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  • Lopa Shah

What exiting looks like for a facilitator obsessed with romance

I am a romantic. I identify as a facilitator. And so, I live on a paradox. As a romantic I love hoarding, loving, day-dreaming, poem-ing, connecting, mirroring, attaching, idealising, basking, playing risks on emotions and dwelling on memories. As a facilitator I asses, listen, design, reflect, help, build, critique, build more until I feel redundant, and finally move on. I have the mind of an ambitious grassroots worker and the heart of a perpetual lover. So, I often find myself confused between logical actions and emotional desires. I don’t believe in balances, and yet in practice I keep striving to create systems that hold themselves on their own, beyond my support. And it hurts, but I do and then I suffer. I suffer in silence, and manage somehow, to find from this confusion, the courage to do it all over again. This writing is a testimony to one such experience, probably the most significant one so far. I am leaving behind what I held close to me as a home, as a child, as a world I called me, fondly and rightfully; naively and purposefully. I have been living in and building a school system in Pulwama, Kashmir for the last 4 years and I am at, what one may call, the last step of facilitating - The Exit. So here I am, operating with a sense of service, and fanning the adventurous idealist in me, attempting to project a memoir, one of the most indulgent things I may have done in the last 4 years, or perhaps the last one I’d do for a while. Or so I think.


This is to start a conversation for individuals out there on a similar journey, hoping to offer a cathartic read, if nothing else. I’m listing a 10 point process of my exit, founded completely in real time, as I continue to live it.


  1. Speak from the very moment you decide - for all those of you who fall hopelessly in love with your work, know that the time of exit begins for you and your context right when the thought of doing it first occurs. So express it then, as much in service of your organisation as of your own. You’ll take longer than they do to come to terms with it. I mentioned it to mine a year ago. I’m still coping, even as I stand about 20 days away from the act of exiting.

  2. Employ your emotions to speak for your actions - I’ve found it helpful to associate what’s happening around me as a reflection of what is happening internally. Operating with acceptance of what you’re doing keeps you strong against your own moments of doubt and despair and interact with your organisation with your head held high, though often teary.

  3. Remind yourself that facilitation is a journey towards becoming irrelevant - Identifying signs of your irrelevance can be overwhelming. But that storm is resourceful. Use your passion to keep holding in site all that you worked hard to build and harder to pass on charge to.

  4. Accept questions and also love with grace - as I sit across my team, individually and collectively, listening to them trying to reason why I may be making the wrong choice, I note that it is extremely satisfying to see people wanting me. And while it is easy to get swayed by the love in their words and the sadness in their eyes, it is easier to feel guilty, and possessive of the decision I’ve made with brutal practicality. Let it not get the better of you, and allow your team the space to grieve, love, rebel, reject and in the process accept.

  5. One-armed hugs are helpful - make individual conversations with people most attached, to help them realise they don’t need you, and to tell yourself that you needn’t want them to, not anymore.

  6. Map your exit and dream it together - exiting from this town, my host family and the school only meant that we are all moving in different directions, but together. And hence, the exercise of mapping what it would look like in process and after, along with all stakeholders, became a pulsating experience. We planned this event collectively and that gave us a new dream and the time to prepare for it before it actually happened.

  7. Bring fourth people’s strengths, more visually, more verbally - It’s what some of our best teachers did with us; to stand beside and let us take lead, and tell us that it was what we were meant to do in the first place. Go out of your way to remind them of their power, of what you learned from them, of what made your collective journey successful, of what they can always rely on, while they and the world continue to grow into and outside of their expectations.

  8. Mourn and grieve amply, with and without support - my heart sinks often these days seeing what this place will look like in action without me. Being left out of meetings, plans and groups is prickly. While emotions can make it messy, know that there’s no escaping and that it is through them that you shall find your light. Allow yourself to grieve in silence, in isolation and also in company of those you trust. Vulnerability has been empowering.

  9. Ride on the excitement of learning - while I function on foresight and backward design, I am realising that waiting to make meaning can be exciting. And the anticipation of that learning to dawn upon you, for you to finally connect the dots in hindsight, can be scary but exhilarating too.

  10. What happens next, only next knows - I am blessed to have a support system in the town I’m moving to, which offered me warmth and projects to look forward to. As a dreamer and relentless doer, I already too have a new castle in construction. But before this happened, it took me some therapy, some dependency and a lot of work with the ego to accept that it’s okay not to have the answers right away; that it’s okay to take time to resolve this process internally, before starting that next big thing; that it’s okay to give up control and let life happen to you, needless to say, with your slow yet consistent effort.

In closing, I must mention that while I was writing this, I was also laughing at how insightful I am attempting to sound, while I’m only trying to make meaning of everything that is happening, so quickly, so slowly. And I rest my pen here, hoping that this writing lives a life of adventure, performance, healing and transition, with you.

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