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HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE – MANNSI AGRAWAL

by Ankita Jain

Mannsi Agrawal is an International Transformational Speaker. Mannsi came into spotlight after her video ‘7 reason never visit Nepal’ went viral with more than one million views on YouTube. A gold medalist in economics, Mannsi has always been passionate about sharing stories on stage and photography. She moved to Kathmandu in 2006 and has left no stone unturned to carve a meaningful career in the country. She has since worked with some of the biggest corporate houses and banks offering her expertise in communications.

Married and mother to a six year old, she lives with a passionate engagement of living life to the fullest enjoying both home and career. Often not easy and a balancing act for most career driven women, what puts Mannsi apart is that she does it all with a sense of joy using her emotions as a personal compass.
Enjoying the pure white with turquoise blue domed recently renovated Sundown restaurant by Karma, Mannsi talks to WOW’s Ankita Jain about her early years in Nepal, her battle with depression, experiences of coaching and more. Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about your growing years…

I grew up in Calcutta, India, in what I recall as an ideal childhood. I was surrounded with a lot of love and care from my parents, grandparents and cousins. As a kid, I was extremely hardworking and very interested in a gamut of activities from swimming to craft to writing to elocution and academics.

I went to a school which not only instilled me a great sense of values but also gave me the ability to be able to compartmentalise and prioritise in an appropriate manner. I then went Pune to study economics where I excelled in academics and also studied French and Graphology as extra-curricular activities.

I believe that a lot of what I am able to do today is because of the solid foundation I received in my early years.

What was it like in Nepal in the early years here?

I came to Nepal in 2006 and coming from India, it felt culturally similar yet different in a lot of ways. Festivals, food and the language, all felt familiar, yet different and distant, and the first few years were a learning curve for me.

As someone who thrives on great conversations, not knowing Nepali felt like a profound impediment, and I felt very lonely in the initial years. I made it my mission to learn the local language. Reading newspapers out loud every morning in the toilet helped me a lot. And once I got the hang and flow of the language, it felt like a whole new world of conversations had opened up to me. People around me warmed up and shared their stories. From the ‘Indian buhaari’, I had become ‘bahini’.

Then, I became a member of Toastmasters and made a few friends here. I got my first job and I found that my life was slowly taking shape.

I also started settling in and loving it here because of the wonderful weather and the architecture which was very different from what I had seen at home.

How did you evolve in your career? What prompted some of your choices?

Given a choice, I would have either been an astronaut or an economist, or perhaps both. However, none of them were to happen but I am glad that life got me to this path where I am doing what I am doing right now. I love my work passionately, and would hate to change any aspect of it in the current scenario.

As far as the early days go, a lot of things were not planned yet they worked out beautifully for me and a lot of plans that I made failed miserably.

I kept on focusing on my emotions and how I felt when I did something to evolve in my career. Used mindfully, our emotions can be our personal compass, and have been using my feelings to guide me for years now. I dabbled with a lot of things, but the moment my emotions told me that I was not giving them my best because I had been sucked into a whirlpool of monotony, I gave them all up. One thing however, that managed to retain its euphoria over the years, was holding a mic and speaking on stage. Nothing else ever made me feel so aware and alive. Hence, I continued to pursue it even more strongly.

I think one of the most important things for my career has been my ability to explore, experience, evaluate and express.

Were there any significant barriers in growing your career?

As a girl, who was not able to study as much as she would have liked to, I found my career choices rather limited. I also had very limited resources and limited means to make choices for myself. Further, the environment at my home was also such that all that I have achieved has been in spite of people around, not because of them.

Further, I had a lot of health issues, a lot of relationship issues with some people in our extended family as well as financial problems. There were days and years when I was slipping into anonymity and I lived a life of low self-esteem for a very long time.

Looking back, and linking the dots, I realise that these very impediments later became the stepping stones for my independence and strength.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

I am extremely poor at balancing. The concept doesn’t exist for me, as I get too invested in my task at hand. However, I am extremely good at choosing and prioritising. So, while I know that I cannot balance four or five things simultaneously, I have consciously given up a lot of things that meant a lot to me earlier; travelling, socialising with people or networking. I am currently not able to pursue any of these because of the kind of demands that I have from my work and my immediate family.

So, I am not balancing anything right now. I have just prioritised these two activities and everything else has taken a back seat. And I know that maybe in another phase of my life I will get back to all of those. But, as a person, I don’t balance too many things at the same time. I focus on one or two and I try to set them right.

You have dealt with depression and anxiety issues; can you share your experiences or learnings?

I have been clinically depressed at least twice in my life. First was in 2008 when I was also suffering from typhoid and jaundice simultaneously without knowing it. And the other in 2014 right after my son was born. Thankfully both were mild cases. However, I remember this feeling of constant dread and sadness that embalmed me. I also remember that at those points I felt I had nobody to speak to. When I started to talk to my mother, who I am extremely close to, about my feelings just after my son’s birth, even she would not understand and she thought that I was just being a fussy new mom. How I dealt with it was taking it one day at a time and trying to work more on myself, trying to focus more on my work because that gave a lot of joy in both of these times. I feel that I wish I had received more support and care at those times and I wish people were more forthcoming with their understanding of my situation. One of the things I like to do these days is ensuring I am there as sounding board or as a listener for anybody who needs to speak because I understand the importance of having just that one listener in your life.

