Crisis awakens Purpose — Vijay Bhat’s story
Ever been on a roller-coaster? When you get on consciously, the ride can be thrilling. But when it happens without prior notice, it can be shockingly scary, right?
Well, if 2020 feels like a roller-coaster ride to you, please invest few mins to get inspiration reading Vijay Bhat’s roller-coaster journey and how he emerged from a personal crisis and thriving for 2 decades.
When I first heard Vijay Bhat’s story, it felt like a movie. But when I spoke to him in person, I had to pinch myself. It is 100% real.
Let me highlight a few scenes from his story..
Scene 1: One high after another
Vijay was born in a middle-class family and studied at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. The liberal, progressive, cosmopolitan environment was most stimulating! He also met Nilima (his life partner) through St. Xavier’s, so that made it all the more special.
He started his career in Advertising and quickly emerged as a young leader to head Ogilvy & Mather’s Bangalore office at 27. He was promoted to senior roles in Mumbai, Singapore, London and Hong Kong. A happy personal life, varied circle of friends, a great career, regular vacations, travel opportunities and working with some of the best minds in the world … what more could one ask for? It was one high after another.
Scene 2: 40th birthday surprise
Soon after celebrating his 40th birthday, Vijay went for his regular medical check-up and was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a huge shock. Life’s roller-coaster turned him upside down. Vijay & Nilima experienced all the typical emotional turmoil: confusion, fear, powerlessness and extreme vulnerability. Soon after, Vijay underwent surgery to remove his colon and fortunately, it was successful.
Within 3 days of his diagnosis, Vijay did something unusual. He wrote an email to over 500 people in his personal and professional network about his health. Support poured in from all over the world. Vijay realised and benefited from the power of global networking and personal goodwill — how they came in handy at the most challenging time especially when they were in a far off land.
Scene 3: From Victim to Thriver
Post-surgery, Vijay’s doctors gave him the choice of whether to take chemotherapy or not. Again, an unusual option. After much deliberation, he decided against it.
Instead, he pursued a holistic and integrated approach.
Guided by his “3 Angels”, his regime comprised Traditional Chinese Medicine to boost immunity (Dr. Xuan Song Ke), Cognitive Behavior Therapy to process depression, sorrow and anger (Dr. Bill Mitchell) and reconnecting with his spiritual practice (Fr. Lancy Pereira). Vijay is very grateful to the God sent angels.
Based on reading and hearing stories, he made 3 very important mental flips to reframe cancer:
1. He chose to be a ‘Thriver’, not a ‘Survivor’
2. He opted to become an ‘Anecdote’ and not remain a ‘Statistic’
3. He let go the ‘cancer patient’ tag and became a ‘cancer impatient’ instead
Scene 4: Discovering life-purpose
In 2004, Vijay & Nilima also chose “life-over-lifestyle” and made the difficult decision to give up his outstanding corporate career and return to India. They set up Roots & Wings (a small leadership consultancy) and started exploring the idea of cancer coaching, alongside.
Their work led to the launch of a website Cancer Awakens in 2010, as there was no single place where people could find high-quality and well-curated information around Holistic and Integrated approaches to cancer. In 2013, they published their book “My Cancer Is Me — The Journey from Illness to Wholeness”, which has since been translated into Spanish.
Vijay likes to say “Cancer healed me” and is now in his 3rd career. He has found his purpose as a Social Impact Entrepreneur in the field of cancer coaching and stress-wellbeing.
Are you curious to know more about Vijay? Let me now take you to the direct interview with him.
Ambal: What has the cancer roller-coaster taught you?
Vijay: Cancer is a great teacher — here are my top 3 lessons:
1. “Pain is universal, while suffering is optional.” You feel pain as a sensation, but how much you suffer and allow it to impact you, depends on your mindset. There is always an element of choice.
2. “Reclaim your power and your life.” If you give your power away, you will live on someone else’s terms. Life is too precious and wonderful to be wasted this way.
3. “Let crisis heal you, just as cancer healed me.” Use crisis as a springboard for your own transformation.
Ambal: Rapid fire questions
Ambal: Who are your Role models?
Ambal: What is your Vision?
Vijay: Let me address this at two levels…
We want people to ‘awaken, heal, grow and thrive’ from the traumatic experience, instead of suffering like victims or dying on schedule.
We want people to take active, preventive steps and take charge of their own health.
In both cases, the biggest barrier is mindset change. We can provide the framework, tools and coaching, but the actual ‘ownership’ lies with the individual.
Also, there is a strong supporting science of PNI for our offerings — PsychoNeuroImmunology. Very briefly, PNI proves beyond doubt that our thoughts and feelings (psychology) directly affect our nervous system (neurology) and impacts our immune and endocrine systems (immunology).
