In this episode, Bree and Sean chat with Om Chitale, full-time MBA ’18. Om is currently the Director of Diversity Admissions at Haas. He is also the founder of Teachers of Oakland, a non-profit storytelling organization that amplifies teacher voice in the Oakland community.
Om shares with us his definition of self-permission and how it plays into people’s professional journey. He talks about the concept of substitution that is critical to the idea of permitting yourself.
He also shares his passion for education and diversity inclusion, his current role at Haas, and Teachers of Oakland.
“Give yourself the permission to analyze. Are you still happy? Are you still on the path to the thing you want to do? And if you’re not, give yourself permission to let go of that thing too.”
On the concept of subsititution – “We can let go of something, but it’s really hard to let go of something unless we have something else to then latch onto.”
“We owe it to society to be the best version of ourselves and to be happy because then we can do the other things we want to do.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Bree Jenkins: You are listening to the OneHaas alumni podcast. I’m your host, Bree Jenkins and I have a cohost here, Sean Li.
[00:00:14] Sean Li: Hey there.
[00:00:15] Bree Jenkins: Hey, Sean. And today, we’re joined by one of my favorite people ever Om Chitale. Hey, Om.
[00:00:21] Om Chitale: Hi, Bree. Hi Sean.
[00:00:23] Bree Jenkins: Awesome. So, Om has had an incredible wealth of career experience. First was a consultant of Deloitte, and then he pivoted to education, both in Memphis and in Oakland. He even started a nonprofit called Teachers of Oakland while he was in business school.
[00:00:39] Full time, MBA 2018. He’s now in higher education at Haas as Director of Diversity Admissions. He loves the Houston Rockets. He’s passionate about DEI and he is an overall amazing human being. How did I do?
[00:00:57] Om Chitale: That was great, Bree. The Houston Rockets bit is close to the heart. We just got taken out of the playoff last night, but thank you for that. Everything else is really on point. So excited to be interviewed by Bree and excited to get to know you a little bit too, Sean.
[00:01:11] Bree Jenkins: Thank you so much. I appreciate you. And you are an amazing mentor and buddy, so thank you.
[00:01:18] Bree Jenkins: Om, last time we were talking on the phone a few days ago, you brought up this topic about self-permission. I thought that would be a cool place to start. Can you tell me about your definition of self-permission? What it looks like, what it means?
[00:01:34] Om Chitale: Yeah. For me, self-permission specifically frames the conversation of what we do in the context of “what society wants us to or expects us to do”. We talk a lot about it in the context of a professional journey.
[00:01:47] We talk about self-permission in the context of what is it that society thinks the relationship should be? Anything from gender norms to what a healthy relationship is, et cetera. And we actually just used those words. It’s like, Hey, we’re allowed to do this thing differently just because it makes us feel happy and we’re helping the world in some way.
[00:02:06] And on the professional side, man, like y’all remember the Haas courtyard, right? It was like an arena of self-permission because people are going around looking at what everybody’s doing and they’re saying, well, there’s those tracks out there, the consulting’s of the world, the banking’s of the world, the tech’s of the world, nonprofits, whatever that track is.
[00:02:27] And you could kind of see everybody looking around and saying, I think I want to do this thing, that’s what I’ve been told, that’s what I’ve been framed as. I’m a consultant. I got to go build that toolkit. And then I got to go do that thing afterward. And for me, self-permission came and hit home because I was kind of in that conversation where I came into my two years at Haas thinking I was definitely going to do essentially, Bree, what you ended up doing.
[00:02:52] That was my journey. I was going to go work in a school because here’s the narrative that I built for myself. I needed to build from the ground up. I needed to work at a school. I needed to really be on the ground. And then maybe I could do something else broadly in education. That was the only path forward.
[00:03:08] And for an entire year, I navigated with that as my compass and didn’t really realize, didn’t step back, and give myself permission to evaluate whether that was still me. And so, it took an external person, that took one of our coaches, Christina, along with a lot of friends, who just kept on asking me, is that really still your path?
[00:03:27] And instead of just saying, Hey, this is my path, it hit me harder when someone framed it as what are you going to give yourself permission to let go of or to take on? And when I framed it as such, I said, alright, I permit myself. It’s okay for my own journey, for my own happiness, that I’m going to let go of this assumption that I’m going to go work in a school.
[00:03:48] And that was really hard because you can imagine how much has baked into this. Right. I’m a person who goes works in schools and I was getting so much positive feedback from people that it’s just closed this loop for me. But I went through the process a couple of times with some folks in, it just wasn’t hitting.
[00:04:02] And so that’s what self-permission is for me. It’s like stepping back and realizing that we come in with a narrative that really supports in a lot of ways which is why we hold on to it but it’s okay to give yourself permission. Yeah. Step back every now. And then, in fact, that’s a privilege of a thing, like business school, like Haas, but hopefully, we do it at any time.
