I try to schedule my meetings in the late morning onwards, so I have enough time to wake up without an alarm clock, journal for 15–30 minutes, drink coffee, and eat breakfast without feeling disrupted. This sacred morning routine is monumental in ensuring that I have a healthy and productive day. If my morning is sacrificed for crucial meetings, I block out an hour during my workday to re-center. Free-write journaling — whether it’s writing down affirmations, a list of gratitude, or visualizing is how I connect with myself to feel balanced and relaxed — emotionally and spiritually. Twice a week, I go to the sauna — often at times when I feel the most stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Because of the heat, I don’t take my phone and instead take a book. This short, often urgent force to disconnect in order to recharge helps me quickly calm down.
At times it feels like wellness or elevating one’s wellbeing, is diametrically opposed to high achievement and high performance in one’s career. The stress, mental energy, long hours, lack of restful sleep, preoccupation that result from a high-achievement life seem to directly inhibit wellness. And yet, in order to sustain the creativity, flexibility, mental acuity and resilience that are necessary for high performance, wellness and wellbeing of the mind, body and soul are also mandatory. So how do we achieve both? This is the question I’m hoping to answer through conversations with high-achieving women who have gleaned and are practicing their own philosophies on maintaining their wellbeing.
As a part of this series about what successful women leaders do to thrive, both personally and professionally, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meha Agrawal.
Meha Agrawal is the founder and CEO of Silk + Sonder, a women’s emotional health and mental wellness startup backed by 500 Startups that makes daily and proactive self-help and self-care more personalized, accessible, and actionable for modern women and their communities. Prior to founding Silk + Sonder, Meha spent her career as a software engineer and product manager for Goldman Sachs, Stitch Fix, The Muse, and Fueled, holds a degree in Computer Science and Business Administration from the University of Southern California, and was recently named a Tory Burch Fellow. In her free time, Meha conducts immersive self-care workshops for technology companies like Google and WeWork, teaches Bollywood cardio fitness classes, and curbs her culinary and mixology enthusiasm by finding new speakeasies and restaurants around the globe.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path and to where you are today?
Growing up, my favorite toys were pattern blocks and Barbies — I think that collectively, these toys instilled a deep-seated passion to continually build, flex creativity and logic, and story tell. Perhaps it foreshadowed my pursuit to become a lifelong builder and problem-solver as both a computer scientist and a founder. The underlying theme behind pursuing a degree in computer science, working as a software engineer and product manager, and finding my way into entrepreneurship is driven by an innate passion for empowering people — teammates, customers, and future founders. Early on in my career, I was lucky enough to realize that more than my job description or salary, I was obsessed and energized by the opportunity to work on products, experiences and problem-sets that had an end-audience whom I could relate to. This led me to leave Goldman to join The Muse as their eighth employee to build solutions for young, professional women seeking career advice. Working alongside the founders gave me foundational skills in building a startup and reinforced a desire to build one of my own. It also confirmed that I thrive in unstructured environments, as long as authenticity and flexibility weren’t compromised. Similarly, when I joined Stitch Fix during its hypergrowth phase, I learned the direct impact building sustainable revenue models alongside magical experiential moments for customers could have on a business’ health.
Part serendipitous, part intentional — I truly stumbled upon where I am today because I paid attention to what gave me joy, and what left me depleted. Every few years I experienced intense anxiety, burn out, and stress — when I forced myself to prioritize my emotional health is when I saw drastic shifts to my happiness and fulfillment, and that’s when I knew I had to create the trusted, iconic brand to make daily and proactive self-help more accessible and inviting to women, everywhere to live their lives with intention. Having this strong purpose is what led me to launch Silk + Sonder.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was still finalizing my offer with The Muse when I gave my two-week’s notice to Goldman Sachs. Surprisingly, my manager didn’t respond and instead forwarded my resignation request to the managing directors and their bosses. When I arrived on that Monday, I had a series of meetings with influential folks asking me what it would take for me to stay. Being at the very bottom of the corporate ladder, I was humbled of course — but in those last few weeks, I realized that (1) people saw something in me and my potential that I didn’t quite see in myself and I wanted to search for that and (2) money, alone, did not drive me. The opportunity cost and emotional risk of not trying something that tugged at my core far outweighed the stability I was being offered.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Oh boy, trying to leverage my “software engineering skills” to build a “minimum viable product”, which ended up being a bad, over-engineered idea that costed us more time at the end! In the early days as an entrepreneur, we tend to resort to what we know because we can’t afford to hire experts. Ironically, I felt more intimidated, restricted, and confused by Shopify’s platform and templates, so I opted to build a custom web platform on Ruby on Rails and integrate it with Stripe’s API. It felt easier at the time, but as we grew, the bugs became increasingly obscure and frustrating to solve, so eventually we migrated to Shopify, thank goodness! The valuable lesson I learned from this experience was to avoid reinventing the wheel at all costs — and that it’s better to put a little effort into learning trusted platforms than to be impatient and overengineer. I now ask myself — “What’s the lowest (dev or time) cost for the highest return?” and “What existing platform can we use to test this?”
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture and work life?
In order for your employees to feel connected to not just your company and customers but to you, as a leader, it is vital to lead with authenticity, vulnerability, and humility through every stage. Bring them with you through your ups and downs, set a culture that accepts failure and celebrates learnings, and empower them to ask questions and share their opinions — creating and maintaining a safe space for employees to be themselves is something only the leader can create.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)
They say that “quieting” the mind through meditation and other practices can provide strong clarity. I’ve found the opposite to be true for me — every week, I try to sprinkle my schedule with dance fitness classes and pockets of time to learn a skill unrelated to my business. I find that when I’m in the midst of “performing” a new dance routine, I find spurts of inspiration or answers to problems I haven’t been able to solve related to Silk + Sonder. Similarly, when I’m refurbishing or developing a new skill unrelated to company goals — I’ll naturally draw parallels into my business. What I find is that the forced time out and blank canvas that I create for myself to “play” gives my mind the space to breathe. Resting my brain doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to sit idly.
