Today, I interview Vasavi Kumar who grew up in a first generation Indian immigrant family. At home, she says she felt too Americanized. But at school, she felt too Indian, because she attended a predominantly white school. She never felt like she fit in anywhere, so she just learned to do and say all the right things to keep the peace.
Her home was a safe place, and her needs were met. Her parents were successful business professionals. However, Vasavi didn’t feel emotionally safe; she never felt safe in expressing her emotions as a child because her parents didn’t encourage that kind of expression and didn’t know how to react or help her to understand and regulate her emotions. She never let people get to know her intimately enough to hurt her.
At 12 she started therapy and almost instantly felt tremendous relief, because for the first time someone was fully present, listening to her, and validating her emotions. She no longer had to feel like a misunderstood, irrational, overemotional outcast. She finally started to understand her emotions and became more confident in her own identity. And she finally got to mourn the loss of the way she wished her childhood had been.
She still experiences frustration in life, but she knows how to approach it. She takes a look at her own expectations, pays close attention to where she is putting her energy, and takes the time to redirect herself and be honest about what to release and what to hold as priority.
Today, she is committed to living authentically. Part of that journey was learning to be honest and intimate with herself. She had to ask herself why she wasn’t being honest with herself. She dug through her business and all of her relationships, assessing areas where she realized she wasn’t being her genuine, fully-expressed self. She walks with pride, knowing that she says what she means and means what she says.
Vasavi is the outspoken host of the Say It Out Loud Podcast, upcoming author of the Say It Out Loud book (Spring 2023), Self-Expression Coach, and Actor. As a First-Generation Indian Immigrant, Vasavi made her parents proud by going to Columbia University to receive her (second) Masters in Social Work. Through her Say It Out Loud group experience, 1:1 mentorship, and communication training, Vasavi helps her clients be more comfortable, confident, and in control during media interviews, telepresentations, and interpersonal communication so they can show up confidently.
Find Vasavi here:
https://www.vasavikumar.com/ (where you can get her FREE mini-course: 11 Concepts to Take You From Self-Conscious to Self-Expressed)
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Transcript of Interview
Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #72 Vasavi Kumar
“Full & Authentic Self-Expression”
(00:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing, I’m a host of the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. I’m a psychologist, and that is why I get curious about people’s journey. How they came to know who they are, their voice. Sometimes it’s a challenge. Usually, you’ll find if you’re listening to other episodes on this podcast, life for most people is a challenge. How do you know who you truly are? Where do you get support for speaking up? I get to speak today with the Vasavi Kumar. Hello.
(01:17) Vasavi Kumar
Hi, Doreen. Thank you so much for having me here today.
(01:20) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. I’d like to say a little bit about you because it’d be great to have people understand and know what contributions you’ve made so far. Okay?
(01:30) Vasavi Kumar
(01:32) Dr. Doreen Downing
Good. Vasavi is the outspoken host of the Say It Out Loud podcast, upcoming author of the Say It Out Loud book, a self-expression coach, and actor. As a first-generation Indian immigrant, Vasavi made her parents proud by going to Columbia University. Through her Say It Out Loud group experience, one to one mentorship, and communication training, Vasavi helps her clients be more comfortable, competent, and in control during media interviews, tele-presentations, and interpersonal communication so they can show up confidently. I have to take a big breath. I just feel so close to you. I felt almost like I read my bio. Although my podcast is totally different. I was so happy to be on your Say It Out Loud podcast. And I think your voice is something that feels to me, so authentic. I’m really glad to have you here today.
(02:42) Vasavi Kumar
It’s really hard for me to not be authentic. My entire body has a visceral reaction. I can feel it. Have I ever lied in my life? Absolutely. And when I think about how disingenuous I would have been with myself, and how many times I have betrayed my own voice. I think because I’ve worked a lot on really connecting with my body now, being dishonest with myself and with others is just— I just can’t do it. I mean I can but if we wanted to, we can. But I can’t look at myself in the mirror and be okay with my own inauthenticity anymore. This is just the price I pay, I guess, which is sometimes you piss people off by being yourself and in those rare occasions you’ll find people that are just so grateful that you’re just you because you give them permission to be themselves.
