Uma Vanka's Secrets to Rosckstardom
By Alla Drokina
Whether it's looking at a crisis as an opportunity or redefining failure, author and IT leader, Uma Vanka adheres to a personal conviction of seeing as he says, "The cup half full." This approach, he contends, is one of the steps of becoming a Rockstar.
According to Uma, everyone has the makings of a Rockstar, but it takes confidence and effort to become one. At least, these are the salient tenets in his book, "I Am a Rockstar."
In it, Vanka shares tools and advice for success. With the intention of setting his book apart from daunting reads, he presents material in a straightforward and easily digestible way.
With the help of his domestic internal advisory board, solely made up of his seven-year-old twins, Vanka is constructing his new book for children, "I Am a Little Rockstar," which he predicts may be out this winter. Vanka affirms it's vital to extol these positive messages to the youth as early as possible.
What do you think people fear the most in their job search and what prevents them from being successful?
Failure. Most people, what they fear the most is failure, right. My philosophy is the word failure should not exist in our dictionary. People often confuse when they fall with failure.
My philosophy that I'm trying to teach through my book is that you fall, but you learn from your fall, you get up and keep walking towards success, that's my philosophy. But the short answer is, what do people fear most? They fear failure.
How do you think redefining failure may help us succeed?
First of all, it all starts with self-belief. The very first thing we need to do as we get up in the morning is look at ourselves in the mirror and tell ourselves "I'm a Rockstar." If we believe in ourselves, then we can accomplish a lot of things in life, so that's number one.
And number two, is every time we think we fail at something, we should replace the word failure with a word called "FALLure." Behind every fall, there is a lesson to be learned. Why were we not able to do what we wanted to do? What could we be doing differently?
So, just understand what we can do differently next time, and again with the self-belief that we already talked about, keep moving forward, and next time don't make the same mistake, and you will succeed.
When you talk about being a Rockstar, I'm curious, when did you first discover your "inner Rockstar," so to say?
That's a tough question. There is a small story behind the "I'm a Rockstar" title. I was conducting an interview once, and the first question we asked everybody is "tell me about yourself." Pretty much everybody talked about how good they are, their accomplishments, their skillset, and all that good stuff, but there was this one girl who told me when I asked her to tell me about yourself, her answer was "I'm a Rockstar."
I was taken back a little bit, but when I probed into it, she explained to me, "I believe in myself. That's my main strength." Then we kept talking about it. I wanted to find out if she was being arrogant, but no she was not arrogant, she was just confident. That one incident, that small story is the reason behind this title.
But, again, back to your question. I always believe in myself. There are times when I feel down, but obviously I talk to myself. I reassure myself that I can do things. It's a constant process, but specifically the title came from that incident.
You also say leadership is an art facilitated by science, how does science facilitate leadership?
What I mean by that is if you look at leadership, leadership is one's ability to envision the future - so come up with a vision, translate that vision into a set of goals, and motivate a number of people to reach those goals.
Basically, those are the three steps in leadership. Again, regardless of what type of leadership and what situation we are demonstrating leadership, this is the definition of leadership. So, part of it is up to one's nature comes into play, but there is a methodology to it.
How do you translate the vision into goals, and how do you motivate people? Obviously personality plays a big role, but also there are some techniques you can use to effectively motivate people, so that is the science part of leadership that I'm talking about, but then there is an art aspect of it which is really one's personality to motivate people, and all that good stuff.
We've been living in a strange time, what has kept you motivated?
I keep telling people, basically pretty much everybody I talk to - the current situation we are going through is not a crisis. Unless of course people are getting sick, and I'm not talking about the health impact... I'm not talking about people who got impacted directly.
For those who are not impacted, those who are complaining that they are not able to go out, that they are not able to have a normal life for them specifically, I keep telling them, this is not a crisis, this is an opportunity. Because behind every crisis, there is an opportunity. Look at that opportunity.
For example, for me, I usually travel a lot, I'm rarely home. So, this gives me an opportunity to spend so much time with my family, and this gives me so much free time to do what I really love doing. That's when I wrote a majority of my book, during the Covid lockdown.
So, look at this as an opportunity. Do what you've been wanting to do, because this is a time we normally wouldn't have gotten so what Covid is giving all of us is a lot of time on our hands. And if you extrapolate this, it goes back to whether you look at the cup half empty or half full.
I think it goes back to the mindset of looking at the good side of every perceived crisis and if you look for it, there is definitely an opportunity behind every crisis.
So, I think what you're really speaking about sounds like a shifting of perspective, right?
Have you always been so optimistic throughout your whole life or was there a sort of internal shift that occurred for you to get to that place?
No, definitely, I was not always like this. The positive mindset kept evolving overtime, and, still, there are several instances where I tend to think negatively, but then immediately, I try to come out of those negative thoughts and put a positive spin or actually put positive thoughts in my mind. I call it the mindset maturity. Obviously, it came over time. I feel like most of us were not born like this.
That's encouraging for people like me to hear, realizing it's something we can develop and hone over time.
Correct, and what matters is the kind of exposure we have. If you keep reading books that give you negative thoughts, for example, then we tend to think like that. But if you start reading books or following the media that gives you a positive mindset, then that's where the positive thoughts come into the picture.
It's definitely a process of evolution and, I, myself, two years from now, will definitely be a different person, because I keep evolving. We all have opportunities to evolve in life.
What advice would you offer people right now who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and maybe even lost their confidence?
