Profile: Komal Minhas
Emily and I had the privilege of attending A conversation with former first lady Michelle Obama (hosted by the economic club of canada). Bitchesbewitches was hooked up and we had a hugely inspiring experience. Emily and I held each other in a perpetual hug while we watched human after inspiring human march up to the podium to speak about education and equality for women around the world. Amidst our tear-filled vision, Emily spotted a college colleague of hers from journalism school down by the crowd around Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau.
“Oh my God! That’s Komal! Oh my God, oh my God Jess, we need to talk to her, we need to profile her, she is amazing.”
I inquire further; "Okay... who is she?"
“She’s one of the most inspiring women I know. Oh my God, oh my God. She’d be perfect for this issue."
It was hard to get very much more out of Emily as her excitement moved her to sobbing and well…it was all a lot.
So I started by adding Komal to instagram, then checking out her blog, her vlogs, her interviews. Wow. This woman has done so much. She has her own production/investment company called KoMedia (which she started at 23) and has produced a feature doc called “Dream, Girl,” (which had it’s premiere at the White House), she was on Oprah’s #SuperSoul100 list, has written regularly for Huffington Post, and travels the world spreading her dream of empowering women to “take control of their financial and spiritual well-being.”
The day Komal and her producing partner Erin Bagwell were set to launch their new distribution system, to help spread the impact of “Dream, Girl” around the world she was diagnosed with cancer and through surgery and a powerfully documented recovery, has been cancer free since last year. We wanted to know how someone who gives so much, and puts a lot of content and love out into the world- heals herself.
We noticed that you wrote about your cancer diagnosis 2 days after you had received it. What role has writing played in your healing?
I started my personal blog two years ago, and that was me coming back to writing to work through a depression that I was coming out of. When I look back at when I was diagnosed in March of last year, it was the thing that had to come out of me. Like if I don’t write this I will explode. A lot of people asked why don't you just write it for yourself? Why do you have to share it?
What impacts me often is very honest, recounting of an experience. I just knew that if this is happening to me and I have this non-life threatening cancer that I can talk about with a little bit of separation from my own personal experience, it will help me heal even faster (or that’s what I had told myself.) Writing is a huge part of my healing. It’s a huge part of my theory of get it out of your system/speak truth to your experience/and find the medium that works best for you. Brené Brown also has a quote: “Rarely do we see wounds in the process of healing,” that reminds me of why it can be so hard for us to share when we are in the thick of our pain.
With my cancer story it was easy for me to write about it because cancer is an illness that people rally behind; but earlier this year when I had to move back form New York, I was hit with a neurological illness that was possibly degenerative (fortunately a few months later we found out it was not). When faced with a long-term, life long illness, it was something I felt less comfortable sharing with the world until months after. I think it depends what your facing. Writing has now again been a form of healing but after having some time to process my experience.
To people who would read this who are looking at writing as a form of healing - Make sure you’re solid with your own experience. You don’t owe anyone anything in your healing journey but if it’s a tool to make you feel better then use it and leverage it. But don’t feel obligated especially in this period of time where we feel like the world owns our story, know - its still yours.
What other self-care practices did you adopt during your healing?
If there’s something I’ve learned about healing: it happens in layers. When I think about daily habits, it depends on the day and the phase that I'm in. When I moved back form New York I was really really sick, could barely get out of bed, depression had hit me, I had lost vision in my left eye, I was very, very vulnerable in my physical body. So two months later I started a meditation practice that I did for 45 days straight-- an hour each day-- and it was my attempt at rebuilding a routine and just finding some sort of anchor in my recovery. It helped a lot. But do I meditate now everyday? No. Do I meditate once a week? Hopefully.
I find that you can’t be too prescriptive with someone’s healing journey in terms of what they should and shouldn't do because it just adds another layer of stress. Instead of beating yourself up, like “oh I’m not doing X thing”; instead ask will this practice serve me today? And if that answer is yes, then do it.
I’d say that meditation is the one I most often come back to - that and journalling. But at times again, like this year specifically, some days were just so bad that I didn't want to relive them or I didn't even want them to be chronicled so I would just not write and for months I didn’t write.
Habits are important but if you’re in a state of healing, don’t put that pressure on yourself. Unless you're in a phase where you're ready for a routine to serve you. But it takes a while to get there depending on the level of trauma or where you are in your recovery.
How do you move from heading charitable initiatives and serving your community to going internal and helping yourself?
My passion for service was really something I saw embodied in my parents. They moved to Canada in the 70’s and I’m a first generation Canadian. Seeing the way they would help the people around them, or help people get work visas to come to Canada, or help local families in the community... service became ingrained in me. It was compounded by the fact that I wasn’t allowed to have a job in middle school and high school, so I focused a lot on non-profit work, fundraising and different initiatives. It would serve as a distraction later in my life as well. I felt this need and hunger to serve the world and help so many people outside of myself because I was so self-conscious and worried of healing myself and facing my own demons. As I look at coming back to service work and impact-driven work, I need to come from a more whole space so my impact is more strategic and can also have a lasting impact. It was hard. It’s hard to look in the mirror and say what do I need to fix? How do I need to love myself in order to actually make a meaningful impact in the world? Legacy is a huge part for me, so I would say that self-love and love for the world go hand in hand and are equally important. Sometimes you oscillate into periods of time where external service is more needed - and then internal love is more needed, so again its a back-and-forth.
If you could put anything on a billboard for young women to see what would it be? (Yes I stole this question from Tim Ferriss).
"Success and healing both come from consistency over time." I think it is something that we don't hear enough of. If you want to be someone in the world, if you want to bring your dream to life, if you want to make a lasting impact - that is going to take consistency over time, it’s going to take everyday habits, showing up everyday, doing the work and it’s not going to happen overnight. You hear all these stories of people who are deemed overnight successes but it actually took them 10 - 20 years to get to where they are.
On the healing side as well, after my surgeries, the doctors would say you need 6-8 weeks for recovery and I would say no I’ll need the rest of my life for my recovery. I don’t really believe there is a fully healed state. Your life continues, trauma will continue to happen but it’s about how resilient you’ve become, and what foundation you’ve built for yourself for a meaningful life so you can continue that healing process.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from cancer?
We always fear what’s on the other side of that diagnosis. The moment from not having cancer to being told I have cancer, not much changed except for the intensity of love I had for the people around me. That, and it put a mirror on the internal turmoil I already had going on. Cancer made me heal faster from past traumas than I probably would have without it.
There’s so much collateral beauty to trauma. It’s hard to see when you’re in the thick of it. My parents coming to spend a week with me after both surgeries and staying at my father in laws house. Six years ago... my parents were not even saying my fiancé Mitch’s name (he’s Canadian and I’m Indian, it was an uphill battle for us), and now they're staying with us for weeks at a time and get to see the love of my life and his family and how much they love me. It brought us all so much closer together; that’s something that wouldn’t have happened without cancer. Another part of the collateral beauty was having my own personal awakening and finding my purpose so much more deeply. It has course-corrected me in a lot of ways. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone, I pray that there are less instances of cancer in the world.
To those in the thick of their trauma and pain, I want to offer that there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel (FYI I hated when people told me this, but here I am doing the same) - there is another side to this and part of this consistency over time will hopefully give you the ability to look back and not let your trauma and pain define you and to see the biggest silver lining - the collateral beauty of these experiences.