(03:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. Already, we’re off and running, because I feel like what you said about this kind of visceral reaction and you talked about looking in the mirror. I think that what you’re saying is you don’t even have to look at the mirror. If you carry around a certain kind of internal awareness of yourself, you know your body’s reaction to what feels lined up with you and what doesn’t feel lined up.
(04:01) Vasavi Kumar
Absolutely, I think in the past I— growing up in an Indian immigrant household as a first generation and never quite feeling like— I didn’t belong at home. I was too Americanized at home. At school, I felt too Indian because I grew up in an all-white, all-white town. I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. I learned from a very young age, what to say, how to say it in order to fit in. I know exactly what I need to say to not rock the boat, to keep the peace, to keep everyone smiling, to keep everyone close, but just far enough to never come and hurt me. But that’s not the kind of life that I’m committed to. The life I’m committed to is one of closeness, and intimacy, and authenticity. I have to learn to be honest, and close, and intimate with myself first. Part of that process was asking myself, why are you not being honest with yourself, Vasavi? I had to be honest, whether that was my business, the way I was running my business, whether it was certain friendships that just felt very one-sided and heavy, whether it was in romantic relationships, which you and I talked about on my podcast, where am I not being self-expressed in my own life? And from there, really committing to or recommitting to being a person who says what she means and means what she says.
(05:23) Dr. Doreen Downing
Beautiful. Already again, it feels like this. I just heard you pronounce your name. Vasavi. Oh, beautiful.
(05:34) Vasavi Kumar
That’s so much prettier.
(05:37) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. You’re right. It’s music, and in a way, just talking about music, and what’s inside of us is music. What we’re learning to listen to is the kind of resonance that’s deeper within us. That is what we’re talking about today. Truth. But I want to go back just to give people— Because you’ve already referred to being the kind of person where in your home, you couldn’t be fully yourself. Out in the world, you couldn’t be fully yourself either. Anything more about growing up? Just before we move on about how you learn to ask those important questions, but first, give us a little more flavor about growing up in your family.
(06:21) Vasavi Kumar
Growing up in my home. My experience of what my childhood was like, has changed a lot over the years. At first, it was very much of— I kind of had this fantasy of what I grew up like. It was an illusion. I wanted to believe that everything was hunky dory, because I don’t think I really wanted to feel the pain of what it felt like growing up in my home. Both my parents are very hard workers or immigrants. And my house was not the kind of house that I would call stable. We had all our basic needs met. Money was never something that we struggled with. My parents are two very hard workers. Cardiologist, and CPA. It wasn’t a home where it was unsafe in terms of like, there was no physical abuse. No one was addicted to anything. But it was emotionally unsafe. My home was emotionally unsafe. I don’t think we talk about that enough. I think we think like, oh, well, I had a roof over my head, and I had food in the fridge, and no one was hitting me. I mean, I got hit all the time. But it was emotionally unsafe. There was no room for my big emotions. I don’t even want to label them as big because they weren’t big, they’re just emotions. I just had a way of expressing them in a way that maybe felt too big for the adults taking care of me, my mother and father. I’ve been in plenty of therapy in my life. It’s probably why I even became a therapist too, because I knew the power of saying it out loud and talking to a therapist. But being in therapy from the age of 12, I realized that how I felt, and what I experienced growing up was not crazy. I was not crazy for feeling the way that I felt. Actually, I was very validated and valid in how I felt. I was justified in feeling the way I felt. Unheard, and unseen, and often like I was a burden for everyone around me. How it’s changed now is I focus less on what my mother and father could have done differently. It’s water under the bridge. I have no control over what my mother and father could have done, should have done. I had to mourn the loss of what I wish it could have been.
(08:34) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, I like that phrase. What you just said. Mourn—
(08:39) Vasavi Kumar
Mourn the loss of how it could have been.
(08:43) Dr. Doreen Downing
Could have been. Yes. Which is different than saying, it should have been. It would have been, but it wasn’t. I hear you coming into some kind of reality. It was what it was. I could still feel some sadness and loss around what it could have been. Wow.