First believe in yourself, and again, we are not in a normal situation. It's not caused by us. Again, it's a natural event, but the advice is don't get discouraged because you lost your job, or something happened in your career.
Fundamentally, first believe in yourself - that's the first advice, and also look for opportunities. Whenever the world seems dark to us, there is light somewhere. We have to look for that light. If you lost your job, look for an alternate career path.
This is a good time to self-evaluate, and whatever path we were on until now, if that path got closed, I'm pretty sure there is another part open somewhere, we just need to find it. It's a good time to go back and evaluate ourselves one more time to see what other skills we have, and based on that, we just have to find an alternate part.
Did you always know you were going to write? Was it always something you wanted to do?
No, I always wanted to share my views or share my thoughts with the world, and a book was something that was in the back of my mind, but I never thought I would actually publish one. That was a desire sitting in the back of my mind. I was pleasantly surprised I could finish it and publish it, and the moment the book got into my hands, I was extremely thrilled.
And could you tell us a little more about your next book, "I'm a Rockstar for kids?" it's such a unique idea, and I'm curious how you're approaching the same topic for kids.
How I'm approaching it is totally different. The concept of self-belief, confidence. These concepts, the earlier you instill these concepts, the better it is. I think the right age to do that is maybe five or six when you have to start telling kids they're all born rock stars, so the book is called "I'm a Little Rockstar." This is for any kid that can read. The writing process is completely different.
In order to engage kids, I'm using a lot of fiction - the adult book is completely nonfictional, as you know, but the kids book has a lot of fiction. It has a lot of catch phrases and stuff to keep them engaged.
The good news is I have twins, they're seven right now, and they are helping me in writing the book. They come up with ideas, we actually have what we really call book meetings. They participate in them just like adults. We throw some ideas out there. I write, and then I run it by them, and I get their feedback. They tell me whether they understand or not. It's an evolving process, but also they're helping me with drawing for the book, as well.
When can we expect the book to come out?
I wanted to release it during summer, but we are still in the process of adding some spices to the book, and now kids are going back to school. We're still debating on whether it's a good time to release it, so maybe we'll look at the next window, that could be maybe winter.
I want as many kids as possible to read it. With kids busy at school, I'm not sure this is a good time to overwhelm them with something like this. The answer is still to be determined.
I hear a lot of parents saying that having their own children makes them think about their young selves and reflect on that part of their life more, too. What piece of advice would you give to young Uma Vanka?
See, I wish when I was a kid I had a book like this to read. A book that tells me that I'm born to be a Rockstar. A book that actually tells me what confidence is, and teaches me how to be confident, be ourselves, not worry about what the other kids are doing or what they have. Don't feel inferior but not superior at the same time, just be yourself.
I wish I had a book like that, and that is what I'm trying to do with "I'm A Little Rockstar." The advice is you are a Rockstar. Believe in yourself. Just keep doing what you're doing. Always try to be better but be yourself.
I'd love to hear about your past travels to remote places and the experience that inspired you to write I'm a Rockstar.
I was extensively traveling like I said, most of it was for work, but fortunately, I enjoy travel, so we did a lot of personal travel as well. The reason I said fortunately is because my work requires me to travel a lot, and luckily I enjoy it, so there is no issue there. I've been to over 50 countries, and then I've been to a lot of remote places. And every place you go to, there is a lot to learn.
From a cultural standpoint, your exposure to different cultures teaches you a lot about leadership and people's behavior tied to culture, and leadership influenced by the culture. There is a lot to learn, and a lot of these learnings made their way into the book, as well.
I read you had moved to the US from a small town in India in your 20s. So, how did that impact you moving to a different country in your twenties?
It had a big impact. Culturally, as you can tell, India and the US are very different. It took me a lot of time to get used to the new way of life in the US. I try to look at the positive side of everything. I could have come to this country and become discouraged and depressed, but I didn't do that. I tried to get accustomed to the new culture, new environment. I kept learning. It was a very interesting learning experience.
But now it's been close to twenty years living in the US, so now I'm more accustomed to this country. Still, I miss parts of Indian culture. But now I've spent the same amount of time in India as in the US, as most of my adult life is now in the US.
What has been a rewarding part and a challenging part of writing the book?
The rewarding part of writing is every time I hear about the book from somebody. Every time I read a comment or review, that's the rewarding part of it. If you know somebody is reading your work, and on top of that, if somebody is appreciating it, there is nothing more rewarding than that.
The challenging part - writing is not easy, spending late nights, and not being able to spend time with my kids, locking myself in my room. I don't know if challenging may or may not be the right word, but it was a lot of work. But I enjoy doing it. That's why I did it.
I'm sure many consider you a favorite motivational speaker and writer - I mean, I feel pretty inspired by just having this conversation with you right now - but who are some your favorite motivational writers and speakers who currently inspire you or have served to inspire you in the past?
I do follow some people, but to be honest with you, I don't have favorites. My point is I actually try to learn from everybody. I mean right now we are having this conversation.
I can tell you a couple of things I learned from this conversation. My kids, my wife, and my friends, every interaction I have in life, there is something to learn from it, and that is what I try to do. And I don't think anybody should have a favorite person or someone they follow. I think there is something to learn from every event and person in life.
That sounds like a humble approach to have.
I think it is realistic. Learning and selling - two things that never stop in life, and I guess there's something to be learned from everything and everybody.
For more information on how to become a Rockstar, visit: www.UmaVanka.com
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