The Adult Playground!

“I am not going to be your friend because you are not nice to me” my 4-year-old promptly announced to his friend as they both continued to pout and play. Everyone there very well knew that indeed, they were going to be each other’s friends.

They will be friends as long as they are in the same class or until one of the parent, most likely non-verbally, communicates to the parent that “I am not going to be your friend because you are not nice to me” I mostly joke about the parental tiff, but you get the point.

We have ALL been there and sometimes we have handled conflicts with grace and courtesy, and sometimes we have learned what to do next time!

Friendships are Friendships – Childhood or Adulthood. Fundamentally, we choose and careful curate a set of people that we proudly call friends.

Then, enter Hierarchy:

My Acquaintances.

My (work, activity, group, parent – insert anything you wish) Friends. 

My BEST Friend. 

Sometime in early childhood the idea of a single friend who is above all forms. It is beside the point that this best friend is a moving target because … well, it is accepted, assumed and expected that we evolve through childhood. 

We want companionship.

We want to belong.

We want to converse about our interests.

We want to do activities together.

We want to plan vacations together ( Side Note: Do these plans every materialize? Asking for a friend)

We want to be wanted and we want to be with others.

We want reciprocation and respect.

We want knowledge.

We want laughs.

We want help and to help.

We want to get along.

We want to agree to disagree, gracefully.

We want joy from our friends and we want to give them joy. 

Often, we want all of this from one friend or we want all of our friends to have all of this.

Read that again … doesn’t it sound like a lot for one person?

I love friendships and it is what I crave the most after my family. I am insanely grateful to have such friendships, so many of them. The power of surrounding yourself with uplifting, fun and a supportive crowd is phenomenal. 

As a South Asian transplant who has spent 16yrs in India and 23yrs and counting in the USA …. I have not only experienced friendships but also ‘immigrant friendship’ which I can best describe as a friendship which is initiated, created, crowded and eventually either fiercely loved, ruthless judged but maintained, strongly disliked or casually enjoyed. As an immigrant, you leave home to make another place home. It makes one want to hold on dearly to anything that has a familiarity or reminder of home, including people. It becomes a friendship solely based on familiarity and not focused on a personality match, sometimes. Sometimes it is magic and sometimes a gimmick!

Until then here are my five learnings from this adult playground. These learnings come from my mistakes/my observations and not in any particular order:

Friendships are built on an open heart & open mind

The possibilities for friendship are endless but our ingrained bias limits us. While preferences are normal the ingrained bias could be worked on. Those invisible checkboxes that we need to check, limit us.

Let go of the checklist and the world opens up. Only you know your checkbox(es) but the most common ones, in my observation, are around race & age. Get over them and see how beautifully you get rewarded with varying perspectives that add to your life.

Friendships need respect, reciprocation, and room. 

A large part of friendship is planning: To Meet up, To Converse and To do things together. It’s the small things: If you agree to attend, then participate. If you are invited or asked, respond in a timely manner. If you want to be respected, respect back. Friendship is not a free pass to be disrespectful and the moment you treat your friend as an option until ‘a better plan/person comes along’ – you are disrespecting the friendship.

Be there, if you can. If you cannot, make it clear.

Also, someone’s lack of participation is not about you. Not everything is about you! Friendship needs room to accept and decline participation in a friend’s life without judgment. In the end, it is for each individual to decide which friendships to nurture and which one to let live organically.

Friendships need more than gossip

I could have worded this to read – Friendships need substance but it will dilute what I want to articulate.

I am not beyond a respectful chuckle or two about someone with someone else. The gossip I refer to here is the kind that is used as a basis to form a relationship. That kind that defines your friendship and that is the only type of conversation material that friendship thrives on.

Also, if someone is talking to you about someone in their absence. They are talking about you in your absence to someone.

Friendship needs substance – it could be funny memes, politics, pop culture and anything …… just not negative judgment, all the time.

Friendships are not created equal

It is natural to connect with people based on our current phase of life. It is also OK to connect with people for a specific reason. Rather than lament what the friendship doesn’t give, just accept it for what joyous purpose it serve and nurture it just for that.