[00:04:20] Give yourself permission to analyze and say, are you still happy? Are you still on the path to the thing you want to do? And if you’re not, give yourself permission to let go of that thing too.
[00:04:31] Bree Jenkins: I love how you talk about that because I feel like it’s something that a lot of people, including myself, struggle with in terms of, what do I actually want to do. And once you create a narrative, it feels easy to go down that direction because now you have a roadmap.
[00:05:23] Om Chitale: Like, you’ve developed a schema, right? I mean, I’m so curious for you. You have one of the more stark shifts where this probably came up for you in the last year and a half. And it was a little different for you sure, but the idea of going from the school to Pixar, I imagine there was a level of self-permission there.
[00:05:39] Bree Jenkins: I think so. For most of my kind of career life, I’ve been really concerned with doing something that I feel passionate about. And I think that’s because I had interned at like three different companies in undergrad and all of them, I could do the job, there was never an issue of like, could I do this work?
[00:05:58] It was more, how do I feel when I’m here? Do I feel like I can put my whole self into this so that it’s not just for me, it’s also giving back to wherever I am? And so, at Disney, that’s how I felt. I was like, Oh, I love this job so much. I feel like I can fully give myself to this. I can work 16, 17 hours a day on a ship with a hard hat and still I’m come out of it and be like, okay, that was an awesome day. I learned so much, this is incredible. And I feel like I was able to give so much. And so, when I was thinking about going into education, I felt that way so strongly. And I think that it was kind of devastating almost to find out that I didn’t love my particular role and that I didn’t feel like I got along well enough with the people around me in terms of relationships.
[00:06:58] It was harder because I felt really passionate about the mission and the students. I felt like ripped into. I am obsessed with these, the kids who deserve amazing education, whether I’m there or not and they won’t stop deserving that.
[00:07:21] And am I the right person to be here to give all of myself to give it to them or not? And maybe someone else would be better suited. But then it also feels like, am I copping out? And that also feels terrible. And I think part of the mental model of like, how do I differentiate what this is? And so I think, going to a place like Pixar and loving what I’m doing, also feeling like I can be creative in my role and feel I can give so much of myself such that it helps other people there. I feel great about that. And I still think I struggle. And I listened to a podcast today about schools. Like I’m still obsessed with thinking about education and what my role is there. That doesn’t stop. But maybe it’s just not my place right now in terms of what I can give.
[00:08:23] Om Chitale: Yeah. I mean, what I hear from that, that particularly resonates, is this idea of the here and now versus the whole journey. And that was one of the factors that allowed me to release. And I just recognize that I have some linear path built, actually not even linear. I think we all are to the point where we have the complex understanding that it might look like this right.
[00:08:42] Kind of squiggly at the same time. It was a squiggly path that I’d established. So, then I could play the game within the bounds that I’ve created. You mentioned that earlier, you have a schema essentially, and then you can execute in that schema. And I realized that, Oh, okay.
[00:08:55] Not only is it okay to give myself permission to not pursue this thing but very specifically not pursue this thing right now, given the circumstances in my life. And bringing that in, it felt odd because, again, I’d built a schema that I would work at a school and then expand up or expand out or whatever that means in terms of either influence or role.
[00:09:14] And the other thing that you mentioned there I think especially applies to folks who’ve worked in a space that we are very passionate about that particularly helps other people like education. The mountains are a little higher. And in my experience, the mountain is harder to climb to say, okay, I can let go of this. Because we have those other factors wrapped in.
[00:09:36] It’s not only I’m passionate about it because I love doing this thing, but I believe that there’s a role for me to play, to actually help my students, unlock the path in front of my students to get a little bit clear. That’s why I got into this. And then when you bring in this idea that I have to let that go, you have to hold space with the fact that knowing if you’re the right person to unlock that or not is an incredible question to ask of yourself. Cause that’s an ego-less way to look at it. Like I want my students to thrive. I thought maybe I was the right person to do it. I think I still might be one day, but at this moment, given everything else that’s happening, I have to give myself permission to let go of not only my dream and perspective, but there’s an idea that I hold something that these students need at this moment.
[00:10:17] And that, I don’t know, it’s aspirational. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I can act that way all the time. But I think about it, that too. Am I the right person to actually achieve these goals? Sometimes it’s okay to just be a bit of a Matador, step out of the way, let life happen. Let progress happen. But then jump back in when you are the right person.
[00:10:38] Sean Li: I mean, there’s an aspect of perspective there as well. Because the shift was from that role to Pixar versus, say, that role to another education role. Right? I think your perspective would have been a little bit different, but that’s, I think going back to Om’s point is that you know, this is just one point in time. And when I think back to my career, you know, I pivoted from investment banking to podcasting.
[00:11:10] Bree Jenkins: It’s similar.
