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Revealing Your Authentic Self
Episode 1810th October 2023 • Have You Thought About • Dhruti Shah
00:00:00 00:27:27

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Ramaa Sharma is an executive coach, artist and leadership strategist. A BBC high-flyer before taking an independent route, she now specialises in helping others embrace authentic leadership. Please note that Ramaa shares her personal experiences about her journey on this path including grief and baby loss.

Transcripts

Ramaa Sharma:

Hi, I'm Dhruti Shah, and this is my podcast Have You Thought About? Thank you for joining us for Season Two. I'm a writer, and I love to find out about what passions people are pursuing. And also what makes them tick. The podcast is for those who are reckoning, and tired of being told that you can only have one focus on one thing that makes you you. In each edition, I'm going to chat

Dhruti Shah:

Hi, Ramaa, we've known each other for quite a while. We both met when we were both at the BBC. But that's a chapter that's now both in our pasts. So, what is it that you're currently doing? I know that you've taken a multitalented path.

Ramaa Sharma:

it's a great question; my leaving the BBC was very much about a gear change. So I think a lot of my success at the BBC and beyond the BBC was working really, really hard and unwittingly becoming a bit of a workaholic. And my life centering too much around my work. So the step changes, you know, want to make more time for family life, I'm currently pregnant.

Dhruti Shah:

Congratulations

Ramaa Sharma:

Thank you, it's actually been quite a difficult journey. So it's been about making space for other things in my life. And you may have seen that I've done quite a lot of work on authenticity at the moment. I spent a long time thinking about what that means to me. And it means lots of things. And so I guess I'm trying to live my authentic life - of which work is important. And

Dhruti Shah:

So if we pick up on that authenticity, you do have this podcast with Reuters, which is well worth checking out. In a world where often people have public personas, are very careful about how much they can give away, and there are lots of different components you have to give away in terms of 'this is my work life', or 'this is my Instagram life', or 'this is my whatever life', how are

Ramaa Sharma:

Yeah. And it's not easy. I mean, what I've tried to do is, even with my Instagram account is, yes, I've been fortunate enough to go on some nice holidays and do some cool things. But I like to think I want to be brave enough about talking about the hard stuff, too. And the dark stuff, too. So there's something about authenticity, which is about, for me sort of showing as much as

Dhruti Shah:

And sticking with the thing about authenticity, you do a lot of executive leadership stuff, you do a lot of what I'm gonna call quite hardcore, helping people why embrace that, when you're also taking time for yourself, having gone through quite a hardcore journalistic process and editorial process in this previous life of yours.

Ramaa Sharma:

Actually, it's very rewarding. I mean, I think one of the most rewarding things about the coaching I'm doing at the moment is giving a lot of meaning to my own experiences, you know, some of the stuff that I went through that was pretty challenging is not just personal to me, you know; it's personal to lots of women, lots of women of colour, lots of people of colour, or simply

Ramaa Sharma:

So there's something that's quite rewarding about being able to use your experience to support others, but also helping them feel less alone. Because I think that was the one thing that struck me, you know, I look back at my career, and now I'm providing various support mechanisms to other leaders.

Ramaa Sharma:

And I'm kind of making the stuff I wish I had myself or wishing the things that were different,trying to add that kind of level of detail and nuance to the work that I do and the coaching that I do, because a lot of the coaching and workshops I went on, and I think they're improving now didn't take account of my lived experiences a woman or working class woman, I guess I'm middle class, now, a

Ramaa Sharma:

So it's like your identity was not really a part of the conversation - when I think is such a big part of your leadership journey. And so that's something I'm very aware of when I'm coaching people, and hence the podcast with all the leaders that I've interviewed. My focus hasn't been on what perhaps is other leadership challenges, but it's actually been on a lot of their sort of personal stuff

Dhruti Shah:

And with the podcast, a lot of it is focused on people of colour, people who are from a global majority who were often been described in the past and ethnic minority. In relation to that how deliberate was that from the very outset because you are working with one of the most prestigious journalism organisations when it comes to training, when it comes to understanding beyond being in

Ramaa Sharma:

Yeah. Well, I mean, firstly, they were amazing and still are, I mean, I'm really enjoying working with the Reuters Institute. It started off with me sort of sharing that look, clearly, people of colour have challenges that need to be articulated in a sophisticated way in a leadership context.

Ramaa Sharma:

And I sort of talked about the work I've done at the BBC, which has, you know, I wrote a paper and I also did start to do some interviews at the BBC, primarily with leaders from the UK. The Reuters remit is very much looking at amplifying the Global South. So they sort of suggested all that, well, how would you feel about speaking to leaders of the Global South, either perhaps a mix of both or

Ramaa Sharma:

And they were keen to look at the Global South experience, rather than the Western experience, which I think in recent years, you know, if you think about the UK and the US, and post George Floyd, there has been a lot more talk about ethnic minorities, so called ethnic minorities, as I say. So that opportunity to look beyond was really exciting, actually.

