As a Badass Boss Lady should you care what others think?

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You’ve worked hard to become a successful Boss Lady – congratulations! Suddenly you’re asking, what do people in the company think of me?  You start wondering if they actually like you in a way that you never did before. Does this really matter? Feedback does because you can control the outcome by working on your weak points but what they think ultimately doesn’t.

A personal story illustrates this point best.

A few years ago, I had almost closed my first major contract as a freelance consultant with a global fashion brand. I was so close to getting the deal I could literally taste it! But there was one hiccup. The CEO wanted to wait for a key member of the team to get back from her travels to ensure she was alright with the project. She would be gone for a month. During that time, I met with the team I would be working with. They started talking about this key member. They described her as incompetent, unworthy & a show-off.  Her importance was simply because she was the “boss’ favourite.” Moreover, they presented her as insecure. She wouldn’t take well to an outsider and she wouldn’t approve the deal. The more I met them, the more they spoke of her as an obstacle to this project. I began to get nervous. Who is she? Why is she so important? What if she cancels the project? Or worse, what if we don’t get along? After many sleepless & anxiety-ridden nights, the day came when I had to meet her.

I don’t remember my outfit but still remember the prejudice I wore walking into that meeting. I had already decided she was someone I probably wouldn’t like and someone I have to “deal with.” She asked a lot of questions, & wanted to understand my methodology. She said she would get back to me. She came back to me after only 10 minutes. “There’s a problem”, she said. Oh great, I thought. It’s all over! My mind boarded negativity express & I started imagining what other clients I could target since this deal had clearly gone sour. “Your role is too limited.” She wanted me to work with her as a partner & carry through the entire year (rather than 3 months)! I was dumbfounded. This is the person I was scared to meet?

Over the course of the next year, working with her was probably one of the best professional experiences I’ve had in India. You know what? Everything they said about her couldn’t be further from the truth. She not once treated me as an outsider; conversely, she helped me navigate the path of the organisation telling me the unofficial do’s & don’ts & how we could best get the job done. We had so much in common in terms of working style – so much so that those same people who were bad-mouthing her started saying the exact same about me (I found out later). We both laugh about it now. That’s right, though we’ve both moved on to other roles, to this day, we stay in touch.

Moral of the story?

#1: When it comes to what people think of you – that is something you will never be able to control. Let your work do the talking. Take feedback seriously and work on becoming better every-day.

#2: Do not let others do your thinking for you! Form your opinions about colleagues, leaders & others in the workplace based on facts and your own interactions. Otherwise, you might miss out on something truly special. Had I let what “they think” cloud my mind for too long, not only would I have missed an amazing professional opportunity but would’ve also missed out on a dear friend.

When washing your hair is a win

After 3 days of being nearly bed-ridden & moping around the house I finally decided I had enough. It wasn’t because the muscle spasms in my back disappeared or the pain suddenly became bearable. It was because I remembered who I am, what else I have dealt with and how this was just one of those difficult moments I needed to overcome.

Sounds great? A lot easier said than done.

Admittedly, I did sulk a bit. I even cried.

3 weeks ago, I climbed a volcano and look at me now. I can’t even lift my arms above my head long enough to wash my hair. The pity party in my head was arriving and this scene was getting all too familiar. Memories of better days, comparison to current state, the spiralling into the dreaded “why me?” & finally climaxing to a predictable “life-sucks” mode. Ever notice how easy it is to delve into the vicious cycle of self-doubt & negativity?

Finally, I realized something. That constant positive upwards sloping line you see in economics text books isn’t really how life is – not in terms one’s achievements or personal fitness journey. Journeys have ups and downs. You can’t measure your achievements against a constant metric. One day you climb a mountain or you do an extra set at the gym on leg day. But on others, getting out of bed or getting the strength to wash your hair despite excruciating pain, is a victory. It’s not about how high the peak or fat the bonus. What defines you is how well you overcome the obstacles along the way. Life is about moments and how you survive them, or excel at them. How many bumps do you overcome and come back up fighting?

