"Follow your heart. Do not compromise when you have a choice.
"You cannot always find a person who will agree with you. So let go and live free! Do what makes you happy.
"Have a purpose and I insist, it can’t and shouldn’t be money.
"Believe in creating something that already doesn’t exist.
"If your purpose and intent is good, people will follow you and you’ll be successful.
Motivational speaker, corporate trainer and bestselling author Priya Kumar talks about issues that are close to her heart and tells us how she inspires herself to rise above the challenges.
Priya Kumar was 22 when she started talking to people twice her age about the ill effects of smoking and alcohol.
Her first workshop was unplanned -- she was merely taking up her mentor Niranjan Patel’s scheduled workshops after his death.
"After the first workshop, I realised that I should continue to support the cause I was part of and there was so much more I could do by writing and talking to people," Priya Kumar says.
Kumar used to write motivational pieces and one of her friends asked her to get them published in a newspaper.
"When I published my first column in Mid-Day in 2005, I wasn’t certain about the feedback I would get. But after a few columns were published, I was asked to write more. I could not have been happier. I realised that my stories had an impact on readers," says the motivational speaker who has released six books to her credit, the latest being I Will Go With You: The Flight of a Lifetime (click here to read the excerpt).
Her list of achievements and excellence awards in writing and speaking (she’s a recipient of The Princeton Business Leaders Award in 2007, the Eric Hoffer International Book Award in 2012, and the Evergreen Medal for Spiritual Leadership at the Living Now Book Awards, Michigan in 2013 to name a few) are only testimony to her talent.
We caught up with the effervescent personality at her home in Mumbai where we discussed books, gender biases, the need for positive outlook and the mantras for success. Read on for excerpts...
You interact with a lot of young people in your workshops and book launches. According to you, what are the most common issues facing our youth today?
Frankly, I don’t see much difference in the way youngsters think today and the way we thought until a few decades ago.
We had pretty much the same problems when we were teens -- impatience, need to revolt, and uncertainty regarding the course of our futures.
If 20 years ago, becoming an engineer was considered herd mentality, today it is MBA.
An increasing number of youngsters in our country are unemployed. What is your advice to them?
Prioritise. Focus. Improvise.
Understand your limitations. Realise what you truly love and commit yourself to it.
If you don’t love your job or career, every single task assigned to you will add to your stress.
Take my example -- I had good grades in class 10 so my parents urged me to pursue science till class 12, but I realised much later that I wanted to pursue Arts.
I graduated in Economics and I liked to write.
Interacting with people is what I love; that’s why I don’t feel like I’m working.
I travel a lot and sometimes my mother feels I am working a lot and asks me to slow down.
I don’t feel the need to because this is what I love doing. This is what I chose to do. It makes me happy.
If you are not able to find the right job, it is perhaps because you’re in the wrong career.
Which books have had the biggest impact on you? Could you please suggest 3 titles that are must-read?
I would recommend Dianetics: The modern science of mental health by Ron Hubbard. It clearly explains why human beings behave in a certain way and will guide you to improve yourself for the better.
I also like the Science of Survival by Ron Hubbard. In the book, he clearly tells you why you cannot change people around you. The book tells you how you need to look at the merits of people and find a way to work with them instead of trying and wasting time in changing them.
I recently finished reading Lance Amstrong’s autobiography – It’s Not About the Bike – and I was taken away by his wit and determination in the toughest of circumstances.
I admire the way he accepts his failures and mistakes and the lessons he’s learned from it.
Could you suggest some tips for women to stay motivated at work?
Prioritise your health. You need to get proper sleep. Even a minor headache can ruin your day. So do not let that come in the way of your work and performance.
A sick person is a liability.
Don’t take everything so seriously. Mistakes happen. No one is perfect, not even the one who pointed it out to you. Don’t wallow in guilt and self pity. Look for solutions instead.
Have a genuine love for people. Connect with new people and new ideas whenever you can.
When you’re stressed, ask yourself three questions -- ‘Am I happy doing this?’ ‘Is it justifiable?’ and ‘Can I do better?’ You’ll get your answer.
What are the skills or traits women have that men don’t that can help them in their career?