(09:02) Vasavi Kumar
Yes. When I realized like— For me, the hallmark of becoming an adult and I’m going to be honest with you, I feel like I’ve only become an adult at the age of 40. It’s taken me 40 years to become an adult and I’m not diminishing all the other ways in which I’m very emotionally mature. I’m not undermining myself, but my biggest delusion or illusion that I have to shatter was this that, wow, I actually was a very sad child growing up and I actually was very pained by a lot of the things that were said to me, and how I felt. For me to truly grow up, I have to mourn the loss of how it could have been and start looking at reality. By the way, this has helped me in my romantic life. This has helped me in my business. Oftentimes, I’ve stayed in relationships way longer than I should have, because I’m still— We’ve talked about this. I’ve held on to the fantasy of what could have been. But the hardest pill for me to swallow is, what I wish it could have been, and it’s not. And so, from there, then I get to tend to that part of myself, that inner child and say, listen, we’re going to create a beautiful life. It’s okay that we didn’t have that, but come with me, we’re going to create a beautiful life moving forward.
(10:23) Dr. Doreen Downing
You just really sent chills down my back because it’s so lovely what you just said about joining yourself and moving forward into possibility, into love, and into beauty. It’s up to us to be able to find coaches, find therapists, find resources, and podcasts like yours. I just really want to make sure people find you again and again and again. Because already today, people can hear your learning comes into what you’re talking about. It feels like you’re such an advocate for voice, people finding their voice,
(11:09) Vasavi Kumar
I just want people to feel free on the inside and not feel so scared to just say how they feel. And even deeper than that, I want you to know that the pain that you will experience when you mourn the loss of what could have been. Yes, it’s pretty devastating. It is devastating to have to feel that. It’s a feeling of devastation because you can’t get that time back. You cannot. It’s worse to keep living in that illusion and that fantasy. It’s worse, in my opinion. I would rather shatter the fantasy and start a new and start fresh than to keep living this pattern of illusion and what could have been and what should have been and what might have been. It’s just energy that’s completely misdirected, you know,
(12:06) Dr. Doreen Downing
What I get from you too, is that there are layers, like the reality of some of what you’ve already talked about. Then you just referred to some pain and not be more fully expressed and accepted in your first environment where we’re supposed to be applauded and where we grow. But then on top of that, the layer where you go out into the world, you put on certain relationships or business. There you go out into the world, covering up the insecurity inside and the pain inside. And then when do you actually— This is where I want to go with you now. When did you realize? How did you wake up? How did you go, oh, my gosh?
(12:58) Vasavi Kumar
I don’t ever think there’s just like one moment, but I actively think about these things. I actively feel into these things. I set an intention to actually look at it. You know what I mean? It’s not just like, oh, one day I decided. I feel like anytime I’m frustrated about anything, it’s because I’m not being true to myself and I’m out of alignment. I dealt with some frustration. And I deal with frustration, not all the time anymore, I’m happy to say but I dealt with a lot of frustration, I would say in the beginning of this year 2022. Right after I turned 40, and I turned 40 in May, there were things in my life and in my business and in my romantic life that I was just like very frustrated by. I spent some time to actually reflect on what is the thinking? What is the thinking and the thought process that I have around this situation and is this thought process bringing me suffering or is it bringing me joy and expansion? If I’m frustrated, the first thing that I do is look at how am I thinking about this because my thinking is bringing me suffering right now. The way that I’m thinking about whatever this situation is, is bringing me struggling and suffering, and I don’t want struggling and suffering. I’ve struggled and suffered enough in my life. Also, pretty much self-induced by the way, I’ve created my own struggling. I’ve created my own suffering. That for me is very freeing to know that I am the problem and I am the solution. It wasn’t any one specific moment. It was definitely just I’m acutely aware of how I feel. If I don’t if I feel anything less than amazing. I know that I’m out of alignment.
(14:42) Dr. Doreen Downing
That’s what you’re saying now. You know that. But in terms of our listeners, they don’t yet have a place of knowing that they’re amazing. They don’t have a sense of connecting with their voice yet. So, give a little guidance.
