Culture

Navigating an unconventional career path—three successful Indian women tell all

Take notes, take a leap of faith

Going against the current or taking the road less travelled by can be quite daunting. However, when you rise to this challenge, truly amazing things can happen. For inspiration, or #MondayMorningMotivation, we look at three Indian women who picked unconventional careers and beat the odds to find success. These women, part of Levi’s #IShapeMyWorld campaign, tell us how they did this:

MALINI AGARWAL

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Malini Agarwal, synonymously known as Miss Malini, experimented with many careers before she found her calling; she was a backup dancer, she managed digital content for some of India’s most famous music channels, and has even been a popular radio jockey. Little did she know, then, that her true purpose would manifest as India’s largest and most popular digital entertainment portal, MissMalini.com. Largely credited with building the role of a digital influencer as we know it today, Agarwal’s unique approach to blogging made her stand out. Rather than impersonal reportage, she spoke directly to her audience to give them a more personal experience. Malini Agarwal recounts her professional journey thus far:

ELLE: What was it like walking down the unconventional path?

Malini Agarwal: It was scary—when it’s an unconventional path you don’t actually know where you’re going. There is no set agenda or a set trajectory where you can be sure. Entertainment blogging and influencing was a brand new industry which didn’t exist at the time—when I look back, I do feel proud to know that we kicked off an industry. We were there at the very beginning of it. At the same time venturing into this new space was exciting too. As it was new, there was no set formula or rules on how to blog so there was so much more room to explore creatively.

ELLE: What were the challenges that you faced? What was the support system around you like?

MA: Trying to get good writers on board when I was trying to grow my team was a challenge. Secondly, the digital landscape, especially in entertainment, wasn’t given that much respect initially. We had to really teach everyone from the consumer, to Bollywood, to brands, the value of blogging and importance of influencers. That was one of the biggest challenges I faced. Other than having a solid group of friends, my support system came in the form of the people who consumed the blog. They were the ones who made it possible. For me, having that kind of support speaks volumes.

ELLE: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

MA: Someone told me once, that don’t wish time away. The wealth of time is the most valuable currency in the world. Enjoy every moment.

ELLE: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from following your passion?

MA: I think the biggest lesson I have learnt is that it really is  possible to carve a path that no one else has been on. That has been the biggest learning for me.

ELLE: What advice would you give a millennial who wants to walk the path less taken?

MA: There’s this amazing Japanese concept called Ikigai—the way to find your true purpose is by answering those four questions. Answer them with the things you’re passionate about and, at the centre. you will find your true calling. Remember, that passion isn’t something that you just have to blanket love everyday; it is something you love even when it’s hard to do. It’s never too late to start working towards your dream.

HARD KAUR

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A true path breaker, rapper and hip-hop singer Hard Kaur paved a way for her musical career even when it seemed like there was none. For British Indian Taran Kaur Dhillon, better known by her stage name Hard Kaur, music just happened to her while growing up. Her love for hip-hop allowed her to find her voice and, eventually, her happiness. From a small town in Kanpur to winning an MTV Europe Music Award for Best Indian Artist in 2017, Hard Kaur gives us the low-down on her journey:

ELLE: What was it like walking down the unconventional path?

Hard Kaur: Hip-hop was unconventional at the time I got into it—this was about 25 years ago. Plus, an Indian girl rapping in a male-dominated industry then wasn’t really common. There was a huge amount of struggle but the end result, when I look back at it now, gives me a lot of satisfaction. I feel happy to have paved way for a lot of Indian rappers and women. So, the journey was tough but it is highly fulfilling.

ELLE: What were the challenges that you faced? What was the support system around you like?

HK: The challenges were many, starting from home to the outside world. Coming from a moderate family, the norm was to be the conventional Indian girl. I had to prove to the outside world and I had to convince my family too. My mother was my mental support system and, thanks to her, I was able to fight. People started recognising that I have real talent and that I was there for a purpose—they eventually started to appreciate me. The same set of things that were a challenge to begin with turned into a support system, as I progressed.

ELLE: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

HK: The best piece of advice I have received most recently is to not be too generous. There are quite a few people in the industry who will take advantage of your position and being too generous or accommodating does not help in such circumstances. Of course, there are a lot of good people in the industry who will stand with you and support you, I have been grateful that I have found so many of them, but, then again, being too generous gets you in trouble with the wrong set of people.

ELLE: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from following your passion?

HK: Following your passion is like becoming an entrepreneur. You are the brand and your passion is your product. The biggest lesson I have learnt is that one needs to have great belief in his or her work. If the belief does not exist, nothing will work out.

ELLE: What advice would you give a millennial who wants to walk the path less taken?

HK: Walking a path less taken is a way to differentiate yourself from the others. It will have huge challenges but the end result will be sweet—don’t look back, fight it out and you will emerge a winner!

NATASHA NOEL

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If you’re an avid scroller of Instagram, Natasha Noel is a name you’ve most likely come across. This dancing yogini has taken social media by storm, not only with her aasanas and crazy flexibility, but also with her self-love mantras. After working professionally as a dancer for five years, Noel sustained a knee injury that forced her to leave what she truly loved. During her physiotherapy sessions, she realised the need for self-love and that’s when her journey began.

Yoga, heartbreak, and a whole lot of TLC later, she found her niche—spreading cheer and knowledge whenever and wherever she could (while doing a mean handstand). Here’s how she shaped her world:

ELLE: What was it like walking down the unconventional path?

Natasha Noel: It is crazy. Everything I endured was a learning experience. So even though, times were scary I got out the other side shining. This was never my dream but life takes you on an even better journey. You accept and learn. When people ask me what I do, I can never find an answer because I don’t know what exactly I do but I do know that “I uplift humans”.

ELLE: What were the challenges that you faced?

NN: Firstly, being a woman and secondly, being a woman in the fitness industry. I realised that no matter what your body type however skinny, muscular, chunky, big, small, petite you are, you will ALWAYS be sexualised. And this really annoyed me, especially since we have been taught that “it’s always the girls fault that shit happens” and I believed this notion subconsciously too—till I understood this wasn’t true.

ELLE: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from following your passion?

NN: Don’t ever give up. NTaking a break is alright, breathe, but get back and keep moving. Only you can pick yourself up from any situation!

ELLE: What advice would you give a millennial who wants to walk the path less taken?

NN: If you have a dream (no matter how small or silly you think it is), if you put your heart and mind to it you can achieve it. Nothing comes easy, so work hard but also understand when to take a break. JUST DON'T GIVE UP!