Puhoop Agarwal: you cannot achieve anything if you are not a friend of yourself

Puhoop Agarwal: you cannot achieve anything if you are not a friend of yourself

I met Puhoop when I was also working at Google. I always admired the silent way her efficiency mysteriously shined through and the unbelievably balanced mix of self-confidence and modesty she emitted. I later found out that Puhoop has an amazing story to share, going from engineering to marketing, from India to Amsterdam and from illness to health… and I was looking forward to interviewing her ever since!

I believe she is an inspirational woman and a true role model and I am very grateful that she accepted to share her story with all of us.


Q: So, Puhoop, would you like to tell us a bit about what you have studied and what do you do?

I have started my journey by studying engineering; I was quite a nerdy student, I loved math and really liked science. If you are good at math and science in India and you come from a privileged background, you are encouraged to become engineers, as if that is the only thing. So that is what I did, I studied engineering for four years. I didn’t do badly but neither was I a brilliant student. I think what got me through was that I had friends who explained concepts to me and that kept my interest.

When I was in college I started exploring marketing and that I found fascinating. I joined college groups working with marketing and studied more.

However, this was still a rather new idea, so after college I worked with IT consulting for some time but found it really boring and realised I need to do something else. That’s how I ended up in taking a master’s degree in marketing and advertising.

I had this idea in my head that I wanted to work for a company like Unilever and do brand management. And the one thing I didn’t want to do when I was in college was digital advertising! But then – as luck would have it – I ended up working with Google and really loving the digital advertising ecosystem.

So that’s where I am right now, I have worked at Google on the advertising side and now I am working with publishers. So I have a nice 360 degree understanding of the advertising ecosystem.  When I joined, the ecosystem was not fully developed yet, so I grew and developed with it. I learn something new every day and that makes it really exciting.


Q: There is a lot of discussion about the importance of role models, especially for young women. Do you think that, if your environment had not directed you the way it did, you would have taken a different path?

Yes, definitely! In retrospect, I believe two things could have happened differently. If I had been encouraged to explore what I would be interested in doing I would probably have chosen a different path. For example, I would really have liked to study psychology, or understand more about how our brains work. I find this really fascinating.

When I was in college, there were not too many teachers who were inspiring and I was not really understanding the scope of engineering, so I sort of ended up not loving it and not exploring it enough, just getting by… If engineering had been taught in a different way, if I had known about AI and how technology impacts us and how we interact with technology, I think i would have been more inspired.


Q: Even so, you have paved quite a path for yourself: you got a job with Google, started from India and we now find you in Amsterdam. What did you find most difficult and what was easy in that transition?

Starting with the obvious, I think the most difficult was being away from family, from friends that you have grown up with, from the places you knew… Being in my comfort zone, I had the option to go back home at least once per month. That are obviously what I miss a lot. What has been easy is obviously the quality of life. I love that Amsterdam is such a beautiful city. I really enjoy the work culture here that is so transparent and especially that people are more direct and very to the point. That is a very interesting perspective here and it is very different from the Indian culture.

There is very little hierarchy here and you are really encouraged to speak your mind, to have an opinion and share that opinion.

This I have found very refreshing, but also very challenging. If you had asked me a year back I would have said that I am still terrified… Now, I can say that I have learned a lot from it.

And the other thing that has really been a great learning is to not take things personally! Everyone I have worked with in Google and people around me are so direct and honest when they give feedback. That can be tough – but it is all about the work, it’s about growing. It is not about feeling bad for making mistakes and taking things personally. That has taught me a lot and helped me grow as a person.


Q: It is not always easy to find your own voice and often that depends both on the environment and the character of every person. Do you think that the change of environment has changed you as a person? 

I am not sure that I have changed as a person. I think I have learned more about myself as a person. Ok, maybe I have also changed, but I have not consciously tried to change. What I have done is rather to learn more about what I already felt and what I already was. And I learned to be more brave about it.


Q: But what do you miss the most from India, from your home? 

That’s a tough one! Mainly in the winter, I really miss the warmth, I miss to go out and feel sweaty, feel that there is warmth around me. And I sometimes miss the chaos, just how much of a buzz there was… I lived in a big city, there were many, many little markets and there was always something happening. I miss the cultural diversity of India, wearing indian clothes and the amazing street food culture.


Q: Would you give some advice to young women who like you who are building, or trying to build, their lives and a careers?

I had some tough experiences, some experiences that have changed the way I look at things. When I was quite young, around 23 or so, I was under a lot of stress about the future and there was a point that I was not taking care of my physical health. I was not taking care of my mental health. And I was not even aware of how badly I was feeling. I was out of touch with my feelings.

I found out that I was going through a difficult illness. I was diagnosed with a form of cancer that affects younger women and men that it is still not very well understood. And sometimes I wonder if it happened because I was under so much stress that I was not being a friend to myself.

I was really fortunate to make it through; and that taught me to be there for myself and accept what I am feeling. That was my biggest learning!

You have to give yourself space and not to be too harsh on yourself. Whatever you want to achieve is out there and can only happen if you are happy and if you are giving yourself space to grow.

So that would be my advice! You should not be too stressed about by what you want to achieve. Let yourself be and really treat yourself as your own friend! And I believe women find it more difficult to do that because of our situation and how society treats women; There are always very high expectations, you have to be perfect at all times…

So that is what I would say to all women: you don’t have to be anything! You just have to be there for yourself!


Q: So, what do you see about your future, what are your dreams and hopes, what do you want for yourself?

That’s a tougher question to answer. The past you know, but the future is the big unknown…. I really love where I am right now, I love working at Google and I love the opportunities that I am getting. But somewhere down the line I see myself as being an entrepreneur. I have a rough idea of what i would like to do but i am still not very sure. I am very passionate about food and wellbeing. Whatever I have experienced and whatever I have learned, I want to be able to share that with other people. To help people eat well and have a life where they feel happy. I still do not know what it will look like and what it is exactly that I want to do. So, I am taking small steps towards that – for example I really enjoy cooking, so I started a cooking blog for people interested in preparing Indian food. Especially here in Europe, people are very interested in the ideas that I am sharing. And hopefully somewhere down the line I will figure it out and have my own business.

CHECK OUT Puhoop’s amazing blog: Cooked Up Tales

She is also very active on Instagram, so do not forget to follow her page there, too!

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Dimitra Letsa

Dimitra Letsa

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