(14:58) Vasavi Kumar
What I would say is just start paying attention to where in your life, you feel angst. Okay, I love this. Do an attention audit. Look at and do an energy audit. Look at every facet of your life and just pay attention to what you’re paying attention to. Pay attention to where your energy is going, and ask yourself, is this the best use of my attention? Is it the best use of my energy. The first step is to acknowledge that how things are going up until this point, or how things are, it’s just not working for you anymore. Because so many of us have become so used to the pain, because the pain feels so familiar. The ups and the downs, the inconsistency, the back and the forth, the stop and the start has become a way of life for so many people. If you grew up in a house where you are not consistently celebrated, loved, acknowledged, seen and heard, of course, you’re going to be inconsistent with yourself. You’re just recreating what you saw growing up. You’re inconsistent with yourself. Start noticing where you’re putting your energy and your attention. Where are you being inconsistent? What are the things that you’re constantly like, man, if only I, or I wish that I, or I should. It’s time to start doing those things.
Perfect example, Doreen. The past three years, I’ve been a little lazy. I’ve been kind of in a funk. The area of my life that I’ve been the most inconsistent with recently, has been my body movement. It’s been breaking a sweat every day. It’s to go work out and to feel strong. Just, a month ago, I got into a car accident back in July, where I almost died. I didn’t tell you this, because obviously, I didn’t speak to you. But I almost ran into a wall, it was a whole thing, and I made it home alive. I was able to drive home. I said to myself, God wanted me to be alive. I’ve never been in a situation like that, and I said, God wanted me to be alive. I said, you know what? This body has been with me for 40 years without a scratch. I’ve never had a broken bone, nothing. I said, this is a sign. This is a wakeup call, Vasavi. So, I started working out every day, seven days a week. Look at these biceps. Every single day I’m working out. So consistent. Being consistent with myself has made me feel so good, and it’s like next level confidence for me.
(17:23) Dr. Doreen Downing
I love your message. Be consistent, be consistent, be consistent.
(17:29) Vasavi Kumar
With yourself. Be the mom that you always wanted. Be the dad that you always wanted. A lot of my female friends who are out there because they want the stability of a man and they’re like, I just want a strong man. You be the strong man for yourself. First, be the person that you want in your life. Then you start attracting people at the level and frequency at which you’re vibing. I always tell people, I tell my audience, I’m telling your audience, you don’t have to wait to almost die to make a change in your life. I was purging this part of myself where, I got it. I almost died in this car accident. I said, no, never again. We are never taking our life for granted. From there on out, I’ve been consistent. But you don’t have to wait till it gets so bad for you to decide that you’re worth living. You don’t have to wait for it to get that bad. You can just decide, because you wake up one day and you’re like, I don’t know the last time I woke up excited about life. I’m done. I want to live a life that I’m jazzed up about. You don’t have to hit your proverbial rock bottom. You really don’t. Some people choose to do it that way. That’s how I’ve typically made changes in my life. I’m just admitting that out loud. When I went to rehab twice for cocaine addiction, it got really bad. It got really bad. It wasn’t one day a week that I was using. I was using five to six days a week. Cocaine. It got really bad before I decided maybe I need some help. What I’m here to tell everybody is you don’t have to wait to have it be that bad. You are worth changing for and loving and valuing right now.
(19:07) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, I love it. Right now. Let’s talk about voice, and when you’re talking about what you dream about, and what you’re drawn to, and the inside that is so magnificent, as opposed to the angst. You have to go through angst to reach it, sounds like this magnificence within. How do we help people go yes to the magnificence?
(19:38) Vasavi Kumar
You got to start paying attention to what you’re saying to yourself about yourself. Here’s the thing. Do you feel magnificent about who you are? And if the answer is no, then really start to pay attention. Here’s my favorite way of doing it. Stand in front of the mirror. Take off all your clothes. I’m not kidding. Stand in front of a mirror completely butt naked. Scan your body from top to bottom, bottom to top, and pay attention to every thought. What you’re saying to yourself about every part of your body. Oh, I love my hair. Oh, I wish my eyebrows were a little bit closer together. I have such a double chin. Oh, my shoulders look nice. Oh, my boobs are so saggy. Look at my lower belly. Just look at how inconsistent you are even with your love, with yourself. You like your hair, but you hate your stomach. You love your shoulders, but you hate your cheeks. Do you notice why you’re so up and down in your own life, because you’re not even consistent with yourself. Your love for yourself is not consistent, and it’s evident, by the way you talk to yourself.
