With a euphoric sigh, I am happy to dedicate this blog to those brave hearts who face everyday challenges with a smile on their face. The burden of responsibilities and our inherent desire for more, makes life a constant struggle to survive. Today’s youth however, has brought in a breath of fresh air with innovative ideas, novel ways of living life and out of the ordinary solutions to problems. They have shunned the shackles of society and emerged as shining stars. For me, each one of them is a hero and thus an inspiring figure.
However, while tackling queries and addressing issues from these dynamic youngsters, I came to a shocking realization; that I wasn’t even aware of the existence of such issues. So here I go, offering a few practical suggestions that I have extracted from my life experiences.
Q1) When & how did you start your professional journey?
To be honest, I was never the type to build sand castles in thin air. My dreams were not based on unrealistic grounds. However, I did have a goal in life; my dreams were not random but had a sense of direction. Were my dreams pointing to a specific direction? No! Was I vouching for a particular dream career? Was my passion confined to a special skill? Not really! Answers to these questions develop in life, eventually with experiences and maturity.
Q2) Why advertising at the start of your career?
Growing up as the youngest, more so with two elder brothers was not an easy job. It distanced me from my female identity and put me in a crisis; wherein I never even addressed myself as the female gender until teenage years. There was an inherent urge to think differently and not to follow the family norms of traditional job options. With context to my early career of the 1980s, under the protectionist economic policies of India’s Socialist Government, there were only a few incentives for private-sector growth and everything depended on government licences, which in turn depended on strong connections. Most Indians with ambitions moved out of India; many who left to work and study in America in the 1970s and 1980s were graduates from IITs, and went on to make a significant contribution to the development of California’s Silicon Valley as the world centre of technological innovation. It is estimated that Indians are responsible for one in six of all Silicon Valley start-ups. So moribund was India’s infrastructure that it took Infosys almost a year to secure a telephone line (As late as 1998 there were fewer than 10 million telephone lines of all kinds in India. Today more than 10 million mobile phone connections are added each month).
Amidst the pressure of choosing a professional career within a water tight compartment and following the herd, I was making my own efforts on being different. Advertising at that time was ready to take off in India. It appeared exciting, young and more so included “travelling” which otherwise was a luxury saved for the elite class; so I knocked on the doors of various agencies and finally got selected as the lowest daily paid intern for a start-up agency. Did the low pay bother me? Nope, I just got into action with whatever work I was bombarded with. This hunger to make a difference fuelled by long hours of learning, facing rebuke, rejection and appreciation helped me finding my voice, forming opinions, defending firm stands and a host of other lessons that I carry with me still.
Q3) Why do we usually shy away from asking? Why does it appear that repeated questions create a sense of unease amongst our colleagues?
Let’s step back a little on this and try to see a broader picture here that starts with our family structures and values as well as our education system that does not build upon our ability to ask questions, but merely follow age-old norms of rote learning. Asking is important to get what you deserve. It is a world of survival of the fiercest, not just the fittest. If you think you deserve a promotion, an increment, you have to ask for it! The right question put in the right way at the right time is most important. Now when I think back, I realise that these are some questions that young people need to ask for themselves. Often, I did not.
Q4) Have you experienced the changes in you as you have gone through your career? How have you handled this?
Yes. I have and the outcome is a mixed bag of emotions, memories, some losses, some victories. For me, the most vital thing is to just be yourself. Are you being yourself? We as humans develop at every stage, and thus learn from our past. It is natural to want to fit in the changing environment, and even to sacrifice some of our own preferences, values or beliefs to make that happen. The truth, however, is that you really are the only one who knows for sure what is right for you and your voice is worth fighting for.
Q5) How do you manage organisation politics?
In the initial years, I was always confined to my shell. My world revolved around my work and family; I was least concerned about what was happening around. Later on, with a few experiences I learnt it is important to be abreast with the current happenings and stay connected with the outside world. Today, I may not participate in politics or gossip, but I try to make sure that I am aware of what’s going on around me. I’ve also learnt how to handle it, if it ever crosses my path.
Q6) How well do you take care of your health?
When I was younger, I had blinding faith in my metabolism like every other teenager. I always believed I could do away with my eating habits as I had a lot of time in my hand to develop fitness routines. My body was often neglected by me and was treated with far less respect. I have realized in maturity that loving and taking care of your body goes well beyond the valuable reasons for maintaining a healthy weight, it ties in stress management, feelings of empowerment and self-esteem, and it opens the door to enjoying life in a truly healthy way.
Q7) Do you worry too much about your appearance?
It would be unfair to my vanity if I wouldn’t! Naturally, in youth, we are more focused on aesthetic appeal – how we look, how we can use our appearance to fit in, stand out, or communicate who we are. It is only through experience that I think we truly understand the value of something deeper which is well embedded in each one of us. Look closely and you are likely to find that the most beautiful people you know, regardless of their individual appearances have all in common a passion for life, a caring and generous spirit, a great sense of fun, and a confident, positive attitude. This is no coincidence – it is the simple fact that true beauty really does originate, grow, blossom and thrive from within. It is important to take care of your outer appearance, but the key is to balance that effort with the nurturing of all those wonderful, graceful and adoring inner qualities that truly enhance your natural beauty and allow the world to see how stunning you are through and through.
Q8) Do you have a goal in life?
Earlier my life was confined to my work, home and child care. I don’t believe in long-term goals for myself as I often get distracted and veer into multiple directions. I fix a goal for say 12 months, more like an action plan and keep ticking the to-do list as I complete it.
Q9) Are you afraid to get started?
Yes and No. I have a divided stand on this. Yes, I am afraid to give up the comfort zone now and no I am not, since anything new is a challenge to me. It’s a constant yoyo, and as a result I create time for varied activities. I’ve never worried about what other people think. I make stuff, put it out there, iterate, tear it up, throw it away and then start again. Finally, I do it better. Time spent making something is never wasted. It is the only way you’ll learn and grow.
Q10) Do you take your loved ones for granted?
No. My family is my utmost priority. All my loved ones hold a special place in my heart and my daughter tops the list. I am often caught up with work; however I ensure that I spend a considerable amount of time with them.
Remember that life is just a string of experiences. Cherish each one; and as a maker, create experiences that empower, amuse and delight the people whose lives you touch.
My ten point advice to the young professionals, is technically not coaching, but a mere sharing of life experiences. There are a lot of people who swear by the benefits of life coaching and how life coaches can be their saviour. The stereo type is that life coaches charge loads of cash to tell you the obvious. For me, life coaches serve their purpose if they essentially help their clients to firstly identify and then break down the negative thoughts and belief systems stopping them from living the dream. I do not intend to be a Life coach but believe that re-iterating my experiences can surely be of use for some youngsters in taking the right steps towards personal and professional growth.
Soren Kierkegaard has said in the famous quote “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. Remember that life is just a string of experiences. Cherish each one; and as a maker, create experiences that empower, amuse and delight the people whose lives you touch.