I share this revelation for 2 reasons:

  • Struggle behind that smile: A lot of people out there seem to think my life is just peachy without any problems, struggles or real issues that need to be overcome. To be honest, I’ve stopped caring how I am being perceived by people who don’t know me (and working on not caring about those who do know me but whom I don’t care much about 🙂  ). However, it is not okay to judge people simply because they seem like they are “put together.” Don’t punish someone because they are happy and smiling. You don’t know the struggle behind that smile. They might just be survivors.
  • Own your journey: To tell people who are experiencing an ongoing injury or condition that it’s okay to have off days. We love imagining our journey whether it’s fitness, or success according to a straight line where each day we’re supposed to get better & better until one day at the end of the line, at the “top” we reach perfection. That’s not the way it works and thinking like that is dangerous. Yes, have goals but break it down to putting in your best every day, given the existing challenges, circumstances, & issues, you currently face. No one else knows your journey like you do.

Some days, it might just be enough that you were able to wash your hair & put a smile on your face. And that’s okay, because you’ll live to climb another mountain.

 

 

Overcoming Temptation during the Holidays

I was apprehensive about my vacation period this year as it meant a 3.5 week break in my routine. I knew the chances of getting regular gym access and following a structured diet was pretty slim. I also had (haunting) memories of my last long vacation to Canada where I ended up gaining several kgs, getting completely off-track and experiencing serious back and shoulder pain due to lack of exercise & cold weather.

The trip was similar to the one I took 2 years ago. It was the same place, for the same amount of time during the winter season. I faced the same challenges as before: limited gym access, yummy Canadian pastries (pancakes, donuts, apple pie) & most importantly a Punjabi mother I hadn’t seen in ages whose sole mission was to “bring back the charm on my starved-face”. I am screwed, I thought.

The one thing that had changed though was my mindset. I wasn’t tempted to cheat. This was a new feeling and amazing realization for me. I knew how hard I had worked to reach this point and this wasn’t allowing me to go off-track. Is cheating really worth sabotaging all the progress I’ve made? The answer was no. I still indulged here and there, but forced myself to compensate with my next meal to ensure I maintained my caloric intake.

 

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The end result was I actually lost a couple of kgs (some of it might be muscle mass) but at least I didn’t gain fat. More importantly, the temptation to consume those apple pies, cheesecakes, & pancakes was gone.

This leads to the next point – a lot of people constantly ask me

“can you create a diet chart?”
“help me workout”
“how can I quit smoking?”
“how do I get motivated?”

But they’re asking the wrong question. It isn’t the how but why.

Ask yourself why you want to change. If it’s for the wrong reason (“my bf/gf wants me to”, or “to fit into a dress at a party” i.e. short-term goals) it won’t work or last.
I can’t help you. No one can.

It has to come from within. Only then will you be able to surmount the obstacles: the temptation to cheat, the firm resolve when a family member tries to pressure you or the difficult silence to maintain when someone says you look “too skinny” or “have lost your charm.”

Once you believe this is something you HAVE to do, not want to do – all these “obstacles” will disappear from your vision and become background noise. Your singular purpose will be to achieve your goal – no matter what.

Is it selfish? maybe
Is it extreme? yes
Does any of that matter? No
You do it for yourself and no one else.
Once you’ve answered the why we can focus on the how.

A little bit stronger

One day
The gym was filled with men
Big & brawny bodybuilders
Flexing their muscles between every set
In front of the mirror
In I walked & It started
The looks
Impatient sighs
Whispered chuckles,

“what’s she doing lifting?”
“why isn’t she doing cardio?”

I was in their space
I was using their weights
& I didn’t even ask for help ;)

They may be bigger
But they’re not stronger

We always have to
Push back
Work harder &

Prove 
Prove
We belong
Be it the boardroom or bench press
It is ours, too
Not a privilege but a right

Don’t let it unnerve you
Let them hover
Let them stare
Let them laugh

Work harder
Ignore, smile &
Keep your head up high

Let it fuel your fire
Lift heavier

They will try to knock you down
They may succeed
But you can’t let them win
By getting back up every-time
& coming back a little stronger

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The Ugly Truth about Body-Shamers

“You will be judged by those whose only accomplishment is judging”

The journey to getting fit isn’t just about physical endurance & consistency. On the path to greatness you will face a lot of opposition. Fitness is no different. Forget about injury, overcoming the temptation to cheat or increasing your muscle mass. The greatest and most irritating obstacle you’ll face is people’s reactions, judgements and non-stop criticism.