[00:11:11] Sean Li: Yeah, it’s just so stark that I did have to get myself self-permission in many ways, but what I’m trying to get at is my entire career has been around like e-commerce, that’s what you’d see on the surface. But then the undercurrent is that I feel like I’ve always been in education. Cause even with the eCommerce companies, our core competency was creating how-to videos, showing people how to do stuff, and then selling the corresponding product, of course. And then you look at, you know, this podcast, it’s similar in the vein of education of information, right? So yeah, on the surface, it looks like we’re doing these other things, but what is the undercurrent that is tying our life together. And that’s something I love exploring on this podcast is, what is that theme tying everything together that may not see.
[00:12:02] Om Chitale: That actually brings up for me is this concept of substitution of we can let go of something, but it’s really hard to let go of something unless we have something else to then latch onto. When we talk about self-permission and bringing in this idea of like the connective tissue, what’s the truth underneath whatever surface that is.
[00:12:18] I needed that. And I’m seeing a lot of nodding heads because it’s like, yeah, I can let go of the role that I was playing, but what is it that I am going to keep hold of? And I talked to a lot of folks about this now as they’re considering coming into business school and thinking about telling their stories that it’s okay to let go of this idea of here’s what my career arc specifically looks like, but you might have some values, for example, that you want to hold on to.
[00:12:42] So substituting your attachment to or navigating based on the career journey instead of navigating based on the consistency of values, knowing that they may play out in a bunch of different ways, that feels critical to this idea of giving yourself permission. You can’t just say not going to do this thing and then go into a void, that’s terrifying.
[00:13:02] And maybe that’s the whole point. That’s the scary thing about giving yourself permission to let go of something. But if it’s framed as let go of this but hold onto this, Ah, then it’s like, Oh, wow. Okay. I can let go of working in a school as an ops director if I’m still doing something that feels like it’s helping, in my case, teachers.
[00:13:19] That was the pivot that I made. And the only reason I can make that is because I was holding onto this foundation of service or community, whatever that might be for me.
[00:13:28] Sean Li: I’m loving this conversation. I just finished this book called The Courage to be Disliked. One of the core tenants is against Freudian or just etiology where everything in our life because this happened to you before, this is who you are now.
[00:13:42] A lot of people think that way. I am the way I am because of these events, which is true. They influenced who you are. But who you choose to be today is a choice. You can choose to be something different, right? And so, it kind of shook me at the core in the sense that my identity today is a choice.
[00:14:05] But I struggled with another aspect of is then what do I hold on to? Because I feel like I need to hold onto something. And you just brought it up. We shouldn’t confuse values with identity, right? And I think that’s because a lot of times you’re like, oh, I was a consultant. I was a banker. Like, these become your identity and you confuse them with your values and you’re just like, you can’t let go of that. And that’s something I struggled with before.
[00:14:27] Bree Jenkins: I think about that a lot in like a cultural context because I know in some languages you don’t say like, I am a blank. You say I work as a blank. And so, I feel like there’s a very English language kind of connotation, specifically American connotation, with I am a teacher versus I work as a teacher currently. And what that means for. And what that means for, like, what you’re saying Sean, your values versus who you are and what you have a choice to decide to be.
[00:14:50] Om Chitale: Well-framed. That should be the underlying current fruit in this entire conversation here. I mean, we’re having it on this incredible bit of, I think I can speak for Lisa through the less privilege of being able to make some decisions that are selfish if we use that word and not in a bad way.
[00:15:05] That’s another conversation. Like sometimes, selfish is framed as a purely bad thing but if selfish and selfless, if you have a different world view on something, it’s all the same. It’s better for you, AKA, better for the world. That kind of thing then, yeah, it’s a selfish decision and it’s still incumbent upon us to make the right decision there.
[00:15:23] But this idea that we get to make a choice, therefore we should absolutely make the right choice for us. We owe it to society to be the best version of ourselves and to be happy because then we can do the other things we want to do broadly in society as well. And to act on that responsibility, we still have to be in a good mental state. And that means making the right choices too.
[00:16:14] Bree Jenkins: When you talk about your own kind of values, I’m curious, what do you think is the undercurrent for your life right now or career right now? I’m even going to say right now because I feel you can only like do a retrospective analysis of, ah, this is how all these things work together. And maybe in the future, it’ll be something else.
[00:16:44] Om Chitale: Yeah, there’s a personal way to say it would be oneness. A more professional but still personal way for me is closing gaps of opportunity. And those are the connecting tissues for whatever I do. And they are, I mean, we just talked about privilege and that comes into play. Absolutely. And the idea is I’ve had privileges in my life.
[00:17:02] I’ve had access in my life and others don’t necessarily have the same privileges and access. So, you know, we can use the cliches around, throw the ladder down, et cetera, those are relevant. And the way I think about it is again, selfishly, what makes me happiest, it’s to help other people thrive.
