Chirag Aswani, Technical Product Manager
I have been playing acoustic guitar for more than 10 years, and when I got my FLEXBenefits bonus, I decided it was time to try a new instrument, something really hard to learn.
I chose the saxophone.
I do not have natural music ability. In lower, middle and high school, I was part of the choir. I really liked singing and wanted to play an instrument that could accommodate singing as well as playing that instrument. That’s why I first picked up the guitar.
Plus, I really liked songs by Ed Sheeran and by Green Day as well, they're one of my favorite bands. So I always wanted to play their songs.
I started guitar lessons when I was growing up in the Bay Area and once I really set that foundation, I could pick up new chords or play new songs after about a couple weeks of practicing. While I have never been part of a band, I have played guitar at open mic nights at a place called Music Inn in New York City, where I moved in August 2021.
When I got the bonus, I definitely wanted to learn a wind instrument because it just sounds so beautiful. And I think, being in New York now, there's a huge culture around jazz, blues and wind instruments.
I also think when you go to a jazz bar and you see a whole band there, it’s the saxophone that really sticks out. So I thought “wow, I'm in a city that has so much culture around the saxophone, I'd love to learn that.”
Talking to a few musicians after they've performed really gave me the confidence that I would be able to pick up the saxophone. I've met some brilliant players who told me they have picked it up within just the past five or six years and they play so, so well.
So now I am working on the chromatic scale, which is something that you should always have knocked down. The first song I learned was Happy Birthday, and I was able to play half of it recently for someone who was having a birthday, which was pretty funny.
The next song I learned was Summertime by George Gershwin, and right now I'm practicing Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles.
My practice didn’t go over well with neighbors in my apartment building. Embouchure has been the most difficult part of learning the alto sax. If done incorrectly, you end up creating a very high-pitched squeaking sound with the mouthpiece.
So that's the only thing they would hear, and it can be worse than nails going down a chalkboard. I got two noise complaints and started practicing on the roof.
Now, I'm to a point where my neighbors don't really hear that high pitch sound anymore and I haven’t gotten any more complaints.
For me, what’s great about FLEXBenefits is that if someone just gets extra cash, like "hey, now you have an extra $250 or $2,000 in your account," I think that is a much different narrative than saying: "Hey, spend this extra cash on your well-being."
For me, I really wanted to have a challenge, to be uncomfortable doing something new. Learning the sax has helped me with my mental health and my physical health, too.
I think the narrative of FLEXBenefits is very comforting to a point where you want to spend that money on new things that can help support your overall well-being. And I'm really fortunate to be part of a company that has a whole dedicated platform to do that.
I am also grateful for the FLEXWORK program. I was born and raised in Fremont, Calif., but I did my undergrad at Boston University. And I just loved the East Coast, I loved the weather, I loved the skiing. I loved everything about it.
I had returned to California to start working at Palo Alto Networks, but after COVID hit and the FLEXWORK program started, I decided that I wanted to move to New York.
Big kudos to PANW for trusting me to be able to continue to execute and meet my responsibilities while working remotely. And when you give someone that trust, it really helps with productivity. It has given me the confidence that, hey, I can still be a great employee working out of New York.