I grew up in the southern part of India in a conservative middle-class family. I am the youngest of two kids. From a young age, I developed an inferiority complex, believing that I was not good enough. This was partly because of my childhood upbringing: my dad was super smart, my brother was a genius, and there I was – an average kid who did not do well in academics.
My dad always wanted to give us the best life possible. He grew up poor and worked hard since he was young to support his siblings, parents, and my family. He excelled in academics, earning scholarships his entire life so he could study and receive an education. So, needless to say, my brother and I were encouraged to focus on academics. I was frequently compared to my brother growing up, which further contributed to my low self-esteem. For some reason, he was great at academics from day one, but for me, I was just never really into studying. Instead, I loved playing and watching sports, spending time outside with friends, and asking questions about things I did not understand.
Also, in my culture, you do not ask questions. When people follow and do things in a certain way, that is it – you blindly follow them. Parents are always right. So, I was often reprimanded if I questioned how or why things happened in specific ways.
All of these experiences made me keep to myself, unable to open up to people. I was viewed as an outcast; I did not talk to anyone, as speaking gave me anxiety. In fact, talking to a girl would make me feel as if I am having a nervous breakdown. (My wife is astounded that I would ever be shy and unable to talk to someone! Our chatty 6-month-old son is a testament to how much we talk!)
I was going through low self-esteem, high self-doubt, and had body image issues. I used food as my coping mechanism for social pressure, anxiety, and fear of rejection. As a kid, I was ridiculed for my appearance and weight, and instead of taking steps to get better, I took those comments to heart and let those define who I was.
The moment of awakening came during my second year of my undergraduate. I was sitting in my room, and my family was deciding what I would do after I graduated and the career path I should choose. They wanted me to emulate my brother in academic and career success.
After two hours of listening to them speak endlessly, all the 20 years of depression and anger which had bottled up inside me exploded. The pandora box of feelings opened up, and I let it all out. I told them that I am not stupid, I am enough, I matter, I am capable of achieving greatness, and I can pave my own career path. This was when I declared power over my life.
I wanted to gain control over three facets: my personal life, physical health, and mental well-being.
There were two things I wanted to change about myself first –
- Get rid of my anxiety and fear of rejection when speaking to people
- Finding my true passion and career path
To tackle the first, I began participating in cultural events – the increase in social interaction led to making new friends. I pushed out of my comfort zone and intentionally engaged in uncomfortable conversations. I started doing part-time jobs, which helped me learn life skills and interact with people.
In 2011, I attended a software testing conference, investing $3000 of my own money (which people thought was crazy, as it is highly unusual in that industry not to be sponsored by a company). After seeing the speakers present topics and sessions, I decided I wanted to give it a shot since it would push me further out of my comfort zone and may help me overcome my fear of public speaking.
I remember for my first conference session in 2013, I prepared for seven months and gave 23 trial runs with various groups to get feedback. I recorded myself speaking and read books on giving great presentations. Finally, when I gave the talk, it ended up being voted the best session of the conference and launched my speaking career.
To find my true passion, I sought out different opportunities that came my way and kept an open mind. I found mentors and coaches who were able to help me. I started as a software tester, moved into software development, began leading teams, became a developer evangelist, and eventually transitioned into becoming an entrepreneur.
In India, although the caste system is officially abolished, it still exists under the surface and is very important to many families, including my own. In my family, no one has ever dated someone and had a love marriage, at least in the last five generations. The bride and groom’s parents arranged all marriages. This is fine for them, but I wanted to know someone before I married them. So, I did the unexpected – I not only went out of my caste but even went so far as to marry a country girl from Grafton, Ohio (near Cleveland) for her personal values and character. We met while salsa dancing in 2011, and that was the start of a great journey.
Because of the decision I made, I endured a lot of hardship with my family to accept my relationship. For four years, I tried every possible way to woo my parents and convince them this was acceptable and finally said,” Screw this!” and got married to that country girl. Throughout this whole experience, I suffered from severe anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. In 2015, we finally got married, but I also had gained fifty pounds and was at the lowest point of my physical well-being.
On January 1st, 2016, I decided to change my physical life and lost 50 pounds in 6 months by joining a wellness group, playing basketball, and running. I then started consuming copious amounts of information through books and podcasts on various topics, including – leadership, productivity, mindfulness, self-improvement, nutrition, and communication (Yes, it was ridiculous as I read over 20 books and listened to about 150 podcasts in about four months). These resources gave me the tools to manage my time better and become aware of the mindfulness space (pun intended).
I started using meditation as a tool to gain mental peace, control, and focus. I worked with my doctors and stopped my medications, and have been medication-free since mid-2016. Consuming resources on mindfulness made me appreciate the little things in life that make a difference – like acts of generosity, kindness, and appreciation for having all the things I need to live a life with meaning and purpose. My stress levels and anxiety reduced drastically and started viewing the world in a different lens. The lens of gratitude and forgiveness. (In fact, my wife uses a phrase – “don’t go all Monk on me” when either we are fighting or when I am calm under challenging situations).
Fast-forwarding to 2020, I am an international keynote speaker and have a tech career-coaching and public speaking business. I have helped transform countless people’s personal lives and careers through my experiences, coaching, speaking, and writing. This is what I was born to do, and my mission is to impact people and help them lead better lives
So what did I learn from this experience?
Find your purpose
Everyone has a gift. We are put on this Earth for a reason. It is our responsibility to explore these gifts and figure out what makes us who we are. Discover what helps to make an impact on your and other people’s lives. You will fail, but don’t let that stop you, instead learn from that experience and pivot. Find what gives you meaning in life. (If you need a fun place to start, I recommend Oh! The Places You’ll Go, and You’re Here for a Reason – I even get a little inspiration every time I read them to my son.)
Don’t wear other people’s identity
Society is going to tell you “do this thing,” “do that thing,” “this is what you are capable of,” and much more. Don’t let that form your identity. You know what is best for you. It is tangled in your mind. You have to unravel it gradually and find your own identity.
Serve people to lead a better life
When I started becoming successful in my career, I thought money and fame were everything. That mindset actually led me to being admitted into the hospital due to severe anxiety, burnout, and depression. I then realized I was chasing the wrong dream.
I reframed my mindset, deciding that I wanted to impact and help people. Once I started using this focus in my work, I got a lot more satisfaction from my job, since I saw other people thrive because of my impact. Any recognition I earned were happy byproducts of my work, but not the focus.
It is never too late to make a change
I lived the first two decades of my life thinking I was not enough; I did not matter; I was dumb, and had made up a false image of myself. Once I decided to take control of my life, my purpose, mission, and vision, my life has drastically changed. It all started with small gradual changes; luckily I realized, it is never too late to make this shift.
Remember “We all have two lives, the 2nd one starts when we realize we have only one” – Confucius.