Coffee Times
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Coffee Times

My Interview With Coffee Times

Where I talk about my writing journey, tough decisions, writing tips, and tips to believe in ourselves

Vidya Sury ©

(Was published on Substack first)

It is my honor to be interviewed by the first publication I joined as an editor and it is my privilege to share this interview with you, my dear readers.

The wonderful Ashley, who is in charge of interviews at Coffee Times, asks some great questions that I enjoyed answering.

By the way, this is my 500th post on Medium ✍

Without further ado, here, then, is the interview. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! ❤

Over to Ashley . . . ☕

Hey Coffee Readers, we have a fellow editor here for our interview this week!

Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles, one of our friendly neighborhood editors, is no stranger to any of us. She’s one of the supportive editors who would leave claps, comments, and encouraging private notes on writers’ drafts. She shares so much of her story on Medium.

Let’s dive into the mind behind the one ‘Collecting Smiles’, shall we?

Dear Vidya! You’re one of my favorite writers at Coffee Times. I read your story about your diverse professional background. Do you think your background in sales, marketing, and training contributed to your personality as a writer? How has it helped your career as a freelance writer and editor?

Vidya: Thank you for the lovely welcome, Ashley! Let me bask for a moment in this: “one of my favorite writers” …. Thanks again! I am thrilled to be here!

Everything we experience in life shapes us to be who we are. The good, the bad, the …you know what I mean! So yes, I think my work background across various industries taught me a lot, as did my various bosses.

I began my career as a projects trainee with a leading group of companies. I was fresh out of college and pretty confident that I knew what I wanted. I mean, at 20, most of us feel like everything is possible, don’t we? Unknowingly, I did the right thing by making a list of the companies I would like to work for and sending applications.

When I attended one of the interview calls, I was waiting for my turn when my resume was picked up by the chief executive of their metallurgical projects division He spotted the word “French” and that got me recruited. He needed someone to translate a dozen notebooks from French to English. Thus started my first job — didn’t pay a great deal but the experience was amazing.

As a trainee, I did everything from translating those books, taking my boss’s wife shopping, making tea, taking notes during meetings, and so on. After a year when that project wrapped up, I moved into Advertising, because my boss thought I was perfect for that field.

Here I learned how the advertising industry works and gradually moved on up to handle major accounts on my own. Soon, a client in the transport industry offered me a marketing job and my boss encouraged me to accept the offer.

From there, I moved into sales with a leading office automation group. Eventually, more than a decade later, I was a regional sales trainer for a UK-based group when I quit my corporate career.

I think my strength was my openness to learning, readiness to put in the hard work and consistency. Sure, I had the aptitude and some talent, but I would have not succeeded if I had not shown initiative and faced problems head-on. I was never afraid to move out of my comfort zone.

A good education, thanks to my mom, because we have no other wealth to speak of, combined with my will to succeed has helped me throughout my life. I was never fixated that I wanted to do only one specific thing. I was ready to try different fields of work.

And so, when there came a time when I could no longer take up a job that involved travel, I immediately looked at other options. Again, thanks to my mom who encouraged me to look beyond what I was used to. I had a toddler and I knew I never wanted to miss any of his milestones. I had my priorities straight — I think — even though it meant giving up opportunities. I have no regrets.

All the experience and life lessons I learned in my corporate career taught me to embrace my chosen second career as a freelance writer. I was not afraid to take risks. I had been on both sides of the table and I was confident I could make it work. My experience helped me to take on all kinds of writing projects regardless of the topic or type of work. I began as a freelance writer but quickly realized I could also take on manuscript editing work. I enjoy both tremendously and my main reward is my client’s happiness.

Ironically, I am a science graduate and majored in Botany, Chemistry and Zoology. I also have a Diploma in Personal Secretaryship. As I gained work experience across industries, I decided to study for an MBA in HR and Marketing to my education as that made sense. Then I also gained a Diploma in Training and Development, thinking that it would be a good qualification to take on freelance training work.

So even though it looks like what I am doing now is unrelated to my education, I believe that no education goes waste. My science background has helped me write white papers for pharma clients. My marketing background helped me write case studies; my training background enabled me to create marketing course material for a client. And quite likely that all those sales reports I whined about writing definitely helped! 😊

Does that answer your question?

