We had the opportunity to get in conversation with Dr. Aparajita Jeedigunta, the Global Culture DEI&B Director at Random Acts, Inc. She is a social psychologist, a diversity and inclusion consultant, a certified life and executive coach, an author, a speaker, a podcaster, an immigrant, and a two-time Traumatic Brain Injury survivor. Dr. AJ is the Founder and CEO of AJ Rao, LLC, a boutique firm founded on the motto of “making the invisible visible for better belongingness”. They started off offering custom-tailored strategies and solutions to teams and organizations to increase the effectiveness of their DEI programming.
But since then, after being involved in relief efforts in India during the pandemic, Dr. AJ realized the vast and blatant inequities and disparities in DEI work and women’s leadership development, especially among Indian women. So, AJ Rao evolved and now provides culturally sensitive and relevant leadership development for Indian women whether they’re college students still figuring out their path, contributors in our corporate workforce, or, entrepreneurs who are looking to make a positive social impact in our world.
I don’t know about you, but the first thing that came to my mind upon learning about Dr. Aparajita’s achievement was, “How can one person do so much?” If the same question popped up in your mind as well, read her story to get an answer.
1. What does success mean to you?
My definition of success keeps evolving with me. As a child, I was conditioned to think that success means a certain amount of wealth because of the social and political influences of money. But later in my life, I survived two brain injuries, and that completely changed my perspective. Now, rather than measuring success with these external markers, I ask myself do I go to bed feeling satisfied and content, knowing that I have been the best version of myself today and have helped people around me to my best possibility.
So, now success to me means learning from my mistakes and being better each day.
2. For people who are trying to grow their audience, what advice do you have for them?
Know who you want to connect with. It’s not about the number of followers but about how much engagement you are getting from them. Show people how they will benefit from your product or the insights in the content that you are putting out.
You must remember that most of your followers are just passers-by. They are there just for the content, and that’s okay because we all go window shopping. This means that your numbers will go up and down. Don’t get scared of the fluctuating numbers. Stay consistent, keep engaging and show your personality. My page, for example, is full of my pictures during both good and bad days. I post pictures wearing a Bindi and a saree because I accept and embrace my roots. This is a huge part of my business.
3. What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?
This is something I love to do but don’t advertise it anywhere. I love fantasy novels like about vampires or werewolves (Not just Twilight.) I read about pieces on the origin of these supernatural beings, and artwork on them. I do this because when I feel stuck, it’s a sign that I am being too rigid in my thinking and I need to get out of my box. Going into a different world engages a different part of my brain that then allows me to relax but also think creatively. I often like to think about what I would do differently if I was writing this character. This helps me get out of my rut.
Another thing I like to do is solve puzzles. So anytime I am struggling with a conundrum in my business, I take out puzzles and start solving them. And, of course, my dogs and daughter are always around to keep me busy.
4. Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?
When I was first starting, two things were happening. Especially as an Indian woman entrepreneur, all the uncles, and aunties around me had some piece of advice for me. Amidst all these suggestions, I forgot to listen to my own voice. Yes, many of these pieces of advice were helpful but many were not and I still took all of them. The reason behind this was my perception that even though my elders don’t have experience in my field, they still have life experience. If I could go back, I would ask myself to stop internalizing all the suggestions and start listening to my own voice.
Listening to your gut doesn’t mean that you won’t make mistakes, but then you get to own them and learn; rather than regretting listening to people.
5. What does your typical day look like?
My typical day is a dream. I wake up whenever my child feels like it because she dictates my life. We play and talk a little bit as it’s the summer holidays now. During school days, I get her ready for school. Then I sit down with a cup of coffee and do my journaling where I write down my anxieties, concerns, and gratitude. It allows me to go deeper into my head and monitor where my energy levels are.
Then I take some calls, and if I don’t have any for the day, I like to go to the singing rooms on the clubhouse app.
I am the director of Global Culture DEI&B at Random Acts, Inc, and these calls start at around 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon. And as I said, it’s summer so my daughter comes in to play a little. Then I get to making dinner at around 7. Then I either work a little, read or just hang out with my family.
6. In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
For me, self-doubt and adversity are two different things. And as I told you earlier, I am a survivor of two head injuries in which after one of them I even forgot my name. So this really puts things in perspective for me. It helped me realize that it doesn’t matter what people think or say.
Self-doubt for me is my inner voice. And over time I have learned to listen to it instead of stopping it. I listen to that voice but don’t internalize it. It’s like having a conversation with myself. I ask myself why I am having doubts and then I’ll either learn the skills that I need to do that task or seek relevant help.
I’ve realized journaling helps me. Self-doubt often comes from uncertainty and uncertainty is certain in life. Most entrepreneurs experience self-doubt because we don’t know what the outcome will be but we never know the outcome of anything in life. And this is coming from a person who lost almost everything in a span of 10 minutes. So I just keep going.