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Episode 5: Diversity is a beautiful thing

Dr. Sarah Andreas interviews Tikiri Herath about her books and stories. Tikiria also shares about her personal growth.

Find Tikiri at:

You will learn:

Acknowledge people for their strengths and built them up.

Make people feel good.

Lead by example


Sarah: Welcome everyone. Today my guest is Tikiri Herath. She is an author and she's the founder of the Red Heeled Rebels. I'm going to let her tell you all about that but that name is so cool. Tell us.

Tikiri Herath: Thank you Sarah. I'm glad you love the name. I write both fiction and nonfiction books. My fiction books are called the Red Heeled Rebels. They are about a group of women from around the world and I say women but they're young women 19, 20 year-old who have been drawn into adversity that you and I can't imagine. We're talking about things that happen today in the world. I've done my research and I've lived on four continents so I know what it's like to be a woman but there are people and women especially who live in far more adverse circumstances than you and I. I want to write about them.

I talk about human trafficking, modern-day slavery. There are more slaves today in this world not to start with a downer, than they were ever brought across the oceans from the Africa to the Americas today. We've got a problem and we're not talking about it. My Red Heeled Rebels novels are all about and I write them in a very positive slant. This is not fantasy but I do give them the strength, internal courage to fight back and of course, they do Lara Croft style. They take the guns out and do their martial arts kicks and they kill the bad guys in the end. It's all a good date. It all ends very well.

On the nonfiction side Sarah what I write is, I thought if I can tell the stories about the women I've met around the world and the young girls who live a totally different life than you and I on the other side of the coin I thought why not write some gift information and the tools and the concepts that would help people like you and I who go to university or go to college and get a degree get into a job that they may or may not like. Society or family or somebody told them or like myself I told myself, "Got to go to school, get a job," the usual. Buy that house, buy that car. You tell yourself, the society tells you but it ends up not being the most fulfilling life.

My non-fiction books are all about how do we find out what's inside us and then follow those dreams. I like to think of them as two sides of the coin for two different markets but in the end of the day we're all part of this world. I've seen both sides of that coin myself so I wanted to reach out to both.

Sarah: I love that. Yes, it makes total sense. What would you say has been the biggest leadership lesson that you had to learn?

Tikiri: From my own corporate work life, I made a lot of mistakes as a young junior manager. I've hired the wrong people, I have fired people in the wrong way and I've led people in a way that probably wasn't conducive to a happy team environment as well as good for the project. I've learned my lessons. I think the biggest lesson that I've learned-- I'm a triple A personality. I'll go to the top of the mountain and I'll get the weapons and I'll conquer that and come down. I have to realize everybody is different and that diversity is a beautiful thing and that took me a while to learn when I got into a leadership position.

It's to acknowledge people for what their strengths. Then build them up. When I say diversity I'm talking about skills experience the way you think the type of college degree you had or not had. I’ve had non-commissioned officers in the military work for me and they come with no degrees but they've been to Afghanistan and back with a wealth of wisdom and knowledge that the very super intelligent smart 28-year-old woman with two three degrees sitting next to me probably doesn't. At the same time he doesn't have her book smarts. I've had all these kind of people work for me and it took me a while to learn diversity, the strength in that different thinking and how do I incorporate and build them up so that they feel good when they go home at the end of the day so that it's good for the project and it's good for the work that we're trying to do. I think that's a big one.

I do have another one Sarah if you'd let me.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Tikiri: The second one is lead by example. It's related. Instead of telling, pushing and forcing looking at compliance and when I look at my fiction world my stories I tell the reason I tell the stories is I want to wake people up to what's happening around the world. If I go and give speeches write a Ph.D. thesis-- I was thinking at one point going back to school doing a thesis on global women's issues and I thought, "Nobody's going to listen to me." I can tell stories and I can lead by example and show people look I quit a corporate job, a beautiful six-figure salary because I followed my passion because I will have a story to tell. I want everyone to hear and listen these.

You don't have to agree with me but I want you to hear, I want to touch people's hearts. Leading by example is what also I learned in the corporate world which I'm now incorporating in my author world.

Sarah: I love that. Curiosity question what got you started in writing books?

Tikiri: I've always read books. Books have been-- and because I traveled-- I grew up, Sarah, my parents were expatriates. Expatriates, I don't know the Europeans expatriates, American is expatriates. As soon as they graduated from university in a little island called Sri Lanka in the middle of the Indian Ocean they took off an adventure. I grew up mostly in southern East Africa, a bit in Asia and when you travel and move a lot as a child it's really hard to make friends. Books were my friends. I'd always go to an international school wherever we were and I just dig up whatever books that were left behind by other expatriates kids.

I've read Russian novels, Shakespeare Dickens. I grew up with this stuff and there weren't beautifully covered. They were like torn and tattered tome sitting in a dusty shelf. I think that was part. It was always inside of me. I've always wanted to lead people into these magical worlds that you can create by words. I don't have a better answer than that. Other than it's something that's in my ever since I was a little kid. If I have to get locked up in a room or in an island for the rest of my life give me books I don’t even need food. I'll live with books.

Sarah: That's awesome. You talked a little bit about your childhood. How did you get started in your career as a professional and how did you transition into being an author?

Tikiri: That's an interesting question. At 19 years old my family moved after living in different places my family emigrated to Canada to Vancouver and my childhood wasn't the most pleasant. Yes we traveled, yes I had a roof over my head food on my plate but there was a lot of emotional trauma and it was not a very easy childhood. I grew up really angry and thinking the world is against me. It was a very tough period the first 20 years of my life as 19. To tell you the truth I wanted to-- Sorry I'm going way too back and stop me if I am.

