By Nicanor Gordon
Dr. Shelly-Ann Gajadhar is walking proof of the principles she espouses in her career coaching business, Alphastute. The prosecutor turned business major and entrepreneur oozes passion as she details her life journey up until this point, while providing tips that all of us can benefit from.
Shelly was born and raised on the island of Trinidad and Tobago. She describes it as a beautiful place of sun, sea and fun, but one plagued with problems of crime, gang violence and drug trade.
“I saw the chaos and wanted to be part of the order,” she declares. “I wanted to be that person that could help.” Crediting her mother for providing a steady diet of the TV show Law & Order, she saw the legal system as her avenue to changing her surroundings.
She notes, there was something personally empowering about being a prosecutor for the state. “I just found it to be so powerful and impactful, and almost invincible in some regards,” Shelly explains. It was fulfilling for her, but also, she jokes, as an only child she liked being the center of attention.
It’s her intoxication with the law that made what followed all the more heartbreaking. Shelly is a practiced orator, and it’s at this point of conveying her story where her voice is most powerful, vibrating with emotion.
She had done it, she says, achieved her dream – a thing not many people are able to do within their lifetime. “I felt very on purpose and aligned with my childhood dreams. I worked alongside some of the most senior attorneys, one of them being then Queen’s Counsel, Dana Seetahal.” Seetahal was a mentor who taught Shelly and evaluated her trial advocacy during school. “I’ve always seen her as a beacon, as an exemplar of excellence,” she praises.
But, in May 2014 Seetahal was assassinated, and Shelly’s world was shattered.
As Shelly tells it, here was this woman who had dedicated her life to pursuing justice, and she had just been snuffed away. What did she have to look forward to?
In the weeks following, Shelly would come to be disappointed with how she felt the legal process failed Seetahal and ultimately how it fails those who practice it, not just the victims. “We sensationalize the profession and we don’t really inform young people what this profession really gives, why we have so many lawyers career pivoting,” she explains.
Shelly recalls growing increasingly paranoid, “I was constantly looking over my shoulder.” For her, the inadequacies of the current system were laid bare. She felt unsafe walking to the court by herself, and intimidated by the accused’s families. She also felt she lost parts of herself, including her femininity. After two weeks, she knew she had to make a change. So, she decided to go back to school.
Shelly took the plunge, packing up and moving to the UK where she enrolled at University of Edinburgh to pursue a business degree. While there, she was the only Caribbean person in her department. Then, when she moved on to do her Ph.D., she was the only black person altogether. The entire experience was eye-opening. “I was naive when it came to racism and issues of diversity and inclusion. We (Trinidadians) don’t necessarily have racism to this deep degree,” Shelly says, describing what adjusting was like.
She recalls desperately looking for someone who looked like her in the halls of Edinburgh. Determined to change this for those following her, she spent significant time pushing the university to improve its diversity efforts. “We (black people) have to see excellence in order to aspire to excellence.”
All of this led to the birth of Alphastute. After returning home for carnival season one year, Shelly offered one-on-one resume and cover letter assistance on a whim. The response was astounding – 42 bookings in under three weeks. Clearly, there was a need for this kind of service.
Alphastute is a professional development and coaching company. It operates virtually, predominantly serving individuals in the US, Caribbean and the UK. The goal is to encourage people to go “bravely into their purpose” and to think creatively about their careers in order to become hybrid professionals. To be hybrid is to achieve maximum flexibility, and to be able to bridge multiple disciplines to take full control of your career path.
Safe to say, Dr. Shelly-Ann Gajadhar is the prototype.
Here are some of Dr. Shelly’s tips for young Caribbean women:
- “The world is yours. Do not limit yourself to just the island and the people around it. There’s so much opportunity for you in the world once you start to look outside our shores. Don’t be afraid to explore.”
- “Get very clear about your strengths. Don’t worry about who is doing whatever they’re doing. When they say the market is saturated, know that the market does not have you and your particular strengths.”
- “Please go bravely. This is my mantra that I live by. Go bravely into your dreams. You don’t choose the dream, it chooses you. You have to show up for that dream. Don’t worry about what people say about you. Go bravely into what you are here to do.”