- What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?
This is a hard one. I have discovered that my proudest accomplishments over the course of my life have been small and unseen, leading up to the bigger, more recognizable ones. I have spent most of my life battling with the cultural norms of my Indian parents and community and the Western ideals I more strongly identify with. This, as any child of immigrants will know, is a feat in itself. I spent most of my young adult life searching for the balance between the two and having tons of hard, emotional, laborious conversations with my parents. And if I’m being totally honest, I went through a series of traumatic events in my early 20s that set me back, but I never stopped searching for The truth and My truth. I can say now that my biggest accomplishment is my resilience and tenacity. It’s the fact that I never gave in, never gave up, and I kept working at building a life that was true to me without losing touch with all the different parts of my life that make me who I am — my heritage, my culture, my “American” personality and independence, etc. This has helped me pursue my dreams of writing and mental health advocacy, my passion for solo traveling, finding a good partner, and my desire to help other women when I’m therapist who may be struggling with similar dual-identity issues. Of the more recognizable accomplishments, there’s my moving to NYC without a job or apartment six years ago and getting to where I am today at HuffPost and in my personal endeavors, my advocacy for mental health awareness work, the community of friends I have built, my acceptance into GW for counseling, and my solo travels.
- Did you always want to be a writer?
I have always loved storytelling and the act of sharing stories to cultivate human connection. I’ve spent most of my life journaling, and I believe that vulnerability in writing narratives is so powerful in making this world a better place. Did I always know this is what I wanted to do? No. I thought I wanted to be a doctor for a long time (surprise!), but I never felt smart when I pursued that dream so fiercely for many years. It was during one of my darkest years in my early 20s when I took to writing things publicly that I wish I could have access to as a reader. That’s when everything fell into place and I was led to HuffPost. My three passions are writing/storytelling, travel and mental health advocacy/awareness. I’ve been able to tap into all three of these over the last few years, and while I have my dream of being a therapist, I know that I’ll continue to find ways to combine all three passions. Hopefully, instead of essays, I’ll move to books one day! Instead of focusing on solo traveling for myself, hopefully I can help other therapists self-reflect through travel.
- Do you think that there is a stigma around creativity in the Asian community?
I think that creativity isn’t seen as stable or necessarily as a career. I think our generation is changing that conversation, but there’s definitely a stigma with older generations on what is a “hobby” and what is a career. I know I struggled with that for so long, but I do think we’re all capable of creating, and by using our words and skills, we can create better, more fulfilled lives than imaginable.
- Have you ever personally experienced discrimination?
As a South Asian woman, I definitely have experienced discrimination. Most notably, I was spit on and told to go home after Trump was elected while I was walking past Bryant Park in New York City. I’m a first-generation American, so joke’s on them I guess, but it was the first time I experienced direct discrimination in a more serious way. Otherwise, I’ve had to deal with “curry” comments and jokes on my brother and dad (who are turban-wearing Sikh men). I know there are both subtle and not-so-subtle ways I am discriminated against as a brown woman, but I also recognize my privilege as a fair-skinned, American-bred woman marrying a white man.
- What advice would you give to Asian girls looking to get into creative fields?
If there’s something you wish existed, create it. Everything starts from somewhere and the beginning can feel the loneliest when embarking on a project. Don’t doubt yourself and make sure to follow and reach out to other women who are doing similar work or are in similar fields. We spend so much time focusing on how things are going to get done that we stop ourselves from taking the first step. Just start.
- What is the *worst* advice anyone ever gave you?
I have been told by different people to stop being so vulnerable and open. I think this is terrible advice because I don’t think there’s anything more powerful and lovely than human connection, and the number one way to attain true connection is through openness and expression. Being a sensitive, expressive, vulnerable person makes me a better friend, leader, colleague, writer, partner, daughter, student and so on. I see people spend so much time thinking things, saying things to third parties, but never expressing themselves vulnerably out loud or to the source. It pains me. Sure, we all have to practice appropriate self-disclosure, but we’re also doing a disservice by not expressing ourselves fully in our relationships and work.
- How does your heritage influence your career?
You know, if I’m being honest, I spent so much of my young adult life trying to escape by heritage. I wanted to conform so badly and just be American. As of the last five or so years, I’ve been able to embrace where I come from and come back to my roots. I am in the process of pursuing a new career of being a therapist and I know that I want to work with the South Asian community and the Sikh community. I see the struggles for these women to speak or live their truths and I want to help them.
- Describe yourself in three words.
Adventurous, sensitive, curious
- What is your go-to coffee order?
An iced skim latte. It doesn’t matter if it’s 0 degrees outside, I’ll always go with iced!
- What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing Asian women today?
Society’s subservient, meek, quiet stereotype that still exists of us. Asian communities highlight the importance of service. Serving our community. Serving our family. Serving men. It is the most apparent if you ever go to an Asian dinner party — men enjoying, women cooking and cleaning and serving. I am so in awe of the community that transpires because of service, but on the flip side, Asian women are made to feel devalued if they aren’t putting others first before themselves. There’s a difference between doing something to make your parents/partner/community feel loved and proud and doing something because you will be mistreated and devalued if you don’t. Speaking up shouldn’t be seen as negative, and taking time for oneself shouldn’t be condemned.
- What is next for you?
I’m actually starting graduate school in the fall, while maintaining my job at HuffPost. I’ll be attending George Washington University for their clinical mental health counseling program, pursuing my dream to be a therapist. I hope to get the education to help me help other South Asian women, interracial couples and my community.
- What is the best place you have ever visited? And why?
I’ve been to 11 countries alone and 32 in total, so picking just one is impossible. Lots of places have different memories for me and they’ve each taught me something new about myself and/or the world. Iceland is magical, and it’s a really great solo adventure destination for women (it’s safe, they speak English and the hostels are some of my favorite for meeting people). Portugal is an excellent cheaper European destination. Asia is always a good idea. And Mexico City surprisingly blew me away.
Sahaj Kohli is a storyteller, traveler, and mental health advocate. She’s currently a senior editor at HuffPost and is starting graduate school in the fall to pursue her dream of becoming a mental health therapist. She seeks human connection through her solo travels around the world and is an avid community builder. She’s an oversharer and an overfeeler. Feel free to say hi!
Find Sahaj here: