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Navigating Struggles with Resilience

Dec/10/2023 / by melanie-fourie

Parul Somani is a cancer survivor and mindset expert

South Asian woman with dark hair in a glittery dress
Photo courtesy: Parul Somani

Indian immigrant Parul Somani is a keynote speaker, mindset expert, cancer survivor and advocate, philanthropist, and Indian dancer. Diagnosed in 2014 while pregnant with her second daughter, she not only conquered cancer but also emerged as a beacon of hope for others.

A dynamic keynote speaker, Somani often shares her compelling journey with her audiences, guiding people with cancer as well as others on navigating change and embracing intentional living. Passionate about patient empowerment, Somani often goes beyond public speaking to counsel individuals, drawing from her personal triumphs. Her impactful advocacy earned her an invitation to the White House as part of Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. Her blog, “New Job, New Baby, New Cancer,” also bagged her the title of the American Cancer Society’s 2020 “Raising Hope Honorée.”

Somani’s influence extends beyond advocacy. As a skilled life coach for leaders, she specializes in leadership development and team building. Some of the business leaders she’s coached include Michelle Ranavat, founder of Ranavat (the first desi brand sold via Sephora).

Additionally, Somani is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council and is currently writing a book. In this interview with SEEMA, she discusses her journey and diverse pursuits.

Your journey combines business leadership with a personal triumph over cancer. How do you integrate the lessons from your cancer survivorship into your professional life, especially in guiding organizations through uncertainty and change?

I never faced more uncertainty, fear, and uncontrollable change than when I was diagnosed with aggressive cancer the same week my younger daughter was born. As I reflected on the mindsets and tools that helped me not just survive but thrive from that experience, I’ve realized those same strategies have helped me in other ways. They helped me cope, make hard decisions, and move forward in all aspects of my life, spanning motherhood, career, health, and caregiving.

More importantly, I realized those mindsets and tools are teachable and learnable. This realization inspired me to channel the professional expertise from my corporate career as a business leader into a personal mission of empowering people to embrace change with intention. 

Your proprietary frameworks, Path of Least Regret® and M.O.V.E.TM, offer unique approaches to decision-making and navigating uncertainty. Could you share a specific instance where these frameworks made a significant impact, either in your personal journey or in advising a company facing a critical decision?

It was early on in my cancer journey that I developed the Path of Least Regret® paradigm for identifying how to make hard decisions and move forward in challenging situations. I was presented with two treatment options, each with their own trade-offs, and was asked which one I wanted to pursue. My decision would impact the quality and quantity of the remaining years of my life. Since there was no easy answer or certainty of outcome, my thoughts distilled to one core desire: to choose the option that would provide the greatest peace of mind. Since there was no “path of least resistance,” I chose my “path of least regret.”

I define the Path of Least Regret® as the choice that provides the greatest peace of mind, given what you know today, when the outcome is uncertain. This decision-making lens soon became my guiding life principle and has enabled many of the people whom I advise to make some of their hardest decisions in life and leadership. For example, when Michelle Ranavat, founder and CEO of Ranavat, hit repeated hurdles in her quest to be sold at Sephora, she seriously considered abandoning the process and proceeding with a different retailer. We worked together to identify her desired vision for the future and the resulting path of least regret, which clarified for her how to move forward. Ranavat went on to become the first South Asian brand to be sold at Sephora stores nationwide.

Balancing a thriving career with family life can be challenging. How do you manage to maintain a successful professional life while nurturing a family? Any tips for other working parents based on your own experiences?

It feels like all parents in this generation are managing a fragile ecosystem—a Jenga puzzle that’s constantly at risk of breaking down if any piece gets out of place. We need tactical mechanisms of supporting and strengthening our Jenga, like effectively managing time, drawing boundaries, and maintaining a reliable support system. But I’m also a strong believer in the power of mindset, perspective, and the story we tell ourselves.

I have two daughters, aged nine and 12, and of the many hats I wear, raising them into confident adults is my most important role. That said, I recognize how my work and time away with friends energizes me, which in turn helps me bring my best self forward in motherhood. Awareness and mental narrative go a long way in helping combat potential guilt, self-sacrifice and enabling a more fulfilling approach to life.

