Working Title The Lawyer and the Chic Furniturewallah

Working Title The Lawyer and the Chic Furniturewallah

Anuj Agrawal

Sandhya Gorthi, law graduate and entreprenuer, has worked in theatre, radio, e-commerce and corporate training before setting up the Bombay branch of “The Shop”. In 2011, she started her very own store, “Sanctum” in Bandra, Bombay. In this interview, she tells Bar & Bench’s Anuj Agrawal about the highs of entrepreneurship, being blacklisted by the Confederation of Soccer Moms and why law school was such an integral part of her life.

Sandhya Gorthi, law graduate and entreprenuer, has worked in theatre, radio, e-commerce and corporate training before setting up the Bombay branch of “The Shop”. In 2011, she started her very own store, “Sanctum” in Bandra, Bombay. In this interview, she tells Bar & Bench’s Anuj Agrawal about the highs of entrepreneurship, being blacklisted by the Confederation of Soccer Moms and why law school was such an integral part of her life.

Bar & Bench: Thank you for speaking to Bar & Bench. First a little bit about yourself. You graduated from NLS in 1998. How was the national law school experience?

Sandhya Gorthi: I was one of the earlier batches of NLS. I was in the 6th batch. I mean I have to say that for everybody who says it is life changing I think it really is.

As a professional course, I could not have asked for more in terms of constantly challenging the way you think, instilling discipline, a fine nose for research- I think that is one of the biggest gifts that NLS has given and inculcated in us. And for somebody like me has stood me in many different fields as well. Now, this system of placements and moot courts is a lot more common but that sort of culture was set up way back then. And I think that has helped law students in so many ways not just given you the confidence to know how to behave in the industry and things like

But even in terms of just getting a taste in what the actual industry is like. I think a lot of people came in with fairly romantic notions –

B&B: Well why did you join?

SG: Its complex. I was fairly confused after my 12th. I always thought I was a science student and would do medicine. Both my parents were doctors.

It was a time of fair amount of conflict and stress in my life. I think I was a little too scared at that point of time to do medicine. I did not know if I had the grades for it. I knew there was a lot of expectation from me – not from my parents mind you, they were very supportive.

But just in terms of you know “you are the good kid in school. You win all the science prizes” and then suddenly I must have gone through this whole period of flux where I just did not know what I wanted to do. But I think I was pretty sure that I needed to do a professional course because it is the way I think, it is the way my brain works. I need that challenge. For me boredom is my biggest fear.

I got into law school by accident. A friend of mine was doing the entrance test and I did it as well. It is one of those stories

B&B: Were there times in law school when you thought, “This is not for me”?

SG: Uhhh about three thousand times.

B&B: That’s it?

SG: (Grins) I actually blame the pre-college system. We did not really have that many aptitude tests or counselling. Nobody ever told me, or perhaps I should have gone and asked but you are in that whole rebellious phase after your 12th standard you know full of angst and all that. I kind of wished now that somebody had guided me….

It probably may still have been law mind you. With age and certain amount of maturity, now I think that this may actually have been the best course for me. But the thing is I went through it with so much confusion. I just did not know what I was doing there. I mean I did not see a career prospect ahead of me at the end of five years.

B&B: Really? So in your 5th year you were still wondering where you would end up working? 

SG: No by the time I was in the 5th year there was a lot more clarity in the sense that I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to “practice practice” law and I was also sure that I wasn’t going to get into corporate law or a law firm. I had gotten that much clarity by the 5th year.

B&B: Why not practice or do corporate law? 

SG: Ummm well it is not that I didn’t think I would be good at it. I knew that I could work hard and do it but I think there was this strong other side of me that demanded, by then, a certain amount of release. I felt that I had to explore those avenues. And again, I am actually really glad that I did do those things at that point of my life. And I am so glad that I had the support.

Strangely enough for my family, I got married while I was still in law school-

B&B: What? Are you kidding? 