Ramaa Sharma:

And Anupe [Kaphle], one of the editors we interviewed talked about the threat of deportation. I mean, I never had that, that was not the threat I ever had. So it was very humbling, and hugely eye opening. So yeah, and like I said, Reuters have hired me because of my leadership experience. But you know, also my understanding of diversity, and they've trusted me with that. So in that respect,

Ramaa Sharma:

And the stories that you hear from leaders of the Global South are women leading in India, or African women leading in Nigeria, or these stories of the people that I've interviewed, or Marcella [Turati], you know, a leader leading in one of the most deadliest countries to be a journalist; these stories provided a whole new perspective, a whole new kind of meaning to my question, and it was

Dhruti Shah:

One of the things that you've done for many other journalists, is opened doors; you have had quite a long thriving journalism career at a huge institution. And you have taken on roles where you have perhaps been alone in terms of visibility in terms of what you're representing, factoring that in, it seems like you're finding a tribe of people who are ready to listen, how important

Ramaa Sharma:

Oh, great question. I think belonging is hugely, hugely important. And it's really tricky as well. So a big piece of my work now, particularly since I've left the BBC is thinking about, you know, as you put it, the tribe who are the people that I want to work with, or spend time with and nourish me and all that. And interestingly, some of them are BBC or ex BBC, who were my tribe,

Ramaa Sharma:

Now, there's a sort of motherhood tribe - extraordinary stories on coaching some of those women; I'm friends with some women of how you're navigating a life of like being ambitious career woman, but also wanting to have a family and how extraordinarily challenging and difficult that is, actually.

Ramaa Sharma:

So I'm now sort of cultivating a new tribe, which also kind of includes women of those and the point about not belonging. So the way I see it, I had to debate with myself for a long time. Is that do I want to do workshops that are just about diversity? My career at the BBC was primarily in digital strategy, digital transformation and journalism. It wasn't about DNI and I spent time doing DNI but

Ramaa Sharma:

And what happens if you go into rooms and you're just constantly exhausted, because what's so obvious in plain sight for you isn't for everyone else, and they may choose or choose not to engage with it, which can feel quite demoralising, and in the end, so you know, when you talk about not belonging, so it might feel you don't belong in that, say that space.

Ramaa Sharma:

But the way I think about it now, is that I know I have a set of skills that can be highly persuasive and make a case and because of my experience, I have a level of credibility, which means that some people will listen to what I'm saying.

Ramaa Sharma:

It might not be everyone. So I think about - okay, well, have I got the possibility to influence you know, and if I think it's more than 50% that's the one tick so What is the intention of the workshop? Like, who's commissioning? And why are they doing it? Are they well intentioned? Is it because they actually care about this? Or is it because they've got a HR box to tick or some

Ramaa Sharma:

And you know, I have been approached by people who clearly want it to be a tick box exercise, or I know that this isn't really a part of the company's values or ethos, so me being there isn't going to create any change. So if that's the case, then I say no, but it is just about me thinking about if I can make a dent in that space, then I'll do it. So that's when I choose to be in those places, and

Dhruti Shah:

Semi belonging, that's what we need, focusing on that and you raise the issues around motherhood, a challenge around motherhood. With that in mind, I wanted to actually ask you about your artwork, because that's something else that you've been quite heavily invested in, in terms of you've exhibited not so long ago, you have some beautiful artwork, why it's so important to make sure

Ramaa Sharma:

I used to make art all my life, and I did A-Level art. And I think if being an artist had been an option, a career that sort of existed either in my sphere or in my parental sphere. I mean, I'm Indian, so of course, it didn't really exist. But you know, it might have been something I did very well at it.

Ramaa Sharma:

It, you know, might have been something I pursued, then I realised that for me, art has always been very, very therapeutic. So I noticed that I'd keep going back to it, but keep coming back to it, particularly at times of distress. And sometimes at times, I didn't even know I was distressed. This is a very recent realisation for me.

