Life, Work and Fitness

Written by
Udayan Walvekar

It’s Sunday, 5:47 am in the morning, I am pedalling hard, leg muscles burning, heavy breathing, heart pounding so hard I can feel the thumping through my chest. Sounds like an intense cycling workout? Far from it.

I’m in the middle of Baralacha la, a mountain pass in the Greater Himalayas 16,000ft above sea level. At this altitude, you can’t hold a conversation without stopping to catch your breath, let alone cycle this breathtaking but terrifying route. It's hard to describe this place, the photos will show how beautiful it looks, how stunning the ice contrasts with the rocks, and the sky's so clear you'd think it's photoshopped.

What it fails to show you is the scale of this monster— the rocks on this mountain are bigger than some hills I've climbed. The roads are not tarmac, they're narrow, with semi ice, semi sludge formation. And I am wearing nothing but a cycling jersey. A cycling jersey is a skintight layer, almost weightless, that wicks sweat away before you even know it's there. But I must have been mad to wear them, because that day, it started snowing.

This was the first time I experienced snowfall. I was overjoyed, it was so beautiful! That feeling didn’t last for long though.

Imagine rolling up a mountain in a cycling jersey while Mother Nature's chucking ice-cold confetti at you. My fingers are going blue, locking up, my jaw hurting with how cold it is, my cycling gears freeze, even the water in my bottle freezes! Every single part of me is screaming, "What the hell are you doing?!"

But here's where it gets wild: even when everything in you wants to throw in the towel, there's this other part; a crazy, stubborn part—that just won't let you. That's the moment, right there, when you realise you're not climbing a mountain; you're actually battling yourself, you’re battling your doubts, you’re demons and your mind.

I did finish the climb, and right after, I felt a lump in my throat, and once that first tear broke free, the rest followed in an unbroken stream knowing that I did indeed finish my ride. I survived.

How did I get here?

Hello folks, I am Udayan. I went from an engineering drop out, to being the first growth hire across startups, working in San Francisco to India, building the product growth team at Razorpay, starting my startup i.e. GrowthX, raising the largest ever seed round in the world, building it to be a profitable company from day 1. Professionally, I have had an incredibly rewarding journey. If I have to look back and ask myself what is an important aspect that’s impacted this journey positively, it would undoubtedly be fitness.

But, fitness has not come to me naturally. I’ve always been a fat kid. I was 25kgs overweight. I went from someone who would get knocked into sleep for 3 hours after a small workout to being one of the only cyclists in India to cycle 2700 kms from Pune to the highest motorable road in the world at 5,602m (18,379ft) above sea level.

Fitness has increasingly been important for my journey. It’s not just me. There’s been countless research on how fitness has a large impact on our work. Yet, for some reason we never truly prioritise this. Hopefully by the end of this article you’re able to that small step towards fitness.

Here’s what to expect from this article?

  • How fitness and work are intertwined.
  • Aspects of work where fitness helps
  • How to get started?
  • 'Founders', how to incorporate this into your workspace

How fitness and work are intertwined?

After I started my fitness journey, in just 14 days, I could see the positive mental impact it had on me. I felt less shitty when I woke up, I could sleep better, I felt less irritated. This translated into me wanting to do more. Remember, how I dropped out of engineering? That’s when I took BBA, and any job I could. And one of the first jobs was a medical representative at a pharmaceutical company. A medical rep role where you’re required to go from doctor to doctor selling your pharma drugs. I quickly progressed to the marketing department from sales. All of this new found hustle was just by losing some weight, and being less irritable, and waking up feeling like you want to do something.

Fitness makes you meet amazing people.

I’ve come to realise that the people you surround yourself with has a disproportionately large impact on your growth. Ask anyone who’s been successful in their profession— “Is it important who you surround yourself with?”. You’ll be surprised how much importance they’ll give to this simple factor for their success.

While meeting great people might sound pretty straightforward thing. It’s anything but. Well because most people choose networking to do this. And while networking events are everywhere, they’re actually useless. Because you see, surrounding yourself with great folks is not the same as meeting them at a networking event.