SG: Nope. (laughs) Right in the middle of my criminology presentation I might add. I was the last person to show up for my own mehendi ceremony actually. So yup. I got married in 1997 to one of my seniors in law school and graduated in 1998.

For me, law school was really a time of tremendous confusion and just not knowing myself or knowing what it was that I wanted to do. And those were also the 90s so there only a few straight and true paths. There were no alternative careers, not that many anyway, and certainly not in Bangalore. It was a time when, typically, anybody looking at me would say “Oh my, she is really fallen” you know gira huah. No, no. Not that way “fallen” (laughs). But I think nobody judged me harder and harsher than I did at that time.

B&B: So that 14 years ago and now you have set up two stores. I know you did a ton of stuff in between. Could you tell me more about that?

SG: So I graduated in 1998 and I immediately got into All India Radio [AIR] FM in Bombay because there was no private radio in those days. I was doing a lot of theatre then and voiceovers.

B&B: Weren’t you judged by family and friends?

SG: Ummm let me tell you this: all through school I wanted to be this “good girl”, the teacher’s pet , the one everyone could rely on, happy to help etc. By the time I entered law school, I think this other side of my personality, whereas I clearly wasn’t a mainstream student [came through]. You know become [Cultural Committee] head, [do] elocution, theatre, sports all of that. That clearly was far more exciting to me at that point of time.

A lot of the academics I still found fascinating. Moot courts and stuff, I tried it but I think that was the kind of thing that I did not have that kind of passion for it.

B&B: But you have just graduated from law school and you are doing theatre and voiceovers. You must have felt some sort of pressure?

SG: Oh of course. But the thing is, again, part of being a student who is in the spotlight a lot is that no matter what you do, you get judged. You are always the focus of someone or the other. I did not enjoy that kind of attention but clearly somewhere I must have sought it out or it would not have come (laughs)

I will give you an example I sang in Evita the musical for a year and a half. And the absolute worst part of it would be the curtain call. I would try and hide behind other actors and it is very easy for me to hide-

B&B: Why? 

SG: I think both with radio and with theatre, there is a certain anonymity when the flashlight is on you and in radio, they can just hear you. The actual human interaction part I don’t think I was very good at.

Anyway, like I said, it was confusing time. I am pretty sure that if someone had guided me, being a good middle class girl, I would have happily chosen some middle path but that was not to be.

So after all of this, in 1999 I joined which is this legal website and I had an amazing boss. He sort of gave me this ultimatum saying “Look if you quit your radio show, I am going to sack you.” So I would work during the day, and then go for my radio show. Sometimes I would come back [to the office].

B&B: What kind of music were you playing? 

SG: I was called “Whestern Comparer” (strongly accented) or something like that, that is what my ID card said. And I was to play “Light western music”.

And AIR those days, God bless them, had a CD cupboard which had about 200 CDs in it but they also had an amazing LP collection which you had to climb into an attic with a ladder. I would spend hours there and get some fantastic music. You know Rolling Stones, Led Zepp…on vinyl. So for me, that was my happy moment. And what I would do was do story-based shows, you know, link one artist to another, one scandal to another, have a theme running throughout the show. That was my “trip” in those days.

B&B: And from Lexsite you moved to another website: Easybuymusic? 

SG: Yes. It was an online catalogue and music content service. Now I think they are a more generic platform for e-commerce. So at Lexsite I had gotten into a bit of the technological aspect of the website and so here I came on board as Head of Content and Technology. As soon as I launched the website, I left because of some differences with the team there and I got into Planet Saffron which is now Saffron Art.

B&B: What were you doing at Planet Saffron? 

SG: Saffron Art is basically an online art seller but their most successful venture has been the Saffron Art online auctions. Here I was heading Saffron Art, Saffron Soul and Saffron Style, again for content and technology.

My first project was actually taking Saffron Art exhibitions all over the world –

B&B: Sorry to interrupt but during this time, wasn’t money a problem? 