Do you experience any gender barriers or resistance when training or coaching men?

Yes, I have. A lot of times. But this would happen years ago and is very rare now. In fact, there have been times when I have been the only woman between 30 people. I have sometimes sensed the resistance from their end through their body language.

However, because of my experience and all the various techniques I apply, I am able to break that barrier and within the first 30 to 40 minutes I can see the men warming up to me and having a lot of respect for me. So, this has happened quite a bit but thankfully it’s never been too serious. And I am proud that I have been able to create my space in any male dominated organisation, event or field as well.

You are now exploring the digital medium… what are some of the joys and pains of the virtual world?

The joy is the impact and the reach. According to me, one of the biggest joys is when I post something on Facebook and I get 80-90 messages from 7-8 different countries with people saying thank you or appreciating me. It really makes me feel good because my voice finally has a platform and I love the reach that it provides. I also love the joy when I meet people randomly at events or in supermarkets and they talk about a particular video of mine that helped them cope or how they managed to learn something and transform their lives. So, as a speaker it gives me immense joy to know that I am able to directly, without a filter, impact lives of people.
While I am extremely thankful to social media for providing me the platform that I have, there are three things that sometimes really freak me out.

Video calls from random people at 12 in the night. This happens frequently.

Messages from people asking me if I am married and if I want to marry them. While this is flattering, I wish it would stop.

Sometimes people get rude and aggressive because of issues that are completely beyond my control. For instance, there was a man who kept on posting one of my videos, ‘Do not trust her because I do not trust any people from this community.’ While I am smart enough to recognise this as a stray troll, it does get disappointing at times.

However, I am aware that these pains are nothing compared to the amazing opportunities that the virtual world is providing me so I am not going to complain.

What is the best thing about what you do?

If there’s any one thing that gives me immense joy and feeds my soul, it is intelligent conversations. The best thing about what I do is that I get to have such conversations and get paid for them. What could I ask more for?

Have you ever had a mentor or been inspired by someone?

I haven’t had a direct mentor. Yet, I have been inspired very deeply by Jaya who is the helper that lives in my mother’s house. I am going to make a video about her but here’s her story in a nutshell. She ran away from her village at the age of 14 or 15 and came to Calcutta. She got a job in our house as my younger sister’s nanny. She has been with us for 33 years now. In 2009, she invited us to visit her village. When we went, we realised that over the past 25 years, she had not only managed to save a lot of money but that she was a huge self-made landlady. She had bought acres of land, and was running a huge business as a startup by herself, as she continued working and saving in Calcutta. And according to me, this story is extremely inspiring because it is a story of possibility and alchemy. Jaya lives a humble life with us even today; yet her grit, her determination and her way of looking at life are not humble at all. She is extremely inspiring and probably the one person I look up to, more than anyone else.

What in your opinion holds women back from achieving their dreams? 

Very often, women start believing what society expects them to believe rather than trusting themselves and their inner voice and talents. I think this second guessing and not trusting themselves enough is what stops women from achieving their dreams. If I were to listen to everything that society told me, right now I would be a stay-at-home mom with no hope of a future, no identity of my own and no dreams to look forward to. I am glad I chose to challenge a lot of conventions that were directed my way. And I am super glad that I chose to create a life that I wanted to live, for myself, by myself.

What is your description of beauty in women?

I think a genuine, confident woman is very attractive. For me, a beautiful woman is somebody who is authentic and extremely clear about her priorities and who is able to focus on herself and her priorities unapologetically.

What do you do for fun?

My pleasures in life come from being able to use my voice to transform. However, in my downtime, I watch old movies that I have watched million times before. I eat or cook great food. I also dream about travelling for fun.

Three things you really want to do in life…

I have a very definite list but I’m slightly superstitious, so I’ll tell you when they all happen.

One thing no woman should have to tolerate

Anything that abuses her self-esteem

How do we create a gender neutral world?

By teaching our daughters that they have to grow up to be responsible people and by giving them no sense of entitlement and by teaching our sons that our daughters are just as important, just as intelligent, just as beautiful and just as capable as they are. And they need to be respected just as much as any other person around.

I think this should be a great way to get a close to gender neutral world for next generation.

Cover Girl: Mannsi Agrawal
(Instagram: @mannsi agrawal)
Photographer: Suzan Shrestha
(Instagram: @suzan_shots)
Interview, Styled & Coordinated by: Ankita Jain
(Instagram: @jain.anki)
MUA: Suman Lama
(Instagram: @makeupbysumanlama)
Wardrobe & Jewelry: COMO Nepal
(Instagram: @comonepal)
Location: Sundown by Karma
(Instagram: @sundown_ktm)

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