Finally, can you share with us two routines that use to help your heart, your emotional or spiritual life to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)
I try to schedule my meetings in the late morning onwards, so I have enough time to wake up without an alarm clock, journal for 15–30 minutes, drink coffee, and eat breakfast without feeling disrupted. This sacred morning routine is monumental in ensuring that I have a healthy and productive day. If my morning is sacrificed for crucial meetings, I block out an hour during my workday to re-center. Free-write journaling — whether it’s writing down affirmations, a list of gratitude, or visualizing is how I connect with myself to feel balanced and relaxed — emotionally and spiritually.
Twice a week, I go to the sauna — often at times when I feel the most stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Because of the heat, I don’t take my phone and instead take a book. This short, often urgent force to disconnect in order to recharge helps me quickly calm down.
When life is very busy, and you cannot stick with your ideal routine, are there any wellness practices, rituals, products or services for your mind, body, or soul that you absolutely cannot live without?
If I feel imbalanced or busier than usual, I resort to products around my house that bring me spurts of joy. Saje’s essential oils, candles, and my aroma diffusor can quickly elevate my mood. When I’m really stressed, I indulge in deep tissue massages — they feel great, but most importantly, they remind me to slow the heck down!
All of us have great days and days that are not as great. On days when you feel like a rockstar what do you do? What does that day look like, and what did you do to get there?
The days that I feel like a rockstar are the days when everything I intended to do, I complete — and more. It’s very rare, but when that happens, I allocate time to hobbies and interests I’ve shoved to the sideline. For me, it’s dancing shamelessly in the living room or meeting friends for a last-minute drink or meal. I keep a check on how well I’m honoring my personal core values — and typically “adventure” is the one that gets pulled to the frontline on days where I’m feeling like a rockstar.
In contrast, on days when you feel down, what do you do?
On days when I feel inspired, low, or doubtful — I acknowledge the negative feeling and see it as a sign to take a break. I typically put away my phone and computer, binge-watch on True Crime or reality TV, and force myself to a workout class. Somewhere in that, I manage to release endorphins and then I navigate back to the day I had planned.
Do you have a story about the weirdest, most bizarre or most humorous wellness experience, treatment, practice, or practitioner that you’ve ever partaken in? If you do, we’d love to hear it.
Everyone in my family knows that I love my deep tissue massages. When we were in India, my mom convinced me that the “Ayurvedic oil” massage would be relaxing. Little did I know that I would be sliding and slipping on a hard-wooden surface the entire time. If I had known what to expect, I would have been fine, but the misrepresentation of what the “massage” ended up being made it feel like it was lasting a lifetime. My mom had a good laugh from it though!
You’re a high achieving business leader, and you also have family and loved ones that may require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the executive at the door, and be the most loving caretaker at home?
Ha, I don’t! Part of being authentic is allowing loved ones, old and new, to experience what’s important to you at any given time. In the same way I bring my loving self to the office, I bring my executive self home. Some days, I dial it back by forcing myself to be present and not think nor talk about work — but other days, I use my loved ones to brainstorm.
Is there a particular practitioner, expert, book, podcast or resource that made a significant impact on you and helped you to thrive? Can you share a story about that with us?
It’s been a mix of wonderful resources. When I first read Gary Keller’s “The One Thing”, Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism”, and Rolf Dobelli’s “The Art of Thinking Clearly”, constant light bulbs went off in my mind. I had a newfound appreciation for doing less, doubting less, and doubling-down for higher impact. On the other hand, podcasts like Second Life and How I Built This and thought leaders like Brene Brown and Gabrielle Bernstein helped me feel understood, trust the process, and practice gratitude. Collectively, I use these different mediums to identify ways to better my spiritual practice and execute on tasks.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We’re often asked by investors and former entrepreneurs to “solve a problem or pain point that we experience in our daily lives.” I’d like to reframe the question to all individuals, regardless of whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or not — ask yourself, what angers you? What problem(s) do you witness, experience, or observe that makes your heart heavy or blood boil? As a follow up to that — what are you doing about it? If you’re already doing something to lessen the problem, is there something you can do more of? If you’re not yet, is there something or somewhere small that you can begin tinkering in solving that problem?
I imagine a world where if we all, individually, probed at a problem that resonates for us for as little as 1–2 hours per week– whether that’s volunteering our time, educating others, or inventing a product that the world needs — what kind of collective impact could that possibly create?
For me, I’m angered that we haven’t seen radical shifts in women’s consumer products for decades (likely because there are fewer resources for women entrepreneurs) and as a society, we’re still living in the age of Imposter Syndrome and self-doubt — Silk + Sonder is my first attempt to fix that and empower women to identify, believe, and execute on their dreams.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
In high school, my father once told me that the best leaders are those who “lead from the bottom, not from the top.” This simple, but powerful advice has shown up for me both professionally and personally throughout the years but even more frequently now that I’m a founder and CEO. As a leader, our patience, integrity, and humility are constantly tested, but a humble reminder to stay grounded, empathize with customers, employees, and investors alike can lead to far more effective decision-making. I see it in my day-to-day, whether I have to influence without authority while fundraising, roll up my sleeves to trouble-shoot problems with my customer care team, or participate in vulnerable exercises when I facilitate self-care workshops. Actively practicing this life lesson has allowed me to be an approachable, authentic, and relatable leader and more importantly, empower my team to voice their opinions, ideas, and questions in a safe, value-based culture.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!