SG: You know I was making pretty decent money and we didn’t have kids at that point of time. It was important for me to be earning money. I probably was not earning the kind of money my legal counterparts were but you know I was contributing my share towards the household etc.

B&B: But when, for instance, you met your friends from law school did you ever tell yourself “Perhaps I should have done what they are doing?”

SG: Never. Never.

For me I think competition is always with myself.  I don’t think I relate to “people competition” a lot. It is not something that I have ever related to.

I always tried to “blend in” during school, my biggest aim was to become invisible. And it used to really trouble me that that never happened for me. I think if you ask me what my dream was when I was 16, I would say “Oooh marry a nice techie and go to San Jose” (in Tamilian accent) because I wanted to be that girl who was the good girl and did all the right things and did not get noticed for anything.

I don’t know why that was important for me. Clearly I don’t fight it anymore. (laughs)

B&B: So you are genuinely happy doing what you are doing? 

SG: Oh my god yes. And I am so grateful, most of all to my husband for supporting me. Everyone could have used more money. I mean there were days where at the end of the month you are really struggling and things like that. But when it was important, like in 2000, when Shridhar (Gorthi) started Trilegal, those were some hard years and that was when I was pretty much supporting both of us. I was working at Saffron and by that time I had moved into operations. So obviously my profile had gone up, my pay package had gone up.

So I was taking these exhibitions of art all over the world and then the whole dot-com bust happened. But that was also when we created the first online auction. And then it just took off, they never really looked back. They trimmed down a lot, focusing on their strengths so Saffron Soul and Saffron Style were shut down eventually.

But by then, being away from home so much was also starting to take a toll on me, my husband was setting up the law firm and we were just never getting any time together. And then private FM started coming into India in 2001 and the bug hit me again. I was just helpless! It was like “Oh no, not again. Please don’t” (pretends to be mauled by a monster) 

And I went and did an audition and that’s it. I got selected. I did Evening Drive Time on Radio Mirchi.

B&B: Alright so in 2001, you joined Radio Mirchi-

SG: Yup and again for me, it wasn’t enough just to be talent. I got into production, I was working with the tech guys, trying to figure out how you get backup, computer code etc. I started doing briefings for them and holding these tutorials for them. For me, that was the fun of it. It wasn’t enough to be creative, I needed to be in organisation and operations.

B&B: And when you were doing all these things, did you ever find yourself thinking, “This, I learnt in law school”

SG: I would say that 80% of what I am today is because of law school.

B&B: Really? Five years? 

SG: Five years. Those were very formative years. So much of my life before law school was about being able to please people, being the best, and being the best not for myself but to make other people happy.

For me law school was important because it taught you to be good for being good’s sake, to produce a good product and not being afraid of being judged. It taught me to be able to put a product out there and say “Listen, this is the work I have created, what do you think of it?” – That was very important for me. And of course, like I said, the research- whether it was researching for my radio shows or figuring out legal processes – For example, with Saffron Art it was the first time anybody had legally taken such a huge consignment of art out of the country for an exhibition and brought it back. So you can imagine the legal issues involved and I had to figure out how to get it all done. And I did. It certainly helped that I spoke the “language”.

B&B: So Saffron Art was 1999 to 2001. And the in 2001 you joined Radio Mirchi- 

SG: And in 2002 I got pregnant. So I quit when I had my baby in 2003. Very soon after that I started writing. I used to write on travel, health etc but not law.

B&B: Was that a conscious decision? Did they ask you to write on law and you declined? 

SG: No it just happened by accident. For example, I had started working out and then somebody told somebody else that “Listen you could interview her. She is quite fit.” and that sort of thing. And then they asked whether I wanted to write about [health issues] and I said ok. You know I also think it’s the way you look at things. For example, a story of mine appeared in Tehelka  and it was about my son’s first Sportsday and how being a “non-soccer mom” has you severely blacklisted (rolls her eyes)

B&B: Blacklisted by whom? The Confederation of Soccer Moms? 

