As a woman I feel safe in Delhi

As a woman I feel safe in Delhi
I feel safe when…
I think twice about what I can and cannot wear
I refuse to go out at night alone
I avoid certain areas
I try not to draw attention to myself

Shrinking
Shrinking
Praying hoping
That no one should see
That I’m a woman alone
the audacity!
Yes, I feel safe in Delhi when
I cannot be me,
cannot be woman,
when I’m unseen

*Written in response to a friend who asked me ‘Do you feel safe as a woman in Delhi?’ for a campaign on Women’s Safety in India

Recent headlines:

Woman gang-raped and thrown out of car near Delhi 
http://www.ndtv.com/gurgaon-news/gurgaon-woman-allegedly-gang-raped-in-moving-car-in-greater-noida-near-delhi-thrown-off-vehicle-1714421

Murderous trio rape 19-year-old woman, throw her infant out of moving car
http://www.ndtv.com/gurgaon-news/3-allegedly-gangrape-woman-throw-9-month-old-baby-to-death-from-auto-in-gurgaon-1708307

Toddler who had just learned to walk suffers horrific injuries after 45-year-old neighbour abducts and rapes her in India
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4529700/Toddler-surgery-rape-neighbour-India.html

How to cultivate a winning mindset

Shortly after I won a pageant, I was invited, as a guest speaker to several events where the dominant question on everyone’s mind was ‘How do you win a pageant?’ Much to their disappointment I told people there is no way to ensure you will win. The question itself is wrong. You need to prepare a winning mindset instead. Your attitude plays a much greater role than how you look, even in a “beauty” pageant.

Many people think if they get their body intact, wear designer clothes, perfect some poses and memorize scripted answers, they are prepared for a pageant. Though beauty is one of the qualities judged people often discount the more important ones: confidence and grace. Beauty is defined by how you look but confidence and grace is defined by how you carry yourself.  While there’s only so much you can do to work on your physical attributes, the good news about cultivating the right mindset is that anyone can do it.

Here are 5 tips that helped me maintain my dignity and grace throughout the process. I should point out that I participated in two pageants in very different phases of my life. In the first instance I was poorly prepared mentally. I was able to use this experience to reflect and determine what needed to be done should I ever compete again. I was lucky enough to get the chance a few years later.

  1. Know your purpose

It’s essential that you ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing in the first place. Preparing for a pageant may feel like preparing for an exam, but unlike studying hard for an exam you cannot control the outcome in a pageant (or similar events like a job interview). You are being judged on a number of different variables that are very subjective. So if your only purpose is to ‘win’, remember that this is completely out of your control.  If you are continually worried about winning you will be stressed and it will affect your demeanor. I decided upfront that my purpose was to make the most of the experience, meet some great people and most importantly to try and have fun. With this in my mind, I didn’t let too many things bother or affect me and it was visible.

  1. Be unshakeable (the right body language)

This is perhaps the most important. The most nerve-wracking moment might be when you see the other contestants and start comparing yourself with them. ‘She’s fitter than me.’ or ‘She’s taller than me.’ Again: all variables out of your control. You know what’s in your control? Confidence.  Even if you don’t feel like the best, you have to project that image. Always. This is all determined by your body language, believe it or not. It’s about the way you walk, the way you stand, the way you handle every situation. I cover this topic at length in my sessions. Every aspect of your body should be screaming, “I was born to do this” without giving the air of overconfidence or arrogance. It is a very subtle line that you do not want to cross.

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(The photo on the left ‘Then‘ is from my very first pageant and the photo on the right ‘Now‘ is from the recent one. In both pageants my physical condition is almost the same. In which photo do I appear more confident?)

  1. Get a support network

It’s natural to doubt yourself and sometimes you need that extra push of motivation. Identify people on whom you can rely to help you through the times when you need it the most. Have their number on speed-dial. Sometimes a few kind words from a loved one is all you need. But don’t become over-dependent on anyone and remember that you are your own cheerleader. Before delivering any presentation, or speaking at any public event – I give myself a few minutes alone in the bathroom, look myself in the mirror and tell myself “You ROCK Sonal! And you are going to totally kill it!” It may sound silly but it works. Positive words emit positive energy.

  1. Think big picture

Always put things in perspective. Whether it’s a pageant or interview for the most amazing position you could dream of. This is just one instance in your entire life. Whether or not you succeed is not determined by the outcome it’s by what you make of this experience and how you leverage it. If you don’t win the pageant, maybe you’ve made some great contacts that will help you. If you don’t get the job, maybe this was the ‘test interview’ to help you prepare for the next big thing. In short, it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Just breathe.