Ramaa Sharma:

I went on courses I did, like courses, graphic design, and illustration. And these kinds of things, find out I would get quite bored. And I was thinking, Well, why am I getting bored, because I love art. And then I realised where usually I'd get bored is when I'm in a good place. And I'm sort of intellectually interested in something or I've got my teeth into a project I'm really enjoying, but I

Ramaa Sharma:

And, you know, you could argue that these might be about trauma in the past or whatever; I've realised that there were many moments and times I'd come back to my sketchbook at difficult times, and sometimes they would be very abstract kind of pictures. And sometimes they'd be more illustrative, but whatever it was, it was clearly me articulating something I want to articulate but not in writing

Ramaa Sharma:

Literally, I didn't know that until when I was sort of in the process of deciding to leave the BBC, I knew that art was a big part of my life, but I just didn't know what part it took, like, I didn't like do I want to be an artist, or what is it? Play? I hadn't even really thought that 'oh, isn't interesting that you do art when you're basically upset, otherwise, you don't really do it'? I hadn't

Ramaa Sharma:

So I said, Well, once you've left, one of the things you can do is kind of explore this thing, you know, this thing, this itch that you wanted to scratch for a long, long time, if I had a studio anywhere I live, and I had to go, and I did it. And it was such a journey. Because I found myself in the studio. I found myself sort of getting quite anxious and I'm like, 'well, why am I anxious now

Ramaa Sharma:

It was such a sort of foreign concept just to spend a couple hours just like making some nice pictures. You know, I'd spent all of my you know, career up into landing serious business cases, you know, serious work and here I am and I created this little book of all the monsters that sort of showed up for me you know, like oh, you're wasting your time and then I drew a little monster the wasting

Ramaa Sharma:

So that was a very big lesson for me of like, how the gear change from moving out of a very intensive role that's very purpose driven and public service. And how difficult was it for me just to simply be and relax and be in joy, you know, just be in flow. And so that took some time. And then I finally got there. And then I was dancing in my studio, you know, so it's possible to make that

Ramaa Sharma:

So I did that for I guess about six months, I kept an eye on worky stuff, I didn't try to disconnect completely, but I was sort of quite actively giving myself permission to do this thing just to see.

Ramaa Sharma:

And then two interesting things happened. One was, I realised vehemently how I didn't want to do this for money. Like the idea of hustling, creating even an Instagram account to try to sell your work or trying to like that whole hustling part of it, I was just not interested. So I realised that my art wasn't for money making. I mean, if somebody wanted to buy it, sure, but you know, I wasn't going

Ramaa Sharma:

And then coincidentally, or not coincidentally, I then went through two awful experiences; I miscarried very early as seven weeks, and then I lost a baby very late five months. And I gave birth, and the whole thing was horrific. And the only thing that kept me sane, other than obviously friends and family rallied around me, was just going into the art studio and just making endless reams and

Ramaa Sharma:

So the studios where we have, we have a big art space, and what we call a residency space, or an exhibition space, and I was in there for a week, I'd get there at 10 o'clock, and leave at six o'clock every day, just covered in paint, making huge amounts of quite expressive, really big work, small work. And that's what I did. And I think that was sort of my way of expressing my grief, it was a way

Ramaa Sharma:

And in the past, I know, I've created things, I couldn't even look at myself. But in that moment, I was giving myself permission to look at my whole self and go on, I guess it's some kind of journey of acceptance of this has happened. And this is how it feels, and finding a way through that. So what's really interesting now is I went through that process, and I did I did you know, I talk about

Ramaa Sharma:

And now you know, now we're going again in our next cycle, so to speak. But the pull to make art is very small right now. Like, there's no pull for it. And I think that's a you know, and I'm kind of just sitting with that. Like, that's interesting. That doesn't mean I don't It's not meaningful to me, but it just feels like, yeah, it's what I feel like doing now is writing and making podcasts and

Dhruti Shah:

I was gonna ask on that, because on one hand, this is, you know, as you say, it's very raw, it's personal. It's what came to you when you needed it. But then you did take that extra step. And you did exhibit and you exhibited quite, quite widely, you know, people came and the reception was very, very strong.

Dhruti Shah:

So, what you created in your own personal grief, it seemed to me a need for others. It doesn't sound like there was an intent for that. But it sounds like that was a silver lining to whatwas a very difficult situation to have gone through, like in terms of that exhibition, where are you expecting such positive reception?

Ramaa Sharma:

Well, you're right, I didn't, I didn't plan on that at all, literally one of the fellow artists because, you know, probably on some level, I was thinking, 'oh, am I even a real artist, this is what I - this is what my art means to me, you know, you know, at some level am I even insulting all my fellow artists by even speaking about in this way.