Unpopular Opinion: Networking in it’s current state is very superficial. Just because you got introduced to someone at an event doesn’t mean anything. Nor does that kind of networking, even with the best people, rub off you to think bigger

You have to do activities, have shared experiences with them. You see, the way people bond is when they go through an experience together. Shared experiences are what binds people. This is the fundamental principle on which GrowthX community is also built (70% members are active and exchanged over 1M messages last year). And over the years I’ve realised how much fitness has allowed me to build shared experiences with folks.

Beyond the sweat, gears, and miles, fitness introduced me to an entirely different ecosystem of people and habits that transformed my life. I’ve cycled with the ex commissioner of police, TV actors, national award winning musicians, ISRO scientists, world renowned painters, worlds best doctors. And this is across ages, from 18 years to 70 year olds. All inspiring people that have an impact on you. The best part? You share such a strong experience with them that often these bonds last a lifetime.

Fitness helps you from work stress.

Stress is a universal experience, each person facing their unique blend. Whether it's meeting ambitious targets, supporting family financially, caring for ageing parents, or navigating career decisions like pursuing an MBA, the pressures are diverse.

As a founder, you’re constantly under pressure. It's practically etched into your job description. Pressure to reach targets that could secure that next round of funding, decisions that drive product vision, maintaining team dynamics, ensuring that productivity soars while burnout is kept at bay. And, as if that weren't enough, you're perpetually in the limelight, your every decision scrutinised by stakeholders, board members, and your customers.

Stress is an undeniable part of life, and the key is not to eliminate it but to learn how to navigate it effectively. And managing stress effectively is key to growing at work. Especially mid-senior and above.

You know what helps manage stress 1.5 times better than counselling or medications? Exercise. Yes! Studies have been shown to be even better than medication or counselling. This is according to a study from the University of South Australia. Quick note: I love and am a proponent of therapy, I also understand everyone is different. This note of fitness being more than 1.5 times better isn’t to be used as replacement. But if you’re going through a stressed situation, adding fitness to your regime will undoubtedly work.

Final note about stress and work. At Razorpay, I had a— dream job in a dream market within a dream team. I was setting up Growth in a company that was in the fastest growing market. Demonetisation, launch of UPI and the pandemic all happened in 4 years- all this meant that the company was growing 4X every year. Stress was a byproduct of being in this crazy zone of Razorpay. This was my Monday to Friday. On weekends, I was building the fastest-growing growth community in the country, GrowthX. GrowthX was a side project, nurtured alongside our demanding roles at Razorpay and my co-founder Abhishek's commitments at Dunzo and later CRED.

Well, the question is how do I not manage to explode? The answer is fitness.

I discovered early that nothing, and I mean nothing helps me with thinking clearly that a good workout does. It’s better than alcohol, cigarettes or any drug out there. You might think it's just the endorphins at play here, but that’s far from the whole picture. During my workouts, the world fades away. No calls, no texts, no incessant beeping of social media notifications. For those isolated hours, it's just me, my cycle, and my thoughts. It's a form of meditation, a kind of solitude that allows you to sift through the clutter in your head and focus on what really matters. I found that often, the best therapist you can have is yourself.

Fitness makes you productive at work.

A lot of people say that I don’t have the time for fitness right now. My work schedule is too full right now. You see, when you say you don’t have time for fitness because of work you’re missing the point. Fitness actually improves your ability to work, increases your output, it makes you more efficient and overall allows you to be 10x better at work.