I love the way you built successful careers for yourself throughout your working life. The way you kept exploring each possible opportunity while still prioritizing what matters most to you, letting go of anything that does not fit, no matter how tempting the offer may be. Do you have any advice on career building, perhaps for writers?

Vidya: I believe we should always keep our minds and hearts open as we never know what could turn out to be a wonderful opportunity. I never in my wildest imagination thought I would be making a living writing. It seemed like a pipe dream. But look at me now!

Just before I got my first job in the corporate world, I subbed as a kindergarten teacher for three months at my mom’s school and loved it.

The point is — we can accomplish what we set our minds to do. And unless we try, we will never know what will work for us and what won’t. It is okay to make mistakes. That’s how we learn. If something looks interesting, I say go ahead and pursue it. Yes, I know we do need to plan, prioritize, set goals, and have some idea of where we see ourselves. I also believe that we should dream big and make it happen.

So my advice on career building for writers? Learn the craft. Invest in yourself. Read. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t give up.

3. It’s definitely not easy to pass up those high-paying offers and stand your ground with your instinct even amidst the nagging and judgment. I believe some would have caved by then as they struggle to make ends meet like I probably would have. What helped you decide to let go of your corporate career and turn to writing? It must have been a tough decision.

Vidya: Yes, it was, especially because — not only was I used to bringing home a six-figure salary before I took a career break, but we also needed the money badly. My mom’s health was fluctuating and I had a toddler. Although we tried our best to be frugal, we could not make ends meet without making some sacrifices. Added to that we had mortgages to deal with while making sure we had savings for medical emergencies.

Kudos to my mom and husband for encouraging and urging me to explore my writing talent. They believed in me. As my mom was fond of saying — tell the universe, and it will conspire to make it happen for you. Skeptical me scoffed at the idea but the slightly scared me was ready to do anything. My biggest motivation was wanting to be there for my son, my mom, and my husband. I didn’t want to see them only a few days a week.

I did try for different kinds of jobs — but the job market went through a slump at that time and the only suitable ones were not desk jobs. So, I took the leap of faith. And yeah, my mom was right. The moment I put it out there, saying I was interested in freelance writing work with absolutely no idea what it involved, I started receiving offers. The rest is history.

I did struggle. There were dry days. Days when clients did not pay. Tough jobs that paid too little. I took jobs I did not want to do but did them anyway because the pay was good. But I kept at it. Did not give up. And now, twenty years later, I am in a good place. I am able to do work I enjoy and say NO to what does not make me happy.

The reward? I have the rich and priceless treasure of NO REGRETS, a wonderful relationship with my family, and the joy of working from home. Literally living the dream.

How would you compare your experience writing on Medium with your own blogs, which I understand you have started 6 so far?

Vidya: I’ve been active on Medium since June 2021, here and love it. I also wrote here for a brief stint in 2018, mainly for The Start It Up.

I started blogging in 2003 when Google acquired Blogger. When I started my first blog, I just wrote and published. Over the years, as blogging evolved, I learned a lot and took it more seriously. Thanks to @Vanita Cyril’s loving nagging and constant encouragement, I got my own domains and went self-hosted.

I had goals — advertising income, sponsored posts, earning as an influencer with brand collaborations, and getting writing work — all of which I accomplished. My blogs are well-established and rank respectably. I am active on social media and have built a pretty decent following, which helps with self-promotion as well as building an audience.

I believe that every aspiring writer MUST have their own website where prospective clients can see their work. I am glad I do.

On Medium, I enjoy writing, obviously, and also engaging with other writers. As a writer, I believe that a presence on major platforms really helps. And it is fun writing for different publications and topics.

Also, when I republish something from my own websites on Medium and add the canonical link back to my blog, it helps with my own websites’ ranking in terms of domain authority.

So Medium is like a playground where I have fun, while my blogs are my own business where I do what I love. Together, they are complementary to each other.

I am lucky to have made some wonderful friends on Medium. I also have the privilege of being on the editing team for Coffee Times, the Illumination group of publications, and the Dancing Elephants Press. For what it is worth, I also have the Top writer tag in Ideas, Photography, Reading, Travel, Inspiration, This Happened To Me.

