When I started my internship at UNICEF, I was exhilarated to be a part of the glamorous world of the United Nations. People dream of being part of this system, of making the world a better place in an organisation that has been doing it for the longest time, and, in the biggest way possible.
A few weeks in, my exhilaration quickly turned to disappointment when I saw tall cubicles, extremely departmentalised ‘silo’ like working styles, and, a culture that reeked this immense fear of non-conformity. ‘Meet the bureaucrats!’, I would vent to myself. My formal Supervisor went on a three month mission and I had to make do with minimal coaching and maximum initiative.
In the process I got to know my mentor, Nicholas. Although not part of the official team that I work in, Nick and I sit adjacent to each other. So, on my first day in, because of the ‘tall walls’, I couldn’t see him, but, I could hear him. A lot can be told when a guy talks-His intelligence, how he organises and analyses the thoughts in his head, his level of knowledge. It took me only a few minutes of listening to Nick and just being around the conversation he was carrying out to realize that it’s all the Nicks that lend the UN its glamour and prestige. They are these super well-spoken, super smart people who have the exceptional ability to make the most mudane of topics like fetching your laundry on the weekend, super interesting.
Being the knowledge-hungry person that I am, I had to go introduce myself. I gravitate towards smart people like a parched and thirsty dessert traveller towards a mirage. Except in my life experience, these mirages have proven to be life-shaping realities.
I continued to struggle with the organisation culture till long after knowing Nick ameliorated my initial disappointment. But like with everything else, you go through the motions and learn with each passing day. I had the great opportunity to talk with a person who had worked at the UN for 23 years and my conversation with her made me ‘see’ what the UN does. People tend to have a perception of what the UN does and when they find that perception is different from the reality they get disappointed (just like I did). The key is to understand what it ‘really’ does and making an intelligent decision about if that means something to you. It took me a while to get to that point. However, when I did, I saw with huge respect and admiration, the ‘value’ of what all the Nicks do at the UN.
Nick’s ‘democratic’, ‘keep-everyone-together’ attitude reminds me of a very special friend of mine from my Undergrad days-He was a real leader of the pack. And years later, after we had graduated and were all working, he was there for me when I was going through a rough time. I find him to be so perceptive that with my interaction with him being so limited, the advice he gives, is ‘gold’ every time!
What touches me most about Nick, is the fact that he manages to remain extremely humble despite everything else around him happening like its purposed to go straight to his head-my biggest lesson integrating myself in a city which houses the world’s smartest and the world’s brightest-greatness goes hand in hand with humility. Thank you, Nick, for inspiring me so.