In Sanskrit moksha means eternal liberation—a state of peace, an inner heaven. In Eastern spiritual traditions such as Hinduism, Vedanta and Buddhism, moksha is the highest state a human can attain – a state of enlightenment filled with happiness and freedom from individual desires and suffering.
One gets an inkling of this state of moksha when you encounter the aura exuded by Nerisha Maharaj, owner of Nerisha Maharaj Coaching International. While being calmness personified, she is also a dynamo of a woman who holds an MBA in addition to her CA(SA) qualification.
Maharaj stepped out of a successful, twelve-year long career in the corporate world to follow one as dynamic and rewarding vocation as a life coach, yoga and meditation teacher, Enneagram practitioner and author. This decision was rooted in two things that were both very important to her: her experience as chartered accountant, and her passion for developing, coaching and assisting people from all walks of life.
‘The path chose me. In a way I was very open to change, having known in my heart throughout my career that the corporate world was not for me. From a young age, I was drawn toward fulfilling my potential and helping those around me who were open to it, to fulfil theirs. Becoming a coach felt like a calling—the most natural thing in the world for me to offer to others. It involved great personal sacrifice—things that are done with love often do. I completed formal coaching training, Enneagram certification and 200 hours of yoga and meditation training. Yoga in its purest essence goes beyond the physical and is about self-mastery. I had been practising yoga for years, but wanted to take this to a higher level and share it with others. You cannot be a coach without deep inner work. When I took the decision to leave to open up my coaching practice, clients just started to come, and my practice grew by word of mouth. That is how I knew that I was doing the right thing,’ says Maharaj.
Her path to her current satisfying career started at Effingham Secondary School, where she showed exceptional academic prowess. This provoked a traditional compulsion to choose between three typical paths: medicine, engineering or chartered accounting. None of those excited her, she admits, but the CA(SA) route seemed to be the most versatile option, ‘holding the promise that one day I could go on to do what I really loved – which is working with understanding our human potential and helping others to reach that in themselves.’
Maharaj adds that becoming a CA(SA) turned out to be ‘a great blessing, and worth the pain for the incredible discipline and strong business acumen that it taught me. My executive coaching and corporate clients appreciate my background as a CA(SA), because it enables me to understand their world and to coach business strategy, leadership and self-mastery in an integrated way. So perhaps there are no mistakes in life.’
Most CAs(SA) find their trainee period to be the most challenging of their qualification journey, since they are then hurtled from the world of theory to the very practical hands-on work environment where they have to deal with real clients. This was also the case for Maharaj: ‘Traineeship was the biggest challenge for me, because you get thrown into complex client situations with no clue what you are doing in your first year. That and the stress of long hours, constant deadlines, uninspiring work and low salaries… my heart goes out to all who are there right now. I overcame this by courage, faith and doing my best. It paid off.’ She adds that ‘on my life journey, I have had many personal challenges, and these have contributed greatly to my growth and resilience. I handled these in the same way: courage, faith, and doing my best.’
One personal challenge was being diagnosed as going blind in her twenties, but she was able to overcome this obstacle to move forward in her endeavours.
‘I completed my traineeship at Deloitte, specialising in financial institutions, attracted by the challenge of added complexity—a true blue accountant. After that, I stayed on as a manager in the team. I then left to join Unilever as the SA Group Risk and Tax manager, responsible for the strategic design and rollout of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, which had just come into being.’ She reporting to the two Unilever boards on governance, business risks and bringing their code of business principles to life. She loved that role, and her team won the chairman’s award for their impact on the business.
‘I was then approached by the London office to take on a global risk management position for Unilever, based in London –which I very happily accepted. After my agreed three years as an expat, I was accepted into Oxford to study my MBA and the plan was to take a year off and do that. Then the 2008 financial crash happened, and I had to revise that plan, coming back to Unilever SA. I headed up a team of 70 people looking after accounts receivable and master data, and then took up the position as strategic assistant to the CEO.’