  1. Celebrate & reflect

Too often we focus on our failures in an attempt to learn from them and not repeat them. But why don’t we give the same importance to our successes? We need to look back, record all the times we’ve done well and then think about the pattern that led us to the positive outcome. That way we can try and replicate. For me, I’ve realized that whenever I speak about a topic I’m really passionate about I actually enjoy delivering the presentation and make a greater connect and impact with the audience. I know now that I shouldn’t present on topics that I’m not too crazy about myself, even though they might be important.  Moreover, we need to take a minute to actually pat ourselves on the back for all our achievements before moving onto the next goal. Celebrate yourself.

Needless to say these tips are applicable beyond the pageant arena and can help you prepare for any important event in life. Whenever I need to overcome a daunting task I keep them I mind: whether it’s a job interview, a presentation, or even walking as a showstopper. Remember that your biggest and toughest critic is you. A quote I read recently elucidates this point beautifully, “Your most important sale in life is to sell yourself to yourself” (Maxwell Maltz). If you don’t see the star in you then how can you expect yourself to shine?

 

 

Don’t be afraid to Twirl – live life according to your own rules

The last post about being the captain of your own ship related to professional endeavours. But what about your life choices? A dear friend of mine recently said, “You are the dancer of your life, you wrote the steps, and you know how it goes…” Seems like a simple statement but actually it’s quite profound. If it’s a solo show and you’re the dancer, then no one else should really be able to tell when you’ve ‘missed’ a step right? Then why is that everyone is so focused on telling you what you’re doing wrong? It’s as if you’re a contestant on India’s Got Talent and the key authoritative figures in your life (parents / in-laws / community/ relatives/ boss, whoever) are on the judging panel just waiting to call you out. If you screw up, you won’t make it to the next round. Even when you do something awesome, like that twirl in the air that no other contestant has even dreamed of trying they serve you a measly score with a derisive comment on the side “Not bad. 7/10. Could’ve been better… timing was off.” But who are they to comment on the timing of your twirl?

When we were children, how many of us knew exactly what we wanted to be when we grow up? If we did know, how many of us actually stuck to that aspiration? The only example I know of is a close friend who knew by the age of 7 that she wanted to be a lawyer. She chose subjects at high school and university that would lead her to her path. She spent her entire summer studying for LSATs (entrance exam) and then completed Law School and became one of the youngest lawyers to graduate at 25. After working as a lawyer for about 2 years she quit her job. She hated it.

I was never the kind of kid who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. In fact, the mere question seemed like a trick one. “What do you mean, why do I only have to choose one thing?” I used to say. I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this. At university, I couldn’t decide on an area of specialization so I chose International Relations which allowed me to dabble in Economics, Political Science, History, Sociology without having to focus on only one of these subjects. To be honest I couldn’t imagine being immersed in only one thing. When I sat in Economics class, the viewpoint was so entirely contrary to what the Sociologists firmly believed in and vice versa. If you didn’t know the other side of the argument, how would you possibly come to an informed decision?

As ‘confused’ as ever, I then went on to work in a variety of different fields before finally settling on being a ‘Management Consultant’ for several years – the most vague career that exists! A position created for individuals like myself who love being a Jane of all trades but master of none. Though I’m no longer in this field, to this day if someone asks me what I do, I don’t have a one-word answer. My cousin illuminated the issue once saying “Is there anything you don’t do?”

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So concerned with my apparent ‘inability to make a decision’ a relative of mine pulled me aside at a party, seriously perplexed. I thought he was going to confess some deep dark secret to me in a moment of weakness like “sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you’re actually adopted.” In fact, all he wanted to do was express his concern that I didn’t seem to “be focused.” By the way, I attended this party immediately after I had received an award for my contribution towards raising awareness for Domestic Violence in the community. I’m not bragging. I’m just putting things in perspective. Typical Indian-relative mentality right? Rather than offer hearty congratulations and continue the party, a silent and somber mood arose. As if I had announced that I am leaving everything and moving to the Himalayas to live in solitude for the next 6 months.

Relative: “So… what is it exactly that you are doing

Me: “Me? Oh well having just won one beauty pageant and have been placed in another, I am also working as a Director with the first online marketplace for health. Oh and I also want to really focus on Domestic Violence issues. Plus I have a few modeling assignments here and there. You know, nothing much.”

I can imagine his anxiety. Is this girl on crack he must’ve thought?

Relative: Long pause. “I’m worried.”

Good thing I didn’t tell him I was also part of a theatre group and we had just performed a play. He might’ve alerted the authorities.

He felt I “needed to focus” and choose 1 or 2 things or I would “lose out on the real opportunity before me” Umm…what opportunity? I think I was doing a pretty good job at this carpe diem thing so far.

Me: “Nonsense. I’m perfectly fine.” Smug smile to self. Walk away.

