Insights into professional success and pathways are offered in this book by Amit Nagpal, Heroes Amongst Us: Inspirational Stories of Ordinary People who Achieved Extraordinary Success. The 190-page book offers profiles of 32 achievers from India, the US, the UK, Peru, Spain, and Singapore.
Amit Nagpal is Co-founder of the Bloggers Alliance. The featured people are all active bloggers and speakers, thus showing that innovation is driven not just by creation but promotion, marketing, and storytelling as well.
The author begins by highlighting some creative games he played during his childhood, such as his uncle’s activity, ‘Playing with Proverbs’. This led to the variation, All that glitters may not be gold, but all that glitters is easily sold.
Stories engage, entertain, energise, and foster emotional connections. “Stories humanise our mechanical world,” Amit explains. Storytelling is a powerful tool for self-awareness and healing.
Finding patterns in one’s lives helps unearth a narrative for a story. Storytelling can apply to individual and organisational contexts as well. An atmosphere of trust helps people open up with their own stories, vulnerabilities, and achievements.
Each chapter in the book has a brief profile of an innovator or achiever, and ends with a few ‘success mantras’ from their experiences. Here are my takeaways from the book, summarised below.
Bhikkhu Sanghasena from Ladakh started in the army but moved on to social work in education and healthcare for the underprivileged. He founded the Ladakh ThinkTank Forum and Save the Himalaya Foundation.
Learning and meditation are key paths to knowledge, he advises. Enabling others to grow and develop is the greatest joy. Life is lived only once, and should be embraced in totality.
Jeetendra Lalwani, Co-founder of ambulance tracking platform Dial 4242, stresses the importance of being confident in the face of criticism. He cites Bernard Baruch in this regard: Those who mind, don’t matter, and those who matter, don’t mind.
After a successful career in advertising, he got the idea for his startup while witnessing his father’s struggle to get an ambulance. Every day is a new day for a founder, and every moment offers a lesson, he explains.
Varun Malhotra conducts financial literacy programmes across the country. His grandfather instilled in him an understanding of maths and investment. While pursuing his MBA in the US, he overcame his fear of public speaking, and learnt the finer points of humour, engagement, and making eye contact with the audience.
He advises entrepreneurs to master the practice of delegation, incentives, and organisational processes. Passion will drive the needed skills and goals; with passion, one may even work for free.
Osama Manzar founded the Digital Empowerment Foundation to bring IT benefits to the masses. Growing up in a Ranchi factory campus taught him the importance of community and co-existence. His father co-founded a school for underprivileged children.
Osama started as a journalist with Computer World and then launched the digital portal for Hindustan Times. He co-authored the book The Internet Economy of India, and has since championed the cause of digital literacy, particularly in rural India.
Malti Bhojwani struggled with perceptions of obesity as a child and later became a single parent after separation. Courses in meditation led her to become a motivational speaker. Success comes from the inward journey as well as outward action, she advises. Discipline, stamina, and collaboration help overcome self-limiting beliefs.
Rajeshwari Chauhan grew up with a royal family background, and immersed herself in the world of art and writing. She wrote historical novels that received great acclaim, but were criticised by some of her own family members.
She recommends that one needs to feed the inner creative flame with positivity, despite what naysayers may comment. It is important to be in control of one’s reactions, and de-clutter irrelevant influences. She evocatively refers to people’s contributions as twigs, sparks, and marshmallows – or blisters and even gunpowder.
Priyanka Goel, a Mrs Earth and Mrs India Winner, is MD of Nomura Bank. Though she had exam phobia as a child, she overcame it and cracked the CAT exam. Smart work (not just hard work), continuous improvement, capitalising on opportunities, and calculated risk-taking were key to her success, she explains.
Luck, chance encounters, and serendipity also helped software entrepreneur Faisal Haque. His book, Everything Connects, captures this philosophy. “Writing is a way to find inspiration,” he explains. His other book is Survive to Thrive.
Success comes from cultivating soft skills along with hard skills, and having a mindset of resilience, he advises. Accepting and growing through the pain, suffering and disappointment of failure are a part of the journey. It helps to ‘zag’ a little sometimes and explore new territory, while also knowing when to say ‘no’ and focus on current priorities.
Make yourself worthy of your dreams, urges filmmaker and screenwriter Anirban ‘Onor’ Dhar. He was inspired by movies like David Copperfield and Junoon during his childhood years.
“Growth is about celebrating difference and is also about accepting the grey shades in life,” he advises. Talent and hunger are key to success.
Danesh Kanagraj launched the Aclude Foundation to promote inclusivity for people with disabilities. He started in event management, retail, and BPO. Though suffering from muscular dystrophy, he went on to become a successful blogger, speaker, and entrepreneur.
Success is defined by what is overcome, not just what is achieved, he explains. Dreaming gives light and hope, and one should dream even in the midst of struggles and challenges.
Prasanth Nair is an investor and mentor, and co-founded Asynithis. He earlier worked at Alsthom and Thomas Cook. He advises entrepreneurs to be able to take a detached view of the situation during highs and lows, and also learn to accept that politics and power play are inevitable in organisations.
One should be the master of many trades, and learn to be fair during tough times. One must never burn bridges with anyone; the value of friendship is truly realised during tough times.
Smita Nair Jain is SVP of Sears Holdings India. She recommends diversity, inclusion, equality, authenticity, and integrity as strong cultural principles, some of which she picked up from her school days. “Attitude embellishes aptitude,” she explains.