(20:44) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah, I get it. You’re saying love. That’s what I’m getting at. The voice of love, the sound of love, the feel of love, the sense of love that people are so alienated from and what I’m getting from you is, take a look first. Take a look first and see what you are paying attention to in terms of is it negative? And what you’re talking about— Yes, I know, it’s all about being positive, but I like what you’re saying. It’s beyond just being positive. It’s like finding something really deeply beautiful that comes from love within you.
(21:23) Vasavi Kumar
Yes. I want people to stop being so ashamed of admitting that they hate themselves. Because the fact of the matter is, if you’re not willing to look at how mean you are to yourself, you’re never going to have love for yourself. You got to see where you’re swimming in self-hatred. Because self-love is easy to practice when you’re feeling yourself, and your hair is done, and you’re feeling prim and slim, and all these things that the media tells us is what attractive is or acceptable is. The real work begins with when you hate yourself, can you extend yourself some love?
(22:02) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. I like that message. the real work begins. you also talked about the real work is in being able to grieve what could have been but what I like both about what you’re saying is there’s the past, yes, and you’ve got to feel it. It isn’t just now is different than then, because the past is always with you. It is just can we bring more of ourselves so that there’s like an expanded sense of self, a little bit of history that still rattles around in us. But going forward, we’re living into possibility. That’s what I’m getting from you today.
(22:51) Vasavi Kumar
Yes. This is a great conversation. I think that you got to be really honest with yourself about where you’re not being kind to you. Because, let’s just say you’ve been tolerating behavior and treatment from people that you know don’t deserve, then ask yourself, why are you treating yourself that way? Because which part of you still believes that you deserve to be treated that way? Well, you still treat yourself that way. Clearly, if you’re accepting it from others, there’s still a part of you, that treats yourself that way, which is why you’re putting up with it with other people. But I think there’s just so much focus on what other people think and oh, my family’s like this, and this person’s like this. Doreen, oftentimes the most toxic person in our life is ourselves, and the fact that we listen to those voices in our head. It’s not our mom, it’s not our dad, it’s not our siblings. People are just people. Other people. You are other people. If you are me and I am you, then all the voices around you that you’re like, I don’t like how other people are. You are other people, because you’ve now internalized their voices, and they’ve become a part of you. You are other people now. So instead of focusing on what other people are saying, or what other people are thinking, focus on the voices in your head, because that’s the most toxic one that you have to battle every day.
(24:04) Dr. Doreen Downing
Then once you do that, it feels like we could listen to the voice in our heart and in our soul.
(24:11) Vasavi Kumar
Yes, absolutely. I love that. That’s a great segue into getting into your heart.
(24:18) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, we’re almost out of time. I just want to make sure— I mean, we could just keep on dancing like we are in these thoughts and these messages. I’d like to make sure that people know how to find you.
(24:32) Vasavi Kumar
Absolutely, they can go to my Instagram @mynameisvasavi. I also have a free mini course. It’s called, Say It Out Loud, The Mini Course. Just go to vasavikumar.com/minicourse for that. That’s my free gift.
(24:47) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, free gift. Thank you. Thank you, Vasavi. Final words?
(24:52) Vasavi Kumar
Oh, okay. I think that I want to say, allow yourself to be okay with not being the person that you used to be. Allow yourself to grow. If people can’t handle it, that’s okay. You have you and that’s all that matters. Allow yourself to grow. Give yourself permission to grow. Yes.
(25:19) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, grow and go.
(25:20) Vasavi Kumar
Grow up. For real though, yes. Grow and go. Get the heck out of it. I love that. Mic drop. Yes, that was great, Doreen.
(25:29) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, boy. Again, I knew this was going to be fun with you.
(25:32) Vasavi Kumar
(25:33) Dr. Doreen Downing
I’m so happy that we get to share our conversation with the world. Thank you so much, Vasavi.
(25:41) Vasavi Kumar
Thank you, Doreen. I hope you have a beautiful day.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.