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Nidhi Patel has quite a backstory. She previously held several competitive corporate positions including the head of worldwide education sales planning for Apple, chief of staff to the chief executive officer at Samsung Electronics America and senior manager of corporate strategy for Hewlett-Packard (HP).
Unexpectedly, she decided to quit her job at Apple to become a teacher, following her passion for education.
This pivotal moment occurred when she began considering the next phase of her life. “I think of life much like a play,” Patel said. “And I was entering into my ‘Act 2.’”
“As everyone knows, Act 2 is when everything has to get shaken up – where the main character takes risks and fails and thinks everything is falling apart,” she explained. “Having a crazy Act 2 is the only way you can have a calm, resolute Act 3 that really feels like closure.”
Patel realized that continuing on a path in the corporate world would not ultimately bring her the most excitement or fulfillment. “While it can be exciting for some, [it] was not the right “risk" for me,” she recalled.
“I thought about the issues that I cared deeply about, which were education and income inequality, and thought about the best way to get proximate to those issues. Being a teacher in a high-needs middle school did that – it taught me so much,” Patel said.
“I learned how little I knew, I learned how constraining the public education system is, I learned how much life exists in children and how they can really inspire us to take on new ideas.”
We were excited to talk to Patel about her journey so far, which led her to become an educator and CEO of the app Kred Rewards.
The first act
To set the scene, Patel has so far gone through the developmental stages of life quickly. She proved her academic prowess when she graduated from high school at age 16, and then from college at age 19. Continuing her impressive stride, Patel graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business at only 23 and went straight into the corporate tech world, starting in the field of corporate strategy for HP.
Patel has always been attracted to problem-solving. “I actually wanted to go into turnaround consulting because the idea of constantly facing new problems and solving them just seemed like a more interesting way to have a career,” she recalled. “My mind is an argumentative one and one that gets pretty bored without constant action.”
Thus, the fast pace of the corporate world was appealing to her – at first. “Being a GM of a slow or even moderate growth business, would not interest me. I’d likely mess it up because I would unnecessarily try to shake things up when they didn’t need to be,” she said.
“Problem-solving is highly intellectual, requires debate and an open mind to others and different fields that can help you understand your situation better,” she said.
This tendency to be a problem-solver is foreshadowing for the next act, where we learn that Patel will embrace new ways of applying these traits and her skill for innovation.
The second act
“If plays are modeled after lives, then we have three acts to go through,” Patel said. “The first sets us up – the experiences, the network, the interests we develop through our early education and jobs. The second act, probably around your mid-30s, is key. The second act is when everything happens – crises, change, drama, risks.
“To have a resolving third act, I believe you have to have a big second act, so that’s what I am trying to do.”
Patel sees herself in the midst of her second act now. She moved into the education sphere – a risk she believed worth taking, no matter the pay cut.
She began working in San Francisco’s highest-need middle school, with high levels of student behavioral challenges and a high teacher turnover.
“Sometimes taking big risks is scary – thinking about what I left, including the pay,” Patel said. “But at the end of our days, no one will worry about titles or bank account balances, but [rather] the story that you lived. Every play is only as good as its second act.”
From her teaching experiences, Patel went on to create a startup called Kred Rewards, which establishes a system of positive reinforcement for kids, both at school and at home.
Kred Rewards provides parents and teachers a platform to pay their kids an allowance of either “kreds” or points to reward specific skill-building. This positive reinforcement encourages kids to feel rewarded for their efforts and be autonomous in deciding what they want to develop within themselves.
This is part of the legacy that Patel hopes to leave behind. “I hope that through our app, we give kids around the world the opportunity to build skills for themselves and learn to operate in a world where they have control and can get rewarded based on their effort and accomplishments,” she said.
“The app is a small part of achieving that goal, but I hope to find more and more ways to help children find autonomy and self-confidence to succeed throughout my life.”
The third act
Patel has truly embraced the “carpe diem” factor of her second act. She’s always got the next phase of life in mind, and she hopes she’s setting herself up for a third act filled with well-earned knowledge and memories.
“The second act of a play is where the main character takes on risks, fails or has something insane happen to them. It is only if you have the heightened narrative arc of a second act that you can have the closure and resolution of a third act,” she explained.
“My motivation is really to have that amazing third act where I am sipping wine on a pier with my family and friends and telling stories. But I need stories, and that is where the second act has to come in – an act full of risk-taking, full of failures and, hopefully, some triumphs.”
Patel has certainly set herself up for more triumphs, as her app Kred Rewards has a perfect rating with the Apple Store. Patel revealed she also is currently working on a thesis about what a public education with reduced spending and increased creativity could look like in the future.
We were excited to chat more with Patel to gain insight into her mind and passion for the education of children.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching?
The laughs. Kids, especially middle school kids, are hilarious. They told me that often middle school kids don’t easily get sarcasm. While that may be true for kids raised by parents who shelter them from pop culture and media, my kids understand sarcasm and dole it out in droves. It took a lot for me to be the “adult voice" when I really wanted to jump in and play along.
You took a pay cut when you decided to become a teacher. Do you think people place too much importance on financial-based fulfillment in life?
One the first things someone asked me was “you’re probably making like half of what you were making before, right?" I nodded, but I was making 10x less than what I was making before – half would be great. I think people like to be comfortable, so money is a big part of that. I wanted to be interesting, and there’s a way to do that and still make a lot of money, like Elon Musk.
But most people that spent their life making choices based on the highest monetary value are pretty boring I’ve found, and it’s because they don’t take risks. If they’re in the corporate world, they’re playing with house money, not their own financial future – that is a different level of intensity than when someone takes out a second mortgage for a chance at a dream.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career change?
You should plan to have some financial security. Once that is roughly there, do it. If you plan for too long, you won’t make the move.
Can you tell us more about your app, Kred Rewards? What pushed you to create this app?
Childhood development research shows motivation in kids comes from two primary factors: attention and autonomy. If the adults in their lives do not provide these needs, kids will seek them out in other areas of their life that could prove counterproductive or even dangerous. The big fear is that NIMH’s 2018 study saying that one in two kids will develop an anxiety, behavioral or substance abuse problem by [age] 18 comes true. We want to tackle that stat and shift the curve.
Kred facilitates kids getting positive attention through an engaging skill-building platform as well as the autonomy to pick what they work, how they work on it and what they achieve as rewards. By ensuring we are basing the motivation on the science of childhood development, we can provide a more effective and efficient way to funnel existing home-spend
What is one critical moment in your life that has shaped you and where you are today?
My brother left his corporate law career to try and be an actor. He had some good small roles, but that path never really panned out. But, what a story! He was on some amazing shows as an extra and can tell you about some hilarious interactions with famous people. He did this 10 years before I jumped from my path, but in a way, I am following in his footsteps.
What would you say you have learned about taking risks?
What’s the worst that could happen? The answer is, not much. Even if you lose some money, as an educated and experienced person, I knew I could make more again. The bigger risk in life, as the cliche goes, is not trying.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
In every meal, eat the worst part first.
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