelled by my own remarkable journey. After completing my master’s degree, I embarked on a daring path in pursuit of job opportunities within the UN system in Geneva. Believe me, it’s no walk in the park. I faced countless complications – permits, fleeting contract durations, competing against candidates with EU passports, the daunting task of finding housing, ensuring financial stability amidst Geneva’s soaring costs of living, building an independent life in a foreign land, a thousand other hurdles that any student in Geneva could testify to, and lastly, hoping to create a remarkable story along the way. Like many, I dreamed of being part of a mission greater than myself, transcending the boundaries of my limited identity. However, the path to realizing this dream proved far from simple. It demanded endless hours of applications, networking, interviews, and searches, with no guarantee of success.

Just a Cog in the Machine

During my two transformative years as a student in Geneva, I immersed myself in enlightening conversations with individuals from diverse backgrounds – disparate geographies, communities, ideologies, religions, and politics. Amidst these apparent differences, I realized we all have something in common that we try to hide – our fears. We share a collective fear of inadequacy, disappointing our loved ones, falling short in comparison, abandoning our dreams, guilt of being lesser, facing judgment, and succumbing to self-criticism. These fears sow seeds of doubt, causing us to question the choices we’ve made and whether the risks we’ve taken were too great.

Stepping outside the Machine

Amidst this tumultuous and uncertain journey, a flicker of hope emerged, fuelled by my unwavering self-belief and the extraordinary kindness of the community surrounding me. Despite enduring countless rejections that could have shattered my confidence, I made a conscious decision not to allow them to define my capabilities or potential. Moments of self-doubt still permeate my journey, yet, every morning I make a courageous choice, accompanied by a comforting ritual (which involves reading this book and particularly this passage over and over) that has profoundly impacted me:

“You know, in biology there is a phenomenon called the sport, which is a sudden and spontaneous deviation from the type. If you have a garden and have cultivated a particular species of flower, one morning you may find that something totally new has come out of that species. That new thing is called the sport. Being new it stands out, and the gardener takes a special interest in it. And life is like that. The moment you venture out, something takes place in you and about you. Life comes to your aid in various ways. You may not like the form in which it comes to you – it may be misery, struggle – but when you invite life, things begin to happen. But you see, we don’t want to invite life, we want to play a safe game; and those who play a safe game die very safely. Is that not so?”

—Jiddu Krishnamurti, “Think on these Things”

Above the daily anxieties of worth, success, achievements, and accolades, I place my mission of contributing to a better, more peaceful world. This overarching purpose guides my actions, eclipsing momentary worries. Moreover, it is the people who surround us that illuminate our shared humanity, validating our vulnerabilities. I consider myself profoundly fortunate and blessed to have a support network of family, friends, and mentors who offer solace in times of distress; and acquaintances and even strangers who have shared their own stories and vulnerabilities. These encounters have taught me the importance of an ecosystem, composed of compassionate human beings. If ever you find yourself feeling alone on your journey or lacking reminders that nothing can impede your destiny, albeit on a different timeline, I want to impart this message: nurture within yourself a belief that blooms with a newfound strength, growing not by leaps and bounds, but by a mere 1% each day. It’s enough. You have a purpose here, a reason for being, no matter how elusive or arduous it may seem. Embrace that belief, act upon it, and uncover the (extra)ordinary path that awaits you.