And every single person I spoke to said this. Rahul (Product @ CRED) said “Fitness gives me a major productivity boost, higher self-confidence, and helps me get back faster after bad days at work.” Pratham (Marketing @ Haptik) said “My ability to retain information goes up significantly. My mood throughout the day is great and I can get way more work done.” Jaimit Doshi (CMO @Aditya Birla Finance) said it’s not just productivity but “definitely allows me to bring unfailing energy through the day!”. Varsha (Lead - People & Culture @ Moonfrog Labs) said “ My ability to think through and make decisions improves significantly”

And it’s not just them, when I returned from SF to India and joined Sokrati, I was the first Growth hire. My routine in an early stage startup that was growing really fast- up at 5:00 am, cycling till 8:00 am. At work by 9:30am, staying often till 10:00pm. I was also a cycling/spinning coach at MultiFit, where I went post work. My schedule was intense, but I was barely tired, and I fundamentally credit that energy to fitness.

So don’t think about fitness as something that’s going to take 1 hour from your day, but something that will add 3 hours to your day.

How do you start with fitness? Here’s a framework.

If you're expecting a fancy new framework or a magical formula to help you start, this isn't it. It's not about intricate strategies or complex theories. It's not about luck, and it's not about timing. Nor is it about chance or waiting for things to fall into place. It's about choice. The simple, direct act of making a decision. That's the real starting point.

When I spoke to 50+ professionals on their insights with fitness & work. They had varied reasons. Atul (Design @ CRED) for example started because he was inspired by the movie “Never Back Down”. He aspired to have a great physique. “Back then, having a toned physique was synonymous with being cool, right? I guess, for most of us who start young, the reasons might not be that deep or meaningful initially. But as time rolled on, my perspective shifted dramatically. It became less about looking cool or what others thought, and more about feeling good both physically and mentally. The gym became my zone of solace, my escape, and a place where I could challenge and prove myself, but to myself alone.”

For Deepak (Head of Growth @ Omella) it was mental health. “Depression, Anxiety, and extreme lack of ability to focus on anything.” For some it’s looking at ailing family members, “I see my elders around me suffering from physical ailments and related problems. So I want to stay healthy so I don't have to go through those.”- Aditi (Founder @ Grabye Media). For Sumedh it was his mom, “Mum was in stage 4 cancer (and she survived *touchwood), my dad was borderline diabetic. Realised if I don’t take care of myself now, then it’s going to be a costly affair later on.” - Sumedh (Manager @ Sportz Interactive).

Fitness is a Choice you make for Life

Me? in 2012, at my lowest, absolute bottom, I made a choice: get my life back on track. The first step was to address my weight. I began with the gym, specifically choosing afternoon slots. Because when you're extremely overweight, there's a sense of shame, an awkwardness about working out in front of others. It's not right to feel ashamed of your body, but looking back, I'm grateful I found a workaround to start my journey.

But you don’t need to wait till your lowest to start.

Here’s an approach.

Do not decide it for a short term goal.

Don’t think of ambitious goals.

Think of it as something you want to do for 40 years.

This thought process will automatically push you to think of this as a lifestyle change.

This is very important.

Your goals can be anything.

It can be deciding to workout twice a week.

It can be a 15 minute walk every alternate day.

Trust me, the two most important factors here to win are choice and starting extremely, extremely extremely small.

Founders, how do you incorporate benefits of fitness into your org?

At GrowthX we wanted a way to motivate folks to keep fit. The easy route is to sponsor gym memberships. However, we wanted to drive a meaningful way to motivate people to do more for their health. Remember my saying about what’s the biggest factor when it comes to motivation? It is people. So I did just that. At GrowthX we have slack channel called #fitness-streaks.

All you need to do is post a photo of yourself working out. Photos range from selfies to people flexing their PBs to just a tired face saying they made it.

Here’s how it works

You start by publicly committing to your fitness goals. And no the it’s not about how sexy or cool the goal is, nor is it about being a small or a large goal. 15 mins walk? Sure. 60 mins run? Sure. What matters is the public commitment that drives accountability.

Daily posts to fuel accountability

Team members also post their photos every single day to maintain their streaks. Seeing other folks post really motivates people who are also on a fitness journey to preserve their streaks.

Think of this channel as your private venting corner—safe, understanding, and ready to tackle anything from lifting woes to life's big moments. Whether you're here to seek advice, share your journey, or just need to vent, #fitness-streaks has got you covered.