[00:17:21] It’s to be able to work with what I have in a way that helps others in some way. Again, it could be very directly working with early headstart students in Memphis. That was my first direct exposure to it outside of maybe a mentorship. But now it looks a little different.
[00:17:36] The gap of access I’m trying to close is I say this to everybody, it feels less urgent than working in pre K through 12, working not only in higher ed but at an MBA level where it’s still big gaps. The reason I’m in this work is because I believe in the long-term impact of closing those gaps for historically underrepresented communities.
[00:17:55] And it’s true. It’s less urgent. It doesn’t feel like you’ve worked here. The school is pretty new. You notice like every day there’s something very drastic and urgent that you’re trying to close the gap for. And again, this comes to me as a self-permission. Can I leave the pre-K through 12 world for a little bit?
[00:18:11] I mean, I didn’t come to Haas with the intention of working in higher ed or working in this role at Haas, but the opportunity presented itself and I realize it still fits with my values. And it fits with a few of the other things I wanted in my life right now. And so, I took it, and now it becomes incumbent upon me to maximize the value proposition there for me if you will.
[00:18:32] Bree Jenkins: Sean, you look like you’re thoughtful.
[00:18:34] Sean Li: When I hear, you know, this kind of passion, I’m always wondering how this came to be. There’s a lot of things to care about in this world, right? Where does your passion for education stem from, and, diversity inclusion?
[00:18:51] Om Chitale: Yeah, the deepest stem would be my family and my faith and they’re pretty intertwined. So, I grew up in a Hindu, a practicing household. I still practice, and practicing Hinduism is kind of a funny way to say it. Cause there’s a lot of blocks built into that. There’s like a lot of different paths, but I mentioned oneness earlier.
[00:19:12] So that’s what I say. It comes from my faith. It’s just a fundamental assumption about the world or I guess very convinced folks who say the truth about the world, that we are all one and therefore any perceived differences among us are fake, but obviously felt inter very way in the world. And so, what is our responsibility is to help others.
[00:19:30] That is the only responsibility, is to serve. And I’m so lucky that I learned these things early on in my life, or at least, the words, and I slowly internalized them and I had the right support system around me to amplify that. And so, I said, well, that’s just an orientation. So, that’s fun.
[00:19:46] And when I was in consulting, the reason I switched is because that orientation became so strong and so stark compared to how I was spending my time. So, I said, all right, again, I have the privilege to be able to leave like this path of consulting and going to be a partner one day to do something that’s actually aligned with my core value.
[00:20:04] Damn like, let’s go. And I’m not saying it was that easy. It took some time to convince myself to work with my family, et cetera. So anyway, that was the initial shift over. And when I mentioned my family, there’s a more direct reason. It’s a little bit of this immigrant story. Like I came over to the States when I was in elementary school.
[00:20:21] The entire reason for my parents coming here was for my brother and my education. And recognizing that they took this massive step specifically to help us get a better education then recognizing later in my life that I had access to an education in this American dream that others don’t in America and certainly others don’t around the world.
[00:20:40] It just created a kind of stark contrast. And so, you fill in that gap with my value system, you fill it in with support from my family and my friends. And I’m like, alright, cool. I don’t know what the hell this means now going forward, don’t get me wrong. I had not, I did not have experience in this space, but I said, let me at least try to be humble to learn, to contribute in a world that is actively closing that gap of access in a very direct way for students.
[00:21:06] And then, yeah, as I’ve grown over the last several years, I spent my years at Haas trying to figure out this thesis statement of, what is it that I care deeply about, what is the value? And you can say broadened, which is how I put it, to go beyond education, specifically like formal education, to say, all right, there are unfortunately opportunity gaps everywhere.
[00:21:29] Everywhere you look in the system that we have, there are folks who have and there are folks who don’t, to no faults or to create their own, so how can I be the connective tissue to try to lessen those gaps, to close those gaps? And that might be removing some obstacles that might be supporting folks. One level that I think I will need to continue leading into and getting better at is speaking truth to power.
[00:21:49] We learn a lot from our activist friends around us, but that is a critical piece of closing gaps to access. You can buffer at folks who don’t have resources, you can act within the existing system to try to close the gaps as much as you want. But if the system is already built in such a way that there are massive rifts, then you got to go speak truth to power. It’s so important to try to even just close the opportunity gap itself, that you’re going to then go try to close. And so, I’m naming that because again, it’s a journey and I’m learning a ton every day. You bring in race, you bring in gender, you bring in all the other factors that keep people apart.
[00:22:21] There’s a lot of work to be done. So, I think I have a long runway to run out my values in different ways in this life.
[00:22:30] Sean Li: Can you explain a little bit more, what truth to power means?
[00:22:32] Om Chitale: Yeah. And I’ll do it as best I can, not coming from an activist background. I wish I knew exactly who coined that phrase but what I understand of it is folks in power are going to try to keep the power.
