Dr. Mrinalini Garv is a dynamic career coach and founder of unshackled career women. Mrinalini is a best-selling author physician and leadership coach who has mentored and coached countless south Asian women as they navigate their careers.
This episode is important because of the impact of how toxicity manifests and interacts with self-doubt and confidence.
The Toxic Leadership Podcast
Dr. Kevin Sansberry II is a behavioral scientist and executive coach with expertise in toxic leadership, human capital strategy, and creating inclusive cultures of belonging to enhance organization performance. Over the years, Kevin has focused on providing research-informed solutions in various settings such as higher education, nonprofit, sales, and corporate environments.
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Overcoming Self Doubt, An Interview with Mrinalini Garv
Our episode is with Mrinalini Garv. She is a dynamic Career Coach and Founder of Unshackled Career Woman. She is a bestselling author, Physician, and Leadership Coach who has mentored and coached countless South Asian women as they navigate their careers. This episode is important because of the impact of how toxicity manifests and interacts with self-doubt and confidence. She really spells out different things that women can do, particularly as it relates to getting unshackled in your career and tackling self-doubt firsthand.
We have a very special guest, Mrinalini Garv. How are you?
I’m great. Thank you.
I appreciate you being here and I’m excited to know your insights on the impact of self-doubt and how it relates to toxic leadership.
I’m happy to be here.
Before we jump into that, I want to give our audience the opportunity to learn about who you are, how you came about doing your work and just sharing a little bit more about your story.
I’m a Physician turned Career Transformation Coach. It’s a strange transition from being a physician to becoming a coach but what I do is help female professionals, especially women of color, to be seen, heard, and respected in their industry because I think women bring so much to the table. Many times, they do not get the credit and recognition that they need, and as a result, they are not able to fulfill all their dreams and they sell themselves short. That’s in a nutshell of what I do.
How did it come about that notion of the focus on women of color and the impact of a toxic workplace? Did it come from a personal experience or did it come from you coaching people? How did it manifest in, “I need to start this business. This is where I need to go.” Where did that come from?
It started with my personal journey, but then as I started coaching my clients, I started seeing that same theme coming up. I came from India. I practiced in India as a primary care Physician for about four years and I realized that my heart was not in it. I wasn’t fulfilled so I was exploring some opportunities of staying in healthcare but not really doing clinical medicine. I then came across this option of getting a Master’s degree in the US and switching completely to hospital administration. I got my Master’s in Health Administration and then I had this great opportunity to work in amazing organizations in the US.
I focused mostly on hospital administration. I’m a multiple-time career changer. What I was looking for was fulfillment. Even though I was so qualified, had all the education I needed, and had amazing expertise, I felt that I wasn’t getting promoted and getting recognition in the organizations where I worked and that made me doubtful about myself. It’s like, “What is wrong with me? I have everything. Why am I not shining in the organization? Why am I not getting the opportunities that others are getting?”
When self-doubt shackles you, then you do not show up at work a hundred percent.
It took me a while when I kept ignoring that and not really focusing on what exactly is the root cause of the problem. One day, my body just refused to work. At that time, I was working as a Business Professor. I came back home and I just couldn’t move. That was my wake-up call. I was diagnosed with a certain condition and thankfully, I didn’t have that. I thought, “I am unfulfilled in my career and I need to explore that.” I took the time to explore what was going on and I realized that a lot of what I was going through was partially my own fault.
This is something that most people don’t want to admit, but I realized that doubting myself was not helping me at all because when self-doubt shackles you, then you do not show up at work 100%. You feel that no matter what you do is not going to take you anywhere. You then start going to that dark place where it’s like, “It must be because I’m a woman, I’m a brown woman, or because of my accent.”
When you start going to the dark side, it’s just a deep hole and it’s really hard to get out of it unless it tells you to stop, pause, put a mirror in front of you and look at what is going on. That’s how I decided that I needed to figure out this mystery for myself. When I figured that out, I felt like I was the only one who was feeling this way.