Sure, it would have been great if I could have been part of the Medium Partner Program and it sucks that writers based in India are not eligible. Still, I think the connections I am making here with other writers are worth far more and that’s a privilege that is priceless.

How do you manage all 6 blogs, your clients, along with all of your writing commitments on Medium as editors of several great publications, while still writing articles for yourself on Medium?

Vidya: I try my best to manage my time well. This means prioritizing my tasks for the day, in terms of work and other things. I have found that we must decide what we want and then work towards it. For me, this list includes:

  • Work that makes me happy. I ensure that I only take on work I can manage comfortably.
  • Time with family and friends
  • Time to exercise to stay fit — I do yoga at 7.30 am every morning
  • Good health — which means showing my diabetes who’s boss
  • Time to relax: this can be reading, listening to music, binge-watching shows I enjoy, cooking, sketching, painting…
  • Money for charity — which circles back to work I enjoy.

As for managing my blogs — I have an editorial schedule for each one. I set aside time to work on the content and schedule the posting.

I enjoy doing my own housework. To make sure my kitchen runs smoothly at least most of the time, I do my meal planning on Sundays and shop for groceries.

Of course, I have lots of scope for being impulsive and spontaneous — because what is life if we cannot have impromptu fun?

Writing on Medium — well it takes me half an hour to write a post. I write whenever I feel like it. 😊 I try not to overthink stuff. Like good ol’ Nike, I just do it.

You’re an inspirational and self-improvement writer. Do you have any tips to help us believe in ourselves, even during trying times?

Vidya: Lessons I’ve learned are:

  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Each one of us has our own paths, our own stories. We’re unique. So — believe in yourself.
  • Believe in your values.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Practice self-love.
  • Don’t dwell in the past — learn from it and move on.
  • Forgive yourself, respect yourself.
  • Stay in touch with your loved ones.
  • Walk away from toxic relationships.
  • Don’t look for other people’s approval all the time.
  • Focus on your strengths.
  • Look after your health.
  • Deal with stress.
  • Eat healthily.
  • Be active. When we look after our physical health, mental health follows. And when we take care of our well-being, we are ready to face anything life throws at us.

You speak 7 languages! How cool is that, and how did you go about learning all 7, besides your mother tongue? Any learning strategies? Did you ever consider writing in another language other than English?

Vidya: I am blessed with an aptitude for languages. My mother tongue is Tamil. I was born in a city that spoke Marathi and Hindi. We had Gujarati neighbors. We learned English, Marathi, and Hindi in school. Then, when we moved to a different state, I learned Telugu. In the 11th grade, I had the option to learn French. I continued to learn French in college as well for three years.

How I learned Spanish is an interesting story. In one of my jobs, I had to wait every evening for three months to meet the Dean of that Institute, who was a major client. Rather than fight mosquitoes and cuss having to wait, I decided to enroll in the Spanish class that had the same timing.

We now live in a different state where Kannada is spoken. I can also manage Malayalam thanks to family friends.

So — that’s 9 languages. The problem with languages is that unless we keep in touch regularly, we lose fluency. I try my best to practice. In any case, I can understand the movies I watch — so that’s another great way to keep in touch.

I can read/write/speak Tamil, Hindi, English, French, and Spanish. The other languages — I can only speak them.

I would love to extend my gratitude to Vidya once again, for giving such thoughtful and heartfelt responses!

These are so interesting to read, and I hope it has been as inspiring to you as it has for me. I absolutely love how honest she has been in her journey with us, both ups and downs while encouraging others as well.

Thank you, Ashley ❤ and a group hug to my fellow-editors at Coffee Times — Winston, Dr. Preeti Singh, Yana Bostongirl, Vincent Van Patten, and Sharing Randomly, and Marrisa W.

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Coffee Times is not just a publication, but a movement to build a mutually supportive community that encourages active reading and better writing.

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Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles

Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles

Writing about Self Improvement, Mindfulness, Meditation, Parenting, Health, Travel, Life, Books. Showing my diabetes who’s boss. Visit: https://vidyasury.com

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