How a holiday to India made me a better business leader


Your best business assets? Pleasure, procreation and the sweet sensation of happiness

I’m in the middle of a life experiment — Can I do what I want, as in, genuinely enjoy day-to-day living and build a successful business?

Prevailing advice would have us believe that body aching hard work, bullish networking and a compulsion to push forward at any cost are the ways to get to the top — and possibly nothing’s changed there.

But how we define success is beginning to shift, with people asking audacious questions like can I bring my whole self to work and get promoted because of it? What if everything was more fun and helped us achieve more? And can I be just as powerful making a small dent in the universe as someone “dominating” shit?

India was calling

When I learned about a week-long retreat for purpose-led entrepreneurs in Tamil Nadu, India, promising amazing food; Ayurveda; visits to utopian cities, ancient temples, and social enterprise incubators, I decided it was time to test my hypothesis.

Could I wholeheartedly enjoy my holiday and progress my business?


Photo credit: Dipti Desai

Pleasure versus impact

There used to be an awkward trade off between pleasure and impact — in order to do meaningful, big things, one had to accept that life would be a bit, well, SHIT in the process.

But let’s turn this on its head — to have the most impact, you better bloody LOVE what you do, because to achieve anything meaningful you’ll be working on it for a while, possibly your whole life.


I can shamelessly say that the 20 people on this trip are in love — with their work, play, and life, because it’s all one and the same. Sure they have challenges, self-doubt and down days, but they care about their work and achieve great happiness in doing it.

But, is this pleasure-seeking good for business?


Just ask Jack, who created a successful marketing firm that grants people’s dreams; Penina, who owns an award winning law firm without hierarchy and billable hours; Richard, who runs three organisations at the intersection of passion and impact; and Apu and Dipna, who both founded gorgeous clothing lines — No Nasties and Love The World Today — to kick-off the organic, ethical, fairtrade movement in India.


Photo credit: Dipti Desai

Laurence and Carlos, founders of The Happy Startup School and the hearts behind this incredible week, summed up this idea perfectly when I interviewed them for my podcast, saying:

That’s the journey we’re on, to change that mindset that you either do good or make money, but in fact you can do both.

Ermaghad are we talking about feelings?

When was the last time someone said business and emotion in the same sentence without a snort of contempt?

But actually, feelings are crucial to our decision making as humans and how we impact those and the world around us.

I led a session on the retreat, which was a brief version of my workplace workshop on communicating with clarity, empathy and honest expression. I asked everyone to think of two scenarios — first up, one that really irked them. People said they felt frustrated, sad, angry, closed and disconnected.

Then later they conjured up memories of pure joy. People said in remembering these happy exchanges they felt open, love, pleasure, inspired and connected to others.

Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication said:

We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel.


There isn’t enough space here to explain the framework in detail, but the general takeaway is this: When we come from a place of passion, connection and empathy, we are better placed to solve problems, help others and create meaningful impact.

It is difficult — I would argue impossible — to think outside your own narrow mind when consumed by anger, jealousy, frustration or bitterness.

Procreation is the new individualism

Laurence and Carlos, like to say things like: “Sharing is the new learning,” “vulnerability’s the new invincibility,” and my favourite: “Collaboration is the new competition.”

There’s a genuine sense of possibility among this community, that there’s enough success to go round and that we can actually achieve more when we create something together — forget competing against each other.

I have to say I was happy — make that thrilled — when Laurence and I had conversations about what a Happy Startup event would look like in Australia. More to come on that soon!

And when I interviewed Jack for People of Purpose, he touched on his belief of the value in connecting dreams saying:

I seem to be living my life now following other people’s dreams. Once you’ve got your own dream, it doesn’t end there. It’s about following other people’s dreams and exploring those.

And this theme continued over the week.


Stephanie of Helpings, shared her story for how she grew her Instagram following to 16K and counting (we furiously took notes!); Dipti shared her mean photography skills; while Lotta captured our personalities in portraits; Richard from Cyclefox taught us the value of working outside in nature; and Meredith of Food at Heart taught people how to use their tastebuds to get back in touch with their creativity.

A new business was actually birthed at Ashram — with Jack and Laurence helping Dawn get her new project of the ground: Dream Explorers, which is fittingly aimed at helping children stay connected to their personalities and passions.

In fact, the whole trip was born out of co-creation, with Kumaran and Latha inviting the Happy Startup crew to India off the back of attending their much loved events in London and the Swiss Alps.

Happiness matters

So how does being happy help my business?

Aside from the obvious benefits of keeping me well and (mostly) sane, there are other tangible ways that happiness can boost the success of Make Do Co.


Here are some highlights that came out of Ashram, a happy camp in India:

And did I mention I enjoyed myself the whole time?


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