Building an Early Foundation:
My earliest childhood memories allow me to appreciate the challenges faced by immigrant communities in trying to make a better life for their families and themselves. My family had to leave East-Africa and the comforts of their homes almost overnight, and landed in London in the middle of a cold February morning when I was just a baby. Whilst my parents worked all the hours God could send, my brother was at the right age to attend school while I was the parcel that got left at various baby-sitters feeling lost and lonely. But what that did for me, was sow the seeds of self-sufficiency and resilience. Just as many people face today, racism and misunderstanding, so it was with us. Sometimes, this marginalisation pushes people to break and turn to criminal activities whilst most, like us, reverted to our roots, our values and our faith for our strength. Though we had very little, I was fortunate that my family brought with them the culture, values and faith of our Indian heritage. We could never afford private education. Simply based on our inner city location, I was allocated to one of the lowest academic achievement schools in the city. Being the best in that environment doesn’t help in stretching a child and his/her abilities or identifying strengths. These crucial 5 formative years took me on a different trajectory. I was disappointed, but accepted this twist of fate. I accepted every twist and turn and tried to make the best of it.
I was never resentful or sorry for myself. I never liked the narrative of ‘why me?’, and many people who come from nothing will relate to this. Acceptance of our situation and being thankful for our blessings, because we all have them, allows us to look forward without the baggage of negativity. Life is not a race and I’ve learned that the hard way. In my time, everything had linearity to it. Pretty much like Gladwell’s research, the ‘system’ picks out winners arbitrarily based on someone’s level at a given age when they are young. This leaves out a mass of others like me, who simply missed the cut and were left to accept their place in society.
What I’ve learned is the power of desire, consistent effort, belief and the right support at the right time. I was brought up to believe, you’re either good at something or you’re not and that you find this out during your early years. However, I’m really clear that anyone can achieve what they want to excel in, by understanding and learning the process and then putting in the regular commitment over a long period of time.
My Mentor and Guru, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj taught us that “Hardwork + Prayers = Success” ultimately leaving the outcome of your efforts to God. That faith keeps us going, gives us strength and patience to see it through. I have experienced failure and loss, but along the way I think it’s very important to reframe, reset and tell yourself that you are the only one who can get yourself out of your own misery, learning to dance in the rain and continuously finding the joy that’s very much around us. Setbacks don’t define us. They’re simply part of the journey to learn from.
The Journey from Setbacks to Success:
Looking back, I can trace my desire to try and help the people I care about. At a very early age I had to pretty much fend for myself and find a way to fix my own problems. I didn’t have a go-to person and that meant I had to be stronger. Over the years, during the summers and weekends I managed to find whatever work was available at the time, to help fund my needs. From being a dustbin man, to a sales assistant in a retail store, to cleaning tables and serving hot meals at a motorway service station, I’ve done it all. At the young age of 10, I remember one winter evening; my dad came home and went straight to speak to my Mum. And I knew something was up as they were having a very intense conversation. In those days, wages were paid in cash. Soon enough I realised, that my Dad had ‘dropped’ the pay packet on his way home. I had a vague idea of where he worked. So I immediately rushed out of the house, and traced back a route that I thought he would’ve taken on his way home, scanning the pavement and curb as I went along. I remember it being very dark, and cold in the middle of the winter. I was determined to leave no stone unturned. As fate would have it, I got lucky and found that pay packet near his factory! A valuable lesson in life is that success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration; you have to give it your all and the ‘luck’ eventually follows. This probably led to me landing my first job at the age of 10. When most normal kids just wanted to enjoy their summer vacations, I wanted to find work. Before thinking of this as child labour, let me tell you that I did this to help our situation at home and have that little extra cash for mum. I still remember that I got paid 2.5 pence for a day’s work. I remember vividly that it involved packing and folding Samosas at an Indian take-away.
I managed to convince a local news agent to take me on, as a paperboy by the time I was 12. Being underage meant I had no room for arguing why I had to carry the 30-40 papers on my arm, whilst doing my rounds, instead of having a proper paperboy’s bag. Did I want the job or not? My first graduate job was as a trainee bank manager ‘an agent of change’, but when they took the decision making away to centralised processing centres and simply set targets to sell products, I realised it wasn’t for me. I remember being responsible for managing delinquent accounts. Instead of executing repossessions based purely on hard facts like the number of months missed I took a different approach, proactively reaching out to invite borrowers to discuss their situation. This often led to, solutions which gave them breathing space to turn things around and saved the bank from distressed sales which would inevitably have left them with losses.
I eventually moved on and became a Wealth Manager for a local firm. Starting from scratch, I used the incredible training I’d had together with my genuine desire to find solutions for people. Within 18 months I was the top producer at the firm, but I was bored. The financial rewards were there, but I still felt I had more to give. That led me to embark on an Executive MBA at Warwick Business School, ranked amongst the Top Business Schools in the World, one that has exchange programmes with other top institutes such as the IIM’s.
In the early 2000’s, midway through my MBA, I took on an exciting opportunity to ‘create something special and meaningful’. I took some big financial risks to give up the comfortable life I had, to take advantage of a market opportunity. I was co-founder of a ‘white label’ Telco in the UK, with a vision to offer additional white labelled services after we’d grown our customer base. That journey was a mixture of excitement, hard slog, setbacks and sacrifices, but I learned some invaluable lessons along the way. It gave me clarity to get involved with people and organisations where I could genuinely make a difference and where it resonated the most in terms of its culture and values. I always say this to my delegates, “You don’t always need to know the answer, you only need to know what to ask, and how to listen.”
