Friday, April 11, 2014

Not so easy things of life...

It happens to all of us but we always think that it is happening only to us. All of us go through certain stages of life where confusion takes over and we feel entangled. Most of the time we feel overwhelmed as we see others not in the same stage but then if we observe a little more we can see each one of us are dealing with Not so easy things of life... Each in their own way... Each in their own terms...

Crossroad symptom- Once my father told me not to cross a road on the crossroads where 4 roads meet. He showed me how vehicles were coming from four sides and how difficult it was to judge the correct time to cross it. He showed how some people were trying to do that and were getting frustrated and angry.  We walked little further  on the road and we could easily cross the road.
I experienced the same when I became a mother as a phd student. I guess any woman or man goes through this  when they become parents and try to balance their lives along with a new bundle (of joy!) and the regular demands of life. Many times without much help from extended families like me in a foreign land and lots of self expectations of having a picture perfect life like those shown in the postcards. This is also the time when I learnt that my career and my child are equal in priority for me and that as much I want to do good in my career I wouldn't be able to do that without proper support ( emotional, physical and economical) for my child. It took some years for me to find ways around this situation, now 5-7 years away from preliminary years of parenting I could see how fragile and nervous I was at that time. I did not have a friend who could inspire or listen to my worries at that time. I had only male researchers around me married or not, parent or not, and I could not confide to them. They could not see any problem and they were publishing like anything. That was my limitation of not being able to reach out and to try to cross the road where 4 roads were meeting. That state of mind impacted my career and future choices/decisions to a large extent.

Today upon finding a way for myself I see so many other new mothers passing through same phase.

Two boat situation- It took me some years to accept that as much I like reading, thinking and presenting about science, I don't look forward towards technical processing of science. I did not like the repetitiveness of experiments to be performed and the dependence on one boss for greater part of the scientific career. I took strong decision of spending a big money to learn something related but outside of bench science. I started learning about that new field. This time I was more careful about my choices and started to look for jobs in both fields. My ongoing research field and newly learned scientific writing field. This process enhanced my confidence and enabled me to talk with senior people from 2 different domains in the name of interviews.

There are times when we can't pick just one path and need to keep walking on parallel roads. This can be exhausting but for me this helped.

Guilt free mode- I cannot tell you the date but it is around the time when my daughter was turning 5. She was getting relocated from one country to another with me and was mostly accepting things positively with some mild aberrations, seeing her handling things with a smile I could see those long lived guilt clouds leaving me. I could feel for the first time that my daughter would survive and succeed in this world and that she could take so much change easily more so because she was a day care goer from very early age.
Also, one day while talking with her she told me that she did not remember that she used to cry in the mornings before leaving me for day care as a toddler ( my major trigger for guilt- I realised this later) but she remembered her friends in day cares and the doll houses. From that day onward started my guilt free mode of life.

2nd chance is rare and should be nourished- I received an opportunity for further research, and I took the chance to try once more and  I am glad I did that. Research after Phd is very different and enables us to work in independent environment. Sharpens our transferable skills like teaching, communication, and problem solving. Help us earn good money to lay path for next chapter of life. After availing the second chance I was sure that I really don't want to 'do' science, but facilitate, write about it or nurture science in other ways.

Calculated risks and diluted ego- I learned to take calculated risks and say yes to
opportunities which were opening new frontiers to me. I still did not learn to negotiate though. Higher education come with a baggage of ego and pride, having taken calculated risk and stepping into a new domain, I could not afford to keep my ego boosted. It was required to bust my ego and quickly find a niche for myself in the new domain. I started using the skills learned in previous jobs, like attention to details and a knack to teach and train others. Sincere involvement  and a mind to take new challenges came easily upon taming my ego. Ego never helps in anything. The less we have the better we die.

Same problems but different approach- In the new job I soon started pouring in long hours and though there was no experiments to be planned this time but there were telecons and meetings with different team members living in different time zones. I could relate to these situations from past experiences. I started taking different approach than handling them in previous manner and waiting for different results. This time,  I was more confident and mindful, with less expectation. I simplified things wherever possible by expressing and demanding help at home, making my daughter independent in doing simple chores. I learned to walk further up the road and avoid crossing it on the crossroads.

