Believe in Yourself!
At the recently held TEDx Talk in New Delhi, Vivek Mehra, Managing Director & CEO, SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, spoke on the topic – Our World, One World, You and Me at the Delhi University to a packed hall with an audience comprising over 200 researchers, students, faculties and management experts. Taking a leaf from the talk, Vivek shares how setbacks can become stepping stones to success only if one never stops believing in oneself, in conversation with Varsha Verma of All About Book Publishing.
Vivek Mehra, Managing Director & CEO, SAGE Publications India needs no introduction. He is a TEDx speaker, mentor, author, editor, teacher and a student. He is the recipient of the “Vijayshree” award by Government of Maharashtra (1994) for simplifying complex dehydrating technology, ensuring a brighter future for small-scale farmers, and the “Sharda Top Rankers Excellence Award for Visionary Leadership” (2016).
The World, One World, You and Me
So what does the topic Our World, One World, You and Me mean to him?
“I chose to demonstrate that individuals are one in this one world, despite all the differences that make us unique. It is about us first understanding ourselves, and then identifying with the world we live in. We, as people, have different life experiences and we face varied situations in life. We all follow unique paths, have unique experiences and yet there is a commonality that binds us as human beings,” says Vivek.
Learnings from my life…
Vivek talks about four of his life’s top learnings and these are:
Lesson 1 – Disengage negativity and engage positivity
“Parents, family and friends make up the world immediately around you and they are the greatest contributors to your success. But they can also be contributors to your failures. They can motivate you as well as demotivate you. But, it is how you handle that negativity, and rise above it that can make you successful,” says Vivek. “My life has also been full of struggles. My stint in the USA was only the beginning of the struggle. I had to hold down two jobs just to get through my education. I was ‘blackmailed’ by my family to come back to India. I came back to a different India from the one I had left. My education was of no direct use. I was cajoled into doing things I didn’t know how to do and this led to a string of failures. I received lots of free advice and lots of brickbats.”
“I found a way to get this negativity out of my system. I rediscovered my love for reading and I gorged on it. So, if you are going through a bad phase, do not just wait for it to pass. Do something, take an activity that enhances your knowledge and fills you with positive thoughts. Negativity will only leave you when positivity fills the void. Knowledge to me is a great positive that definitely helped me ride this wave” says Vivek.
Lesson 2 – Stop complaining, start doing
“Complaining about all that is around you is not going to help. Being angry with the world or even yourself is not going to move you forward. If you want to get through a bad phase, do something about it. I found that I could write. I used that to land small jobs in technical writing. Then a bigger opportunity presented itself and I became an editor and also learnt typesetting. It was this that lead me to the chair of MD and CEO of a publishing house,” says Vivek.
Lesson 3 – Where is your emotional side?
“Humans don’t want to be seen as emotional but I have a different perspective. Don’t discard your emotional side. Become aware of it and ensure it sits next to you in every decision making. Let it guide you in doing things for a larger good.” he says.
Vivek also narrated an incident that brought his emotional side to the fore. It happened in the midst of his failures when money was scarce. He was returning home from a harrowing train journey. Outside the train station when he was waiting for his friend to pick him up (he couldn’t afford a taxi), a family of 5 approached him. They were well dressed and didn’t look like beggars. Their request for money surprised him. The man promised to return it once he returned home. Vivek handed over Rs 500 out of the Rs 600 he had. He never got the money back. Undoubtedly, Vivek was mocked for being unreasonable by his family and friends. “But, I felt happy within. That was when I rediscovered my emotional side!” he exclaims.
“Being at SAGE has been an inspiring and fulfilling journey. My role demands inclusive leadership. A tribute to my leadership has been an award that I cherish the most. It is a paper flag that I received from people working at SAGE. It says‘Male colleague who practices gender equality – Vivek Mehra.”This was the outcome of an impromptu anonymous poll that was conducted by female colleagues at SAGE India as part of Women’s Day celebrations. You can imagine why this is to me the greatest award ever,” he proudly adds.
Lesson 4 – When was the last time you were actually inspired?
“Inspiration is not about looking at a successful individual and trying to emulate him or her. To be inspired you just have to look for the little things that bring meaning to life. There is a thin line between being inspired and idolizing,” says Vivek.
Vivek refers to the cinematic representation of RK Narayan’s famous book The Guide, where a tour guide who falls from grace, is imprisoned and rises to become an inspirational figure. “In the story, the Guide fasts in order to end a drought. When asked if he believes whether his fasting will bring rain, he replies that he believes in the belief that the village folk have in him. It is a powerful statement defining what we as citizens of the world can do when we believe we can. The belief has to be in yourself to act, and the belief in fellow human beings who will be affected by your act” he explains.
Another incident which Vivek mentions is about a lady who works at SAGE. “She was receiving an award for 15 years at SAGE. While leaving the venue, she asked me why during the company meeting where the award was given, I was the only person who was standing for the entire duration (two hours!). This concern from such a junior employee touched me deeply. As the CEO, I am expected to think about every individual. But no one in the company is expected to think about me. When they do, it is exceptional and it is inspirational,” he shares.
What keeps you going?
“As the MD and CEO of the company, I believe that 530 people of this company have placed their future in the hands of the organization, of which I am the custodian. I have a duty towards them as I have to fulfil the aspirations of not just these 530 people but also their dependents and this keeps me going,” he says.
“Another thing which I believe is that India has not yet achieved its full potential and I want to be part of that journey. I am blessed to be in academic publishing and thus connected to education, which will help India reach its true potential,” adds Vivek.
What makes a leader?
In Vivek’s words, “A leader is one who is an effective decision maker. Decisions are of various types. Not to do something is also a key decision to make. The second most important characteristic of a leader is one who builds individuals to realize their potential. There is only so much that an individual can do on his/her own. But when empowered, motivated and decisive individuals work together, achievements are exponential. One of the most important ability of a leader is to demonstrate integrity in their conduct and decisions. Where a leader compromises on integrity, an institution follows. The result is a skewed way of living.”
What makes SAGE a Great Place to Work?
Earlier this year, SAGE Publications India became certified as a Great Place to Work for the year 2018-19. So, what makes it a great place to work? “Collective thinking. Belief in our values and making a difference by doing something meaningful, makes SAGE, a great place to work,” says Vivek.
On a lighter note…
Not many would know that Vivek once worked for a fashion house in New York and also modelled for them. So, what fashion mantras does Vivek have “I wear what I like and what I am comfortable in,” he replies quickly.
Vivek also loves to cook, but he is most fond of baking—especially chocolate chip cookies. “I am on a quest to create the perfect chocolate chip cookie. There was one that existed in NY when I was a student. But it is gone now,” he laughs.
On asking about what is the best time for him to think, Vivek shares, “It is early morning. That’s when I find some ‘me time’.”
On a concluding note…
“There is a world out there which we believe is bad or overly negative. We cannot change the world but to believe that you can make a significant difference in the world is absolutely possible. The key is to understand yourself, believe in who you are, and you will be a change maker,” concludes Vivek optimistically.