SG: Oh I was the black sheep of the Confederation! I got left out of the Sports Race. It was traumatic! Anyway so again I realised that I just wasn’t fitting into this whole “mommydom” kind of thing. It was important for me to be intellectually challenged.

I got back to doing some voice overs and things like that.And then I had my second baby shortly thereafter in 2005. And within six months I started doing corporate training. So that is what I would do ten days a month –

B&B: How did the corporate training come about? This doesn’t exactly fit into what you done in the past does it? 

SG: It does actually. A lot of corporate training uses similar kind of exercises that you learn in theatre workshops and stuff like that. I had done a writing course so that really helped in terms of corporate communication; you know e-mailing skills and things like that.

My operations experience was invaluable. I mean obviously you train yourself and you study [corporate training] as a subject. You are not just going in with “Oh these were my lovely experiences and now please learn from me”- it wasn’t like that at all. It was very specific. We would have corporate trainings for pharmaceutical companies, restaurants, investment bankers etc

B&B: And how did “The Shop” come about? 

SG: Yeah so I got approached by the partners in “The Shop”  which is this really old store in Delhi. They were looking at doing exhibitions and were toying with the idea of expanding. They asked me whether I wanted to help them with it. And I was not very keen because I was like “Good middle class girl. We don’t do retail” and also I am thinking “Entrepreneur me? I don’t think so!”

B&B: Really?

SG: Oh yeah.

B&B: But everything you have done has been so unconventional?

SG: Yet, I had the personality of Minnie Mouse inside me. It is incredible what a brave façade you can put on to the world. I have always been pushed into roles that I am a little less than comfortable with. You know if you tell me to get on to the stage, I will first have a little heart attack and then I will say “No, I have to do it because there is no one else who will” – that’s pretty much how I do stuff. Never because I thought “That’s what I want to do and you know what I am going to do it”

B&B: So dreams chased you, you didn’t chase them? 

SG: Clearly. I mean opportunity only knocks on a window that is left open or something like that. What I am saying is that I clearly must have had an inclination to do the things I have done. One thing I did not do was to tolerate mediocrity or tolerate boredom. I did not tolerate mediocrity and certain other things – I have quit jobs because I have had ethical conflicts. It was excruciatingly painful because I thought I was getting paid brilliantly.

I think children these days are a lot more aware. I think I came from a far more clueless, I wouldn’t say generation, but I was a lot less aware of what it was that I wanted. Sometimes you just find it by trial and error, by accident. I also think that these were all areas where clearly I had a very strong interest in. I learnt belly dancing for four years and I am thinking that while working and bringing up kids, if I did belly dance for four years I must have really wanted to do it and found the time to do it.

B&B: So going back, how did “The Shop” happen?

SG: So I had offered to help them in my free time since I was only working 10 days a month. I started looking and learning, studying the market and talking to people. Again I am not the kind of person who would enjoy talking to people on my own. I am not the kind of person who would pick up the phone and say “Hey, how are you?”-

B&B: So you started out saying that you would help them out and then you got into it full time?

SG: Yeah, I just started getting sucked into it. Initially I thought I would help them find exhibition space and help them get a manager to handle it. Then I thought that “Why don’t we just think about doing a store” since the exhibitions would prove to be quite expensive. Then I started working the math on it and I said “Look, I will help you find a space but after that you can take over.”

The next thing I knew, we had signed a partnership deed and I literally bulldozed them into opening the store in two months. So we opened the store and there was literally no stock in it for starters. I think I had the guts to do it because I was doing it for somebody else so I better not disappoint them. So that was it.

B&B: And you were looking after daily operations? 

SG: Yeah I mean it was essentially cost cutting. Write the copy, do the marketing, hire the staff from maalis to managers. Anything I could do to keep the operational costs low.

B&B: What was the best thing about this job?

SG: You know, I don’t know how to word this in a way that is not a cliché but there is something about entrepreneurship – there is so much at stake but yet just the thrill it can give you to create something. Suddenly I was responsible for so many people in terms of their livelihood.

