What a week in India taught me about the importance of people, purpose and play

If you’d told me a few weeks ago that I’d be gyrating my hips and swinging my arms with a group of people on a sweaty Thursday night in Chennai I’d have laughed. I mean, I’d just spent the last 4 weeks getting the latest version of my site live, money wasn’t exactly rushing into my bank account and I’d agreed all sorts of plans with friends. I couldn’t just up sticks and run off to India for a week. Could I?

While I’ve loved many of the moments over the last 12 months developing my fledgling business Food At Heart, too often I’ve let myself be ruled by the word ‘should’. It’s easy to get trapped into all the advice on how you ‘should’ be working and running a business. I ‘should’ be posting my social media activity in advance, only answering emails 2 to 3 times a time day, boosting my site traffic, building my email list, making time to network, taking time out to have fun and getting enough sleep. And all while working really hard.

At the end of last year I started to refocus on how I could use food and cooking to help people tap into their natural creativity. Cooking has been an important creative release for me throughout my career and I wanted to help other people discover its power. I therefore set up workshops and events to help people get back in touch with all their senses through food. I was also doing a bit of freelance writing and leading chocolate walks (yes, there is such a thing). I had all sorts of exciting plans for 2016, but I also needed a break.

In a moment of perfect timing, just over a month ago I opened up the latest email from The Happy Startup School and spotted a link to an ‘Ashram’. The date for the Ashram retreat was only a few weeks away and it was in India. Strangely I’d had a conversation with someone before Christmas about wanting to travel to India. It only took a couple of emails and a chat with Laurence from The Happy Startup School to make me realise that this was just what I was after.

The reality was that I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I figured if nothing else, a bit of time to collect my thoughts in the sunshine with some nice food would be good. Fortunately it was so much more than that: clicking on that link led to a life changing week and helped me rediscover some of the things that are important to me.

1. The power of people

The Ashram week brought together just over 20 founders from different countries and different business backgrounds. I like to talk, but even I hadn’t realise quite how many amazing conversations I’d have with people walking by the beach, sitting by the pool, riding in a bus and over long, relaxed breakfasts. Discussions developed very naturally, but there was also time to have a break from them if needed.

There was only a very loose agenda for the week and for someone like me who spends (and enjoys!) a lot of time planning and thinking, it was a welcome release. Just having time to talk properly without needing to consider what I had planned for the rest of the hour, day or week was freeing. It has also made me realise quite how energising being around other people is — and I haven’t put something in place to allow me to do this enough since setting up my own.

2. The power of purpose

Across the group there were some inspiring reasons as to why people had set up their businesses, including wanting to:

- support the growth of organic cotton in India to tackle some incredibly detrimental and tragic issues caused by GM crops

- help people take a genuinely holistic approach to wellbeing through diet, movement, and meditation; and

- spread a message of happiness and balance in business.

I loved seeing stories and purpose develop in real time. There was even a website developed and launched over the course of the week (check out http://www.dreamexplorers.co/).

All these stories made me realise that having a purpose is also why I started my own business: I want to be happy and to help other people be happy. For me, it’s not about building the next FinTech Silicon Valley superstar business that I plan to sell off in 3 year’s time; I’d like to create something long term and with real meaning.

3. The power of play

The strangest thing about the week was that I spent very little time thinking directly about my own work. I wanted to absorb what other people had to say, but also to enjoy where we were and the activities that we had the chance to take part in. From early morning yoga and watching the sunrise in a local fisherman’s boat, to trips out for thali and meditation (not together!), there were lots of different things to dip into, including a lovely swimming pool at our beautiful hotel.

During all of these activities was the chance to chat and unconsciously hone my own purpose. All of this was while getting to know other people, many of whom will be long term friends and some who will be business collaborators. I think I spent at least 80 percent of the week (it may have been even more!) with a big smile on my face. There’s nothing like having fun together to really build relationships. Maybe there really is something in the phrase “those who play together stay together”?

So what have I taken away from the week in India? Surrounding yourself with good and passionate people is an important part of creating a happy business. It’s not good to work in a vacuum: being with other people who are doing fantastic things was an important reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s also made me realise that happiness is genuinely important, both in business and life. It’s not just something that should be given lip service. Oh, and everyone should try at least one night of Bollywood dancing, preferably in India with a big group of smiley, happy people.

I don’t know exactly where my future is going to lead me, but I know it’s going to be an exciting, creative and happier one after the Ashram week in India.

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