A seasoned product leader with a PhD in Linguistics from Stanford, Anubha Kothari is a person who is unapologetically herself. After several years working on consumer tech products such as Alexa, she was finally on track to rise in the corporate world, but deep inside she knew she needed to be doing something else. Reflecting on her learnings from a life-transforming divorce, she wondered how she could better offer her gifts and be of service, and glimpses of an answer started coming through. She’s now in the process of building a platform to help people experiencing heartbreak get the support they need in order to heal and to experience harmony in their lives. This is her story.
(Original dialogue edited for brevity and clarity.)
What kind of woman do you aspire to be?
I strive to be someone who’s true to herself. I try to know myself deeply and to align with what I really want, even when it’s scary for me or unconventional somehow. I haven’t mastered this, by any means, but I’m getting better at it.
What are some of the major turning points in your life so far?
Moving from India to the US in my teens was one of the early ones. Transitioning to a career in industry after completing my PhD was another. Ending a marriage about five years ago was a biggie, but a very constructive one.
What was the move to the US like and how did it shape you?
It was a big cultural shift, and to be honest, I felt like an outsider, not quite knowing where or how to fit in. I worked hard at integrating myself, but there was this malaise that I didn’t really belong with any group, South-Asian or otherwise. It made me increasingly sensitive to who might be feeling left out. And forced me to think more independently. But the deeper questions around identity and belonging remained unresolved, and only recently have I had to confront them again in the wake of my divorce. At the time, I mostly just focused on my studies and tried to do all the right things to get into a good university. I think I was consumed by the need to achieve, and to attain security in life.
What about your transition from academia to industry?
Towards the end of my PhD I decided to seek a role in product management. I had strategized well, and had concluded that product management would be the perfect match for my interdisciplinary background, personal strengths, and longer-term career aspirations. In hindsight, my reasoning was great, and product management has indeed been rewarding for me because I’ve learned so much about organizational behavior and product development. But, as you can tell, my approach was marked by a sense of urgency and control. I was married then, and I wanted to get my life “on track” quickly, so to speak, but both our careers were going through stressful transitions, made even more difficult by the need for control. The irony isn’t lost on me.
Tell me about your marriage and your divorce.
That’s a lot of ground to cover!
My ex-husband and I met when we were very young, when I had practically no dating experience, and we fell in love quickly. Long-distance and demanding career paths strained the marriage, or at the very least, prevented timely action on some big issues. Well, that’s part of the story anyhow.
In even the most amicable divorces, there’s a feeling of deep loss and of being adrift for a while. It can be a disorienting experience, this abrupt uncertainty-ridden change in the trajectory of one’s life. I certainly suffered from many difficult emotions and loneliness as I went about rediscovering myself. I wondered whether I would ever feel that wholesome, innocent kind of love again. I wondered who I was, and who my tribe was, since I’d lost most of my social network overnight. All those unaddressed questions about identity and where I belong demanded answers now. My mind wanted my story to right itself, for everything to just be ok again, and quickly. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but there were many dark and bewildering days.
But all the inner work I did during this time, and all the guidance I received, it all healed me deeply and helped open my heart further. It enriched my life and deepened my knowledge of love, relationships, and the human condition, in ways I could not have anticipated. And I believe it triggered what many refer to as a journey from the mind to the heart.
How has the journey from mind to heart transformed your life?
Looking back, my educational and career decisions always had an element of analysis or calculation, even when I was being bold. But in the last few years, I’ve become more free, and more of myself, with no need to prove myself to anyone, or for my life to unfold any particular way. Most days I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and trust in how things are working themselves out. I feel like almost nothing can ever faze me again, at least not for long. Of course, I slip and repeat unhelpful patterns quite often; I’m not trying to insinuate I’ve “arrived” in any fashion. Still, for all of this I feel extremely lucky.
For a more concrete example of how this has played out, I left a great job at Amazon because my heart urged me to somehow express or act on the knowledge I’ve gained about managing difficult life transitions. It was almost as if I had no choice in the matter; I needed to explore the space of possibilities and resolve certain burning questions. The end result is that I’ll soon be launching a coaching business and community for people experiencing heartbreak. That’s the beginning, and there’s more to come. I don’t know how it’s going to unfold, but this is a chance to build something of my own and tend to the inner entrepreneur. People going through tough transitions in life have told me that I’m really good at understanding their situations intuitively and providing honest, constructive guidance, so I believe I’m well-suited to create content and products in this space.
My approach to relationships and dating has also shifted from mind to heart. I’ve had to learn to put aside the list of things my mind thinks I need and to let my heart and intuition take the lead. I’ve had to learn how to stay open to love, even when the danger of being hurt again loomed over my head.
I also started taking better care of myself, not feeling guilty about how much time I spend on things like meditation and journaling. I’ve learned to say no to things, and accept myself as I am. There are moments of doubt and anxiety, of course, but I’m highly aware of them.
What are your thoughts on marriage and relationships now?
I think long-term partnership, rather than the legal institution of marriage itself, is tremendously exciting, and I’m totally optimistic. Love is a wonderful thing, and I’d be grateful to share a vision with another person, and to grow with them. Ideally both people are true to themselves and support each other in staying that way, which requires emotional intelligence and selflessness.
Do you have any relationship advice for women?
Speaking from experience, take the time to develop a healthy relationship with yourself and to understand what a healthy love looks like. Know yourself well enough to pick wisely, but start with an open heart when meeting new people. Learn how to function as a unit, not as two separate individuals; it will make you a better person. Finally, there is no shame in leaving an unhealthy relationship, if you’ve really tried your very best and it still isn’t working out.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be gentle and kind to yourself. And enjoy the ride!