It would come as a shock to me when a vendor would call me and say “Ma’am, we have got the kind of orders from you that we have never got before” and I was like “Wow really?” I didn’t even know I was doing anything spectacular.

I think it was just putting ego aside and saying “Let me do this for these people. I want to create a really good product and I will do whatever it takes to get this done.”

B&B: Weren’t you afraid? 

SG: I was petrified! Daily! I mean really (expresses great incredulity towards interviewer)

But what could be a better driver than fear?

You know if someone was to tell me “There is a store opening next to you and it is going to be competition”- that is not going to drive me. In fact, there was another store in the same category that had shut down and they came to me and said “Oh what a lovely place.” I promptly called up my broker and said “Listen you got to find them another space”. Because I feel that if the whole sector grows, I benefit as well. I mean I am not a micro-manager, I look at the broader sort of –

B&B: Wait wait. Weren’t there nights when you were thinking “Man, what have I gotten myself in to?”

SG: I wouldn’t put that in the past tense. I regularly think that.

‘You know sometimes people will say “Oh you are not really doing this for the money. This must be a really cushy thing for you to do.” You know “Biwi ke liye dukan banake bitha diya” (Built a shop just for the wife) – that sort of thing. And I can only laugh.

And I have to say, God bless my CA (Chartered Accountant), my husband-

B&B: I like how the CA comes first and then the husband- 

SG: You know I am petrified of my CA. When he shouts….My indirect tax consultant told me “Oh we could here you two floors down. Not you but your CA yelling at you”. And this was just because my math was not adding up to the kind of degree that he wanted. I mean the kind of discipline he, and my husband as well, have instilled in me….

It was so tempting for me to ask my husband to help. I would ask him to negotiate a deal for me and he would say “This is your business, not mine”

And I am dealing with all kinds of people. The landlords at “The Shop” for instance are traditional, Muslim bag-importers. I would sit in Crawford Market and compulsorily drink a faluda every single meeting. I would sit there and talk to them face to face.

Or Octroi for example – People would tell me “Nobody on earth would want to pay full Octroi. Aapka dhanda hai, under-invoice karo (It is your livelihood, just under-invoice it) and I would say “No” because I am very clear about the kind of business that I want to do. People would mock me and things like that but clearly, there are some things that you choose for yourself; you make a choice about it. I know no other way of doing things and I needed to prove to myself that I can make it work.

B&B: So you started “The Shop” and it garnered a really positive response. How did Sanctum come about? 

SG: My role in the partnership (of The Shop) was fairly limited. It belongs to a family and not just one or two people and they had a very clear idea about how they wanted it to be run. Beyond a point, I think, they realised that I was kind of taking on more and more…they wanted to take over sourcing, marketing and things like that.

Once a shop is set up, what is left to build the store as a brand is the marketing, product innovation and things like that – these were not in my hands anymore. I had all of these ideas since I had studied so much, researched so much and my head was just bursting with ideas. So I spoke to them and said that I wanted to do something on my own as well while continuing to help them with The Shop.

B&B: And then you started Sanctum?

SG: Between ideation and opening, it took us about a year and a half to set up The Shop. On August 15, I told myself that I am going to go out there and see what kind of properties are available. October 12th, I made my first sale at Sanctum.

B&B: That is not even three months

SG: Yeah. And this is not any fantastic credit to me, I think it was extremely foolhardy.

This (location of store) was the first property I saw. The landlord was sitting upstairs and took one look at me and said “I am going to make you an offer and it will last for a week. You tell me if you are ready to open a store.” I tried telling him that I hadn’t even thought of a concept, I was just checking out the market.

A week later I came and said “I will take it. You know what, I have a concept. I have [just] three vendors right now but I will take it.” And that was it.

B&B: What is the worst thing about this job? 