I get asked quite a lot, what is it that I do? And for years I was struggling to find a single label that defines my story –I’m sure by now you can see why. I never pretended to fit into a mould of any sort and I encourage others, not to also. Today, the people I work with see me as a Mentor, a Speaker, a Life Coach and an Educator; someone who shares life and business insights to help them grow. I’m always pushing people to get out of their comfort zones. Challenging myself through the same lens, led to the formalisation of what I’ve always been doing under a single brand, a journey called ‘Sanjiv Speaks’.
Evolution of the Education Sector with the onset of Digitalisation and Vocational Learning:
It’s wonderful to see what companies like BYJU’s; Unacademy etc are doing, to make education accessible to the masses. If you ask me to look into my crystal ball, I can see Facebook, Amazon and Apple coming into this space along with some new and exciting younger players. However, I still believe there’s a role for people like me. My space is in implementing ‘Boot Camps or Masterclasses’. I’ve been fortunate to have been working with some of the top educators and students in the world for almost a decade at the University of Warwick. I can say today more so than ever before that the future for people like me lies in embracing the technology to engage with a wider audience in making and delivering more interactive sessions. Being able to bring in real world examples, discussions and debates based on the specific mix of the group of people in the cohort is something the best educators can deliver.
Having taught for the top innovation programme in the UK, I’ve had delegates from across the world with varying cultural backgrounds and varying degrees of business experience. I‘ve been very fortunate to have influenced the journeys of budding entrepreneurs who have gone on to develop successful businesses in their own right. They still share their successes and new milestones with me, and tell me how some of the insights and approaches that were taught to them have shaped their journeys. My message to everyone including business leaders, would be to look for educators who can bring in theory in a practical and engaging way, those who can equip your delegates with practical skills and insights to implement into the real world of business.
“Master your Mind to Master your Life” with Sanjiv Speaks:
Through my early years, there were times, when ‘giving up’ was the easiest option. When, letting it all go, staying in and around negativity and thoughts was an easier solution than fighting it and building up my resilience. We all face difficult choices,we’re only human after all. Getting into University, I remember I was studying subjects I didn’t particularly want to pursue. Life seemed like a blur and eventually my health suffered. At the time, issues like Mental Health, Depression, Asking for Help was seen as a weakness. No one knew what was going on behind these eyes. I knew I was ill physically and dealing with a state of ‘depression’. I’ve had my share of sleepless nights, loss of appetite, waiting for the minutes, hours and days to pass, wasting time, not understanding why this was happening in the first place. All I remember was telling myself each day to fight through, and get better, that ‘giving up’ was never an option. And my belief in my faith, my Guru helped me get through.
I believe that Mastering our minds to Master our life is the key to true happiness. If nothing else, the last 18 months have taught us how we should never take anything for granted. ‘Sanjiv Speaks’ was born out of the overwhelming response to the years of work in the field of Speaking, Mentoring and Life Coaching. An opportunity that I took on as a way to share whatever little learnings I have gathered along the way, from my study of ancient wisdom to modern business insights. We need to change our perspectives to change our happiness. I mindfully think back to traumatic times and how bad that felt and then I compare that to my present. Whatever the challenges, there will be reasons to be thankful. Having an attitude of Gratitude is everything.
At the absolute centre of all of this is finding Meaning and Your Reason Why. When people say ‘Sanjiv is a calming influence’ it’s not something I consciously do. Believe me, I’m only human too. But each day, I strive to cut out the noise, the chaos around me, to stand back and ‘think twice, speak once’. If we’re able to apply that to all aspects of our lives, that will help make a difference. To be able to master our minds, we have to choose the lenses through which we see the world, which determines ‘how’ we see the world. I’ve learned to accept that you can’t please everybody all the time. You can’t always get it right. The key is to be true to yourself. And learn the lessons as you go along.
Power Packed Lessons from Mentors:
My Guru’s words are my compass. His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj "In the joy of others, lies our own. In the progress of others, rests our own”. Throughout my journey, whatever battles I’ve faced, staying grounded and calm under pressure has helped me to come through it all. It’s taken years of learning, practice and reflection to reset and reframe my mind so I can use a different lens to see what life is offering me. I’ve worked with some of the world’s most brilliant academics and upcoming leaders and I am fortunate, blessed and happy to have learned from them and been a part of their growth. Everyone faces challenges. With over three decades of working with individuals and teams to help them grow, I am driven by my passion for making a difference.
In early 2020 prior to lockdown, my family and I were one of the earliest victims of COVID. At the time, the medical profession had no idea about how to handle this, hospitals were full, and ventilators were in short supply and I was battling for my life. I lost my father to COVID, but getting out of the hospital made me realise the value of what I had, of family and friends and how we need to be grateful for everything. It was almost like being born again, with a feeling of freedom that perhaps I had never experienced before and I felt at peace and grateful for all the Mentors, teachers and people who’d shaped my life. My Guru’s words still ring in my ears, ‘Firm Faith, Courage and Patience, give it your all and leave the rest to God’. I remember fully surrendering to that and it is what gave me wings and a feeling of gratitude despite the journey.
I was determined more than ever before to share whatever I had learned as far and wide as possible. And those were the first seeds of the journey that led to ‘Sanjiv Speaks’. Every experience can help us understand how our minds work. I try to listen, read and observe to keep enriching that. I see potential where others don’t. Because I listen with an open heart and mind, I understand people and their potential better than they do. Everyone needs someone they trust who believes in them, and that’s where I come in. I help them see what I can see. By understanding them, I can empathise and help them break free of their shackles and reach their true potential.
I am blessed to be someone who people can turn to, come to and even more thankful that I’ll have a role to play in someone’s growth and journey in life. All I’d say is this –“Life is a series of notes. Some highs and some lows. But how we choose to connect them is up to us.” They can be a soundtrack to a tragedy or a harmony rising through each verse.