Rohan D’Abreo: Envisioning Success and Striving for Meaning

Rohan paints a picture of his childhood in a multicultural neighborhood in Mumbai, India and describes how envisioning success and focusing on goals has led him to a fulfilling life. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.

“I was born in Mumbai, in India, which was called Bombay at the time. It was a little Christian suburb, a Portuguese Catholic suburb called Bandra, because I am of Portuguese descent. I have family in Goa and I have family in northern Mumbai as well from a place called Bassai (it used to be called Basseen in Portuguese). We descend from a long line of people who mixed or intermarried with Europeans; we go back 250, maybe 300 years so it’s a long time since archived church records show us. We have been traditionally landowners over there and a lot of the land was developed over time during the British colonial years, as well as after independence (in 1947). My grandfather worked very hard to maintain and preserve those pieces of land, which today have a lot of value. A lot of it has been developed and sold and stuff like that, but there are still a few portions out there.

So basically, we’re just people from the coast. We’re Catholics, so out of the 1.2 or 1.3 billion as of 2017 in India right now, we are about 20-25 million. So that would be like two percent of the population, which, when you look at it, you think wow – 25 million people, that’s a lot of people, that’s the entire population of Australia! But in India, where the population is 1.3 billion people, we’re just a drop in the bucket.

Growing up, there wasn’t any ethnic tension but it started happening sometime in the mid-90s when Hindu nationalism started taking front and center stage. In 1992-1993, if you recall, India had some of the worst communal riots that they’d ever seen between Hindus and Muslims in the country. But even then–I grew up in a multicultural neighborhood, I attended a Catholic school but in that Catholic school, in a class of 45 people, there was literally every ethnicity out there: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Baha’is, there were even Jewish kids there. Everyone got along there, I still remember.

A good example I give everyone here is that we had a soccer team and the goalkeeper was a Hindu kid, our captain was Catholic, our lead striker was Muslim, our referee was ‘Parsi’ because he was always impartial to everyone (he was Zoroastrian) and we wanted to keep it that way. Our left-backs were two Jewish kids, and that’s the way it was!

We all laughed together, we cried together, we celebrated each other’s festivals together. I celebrated Ramadan, my Muslim friends would celebrate Christmas or Easter, someone else would celebrate Diwali. That was life. No one ever said oh you’re different, or we’re different, or oh we can’t come to your house because you do things differently. In fact, it was always fun: we could always goof around, and always complain to our best friends’ mom, like, oh we don’t get this food in our house that’s why we’ve got to come to your place and chill over here and have a meal and celebrate this feast even though we only know like five percent about what this feast is really about.

I’m more of a branding and marketing guy, that’s my background. After many years of being in that business, I basically got an opportunity. I was encouraged to do my doctorate and I said okay, I’ll go get my doctorate but what do I study? Do I study branding, do I study marketing, what do I do? And I met this gentleman who was an entrepreneur, a very smart man with a Stanford M.B.A. (a doctor) and he said, why don’t you focus on this thing called renewable power? And I said, what is that? I don’t really know, we don’t really talk about it here in the U.S. I did some research and I found that it had a lot of potential, and I brought that up with my dean and my chair and they said, if you can work on research and gain data towards your dissertation, you can go ahead and do it. That’s how I ended up going into renewable energy, and renewable power and ended up being part of this company, which has really helped me broaden my horizons as to what this industry is really about. What are its advantages, its disadvantages, its limitations, and its success rate both domestically and internationally?

It’s really simple: we’ve all been given the same amount of intelligence. I don’t believe that some people are smarter or that some people are less smart, it’s how you execute that intelligence. My advice to people, and you’ve probably heard this from many people, is see what you want to be. You know? Think it in your mind, and then feel it in your heart, then go ahead and do it. See the end at the beginning: if you can see where you want to be a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now and live in that moment, you will definitely get certain signals or certain forces of value that will pull you in that direction.

Focus on what you want. I know it’s really difficult to do that with all the distractions that you may have in your life around you. You can see it with athletes: the more focused they are, they go win championships–they win Olympic gold medals. Because that’s the kind of focus you need to be successful; you have to psych yourself. Possess yourself with success, with the thought of success and the feeling of success. Possess yourself with the feeling that you’ve already won that championship, that you’ve already won that Olympic medal, that you’ve already won that job or whatever it is, and it will really happen.”

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