Examples:

“omg if you do more, you’ll disappear”

“please don’t lose any more weight”

“in my opinion you look better with a bit of weight, your face is more cute”

“bas hadiyan hai, mass kahan hai?”

“kamzor ho gay hai”

“thoda kha le, kuch nahin hoga”

& my favourite one:

“your back hurts ‘coz you gym too much”

How many times have I heard this & much more from some of my “well-wishers?” This is not just from annoying relatives by the way, but actual friends who are of a similar age (which really surprised me!). I get comments like this daily, if not every other day. I’m sure lots of you can relate.

At one point of time, I actually felt that maybe I had gone too far, maybe something was wrong and perhaps I wasn’t actually looking good. But then I asked myself one important question:

“How do you feel Sonal?”

The answer was crystal clear: Pretty fricking’ amazing!

How does it feel to wear clothes I never could before like bodycon dresses, shorts, figure-hugging gowns and not have to be conscious about flab sticking out?

Answer: Pretty fricking amazing!

How does it feel to be able to do 3 sets of chest-press where at one point I could barely lift my arm to change my clothes (due to back & cervical pain):

Answer: Out of this world.

The people who are judging you have no right (or even expertise!) to judge you in the first place. In fact, if you notice these same people will judge you and then ask you for tips on diets & working out. Does that seem like logical behaviour? They don’t like the way you look allegedly but they want to become like you? In essence, they are jealous and are projecting their insecurity in the form of offensive behaviour towards YOUR body. Not done.

I used to ignore these comments fake a smile and move on, but no more. The last time someone (who was clearly unfit) said this to me I finally broke the silence and asked him why he felt the need to comment on my body when I’m perfectly happy the way I am.

Do I go around saying “you’re unfit?” “you have a large belly”, “You should really watch your weight?” No. Because it’s called Body-Shaming – and that’s exactly what you’re doing to me! He actually apologized and said he was secretly jealous. This is not about “putting people in their place” it’s about standing up for yourself & what you believe in.

Don’t let other people’s judgments deter you for even a second or create self-doubt.

Keep grinding, focusing on yourself and your opinion is the only one that counts. It’s not just about aesthetics but how you FEEL. For me, there is no high in the world that can replace the feeling I get after exercising. Fitness is my drug & passion. If anyone tries to get in between me & it – well good luck to them 🙂

Let those comments be the fuel to your fire & help you lift an extra few reps at your next session!

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Fitness as a Religion?

I haven’t posted in a while. Apologies. But you would’ve noticed that I only write when I really have something to say, and don’t write for the heck of it. (Yes that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). This post is more spiritual in nature. I read the phrase ‘Fitness as a Religion’ yesterday and it got me thinking. What is the purpose of religion? One might say it’s to help find inner peace and establish a connection with God. How does Fitness fit in? Let’s go back to the beginning…

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As a kid, I would watch my mom pray twice a day and I never understood. How could praying to some supposed Guy-in-the-Sky make your life better? What was more astonishing was that she actually felt better after praying. Is she connecting to God? How come it doesn’t work when I do it? Am I not saying the prayer properly? Why isn’t He listening to me? I was sure it was because I wasn’t devoted or committed enough. He can probably distinguish between the “fake” prayers vs. the “real” prayers, I would think dejectedly as a kid.

So how did I attain that sense of peace? Now that I reflect on whatever I did when I felt, sad or alone – it’s an interesting observation. I didn’t derive a sense of peace from a religious site such as a temple or by praying alone as my mom did.

It would happen when I was outside, alone, running. Running in the woods, running by the ocean, running, running, running away from everything & feeling the power of my legs carry me away and open my mind up to complete freedom from the material things around me.

Due to knee and back problems, I can no longer run freely as I used to, but I realise I enjoy the same feeling when I work out whether indoors or outdoors.

