The year was 1996. I was a 32-year-old professional working out of my small condo in Seattle, diving headfirst into entrepreneurship with my first company, Edifecs. After working in engineering and supply chain management at other companies, I had identified intractable problems in data management faced by the healthcare industry. With Edifecs, I set out to solve these problems and to make healthcare delivery better for patients, caregivers, and professionals. Edifecs is now a market leader in the healthcare technology space in the US.
Today, 26 years and two successful companies later (the other one is Wholistic Wellbeing company RoundGlass), I wonder what could I have said back then to the young man from India who was taking steps in trepidation as he built his business in a foreign country? How would I guide young Sunny?
You might think the answer to this would focus on how to invest better or choose a quicker path to success, but my thoughts keep going back to the workplace relationships I nurtured and how I realized facets of my own personality over time. A 2019 study published in The Journal of Social Psychology found that when a group of 30-year-olds were asked the same question — “What kind of advice they would like to give their younger selves?” — the researchers found “most of the advice fell into the domains of relationships, education, and selfhood.”
This is true. Whenever I take a third-person perspective of my own life, I end up revisiting the learnings I’ve imbibed through decades of challenges; cherishing the relationships I have built with my colleagues; and reflecting on getting to know myself better.
So, here’s what I’d tell my younger self:
Not everything is a competition
When you are young, especially settling into a new workplace, you often tend to misread a team environment and can be affected by a competitive culture. The relentless drive and laser-like focus, working long hours through the night to please the boss may help you in the short term, but it is important to prioritize team spirit.
It’s vital to be sensitive and empathetic towards those around us and channel our productivity in ways that support and benefit others and not just yourself. Acting with thoughtfulness for your team can save precious time in getting buy-in on important matters, cement your place in a group, and, most importantly, help you connect with others.
Listen to others
As a young professional, I used to believe — as many of us do — that if I came up with original, creative solutions to problems, I would stand out and leave a lasting impression at the workplace. However, as I grew professionally, it became clear to me that wisdom comes with experience and not is not just about smart solutions. There is much to be learned from the people around us, especially those who speak from experience. I would tell my younger self this: Be cognizant of the voices around you, particularly those of your experienced colleagues, and observe how they work to learn from them and make sound decisions.
Take a break, reassess
Work life is full of moments of anxiety and confusion, we may miss a deadline or two, or get passed up for a promotion. Extraneous circumstances like financial crashes, periods of political instability, or environmental disasters can adversely affect our work, too. For these, I would tell my younger self to accept that you cannot possibly be the best at everything. And more importantly, maintain a work-life balance will help you better deal with crisis. Being mindful of your wellbeing can go a long way in solving problems.
Always ask “Why?”
It is important to know why we do what we do. What is it about a project or a job that inspires and drives you? Do you do it to earn more money, impress your peers and parents, or to improve your sense of self-worth? Does your job, which takes up most of your time, make you truly happy? Asking these simple questions will help you reassess how much time and energy you put into your work and know if you are doing it for the right reasons.
Does your job make anyone’s life better? Do you feel good at the end of the day doing this work? These small questions can help you make a lot of significant life decisions.
Always walk the talk
Self-help is often commodified through fridge-magnet-style aphorisms that don’t necessarily inspire us to change. Rather than make empty self-affirmations to boost confidence or cover up performance issues, you need to put your words into action. Take risks; stake claim on the job you want to do or that business you want to begin. To be able to take risks means to know that your move could backfire, but it will still leave you with a learning, and a good story. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and risk showing your true self to the people you love. You will never lose.
These are not just learnings I would have told my younger self, but also share with the next generation that goes down life’s exploratory path, same or different as mine.