The folding chair


“I greeted everyone, picked up my chair, and set it down between two of the men at the end of the table. They were speechless,” wrote Jean Ann Schulte, a successful entrepreneur turned Director at the Babson Academy. Jean Ann was commenting on a LinkedIn post by ‘The Female Lead’ that put out a quote by Shirley Chisolm, the first African American woman elected to the US congress. Chisolm famously said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

It is incredible how the chair, real or metaphorical, can become a weapon of expression. Just a day before Jean Ann’s comment, my student Pradyumn relinquished his virtual chair in favour of his entire team. Pradyumn founded ‘Physics Mindboggler’ a good four years back and singlehandedly built it into a beautiful platform that strives to inspire young minds towards Physics.

In a poignant gesture, Pradyumn deleted the words ‘founded by Pradyumn’ from & ‘About US’ section on the website. He further dropped ‘Founder’ from his own designation, virtually folding his chair and leaving. Moreover, he performed these acts in the presence of his entire team, inspiring them enormously to build on the foundation he has painstakingly put together.

“That simple anecdote has blown up my LinkedIn account,”said Jean Ann, in reply to my e-mail congratulating her on her beautiful comment that has evoked over 250 reactions and close to 100 passionate replies in a single day as I write this. Though I want each one of you to read it fully and am so tempted to reproduce Jean Ann’s entire 122-word story here, it would be unfair to not direct you to the original post.

That the post and Jean Ann’s comment appeared on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, is rather poetic. The Mahatma himself lived his entire life never taking things lying low. He carried his own metaphorical folding chair and made his place wherever he went. In fact, he made a place not just for himself, but for his entire nation, and went on to become the Father of the Nation. But more importantly, when it came to occupying the highest chair in the country, he folded his own, and left.

“I made deliberate choices, starting very early in my career, to never be marginalized,” continued Jean Ann’s mail. Ever willing to look for opportunities and take risks, Jean Ann is now happy to look back and mentor younger women, so that they tap into their courage and resilience.

“I don’t want my team to work for me. I want them to work for Physics Mindboggler.’ Pradyumn said when quizzed about his bold decision to forego the all-important ‘Founder’ tag on the property he built with his blood and sweat. An act way beyond his age for this twenty-year old.

Whether it’s the Father of the Nation or the first African American congresswoman, whether it’s a seasoned entrepreneur or an upstart, they all carried their own folding chairs. But more importantly, they knew exactly when to unfold them to make their own place, and exactly when to fold them and make place for others.

Unfortunately, you cannot buy these folding chairs. Hope you have one.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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