It was only until much later in life that I began to think of God differently. I could never subscribe to the image of a white-haired, long-bearded man sitting in the sky watching over us. How could he forget about so many people, I would think. Or the hundreds of gods in Hinduism who represent so many different things. But which one should I subscribe to? It was only when I started reading, discussing & becoming conscious of the energies around me did I think about a divine spirit or cosmic force.

Many of us look outwards to connect to this force by relying on the wise words of a guru, a saint or maybe motivational speaker. The problem is when we start revering them rather than actually understanding what they are trying to say. The divine spirit is within us. God is in everyone. When it hit me, it really hit me. The prayers, the chants, the running/physical exercise (for me) – it was all just different paths that lead to the same point: a cliff overlooking a vast ocean. The ocean of truth. We’re all just drops. Single drops existing across the universe are isolated, alone and temporal. But when you become part of the ocean you are one and a formidable force.

When my mom was praying it wasn’t that some magical voice was telling her what to do or help her lead her life. She was channeling into her own inner strength connected to some cosmic force (maybe?) that was helping her become more positive as a person. More positive and ready to conquer life’s challenges.

Religion (for me) isn’t about connecting to a far-off God in the sky somewhere. It’s about tapping into the God within us, the energy within. This is mind-boggling because it means we as humans are capable of anything. & if you think about it, we really are. How many miraculous cases have we heard where humans have been able to surmount a challenge against all the odds, against all logic or probability. It’s called a miracle for a reason. But we are all capable of those miracles. It is us, who is responsible for those glorious acts. We are the masters of our destiny if only we can understand and harness this energy.

Why is it some people are so positive, so in control of their lives & absolutely in-tune with their surroundings? Or in other words “so zen”? It’s because they have learned how to channel that energy. Each religion is just telling us the same thing. The problem is we tend to get confused along the way and start thinking the path is the destination not a vehicle to lead us to the truth. In fact, we are so confused we argue about which path is the best, not realising they all lead to the same point.

Going back to fitness, I realise the most in-tune & connected I feel is when I’m exercising. No, it’s not just the endorphins. The connection between mind & body is undeniable. When we lift, we are lifting ourselves spiritually by reminding our brains about or amazing capability as humans. We are channeling into the inner god within us by performing miraculous acts. You don’t work-out (or paint, or meditate, fill in the blank__) only for the end-product but for the pleasure you derive while doing it. The feeling. The joy of being able to perform the act, in itself is a gift & a small reminder of what we are capable of as humans.

Hence, going to the gym or working-out outside, or doing yoga (whatever is your path) is my time each day to remind myself mentally & physically of the great undeniable spirit within me. It is not a luxury that I “make time for” it is a necessity to bring me closer to my god: the one residing within me.

Winning the Fight of Entrepreneurship & Fitness: different paths, similar principles

As 2017 comes to an end and I reflect on the last couple of years, I can’t help but realize that my journey as an entrepreneur and as a fitness enthusiast have a lot in common. Both reflect a journey that is difficult, requires a lot of learning and shift in mindset from the conventional way of thinking. To succeed in both, you need to be a fighter. When I first moved to India I realized two things: I wanted to create (not just work) & I needed to get fit. The 5 principles below helped me navigate both journeys.

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  1. Establish your goal 

The first step is realizing what you want to do. Keep in mind, this may change overtime and I think it should as you and your business evolve, but it’s important to have a starting point. You don’t need to focus on the how initially. Just establish the what. When I first moved to India I was pretty clear about the fact that I didn’t want to work a standard corporate job. I wanted to do something on my own. I knew the general area that I liked and wanted to explore. Similarly, I knew I had to address my poor health. I had been struggling with health issues in London due to the excessive working hours and a crazy hectic lifestyle.