Not everyone has to be your everything – with some I enjoy conversations over wine and with some, I want to take a cooking class! Enjoy what your friend brings to your life and make peace with that much, it’s enough and it’s lovely.

Friendships have phases

EVERY.RELATIONSHIP.HAS.PHASES

Allow your friends the time to be in their phase and expect the same from them.

Sure, I would love an uninterrupted adult conversion but my 4 year old has a differing view. So, unless I get him a a playmate the chances for my conversation are slim!

We tend to gravitate towards friends in a similar phase of life and we miss the other ones. One day both of us will find a way back. Just give it time. If we don’t find a way back then let’s just cherish what we had!

A whole lot of fun & love sprinkled with some practicality builds some solid friendships — these are ones I have and I am so very proud of my friends! Thank you for being my friend!

Friendships: The Possibilities, if we allow it.

“A friend is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the best things you can be.” – Winnie the Pooh.

I was positive but not inclusive ..

🤷🏽‍♀️ It is safe to say that I have yet to style myself the same way I style myself IN MY HEAD. ⁣⁣
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Especially if you are someone who is aware, negatively, of your body then I know you are nodding a resounding YAS!⁣⁣
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💯 I love an oversized sweater (& hugs) I also love a skirt.I love a styled look! But I keep that styling limited to my bathroom mirror selfies. ⁣⁣
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I have been body positivity for a long time – for others, not myself! 💯⁣⁣
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So, I decided to change that because I don’t like it. And I like me. So, I included myself. ⁣AND I posted a pic of me without shoes, I know! ⁣

🙌🏽 TIP: When styling with oversize top with a structured bottom a little front tuck goes a long way – If you want to try. And, the bit of tuck is not just for women. Men, try it. ⁣

⁣Regardless of your gender what is that one thing that you are positive about but not inclusive? What are you doing to change it? ⁣⁣

🎤 Positivity is great but inclusivity is impactful! ⁣

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Share your story in comments to inspire! I would love to read them 🙏🏼 ⁣⁣ 📸 Post your styling pic with hashtag #bodypositivestyleinclusive & don’t forget to tag @thebirdwhoswam

Gender Equality is all of us



🏃🏾‍♂️🏃🏼‍♀️Imagine running, side by side, with someone. For a bit both of you are aware of each other. Then, both of you get in a zone where you are self-aware. Still, aware that you are running with someone but not aware enough to check on their position. ⁣

🎇 It is required that both of you, collaboratively reach a destination, to win. Imagine your feelings if you find out that it was mostly you who moved forward. Whatever your partners reasons maybe, your feelings are real. ⁣

That running is our growth. ⁣

That destination is an empowered & equal world.⁣

The partners in it are all of us, of all genders. ⁣

🗣 Be aware of where you lack and work on it! 🗣 Vocalize & Normalize gender equality. ⁣
🎤 Gender equality is not just a woman thing. It’s every gender’s responsibility to step it up and demand balance. ⁣

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐝 𝐰𝐨𝐧’𝐭 𝐤𝐞𝐞𝐩 𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐛𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐜𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐧 𝐲𝐨𝐮. ⁣We are moving forward, join in!

Mirror Mirror on the wall: Dear Men … & Women. Especially Men.

Once upon a time, I found myself in a room with the evaluation paper in front of me. Seemingly, I was doing A-OK but could do better – tell me more! I thought as I rolled my eyes also in my thoughts. Once the fluff/filler conversation was done I was asked to sign the eval paper. I took the pen and drew a line across my name and corrected the spelling of my name. Stared back as I slid the eval back.

I thought to myself- I really do not like someone judging my work when they cannot get the basics right.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in the seat of the one evaluating. Guess what the paper misspelled – their NAME!! I will spare you the details of my flustered, embarrassed and humbled self.

Define Karma a short story by Shivani Kulkarni

Professional Performance Evaluation: The one where you evaluate yourself so that someone else can evaluate you and your work. Ranging from a corporate employee to an entrepreneur! Ranging from kill me now to tell how I can get better. Ranging from I know I am a superstar to let’s get this over with. Emotions, oh so many damn emotions.