As I reached out to more women, it turns out most of them have this fear, this doubt about themselves, and they are not earning how much they should be earning. They’re not getting promoted and they’re not even leaving their jobs, especially if it’s a toxic workplace. Not that you have to leave your job just because it’s a toxic workplace, but you do have to stand up, ask for what you need, and you do need to assert. After you have done that, it’s really time to move on, but they won’t move on because they feel that there’s no other way.
That notion that you just explained is something that I have in one of the studies that I deal on. I did a study on CEO Narcissism. In that study, we looked at the difference in how narcissism impacts women and men differently. We found that women don’t leave the workplace as it relates to that behavior trait, for example.
I could generalize to other forms of toxicity and how it impacts women, where they experience it just like a man would or probably worse, but by virtue of that, they wouldn’t take the next step of leaving and use the word shackle. They feel shackled to that workplace per se for whatever reasons that they may be.
I love that you’ve highlighted the elephant in the room of the internalization of certain things, the self-fulfilling prophecy, and the imposter syndrome. That’s important to lift up because when you’re in that dark place, I bet a lot of people don’t even know that this is a mindset. If I’m the ruler of my mindset, how can I honor that?
These days, people have started using imposter syndrome. They like to add it to their name. “I have imposter syndrome,” as if it’s something very fashionable to say, but those who have imposter syndrome know how incapacitating it is. You can laugh about it, but you are miserable inside. The reason I call my program Unshackled Career Woman is for the same reason because these shackles are invisible from the outside.
If somebody looked at my resumé, they would look at all these amazing organizations that I have worked at. Multiple times, I have changed my career and I have been making a six-figure income. From the outside, everything looked amazing, but I did not feel amazing about myself. Every day, going to work just felt like a challenge.
I felt like I had a 100-ton weight on my body and I had to force myself to get out of bed and go to work, and that’s because of the shackles. You’re not excited about going to work because you’re afraid to face your boss, you’re afraid to face your colleagues and you’re afraid of rejections because you know that no matter what you do, no matter how much hard you work, you give up. That fatalism gets you.
It is important that we look at this as a problem that can be solved versus giving up on it, not doing anything about it, accepting life the way it is, and then waiting for retirement. Many people, I hear them say, “I can wait for retirement,” and these people are in their 30s and 40s. You have 20, 25, 30 more years to go. You cannot wait for that long to change your career.
A shackle that comes up is the myth of meritocracy. I just work hard, retire, and everything will be great. I keep my head down and not even worry about it. You illustrate how that form of that thought process may be a little toxic to people because they’re keeping themselves in those environments that aren’t getting them to thrive and helping them at all. Talk to me about this notion that hard work does not necessarily lead to success all the time.
The most important conversation you will ever have is with yourself.
I speak this from experience, not just my own, but all the clients that I coached. The first go-to place for most people to deal with a toxic workplace or toxic bosses is, “I’m going to work hard. I’m going to prove to them that I’m so great at what I do.” The fact is, they hired you because they know that you’re great at what you do, so you don’t have to prove again and again.
The problem is because of self-doubt, toxic bosses, and toxic colleagues, you are fearful of speaking up and asking what you want. You have had rejections, someone else got promoted, or you don’t feel confident enough to leave your job and find something else, so you tell yourself that every workplace is going to be the same. You’re feeling stuck where you are and you’re afraid to have conversations, but really, these conversations are what lead to success.
What I mean by that is working smarter. A lot of people say, “You have to work smarter, not harder.” Many people have the wrong idea of working smarter. Some of them will tell you, “If you come in early and stay later, you will get noticed,” but that falls under working hard. That does not help. The second thing that they do is, “Just agree with your boss. Become a yes person. You will be on their good side so they will notice you, they will keep you in mind, and suddenly, you will get promoted or you will get that raise,” but that’s not working smarter. Working smarter is to be authentic. If you’re feeling insulted and disrespected, accept that you are insulted.
Another notion is that working smart to some people is grow thick skin. You cannot because what you feel, you feel no matter what you do, so that’s not going to help. It’s important that you embrace how you’re feeling because that’s when you’re going to feel that, “I’m being insulted and discriminated. I am putting all the hard work, but I’m not getting any results.” When you assess your situation and say that, “I have a problem,” then you can start finding a solution.