If you ask a woman to be like a man, I think you’re disrespecting her.
Women are far superior species than men are and if they did not have the limitations of family or emotional boundaries, they’d be in top roles across domains and perhaps even perform better than their male counterparts.
But I don’t think we women want that. We cannot work like men do, we are not corporate sharks. We bring in the much needed balance in the universe.
Women are great at multi-tasking. Our negotiating and communication skills are superior.
We are good at expressing ourselves and bring in decorum, sanity in the organisation.
We value people and their services. If there is a recession, we do not fire employees right away. We think of alternate solutions and analyse the best way forward.
If two employees come to us with a leave application, we negotiate and prioritise which is more important.
Women are creative. If you enter a home or office, you can immediately make out if there is a woman working there – the cleanliness, aesthetics, discipline etc.
Is work-life balance a myth? How do you balance work and home?
I’m very particular about work life balance. I believe in delegation of responsibilities.
I prefer not to work beyond 6.30 pm and I also do not let my staff work beyond 6.30 pm.
If they overstay, I tell them that I will charge them or deduct from their salaries.
If they stay back, I will have to work with them which I do not want to.
Also, I cannot chill out if my team is working their hearts out.
So I ensure that just like me, they prioritise and meet their deadlines so that none of us has to work overtime.
Last December, I felt like taking a month’s break and do nothing. I asked my staff to take a month’s vacation too.
We all resumed work in January and we realised how energising and fulfilling the break was.
Have you ever been harassed?
I was travelling from Delhi to Mumbai and since I had a few hours to spare, I booked a spa appointment at one of the services at the Delhi airport.
A female was attending me and without any prior notice or information, a man took over.
It took me no time to figure that he was abusing me.
I was not comfortable at all and took up the issue with the manager. He apologised but I insisted that I want to report the matter to the police.
Since the court shuts at 5 pm, I had to cancel my flight and extend my stay.
The following day, the proceedings were further delayed and the female judge asked me to come the next day.
I lost my cool and raised my voice. It was past 5 pm but I narrated the incident and told them about the inconvenience it had caused me to report the matter and get justice.
I told them that such delays would discourage women from reporting crimes and hence delay the punishment and solution.
I told them I do not live in Delhi and that I did not want the spa to repeat the incident with other customers.
The judge immediately asked the lawyer to take my statement and signed it. The last I heard is the spa is no longer functional.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to a women who facing gender inequality at work?
A woman must be very clear about what is acceptable behaviour, and what is not.
If you do not like a certain word or gesture by a colleague, say it out loud. It should be clear indication ‘not to mess with me’.
If the problem persists, I would suggest you report and discuss the matter with the higher authorities and fight to the finish.
Please share stories of real women who have inspired you.
I have great respect for Oprah Winfrey. Normally, women are not encouraged to discuss child abuse or molestation. We tend to hide our flaws, quite naturally.
Winfrey is one of the few women who has no qualms talking about being abused as a child. In fact, she inspires other women to stand up and raise their voice against injustice.
I also admire JK Rowling. Her’s is a perfect rags-to-riches story.
At a time when people believed that women could only write chick lit and romance, Rowling silenced them all by becoming the first billionaire by writing a book for children.
And of course, my mother; I have good reason to say so. I believe that mothers are blessed with intuition and magical powers.
If you have their blessings anything you set to do, no matter what the obstacles, the result will work in your favour.
On the converse, if you go against their wishes, be ready to face unnecessary roadblocks and disappointments.
So, if my mother objects me to something I really want to do, I beg and plead her to bless me wholeheartedly.
What are the mantras you live by? Your habits for success in career and life in general?
Follow your heart. Do not compromise when you have a choice.
You cannot always find a person who will agree with you. So let go and live free! Do what makes you happy.
Have a purpose and I insist, it can’t and shouldn’t be money.
Believe in creating something that already doesn’t exist.
If your purpose and intent is good, people will follow you and you’ll be successful.
Your advice to women
I don’t believe in giving advice to anyone. I also don’t believe in taking any.
Honestly, you haven’t lived my life so you will never be able to know what I’m going through. You’re your own judge.
Make mistakes and make sure you learn from them.
Photographs: Kind courtesy Priya Kumar