  1. Everyone’s journey is different – there is no set path

You can read all the books you want about both topics, watch the Social Network a dozen times and stalk Fitness superstars on Instagram to see what they eat and do, but ultimately a lot of trial and error is required. Steve Jobs and his legacy are revered but we can’t forget about the struggles he faced; he was kicked out of the very company he created at one point! You need to be patient because it’s a process and you will not achieve success overnight. I first started working in the area of corporate training in Delhi. After meeting several potential clients and speaking to people I realized it was a highly oversaturated market and lots of companies were doing it in-house. I could either give up or differentiate myself and target a different space. I identified a huge gap in the customer-service skills training of major fashion brands. I decided to shift focus. After a dozen meetings and a few months I landed a contract with a prestigious global brand training the employees of their 20+ locations across India. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had professionally and I am still very good friends with a few people there and former Business Head.

When it comes to Fitness & Nutrition, of course there are tons of plans to choose from. But if your goal is to adopt a healthy and sustainable lifestyle (not just lose a few kilos before your cousin’s wedding) then you will need to experiment with different options to determine what actually works for you in the long-run. I’ve been through several different nutrition plans over the past year because I also have a sensitive gut. It took time to understand my body and realize what works and what doesn’t. Similarly, due to my back issues I can’t just pick up a workout template and follow it blindly. I need to customize it according to my specific needs. For example, I have realized that my workout routine is simply incomplete without yoga. The effect yoga has on me mentally and physically is incomparable. I cannot live without it.

  1. The struggle is real and you need to be relentless

This goes without saying, but I think it applies to both journeys perfectly. Behind each successful idea there’s 100 failed ideas. Don’t give up. Similarly, while it’s tempting to see people’s physical health transformations and think “why is this not happening to me?” you don’t know how many times that person tried and failed before sticking to his/her routine. We just see the outcome and compare it with our current state. Respect the journey. Also, be prepared to face opposition. Lot’s of it. I can’t tell you the number of aunties, uncles & even professionals who advised me to “just get a job” and “stop struggling” or “stop being obsessed with my diet.” Ignore, be patient and carry on. Your actions will prove them wrong. Those same people will come back to you asking you to help their daughter/son find a job (true story) and create a “diet chart” for them (true story).  Why do they say the best way to success is the stairs and not the lift? (Hint: it’s not because you burn more calories!) It’s because you need to go through the hardship of climbing each and every step in order to get to the top. If you take the lift up, it will just as easily come down. But if you reach the top after hard work and dedication, you won’t easily get back down. Even if you do, your chances of getting back up there are great because you fought your way up the first time.

  1. To move forward, sometimes you need to take 2 steps back

At one point I realized it was simply unsustainable for me to continue working without a proper team in place. I was getting burnt out trying to create a company as well as being involved in client delivery. I needed time to reflect. I took a break. I had the option to renew my contract with the global fashion brand but I didn’t. Trust me, for someone who has fought tooth and nail for every opportunity saying “no, thanks” and walking out the door is not easy. It requires a lot of guts and it feels damn good to make that choice but it’s scary! If I were thinking short-term which was tempting, I would see a loss of income of X amount. Thinking long-term, I left. Though it was unsettling I knew I needed to reevaluate and explore my options. Low and behold a few months later – I became a part of SQUATS. I had the freedom to create an entire vertical out of scratch (aligning with my entrepreneurial dream), but with the support of an entire team. Incidentally, my entrepreneur & fitness journey actually converged!

Similarly, as you would’ve read about in my previous blog post my health took a turn for the worst this year. I knew it was time to give in, stop exercising and focus on recovery in order to be strong enough to get back into the ring to fight another day. I’ve resumed my fitness journey again, but I know not to take my health for granted.

  1. It’s always a WIP (Work in Progress)

If you compare the CEOs / founders of major companies with fitness enthusiasts you’ll notice one thing: they never stop learning. You can’t afford to in either space. Your company and your body are continually evolving, growing, sometimes recovering from setback or illness. So how can you keep following the same strategy (or fitness & nutrition plan)? Although the initial stages in both cases are the hardest, that doesn’t mean you can get lazy once you reach your first target. I say first because as mentioned in point 1, your goal will and should change. You can only beat the competition if you’re at your best. In both cases I think the competition is always you. Whether it’s work, health or anything that matters to you, if you live each day knowing you gave it your best – there’s no regrets. Prepare each day like you’re going into the battlefield and you will always be on top of your game.