Vinita Jain, Director of Prachar Communications, recalls how punctuality and discipline were instilled in her from school days, along with the reading habit. Based on the ups and downs of her life experiences, she describes life as a flowing river, and not a challenge or fight.
Success can come without pulling others down; it also calls for resolve in the face of rebuke. Happiness comes from learning to dream and making the dreams come true, and ultimately giving back to society.
Film critic Murtaza Ali Khan studied engineering but pursued his flair for writing early on with film reviews on IMBb.com. He chose to become a full-time critic, though many laughed at him at first. He believes good reviewers should enrich the understanding of the readers as well.
Harjeet Khanduja, VP-HR at Reliance Jio, urges finding meaning and impact in work. Over-confidence and sitting back on one’s laurels are to be avoided. Setting up an organisation is hard, sustaining it can be even harder. Effective communication calls for good listening as well.
Media strategist Sulina Menon (Zee TV, Carat Media) urges people to have their own definition of success, not just one dictated by society. Continuous learning, regular improvement, adaptability, and future-gazing help in the long run, as well as being able to hit the ground running in new contexts.
Shalabh Mittal is the CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurship. People skills and integrity helped him win confidence and cooperation in the workplace. Anger at injustice can be harnessed as a power for good.
For effective storytelling, he recommends simplicity and authenticity, with sharing of vulnerability, self-doubts, and even failures. Regular prayer and spiritual grounding help stay the course.
Vijay Nallawala struggled through ailments like asthma and bipolar disorder, and founded an online community for those affected by the disorder. He is working on solutions to give them employment and financial independence. Discipline, reputation, compassion, trust, and the power of transformation are key success factors for the long run, he emphasises.
Vartika Nanda started in the media industry with Doordarshan and NDTV as a crime reporter, and went on to become a prison reformer. Becoming aware of the ‘other side’ of prisoners’ lives, she helped them embrace literacy initiatives and even organic farming.
She stresses the importance of continuously learning and redefining one’s path. Frugality, simplicity, introspection, and a sense of gratitude are some of her success mantras.
Niyatii Shah discovered the importance of sex education for children when she had kids and wanted to impart the right knowledge to them. Though there are many online resources, the topic remains sensitive, and much ignorance and myth prevail.
She launched Averti as a one-stop service for sexuality counselling and training, and wants to take this platform global. It is important to connect to students and unearth their queries on sexual habits, activities, and orientation, she advises.
Comedian and marketer Kathy Klotz-Guest discovered her talent for comedy early on, and explored the “magic of co-creation” in uncharted territory. Interactive storytelling heightens audience interest, and makes them want to share in the outcome.
Leadership author John Murphy overcame a number of health setbacks in the course of his life. He advocates that one must “let go to let flow” and to give more than one takes. Every experience is a blessing and has positivity, and failures are life lessons even though they are humbling and painful.
Digital consultant Tim Hughes is the author of Social Selling and Smarketing. He advises aspiring achievers to have a pro-active mindset, and not be afraid to ask for help. Teachers and mentors can be guides, but even they may have limitations and should not hold you back.
Sidharth Balakrishna of the Essel (Zee) Group advises immersing in problem contexts for a long time before designing solutions. Work standards should be set high, and it is important to become a ‘go-to’ person for getting things done.
KV ‘Pops’ Sridhar combines creativity, technology, and business savviness in his work. After a long stint in advertising, he launched the HyperCollective platform for independent companies in the fields of strategy, design, and data.
He was greatly influenced by the works of Herman Hesse, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michaelangelo. He believes in the strong connections between art and science, and in the power of collaborative networks for transformative solutions.
Manish Tyagi completed a career in the Indian Navy and went on to become a standup comic, a skill he first noticed in his childhood years. Comedy is a serious business, he jokes. It is a tough career and calls for hard work, originality, and patience.
Award-winning Indonesian pianist Ananda Sukarlan broke new ground by bringing Indonesian sounds and culture to classical piano, via compositions like Rapsodia Nusantara. He sees cultural and economic opportunity in art and music.
Marketing expert Mark Shaefer changed schools often and was a bit of a loner, but this also honed his sense of empathy. Every day opens up new opportunities for the alert mind, he advises. Volunteering also brings out a sense of humanity and purpose.
Marketing consultant Shane Barker urges people to choose work that aligns with joy and passion. It is important to create things that people want to share. Some larger goals in life may be unattainable but worth chasing after.
Patrick Alexander Sonqo is a spiritual educator and healer. Early on, he was fascinated by the magic in the lives of hummingbirds and dragonflies, and spiritual traditions in ancient societies. He urges people to “raise their vibration” by embracing themselves and the world around them, to unlearn as much as they learn, and to recognise illusions.
LinkedIn strategist JD Gershbein recommends personal branding as a path to social media influence, but also cautions entrepreneurs to guard against fatigue and burnout. Transformation trainer Amandeep Thind was influenced by the works of Tony Robbins and Stephen Covey, and launched his own development training company.
The book ends with advice from transformation coach Jennifer Sertl. She recommends regular introspection and writing activities focusing on achievements and alternative actions. The ‘recalibration’ exercise involves analysing past lessons, current paths and future requirements, while ‘shadow dancing’ involves daily writing to unearth patterns of thoughts and insights.
In sum, the book is a straightforward read with short biographical profiles and success tips, and makes for an easy weekend read. At the end of the book, the author provides contact information for the featured entrepreneurs, along with tips for bloggers.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)