Circle of friends-  From previous experiences I learned that it is necessary to continue to make friends from all facets of life, from different genre of living. A childhood friend might not understand my present state of mind and a college friend might find me a bore altogether. So I learned to make friends from neighbourhood and internet. I have many blogger friends with whom I share thoughts that my sister might also find difficult to engage with.

Inspire and get inspired- I don't shy anymore to discuss about the lessons learnt through my journey.  I share them with my colleagues who are in similar phase as I was few years ago. I observe and learn from others who are little ahead of me in career. I have a good network of like minded friends to talk, argue, debate and agree to disagree. I am learning about a new domain, new roles and designations, and new models of work in each day.

The dotty connect- My daughter keep asking me about what will I be when I grow up. She believes that just like her I will also keep growing. And isn't that true! I understand that designations change from one year to another and from one company to another but I have no answer to my daughter's query. In 5 years I might have more dots in my career chart and I hope to connect them together in a solid line.

Three years theory- This year I proved again my theory of childhood that it takes 3 years or less for a us to accept a new city or a place. This is my third year in this city and now I have started feeling comfortable about it, I have learned to understand its strengths and weaknesses.  I have started debating with new comers in the city, who don't find any reason to like this city. I was in the same page last year, today I feel home here. Having lived and left many places, I have found that only after travelling the path of newness, irritations, loneliness, reaching out, making friends, and then my brain accepts a place.

Let it go- Most of our problems arise because we are unable to let the moment go. We sometimes become so attached and grow comfort with a thing of life that we try not to change that like Not, let the child grow, let the career flow, let the relationship mature or let the life pass by.

Change is the only constant and we need to learn to let life go slowly but surely...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tantrum busters for toddlers

Rena had a long and tiring day at office, traffic was horrible on her way back to home and then at last when she reached home she found that her two year old little son is in his worst mood and the baby sitter is completely bewildered about what to do.
Sweta is a homemaker; she gets completely frustrated sometimes to control all the tantrums of her one and half year old daughter.
Toddlers, they are like sunshine in the family with their innocent smiles, small walking steps and broken sentences but these tiny tots can also sometimes behave like thunder storm crying, yelling and shouting at everyone around.
In the children of age between twelve months and three years almost can feel just like us but the only difference is that they does not know how to control those feeling. Instead of shouting or giving punishment or getting depressed on a yelling child just take completely opposite approach to cool them down and see how you are also feeling much better. Here are some tips to calm down your angry little one.

Hide and seek
When your child is demanding for a third chocolate bar and you cannot divert his mind then just be quiet for few seconds and hide yourself behind the curtains/ doors and ask him to search you and you will see how he will wipe his eyes and will start searching you.

Pillow war
You had a very bad day at office, you left office quite frustrated. You came home and you found that your tiny one is really tired after whole day of separation and is shouting out of frustration. This is the best moment to play pillow war. Before starting the war be sure that both of you eat something together and then go to the bed and start! Throw pillows at each other, roll on the bed, laugh loudly, cuddle your child tightly and soon you will see the vapors of both of your frustrations near the ceiling.

Comedy of errors
Sometimes just bend down to the level of your crying child and point at her hand and say “Oh my god what happened to your legs” and see how she gets confused and then starts laughing! Repeat this with all other body parts until all her tears dries.

Indigenous bowling
It is a Sunday morning. You have invited some guest in the evening and for this reason both of you are busy. Your child on the other hand is moving behind you demanding some attention from you. Come on take a break from the continuous house chores and have some real fun with your child. Arrange some empty plastic bottles of cold drinks/ water in a row and then bring the big ball of your child and start. Throw the ball to the arranged bottles just like in bowling places. See how your junior gets busy with this game.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Fine Art Of Balancing Your Personal And Professional Goals

At different stages of their personal lives – seeking a life partner, marriage, having children, relocation due to partner’s transfer, divorce, providing care to the elderly/sick family members, working women in India find their personal goals in conflict with their professional goals.
Just as we feel we are ‘achievers’ on our first job and start planning for the  next role of our
 interest, we begin getting suggestions from people around us (sometimes, including our bosses!) 
to settle down in life i.e. get married or get kids.
This is the first juncture in most urban Indian working women’s lives where we need to 
simultaneously think about personal and professional goals, and it continues. It is still mostly 
women who take on the challenge of relocation, career transition, short breaks, or quitting their 
career due to changes in their personal state. This impacts our lives deeply and can result in 
depression, and the guilt of non-performance in many of us, given that we start with high 
expectations for ourselves.