The working smart part is to have those high-stakes conversations. If someone is insulting you and disrespecting you, how do you draw that boundary? It’s by saying, “You said something and I do not appreciate it. I am insulted and I will not tolerate this if you say that again.” There are ways to say it in a nice way but in your way. When it comes to promotion, what is working smarter? Letting your boss know what your goals are. Having meetings with your boss and asking, “What kind of projects can I work on?” We have to do that.
Men do it, but just because men do it, women should do it. That’s not the thing. We are all human. We all have desires and aspirations, so we have to be true to ourselves. I got this job, I’m happy with it, but years from now, I don’t want to keep doing that. We all know that, so why not have that conversation and say, “This is where I want to be. I want to keep working on projects. That’s going to help me meet that goal while I make an impact and while I help our department meet our goals” You create win-win situations like, “I want to grow and I’m going to help our department to grow.”
It’s about having those series of high-stakes conversations. I’ll also add that the most important conversation you will ever have is with yourself. If we let self-doubt, self-criticism and imposter syndrome take over, what are we going to hear if we ask ourselves the question? We are going to beat us down and be critical to ourselves, and that’s not going to help, so whatever conversations you have with yourself and the conversations you have with others is what is really going to help you decide what your future in the company or in your career is going to be.
One of the things you got to be thinking about is the notion of don’t have a passive career where you’re just accepting and following along with your mental models and what people think about you. You’re not setting those boundaries as you stated. You spelled out the difference of men do it, but we’re not doing it. We’re doing it because this is the right thing to do for ourselves. That’s a key point there.
Lastly, you had me thinking about behavior in itself. You’re telling people that we have to be assertive and know how to have these high-stakes conversations at the end of the day. It made me think about those people who are like, “I’m going to just wait until retirement and then I’m going to be whatever.” You spent 20 to 30 years being the passive one and not having high-stakes conversations, so what makes you think you’re going to do it now? Build these behaviors early and stay on them often.
I want to share a story with you. One of my clients is an African American woman who has amazing qualifications. She has a specialized degree and a Master’s degree with great experience and great expertise. In her company, one of our company leaders had this town hall meeting. Nobody does this, but this leader decides who’s going to sit where. Who does that?
She had her placard in the last row. There weren’t as many African Americans in the company to begin with, so when she is made to sit in the back, it’s not going to feel good to her. This leader goes ahead and says, “I intentionally arrange the seats the way they should be.” It was so heartbreaking for her. She, of course, felt disrespected, but when you have self-doubt, what happens is you feel that, “In this company, this is how it’s going to be. I’ll have to just suck it up,” but speaking of having high-stakes conversations, when we started working together, I realized how much emotions she had around this situation and how it made her hold herself back from sharing her expertise and contributing.
It also impacted her productivity negatively. We had a conversation and I told her that this situation begs for a high-stakes conversation. We talked about how to have that conversation and what outcome she’s expecting from that conversation because that’s important. She had that conversation with her boss and her boss listened to her patiently, and she said, “Do you mind if I call this leader?” She said, “No, I wouldn’t.” Her boss called him immediately, and then he called my client and apologized for doing that.
It wasn’t intended, but it happened. The thing is, just because you’re not aware of your actions, it does not mean you’re excused for that. It’s important to learn the culture and how to cultivate your people. This leader, her boss, and my client are now putting their heads together to help figure out what would be the best job description for her and what would make her happy.
If she had not had that conversation and not shared it, things probably would have just been the way they have been. She stepped up for herself, not to fix anything in the organization. Did it take a lot of courage? It did, but after she had that, she felt so free, and now they’re creating opportunities for her.
It is so important to take charge of your career. You have to be an entrepreneur, especially if you’re working for a company. For entrepreneurs, if a challenge comes, they don’t stop. It’s like, “This is important for me. I want to make an impact, so I need to pivot. I need to do something else, but I want to get back on track.” It should be the same way you look at your job.
It’s a lesson learned for next time. What I’m mentioning is that if she found out it wasn’t intentional. I know one thing I do when I’m going through anxiety about something. My brain will say, “That person did it on purpose,” and that makes me even more heightened and that’ll probably lessen than me to have a conversation. I’m like, “They did it purposefully. They don’t like me,” but then Monday comes and you had this conversation, you find out they had no idea. The importance of having these high-stakes conversations is that they not only allow you to demonstrate the boundaries you set, but they also will help clarify any stories you’re trying to tell yourself.