Sarah: You're fine.

Tikiri: I wanted to run away from home many times but when you travel is very hard. You're in Tanzania tomorrow what do you do? I don't know the country, I don't know the culture, I don't know the language. I bite-- what's the word? Bite my tongue-- I'm not pronouncing it right. At 19 I find myself in Canada a free country where I felt much safer and I was 19. I was an adult and took my suitcase filled it with more books then clothes. I got out onto the streets of Vancouver and waited for a bus I didn't know where I was going all I knew is I was leaving a very toxic childhood behind and moving to the future.

I think when you start from nothing there's nowhere to go but up. I remember just sitting there terrified out of my life. I didn't know anybody, another new country but at least I spoke the language. I felt a little safer. This is a different world from places I've lived in before. I did what I could. I found a basement room in some student apartment where you paid next to nothing and worked every menial job I could find because I had no skills. I had no experience. I cleaned toilets as a chambermaid. I tried to sell vacuum cleaners at one point I didn't sell one. They were really heavy Kirby bees.

What went through my mind as I was trying to bootstrap myself was, "You got to stand up on your own feet. You got to take care of yourself." Accountability is so important. Part of that is because I never wanted to be in a position where anyone could control me or put me in a situation where as my childhood was I was very unhappy and unhealthy and quite toxic. How do I do that? You take care of yourself. You got to work, you got to find the jobs, go to school. I put myself through two business degrees. One in Canada and I went to Europe, I got my masters in Brussels, and applied for jobs and went through the corporate world and all I realize now that I look back in retrospect, it was all about standing in your own feet. Which is what I talked about in my non-fiction books, and it's all about--

I realized it was a little bit one-sided because I was trying to survive, but when I was making a six-figure salary, I had my waterfront property, I had my convertible car, and I realized, look back and said, "Oh, wait a minute, is this really what I want to be doing when I hit my 40s? Midlife crisis perhaps," and I look back and said, "Perhaps I need to rethink." I was surviving until that point because I wanted to get away from that bad place and put myself in a situation where I'm always independent, at the same time and that's great but, this is not what I want to do with my life.

Sarah, we have more longer lifespans than ever before, the medical advancements, all these things are giving us-- We've got half of our life to live if not more, barring exceptional circumstances. Do I really want to live the next half of my life doing work I don't really enjoy? I was very good at it, I was getting paid very well. That introspection happened at that time which made me realize, "I want to write books. I want to talk about the stories of those little girls around the world," and I was one of them who would cower and get scared because bad things were happening and to stand up. My bad things were nothing compared to human trafficking, modern-day slavery, girls get sold off, there are 180 million girls who have been pulled out of school because of their gender because they are then sold off to be married to do menial labor.

In some middle eastern and Asian countries a little girl is-- if there's a warring faction between two villages, you take the little girl and you say here you go, they're chattel, they're pieces of furniture. It breaks my heart because I have seen those girls, I have sat next to them in buses. I went my wearing my suit in my convertible car to this beautiful glass tower building in Ottawa doing an amazing job but my heart wasn't there. My soul wasn't there. My soul was with the girls everywhere else. I just had to make that change. Long story.

Sarah: No, that's a beautiful story, and I love that you're following your heart. I think that is so important especially nowadays. I think a lot of people get lost in that I have to's instead of really following what is true to their heart and I love that you're doing that. What advice would you give young professionals who know that they're trying, they want to grow, they want to develop, and they're just struggling?

Takiri: If they're starting out, I think the smartest thing to do is to try a lot of things. Because I think it's Brendon Bouchard, one of those thought leaders, he says, passion is not like-- there's no piano of passion or piano purpose that falls on your head, no. When you leave the house then all of a sudden you have this tada moment. You have to try a lot of things. I've worked in private sector, public sector, I worked in five different departments, I've worked in four continents. I've worked in Europe in NATO where I had an immensely different experience which was what triggered my, "Get out of the corporate world and do what you want to do." If you can do that in your 20s, I had no choice, I only had one goal. Was I got to survive so I'm safe?

If you don't have that worry, my goodness, go out there. Get a backpack and go all throughout the states if you can. Explore learn about other things and that'll help you learn about yourself. I think that's one thing. Second is, don't waste time. Time passes anyway, you're going to be 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, that's going to come and my question is, time passes anyway, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to look back and say what have you done? If you can-- I know it's hard because when I was in my 20s and I thought, I'd live forever, but you have to realize that we are mortal even though we like it or not, you might live longer, but we have to think about the next few decades, and ask ourselves, where we want to go, what do we want to do, what legacy do we want to leave behind.

If somebody told me at 20 what legacy I wanted to behind, I would have said, to uplift every marginalized girl and woman in the planet. I didn't articulate that well enough so I got into my corporate job, which I'm thankful for because it taught me a whole set of other skills and there's no-- what's the word? There's no tunnel where there's no end. There is always a way out. You can always move, you can always change, and today nobody looks at you with a funny eye if you've changed jobs a few times. I think exploring is really important.

Sarah: Takiri, you were so much fun to talk to today, thank you so much for joining us.

Takiri: Thank you for having me Sarah. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate that. This was fun.

Sarah: If you enjoyed this podcast make sure you subscribe so that way you can hear new podcasts that come out every week. Embrace your journey and we'll talk to you next week.

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