[00:22:44] It’s a natural dynamic. So, if that power is based on wealth, for example, people of tremendous wealth are not going to willingly give their power-up, that has never played out in history. And so, I think there’s a lot of conversation about how sick, no, just, you know, I’m kind of making a facetious claim here, but go talk to that person.
[00:23:00] I’m sure. I’m sure they’ll do it. But there’s no proof in history that power will just concede power. Like Paula Frere, like his pedagogy of the oppressed, right. He’s talking about farmworkers in Brazil for example. He talks about this a lot. You have to go to demand it.
[00:23:15] There’s no other way around it. Power will not give itself up willingly. And so, the demand maybe could look different. We’ve seen lots of different demands recently, we’ve seen strikes, we’ve seen protests. We’ve seen all these things. There are different versions of speaking, truth to power. It’s basically just putting a mirror up in front of power and saying, look closely, look deeply.
[00:23:34] This is the truth. This is this system. This is a fact. And unless we change some of the fundamental facts of who gets power and why they get power, then we’re not gonna have a drastically different system here. So, someone, and maybe it’s me, maybe it’s folks who had access to power, who were power adjacent, I’ll speak for myself.
[00:23:52] I am having gone to a tough business school, having been in consulting, having access and privilege as an Indian man, I have access to power. So, one of the things that I see in my journey going forward is how do I speak truth to those folks around me who have power? How do I speak truth to power in a way that gets them to concede some of that power?
[00:24:13] I’m not the person who’s going to lead the protest, at least right now. I’m not that person. That’s not my version of speaking truth to power. I will concede the fact that I like to get inside the room with somebody, get to know their value system, find the alignment and then plug away, twist at it a little bit, and say, Hey, this is your value.
[00:24:31] You know how this value might play out? You might want to do this thing instead. Which is why you could say I’m on inside now of an institution that is part of this broader system of power.
[00:24:52] Bree Jenkins: Om, do you feel like it has to be in alignment with let’s say that group of powers interests, whether it’s values or rewards or something that can be gotten from it. Regardless of what structure it is, there’s different people in power, in different places, but does it have to be aligned with their interests or, I mean, our interests, if we’re people who have power.
[00:25:16] Om Chitale: I’m trying to think of it in the context of when would I do something? If someone came to me, what’s the way to convince me to do something? It’s to tug at my values, it’s to tug at my interests, and just reframe that. Not just you guys, we’ve got to stay away from using the word. Just none of this is easy but helps me understand a different way to execute and do something.
[00:25:35] I think again, that’s probably proven out in history that only gets us so far is to find people and essentially plead with them based on their interests. That’s not necessarily what I’m advocating this. Doesn’t always look super civil. And I can certainly respect that.
[00:25:51] But another way to look at it is, alright, we look at America right now. America has a set of values or at least preferred values. So, can we target those values? Even if folks aren’t living them out and then we tug it that we pull it that, and then maybe we’re pulling some people along the way, but like, Oh yeah, that’s true.
[00:26:08] All men are created equal. All that kind of stuff. If that’s a value, let me reframe the fact what’s happening in our society right now. It’s not necessarily living up to that value. So, I’m not even talking about the people in power but it’s the system there. And if our system is built on a set of values and try to tug it, that, like I said earlier, it’s not always civil, which is again where like my growth area is to try to distinguish between civilness and effectiveness in the name of broader good if you will. I think you and I talked about this Bree, this idea of need meanness, Miriam Gerber’s book.
[00:26:41] I read recently and it’s like being mean is often seen as the worst thing you could do, but if you’re, just to put it lightly, if you’re mean against unjust systems, maybe that’s the best thing you could do. And I don’t really have that as a part of my toolkit right now. I don’t know if that’ll come in this life but recognize that’s definitely an approach and it’s definitely the thing that’s probably brought up the most change in history.
[00:27:05] Bree Jenkins: Right. I think about them in combination and I think I’ve talked to Nora about this and you probably own some of you need both when we were trying to make big changes at Haas, we did use the value system. It’s like you said that you cared about this.
[00:27:20] Do you care about this? Because you can say you care about something and then your actions all speak something else. And that’s a really hard reality to live in. I mean, even as you’re giving yourself self-permission, you’re struggling with internally, like, is this part of my values?
[00:27:37] Is this part of what I say that I care about? I think that was why it was so hard. I said I cared about this thing. Now I’m leaving this thing. So, do I even care about it? Or am I just saying that? Because it sounds good and it makes me feel better and I can sleep better at night.
[00:27:54] Om Chitale: It’s a double-edged sword. I’m seeing play out that this is a value system at Haas and therefore we had the opportunity to couch our activism if you want to call it that under the value system that already exists, that people already have alignment to, and that’s an opportunity. And I choose to look at it that way because that’s been my experience so far.