Since that role entailed shadowing two very different CEOs, it further sparked her curiosity about ‘the meaning of leadership and what makes leaders great. I then started my MBA at the UCT Graduate School of Business, specialising in leadership and coaching.’ She then moved to head up the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability function, assisting the CEO with the roll-out of Unilever’s huge new sustainability strategy.
Then, in 2012, she completed her MBA, trained as a yoga and meditation instructor, and decided to leave the corporate world to set up Nerisha Maharaj Coaching International. ‘Having experienced a stressful career that involved constant, rapid and dynamic movement into diverse high profile roles, taught me excellent adaptive intelligence skills and inner stress management techniques. Memorable achievements include publishing my first book Self-Love: The Authentic Path to Conscious Leadership this year, teaching the self-mastery course every year on the prestigious Graduate School of Business Masters in Philosophy in Inclusive Innovation programme, and, best of all, the interactions with my coaching clients—exceptional individuals from all walks of life who I am privileged to work with,’ comments Maharaj.
Her book – a treasure trove for established and emerging leaders – is based on her award-winning MBA research published in a global peer-reviewed academic management journal. In a world where digitalisation is the order of the day, and where people struggle to ‘switch off’ from everyday challenges, Maharaj offers wise guidance to help leaders cope in an increasingly complex environment. She teaches the stressed executive – as well as the new initiate who may be somewhat overwhelmed – how to achieve the self-mastery that leads to inner harmony and equilibrium.
She loves the gift of growth and understanding that travel brings, and was fortunate to have lived and worked in London, New York and Botswana during her career until now. She says meeting great new people adds colour to the growing patchwork quilt of her life.
Like most success stories, the basis is rooted in the home. Maharaj speaks fondly of her parents and how they influenced her own outlook on life: ‘I have honest, hard-working parents who do their best to always help others. My father and grandfather always taught me that to go to sleep at night with a clear conscience is priceless. That has stayed with me.’ She also credits the many great life teachers who continue to guide and inspire her towards the ‘good old fashioned morals and values’ to counteract the negative influences in a world that is charged with corruption and unethical practices.
She loves reading: ‘Anything that opens up my state of consciousness and unfolds me into higher wisdom. Books by and about great saints, ancient Vedanta wisdom, poetry by Rumi, Tagore and Gibran, good psychology and philosophy, books on self-mastery, biographies and autobiographies of the world’s greatest thinkers and heroes—people that moved humanity forward. When we, as a collective nation, can consistently display the ideals that Nelson Mandela gave his life for—integrity, love, wisdom, respect for human life, non-violence, peace, selflessness, truth, morality, and absence of hatred, prejudice, anger, greed and corruption—then I can be proudly South African. Blind nationalism is a dangerous thing.’
Maharaj has a clear, inspirational message for the youth, especially those who are keen on traversing the CA(SA) route: ‘The CA(SA) profession is a rewarding, but challenging, one. The outer challenges such as the mental difficulties of the path are easier to spot—keep on persisting. The more subtle challenge is the over-focus on money by the profession, which risks leading to an imbalanced perspective of life. Be conscious of this, and don’t lose your soul. There is a gap in the qualification when it comes to teaching CAs(SA) critical aspects such as emotional intelligence and self-mastery, and I see many go on to struggle with this later on in their lives. Make sure that you obtain a well-rounded education by working on these aspects through your own personal development journey. Good coaching, meditation, and journaling are powerful practices that can help to ensure that your life path is not just externally and materially rewarding, but internally fulfilling and beneficial to the world too.’
Gary Zukav once said: ‘The more aware of your intentions and your experiences you become, the more you will be able to connect the two, and the more you will be able to create the experiences of your life consciously. This is the development of mastery. It is the creation of authentic power.’ This is a good description of Nerisha Maharaj: a CA(SA) of the stature that makes SAICA proud of its past and current members.