Shakti: The Power Within

The meaning of Shakti

Shakti means the female principle of divine energy, especially when personified as the supreme deity.

“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.” ―Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom

What’s in a name

I was born on a hot August day arriving 13 mins before midnight after an arduous 32 hours of labor. My mother endured a great deal of pain and delivered all 9lbs 11 ounces of me naturally, without an epidural. That in itself should qualify her for the Nobel peace prize. I love my mom. She is an inspiration for me in so many ways and has set the bar really high for me. As part of our family tradition, I was given 5 Indian names. One was my given name, Gayathri, named after the Goddess of the Universe. The second was Durga, the fierce mother goddess also referred to as Shakti.

For years, I wished for a different name. Names like Kajol, Pooja, Dia, Priya all appealed to me because they were short, palatable, modern Indian names, and not conservative, ancient like my name. It took me many years to finally get to a point where I could rediscover the meaning of these names and most importantly rediscover what they have meant for me in the context of my life experiences. Over the years, I have come to realize that I could not have asked for better names.

You light up every room

This morning my children woke me up to wish me a very Happy Mother’s Day. Each handed me a handwritten letter. My 13 yr old daughter wrote, “You light up every room and make everyone around you smile”. She continues to write, ” ….most of all, thanks for teaching me how to stand up for what I believe in, have an opinion about everything. This quote reminded me of you. “

“Be the change you wish to seek in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi

I was crying tears of joy. My 10 yr old son had a different perspective, he quoted the Beatles “I want to hold your hand” with a sweet note saying “I hope you have a great time today and we will go on walks and play outside, or maybe even look at the stars at night.”

I thought to myself, “Wow, I did ok. I really did ok. I am a good mother and that’s awesome!”

Riya's letter to her Mom
Riya’s letter to her Mom
Rohan's letter to Mom

Dont mess with the goddess

The last few days have been rough. I have been thinking about the mother who lost her son to a hate crime and every mother who has lost their child. What must Ahmaud’s mom be feeling today? I cannot imagine the anger and agony she must be feeling. Durga, the goddess stands for ‘Shakti’ the power within and the power that runs the universe. She embodies all the great qualities of a nurturing mother but turns into a warrior when called upon to fight evil and injustice.

In Hindu mythology, the story of Goddess Durga is one of my favorites. You can read the detailed story here. The short version is that Mahishasura was a power-hungry, immoral, evil demon who believed that no one in the world could do him harm. When he started wreaking havoc with his power, Goddess Durga was tasked with putting an end to it. She fought him for 15 days during which he kept changing his shape to become different animals tricking her each time she was close to slaying him. Finally, when he turns into a buffalo is when she slays him to free the world of evil.

Mother’s are like Goddess Durga. We are nurturing and life-giving but can also turn into warriors to fight evil and injustice in any shape or form. In today’s world, we need more women to manifest their inner Shakti to fight demons in our heads that keep us from realizing our true potential. We need to fight the demons outside our heads who tell us every day what we can and cannot do, the voices who try to silence us when we speak up, the voices who tell us we should not be aiming high and the forces that take from us what is ours against our will.

An all-time favorite childhood story

I remembered a story I loved as a child. It was the story of the Sparrow and Crow. It goes like this. One night there was a rough storm. Crow lost his nest to the torrential monsoon rain. He knocked on Sparrow’s nest, “Sister Sparrow, Open the door and let me in. I promise to be kind to your babies. I only want shelter for one night”.

Generous Sister Sparrow lets the crow in for the night but she worries that her generosity might bring harm to her children. As they sleep by the fireplace in the night, she senses a strange movement waking up to find the crow about to swallow her babies. She grabs a hot rod from the fireplace, blinds the crow in both eyes forcing him to flee.

Such is the power of a mother. She can be nurturing and generous at one moment but turn into a fierce warrior protecting her children the next.

This story was my all-time favorite. I almost always felt a delightful cheer coming out of me for Sister Sparrow and her bravery. Never once questioning how she got to be like that, it was what I always expected of mothers. Those were the role models I grew up with.

The women who silently got things done behind the scenes, never once stopping to look for praise or appreciation or reward, always sacrificing their wishes for that of others, suffering pain through childbirth and illnesses, working endlessly round the clock and always showing up with love, affection, generosity for those around them.

I expected to be nothing less of a woman like my role models. This is the kind of woman I aspired to be and for the most part, continue to aspire to be today.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”..a quote from Harry Potter. In that article, I explored the thought process behind the choices I had made in my life and what I have learned from those choices. So I decided to resurrect the blog post I wrote to explore what it means to invoke the power within you.

Launching The Accidental Ally

It’s mother’s day today and I couldn’t think of a more auspicious occasion to launch my new website, The Accidental Ally, dedicated to build, nurture and grow the community of people who dare to be different, who believe in service before self, who have a strong bias for action, who are relentless in pursuing their passion even in the face of rejection and failure.

My work at The Accidental Ally dedicated to the human spirit which I believe is what will save humankind from total destruction. And there is no greater embodiment of the human spirit than SHAKTI, the MOTHER!

Passionate, Driven, Ambitious, Most Likely to be CEO are words I heard often when I was in my 20s.

