Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Finding A Balance Called Life: In Conversation with Janani Srikanth

Reader's Muse interviews Janani Srikanth, the author of the bestselling self-help book, A Balance Called Life.

We get a glimpse at the mind behind the thoughtful words, her two decades of writing journey, her creative process, her experience with publishing, and the phenomenon that is #MentalHealthSundays

RM: Congratulations on the success of your debut book. It is consistently on the global bestseller list across categories. Wishing you continued laurels. Thank you for joining me for this interview. Tell us a little about yourself! We’d like to know the mind behind the book.

JS:  I pursue knowledge for the pleasure of it. I am a Psychologist, Life Coach, Corporate Counselor, Engineer, Philosopher, and now an Author.

Growing up, getting a good academic rank meant pursuing a professional engineering degree in a reputed college, a corporate career in a top IT company, and overseas opportunities. These were considered the major milestones of success and I did cross them all. But, somehow, equating success to promotions and higher positions in the corporate hierarchy did not appeal to me.

After a successful corporate stint for 8 years, I found something lacking in life. Existential angst was at an all-time high and I had more questions than answers regarding our purpose in life and finding my place in the larger scheme of things.

Life is too short to stick to a plan made in your teens. I knew I had it in me to do more that contributed directly to society and its wellness. I decided to quit my job and look for answers.

The decision to qualify for a Master’s degree in Psychology happened much like all the other certificates and degrees — as a seeker wanting to explore a particular area of interest and intrigue.

And with every degree and certification I have acquired, one thing is clear –

“Katradhu kai mann alavu. Kalladhadhu ulagalavu.”

(What we have learnt is barely a fistful, while what we don’t know yet is the whole world)

To me, a life spent pursuing and sharing knowledge is more fulfilling than the pursuit of what the world deems as successful.


RM: Having read A Balance Called Life, I could not help but note that it reveals new perspectives with every re-reading. It has various concepts blended into a fine form. Is there a reason behind this variety?

JS: Life, as such, is characterised by variety and choices.  Our experiences and opinions are as unique as our personalities. No two people are the same. No two people experience the same reality even when they have similar educational and financial backgrounds.

Since the nature of the book is grounded on the insights derived from human experiences, the variety and layers got interspersed into the content. I am glad I was able to articulate and weave it together in a lucid manner.

A Balance Called Life’ is a product of all the life experiences and academic knowledge I have acquired over the years. The complexity and intensity of human experiences and people’s varied perception helps reveal the facets they need to see in the book.

Your question about re-reading is very interesting. I have always believed that one does not read the same book twice. To give an example, we had the book ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell for our Humanities paper in college. For those of you who haven’t read this book, it is a beautiful political satire about Russia’s Bolshevik revolution. I have read it thrice so far, and my insight has been markedly different each time.

It is like this – the distracted teen who just had to read it to finish the course read it as if it were the story of barnyard animals who come together and plot to overthrow their human masters. I liked the book, then, for it was an engaging read.

I read it again a decade later to relive the nostalgia of my college days and saw the depictions of the egalitarian society and how the promised utopian agenda was difficult to practice and was revised continually by those in power. I still liked the book.

I read it once again a couple of years ago and saw how it portrays the Russian Revolution that resulted in a government that was more oppressive than the one it overthrew. The parallels between the characters and events were so uncanny and brilliant. I appreciated the book even more.

My knowledge, focus, and priorities at the point of reading the book defined what I got out of it.

To answer your question, this is also why you are able to find a new perspective with every re-read. It could be the case with any book grounded on human reality. Glad you observed that.

RM: Your posts on mental health and lifestyle changes have been a regular feature on social media. How different was your experience when you wrote a book combining these aspects?

JS: My posts are based on random observations and the challenges that my clients go through at that point. I just absorb the challenge, articulate my point of view (PoV) and then type out possible solutions to overcome the challenge. The content is relatable because it is based on real experiences and challenges. My posts are written to tell people that they are not alone. I want them to believe that every challenge has a solution if we approach it with clarity and the right attitude.

