When I joined the corporate world in 2001, I was unsure whether I would continue with my career after achieving milestones like marriage and childbirth. Now, when I look back at my 18 years of uninterrupted career, I see a journey – from an absolute fresher from a small town to climbing up the corporate ladder to achieve leadership roles, run an enterprise, coach and mentor leaders, be a part of Boards as an independent director and so much more. Along the way I did get married and was blessed with two children, who are my strongest support system. Without a doubt, it’s quite a satisfactory journey. What worked?
While these are highlights and outcomes, the journey did have its own set of challenges. What worked was my willingness to work around those challenges and also a solid support from people or rather the ecosystem around me.
As an individual, I had this self-inflicted pressure of being the best in whatever I do. Even though I was unsure of how long my career will last I tried to deliver my best at any job that I did. And this got carried on to my relationships too. I wanted to be the best boss, subordinate, wife, daughter, in-law, mother and so on. Soon enough the ‘pleasure of living’ got converted into ‘pressured-living’ and there was no joy in whatever I did. This “Super-Woman Syndrome” made me often contemplate whether I should give up my career and focus only on my personal life. Having mentored nearly 100 women in professional development and leadership, I realised that it’s a common challenge that all of us face resulting in a leaky pipeline of women workforce. These collective experiences made me realise that there is nothing called “work-life balance” – work and life are integral parts of our life and they are well integrated. The balance must be within the self. This realisation helped me in my career and many other women whom I mentor. Here are the 3 most important points from my experience:
Drop the “Super Woman” Syndrome: We tend to push ourselves to be the best at everything – whether at work or home. But, trying to live up to this highest standard that too as per others expectations, stops us from actually enjoying what we do. Then chaos follows. Instead, if we let go of this “Super Woman” syndrome, we can bring a better balance within ourselves and in the environment around us. We must enjoy what we do without getting overly fussed about outcomes. If we don’t work on a prized project or if our children do not get top marks, its ok. Decide your priority of that day (not the year). In the long run, a more flexible and realistic attitude towards work also helps in reaping the benefits of work. A settled mind will get a better outcome than a chaotic one.
Have your own definition of success: While some form of external validation is necessary for most of us, I find that increasingly, as women, we tend to base our understanding of success and failure entirely on what others think of us. The biggest challenge with this is that we can end up with a distorted perception of our strengths and weaknesses, and in turn feel resentful and less accomplished. Factoring in the aspect of privilege, we need to understand that someone else could be more privileged, born with more benefits, financially or pedagogically. Each of us has a different purpose and a different background. Hence it more useful and realistic to have a personal definition of success and work towards our goals.
Ask, don’t expect: Even as the gender wage gap is at 19% in the country, how many of us have a conversation with our bosses for a promotion or negotiate for our salaries? We often commit the mistake of “expecting” – we expect better pay, more help at home and recognition for our work. These expectations often go unmet, primarily because people around us may not even know of them. Not asking for something that is ours rightfully stems from the Imposter Syndrome that so many women suffer from. One way to overcome this challenge is to open up and ask. Expecting others to understand what you want is unfair as even they have their own set of struggles and priorities. A simple, honest conversation can prevent countless misunderstandings and open door for opportunities.
These are my simple tools that helped me sustain and excel. An attitudinal shift helped me propel towards a more promising future. Even as the conversations around gender wage gap and workplace diversity strengthen, these are some simple tips, from one woman to another, to help us survive, navigate through, and thrive in the corporate world.
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