Dare to be unreasonable

By Adobe Life Team

Posted on 08-24-2020

Employee storytelling at Adobe is a powerful way to build empathy and inclusion. When employees share their life experiences in an honest and vulnerable way, other employees gain a greater appreciation and empathy for people different from them. This year, we will again showcase compelling and fascinating stories from our diverse employees at our annual internal Adobe For All event in September. In the lead-up, we are highlighting last year’s storytellers that inspired many across the company.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw penned those words more than 100 years ago, but Rani Mani jokes that she’s convinced they are about her — which she explains with another mantra that has profoundly shaped her life, this one taken from American author Juster Norton’s beloved adventure novel The Phantom Tollbooth: “Many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”

Hopes and dreams

When her parents first learned a daughter was on the way, they envisioned big things for her life. The expectant parents’ excitement soon turned to worry, however, when they visited the doctor in their rural village in India: an ultrasound revealed that Rani was not developing as expected.

“The common shared belief was if a child was born with a disability, they were being punished for sins from a past life,” Rani explained. “They would bring great shame and embarrassment to the family and wouldn’t be a contributing member of society.” Some urged the young couple to end the pregnancy.

Her parents, however, did not share that belief. Rani’s mother had earned a nursing scholarship at a school in New Jersey, which lead the family to immigrate to the United States. There, Rani says, she was encouraged to explore her curiosity and dream without limits.

“I didn’t even know I was disabled until practically I was 12,” she said — and it only came up then because her parents worked to ensure that a school trip to Washington, D.C., included accessible accommodations.

But make no mistake: Rani wasn’t spoiled or pampered. “I was expected to carry my weight in every way. Complaining, whining, making excuses: simply not allowed.”

Rebel with a cause

As Rani became an adult, well-intentioned acquaintances and friends advised her to be “reasonable” in her goals: Stay home. Forget seeking higher education. Don’t set your heart on marriage or children. Settle for a career that is not challenging.

“Being my parents’ daughter, I’m blessed with an exceptionally sassy and rebellious spirit,” she laughed. “I am hard-wired to do completely the opposite of anything you tell me to do.”

And that’s what she did. At 18, she travelled across Calcutta, India, with Mother Teresa to serve the sick and dying, an experience she says shaped her in unimaginable ways.

“She handed us each a rag… and told us to go help people die with dignity,” she recalled, astonished. “At 18, I had not the foggiest idea what dignity meant, let alone how to help someone die with it.”

But while the other volunteers were overwhelmed by the experience and quit, Rani pushed forward and persisted, eventually coming to believe that her life’s calling was to be a nun. But, she said, Mother Teresa convinced her to instead seek as much education as possible and use her gifts to be useful to people around her.

Rani moved to California on her own, earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s in international business and corporate anthropology, married her husband of now 26+ years, and has four amazing children. “Needless to say,” she smiled, “I’m no nun.”

“Your head and your heart are not mutually exclusive,” she continued. “All of these life experiences have taught me that the quality of your words and the quality of your thoughts, namely the stories you tell yourself and the stories you allow other people to tell about you, absolutely determine the quality of your life.”

“So my impassioned plea to all of you: Dare to be unreasonable.”

The power of story

Rani shared these stories and more at Adobe For All Summit 2019 to an enthralled crowd who responded with a standing ovation. “I felt like a Bollywood megastar. I felt exceptionally supported,” she said, reflecting on her experience at the Summit. “These were people that I had a tremendous amount of love and admiration for. It was a phenomenal feeling.”

Leading up to her talk, though, she faced more than just stage fright or simple nervousness. “Why do I have the right to tell this story, or what about the story was even meaningful?” she remembered asking herself in the days before she gave her speech. “Am I taking away from someone else to be able to share?”

Ultimately, she realized that she needed to share her story, if not for herself but for others. Rani had connected so strongly with the stories of other speakers at the Summit, who had given a real name, face, and personality to other dimensions of diversity. Their stories made it real, and she wanted to do the same. “I would be robbing myself and others if I don’t lean into this type of storytelling,” she concluded.

So, true to her own style, Rani took to the stage — without notes. “In that moment, everything I had prepared had completely gone out my head, and it just dawned on me that there is no turning back,” she said. “The only place that I could go was to be super-raw and unfiltered.”

Of course, the response from the audience to Rani’s story was incredible. And when it was all over, she was glad she told her story. “I learned through the preparation process that my heart sings the loudest when I am emotionally connecting with, inspiring and moving people to make positive changes,” she said. “My ultimate goal was to help the audience imagine the extraordinary things they are capable of when they dream without limits and dare to be unreasonable.”

Learn more about Adobe For All on our Diversity site.

Topics: Employee Impact, Adobe Culture, Adobe Life, Diversity & Inclusion