Interview Corner

LAABh – Interview with Ms. Sandhya Krishnan

Sandhya Krishnan is an ICF certified coach focusing on productivity, wellness and mindfulness. She has over 20 years of experience across industries as diverse as law, the media, art, technology, retail, and wellness. Besides leading teams in various organizations, Sandhya has been an entrepreneur, corporate trainer with clients from pharma, hospitality and investment banking, a radio jockey, theatre actor, voiceover artist and writer.

She also has over 20 combined years of study of philosophy and mindfulness and uses these learnings to help professionals find deep purpose, drive, high productivity, contentment and balance in their careers. Sandhya works with young professionals and entrepreneurs across sectors and has helped individuals feel energised, focussed, less stressed and purpose-oriented. She has trained in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Transactional Analysis (TA), MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and the neurometric tool MiND (from UK based MyBrain International). Sandhya also conducts talks and workshops on resilience building, mindfulness and gimmick-free wellness. She has a YouTube channel where she addresses questions that her clients and workshop attendees raise, and uses the language of science and behaviourism to help people find their answers. She is also a certified Suicide Prevention First Responder. She graduated from NLSIU in 1998.

Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your life before law school.

Thank you so much for having me! My life before law school was over 20 years ago. I was more of the science-and-math kid but in general, was pretty confused about who I was and who I wanted to be. I was very under-confident; however, you’d never be able to guess that since I would participate in many activities but was at the same time absolutely terrified each time I had to go up on stage. I always knew I had a very strong creative streak in me.

My law school application actually happened to me by chance. A friend’s mother told my friend and I, about the entrance test and told us to sit for it anyway since we were both very confused about what we wanted to do. I somehow felt that, as confused and conflicted as I was, doing a professional course would help me stay grounded and challenge my mind and would prevent me from going into any kind of negative spiral. Unfortunately, I had no real guidance besides that and it wasn’t easy to find a career counsellor back then so with that being my best choice in mind, I appeared for the entrance exam for law school.

Q. You graduated from NLSIU; and since then, you have worked as a radio jockey, a freelance writer, a soft skills trainer, a Manager of Operations, and are now the owner of a start-up for furniture and home accessories and currently are a Wellness & Mindful Coach. How did studying law from one of the best Universities in the country help you build a personality and does it serve as an asset even post the career switch?

With fabulous professors and debate-style learning methodology along with learning how to get to the root of a problem, learning how to research and identify objectives and understand authority – All of these aspects were invaluable and came from the rigour of a professional course such as law. I sat through so many placements trying to find the right career fit for me but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t see myself practising law in any form – even the subjects I was passionate about like environmental law.

Classroom hours in law school were just a few but I was very active in the extra-curricular activities. I was a part of the cultural committee, took part in literary and debate events, we formed a band and started Strawberry Fields and I became cultural convenor. We staged some fabulous theatre productions that we did as public performances; and while I don’t know how much these gave or took away from my CGPA *laughs*, I highly enjoyed myself in these activities.

Q. What was your inspiration behind choosing law? Did being in the country’s top-ranked law school allow you to pursue your interests and thereby let you explore career paths that are not within the legal field?

Even with the limited options, we had back then, I always had a sense of the things I personally felt I was not cut out for. I tried to focus my internships to ones that were law-related but still had an external element of something I was passionate about such as with women’s rights lawyers, environmental lawyers, and I even did a maritime law internship. As one that now works with mental health, I realize that it’s not black-and-white for a lot of us. For many of us, our greatest source of joy could come from something that is our hobby or passion. So it helps to maybe find work that utilizes your skills at the very least, if not your driving passion. For many of us, we don’t have a single driving passion. I, for one, am equally passionate about theatre, music and dance but I need my mind to be engaged since I know that besides being creative I also enjoy operations and management. The worst thing I could have done would have been to box myself and go after the corporate sector because that’s where the money is at. If that was what I had done, so many aspects of my personality would struggle to find expression. Thus, I gave myself room to experiment with various things in and out of law school.

Q. Please tell us about a little bit about your law school experience. What made you opt out of law as a career and work in dynamic fields? Who/what would you say is your inspiration?

My experience at law school was mixed. The constant reminder and pressure of how we were being trained to become the legal visionaries of India and, how we had this big role to fulfil stood by for the entirety of my 5 years at law school. I was well aware that I was amongst the presence of some phenomenal minds and I would never discount that as an experience. However, I still believe that at 18 it’s quite unfair to ask every student to know exactly what they want. I spent my 5 years at law school in a bit of a daze and it seemed like a struggle to hold onto my attention simply because I lacked an affinity for this. Now, as an adult and a life coach, I realize that if you’re not in your calling; you can reach a certain level of competence but it’s very difficult to reach the heights of your actual personal potential. I used to have so many regrets about why I was so “lazy” at law school but I’ve come to become a lot more forgiving of myself now because I realize that it simply wasn’t the way my mind worked and simply wasn’t my area of interest. The way interest works is that if you expose a youngster to a certain topic and a lightbulb goes off or something sparks like in the movie ‘Gunjan Saxena’ where just like many children are taken to the cockpit but it was a spark for her to realize that that was what she wanted to do with her life. While I realize that this is a rather dramatic and simplistic way of putting out interest, for a lot of people, this is how it works – you need to be exposed to something that sparks your interest and for a lot of us, it is going to take a little bit of trial and error.