But, the best part? It’s how we get the org to join us.

Channel members tag one person they know who wants to workout but is procrastinating. Every single person on the channel that is posting their photos starts tagging the team member until they post. Sometimes it takes 3 days, sometimes even a week, but members really feel cared that people want them to workout and tag and dedicate their workout to the person who wants to come.

Once they join the channel, the tag stops. But we ONLY tag people who have expressed a desire to workout. Because, remember? The choice has to be personal.

What happens if someone stops posting?

If an existing member of the channel stops posting the channel, we start tagging them again until they post again.

And it’s also about the office food

The journey from 88 kgs to where I am wasn't just about the miles I clocked on my cycle; it was equally about what I put on my plate.

This has also trickled down at GrowthX. See, GrowthX team flies down every quarter for a staycation together. When this happens, any caterer etc that we have explored typically will have soda in their food or will not have the right nutritional balance.

So, since the beginning we order Eat Fit subscription. We directly talk to the Eat Fit B2B team, everything from breakfast, lunch & dinner is ordered from there. This is significantly more expensive, but I believe that a healthy body is a healthy mind. And this translates into folks not missing home food, feeling more energetic and just it’s positive vibes everywhere.

Life, Work and Fitness

We massively underestimate how intertwined our personal life, work and health are. I think of them as a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece represents a different aspect, and only when they all fit together does the full picture emerge.

Fitness doesn’t suck away your time, it actually gives you back time via incredible boosts in productivity. It’s an excellent catalyst for us to surround ourselves with amazing folks from all walks of life. It’s way better than networking, helping us form real bonds with great folks. It’s proven to be better or as effective as therapy or medications when it comes to managing stress. And to start, you don’t need a complicated framework, no fancy process nor a KYC ;). You just need to make a choice; to start. And remember, it’s not the intensity of the start but the consistency that matters. So please, start as small as you can. And to my fellow founders, you hold the power to extend the benefits of fitness to your team. Integrating fitness into your team's culture is not just a perk, it's a game-changer.

Finally, ending this edition of Humanise with a note of gratitude to the people that helped me along the way to get fit. The entire fitness community an extremely kind bunch of folks who are non judgmental and want people to grow. If there’s anything that I want from this article is fitness community coming together and picking one person they know who has been trying to keep fit, and mentor them, guide them, be there for them and get them into fitness. I’m also going to sponsor a cult membership to 2 founders/operators randomly that want to start this fitness journey. Because, it's not just about the gym, it's about the people.


Heartfelt shoutout

To the operators and founders who shared their insights and learnings which were critical in finishing this piece. Harshit Marwah, Kshitiz Narwal, Aashima Gogia, Aman Gupta, Atul Khola, Rohit Gupta, Deepak Jain, Siddhant Jain, Sachin Tomar, Rahul Harkisanka, Navendu Sharma, Shashank Gupta, Jannik Wempe, Anmol Tomer, Vatsal Kanabar, Ananya Naithani, Saurabh Agrawal, Gorang Kumar, Paarug Sethi, Naval Saini, Aditi Aggarwal, Raunak C, Samrat Shinde, Ram Rathi, Siddharth Raman, Shiva Singh Sangwan, Prarabdh Awasthi, Anupam Singh, Aishwarya Lohi, Apoorva Uniyal, Manoj Surya, Pratham Amitabh, Akshay Sharma, Jaimit Doshi, Rohit Gupta, Sridhar Krish, Shubham Bansal, Viminya Doss, Divya George, Ankan Saikia, Anindya Longvah, Mahima Priyani, Nitika T, Sumedh Borkar, Yashwanth V, Piyush Roy, Gowrav Reddy, Gary Thomas, Pavan Teyari, Uday Prakash, Dipti Desai, Anjanay Saxena, Nikhil Moorjani, Seema Rathod, Pooja Kadam, Varsha Sharma, Poonam J Singh, Rohit Mishra.

Thank you so much 💙

Work-life conversations that question the status quo.
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