[00:28:12] I can go to people and say, Hey, one of our, even if it comes to the current, one of our dean’s three key strategic priorities is diversity equity inclusion. That’s my starting point. Let’s get on the same page about how important this is. Now, let’s talk about the actions we’re going to take much harder to do if I can’t start at that point.
[00:28:28] Cause then you got to convince somebody that matters in some way. And I know, with our defining leadership principles, that’s a great starting point for a lot of conversation. The double-edged sword is it hurts that much more when we don’t see the change as fast as we want to see it, because then we’re like, come on. It’s right here, it’s on our walls.
[00:28:44] Bree Jenkins: Right. You said you cared about this. What is happening? So, one thing we haven’t talked about with this concept of self-permission that I’m really curious about, which I think applies to a lot of people potentially, is how I’m seeing externally to other people, not just, how do I give myself permission to do this because I want to do it because I’m passionate about it, it aligns with my values, et cetera.
[00:29:07] But when I changed my career path from something that you know is consulting or whatever it is, and it’s something that does not align with my parents, my family, my partner, whoever else is in your life, your friends, what does that look like?
[00:29:50] Om Chitale: Yeah, I was fortunate in my initial switch away from consulting that I had the right deep level of support, which included some level of scrutiny about the choice to make sure that it was real.
[00:29:59] I will always shout out my parents for sure or some real maturity in a way. The ability to hold space for your son. We have this definition of success. Not that we’re like mean people, but it’s just, Hey, success was stability. We’re immigrants, like go be a partner, go be a CEO, make money, and still do good with the world.
[00:30:17] That was the expectation. But that was the path. And so, to let go of that definition of success to come over to something different, yeah, it took a level of internal conversation. But to your point, Bree, I have always felt supported by those who were very close to me. My challenge, I am super vain.
[00:30:35] All right. I’m trying to get away from it. But I acknowledged the fact that my initial reaction is to be very aware of what the world thinks of me. And the funny thing is it’s kind of flipped again, thinking about working in schools, working in the community, working with teachers to taking a relative step away from the proximity and going and working in higher ed, the permission and that there was self-reflection I had to get over was what will the community think of me?
[00:30:59] What will people think of me? Oh, Om is that guy who left business school and started this social enterprise, focusing on amplifying teachers. It’s so close to the ground. I had aunties in Cleveland when I first met them, my wife’s community out there, one person called me noble.
[00:31:13] All right. Even, that was too much for me. All right. Let’s be real, but that’s what I’m talking about. I would get this kind of, I would get this kind of feedback from people and I soaked it in, at doing the best I can to not let it go core to my ego, but okay, cool. I am doing something right.
[00:31:27] A lot of affirmation toward this path and I had to let go of some of that and maybe what you said, Bree, is the key, right? Finding the people around you, whose opinions actually really do matter in these big shifts that you make, recognizing that you’re not going to make everybody happy, and then feeling confident about the fact that some people may not like you.
[00:31:46] And I hate that. I need people to like me. That’s a thing I have. So, in broader community, working with unions and activists and teachers who have these incredible journeys and incredible passions, I was scared. I was like, I don’t know if I would tell this teacher friend I have that I’m like leaving. There you go. The Courage to be Disliked. Exactly. Sean.
Bree Jenkins: Sean just held up a book for the listeners.
[00:32:02] Om Chitale: What about you, Sean?
[00:32:03] Sean Li: It’s very similar. As an immigrant family as well, you’re absolutely right. My parents were just, all they care about is stability. And I chose like the none the least stable path going down entrepreneurship all my life. But I will say, you obviously need the support and I don’t want to use the word validation, but that’s the only word that’s coming to mind right now of the people close to you, right?
[00:32:26] And we have to recognize that just because they’re our parents or our partner or my best friend, they’re not going to necessarily immediately understand our decisions and our choices. And it is up to us to take the time and the patience to explain it to them and communicate. How are people supposed to understand if you don’t communicate it to them?
[00:32:47] And literally from my parents, I’ll just give you my personal story. Let me take a step back. I have so many entrepreneurial friends who are just like, my family doesn’t understand, they’re so against this. And it creates riffs, literally within families. Whereas for me, how I went about it was I just started doing inception on my parents very early on. I was like, all right, like when I decided not going to banking, I didn’t tell them that yet. I’m just saying, Man, it’s this podcasting thing. I’m getting to meet amazing people like Bree and Om, this is such a great networking tool and I would just leave it at that.
[00:33:23] And then over the span of six to eight months, I would solely just give them some updates on what the podcast is about and why it’s so meaningful to me. And then when I was finally ready to tell them that, look, I’m just not going to go get a job.
[00:33:39] Yes, I just got this amazing degree. I just graduated in may for anyone who doesn’t know, I’m just not going to go get the job, let me do this podcasting thing. And by then eight months later, they were selling me on it. They’re like, yeah, this is a great idea. Like you should really do this and pursue this. But I also recognized I was very aware that it took me a long time to communicate this path that I chose to my parents, to my wife, to my brother, to my best friends. And some of them still don’t understand, but that’s only because I actually didn’t spend enough time with them. That’s all. That’s, that’s the only difference.