Now, that’s what I should’ve said. Sigh. Alas, my respectful-Indian-girl- who-shouldn’t-snub-elders mode kicked-in. (Sometimes it feels like auto-pilot) and I started nodding my head in agreement and saying, “Hmmm, yes yes, you are right.” The worst part is that I actually started believing it!

That nasty little pest self-doubt had crept into my mind. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

I came home seriously troubled. My husband asked me what was wrong and I started explaining the problem to him. “I’m not focused. There’s no direction. I need to decide. I don’t know what I am doing. Where am I headed? What if I’m missing out?” He just glared at me as if I had told him that I’d been abducted by aliens. I think my brain had been at least. “Why do you let people get to you so easily?” is all he asked. He then calmly explained to me that I was getting worked up over nothing and I settled down a bit. To be honest, it continued to bother me for several days afterwards (though I didn’t admit it to him). Now I think it was a classic case of someone trying to limit your twirl. The relative in question’s intent may have been good, but the point is, whose performance (e.g. life) is it anyways? And whose rules had I been living by this far? Certainly not his.

Luckily, times are changing and so are the categories that define us. We just need to remember this and do away with destructive mentality. Why are we still holding onto the stereotypes? Just because you’re a wife and a daughter-in-law it doesn’t mean you can’t also aspire to be a model and a beauty queen. Just because you are a model and beauty queen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to be taken seriously as a professional in your career. Just because you have kids, doesn’t mean you can’t act like one at times. Throw out the silly categories and associated expected behavior. They have governed our lives and thought process for too long.

We are also much luckier than our parents because we have a lot more options to choose from than the standard doctor/lawyer/engineer checklist they had. People are doing lots and lots of different things. And with these new career options comes a new work ethic where individuals who come together for a common cause are treated with respect as valued contributors. Just yesterday I was working out of a café and overheard the girl at the table next to me tell someone how she had started her own clothing line about a few years ago and was spending 3 days in Delhi and the other 3 in Agra. Though her mom wasn’t happy that she was avoiding the subject of marriage, she was too focused to care. She was only 27. Oh and by the way, the person to whom she was speaking was applying for a job with her. It was an interview. It was remarkable because this woman was so honest and forthcoming. It could’ve been a conversation with a friend. From the tone of the conversation, I could tell that she wouldn’t be the type of boss who would make this girl ‘fetch her shoes’ (see my previous post). She wanted someone passionate about her designs who was willing to work hard and lend a hand in lot’s of different areas, not just one. Aha, so maybe it pays to have generalist skills and not be focused on one particular area.

 To an elder generation it may seem like we are ‘confused’ and ‘non-committal’ but actually we are exploring our potential to the fullest. And carving out your own path doesn’t mean you are any less dedicated and hard working. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Why do we need to colour ‘within the lines’ or dance according to a particular sequence of steps? I’ve never been good at following steps in the first place. (Anyone who has tried to teach me coordinated dance at a wedding, can attest to this). I like creating my own moves. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Make your own rules. You have one life and no one to blame but yourself if you don’t live it exactly the way you want.

I’ll twirl when I want to.

The Dark Waters of Entrepreneurship (and how to stay afloat)

When I quit my job at a Top 4 consulting firm in London a few years ago and moved to India, I knew I wanted to switch gears and work independently rather than become a salaried employee again. The process, though exciting in theory was actually very scary. Entrepreneurship was a buzz-word then that was getting everybody excited. What people didn’t highlight was the dark side.

So you’ve finally made one of the most difficult decisions of your life and started your own business: congratulations on making the leap!

Ok, now what? No one ever tells you how daunting it’s going to be.

You hear the success stories of Mark Zuckerburg, Steve Jobs (who needs college?), other Joe Billionaires and you think – why have I wasted so much time on doing things the right way? Top marks to get into college, top marks in college to get a good job, work hard at the job to get a promotion, etc… Well, truth be told it’s because not everyone is a genius. More importantly, we don’t all discover exactly what it is that we want to do for the rest of our lives at the age of 17.

For the rest of us, that process is a journey, one that is experienced on a path of experimenting with different majors at college, maybe taking a few months off to travel and ‘discover ourselves’ or working at a range of places with a diverse set of people for many many years until we finally realise that there is more to life than this.

Once we finally figure out that carving out our own path is what we want to do, not all of us are fortunate enough to pursue this dream. It is only due to our extensive support network (partners, families, friends), and savings or financial support from loved ones that we can take the bold move of letting go of our safety net and taking a plunge in the deep, dark unknown waters that we call ‘entrepreneurship.’

