Hi, I’m Sunita
Hard work, education, and financial success were key themes of my South Asian-Carribean parents, who immigrated to Canada when I was a child. I remember barely anything of my first few years in Guyana, but I did know I wanted a life where a woman’s worth was not rooted in the man she married and the children she raised. I loved science and math and became the first woman in my family to become an engineer and have a technical career.
As a graduate of Engineering Physics from McMaster University, I optimistically entered the tech industry. I found that I loved being a project leader, fostering trust and collaboration while achieving our goals. I worked with some of the smartest people and many companies in the Canadian tech sector.
I started to see that success at work was about how you showed up, treated others, and lived your values. I loved when things aligned this way, and I was miserable when they didn’t. I wanted to be more fulfilled at work while still maintaining balance. As a result, I explored coaching and mindfulness in the workplace. The pinnacle of my career was achieving my dream job, a blend of leading mindfulness and coaching programs in the workplace and heading up a project to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous youth in Canada.
Ironically, this dream job pushed me over the edge when it came to psychological safety in the workplace, and I had a terrible accident that led me to awaken, heal, and find lasting inner peace and well-being.
To speak out against workplace dysfunction, raise awareness, and share my journey to help others, I published Breakthrough: A Memoir of Toxic Work, Mindfulness, and Inner Peace. Find out more at https://linktr.ee/sunitaalves.
Here are some questions I’ve been asked and answers to help you know a little more about me:
Question: 1. Why did you decide to write this book?
I realized there are not many first-hand accounts of toxic work and mental health written from a minority point of view. When I needed help to decide if something was wrong at work, I didn’t have any first-hand accounts, so I wanted to put this out there in case it helps others struggling with the confusion I felt.
Question: 2. Was the writing process therapeutic?
Yes, it definitely was. I had no idea that things that happened in childhood – things I thought were no longer relevant – were, in fact, driving the very behaviour that was harming me and taking me away from being there for the people I loved. By writing about the journey I saw the bigger picture and took the time to heal what came up. I feel lighter and more whole as a result of writing the truth – the whole truth and not the partial truth I understood for the first 50 years of my life.
Question: 3. What is one key piece of wisdom that you’ve learned?
One thing I know for sure is that we’re here to become more whole, connected, joyful, peaceful, and loving, which is a journey that starts from within.
Question: 4. How did meditation play a role in your writing?
I meditated before I sat down to write. This helped because I could become mindful of the tension in my body and the fear in my mind of such a daunting task. I could see I was overwhelmed and tired because I still had a full-time job and family to care for, and I was afraid to be vulnerable. In one meditation, I saw that I really feared seeing the truth – they say the truth sets you free, but in my case, it put fear in me, and I wanted to look anywhere but inside my own mind. But in that process of sitting and following my breath, I let the fear come up and out, so I could put them aside enough to let the words come up as they wanted to. I often sat with the question, “What am I afraid of?” and “What is holding me back?”. Sitting with those questions allowed answers to come up, and then I got out of my own way and just did the business of writing.
Question: 5. Did being an author lead you to be a coach?
Actually no. It’s the opposite. I became a coach without ever intending to write about my personal story ( I had in mind to be an author – but a fiction author of romance! How different this book is. Though I suppose both are about love.) This book seemed to demand I write it, and it was really, really hard to do because I didn’t want to go back into the darkness I had healed from. But writing changes you – there is a lot of fear and mental blocks that come up because writing is therapeutic. So being a coach helped me recognize that and take good care of it by self-coaching. I couldn’t have written this book if I didn’t know how to recognize when my thinking was out of integrity with my true purpose. That’s what coaching helps with, and that’s how I wrote the book – by staying in my integrity and dissolving the kind of thinking that doesn’t serve my highest self.
Question: 6. Why did you become a coach?
This is one of the questions I didn’t fully know the answer to until I wrote the book. I saw that I changed after I became a mother with how I viewed work. I needed to bring more of myself to the workplace – the Sunita that believes in leading with her heart and the Sunita that knows there is a ‘woo’ side of things – the mystery of life that says we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I had been a long-time fan of Martha Beck’s books, and when I heard she had a life coach training program, I felt a zing from the universe saying that was my next step.
Question: 7. What is your lesson learned from a toxic work situation?
I wish I had known about psychological safety and recognized how unsafe my mental health was. And how, as a project manager, I was putting team members into unsafe situations. If I had that research and scientific facts, I would have felt more confident to push back and overcome my over-achiever conditioning. At least I’d like to think that if I knew better, I’d do better, as Maya Angelou says. I also think I would have left work earlier because I’m trained to take safety seriously. I just didn’t know to frame workplace practices and toxic leaders as a safety hazard to mental and, consequently, physical health.