You mentioned a lot of times that we get into that dark place and our realities get constructed if we don’t get more information. It goes to that point of reaching out to others, whether that is I need to have this high-stakes conversation or I need to reach out and maybe have the conversation with someone else who might’ve gone through this before to get advice.
That brings me to my next question, why should people reach out for help? Secondarily, why is it important to know that we’re not alone? It sounds like you had a really great impact with this person. I want the audience to know why it is important to reach out and find support as you go through these situations.
Success is a series of high-stakes conversations. It begins with you.
I have high respect for those who try to do things on their own. I’ve done it too, but I’ll tell you that it is a long tedious, arduous path to take this on your own, especially if you are already filled with self-doubt. No matter what action you decide to take, you’re going to hold yourself back because you’re going to tell yourself, “I don’t know if this is going to work or not,” so it’s great to reach out to an expert who can actually shine light on your amazingness and help you expand that instead of you, while doing it on your own, just focus on your flaws. We have done it. We do it all the time. A simple thing. If we are given ten compliments and somebody says, “Your hair looks funny.” We don’t focus on those ten compliments. We focus on the comment about my hair.
People who want to do it on their own, they’re more than welcome, but it’s going to be a long way. I have made that mistake. I spent a lot of years figuring this out on my own and I never had someone who could take me under their wings or even someone who’s like me, a woman of color, having similar chats. I couldn’t find a mentor like that, so I decided to become that mentor for others so that they don’t have to struggle through this on their own.
When I started investing in coaching, I realized that I don’t have to figure it out on my own. All I have to do is figure out strategies and work on my mindset. Make sure that I am worthy of my dream, what I aspire in my life, and just apply that. While I’m applying, I know that that pesky voice in my head is going to come up and say, “It’s not going to work,” but then the coach is going to step in like, “It’s okay. We need to pivot here. We need to do something different and bring you back on the path.”
That’s why it’s important to reach out and reach out to someone who has had similar experiences as you, who has gone through the fire and has changed their lives, instead of just looking up who’s the most popular person and let me work with them. It has to resonate with you. When you have a chat with them, it should feel like they really have your best interest in their mind.
I’m curious, what words of wisdom would you leave our audience with as we look to wrap up?
Two things. One is, success is a series of high-stakes conversations. It begins with you where you tell yourself that, “This is not the life I signed up for. I know I deserve better,” and then explore how you can get to that life that you want, which will involve reaching out for help, working on your mindset and setting amazing goals for yourself.
The second thing is, I like to call it sharpen your knife because life gets busy. We are used to working on autopilot. There’s stress, but I’m somehow going to compartmentalize, not worry about it and keep going, but if you are someone who wants to get things done, you have to sharpen your saw. You sharpen your saw by reflecting on your life, working on your mindset, and getting to where you want to go. You cannot give yourself the excuse of, “I’m too busy to work on it.” You cannot give yourself excuses. If you are committed and decisive, you must make a decision to sharpen your saw and change the status quo.
Thank you. You have a lot of great insights, especially knowing that a lot of your work is based on personal experience. It’s showing to me the passion and commitment that you have to help others. I really appreciate being able to know your background and how you’ve gotten to where you are now.
Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure to speak with you and also knows you and your work.
Before we wrap up, how can people reach you? I’d love to know if there’s anything you want the audience to know about what you’re working on.
If you are a woman of color or a South Asian professional, because that’s who I am, reach out to me. You can go to my website, www.UnshackledCareerWoman.com. You can contact me from there. You can also find me on LinkedIn. What I’m working on is I have done a lot of one-on-one work with clients but what I have realized now is that there is power in the community. I have launched a group program where women from all kinds of industries come together and we walk through all these challenges that they face as they are trying to uplevel their careers. If you are interested in learning how to deal with toxic workplaces and bosses and ready to uplevel your career, I invite you to reach out to me. We can chat and figure out if this is for you or not.
I appreciate knowing that. I definitely loved this conversation. I want to thank you for the conversation and connection that we had.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for reading.