My path of self discovery began some time ago.
This is the story of that path and its shaping of the work I do.
I was born on the 7th of March, 1978.
By coincidence this was also Mahashivratri - the most auspicious day in the Indian calendar.
As was customary back then, my parents commissioned a Vedic horoscope for me, based on the date, time and place of my birth.
The horoscope foretold of great things which, one by one, began to manifest. For example, I knew my multiplication tables aged 16 months!
People grew very excited and my parents naturally were thrilled. It wasn't long before I was heralded as some kind of golden boy.
And yet my story almost went no further. An anaphylactic reaction to egg left me comatose for four days, but fortunately I managed to pull through.
The early years of school were a breeze. I was often sent into the corridor to study privately, and given extra homework to nourish my curiosity. At age 7 I was sent to an elite private school that was more like a country club!
As I reached adolescence however, things began to change. I felt increasingly constricted by the stifling atmosphere at school and at home and began to rebel, losing much of my interest in academia.
I remained enchanted by a few subjects, for example physics and geography. And I loved the sense of freedom I felt during art, sports and extracurricular activities.
Thankfully a music teacher discovered I have perfect pitch and my interest in music flourished. I sang and learned percussion, and spent a lot of time playing classical music concerts and jazz gigs.
During this period I also became fascinated by the human organism, especially anatomy, physiology and psychology.
Coming from a family of doctors, medicine was always promoted as a career option. My heart, however, was set on studying psychology.
Faced with a choice between the two, and following a last minute intervention by my older sister and her cool medic friends at the behest of my parents, I chose medicine.
It was a seismic decision that would have far reaching consequences for me.
By sheer luck I found myself studying medicine in Prague, in the Czech Republic. Prague in the late 1990s was the right place for me to be at that point in my life.
The Velvet Revolution of 1989 was fresh in the memory, and capitalism was knocking at the door. It was a beautiful, vibrant melting pot of people and ideas, and the perfect antidote to the tedious monoculture I had come from.
My wanderlust took charge, fuelled by this magical new environment and its scent of alchemy from the Renaissance of centuries before.
I djayed the bars and clubs, playing deep and soulful house. I socialised and travelled extensively. I walked the streets and parks and saw countless movies - sometimes with friends but often alone - firstly in the old converted communist underground theatres and later in the swish multiplexes that began to sprout up.
I drank Staropramen and played nine ball pool late into the night with my new Czech and expat family.
For the first time in a long time, I had space to eat, breathe and think. And even though I had come to realise medicine as a career wasn't for me, I was unwilling to relinquish that space in a hurry.
So I coasted through my degree, doing the bare minimum to get by.
Then, in the summer of 2003, with only three state exams pending, the bill arrived.
This particular bill was existential, rather than financial.
As I sat to prepare for the first of my finals (internal medicine, paediatrics and general surgery), I experienced a strange sensation of not being able to understand a word I was reading. Even the simplest words seemed as though they were from a foreign language.
This feeling persisted the next day and the day after that. And the day after that. For 30 days straight. I began to think I might be losing my mind.
In retrospect I can see that is exactly what was happening, what needed to happen and what was inevitable - I had, after all, spent six years overriding my heart. But at the time it felt deeply frustrating and confusing and actually quite scary.
I now faced an unsettling dilemma: too far into my degree simply to quit at the final hurdle, yet physically unable to continue.
Luckily there was an option to pause my degree for up to three years, so with a sigh of relief I completed the paperwork before heading into the unknown.
Now I needed some money to sustain my independence. On a whim I blagged my way into a healthcare startup in Mayfair, London. To be honest it wasn't so difficult to get in: this was 2004 and business optimism was sky high!
Our outfit was young and brash. We wanted to rapidly create a portfolio of high quality care homes for the elderly and for adults with learning difficulties. At the time this was still a cottage industry, and we saw a big opportunity to bring fresh thinking and economies of scale to the party.
My role was to develop a model of clinical excellence that could be scaled, and I took to it with gusto. I relished being in a dynamic commercial environment where there was so much to learn.
I hung out with my tech colleagues and learned about computers. I learned about legal, ops, sales and marketing, accounts and more, all stuff I had never encountered in my medical background. Gradually I became street-smart. It was hard work but loads of fun. It was a welcome distraction. Basically, it turned out to be a personalised real-world MBA.
In the end I was summarily dismissed from the startup, for pushing clinical excellence over profit margins. Painful naivete on my part but a good lesson nonetheless. And, looking back, if I hadn't have been fired I wouldn't have left and would have missed the deadline for completing my studies.