SG: I mean the worst things are obviously doing the things you are not comfortable doing. For me, it would be chasing after people. I don’t enjoy micro-managing. I believe very strongly in empowering and delegating, letting everybody carry on with their own way and working together as a team. I love it when staff take decisions on their own. I think I give very clear briefs in that respect; I have a very clear idea about what I want Sanctum to be. Let me make that “Sanctums” since I want there to be more than one for

B&B: Where is the next one coming up?

SG: That’s where I got a bit of a reality check. I will just come back to that.

So for me, having to push people, vendors etc – it is aggravating for me. Dealing with Octroi for example. I have to pay an Octroi agent money just so that he can allow my truck to come and pay full Octroi without getting lynched. His job is only to ensure that they present the invoice and pay the entire Octroi amount. So the thing is you can find ways around bureaucracy etc.

Whenever people crib about “Oh the bureaucracy” and “Oh nothing works”, I always tell them, “No it does”. I cannot think of a greater country than India at this point of time. It does work, you just have to know how to make it work. You just have to take a stance. I would say that it is tougher when you want to do things in a particular way, when you want to do things right. But it is not impossible at all. To me, like I said, this is easier. If somebody told me “Start keeping double books etc”, I would have a heart attack.

So it is aggravating but that is not a patch on just the highs you get.

B&B: Like what? 

SG: Well I would have to say that the most fun part is to have a “Eureka” idea and then to actually execute it. For example, I knew that I was not on High Street here (in Bandra) so I would have to keep doing things to stay noticed. I also knew I would not be able to buy quarter page ads in the newspapers and things like that. So I was thinking that having workshops would be a good idea and we have had five workshops already!

Also, I don’t have to ask anybody’s permission to do that. Wait for somebody else to say “Oh, let me see”. I thought it was a good idea. I did it.

Having said that and this is where I come to the reality check part. I do know that I am a little impulsive. Again, 3-4 years in this line has instilled in me a fair amount of realism. I mean I am still mostly just nuts.

B&B: Mostly?

SG: Yeah, you have to be. Did you know that  nine out of ten retail ventures fail in the first six months.

B&B: So getting back to the “reality” part of it 

SG: Yeah so initially I had told myself that “Oooh, by end of year one, I will have at least two Sanctums and already be planning the third” (Laughs)

And then I found out that one, I did not have the money for it. Two, [the suburb] of Bandra is a different animal altogether; you can be edgy here, you can have experiments here. Let me tell you that in the last ten months, I can think of six big mistakes that I have already made with Sanctum. But I can still absorb them, and fix them and get over them. I don’t think I can afford to make such expensive mistakes in other parts of the city.

When I go out looking for space, I think it is important to look at the market as well. Each suburb in the city is a completely different beat. And I realised that I don’t understand it. I mean, who am I kidding. It is very well to say “Oh we are so shabby chic and industrial and you know, come love us”

I think first and foremost, I am here because I think this is something which will earn me money. Given a choice, I would rather spend twenty-four hours with my kids and drive them absolutely batty. But as a mom, that is always something that is on my mind. Why am I taking time away from my family if not to make something that is a commercially successful venture?

I have no creative fantasies that need fulfilling anymore. Again, this is what I was referring to earlier, I am so glad I did all of that earlier when I was younger. Because I know now that I am not going to drop this and say “Oh you know today I am going to learn para gliding” or something like that. I am older now and that has really helped me in my business.

B&B: How do you manage to balance both “house” and “business”? 

SG: I think when Shridhar first started Trilegal, there were some things that we were very clear about which was that we knew that Trilegal  was going to take up a lot of his mind space and we pretty much knew and discussed, at that point, and decided it. I told him “Just go for it and lets see where it takes you.”Having said that [I must also add that] he is not a workaholic. But he is a guy, so he can only do one thing a time.

B&B: Didn’t think anybody knew that! 

SG: Oh you thought it was a well kept secret? Hmmm, we will just leave it at that shall we? Anyway, so by default a large part of the domestic responsibilities fell on me.  And I managed to get good help, briefed them and they did their job.

