For more than a decade, Priya Kumar, 35, has served as a motivational speaker and chief facilitator around the world. A recognised authority on personal breakthrough, experiential and fun based learning, she has been honoured for her ability to ignite people's minds towards peak performance.
Her recently released book I am Another You is a true-life account of her life's journey, from losing everything to finding herself amidst the Shaman tribe in the Netherlands (read an excerpt from the book here).
We catch up with her at a cosy suburban café on a bright if somewhat sultry Mumbai morning where she shares with us her unusual experiences. Excerpts from an interview:
In your book, you have laid bare some very personal aspects of your life -- your heartbreak and your loss in business. Were there any initial apprehensions?
I have never had anything to hide. What I underwent before my trip to the Netherlands (which inspired the book) was not very pleasant. I had broken up with my long-standing boyfriend because he had cheated on me. My business had almost gone bust. But these were the very things that drove me to soul searching. I also felt that giving a background to the readers would put the experiences into perspective.
Tell us something about the Shaman tribe that finds extensive mention in I am Another You?
The Shamans are an ancient tribe in the Netherlands and the ones I interacted with were the fourth-generation Shamans. They live by the laws of the universe and believe that everything eventually fits into a broader scheme of things. The tribe believes in a life after death and hence their philosophy and rituals focus around spiritual development. Most of the older Shamans barely speak English. The younger Shamans are now moving into civilisation, engaging in day jobs in Northern Europe and South America.
What made you share your experiences in the form of a narrative?
I am not a literary person. In fact, I haven't even studied literature. I wrote the book as it came to me -- and it came to me in the form of a story. Perhaps it also has to do with the fact that I have never really enjoyed reading books that simply list out 'to-dos'. I don't buy into theories. Don't tell me the 'seven ways to be successful'. Tell me how you implemented them.
The book says that you underwent this experience in 2004. What took you so long to put it on paper?
As a corporate trainer by profession, I conduct many workshops and attend conferences in five star hotels. After the attack on the Taj, most of my clients shied away from hosting conferences and workshops. Effectively, I was out of a job. I went on a two-month break and returned to find that things hadn't changed much. With time on my hands and little else to do, I decided to write a book I always wanted to write.
Are you a voracious reader? What sort of books do you read and which are your favourites?
Yes I am! The God Particle by Leon Lederman is my favourite. It suggests that every creation is symbolic of divinity.
Was it easy getting I Am Another You published? Did you face any difficulties?
On the contrary, it was zip-zap-zoom! There weren't any hitches whatsoever and it was like driving past green lights all the way to the destination. Many of my friends were surprised, because they know how difficult it was to find the right publisher.
What's the response to the book so far? What does your family think of it?
Overwhelming! I cannot cope with the responses I get every night. Of course, my family has loved it too.
Your corporate training workshops have some rather unconventional exercises like walking on fire, bending the steel bar etc. How hazardous are they?
I burnt my feet when I first tried out fire walking. What intrigued me though was that there were quite a few people who hadn't been burnt at all. So for the next five years, I would spend whatever money I had simply to understand why I had burned my feet and the person next to me hadn't. In most workshops, at least 25 percent of the people participating burn their feet. When I conduct workshops, none do.
What point do you get across to them through this exercise?
The idea is to questions their ideas and beliefs. We've always been told that walking on fire is dangerous. But if you do it right you cannot get burned. When you make someone walk over hot fire you bring into question their perception, their intelligence, the knowledge they have lived with all these years. You even question their very existence. So when they come out on the other side unhurt they are different people altogether, having burnt their long-standing beliefs in the fire beneath their feet.
What according to you is the single major issue facing today's corporate workforce?
Many of us have stopped believing. Effectively, we've also stopped growing and learning. And that is because we are distracted by the material stuff around us. We are somehow focussing on the periphery than on the immense power that lies within it -- our 'self'. It is getting to be more and more difficult for us to get out of the rut especially with so many attention units -- be it a mobile phone, Blackberry or Gtalk -- demanding a part of us almost 24/7.
And the way out would be...?
To simply switch off! Be it from all these gadgets or even from the newspapers. You need to get away from everything to be with yourself!
That's taking it too far isn't it? How do you know what is happening around you?
There is much more happening in the world beyond what is reported in the 36 pages of a newspaper. Of course, I keep myself updated with what is happening around me by talking to my friends and family. But reality is a 360-degree concept that goes beyond news channels and papers.
Talking of mediums of communication, at a time when we are almost always connected ,why is communication such a major issue?
It's because we indulge in a lot of useless communication. The fact that we have so many gadgets and so many ways to reach out to the other person doesn't mean anything. How often do you find yourself talking almost pointlessly to another person over the phone? Or how many times do you simply log onto Facebook just for the heck of it? One simply needs to get out of this rut.
Can you tell us something about your module on 'uninhibited communication'?
The idea is to make team members bond. One of the exercises in the module is to make a film with almost no props. It is amazing to see how ideas are exchanged and people are willing to volunteer for doing some of the silliest things. It shows that a lot can be achieved when you actually communicate with each other.
How do you get a team to stay together?
Very often we are not honest with each other and that ruins matters. It makes sense, for instance, to confess the real reason why you're running late on a particular day. That way you can be assured that your team will back you up when you need them to. As a leader, I guess it also becomes your responsibility to understand your team's perspective and take them into confidence before taking any decision. Seek their opinion. That way you make them realise that they are a vital part of an organisation.
Handing pressure doesn't come easily to most of us...
Honestly, I have never really understood the idea of work pressure. I believe there is pressure only when you leave things for the last moment. If you organise your time better, distribute the assignments at hand in a better manner, I don't see why one would face 'work pressure'. As a generation, we are losing focus. If we focus well and compartmentalise our lives, things will look better.
Much is being spoken about work-life balance these days. What is your take on it?
If you look specifically at Mumbai, a lot of us spend at least a couple of hours travelling to and from our workplace. Though it seems to me that it is perfectly possible for one to get a decent if not a great job opportunity near one's place of residence. I agree it may not be a multinational or 'the' place to work. But you save on travel time. You also save on money, perhaps. And you get the mind space to do what you want to do. Finally, it boils down to what choices you make.
What is your advice to people stuck with the wrong job?
Hey, at least you have a job! I know things aren't going too well. And you're probably dying to get out of your current place of work. But when there's a storm in the desert, even the camel lies low. If on the other hand you are one of those unfortunate ones who have lost their jobs, I'd say focus on what you really want. Thinking and worrying will not help. If you've always complained that you never had the time to do something, make most of all the hours you have on hand. We grow up looking at life in black and white. You must learn to enjoy the process and respect the spectrum. Don't let a job determine your self worth. You start off on a new assignment with hope. You should end it with hope too.
What are your future plans? Do you intend to write again soon or is this a one-off venture?
I intend to start writing something in December. Although I was planning to write something more about my experiences, my publisher suggested I try something new. So it'll be something different from what I wrote in I Am Another You.
I Am Another You was released by bookstore Crossword at Kemps Corner in Mumbai and can be purchased online from rediff Books.