I always wonder what makes certain people go for their dreams, even with minimal talent or knowledge, and certain others hesitate despite very obvious skills. My thought is that the key is confidence. Confidence can take us very far in life, and the lack of it can shatter dreams.
This is very well proven by Sanya Khurana, who went from a timid and under confident girl to this leader who is ready to take on the world.
Sanya is a Software Development Engineer at Adobe India. She is also a TedX speaker and the co-founder of Lean In India. Being a shy teenager with low self-esteem, she fought to overcome her complexes. When her father gifted her Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, her life changed. She not only improved herself but started helping other women as well through Lean In Circles. And now, she shares her experiences with the world in her book – One Action.
Having interacted with her on a couple of occasions, we are honoured to present her fascinating outlook here.
Jyoti: Hi Sanya. First of all, heartiest congratulations on your book – One Action. It is getting very good reviews and quite frankly spoke to me in a lot of ways. Can you tell us a bit more about the book, especially the title?
Sanya: Thank you so much! I am happy you found it useful. I hope it creates an impact and encourages women towards their dreams. Well, the book is around spoken and unspoken messages that we hear about gender and how it impacts our psyche. Such messages very subtly impact both men and women in different ways. For women, it prevents them from becoming ambitious and going after their dreams. The title of the book ‘One Action‘ signifies how small actions of each individual can not only help that individual in shattering the gender biases around them and achieving their ambitions but also can bring a change in the society as a whole, and make this world more gender equal.
Jyoti: You have hit the nail on the head with the discussion around ‘patriarchal bug’. Sometimes I find it amusing how we do certain things without even knowing why it was done in the first place. Addressing is one thing, but identifying the thought process as patriarchy itself is a challenge for many. How does Lean In intend to spread this awareness?
Sanya: Well, Lean In doesn’t directly talk about the patriarchal bug yet, but Lean In provides programs and activities for Lean In Circles that can help identify and fix the bug in our minds and deal with biased people around us. For example, recently LeanIn.Org foundation launched ‘50 ways to Find Bias‘ program to educate people on how to identify gender bias in their workplaces using 50 specific examples. Using these cards, people can not only identify their own biased behaviors in the workplace but also discuss the ways to combat such situations in low-risk ways. Indirectly, it helps them identify the bug in their minds and also address the bug in others’ minds using different methods.
Jyoti: The Log Kya Kahenge syndrome is something we, at Eyra, often tell people about. You seem to have supportive parents who tell you not to worry about people. So do I. Despite that, societal and peer pressure catches up to us and we fall prey. What are your thoughts on it?
Sanya: We all fall prey to societal and peer pressure. Even after writing an entire chapter in the book on it, I often find myself worrying about ‘Log Kya Kahenge‘. My friends at work remind me constantly to stop thinking about what others think. HaHa!
I think we need to first stop becoming ‘log’ for other people, we need to correct ourselves every time we find ourselves judging other people on the bases of their gender, race, caste or age. Treat each person as a different individual with not only different physical and emotional qualities but also different experiences. Whenever I take workshops in colleges, I often ask people to take the ‘one action‘ of going out of the way to meet people different than them and connect with them for real. Once we stop judging others and accept people around us for who they are, we will start accepting ourselves and not fall prey to ‘Log Kya Kahenge‘. Another important thing that we need to do simultaneously is to really discover ourselves — find who you are, what you like and try to understand yourself. Try to look at yourself from your own point of view and not through the world’s lens. Once we start understanding ourselves and accepting ourselves, what others think won’t really matter.
Jyoti: The #metoo movement has many women coming up after so many years to talk about their experiences. Personally, I feel that even if our parents teach us to speak up, we fall prey to peer pressure to not say anything at the time. People construe this to mean that these women are falsely accusing. What’s your take in this?
Sanya: I completely agree with you. No matter how much parents teach us to speak up, there is so much societal and peer pressure, that it takes a lot of courage for women to talk about it. The #metoo movement had many women coming up because it made women realize that they are not alone. Social media made it possible for women in different parts of the world to support each other, and that is why more women gained the courage to speak up. And that is what we need for all the movements, to be just together without any judgments of what, why and who.
My first ask in the book for everyone is to change the conversation around the topic. In our daily conversations, we should stop judging the victim whatsoever. Imagine a group having a conversation on a specific rape incident and judging what the victim should have done to prevent it. If hypothetically, something similar happens to any member of that group, he/she will never be able to talk about it in the fear of being judged in the same way. So, we need to be sensitive about the subject and empathetic to people who have gone through it — this will help reduce the peer pressure and make it easier for anyone to speak up.
Jyoti: Being a timid teenager with low self-esteem (as described in the book), what was your journey towards confidence? Of course, Lean In helped you but what was your inner thought process? Did you need any external support?
Sanya: Well, it was a very long journey. So initially, I thought I needed to change myself to gain confidence. In the first year of college, I took up courses that taught me how to walk, talk and eat like a lady (in an acceptable manner), how to conduct myself publicly, how to put makeup etc. that gave me the ‘fake confidence’ I thought I needed. Although this path made me more accepted, I had given up on things I really liked. I thought I was doing this to gain confidence, but I was only gaining external validation that temporarily made me feel less worthless. After reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, after starting a Lean In Circle, after trying to do things I never thought I could do, after failing many times and then succeeding in the end, I started to feel confident for real.
Constantly getting out of my comfort zone was not easy. I remember the first time I tried public speaking, even though I was successfully able to conduct myself in the activity, I felt like running back home and hiding somewhere.
For so many years, my identity was based on the opinion that ‘Sanya cannot speak publicly, she is afraid of speaking in public,’ and suddenly when I found that was untrue, I had an identity crisis and felt like I didn’t know who I was. I went through similar emotions when I tried networking and talking to new people. Taking these small steps gradually increased my self-worth for real. I felt I could do many things. Because I was actually doing them.
When I go to colleges and talk about this in detail, I tell them that it is okay to put on eyeliner and lipstick to make you feel good about yourself, but consider that as a temporary solution. The real gain would be when you just randomly pick out things you think you can never do, and go do them.
Jyoti: What next have you planned for Lean In?
Sanya: Lean In India is now led by the amazing leaders – Manishree, Urvee, and Aanchal – and I am sure they have big surprises coming up for everyone. Currently, we are working on an online mentorship program. We also have a monthly webinar series where we have speakers who speak about topics of their expertise.
Note: ‘One Action’ is now available online and offline on Amazon and other book stores.