I did not know what we were being selected for or what was coming our way. Was it an advertising workshop? Was it leadership training? What exactly was it?
We tried finding out. Nothing much came out of that research except, “If we tell you, we would have to kill you.”
Intrigued, curious and, with a bit of ‘How-bad-can-it-be? I-will-still-be-free-from-work-mails-in a different country’ feeling, we set out.
So what was this journey like? A roller coaster, with constant ups and downs. A ship that was about to sail in an ocean of unexplored questions - those that we refuse to ask others or ourselves because we are afraid, or those that preconceived notions stop us from asking.
And Shahnaz Shaikh captained this ship. He started off by being our trainer. But ended up becoming a friend, an elder brother, and a mentor for life.
Our captain promised that the next three days would not be easy. It wasn’t.
I met 22 equally curious co-passengers from Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, Malaysia, Taiwan and India.
We set sail. Our first task on deck required us to tell someone if we trusted him or her (or did not, or weren’t sure). We did it. Not once but thrice.
Only to realise that what sounds like a frivolous activity brings out one simple human truth. That we often say the right thing but not the honest one. Or maybe we are scared of being judged. There’s this beacon of belief that affects every step and our dependency on it prevents us from making the most of opportunities.
This ship had lifeboats (also known as mini-groups) led by what I would call an experienced sailor. The one who would keep us afloat if we looked like sinking at any point of the journey.
Mentors, role models, bonded by a contract to Fast Track and love those 23 that were a part of this programme. Not just for three days but forever.
There were games, processes and activities that helped us understand and overcome a lot of mental blocks and barriers. There were up and downs. Sometimes we laughed, while other times we exploded. Those that would attempt to make us better human beings. Those if I wrote about would mean that this was the last time I wrote something. For the clan takes its secrecy quiet seriously!
The last task was to take the learning from the tides we have sailed and crack an assignment judged by Bharat Avalani (Unilever), Alvin Lee (TBWA), Sathi Anand (Saatchi and Saatchi) and Amit Sutha (BBDO Proximity).
We all have a professional goal and a personal goal and in order to achieve them, one must spend a bit more time with ourselves.
It would be unfair not to mention the two people who saw the vision behind this program: Mr Bharat Avalani and Mrs Janet Lee.
They anchor this ship of ours. They have. They will for years to come. All you need to do is take the plunge next year.
What exactly was the Fast Track? I am still struggling to answer it. Struggling to implement what I learnt. But I am a lot clearer on things that I never cared to worry about.
That’s what AFFA was all about. Things that cannot be written about but only experienced. But I made a contract with myself that my strengths will be worked on but importantly the weaknesses will be eliminated slowly.
One key learning from this whole experience: If you cannot be part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.
(The author works with Creativeland Asia. He was among six young professionals selected and sponsored by the Advertising Council of India to attend the Asian Federation of Advertising Association’s Fast Track programme in Malaysia this July.)