B&B: Do you ever find yourself thinking that you are spending too much time at the store? 

SG: Everyday. But you know, I rely very strongly on my instincts. In the sense that you should just keep yourself open and don’t make too many rules for yourself – “Every day I must clock eight hours at the store”.

The ability to analyse, and again here I would go back to law school, is so important. Even the way I raise my children, I don’t do what most other mothers do. You know [my children] don’t go for a hundred and one classes etc.

And the flipside of that is I have to teach my children how to entertain themselves. And of course I have to endure all the snarky comments from the Confederation.

But you know what, I know no other way to be. To me, I have thought it through for myself. Logically, these are the right choices that I am making. And the instinct part of it does kick in. There are times when I feel that my older son is getting a little   angsty and stuff like that. Then I know that it is time to spend a little more time with him. And sometimes I  know that the store needs me more. It still breaks my heart when the kids say things like “Oh mom, I love you as much as you love Sanctum”

B&B: Ouch. 

SG: Yeah, it does hurt. But for the large part I see that they are growing up to be happy kids. And it did not help that when I started Sanctum, I fell horribly ill for the first time in my life! I was ill for eight-nine months and that was the first time when Shridhar said, “You know what, any money that you have borrowed from me, I swear I will take it back unless you slow down.”

Unfortunately that is one time when I did not have very good instincts or awareness – when I was on death’s bed.

But again, you  know I had great doctors who basically did not sugar coat anything.

B&B: So you manage? 

SG: You just do. I also think it is also [the need to] switch off. I cannot afford to obsess about Sanctum because there are other things that I have to worry about, you know. I have a dog, a cat, I have kids, a house that is fairly high maintenance. We have an army…literally we have an ashram of self-employed people who have chosen to come and work there. So I think also you got to not take it too seriously, you got to see it is a game. Tomorrow, if I get removed from the equation, it is no biggie. Even my little universe will go on, it is not a universe that I have created or one that needs me to survive – that is a very  liberating thought.

B&B: Last question: Any advice for law grads who perhaps just don’t want to do the typical thing?

SG: You know I would say this: Look within and just examine yourself. Beyond a point, there is only this far externally applied pressures will take you. Even if you feel very strongly, “Oh all I wanted to do was be a corporate lawyer because my dad is a fantastic corporate lawyer” – keep in mind that you may make it to Partner and things like that but a large part of the midlife crises that you see around us is exactly [because of] this. There are so many pressures and so many rules that we make for ourselves that will make us crack somewhere. There is this beautiful concept in Vedanta call swadharma which is your own inner calling. And the way they describe is that you watch children at play, see what interests them and that is a good indicator of what that child’s inclinations are.  And I have used that. And when I look back now, I think for the first time I am doing what I enjoyed doing most. I used to love organising stuff as a child, plays for kids, helping other people out, planning things etc. This is what I am doing right now. So I think that is very important.

But there is also a certain amount of responsibility. One big thing that I do regret in that sense is how fast or often I jumped jobs. It was, I think, a little self-indulgent: I did it cause I could. I had a husband who was also working etc. But then I don’t beat myself about it because given the influences I have had in my life and the kind of discipline that I had for myself, that was the best I could do. Something was clearly wrong, which was what made me switch but given the choice now, I would have exercised a little more discipline.

So I think understanding yourself coupled with disciplined thinking is important. And by “disciplined thinking” I mean that every little like or dislike should change your decision. Once you have focused on a long term goal, think that “Ok you know what, I think this is the direction that I need to be heading in.” And let me promise you that there will be a hundred little things that you won’t like before reaching that goal. But if you keep that goal firmly in focus, these things won’t matter so much and you will get there. Rather than if you say, “You know this is the goal because everyone else is doing it” – somewhere you will crack. That is the only advice I can offer.

Sandhya Gorthi graduated from National Law School of India, Bangalore in 1998. You can find out more about her store, Sanctum, here. Photos courtesy Sanctum.

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