This is when things started to get really bad. With rapidly dwindling financial and emotional reserves, a threadbare support network, a seemingly unconquerable degree and a dense fog hanging over my future, I hit rock bottom.
Through the tears and migraines and the novocaine of endless daytime sitcoms, I started to wonder where it had all gone so wrong.
How was I so out of sync with my peers, most of whom by now were married and with kids, mortgages and all the other paraphernalia? I felt a deep sense of shame which compounded my grief and despair.
It was only with the unwavering support of my partner Foteini, that I managed to slowly and painfully climb back onto my feet. Her name in Greek means light, and during my darkest hours she helped me find a way forward.
Foteini and I first met in Prague, back in 2002 (her brother and I were flatmates and colleagues). We had the kind of old-school fairytale romance and courtship that the swipe-right generation can, unfortunately, only dream of.
Now, with love, compassion and graceful strength she set about rekindling my passion for life and for psychology. She even helped me become fluent in Greek! Most of all, she helped me begin the process of restoring trust in myself and in others.
Soon it was 2006, and the clock was ticking fast. Summoning all that lay dormant within me, I turned towards my mountain and, agonisingly, relentlessly, began my ascent. Finally, over a year and a half later and with not long to spare, I was awarded my MD.
It was a bittersweet moment. I knew by now I would have no practical use for the degree and had, in effect, been on a 10-year wild goose chase, yet it was a journey I felt I needed to complete. Perhaps more valuable than the final papyrus was the courage, strength and self knowledge I gained along the way.
With my MD came a few revelations:
One - I didn't want to even see another book for at least a year!
Two - since I managed to complete something I didn't even like, I could probably achieve anything I set my mind to in the future.
Three - I still had no idea what to do with my life, only what not to do.
Again Foteini helped me move forward. In 2009, during her training as an integrative psychotherapist, she introduced me to a course in emotional freedom technique that she was considering taking. We did the course together and I liked it very much.
From there I completed training in mindfulness-based neurolinguistic programming, integrated energy techniques and a medical diploma in clinical hypnosis.
At the time I had no idea how these dots would eventually connect. I was simply following my nose into whatever interested me.
It felt good to finally have my mojo back. And for someone who didn't want to see another book, I was suddenly devouring them!
In December 2009 Foteini and I spent a few days in Prague. We took a trip to our beloved Petrin Hill where, amidst a light drizzle and a beautiful panorama of our city, I proposed with the prettiest engagement ring I could afford at the time. It's a ring she wears to this day.
By now the way forward for me was becoming a little clearer. I began to offer health coaching - an easy and sensible way for me to get back in the saddle. My clients were reassured that I was a doctor who took the time to really listen and to care for their concerns.
As I cut my teeth in this field I began to notice I was actually really good at working in this way, something I had never felt whilst training as a doctor. With renewed purpose I set about becoming the best I could be.
I gained experience by seeing a wide variety of clients. And I continued my training: a course in the management of eating disorders, a postgraduate diploma in nutritional medicine and a masters degree in psychological coaching that helped connect all the dots.
In 2011 I also began long-term psychotherapy, to help me with my ongoing journey as a person and a practitioner. This has been a tremendous source of support, growth and healing, and has helped me connect more deeply with my clients when they come to see me.
As I worked hard to integrate my training and life experience, I started to see more and more clearly that health coaching wasn't going to be the end of the line for me. I no longer needed to be the guy with the fancy letters after his name. It just didn't feel aligned anymore.
So again I followed my nose. Hesitantly yet with determination, I arrived at the understanding I have today. That my wish is to help others with their path of self discovery, as I have been helped over the years with mine. I can think of no greater gift to give or to receive.
I am committed long-term to spending around a tenth of my time supporting clients. This feels like a good balance, allowing me to enjoy the work on many levels.
My business runs on autopilot in the cloud, overseen by a small group of software-as-a-service companies I have selected for being highly reliable and likeable.
Life is generally pretty good. My calendar is usually wide open, giving plenty of time for sleep, leisure and my ongoing path of self discovery.
In my life and work so far, something has become clear.
As a species we tend to rely so much on our brightest individuals, recognising their immense capability, without always recognising their equally immense humanness and offering them adequate support to succeed.
I would like to make a contribution towards resolving this imbalance.
My idea is to bring together some of the world’s best therapists with some of the world’s brightest individuals who would like to access therapy, but currently lack the financial means of doing so.
My role will be to provide the platform and some funding.
At the moment this is still an idea percolating in my mind’s eye, but it’s something close to my heart and I’m determined to make it a reality. If you have any thoughts around this or would like to collaborate with me on such a project, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at bimal [at] me [dot] com, or via my LinkedIn page.