A book is a different ball game. It cannot be a random snippet of thought. A book about life should be as structured as – and flow unhindered like – a human life cycle.

Psychology is a social science where everyone has an opinion about any topic related to the human psyche. Self-help as a genre is chosen as a writing medium by people mostly based on life experiences than academic qualifications.  So, as a qualified psychologist, I had an additional challenge to ensure that the content was not just structured but solidly based on psychological concepts and theories. I have tried to do justice even to my background in philosophy, because what is life without some profound reflections and opinions?

It was both a challenge and a pleasure to bring these elements together and present them in a simple, easily readable form.

I have constantly received strong support from my husband Srikanth, who was brilliant with his involvement and input throughout the writing process. He also aided the creative process with his additions regarding the cover and presentation. Special thanks are due to my editor, Dhivya Balaji who comes with a decade-plus of experience in the field and has a good handle on the publishing industry with her venture Precis Penning Literary Services.

The feedback and reviews from readers that say that the book is easy to read while being insightful is exactly what I hoped to achieve.

RM: Corporate culture has gone through a noticeable shift in recent years due to the global pandemic. How effective do you think the ‘tried and tested’ methods would be in this scenario?

JS: The global pandemic was one reminder to all of us that life can be uncertain.

My experience while employed in the IT industry gave me a better insight into the inner workings of the culture. I have many clients in the corporate sector. I connect better with them and also stay updated with the happenings in the corporate world.

When you consider the corporate scenario, the changes in people’s style of work were so abruptly enforced by another entity. With the sudden restrictions, people needed to tackle the challenge posed to their health by the pandemic, adapt to a different routine for WFH, and also care full-time for their children and help them with their online classes. Stress was – and is – at an all-time high. While some people have reached out to mental health professionals and are on the road to recovery, many have not processed it fully, yet. It is very important to deal with this in a professional space.

Companies can help do this better. The changes in corporate culture have to happen from both ends – the companies and their employees.

While the people have to take time to pause and deal with the toll this has taken on their mental health, organisations also have to spend some time to provide wellness programs that take into consideration the freshers who are just beginning to step into office settings, managers who have had to deal with attrition and getting work done through meetings and calls, and the employees who couldn’t work for a while due to health issues (including long covid) or personal situations.

I am an Organisational Psychologist by qualification and I would strongly recommend that corporates employ experts to design wellness programs and policies and go a little beyond the sporadic and inadequate mental health sessions. A custom plan across age and seniority levels based on the ‘tried and tested’ techniques would be the key to progress.

RM: You have often brilliantly articulated the need for expressing gratitude and finding happiness in everyday life. Do you consider this a necessary component for every venture we take?

JS: I believe that constantly seeking happiness or hoping to find happiness in everything would be a futile pursuit. A life that is defined by kindness towards self and others, gratitude about the positivity abounding in the universe, and mindfulness with even the simplest activities would definitely ensure inner peace and consequently happiness.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, calls gratitude a virtue that has the power to reframe negative thought patterns. The study of positive psychology has helped me appreciate positivity in a realistic light and approach life with open-minded enthusiasm. Life is not perfect because everything goes according to plan. Life is perfect because I get to choose my attitude and outlook to approach it my way.

So, practising gratitude in everything you do should become a way of life if you want positivity to be your companion.

RM: How was your experience with publishing as a debut author? What parts of it were your favourite?

JS: I love writing and I believe in the power of the written medium. If I had not chosen to be a psychologist, I would have been a journalist. Nothing beats the joy of writing and seeing my name in print. It indicates that my voice is heard and has the potential to make life easier for many.

To answer your question, I found the whole process exciting. I have always been curious about life and eager to learn new things. Seeing all the elements coming together to create that final product is so rewarding. I am very thankful to Amazon for providing this platform called Kindle Direct Publishing to self-publish, and a stage to showcase us as authors using their Author Central.