Ramaa Sharma:

So there was no way that I was, you know, on some sort of, sort of an exhibition tour. So one of my artists in the studio called Chris, he saw my work and he said, 'you should exhibit this'. I mean, it was it was really as simple as that. And I said, really think, you know, cause it's all quite dark, and you know, you wants to see this and you know, those were the kind of thoughts like that was

Ramaa Sharma:

And then he said no, it's really, really powerful and you might be surprised by what people think about it. And then it just so happened, Baby Loss Awareness Week was coming up in October. And I'd started going to - so the charity called Sands does a monthly kind of group for parents who've lost babies. It was very powerful to be and my friend who wrote about this for the BBC, as well, you

Ramaa Sharma:

And you know, we had an exhibition space. So I said, well, if I am going to do it, then I could do it, then in that way, it could be an opportunity for people to come around and share their experiences if they want to, or if it will just simply raise awareness, because it was still, I was quite shocked at how little conversation there is about baby loss, and also, how few people have the

Ramaa Sharma:

And I'm lucky, my husband was amazing. But there were lots of people who weren't, you know, there were lots of people who got it wrong around me. And so I thought it would also be an opportunity to sort of, want of another word educate people about that.

Ramaa Sharma:

So yeah, so then we did it, and it coincided with my birthday. So I said to people, well, instead of having a birthday party, you know, you would come to my birthday party, instead of that come to my exhibition, be with me at that point.

Ramaa Sharma:

And there was something about being brave enough to share, it was kind of like, you guys know, this sort of polished kind of, I think, polished, you know, the kind of the sort of BBC sparkly version of me, but here's, here's, here's, here's, the human, you know, here's, here's me, warts and all, and feeling quite empowered to stand in that moment. And feeling like my son outed me as an artist, or

Dhruti Shah:

It feels like there's so much purpose in every path that you've either chosen to take or have found yourself in because of the way that life has turned out in that instance. And this might be difficult, but I'm gonna throw it out there anyway. Because why not? What would you want future Ramaa to remember about you, at this particular moment?

Ramaa Sharma:

When you mean future, you mean like, a eighty-year-old or

Dhruti Shah:

It could be eighty-year-old Ramaa, it could be like, it could be like, you know, five years time. But in terms of everything that you've gone through? And I'm not sure whether negative, I don't, you know, not just about all the very, very difficult life challenges you've had, but all these sort of, okay, I've learned this, or this is where I am, what have you learned that, you know, is

Ramaa Sharma:

I guess there's something that's, I've been thinking about for the last probably five years, you know. It's a sort of, there's something I've been working on for five years and that's only been crystallised by the recent events, is, I think I definitely grew up and you know, they talk about men having this quality, but I think I definitely grew up in or was raised in a way of like,

Ramaa Sharma:

It doesn't matter what's happening, you just just sort of you get on with it. So you might be feeling all kinds of things, but you just keep working and you just keep going. And you don't always necessarily acknowledge your feelings or acknowledge complex and difficult emotions and and that's really a really bad idea.

Ramaa Sharma:

And, you know, so on one hand, it does make you resilient. You know, I talked about, sorry to drop the podcast again, I talked a lot about this with Rupa Jha, she's the head of India at the BBC. And, you know, she was talking about how you just ignore things because you've got to get on, you know, she knew she was talking about sexism and sexist remarks, you just just keep going.

Ramaa Sharma:

And obviously the benefit of that is that you progress, but there's a cost to that loss to your soul, you know, your emotional self, and equally you might be carrying wounds, or you might not realise you're wounded or your burnout, all those things happen as I think as a result of not being really self aware.

Ramaa Sharma:

So that has been a big journey for me, you know, now I practice a lot of mindfulness. Now I am very big on being self expressed, you know, whether it's in my art or in conversation, coaching requires a lot of self awareness.

Ramaa Sharma:

And then so you know, the fact that I had been on that journey, I think, is what meant that when I was then grieving, I grieved, I was not afraid to do that, I wasn't afraid of what people gonna think of me, or they couldn't care less, I just thought I was just thinking about my son anyway. But I did it, you know, I was unafraid of how people might have judged me in a way that I probably would have

Ramaa Sharma:

And as a result of that, I think I'm sitting here in front of you well, and you know, moving on with my life without carrying the weight of repressed feelings, just because other people, you know, may have assumptions about, about me because of them.

Ramaa Sharma:

So, I think, being really aware of how I feel, and how I feel in the moment, and finding ways to express that in meaningful ways, it means I have a better relationship with myself; with others; in workplaces; like I think so much. And you know, so much of the DNI work is trying to get people to talk about the uncomfortable bits of it. So much of it. Before I say, before we're going to talk

Ramaa Sharma:

And it's obviously what I want to pass on as well, to hopefully, my baby...

Dhruti Shah:

The wonderful Rama Sharma, executive coach, artist, strategic leader and more. Do you have an interdisciplinary life? Because I would love to hear from you and perhaps we can chat on this podcast that goes with my newsletter, which is called Have You Thought About. It can be found via www.dhrutishah.com. Please join me next time for a fun conversation with another guest who likes to

Dhruti Shah:

If you like the podcast, do share rate and review. It's an independent podcast and if you find it helpful, then let people know.