Here are a few tips on how women can cope in such situations and handle them effectively.

Clarity of thought and authority

This is most difficult part of the whole balance for working women in India. Generally, men are in
a better position here, as they are mostly not given any choice but to earn for the family. 
As working women, we need to learn to do a strength, weaknesses, opportunities and
 threats (SWOT) analysis and take authority of our work choices, aspirations, and the return on 
interest (ROI) for at least 3-5 years. This will help us to make informed choices.

Parallel moves

It is not necessary to stop asking for more responsibilities at work, looking for a challenging project,
 new job or plan for higher education in anticipation of marriage or a child. As Sheryl Sandberg 
posits in Lean In, many of us stop pushing ourselves at work long before the day we really get 
married or have a child. This attitude of self doubt causes more voids in our career than there 
should be. It is viable to think about career goals and personal goals on parallel paths rather 
than in a chronological manner.

Break big tasks into chunks

For a new mother, a new project at work can be overwhelming and even unfulfilling. It can be 
managed instead by cutting the big task into smaller chunks and working on it in like 
working on a jigsaw puzzle. Think about completing the next step, not the entire project. Taking 
breaks and rewarding yourself at regular intervals are some simple steps for a motivation refill. 
The same approach of adopting short term goals as a parent will also help us not to get burnt 

Lists and mind maps

We are very good at making lists, but now it is time to upgrade ourselves to mind maps, charts 
and visuals with attached timelines for required tasks. While working on the timeline of a project, 
resourcing, budgeting and future scope can be tracked simultaneously.

Express it and not just expect

As little girls, we were told to be good mannered and keep doing the good work without waiting 
for the results. In real life, everyone is busy around us and it is wrong to expect that our 
colleagues or partners will take the cues from our frowns and do what we want them to do. 
We need to express our thoughts loud and clear. We should talk more about our good 
performances, career aspirations, and future plans at work and at home as well.  
To achieve at life and work, we need a support team behind us. We cannot go far without using
 our voice.

Assessing opportunities

Dual career families, managing career after childbirth or relocations are common in most places 
across the world. Women are trying to cope with these situations using different work models.
 Understand your core skill sets and their range of applicability, if your situation doesn’t allow 
you to work in the same way you did earlier. For example, a teacher can think of online tutoring 
or creating contents for educational courses where her core competence will be utilised.

Practising mindfulness

Women are known for their multitasking skills. Planning the dinner menu while helping kids
with their homework is something we all do! But most of us become so involved with our
personal quest that it reflects in the workspace too and keeps us from the joy of fulfilment.
It is also true that work overpowers our personal space and we lose mindfulness at home.
Mindfulness and concentration on the work in hand is vital. It is difficult especially for mothers
 of newborn babies but this can be practiced through working in smaller chunks.

Reach out

In this virtual world, Google can bring answers to almost all the queries we have. As a young 
mother I was benefitted from websites like babycenter. Now, I closely follow communities like 
lean Infleximoms and Women’s Web to gain perspectives from other women and learn about
 matters important to me. I often talk with my line manager and colleagues to learn more about a
 new component of work. We should reach out to others to share our thoughts, delegate duties,
 prioritise tasks, and for constant communication.

Take out ‘Me/Us time’

Most Indian women forget to hang out with their old friends after marriage and after having kids. 
Taking out time as couples or with friends is equally important to get a break from our rigorous 
daily routines. Use ‘me time’ to exercise, attend conferences, read, think, analyse, solve 
problems, fulfil hobbies, rejuvenate and  plan. Working mothers go through extreme guilt on 
this but taking a little ‘me time’ out can do wonders to the quality of your life.

Say no and negotiate

Indians are known for saying yes all the time. In the global environment that we live in, we 
should know our limitations and capabilities. Before saying yes to any task (whether it is analysis of a 
new data set or inviting friends home at short notice) ask yourself whether you have time and 
energy for that. Always say no to the work and not the person. Negotiate with objectivity and 
openness towards the situation.

Upgrade and update

It is essential to keep upgrading and updating ourselves on new technological and behavioural
 skills considering the fast changing landscapes both at work and home. Both 
democratic parenting and working in a global company requires lots of learning. Our laptops 
and mobile telephones are becoming smarter and so are our kitchen tops. We should not be 
afraid or closed about using new technology and their applications both at home and work. 
A person who can learn fast is respected and adored by others (even kids).

