Bhakti Mathur, 50: The Power of Story

After 20 years working in private banking, Bhakti Mathur transitioned to a career powered by story: as a journalist, children’s author, bibliotherapist, and executive coach. She discusses her eureka moment, how she made the transition, and the daily practices that keep her centered.

One of the wonderful aspects of aging is that not only is it universal, the issues and ambitions that go with it also have tremendous commonality. We did a study a few years ago for a consumer products company that wanted to know how European, American and Japanese folks in our cohort were behaving around the topic of exercise. The answer was, there was almost no difference. So fascinating. We may speak different languages, look different, live in far away places, but much is the same, and what is really surprising is the commonality of life stage.

We have seen over and over how people at a certain age begin to get a glimmer of something new they want to try, or perhaps they sense that whatever career they have been toiling on is no longer the right fit for who they have become. It happened to me at 56, after I had been ruminating on it for maybe 10 years. We have also seen how at around that age, people may double down on what they are doing because they just love it. In either case, there is a sort of welling up of consciousness which may allow people to non-reactively examine who they are and what they are doing. It may also be, if we stay healthy, that this do-over we have is but one of many in our future, that this is not the last spin of the wheel. 

Bhakti began on one road, then switched to a very different one. She wisely did this by preparing an off-ramp over a period of time. Just because we feel we may like doing something does not mean we will, or that we will succeed at it. It is a good idea to test out one’s ideas first, keeping in mind that, for the most part, what limits us is not our capacity but our imagination of what we can do. Humans only went to the moon once they could imagine going to the moon. 

Where are you from?
I grew up in Delhi, India.

Where do you live?
I moved to Hong Kong in 2000 with my husband after a short stint in San Francisco. His work brought us here. Hong Kong is a special city and very much home. It was in Hong Kong that I found the resources and many, many extremely helpful people who aided me in my journey of becoming an author. Both my children were born in Hong Kong, which makes my ties to the city even stronger. Hong Kong has also given me my passion for fitness, hiking and running. It’s hard not to fall in love with the trails here. Where else in the world can you be in the heart of the city and in 15 minutes be in a country park or trudging up a hiking trail?

What was your original career?
I was a banker for 20 plus years working as a senior private banker with banks such as Citigroup, ING and Safra Sarasin. I hold an undergraduate degree in economics, a master’s degree in finance and creative writing.

What are you doing now? What is your interest in children’s books?
I am a children’s book writer (www.bhaktimathur.com), a journalist, an executive coach (www.reflectwithbhakti.com) and a bibliotherapist.

I write two series – Amma Tell Me (picture books on Indian mythology and festivals, for ages 3 to 8, self-published) and Amma Take Me (a travelogue of a mother and her two children to monuments of different faiths and historical significance in India, for ages 9+, published by Penguin). The two series have 18 published titles between them.

While I enjoyed banking, I always had a longing to do something else with my life; something more, something bigger, and something more fulfilling. For years I could not figure out what that was. I finally had my eureka moment in December 2010. The Indian festival of colors, Holi, was round the corner. I was looking for a good book to explain the festival to my older son who was two years old at the time. I found that there were no resources that were simple to understand and that captured the rich imagery of mythological India that is such an integral part of these stories. So, I went ahead and started writing the stories in a style that I think kids find fun and non-preachy and collaborated on the illustrations to bring out the imagery that I want my stories to convey.   

How did you manage the transition?
I had been thinking about leaving banking for a while. I felt happy and satiated with my career and banking and wanted to focus on writing and spending more time with my family and with myself. My husband was very supportive of my decision, even encouraging me to leave the industry. That helped tremendously. It also helped to have some sort of savings in place that allowed me to pursue my other interests. 

I was worried that after following a structured routine for years, how would I adapt to having the whole day to myself. I always wanted to run a marathon (I had run 8 half-marathons across Asia from 2010 to 2016 and loved running). I saw this as a good time to venture ahead and signed up for the New York Marathon in November 2017. I followed a training schedule for four months, which gave structure to my day. Soon, a routine fell in place. The transition taught me to be kind and patient with myself, to give time for a structure to emerge and to trust the universe.

There is power in story, and we understand you are now helping people with their own narratives. How do you do that?
In 2018, I started writing features for the South China Morning Post on life, health and fitness, focusing on the extraordinary resilience of ordinary people in the face of insurmountable adversities. Over eighty published articles later, I still marvel at the strength of the human spirit. But for every one person who overcame life’s difficulties, I came across many more who simply didn’t know how to. That’s when I realized that I want to do more than just write people’s stories. I want to go a step further to help them shape their own narratives. And so, I trained to become an executive coach (ICF-ACC) and now engage in partnerships with clients globally.


My love for books led me to study the practice of bibliotherapy and I am a newly minted bibliotherapist. Bibliotherapy is reading books to treat life’s ailments and dates back over two thousand years. We read stories to restore, heal, and even challenge ourselves. In fact, reading the right book at the right time can change your life. But with millions of titles out there, where do you begin? That’s where a bibliotherapist comes in. 

For clients who sign up for a session, I send them a questionnaire asking them about their reading habits and preferences and about what is happening in their lives currently – what are they struggling with, what is bothering them, any major life changes that they are going through. After that I have an hour-long meeting with them, online or in-person, to understand them better. After a week, I send them a “reading prescription,” with a list of curated books to read. My aim is to help people find solace, hope, and a friend in a book.

You have been married for 24 years and have two teenage sons. What have you learned about commitment?
Without commitment nothing lasts. Any relationship, whether with a partner, child or friend is hard work and takes time and investment. The more you nurture it, the more it will grow. It is important to be sensitive, give the people you love space, take responsibility for your own happiness and, most importantly, learn to love yourself. If you love yourself, all else follows.

Overcoming Life Difficulties

What are some of the life difficulties you have had to overcome?
I had a tough childhood. My parents divorced when I was a year old. My father had no interest in having a relationship with me. That was a tough pill to swallow. My mother remarried and I did not like my stepfather. My family environment was toxic and led to feelings of low self-worth and I had to work very hard over the years to learn to love myself. The good news is that I have grown tremendously as a person, and I love the person I have become in the process.

What is your day-to-day life like? I would imagine that in finance it was quite structured, and maybe less so now?
It took me a while to find my rhythm. Coming from a very structured day to a house which was empty after the husband left for work and the children left for school was unnerving. A routine soon found its way. The kids leave home by 7:45 am. After that, I head to the Iyengar Yoga Centre for my daily yoga practice for one and a half hours (I am currently training to be an Iyengar yoga teacher). I am usually back home and on my desk writing by 10:30 am. I write with minor breaks till 4 pm. Usually I am working on a book or writing an article for the SCMP. In the evenings, I take my dogs for a one-hour walk and spend time with the family. I also like to read post 6 pm.

Do you have a spiritual or religious practice?
I meditate every day. I use an app called “Plum Village” and follow guided meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh, the late Buddhist Vietnamese monk. It grounds me and sets the tone for the day. My daily yoga practice. Yoga keeps me fit, physically and emotionally.

What are 3 simple pleasures you enjoy?
A daily walk in nature with my two dogs, Sam and Rafa. Spending time with my two children, 15 and 13. Reading every day.

What are 3 non-negotiables in your life?
Discipline. Hard work. Physical and emotional health.

Connect with Bhakti: 

See medical disclaimer below. ↓


  1. why is she hiding her age ? Don’t see it listed as it has been on these profiles . Her choice an editorial choice ? Just curious —since we are here to celebrate age and to change the world’s view on what numbers actually have to do with it . ( Very little as we know !) Please clarify this.

    Thanks, Christopher


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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.


David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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