This circle of feedback/learning/evaluation/reflecting can be positive, negative or non-consequential but it is accepted by all as a professional process. End of the day, the reward for the evaluation can often be tied to tangible growth or learning that ultimately lead to tangible growth.

Within 12hrs of an online purchase, an email is sent asking for feedback.

We all look for that nod and approving smiles in a big meeting.

Consumer feedback management is a business in itself.

We are incentives to give opinions on products and services.

We look forward to the validation that we are doing great and that growth awaits us.

More today than ever, one will agree, that there is a need to evaluate feedback, iterate and evolve!

We tirelessly self-assess to outperform ourselves: we reflect on the victories, the losses, the conflicts, the break room chatter, the public reviews and more. We are gender, race, and religion united when it comes to professional growth even if it means trekking that hard path of feedback, reflection and re-building.

Self Assessment = Self Reflection = meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, and motives.

The same process is applied and welcomed for physical well being. Proactive measures of physical health assessment because …well – life! & the daunting cost of healthcare for a cure, in case of sickness.

We accept and encourage self-reflection in professional life as it risks tangible loss.

We accept & encourage self-reflection for physical health as it risks the quality of life, tangible discomfort, monetary loss & more.

Then, what makes us fight, mock, ignore, dismiss the tools of self-reflection for our mental health?

What if we gave our personal life the same luxury of personal evaluation?

Pro-active career-enhancing actions & physical-health enhancing measures surely do not imply that either one of those is broken. Then why are the measures for pro-active mental health enhancement viewed as frivolous and unnecessary – Especially, from men.

I am well aware of the gender generalization here and while I know some incredibly self aware men, there is a shortage. Stay with me till the end, if you can.

See, I have skin in this game. I care deeply to know why:

Self-Love | Self-Reflection | Mindfulness | Meditation | Journaling | Therapy | Counseling

Media, Merchandise, Services, Coaches & Publications are serving us reminders daily to enhance quality of life.

Maybe its daunting to start or maybe it needs to be normalized in your head. Know that you are the only one who can start and the only one who can normalize it.

Dear Men .. & Women, especially Men,

Maybe the society said Men don’t cry or the humor seems to suggest that only girly women talk about their feelings or that masculinity needs to be void of feelings and emotions, and thereby there is leniency with your behaviors or that mediation will make into a purple unicorn or that writing your feelings may make basic!

I know that one day my little boy will be part of your tribe. And, while I do my best to normalize self-reflection to him, he will look up to you too for what is normal.

Dear Women .. & Men, especially Women,

Maybe we allow for this normalization to thrive without judgement. Maybe we demand for better behavior. Maybe we self-reflect ourselves so that we are an example of mental growth.

Self-Reflection is your responsibility & it is not a one day gig. It’s my responsibility to myself. Its till our last breath, so that our regrets are slim and hopefully the smiles are wide.

You are you, always & forever

You are you, always & forever

Words are powerful but you didnot need me to tell you that!

My 4yr old proves it to us, time & again.

I have ridiculous amount of professional fear! Not the kind where I think I will lose my job because I have no obvious reason to reach that conclusion, at this time. And, the career journey has been filled with accolades mixed in with some humble learnings.

The fear is mostly my overthinking on steroids so much so that the only part of my body that has any muscle definition is my brain.

Earlier this year I tried to dig deeper to find the cause of that fear.

Is it financial?

Is it embarrassment if I ever lose a job?

Is it …. I circled the drain!

Around May of this year, during a meeting, a client exclaimed “ Gosh, you have an incredible voice. We need to get you to record our demo” – I smiled and let out an “aha!” With some filler crap like “where is the million dollar check? Sign me up!”

This compliment was not new to me. In college, I had the honor to be ON AIR with Cecil Doyle of NPR station on UL campus. My voice got 2 compliments that day. I was so happy I could have worked there for min wage all my life but then I slept over it, reality set in and that 5am coffee house shift called my name.

Fast forward to August and I found myself in a sound proof room with 4 strangers and an amazing voice artist. This was a 3 hour journey and in the end one would be clear if their voice can be of a voice artist.