[00:34:15] Om Chitale: What was it like for you to Bree?
[00:34:16] Bree Jenkins: I think it was like my, like I said, my mom, is really supportive. We’re so close. When I was in high school college, she was out in Iraq and Kuwait, deployed abroad. We got really close during that time and developed a really strong relationship. So, I think for me, what she cares about is super important. And, she came to the school, she was like greeting kids with me. So I feel like, again, my mom is always there.
[00:34:37] Bree Jenkins: And Survy’s just supportive regardless. Oh, my husband. nd I thought a lot about the families and the teachers, the way that I left was not the way that I would have wanted. And so, I thought a lot about the kids.
[00:34:50] I don’t want them to think that I abandoned them. I don’t want them to think that there’s another potential adult in their life who might come and go, especially they’re so young, kindergarten and first grade, and then the families, same thing. There’s so many letdowns, disappointments in their lives over years of people, school districts, whoever, saying we’re gonna give you your kids equal chances and opportunities that they don’t. And so, that was really painful. I think, more than anything is the families. And our team was so small and the teachers and not being able to support them because I feel like I pride myself in my job of like, how do I support people as best as possible.
[00:35:39] Toilet breaks? Okay. I have to fix it. Like this thing happens. Someone doesn’t have a paper? Like, how can I put this out as quickly as possible so that they can do there? Most important work of educating the students. I didn’t have a lot of choices in the timing, but that felt terrible. And similarly like that community aspect, once you build one and once you feel close to it, to have to be outside of it, I think is hard.
[00:36:07] Om Chitale: Have y’all found that because we’ve all gone through these changes and we talked about how folks is supporting us, has that shifted how you support others?
[00:36:28] Om Chitale: If they’re making big changes, do you feel like, you know, empathy is dialed up and you feel almost a responsibility like, for me, my friends feel really supported when they’re making shifts because I recognize how much support I’ve had.
[00:36:41] Bree Jenkins: A hundred percent. And I also want them to know that I am always there. You make different for decisions, let’s talk it through, let’s cry it out, whatever it is, this is your life and I’m on the journey with you. Just like, hopefully you’re on my journey with me. How can I help you in getting closer to your values or what’s important?
[00:37:01] Om Chitale: Yeah, I used to love telling all of our classmates that I’m going to check in on you. I’m going to talk to you in three years. You talk about this thing, like, Hey, I’m doing this thing for a couple of years for this reason but really my passions over there, I’m like cool. Send up a calendar invite right now.
[00:37:17] Om Chitale: Yeah. Quick shout out. I think Bree, that’s been one of the cool things about our friendship in the last couple of years is that we both had a couple of D shifts and if I may just assume that we’d been there for each other, you definitely have been there for me in the exact way that you just named, it’s like you supported me, but also pushed me.
[00:37:33] And that means a lot. You’re in that circle of people who I actually have been really listened to. Cause you have a lot of context too, on top of everything. So, I definitely appreciate that. So please keep doing that.
[00:37:44] Bree Jenkins: You definitely done that for me too, along the way.
[00:38:14] Om Chitale: I appreciate that.
[00:38:15] Bree Jenkins: I feel like we’ve covered a lot. Is there anything else in you your mind today, specifically at this moment?
[00:38:17] Om Chitale: I’m glad that we touched on elements of society too. It wasn’t just about our specific paths. I think I can speak for all three of us that there’s so much happening, very close to us, that is a manifestation of the broader societal issues that we have, whether it’s racism, environmental disaster, health disasters, and all the intersections they’re in.
[00:38:37] Recognizing that all the stuff we just talked about in terms of our role and how we want to live in this world and support systems, looking out for each other, none of it’s distinct from the world. And I talked about Haas a lot, for example.
[00:38:49] That was my favorite thing. We get out of this conversation that we’re going to pore it over to say, what’s the thing in the world that I actually want to focus on. And maybe Sean, this is probably deep for you. For me, when I started at Teachers of Oakland, it was about relationships and it was about bringing people together.
[00:39:04] We could navigate and actually address the things that we want to navigate in an authentic way, instead of relying on imperfect information, if we use that phrase about each other, about the world, about the facts, but actually getting teachers to be able to speak their words and then from there bringing the community together and saying, how do we try to figure out some stuff in education?
[00:39:24] How do we support teachers better? I can suspect that’s part of the podcasting path for you is to just be real and get more realists out there so that we can then navigate from an authentic start in whatever goals we have in the world.
[00:39:38] Sean Li: I think that’s our mission statement says connecting people through authentic stories. So, you nailed it. I have a question for you. Can you share with us what you’re doing now? What is your role at Haas and what are some things that you do on the side? If you have time.
