“To full stop, or not to full stop, that is the question,” says the senior copywriter at Serviceplan Middle East, as she shares her love of problem-solving with LBB’s Nisna Mahtani
“I was always a restless kid with a ‘monkey mind’, excited to try new things,” says Aashna Gopalkrishnan, a senior copywriter at Serviceplan Middle East. Thinking back to her childhood, she remembers the moment the reality of adulthood set in: “I vividly remember the first time I grasped the concept of a ‘job’. Picking one thing and doing it every day for the rest of your life? It baffled me, and then terrified me.” That feeling for her, like many of us, was a daunting concept to grasp, but Aashna took it in her stride.
While her plan wasn’t always to get into the creative industries, she landed on her feet after meeting some of the colourful characters who inspired her. “I stumbled into advertising while I was fleeing from [a career in] medicine and took up the job purely based on how cool and quirky the people were,” says Aashna. It was the range of projects and variety of briefs which interested her, “I was sold when I found myself thinking like a car enthusiast one day, and a biryani lover the very next – I had a hunch that no two days would be alike, and I have been mostly right!”
But getting there wasn’t easy, doing well at school was a given in her household and culture, with the job streams leading to but a few options. “Good grades meant only one thing in an Asian household – a career in science and technology,” says Aashna. “While I earnestly prepared for my medical entrance exams, I realised that my heart wasn’t in it. So next stop, journalism.”
Finishing a journalism course, Aashna joined an established war journalist in their research for a series of non-fiction books based on the Mumbai Mafia. Here, she interviewed “gangsters and law enforcement officials” while being undercover. She says, “The books were an instant hit and inspired several movies and shows as well. While every moment got my adrenaline pumping, I was constantly looking over my shoulder so a close friend recommended that I try advertising, and so I landed my first internship.”
Starting out in the industry in her native India, Aashna remained there for eight years before moving over to the UAE, where she now resides. She began with a realigned mindset of the working world and persisted to deliver impactful work, willed on by the people around her, who helped her realise her own unique voice. “My time in India also taught me a lot about the importance of strong female and non-binary leaders in the workplace, and it’s a torch I will continue to carry wherever I go.
“Alongside my solitary pursuit to push my craft, I learnt how to be a team player and empower others. However, my biggest commitment fiercely lies in bringing gender balance to workplaces. I constantly strive to create a fair, inclusive, safe & healthy work environment where every voice feels heard – and heard well,” she says.
Noting her first big professional project, Ashala mentions ‘Project Free Period’ a CSR initiative for Stayfree India. “It was a vocational programme designed to empower sex workers to reclaim their lost agency and pursue a better life by teaching them different skills on their period days. This was a life-changing experience, personally and professionally.”
Aashna reflects on her initial experiences as well as her current working environment, considering how they shaped her as a creative. “Since the very beginning, I was encouraged to create impactful work – that inspired affirmative action, made people think or even provided some much-needed comic relief,” she says. But of course, the process needed to be honed before she could deliver on her own. “It’s also where craft and strategy were chiselled to a T, and I was lucky to have mentors who pushed me relentlessly to discover my own distinct voice and style. The thing about honing any craft is that the goalposts keep moving – there’s always something to be perfected, and that’s what keeps me on my toes (on my fingers, rather).”
Part of what keeps Aashna going on a daily basis is the prospect of problem-solving, a task that doesn’t phase her one bit. “I got 99 problems, and I’ll say, ‘Give me another!’ My favourite part about my job is brainstorming for solutions to a problem. This skill has kept my brain entertained even outside of work problems.” But her challenges come in the form of keeping a consistent level of motivation and motivating others too. “This was especially tough during the pandemic when every aspect of our lives saw a major change. It has pushed me to value my mental health immensely, and to be kinder to myself. But the biggest goal is to be a well-rounded leader, above all else.”
Making the advertising industry an inclusive, authentic space is something that Aashna is particularly passionate about. “Big brands have the ammunition to shift the needle for the better and bring important issues to the fore,” she says. “My primary goal is to create a project that outlives the awards and sustains its purpose beyond them.” And this, she believes, can stem from work with purpose. “I hope to do more meaningful work that brings real positive change to the world – like ‘Project Free Period’.”
In her efforts to keep on top of new trends and have her ear to the ground, it’s podcasts and various publications that Aashna looks toward for the latest insights. “I also have the coolest colleagues who make sure everyone in the office knows about the latest trends! Thanks for the second-hand flex, guys!” And there’s one debate she’s constantly grappling with: “To full stop, or not to full stop, that is the question.” She continues, “But on a more serious note, it’s debating around things like gender, inclusivity and mental health that unsettle me. It’s 2022 and we ought to know the drill by now.”
Outside of work, it’s “yoga, playing board games or doing MASSIVE puzzles,” that take up her time. “I am also a serious plant mom of 60 plants who take very good care of me.” But when she isn’t standing on her head while doing yoga – which she finds more fun than being on her feet – or figuring out where each piece of the puzzle fits, music is up there as a priority. With a passion for discovering every kind of new music, Aashna presents us with the hard facts of the impact it’s had on her mind: “95.6% of my brain is song lyrics living rent-free.”
Like many creatives, she doesn’t fall short on hobbies or activities, podcasts also being one of her pastimes. In particular, ‘A Slight Change of Plans’ produced and hosted by Dr. Maya Shankar has caught her attention of late. “She’s a cognitive scientist who speaks to a variety of individuals about the big changes they’ve navigated in their lives. It’s super inspirational and informative at the same time.
“I also chanced upon the craziest book – it’s called ‘What it?’ by Randall Munroe. He’s the brains behind the legendary comic ‘xkcd’, and in this book, he answers bizarre hypothetical scientific questions. It’s a must-read and I’m so thrilled there’s a part two!”
She adds, “I love working with my hands so there’s constantly a side project going on. From 3D printing planters and earrings to making a terrarium cabinet, I never run out of ways to waste my time.”
But all of it, her working life, hobbies and interests, are all underlined by one thing, which keeps her grounded. “The fact that nothing in life is permanent – not even failure or grief. There are so many ways to enhance your skills, expand your knowledge, create moments of peace and joy, and change your life little by little.”