Imperfection and impromptu

Everything cannot be done perfectly or in a planned manner. Spontaneity helps us during 
emergencies and crisis. So lets keep a scope for impromptu dinners and some imperfect, 
nervous moments in our otherwise balanced life!

The art of balancing between professional and personal goals is to learn to work like an ant and 
enjoy like a grasshopper.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lessons learnt and looking forward to the rest of 2014

Life has come to a juncture when years merge from one to another and keep rolling. It’s kind of late now to talk about beginning of a year but that’s fine. Life seems to continue from one year to another but I do make effort to have some bullet points for each year whether in personal, or professional or social life, whether in the form of goals achieved or lessons learnt. I do prefer to take last few days of the calender off to rewind, reunite with extended families, travel or just stay at home. More appropriately try to get some time to think about life.  
Also this is the time to re-emphasize some thoughts from not just last year but in last many years when this phase of my life started, in India, in corporate etc.

Only hard work is in our hands: Life brings many situations to us, and we need to accept those, and keep moving to the next moment, next day and next phase of our lives. Those situations could be a result of many factors. Of all the factors only hard work and ability to learn are in our hands, every thing else like luck or to be at right place in right time are not in our control. So I have learned to work hard and learn fast so that even if I get 30% of that as a result I shall be able to be at peace.

Strategy, planning, networking, flexibility, warm behavior, firmness are synergistic to hard work: Although we cannot control our luck according to our plan, but taking calculated risks, having a plan B (or C even), ability to take decisions and live with it, flexibility to accept a new situation thrown onto us, patience for listening to others and giving respect to others do help along with the hard work. Similarly being confident about our decisions, assertive, and firmness to some of your requirements are also respected in life.

Consistency helps too: There are times when we get demotivated and uninspired for so many reasons and start taking things casually. It might be okay for a short period of time but it is essential to recoil and rebound as soon as possible and keep working consistently at all aspects of our life including relationships. There are times when this becomes the most challenging thing to do but we need to keep reminding ourselves that this shall also pass.

Know your money: It is vital to acknowledge the money we earn. Most of the happy moments cannot be bought with money but it is a critical factor to check our lives. We need to learn to value it and value the source it is coming from. We need to learn to invest it. It is very important to be aware of the price our skills and qualifications can bring to us. We should know where it is all going through are cards. It is also required to acknowledge that there will be time in life when we will take decisions considering other priorities of our life and not money.

Breathers: I have identified the need of breather to continue living. It is easy to take leave from office physically. But it takes some effort not to think about work for a day or two. I find I am so used of thinking about work at any time frame. Even more difficult is to get breather from home. Again it is easy to ignore the chores and let them pile on, but it is so difficult not to listen to J or to ignore the husband who keeps a watch that I am little off and start poking immediately. So my small breathers are some strict ‘me times’ to contemplate, to stare the TV screen, to sleep without counting hours and sitting with a blank state of mind. For me and my entangled thoughts this helps. There are times when I announce that I am going to have 'me time' and others accommodate.

Community: This is a very important learning that I cannot solve things or go on in life without support and discussion with other people. Indian women are conditioned to keep mum regarding issues or situations in their life and are trained to bring an ever smiling calm picture to others. I believed in this for a long time. I learned slowly that I need to speak out, bring out my problem out there to other women and men as well. It is okay some people will be judgmental and that is lesson learnt but there will be some who will agree to me too.   

Identify an issue and it will be handled eventually: This is a wisdom I learned from my PhD supervisor that if we are going through a process or situation or performing an experiment, it is very important that we can identify, or categorize the question or issue and once that is done we will eventually find ways to solve this or make peace with them. Sometimes we keep revolving with same situation without real analysis of the reason.  It is necessary to be objective and approach the situation through different angles. Objective root cause analysis for anything that is bothering us is helpful.

Break it small: Many activities and duties posses a daunting image in front of us. For any new parent, children bring a lot of changes in their life. In India new parents also get to listen many judgmental comments from people around them. When both parents are working the art of parenting becomes even more daunting. This result into strained relationships, chronic health issues etc. Breaking the entire task, situation into smaller portions and concentrating on that portion at a time can be helpful. Breaking a big task in smaller portions keep our sanity and we can observe the improvements while working as a team.

