Pragya Agarwal is a Creative Strategist, Social Entrepreneur, Artist, Writer, Public Speaker and a Mum (in no particular order!)
Dr Pragya Agarwal lives in Lancashire with her husband and her 3 girls (Prishita who is 20, April and India who are 22 month old twins), dog Taylor and cat Belle. She has been a Senior Academic for the last 10 years but now runs two creative businesses full-time. The first is an eco creative studio, Hedge and Hog Prints (hedgeandhogprints.com) and the other is a social enterprise, The Art Tiffin (thearttiffin.co.uk) that raises awareness of cruelty-free art materials while campaigning for creative self-care as a way of managing mental well-being.
She is also a freelance writer for many national publications such as The Guardian, Times Higher Education, Huffington Post etc. and blogs over on her website, as well as running a facebook group for parents ‘Raising Creative Kids’.
She is a creative coach and mentor for individuals and organisations helping them in building a profitable purpose-driven business, a mentor for Girls’ Association and a business mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation.
Pragya is also an Artist and Printmaker, creating original art and linocut prints from her home studio, and she runs a campaign for mental health, especially for mothers, in academia
It’s a pleasure to interview Dr Pragya Agarwal on the blog:
I don’t really have a typical day at the moment but I quite like it like that. I like flexibility in my routine. I am not an early morning person but do work until 3 am most nights on my business, and all my writing. If my twins are at nursery, I try and catch up with my meetings, and any studio work.
When they are at home, I try and do more administrative things that do not require focused attention. Most of my serious work gets done after everyone has gone to bed at night, when I settle down with my laptop on the sofa with a cup of herbal tea, the television playing in the background keeping me company, the dog snoozing at my feet, and the cat snuggled up next to me on the blanket.
2. What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
I made a life for myself and for my daughter here in the UK and completed a Masters and PhD managing to break the shackles of patriarchy. I was proud of all the books and research articles that I have written, some of which are on the reading lists for some of the most reputed courses across the world. I am very proud of my eldest who is now studying at Cambridge and consider her my biggest achievement so far. She was named one of the ground-breakers of 2017 in The Independent, and one of 9 Johnian women to watch at University of Cambridge.
It makes all the struggles and sacrifices worth it. I am also very proud of how I have overcome setbacks, especially workplace bullying, and PND to start two successful businesses and a social enterprise, which is giving something back to society. Sharing my story publicly recently was a very brave thing to do as I am very private, and I am proud of it.
I also delivered a TED talk to almost 1500 people recently which was quite hard to share my personal story but also because of my social anxiety, and it was a huge achievement for me. However, every project that I do brings me lot of satisfaction and happiness, including making up silly songs and stories with my toddlers.
3. What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
Gosh so much stuff! I always carry a book and a sketchbook with some of my lovely sketching pens. Yes, I know I am always prepared and live in hope! But I also have some wipes. They are magical for grubby fingers and faces. But, mostly it is little things that I cannot bear to part with, tickets, and receipts that carry so many memories of time spent together with my children and husband.
4. What are your ambitions in life?
I want to be a role model to my children, but also to other young people around the world, showing how resilience is one of the most important qualities we need to develop.
We all have setbacks but it is how we bounce back from them and turn them into something positive is what is most important. I want to inspire people into living the best life they can, have the courage to explore their ideas, make mistakes, and give things a go! I would like to grow my studio to design more empowering prints and artwork, and also scale up The Art Tiffin so that we can give more support to mental health charities.
5. What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
That I need to trust myself, and that life can take unexpected turns and we need to keep an open mind about it. I had worked so hard and progressed so rapidly as an academic that I felt like a failure and at a complete loss when I decided to have a break due to workplace bullying. I felt ashamed and a loss of self-esteem.
I realised that I am still the same person no matter what path I decide to pursue and, as long as I believed in myself, I would be able to make a success of anything that I did.
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I am not entirely sure right now, as it is so tough to look beyond tomorrow with two young toddlers. Personally, I would love to be in a better place, spending more time with my husband, cooking and eating together, travelling as we used to, and going to theatre and art galleries. Professionally, I would love to be doing more public speaking inspiring young people, supporting them with their careers and mental health, and also supporting more entrepreneurs in their creative journeys.
I would love to have completed my books that I am currently writing and continue working at policy level to redesign the school curriculum with more focus on STEAM.
7. What advice would you give a budding creative entrepreneur?
Know your ‘why’. It is so important to know your purpose and the reason why you are setting up a creative brand. Is it filling a niche? What problem will it solve? Will it create something good or beautiful? Will it make someone happy?
Does this make you happy? Also, it is so important to be authentic in everything that you do. Set your brand’s values from the very start and make sure they align with your own values. Being consistent and authentic is so important to build trust amongst customers and clients. Most of all, don’t be afraid.
Don’t wait for that perfect moment. Just start something with your MVP (minimal value product) and test the waters. Often you are more ready than what you think.
8. What do you wish you’d known about motherhood before having kids?
I wish I had known that every child is different and every time you become a mother, it is a completely new magical experience. I was really worried about whether I would be able to love in the same way again when I had my twins two years ago, but I needn’t have worried because becoming a mother gives one an immense capacity to love.
My mum used to say that a mother’s heart expands to accommodate all her children. I also wish I’d known that a mother has to be able to trust her instinct, not follow rules.
Also, it is hard, one of the hardest things I’ve done, and no one should dismiss the amount of work involved in being a parent, and the kind of commitment it requires. But, then one smile, a giggle or a hug from my children makes it all worth it.
Motherhood has definitely given me the creative surge and a desire to make the world a better place for my children, and it inspired me to start my social enterprise.
9. Finally, happiness is…
Having my family together with me
Smell of coffee
That place near Montepulciano where we had our honeymoon
The sound of the sea
Sunlight streaming through the window as I have a lie-in
My mum’s home-cooked food
Trying new cuisines and sharing the love of food with my family
My husband’s Scottish accent
April’s sloppy kisses
India’s naughty grin
Seeing a student’s eyes light up with excitement
Sketching late at night
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