It seemed quite achievable to me because I was smart, hardworking, and enjoyed the process of learning and mastering anything you threw at me. What has been interesting to observe is the transition I went through as I got older, got married, had kids. That 20-something unstoppable woman turned into a cautious, measured, and compromising 40-year-old woman. I don’t regret any of my choices in life. I have learned to embrace them. 

I stumbled onto this great interview with Indra Nooyi from a few years ago. This is a great reminder that as women we just can’t have it all. It sounds awful but it’s important for us to make peace with it. She says,

“If I had to write a letter to myself as a younger person, I’d say, ‘Be careful about all the choices you’re making, because you will look back and it will hurt like hell.’

If you are a woman who is passionate, driven, ambitious, most likely to be CEO and you have made the choice to focus on yourself, your family, your children, your interests outside of “work” then allow the following insights to guide you.

You are not alone.

There are many women (and some men) like us who are making the choice to scale back from traditional “work” roles to focus on what’s important to us. In my case, the wake-up call came in the form of a cancer diagnosis. But I consider it a blessing in disguise.

If it wasn’t for a health crisis, I would have never stopped mindlessly pursuing career choices that were killing me silently and perhaps wouldn’t be here to write this post. Scaling back doesn’t mean not working or being lazy or Unambitious. It means you are redefining the rules of engagement. You are mindful of how you want to work, what you want to work on, and with whom. That’s how I describe it.

A lot of times, I run into people (mostly recruiters) who do not understand why I do what I do and I know why. It’s unconventional. I refuse to believe in climbing this “ladder” that everyone refers to. I aspire to do interesting, challenging, purpose-driven work that I haven’t done before, to work with smart passionate people, to have fun, and to learn something new every day.

If you don’t get it, then I can help explain. If you don’t approve, that’s ok too. I never aspire for anyone’s permission or approval.

There is no age limit to achieving great things in life.

You can do it at 20, you can do it at 50. There are plenty of people who have demonstrated this. I feel like my best is yet to come. I am only 43.

Women need to help other women.

If you are a mom, then you have most likely interacted with other moms at your kids’ school. Have you noticed how moms help each other? We are a network so strong and so powerful that if you were to put a $ value to it (as it often happens in silicon valley with everything we do measure in terms of $’s) it would be worth billions. I don’t think you can put a price on it. It is – priceless.

The mommy network is a lifeline, it’s powerful, it’s what connects the community. Why don’t we see this in the work environment? I personally have been on both sides and can assure you that I have never experienced the kind of connection, efficiency, willingness to help that exists today in the mommy network anywhere else.

Own your choices.

I would be lying if I told you that I don’t have days when I beat myself up for not giving it my all. I often ask myself, ‘Did I throw away 16 years of hard work?’, ‘Am I not talented enough for a big title?’, ‘Am I a quitter?’. As a freelancer, I often bring my best to the table with any client I work for. This eventually leads to new opportunities. I often get asked if I would like to convert to full time and my answer is always a polite ‘No’.

I am aware of what I am capable of doing but I am also very aware of the implications my choices have on my life right now. I know what I need to do right now. As hard as it can be sometimes, I have to own my choices and live with it. 

Life is full of Peaks and Valleys.

At an especially low point in my life, my dad said something really profound to me. He is a third-generation businessman who gave up his dreams to take up his family business. He was a university topper with a degree in engineering, all set to take on a new life in the land of opportunity – the US. Instead, he chose to take over a failing business and turn it into a successful one, reinventing it many times over during his 40-year tenure. He was barely 24 at the time. So this guy is familiar with the territory of making choices, embracing your personal sacrifices, and ongoing personal reinvention.

What he said to me was this. He said that when you are down in the dumps it’s like you are in a valley. But the valleys can turn into peaks. That’s life. You have peaks and valleys. What’s important is knowing how to navigate them. I did just that. I have (and am still learning) how to navigate my peaks and valleys. 

Keep learning.

You know that kid who is excited to be at school every single day? That was me. I loved going to school. I loved learning. I still do. I approach new things with the same enthusiasm I felt when learning cursive in elementary school. If there are two things that can bring a sparkle in my eye – 1. Shoes 2. Learning something new. Yes, shoes are #1. Sue me.  

Work-Life Balance.

I have been part of many passionate discussions on the topic of the ever so elusive ‘Work-Life Balance’. What fun it is to be part of animated discussions on whether to lean in, lean back, can or can’t you have it all. My take is that any kind of balance in your life has to come from YOU and the choices you make.

If you choose to work all the time and ignore your health, that is on you. If you choose to skip your child’s parent-teacher meeting for a work meeting, that is on you. My point is, find what’s right for you. Therein lies the balance. It’s what works for you. If you are unhappy with the choices you are making, its time to rethink them. Simple.

Embrace all of YOU.

I take great pride in being a nurturing person. I can’t help it. I am hypersensitive to the needs of others. My intuition guides my actions and sometimes it lands me in trouble. But it is who I am.

I am who I am and it’s taken long enough for me to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly. I navigate life in my gloriously imperfect way and embrace the ‘shakti’, the power within me.

Embrace the Shakti, the power within you. The world needs it. Man. Woman. Everyone. 

“No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.” ―Paulo Coelho,The Alchemist