[00:39:56] Om Chitale: Yes. I’m the Director of Diversity Admissions.
[00:39:58] It is a new role that started about a year ago. So, I just hit a year last week. And we’ve had iterations of this role at Haas in the past, never as a specific full-time thing though. And for me, when people ask why I came back, I have a very easy trifecta point to which is to say, it’s a school that cared deeply about right.
[00:40:18] I transformed here. I had the type of experience I would want anyone to have. We have to get better at inclusion and diversity and access to who gets to have that kind of experience. That’s the second path. And the trifecta is complete because our school put resources behind it for the first time in a very, very specific, purposeful way.
[00:40:27] And now we have a team at Haas, it’s focused about inclusion and equity and diversity in the long run. It’s just the investment. It’s just a foundation. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But my role started because we recognize that we can’t talk about inclusion, we can’t talk about equity, until we talk about representation, until we talk about diversity, and maybe those are parallel paths.
[00:40:47] Over the last year, the types of things I’ve been able to focus on are really all across the spectrum. I have done strategic perspective thinking about obstacles in folks ways, thinking about opportunities to increase representation in systematic ways.
[00:41:02] The three gaps that I see are the financial gap, the information gap, and the dream gap, and all three matter a lot. Dream gap, meaning, have I even considered going to this school? Because it may be things like imposter syndrome or whatever else that might come up. Do I see myself there? So, that’s a huge gap I want to close. The information gap maybe is more literal, but there’s all this information you need to make a good decision here. And it’s fair to say that we’re not putting information out in the way that it’s hitting different communities in the same way.
[00:41:31] And then financial gap, obviously it’s a huge resource investment. So, how do we think about that financial gap? So, that’s the framework through which I approach my work.
[00:41:39] Sean Li: What about any passion side projects? If you have time.
[00:41:43] Om Chitale: Teachers of Oakland continues to be a side project. I struggle with it because I want to give it a lot more time and it has to be done really well. And so, if I can’t do it really well, I won’t. So, I haven’t been interviewing teachers in a long time for a lot of different reasons, including proximity, but we were able to run a recent fundraiser, which is essentially to say we were able to re-grant some of the money that we’d been able to raise to the Black Teacher Project, which felt like the right thing to do after a bit of soul searching and checking in with our advisors.
[00:42:13] So we were able to donate some money there. That was an interesting campaign to be able to run, to support another organization doing work that’s right there at the intersection of what we’ve been talking about. I got married a few weeks ago. That was a project, that was a huge project. Ended up being a beautiful small family wedding, with just the immediate family, which is more than we could have asked for obviously in normal times if you will.
[00:42:34] Om Chitale: So, those are some of the side projects. We put with our nephew. I consider that a side project, very grateful that we have family here in the Bay. We actually have been around, as quarantine from the beginning. Basically, I got some other things that I’m starting to think about.
[00:42:48] One of the things that I’m thinking about is am I taking enough action outside of my job two or these broader systemic issues? I think a lot of us have been asking ourselves the question, how do we show up? What do we do for racial equality? What are we doing around anti-black racism in our communities?
[00:43:03] And so those are some of the questions that I’m wrestling with. And I think it’s a good thing that I haven’t just made it happen already, but it’s a long-term path. And so, I continue to wrestle with and try to figure out what my role is.
[00:43:14] Sean Li: That’s an important perspective. Thanks for sharing that.
[00:43:17] Om Chitale: This is nice.
[00:43:18] Bree Jenkins: Thank you for coming on. I’ve loved talking to you as usual. One last thing, I’m really glad you shared Teachers of Oakland with our listeners. We love to encourage them to check it out.
[00:43:29] Om Chitale: Go read the stories from teachers. If you like storytelling, it’s not quite as savvy as podcasting, but if you are scrolling through Instagram and you want to take a break from your cool fits, I feel like that’s a word that people use now on Instagram, the fits, I think just like great, great styles.
[00:43:47] I’m telling somebody what a fit is. Wow. That’s the next level for me. But, um, yeah. So, it’s like people who have great outfits. Anyway, if you want to take a break from scrolling on some of those things, give yourself a little bit of intellectual and kind of community inspiration, read some of the words from our teachers.
[00:44:03] There’s some videos, there’s some great captions, get to know teachers, whether you’re in Oakland or not just get to know the teachers for who they are. That’s my ask because there’s a lot of narratives out there around education from a lot of different political sides, quite frankly or not.
[00:44:16] And it’s just, it’s hard to make decisions based on purely what you read in the headlines. I feel much more equipped to make decisions around local public education after having listened to 150 teachers tell me about their experience. So, you can scroll through some of those and start getting a sense.
[00:44:31] Bree Jenkins: That’s awesome. Thank you so much again, Om, for coming on. And thank you to our listeners for tuning in. Please go check out Teachers of Oakland and Sean and I will catch you next time.