My Life, My Rules by Sonia Golani is a collection of the stories of eighteen remarkable men and women who made a name for themselves in rather unusual and unconventional careers. It is a book in the same genre as those immensely popular books written by Rashmi Bansal, whose Stay Hungry Stay Foolish was widely acclaimed. Golani does justice to the genre. Every story is heartwarming and inspiring–which happened to be just what the doctor had ordered for me!
The stories begin with Golani meeting the subject for a long-drawn, fairly detailed interview. Narration is mostly in the third person, alternating occasionally with a casual question and answer format. This kind of format can all too easily go awry–it is to Golani’s credit that she is able to pull it off with some deftness. The tone is warm and engaging, and she is successful in getting her subjects to open up. Cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle, food critic Rashmi Uday singh, actor R Madhavan, fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani are among the more well-known subjects but it is the stories of the less well-known ones that leave you in complete awe of all that managed to achieve, of their sheer grit and the guts with which they swam against the tide.
My favourite stories are those of Ashish Rajpal, Founder and CEO, iDiscovery Education, Rajeev Suresh Sawant, Founder&CEO, Sula Vineyards, and Ingrid Srinath, Ex Secy General, CIVICUS–World Alliance for Citizen Participation. Let me dwell on the case of Ashish Rajpal in some detail
Rajpal graduated from the XLRI, Jamshedpur and was very busy going up and up on the corporate ladder. Ten years after XLRI, he was heading the marketing division of a French company. Based in Paris, he was drawing top bracket compensation, living a stone’s throw away from the glamorous Champs Elysees , his children were going to a great school in Paris and travelling the world. It was at this peak of professional success that he decided that he wanted more than just material success–he had always nursed a socialist spot in his brain and now he yearned to give back to the community in India, particularly in the field of education.
Comfortable in the knowledge that he had more than enough savings to support his family grandly, he sent his family back to India and proceeded to Harvard to earn a Masters in education. He set up iDiscovery, an institution aimed at transforming school education in India, in 2002. Five gruelling years later, iDiscovery came up with XSEED, an experiential learning system.
If the degree in education from Harvard helped him piece XSEED together, his management degree and flair for networking came in very handy in selling the finished product to school authorities. No mean feat, that. Today it is followed by no less than 700 schools including some of the best schools in India. Incidentally the school my daughters go to uses XSEED too, and I have to say I am impressed. I totally applaud Rajpal’s vision, dedication and spirit of service.
The book provides several interesting nuggets of information about the more well-known people featured in the book. Did you know, for instance, that R Madhavan had a roaring business of coaching college students in personality development before he took up acting? Or that food critic Rashmi Uday Singh was an income tax commissioner, no less, before she decided to chuck it all and follow her heart? Speaking of Rashmi Uday Singh, the reason she even appeared for UPSC was that her parents had begun to talk about her marriage and she reckoned that the best way to buy time was to start preparing for UPSC! Sure enough, her parents stopped all talk of marriage as soon as they got wind of their daughter’s UPSC plans! One wise woman, I say 🙂
It is also interesting what some of these people have to say about their former vocations. Ingrid Srinath is an IIM Calcutta alumnus who had made quite a name for herself in the field of advertising. She got the chance to work with the very best people in her field, with a wide range of clients worldwide. But after ten years of being in the field, the ‘futility of it all’ began to strike her. She says working in advertising is like writing on the sand on a beach–it is there only as long as the next wave doesn’t come and wash it away. She decided it was time to devote time to pursuits that would make a difference and associated herself with the social-welfare sector, taking a ninety percent cut in compensation.
Rashmi Uday Singh talks about how her former job entailed endlessly poring over tax-returns filed by bigwigs to spot discrepancies. One fine morning it struck her how everone only lived once, and how she did not want to keep doing this all her life. She says she never once regretted her decision to resign and then do her own thing.
I couldn’t help noticing that all but one of these people came from fairly affluent families, which is not really surprising– following your heart is a luxury not everyone can afford. It helped that these people were very secure financially when they set out for uncharted territory. I also noted that more than half of these remarkable people were management grads from the IIMs/XLRI/ NMIM and what is more, most of them say in unequivocal terms just how much they owe to their management courses. Psst, I so wish I had studied management myself.
All in all, a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading, and one I would heartily recommend if you happen to be in need of some inspiration!