Simran Sethi traveled the globe looking for ways to combine her passion for sustainability with her talent for storytelling.
Most of us have struggled at one time or another to connect our personal values with our professional career. Sometimes that struggle motivates us to bring more of our values to our present job; sometimes it inspires us to look for a more fulfilling line of work. For Simran Sethi, the quest led her across continents, in and out of yoga studios and business school, and through a lively mix of vocations.
Sethi, 36, cohosts the Sundance Channel’s new environmental documentary series The Green and writes and anchors all of the news and radio segments for the popular New York–based online environmental magazine TreeHugger (www.treehugger.com). She has also offered her eco-expertise on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Martha Stewart Show and has doggedly pursued a career path that would feed — and perhaps fuse — her passions for environmental and social justice, sustainable economics, and holistic health.
“I really care about having a better understanding of how we function and how people’s social environments affect their lives,” says German-born Sethi, who was raised in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Sethi enjoyed a stint as an MTV News production assistant while studying sociology and women’s studies at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. But when MTV offered her a job after she graduated, she declined and headed to Italy for graduate studies in Italian language and culture. Later, she journeyed to northern India, where she has “loads of family.” Along the way, however, she realized that she missed the art of storytelling and soon found herself back in television.
“MTV offered me something juicy — associate producing Hate Rock, a documentary on the rise of neo-Nazism in popular music,” she says. She had worked there for about a year when they asked her to be a producer and reporter for Singapore-based MTV Asia News, and she jumped at the chance.
Sethi quickly rose to a news anchor position. Then, when MTV Asia splintered into separate channels in early 1995, the network asked her to create and lead the MTV India news division, and she moved to Bombay, India.
But Sethi wanted to be closer to her immediate family, so in 1999, she moved back to New York City. Looking for challenges outside of TV, she found a job at the New York Open Center, the country’s largest urban holistic healing center. She spent nine months studying to be a prana yoga teacher. She later discovered Kundalini yoga. “There was something about the integration of breathing and meditation in Kundalini yoga that really spoke to me at the time, and I wanted to learn more,” Sethi recalls.
She embarked on another nine-month teacher’s training course, followed by a master’s course taught by Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini yoga to the West. After her studies, she returned to India to study pranayama, yogic philosophy, meditation and alignment. While there, however, she realized once again that she wanted something that more fully integrated her interests.
The sustainable management MBA program at the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco, Calif., provided just the balance she was seeking.
“I think that was one of the best decisions I ever made in terms of really realigning what I want to do with what I actually do,” she says. The program, from which she graduated with distinction in 2005, helped her connect with futurist and ethical business advocate Hazel Henderson, who hired Sethi to host a 13-episode PBS series called Ethical Markets. The show was a perfect fit for Sethi’s interests and talents — but it was cancelled after its first season.
“I think we were just a little too early, frankly,” she says. Despite the show’s demise, Sethi’s career had finally come full circle: She had found a way to fuse her interests, talents and passion for storytelling.
And she believes people are now ready for the stories she wants to tell. “The world is much more invested in environmentalism today,” says Sethi, who coauthored with Henderson Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy (Chelsea Green, 2007). “Time magazine is now devoting a weekly column to environmental issues. Al Gore [and his Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth] has galvanized people around an issue in a way that hasn’t been done since the civil rights movement. Businesses now recognize that sustainable practices make good business sense and good management sense.”
After all, environmentalism is no longer only for quirky ecotopians or die-hard liberals, she notes. “Environmentalism is open to interpretation like never before. While I can focus on organic food, food miles and compact fluorescent light bulbs, another person may be more concerned with biking or promoting hybrids.”
Which means there are more opportunities for Sethi to meld her values and her vocation. “Now I don’t have to pigeonhole,” she says. “I’m able to fuse the things I love.”