So there is lots to do and we are excited about doing it!
Ambal: How did you handle the pandemic in 2020?
Vijay: It has been a fascinating experience, with more ups than downs, thankfully!
On the personal front, we managed to avoid Covid so far and I am glad that effective vaccines are on the horizon. The lockdown was a great reminder that one can get by on a lot less than one imagines or is used to.
On the professional front, despite having to make some tough calls, we did well overall.
a) Cancer Coaching: The Thriver (cancer-coaching) program continues its steady progress, one life at a time. It is fully online, so we are ahead of the curve. We used the lockdown period to significantly upgrade our process and documentation and invested in training our Sherpas further. Plus, we are receiving great feedback from our thrivers, so we know the model works. Without any marketing, around 90000 people visit to our website every year, which is pretty good for a niche service. There is clearly a lot of interest and need.
b) Corporate Wellbeing: We also switched our Stress-to-Swaasthya program to an online model. During the lockdown, I led around 20 webinars for varied audiences, which reached a few thousand people globally and received very well. We are partnering with many Business and HR leaders to help employees to manage their stress and burnout challenges.
c) The best news of all is that we have secured some funding, which enables us to scale up by investing in people, marketing and technology. We are very grateful for this vote of confidence, during a very difficult time.
On the whole, I think we have weathered the storm and we are very well-placed for the future.
Ambal: What has been your contribution in the wellbeing space?
Vijay: Interestingly, with wellbeing taking center stage after the pandemic, coupled with our 15-year track record, we are well positioned to scale.
Today, people recognize that stress, burnout, resilience, vitality and wellbeing are real and must be urgently dealt with. Concepts like mental / emotional health, immunity and ‘the new normal’ are now part of mainstream discourse.
But it is one thing to recognize a problem and it is entirely another thing to diagnose it accurately and then address it properly. Fortunately, we have already designed and launched a unique and comprehensive online Holistic Health Questionnaire which is freely available. So far, about 1500 people from around the world have taken it. And we are already extracting powerful insights from this data that will benefit both individuals and organizations immensely.
For example, wouldn’t it be great for individuals to recognize their key stressors and be equipped with simple and powerful tools to manage stress on a daily basis? And at an organizational level, wouldn’t it be great for a CEO / CHRO to know how the junior staff’s stress profile differs from the field staff’s or management staff’s stress profile? Armed with these insights, the organization can design and calibrate their wellbeing initiatives appropriately. We can help them to do this.
Ambal: What is your 2021 message?
Vijay: It is somewhat spooky how my personal lessons from colon cancer in 2001, still apply to the global Covid pandemic in 2021. As they say “the deeply personal is also the profoundly universal”.
My message is this. When we emerge from a crisis (whether Cancer or Covid), one is naturally cautious and takes small, tentative steps. But remember that a crisis is not a ‘bump-in-the-road’ like Mumbai’s famous speed-breakers and potholes.
Crisis is a ‘fork-in-the-road’ and it prompts us to fundamentally change the direction of our life.
I encourage you to boldly follow the untrodden path.
Question every assumption and re-draw every boundary line. A heroic adventure beckons … I hope you will answer the call!
Doesn’t this story feel like a movie…
Vijay and Nilima are a warrior couple who have proven that one can become a role model by beating the odds.
From Vijay’s story, I learnt about importance of inner peace, leveraging network during crisis, thriver mindset, power of PNI and how a crisis can awaken a larger purpose …
My own family faced crisis in 2020; we had to deal with 2 serious exigencies for elders within 6 months. We had three choices — to remain as victim in grief, survive or thrive.
I decided to be a thriver and plunge into writing — my decade-long passion (which I had kept in the back burner). I wouldn’t have imagined writing 20 motivational and thought provoking articles reaching around 10000 views, 500 online engagements creating positive vibes within few quarters.
I firmly believe that Crisis awakens purpose and 2020 brought out the writer in me. My gratitude to each one of you who motivated me through your calls, comments, feedback, online engagement to write more.
As I wrap up the article, I have one recommendation for you to make Health & Well being your number One priority. Vijay provides a holistic health assessment framework after decade long research covering 5 dimensions — Physical, Emotional, Mental, Relational and Spiritual. I found it comprehensive and as a good mirror for myself from the beautiful dashboard — first of its kind personal SWOT view.
This Health assessment is now available free.
What better investment can you make, than your own wellbeing? What are you waiting for?
Break-up with Stress, Build-Up your resilience.
If Vijay’s story and message inspired you, share with your network. You can motivate many others to start 2021 on the front foot and kick start the ride in the New Normal.