And once you finally make that plunge, that cold water hits you like a slap on the face. And then a few weeks pass and you begin to panic and feel like you are drowning. You are filled with self-doubt. What am I doing? You ask yourself, ‘why on earth did I let go of that net in the first place?’ You reminisce about all the ‘good times’ in the office: the lunches with friends, the free drinks at the company socials, the guaranteed pay cheque and benefits at the end of the month and perhaps most importantly, it’s the prestige you miss. Deep down, you know you hated every minute of working for that ‘Tier 1’ company but there was a certain satisfaction you had when you announced at dinner parties, networking events, amongst your in-laws friend’s, and every other Tom, Dick and Harry “that I work for so-so company.” Everyone had heard of it.

Suddenly that’s been replaced with “um, I’m starting up my own thing.” Remember when you were a graduate in college and you met alumni at networking events. Who was more impressive? The investment banker from the top firm or someone who said they were ‘trying out something new’ or ‘following their passion.’ Your automatic thought was ‘ohhhhh he must’ve not made it through the big firms, what a loser. I hope I don’t end up like him.’ Now you wouldn’t even have enough extra cash in your pocket to buy yourself and the aforementioned loser a drink at the local pub.

Oh my. How the tables have turned.

My point here is not to depress you. It’s to remind you of WHY you are where you are.

So here’s a lifejacket:

5 reasons why you are better off now:

  1. Your job SUCKED. If it didn’t – you wouldn’t have left. (I don’t need to elaborate on this point any further)
  2. You HATED your BOSS. Remember when you used to daydream about poisoning your boss or saying @$!% YOU and leaving? Well, you finally had the courage to make that happen. (Hopefully not the poison bit). Take pride in it. Whenever I used to get discouraged, I reminded myself of how my manager used to politely ask me to ‘fetch her shoes’ from her locker. Conjure up a similar memory (I’m sure you have many) and keep it handy. You will need it. Now you are your own boss. It’s scary because there’s no one telling you what to do and by when to do it, but remember it’s also immensely liberating.
  3. You were UNDERVALUED. You are WAY more valuable than what you were earning  (including the fringe benefits of dinners, drinks, company retreats, etc). You don’t believe me? Divide your annual salary by the ACTUAL number of hours you worked. It will depress you.
  4. The environment was UNINSPIRING and STUNTED your GROWTH. Remember all those new ideas you had that would get shot down? In my previous organisation, “out of the box thinking” was synonymous with “let’s take a really safe and guaranteed-to-please idea and present it in a new way, without deviating from the branded colour palette, of course.” It’s no surprise that the senior leadership rejected the new and bold. Anyone who stays around in a toxic environment long enough will stunt his/her creativity. I could feel that happen to me. I just couldn’t think outside the confines of the accepted framework. That’s when you know it’s time to BREAK the damn box and shoot out of there.
  5. Share your BRILLIANCE. You have an amazing idea. You NEED to share it with the world. Or you will always regret it. You were proud to say it out loud that you worked for SO&SO company but how did you feel when you got home? Did you have sound sleep at night? Did you wake up with a smile on your face? I bet not. Learn to be happy living for yourself and not others. I know it’s hard. But remember, if your idea works those same people who mocked you will praise you as if they were the ones who were behind your success story. Here the cynics will say, ‘But what if my idea doesn’t work, and I fail?’

Does it really matter?

Remind yourself that an idea not working isn’t the same as saying you met with failure. “Failure isn’t the opposite of success; it’s part of success.” If you don’t fail you don’t learn. Failing would be if you never had the strength to get in the deep, cold water in the first place or if you simply gave up once the waters got rough. Maybe you need a different strategy to navigate the waters next time but at least you know that you have the gusto to stay afloat and not drown. More importantly, you are captain of your own ship and can choose where you need to go. The possibilities are endless.

Good luck.

Remember, you are not alone.

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Purpose

Hello 🙂 That’s me.

(Before my first cup of coffee, hence the sleepy eyes).

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I’m sometimes inspired to share certain thoughts or epiphanies on Facebook or Insta that I feel someone out there in the universe may relate to or understand. Perhaps, it might even inspire or help another soul. Recently, I realized I have been getting the message across to quite a few people! I’ve received requests to address certain topics such as confidence, preparing for a competition, how to get a job, how to quit your existing job, how to motivate yourself daily, how to know when to start a new venture, etc. So I decided to finally sit down and share my thoughts in a more systematic way – for whoever is genuinely interested. I will try to address the points above, along with any other requests. But mostly this blog is just going to be a platform for my ramblings. So don’t expect the topics to be related and to be written in any particular order. The general theme here is Wellness in the broadest and most holistic sense – physical, mental, and emotional. Stick along for the ride and you might become enlightened. Though I’m not great at following good advice, I’m pretty good at giving it 🙂 So I do sincerely hope these writings help you in someway. Let’s begin our journey!