By Kay Newton
In 1519 CE, Hernán Cortés, a Spanish commander, arrived by sea to Mexico. The first task for his 600 men was to destroy the ships they had sailed on. They had to conquer the New World or die. There was no turning back.
When you reach a point of no return, you have to continue with what you are doing. It is too late to stop. It is a powerful exercise that most of us can relate to at times in our lives.
Edinburgh-based business coach and digital marketing strategist Sudha Mani is a professed introvert. Born in Chennai in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, her Hindu upbringing was very diverse, a balance of spiritual and academic. Sudha’s grandmother was fascinated with the occult sciences, and her grandfather, a mathematician and educator. Her father became a businessman and her mum an office stenographer.
Sudha’s grandma woke her at 4 am for meditation, yoga, breakfast prepared using Ayurvedic principles, and chores before school. Sudha still actively practises yoga and meditation and loves to cook.
She says, “As a teenager, I wanted to be a doctor, but I could not get into medical college, so I ended up taking computer science, which I did not like! One day my grandmother said, ‘When you get a lemon, make lemonade. There is no need to throw away what you have, you can just sweeten it up’.”
A few weeks later, she came across an opportunity to create a project at the University. “I had to work in the college as there was no computer at home. I completed it in three days. It led to a small financial scholarship, which I used to buy computer science books,” she narrates.
It was not always easy for Sudha. As a woman in computer science, she was an outsider in a class full of boys. “Yet I never let this be my story. I listened to what others had to say, to the unconscious bias, yet I always chose my own council. Because I love being analytical and innovative, computer science kept me on my toes,” she says.
After graduating from Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, Sudha started a tech and digital entrepreneurial journey with two friends. Unfortunately, one of the business partners died suddenly from a brain illness, and the entrepreneurial adventure came to an abrupt halt.
“I had an aspiration to go abroad, but I was denied a visa to the US. Shortly after, I was approached by a UK agency to work for British Petroleum as a technical architect in London,” shares Sudha. At the age of 26, Sudha moved to the UK with just £150 in her hand and a one-way ticket.
There was no going back.
“It was not easy. I was naïve yet determined to make it work. I am an eternal optimist, which helped me deal with permits, agencies, and stalled or failed payments. I learned so much about life in general,” she says.
Three years later, Sudha got a project in Scotland. “I moved in 2003, and I fell in love with the area immediately. There is something in Scotland that calmed my hyperactivity. I felt as if at last I had come home.” She went on to do her MBA from the University of Edinburgh.
As well as consulting with private and public organisations on change and transformational projects, Sudha is also passionate about empowering girls and young women to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). She often gives talks on business and leadership.
Sudha has five pieces of advice for anyone at a crossroads in life.
You are here for a purpose: Life is not easy. You are here on the planet for a purpose. Do what you have to do, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone. Find a way to work towards your goals, despite what others tell you. Have the belief that you will make it happen. Hold onto the faith in yourself and the universe.
Be the eternal learner: Equip yourself with knowledge and skills. You never know when you will use what you understand. Find rare skills to differentiate yourself.
Never lose your individuality: Learn where to bend and where to stand stiff. When critical feedback is given, ask – is it for your sake or their sake? Believe in your intuition, and it will lead you to the truth.
Don’t adopt others’ ideology: People always have an idea about you in their heads. It is not about you – it is about them. Disrupt this. The only thoughts that matter about you are yours.
Freedom is an internal process: Time is the most valuable resource, and when used wisely, it leads to freedom. Freedom is an internal process, not an external one. Do not be afraid to fail, as the feedback will help you correct course.
Finally, Sudha says, “You do not need to be like Hernán Cortés and burn everything. Decide which boat or bridge you want to burn. Some bridges are crossed once in your lifetime. Others should never be attempted. Finally, there are those that you will want to cross more than once. Be brave with your decisions and, most of all, have no regrets.”
Find Sudha at www.sudhamani.com.
First published in eShe’s March 2021 issue