Your upcoming book must be an exciting venture. Can you provide a sneak peek into the themes or insights readers can expect? How did your personal and professional experiences shape the narrative of the book?

I’m thrilled to be writing my first book! Brené Brown once said, “One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you’re going through now, and it will become a part of someone else’s survival guide.” Over the years, I deconstructed the mindsets and strategies that helped me navigate changes and setbacks and formulated them into evidence-based frameworks and actionable tools for others. 

Through speaking engagements that have reached thousands of professionals, patients, and parents around the world, I’ve not only refined my thinking but also collected numerous case studies of how my insights have helped others.

In my book (tentatively titled “THE KINETIC LIFE: Learn to M.O.V.E. Through Change and Make Hard Decisions to Create a Fulfilling Life”), I will bring my survival guide to the masses. I harness the power of movement, inspired by my decades of Indian dancing, and offer readers a step-by-step guide to making hard decisions and embracing change with intentional actions. 

As a thought leader in healthcare, you’ve been involved with the White House Cancer Moonshot and the World Economic Forum. How do you envision the future of cancer care, and what role do you see patients and advocates playing in shaping this future?

My family has been deeply impacted by breast and ovarian cancer numerous times due to a genetic mutation. As the mother of daughters and aunt to nieces, I am very invested in the future of cancer across the care continuum. With declines in the cost of genomic testing, investments in research for multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests, advancements in AI and other technologies, I am hopeful for a future where cancers are better prevented or at least detected at an earlier, more treatable stage.

Patients and advocates play a critical role in shaping this future by sharing their experiences, shedding light on the pain points in the healthcare system, lobbying for change, contributing to research, and more.

Your blog “New Job. New Baby. New Cancer,” has reached readers in 85 countries. What motivated you to share your personal journey in such a public way, and what kind of impact do you hope your story has had on individuals facing similar challenges?

My mother was aggressively treated for breast cancer in her early thirties when I was six years old, and we didn’t discuss that with anybody outside of our nuclear family for decades. I respected the fact that it wasn’t my story to tell, but I also felt the burden of that secret. The cultural concerns around stigma and personal preferences for privacy ran strong. While I understood that, I also knew there must be people all around the world struggling with similar hardships. 

I had previously benefited from others sharing their private health journeys, and I wanted to pay that forward. I hoped my transparency and vulnerability would educate and inspire others who might be facing a similar diagnosis. What I didn’t expect was the feedback about how the blog also inspired people’s mindsets and approaches to other areas of their lives where they felt stuck.

How have your South Asian heritage and experiences influenced your approach to leadership, both in the corporate world and the health advocacy space?

I was born in India and raised in America, with a strong connection to my South Asian heritage. I saw first-hand the value my parents placed in a strong work ethic and high bar for excellence, and just as importantly, the value they placed in generosity, hospitality, and being of service to others. This mind-heart combination describes my approach to leadership, whether that be managing teams and leading organizations or advocating for change and inspiring others.

Being deeply involved in philanthropy, with roles in organizations like Tipping Point and One League, how do you believe education and poverty-fighting initiatives can create a positive global impact? And how do you personally contribute to these causes?

The more we lift others up with access to quality education, healthcare, employment opportunities, etc., the more we all rise. I serve on the Leadership Council of Tipping Point, a nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay Area that finds, funds, and strengthens the most promising poverty-fighting solutions, and the Global Mentorship Board of One League, a global education institution connecting the world’s highest potential change-makers to world-class education and opportunities to realize global impact.

Your lifelong love for Indian dancing, with over 35 years of performance experience, adds a fascinating dimension to your multifaceted identity. How has your passion for Indian dancing influenced your approach to challenges in both your personal and professional lives? Do you see any parallels between the discipline of dance and the disciplines you bring to business leadership and patient advocacy?

Dance is an integral part of my life and identity. So much of the confidence and stage presence I built through dance is what now serves me in my work as a speaker and advocate. It took me decades to realize that a lesson I learned as a young dancer was a lesson for navigating life: if you stumble, just keep dancing. Unexpected changes, slip-ups, and hardships are inevitable in life. We may feel stuck, lost, or thrown off balance, but it is by composing ourselves, reconnecting with our intention, and moving forward that we create the best result.

Sign up for Parul’s mailing list at parulsomani.com and follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook for the latest updates. 

Seema

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