Turns out I am an excellent fit for commercials. My dramatics are on-point but then if you have met me then you don’t need me to tell you that!

That night as I drove home I understood the cause of my fear.

‘I am not a head of product but I work as a head of product.’

Once I said that out loud I could hear it – I am Shivani. Anything beyond that is a choice I have made.

A choice that can be made over and over and over again. As long as I am not afraid of rejection & failure.

The question of Age: Cake or Caution!

“Aww so adorable!! How old are you?” said the lady, casually and yet with intrigue to the pre-schooler.

” I am 4 ” he announced and then with face full of pride he added “I was 3 but now I am 4

The lady smiled warmly and said “That is amazing, such a big boy you are and growing so fast”

I watched over this interaction and had a moment of pride for my 4 year old. It also triggered a memory of my childhood/teenager years where an age conversation often turn a bit longer than 3 sentences.

As a child/teenager often my age was assumed higher and a conversation about it would go something like this:

“How old are you? (No Pause for response) Looks like are you 22.”

“I just turned 19”

Seemingly embarrassed or flustered “oh really. You seem so mature and grown. I mean you face is young but your attitude is so grown” (No Pause but insert a nervous forced laughter) “you can talk so well and are so understanding. I really thought you are 22

The most OK part of this interaction was that I was, matter of fact, very thrilled to be viewed as older. Mostly because that gave me validation and a sense of belonging with the group I anyway related the best – the grow ups. I was/am a curly haired, short stature Faby* who was loved for her ‘personality’ – Sure there were fans of my beauty but they all had the same last name as me or were in some way related to me.

Faby = A somewhat heavy person who is called Chubby by well-meaning family and relatives.

Word Creation Credit = Me!

Fast forward decades and somewhere along the way the adults hesitated to comment on my age. Well, not just to me, in general it is a social taboo to ask an adult their age and worse if you ask a female.

The question ‘How old are you?’

  • to a child it is asked often with enthusiasm and the higher count is celebrated.
  • to a teenager it is asked often with enthusiasm, is celebrated as a move towards adulthood.
  • to an adult it is just not asked, or worse a higher count of that number is used to judge and box that person in some society created standards-by-age.

What nonsense is that?

My teenage years age conversation, unconsciously, conditioned me to think that:

  • To the society, it is only exciting if you age until a certain age. Beyond that you best not reveal your age.
  • To the society, age has a direct correlation to ones outwardly appearance. Best keep appearance youthful and since 20ish seems to the cut off where it is acceptable to ask someone their age – then the appearance standard but me 20ish too.
  • To the society, age has a direct correlation with maturity. In case you are mature/self confident beyond your age then keep that to your self! Or best act young’ish!

I could go on but this is a well understood concept and I hope you sense the sarcasm!

There is a certainly a value to society created milestones for various phases of life. From toddler to senior citizen, as they are either tied to cognitive development and/or needed to define operational rules/benefits that are fit for a particular phase of life. For Ex: Legal adult age or discounts for senior citizens. But this is not about that.

What if there was no social taboo on asking “How old are you?” to anyone regardless of their age and it would prompt an enthusiastic response which would be celebrated back. Just like pre-school days ..

And then maybe there would not be any age-trait assumption conditioning.

Maybe when one tells their age:

We won’t categorize them

We won’t determine their coolness – whatever this means!

We won’t judge their social status

We won’t be sad for them

We won’t assume their disinterest in anything youthful

We won’t think they are immature

We will take them for what they are

Think about it!

I love the privilege of being mature, being youthful, being adventurous, being me regardless of my age. So, don’t hesitate to ask me “How old are you?” and when you are asked respond with an enthusiasm of a pre-schooler!

I am 39, by the way.

Pragmatic Positivity

When approached with a situation or a person that you dislike maybe some proactive homework is the key.

Write down atleast 2 things you like OR are ok with about that situation or person. Those rose colored glasses won’t blur your view.

I urge you to try this atleast twice.

This has been a game changer in professional world for me. In personal world, it helps me move past anger.