To be honest, I thought about dropping out of law school every single year and just going back into the science stream but I think due to the lack of guidance and support, I was just too scared of taking that step. For anyone facing such problems today, I would urge them to seek external help since between the age of 18 – 23 is when your cognitive brain is actually forming and so you’re not actually capable of making the most rational and most long term decisions during that time.

My first job right after law school was as a radio jockey in AIRFM in Mumbai which I got through a blind audition. I then, for my passion for professional theatre back in 1998, auditioned for a few plays which I got roles for. Then in 1999, I joined a legal website as associate editor and head of technology as well. That became my gateway to technology which I grew to love!

Q. Why do you think it is important to have a Life Coach? What does an average day in your life as a Wellness and Mindfulness Coach look like?

I am a certified ICF coach. It’s a worldwide body of certified coaches and we follow certain protocols and a code of ethics just like lawyers. As an executive coach, our real job is to help our clients reach their peak potentials. We help them find their path. A very important part of being a life coach is to help create an action plan and the orientation towards that action plan and creating a commitment and accountability for that action plan. Change only happens through action and that’s when we really see transformations. When you go into the root of who a person really is, it’s probably their first time asking themselves who they really are when they have to answer that bearing in mind they are not who they are as defined by parents and the society. We tend to live with the label that has been created for us along with the fallacies that have been ingrained into our minds from our childhood. Helping clients rid themselves of these labels and fallacies is where it gets highly client-centric. As a life coach, while I can challenge your thinking, I can never push you into something because ultimately that is not going to be helpful and I’d be doing the client a disservice instead because that wasn’t the client’s main intent. I often think to myself, you can get a personal trainer at the gym to build your body, a trainer to speak and learn, so why not a life coach to help you build your career, life and the balance between the two? A life coach almost never limits their help to just the client’s issue but it’s almost always about who they are as a person. In my case, 98% of my clients usually have just a career-related question but we always go well beyond just that. Ultimately, what we all want is universal – we want contentment; satisfaction; and a wholesome life. Very few people want success at the cost of a holistic life. Since I also work with many young professionals, it’s deeply fulfilling to me to see that people are making these kinds of investments into their future at such a young age. I also volunteer to work with those who struggle with overwhelm, anxiety, trauma and suicidal thoughts. Dr Madhava Menon, the esteemed founder of NLSIU, Bangalore, would often remind us to give back to society, and I hope to eventually take these conversations way more into the public space. To this end, I already run a YouTube Channel and do lots of public webinars in colleges and schools. I feel like I owe this debt to the society and I let my legal education hold me in good stead in that sense. It’s transforming into a different kind of repayment to the society.

Q. Making the switch from the law to something as unique and as unconventional as a Wellness and Mindfulness Coach would have come with a few challenges and setbacks. How did you push through such challenges?

Back then, I myself did not know a lot about being a life coach. It is taking that very first step that is always the hardest. I have gone from web 1.0 to working with a legal website and then a music website and then with art, alternative health, high-end fashion and I was a professional radio jockey and was a corporate trainer for a few years, I was a retail entrepreneur for 9 years, I worked with an International Wellness Company for a few years before I suddenly discovered that the more holistic aspect of wellness comes through coaching and is not just limited to exercise and nutrition and that there’s a whole mental angle to the same. In terms of dealing with people around me, I was always questioning myself and I wasn’t impervious to those comments. The nature of the mind is to always look for alternatives, and we are always visualizing parallel universes with parallel lives and for me, that was constantly questioning how my life would have been as a corporate lawyer and how much I would have been earning. Every time you make a choice, think of it as a crossroad. Every time you pick one road, you are inevitably leaving the other road behind. But, for as long as the road you picked feels authentic to you and is in the direction you want to see your life go in, then that is the right road for you. It is a fallacy to think that everybody has to run the same 100m dash in these pre-set paths. Psychology, neurosciences and the entire science of well-being tells us that that cannot be true. Neither is your career always going to be a linear graph going steadily upwards. More than ever now, we have to stop and tell ourselves that there will be times when other things take precedent to our own well-being and that it’s okay for your career to have dips and highs. It’s very much like a meandering river and as long as it is not one that is fraught with unhappiness and tension and it seems to be going into a direction that is fulfilling, other-regarding and serves a wider cause, that really is the key to happiness.

Q. What advice/tips do you have for those who want to take up their passion as their career? Do you have any parting messages for our readers?

The deepest wisdom lies within you. The definition of education is actually to draw out what is within you. So, if you are in law school, the first step is to, stop and ask yourself ‘Who am I?”, “Where do I see myself going?” and “What do I feel my role in the society is?”. The wider you can consider your goal to be, the better. A goal along the lines of wanting 10 crores in your bank account is very limiting and shaky because I generally compare it to balancing on a basketball where there are so many things that can be impacting factors and you are simultaneously pegging your happiness on this one factor. From the day you were born you have been constantly consuming things and every struggle which to every person is very real, has brought you to where you are today.  In the net balance of things, have you taken more than you can give back? How do you balance out that debt? That giving back could just be analysing your own brain to find out what you are good at. Then use that to think about the value you can bring and not just about a personal goal for yourself since that is something that will automatically follow. Further, the buy-in for a goal such as just wanting 10 crores in your account is much lesser than something you would do for the people at large and then the 10 crores become a by-product and you aren’t hinging your happiness on just the monetary amount you get. I think learning how to truly define happiness for yourself is key!

Find out more about Ms. Sandhya Krishnan –

 

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