A recent talk given by Gurvinder P. Singh at a TEDx event (associated with the nonprofit Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference) in San Antonio, Texas caught my attention:
A successful entrepreneur who sold his homegrown defense contracting firm for millions, G.P. shares the trials, tribulations and truths of showing up in the U.S. with $8 in his pocket and building a life of purpose. The talk – “Life Lessons for Realizing Your Potential”.
As I watched Gurvinder Singh speak — about how he came to this country, his inspiration, his root in Sikh values and their role in his success — I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déja vu, and for good reason. It’s a tale of the Sikh diaspora that many of his generation share: they came to this country never having left India before and therefore very unfamiliar with life in the west. With only a few dollars in their pockets, these Sikhs took a leap of faith armed with a determination to succeed and a steadfast belief in Sikh principles.
It’s a story that is very similar to that of my own father.
My father, who, similar to Gurvinder Singh (in appearance and circumstance), left India in the 1960s and came to the west with but a few dollars in his pocket to teach English (of all things) at a rural high school. He was the first of his family to leave India, and for many where my father ended up, he was the first turbaned Sikh they had ever seen. Like others of his generation, my father would face bigotry and racism that we — even in our post-9/11 world — would never face now, and he certainly didn’t have what we have at our disposal in terms of law and community support to combat prejudice and discrimination. Yet, he was strong in his beliefs and values and carried on, undaunted.
There were those outside of his community, and indeed, within his Sikh community, who tried to convince him to abandon his Sikh beliefs and values in order to assimilate. My father did not, and 45 years later, he still is a turbaned and bearded Sikh, and has children that proudly carry on this tradition. As Gurvinder Singh would put it in his presentation, a seed generated more seeds.
One of the aspects I found particularly engaging about Gurvinder Singh’s speech wasn’t so much about the money he made — and he would acknowledge that accumulating wealth wasn’t his goal — but in how his insight and application of Sikh philosophy was a key piece in realizing his potential rather than an obstacle to his success. His religion provided to him a framework on which he pursued his career, and it obviously was of great benefit to him.
While he calls himself a technologist, I would suggest that Gurvinder Singh was more so than it appears on the surface. Technology is the application of science, where science is the pursuit of knowledge. Career-wise, this was certainly the case, but it was also the case in how Gurvinder Singh applied Sikh “knowledge” to his life.
Gurvinder Singh provides three keys to realizing potential: knowing your values, visualize your future and take steps toward that goal, and seeing life as “service”. It’s an engaging presentation for any Sikh in this country who seeks to apply their faith in their lives.