Have your own parameters: Life is full of goals that can be achieved, as young kids we did not hear many people going abroad for studies or working but now that is a norm. There were not many who had imported cars but now it is not a big deal. So now if we fall into that comparative mode where we find everyone else is doing better than us and happier than us then life will be so miserable. We might see people going for foreign trips every year, we might see people investing in property every year, we might have parents or relatives constantly inquiring about our professional and financial well-being, but we need to set our parameters on our priorities. It is okay to gauge success as per world’s convention but that should not be the only way of defining our lives. We need to have our own parameters to live our life our own progress chart and metrics.  Going to a nearby park with a picnic bag can be of immense fun, try this at least once.

Health is important too: Of all the stress and hurried activities we go through on daily basis. It is important to take a step back and analyse whether taking all of them is necessary. Some urgency is created by us and can be dealt with later or never. Some milestones can be avoided and some gaps can be ignored. We need to walk more, move more, give more, eat mindfully, and laugh more to live a life which we are craving for.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Journey or the Destination?

I was recently discussing with a friend of mine about the fact whether a journey or the destination is more important in our lives, she and I both agreed  that it is the journey.

Both of us remember the ways we traveled for work more than the work benches during last 5 years. One another friend thinks just the opposite. He doesn't remember the journey to his office but he remembers the table, the office room and the computer screen, he has used in his last places of work.

When I was looking for jobs in industry and in one of the few interview offers I got, I was asked what do I relish the journey of doing a project or the target. I proudly said the journey, I like the process of working, I like the knowledge I gather while doing a project, I cherish the skills I get to learn, I feel very happy if the projects results into a fruitful piece, but if not I feel contended that I got the opportunity to work there and I got to know so many people through that piece of work. I did not get the job, so I guess my answer was not appreciated. I guess in  a practical  and conformers world, objectives, targets and fulfilling them via any means are most important agenda. Those who try their best but can not achieve the target, some how end up being portrayed as confused characters and society call them not useful enough. I was actually asked by my boss that instead of thinking what I want to learn, I should think which learning will help me in my career. Also it is a known unsaid rule that in work places, although during hiring a point is mentioned that care will be taken for personal growth of the employee, but my experience says that any personal interest is taken care of only when that coincides with the prime interest of the company/institute. So after all an employee is just a mean to bring more production, more money and more fame to an institute, it does not matter if that employee has benefited by doing that or not. There are huge number of people who can accommodate themselves into that need, but there are a few who cannot.

World might work in that way, but for me the process of living is more important than trying to fulfil it all the time. I prefer to learn what I want than what is needed. And I must add the point that, for wanting a life where the priorities are set by me and not by  the need of the society or a situation, I sometime feel I struggle a lot more than who accept to live in a predefined formats, made for them, by the society or the family. By following my new rule book if I can touch high achieving model defined by the society, one measure of that is money, society will  then perhaps accept my norms but till then I need to struggle for existence, I need to keep explaining my choices. And this struggle can sometimes  be hard and lonely. I might never touch that model life of rich with money and fame and remain marked as an not so successful and not worthy enough.

Then on looking around I see that  there are actually many people who are in same shoes like me, they are not fitting into any group and trying to painstakingly carve a niche for themselves, living lives build on their choices. They are not high achievers (according to the conformists world), may be because of the decisions taken by them or the choices they have made, but if you think carefully they are the ones who make this earth more versatile, they are the ones who will not look at their watch and will come forward if they see some one needs help on the road, they are the ones who will listen to you carefully before giving you opinionated virtues without even understanding what your strong points are. They are the one who bring up new dimensions to the existing world. But unfortunately they are not acknowledged by the society, for the values they add to this world mostly are uncountable and qualitative.

Some might say, it is all rubbish about journey and destination, you need to keep going and need to stay in the system, fulfill some objectives at least, to bring a change in it. If for that reason you need to bend a little that should not be an issue. That might be true, for a practical approach even for a non conformist in a world of conformers. And what I say is that by any chance if you fall into this category then  you need to have immense amount of patience, courage and a strong head. You need to be able to make decisions on daily basis and have faith in them, you need to be have voice to say a spade a spade and at all costs, you need to have strength to pave a new road through the path untravelled.

And you need to keep travelling may wherever the end is.

Photo courtesy: Roads from different parts of India