Swati is a new member of my writing group, ARWA, and we’ve recently spent some quality weekend time together working on our projects. (Yeah, we hang out at Starbucks.) Her new book has just been released, and that makes it perfect timing for us to do an author Q&A. I’m so glad she was willing to participate and share a bit of her fascinating experience. ~Makenzi Fisk
AUTHOR Q&A, with Swati Chavda
Q: Can you tell us about your A-ha moment when you realized that you must put action to your thoughts and change your life? Would you describe that moment as terrifying, a calm conviction, or something else entirely?
A: It was a gradual build up over time, with cumulative years of sleepless nights, missed meals, and missed connections—not only with family and friends, but also from my own authentic self. I gritted my teeth and pulled along, telling myself, “That’s life.”
But when my father died, it hit me suddenly. He had wanted to do so much ‘more’ in life, but never got around to it. The trappings of a regular daily life kept him a prisoner—and as a prisoner, he died.
The need to be free and doing what truly mattered to me caught root then.
Initially the thought terrified me. Here I was, a fully qualified neurosurgeon, with a high-profile career and a stable income. How was going to cut off that part of my life and still survive? But that fear left me as soon as I took the plunge. Now it’s an exhilarating journey.
Q: Most people who’ve made major life changes have mixed feelings. Do you have regrets? Guilt? How do you deal with negative emotions?
A: In the initial phase after changing tracks, I had a lot of mixed feelings. First of all, I missed talking to patients, I missed surgeries, and most of all, I missed the high of walking out of the operating room late at night after just having saved someone’s life.
And then there was this question of what to call myself. I was no longer a neurosurgeon, but not quite a ‘proper’ writer as yet. Meeting a new person and introducing myself was a torture. Lots of hemming and hawing when it came to answer, “So, what do you do?”
Over time, as I wrote more and got deeper into the writing community, things became easier. Now I no longer regret leaving my old profession. In fact, it feels like the best decision I have ever made. And the only negative emotions I have these days are towards the first drafts of my stories, when my heroes are not quite heroic yet—or worse—villains not diabolical enough.
Q: In your blog post, you talked about not being accustomed to leisure, that everything felt strange. Do you have any advice for others in how to smooth the transition (or shock) from a hectic professional schedule to one more in tune with living in the moment? What worked for you, and what didn’t?
A: That’s a great question! My suggestion for people making the transition due to burnout is to take it easy for a while. There’s no alternative to this. Unless we refuel ourselves first, we’re going to be unable to journey further in our new direction.
For me, I found that my work had put me in a perpetual performer’s mode. I had become great at ‘doing’, but lousy at ‘being’. So mindfulness practices, taking long walks in nature, simply noticing my surroundings deliberately—and most importantly—not feeling guilty about any of that, started reviving me over time. I definitely recommend hitting the pause button for a while before jumping from one phase to another.
Q: Do you feel that women in high stress professions have more pressure, whether from others, or created by themselves toward achieving higher goals?
A: In my first week of neurosurgery training, a senior said to me, “You’ll have to work twice as hard as a man to prove yourself half as good.” I was young and naive then, and not yet assertive enough. So I simply thought it was good advice, and followed it. Big mistake. (If I could rewind time, I’d go back and protest.)
Q: When you embarked on your new career as a writer, did you find that you approached it in much the same way as you did your medical career, with much research, practice, and serious thought, or was it an entirely different learning experience?
A: Yes, in fact, I automatically eased into the same approach I used for my medical career: dissecting books to see what works, spending long hours honing the craft, and so on.
However, over time I realized that too much discipline was turning my prose stiff instead of shaping it into a living, breathing entity. So lately I’m encouraging more flexibility in the way I write. The process is already starting to pay off, and I think my recent writing is livelier than my earlier work.
A: Ah! My favorite question!
What I’ve noticed while talking to people is, that many folks complain about being on the verge of a burnout—but few readily admit this in public. It’s almost as if there’s some unspoken consensus that one must always present a flawless face to society.
My goal with this book is to demonstrate, using logic, examples, and analogy, that there is no need for stigma associated with burnout. The inner fire we all possess—and which dies during a burnout—resembles external fire. And so, deconstructing the elements of external fire can shed light on the ways to ignite our inner fire.
If it makes even one person pause for a moment and think of small changes they can make to start living a life filled with passion and joy, my goal will be achieved.
Hop over here and take a peek if you’d like to read more: http://www.swatichavda.com/ignite/