RM: Your creative process is a stellar example of aesthetic appeal. You have an artistic eye that is evident in the posters in your book, in the design of your book’s cover, and in the various shorts and promotional videos you’ve shared that are gaining a lot of appreciation on social media. How do you balance the brevity of content with an attractive presentation?

JS: I am glad you noticed the book cover. My husband is an artist, too, and painted this for me to depict the content for the readers at a glance. It represents symmetry, balance, and layers and emphasises my core ideology that life is simple by design.

As for social media posters and videos, content is the backbone of any good design. If your content is not strong or unique, people will not connect to it even if it is aesthetically brilliant.

The key is to blend the content and aesthetics to appeal to the emotion and relatability of the audience. I also believe in the psychology of colours and play around with the design till it reflects how I feel. I do things for the joy of it. This is why I do every poster and every video by myself and ensure that it represents a piece of me and reflects the soul of the book.

RM: Tell us a bit more about Mindful Conversations, and the beginning of your writing journey.

JS: I have been a part of the blogging community for around two decades now. I developed a stronger voice after completing my Masters in Psychology. When you qualify for a master’s degree in your 30s and specialise in a social science like psychology, you bring in a lot of life experiences and value to the theories you learn. I think Mindful Conversations happened thanks to my life experiences blending with the psychological theories.

It is a space that gives a glimpse into the mind of a realist who also dares to be a dreamer.

Creating awareness towards mental health and breaking the taboo around it has always been my vision and everything I do is directed towards that. I dream of a society that keeps things simple and stays non-judgemental. It is not as difficult as it seems to the cynical mind. It is possible. It is just a mindset change away.

Mindful Conversations finds its voice in LinkedIn and other social media channels these days.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I write a post every Sunday on a relevant topic. I have been doing this since 2019. 

Follow #MentalHealthSundays and for more details.

RM: You have given us a wonderful non-fiction self-help book that is one of the most engaging books of the year, going by the consistent presence in the international bestseller charts on Amazon. What are your favourite books in this genre?

‘A Balance Called Life’ is not just my book. It belongs to the readers who have ensured that it stayed in the ‘Top 10 rankings’ in the self-help genre for many weeks in a row. It is a dream come true for a debutante woman author in non-fiction to have their book featured in the top rankings under multiple categories like ‘Stress Management,’ ‘Motivational,’ and ‘Spiritual Growth’ across India, US, and UK. It makes me believe in the power of content and passion towards a purpose.

As for my favourite non-fiction books, it is very difficult to name just a few. I am an avid reader and I have at least 50 books that come to my mind when asked about this. Perhaps the most profound one that had a lasting impact on me is ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ by Victor Frankl. Victor Frankl writes in detail about his experience in a concentration camp and the line and thought that stands out is this –

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Psychology and self-help are not about seeking happiness or craving favourable circumstances. They are about powering through any challenge with a positive attitude and hope. Victor Frankl instilled that in me and is a prominent reason for my pursuit of creating, owning, and practising my own philosophy. I hope to publish a book on this topic in the upcoming years.

RM: Are there any future projects on the cards?

I have at least five different book ideas simmering in my mind. I want to make a mark in the non-fiction genre. It is surprisingly rare to see women publish in non-fiction. There is a popular opinion that they make better sales in fiction, especially in the romance genre. Even today, when talking about women in non-fiction, people quote Virginia Woolf, whose last written work is almost a century ago.

I want to change that trend and I sincerely hope that traditional publishers give more opportunities to women in non-fiction, especially when we have the backing qualification as well as insight.

RM: Thank you so much for your answers, Janani. It has been a pleasure talking with you and learning a little more about yourself. Thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to give Reader’s Muse your insightful answers. Once again, wishing you great success! And we eagerly look forward to your future projects that would benefit your readers.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the insightful questions and the prominent feature in your website. Wishing you the best for Reader's Muse and Precis Penning Literary Services


Not a SPAM comment! :)