What is your all?

Another year, another job offer that tempts me with more money than I’ll ever earn. Another year spent dissecting speeches made by Nooyi, Sandberg and what not. Exhortations to lean in.

The point is, that ‘lean in’ means different things to different people. This year I’m leaning in by trying my hand at a lot of different types of things. From cooking appams (haan, okay I owe you a post on that!) to painting my furniture to improving my driving…

Saying no to more money (and we can all do with lots of money, can’t we?!) has been tough. Here I must insert my favourite quote on money. I’m sure you’ve all read Erich Segal’s Love Story when you were young and foolish. The story made me sob through the night before my 10th board exams. But the quote that stayed on with me was the honest conversation between Oliver and Jenny when he asks her what her father thinks of him.

He thinks you’re okay, she says.

Having been disowned by his rich parents and now church mouse poor, Oliver fishes a little – ‘But he’d like it if I were richer, wouldn’t he?’

Jenny answers with her characteristic honesty – ‘Wouldn’t you too?’

And ain’t that the truth. We’d all like to be a little richer, no matter what we earn. The tough part is deciding where to draw the line. I am 35. Technically I’ve missed the career bus. And yet something tells me this isn’t the end of the line.

This time, for the first time in 11 years the OA saw me dither and almost say yes, and then when I asked him for his opinion, gently said that he thought it was a bad idea. For years he’s pushed me to get out of home and work, to get my butt off my home office chair that has now taken the shape of my substantial arse. For years he’s said I’m wasting myself and that I should have been the one with the career. And now as he gets to know his wife better he understands my desire for work but my dread of routine, schedule, organising. I hate institutions. I hate swiping in. I hate office politics. I hate hierarchy. It goes against all my deeply held beliefs and tussles with my desire to ‘get ahead and get a career’. They contradict each other.

I make a fair amount of money with my current projects but it’s the frills that my jobs offer that make our life awesome. That, and my flexibility. I can work from home, we don’t need to coordinate our leave, if he calls and says lets go do stand up comedy tonight, I can feed, bathe and put the kids to bed before we leave. The only trade off is that for the amount of money I want to earn, I have to do a lot of projects and I rarely get a day off. I’m working on vacation, working on the train, working on the plane. All so that I can make money, and still be home.

When I tell my family about the job that is pursuing me, the reactions are predictable.

My mother tries hard to keep the disapproval out of her voice – When do you think you’ll be able to leave the kids?

My brother who rarely opines on my life gruffly says – You’ll have to let go, someday.

But the Bean is only 7, I point out. She’s a baby. Too young to go to daycare. She likes coming home to Mama. Everyone likes coming home to Mama, the mad sibling points out in his sane way.

But the OA. The OA who knows it’s not just the kids. He knows how tense I get when I have a project deadline, he who rubs my back till I fall asleep. Who wakes up each time I get up at night to check the time on my phone incase I’ve overslept and the kids miss school. Who drags the kids away and lets me work in peace. He knows. He knows I am a tightly wound person and going back to an office environment kills me. That I am unable to let standards around the house slip and the truth is something has to give. Even Indra Nooyi admits she couldn’t have it all.

He knows that for me its also the sheer tension of getting in on time. Of looking presentable (!). Of making sure that there are enough groceries for the next day. Of worrying and fretting that I won’t get home in time to make the kids do their homework. Those things keep me up all night. The last time I had a full time job was when the Bean was 18 months and I lost my knees and my skin to it. I’m still paying the price for it.

But it’s so much money, I moan in despair. So much pretty, pretty money… I don’t know how to say no.

Open your mouth and push the word out, says the OA as he rubs my feet to help me unwind and fall asleep – ‘We don’t need more money. There’s always more money.’ And he doesn’t judge this inability to let go, the tussle to put on my office face and be a professional even while I train my creeper rose to climb up the railing and help the kids tie up skipping ropes to create a zipline.

I sit up in bed again – did I lock the front door? Did I put the milk away in the fridge? I think the light in the kids’ bathroom has fused.

Go.To.Sleep he grinds out. I lie down obediently and tightly shut my eyes like a child.

And so another year goes by, another lost opportunity, another what if…

And life goes on.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I got this link via BEV. This is Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg delivering the keynote at Barnard College’s 119th Commencement ceremony. I watched it a couple of times and figured I’d share the transcript in case you are interested. Am going to italicise and number the portions that I want to talk about.

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Thank you, President Spar. Members of the board of trustees, esteemed members of the faculty, proud parents, squirming siblings, devoted friends: congratulations to all of you. But especially, congratulations to the magnificent Barnard Class of 2011.

Looking at you all here fills me with great joy, in part because my college roommate, a member of your faculty, Caroline Weber, is here. Carrie, it means so much to me to be at your school, and in part because I work in Silicon Valley, let’s just say I’m not usually in a room with this many women. For the wonderful men who are here today, if you feel a little uncomfortable, we’re really glad you’re here, and no line for the men’s room. It’s worth it.

I graduated from college exactly 20 years ago. And as I am reminded every single day where I work, that makes me really old. Mark Zuckerberg, our founder and my boss, said to me the other day, “Sheryl, when do midlife crises happen? When you’re 30?” Not a good day at the office. But I am old enough to know that most of our lives are filled with days we do not remember. Today is not one of them. You may not remember one word I say. You may not even remember who your graduation speaker is, although for the record, Sheryl with an S. You won’t remember that it was raining and we had to move inside. But you will remember what matters, which is how you feel as you sit here, as you walk across the stage, as you start the next phase of your life.

Today is a day of celebration, a day to celebrate all the hard work that got you to this place where you can sit, kind of sweltering in that gown. Today is a day of thanks, a day to thank all the people that helped you get here, the people who nurtured you and taught you, who held your hand, who dried your tears. Today is a day of reflection.

As you leave Barnard today, you leave not just with an education, but you take your place amongst the fortunate. Some of you came here from families where education was expected and emphasized. Others of you had to overcome far more obstacles to get here, and today you become the very first member of your family to graduate from college. What an amazing accomplishment. But no matter where you started, as of today you are all privileged. You are privileged in the most important sense of the word, which is that you have almost boundless opportunity in front of you. So, the question is, what are you going to do with it? What will you do with this education you worked so hard to achieve? What in the world needs to change, and what part do you plan on playing in changing it? (1)

Pulitzer Prize winners Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof visited this campus last year and they spoke about their critically important book, Half the Sky. In that book, they assert that the fundamental moral challenge of the 19th century was slavery; of the 20th century, it was totalitarianism; and for our century, it is oppression of girls and women around the world. Their book is a call to arms, to give women all over the world, women who are exactly like us except for the circumstances into which they were born, basic human rights.

Compared to these women, we are lucky. In America, as in the entire developed world, we are equals under the law. But the promise of equality is not equality. As we sit here looking at this magnificent blue-robed class, we have to admit something that’s sad but true: men run the world. Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years. Nine years. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.

I recognize that this is a vast improvement from generations in the past. When my mother took her turn to sit in a gown at her graduation, she thought she only had two career options: nursing and teaching. She raised me and my sister to believe that we could do anything, and we believed her. But what is so sad–it doesn’t just make me feel old, it makes me truly sad–is that it’s very clear that my generation is not going to change this problem. Women became 50% of the college graduates in this country in 1981, 30 years ago. Thirty years is plenty of time for those graduates to have gotten to the top of their industries, but we are nowhere close to 50% of the jobs at the top. (2) That means that when the big decisions are made, the decisions that affect all of our worlds, we do not have an equal voice at that table.

So today, we turn to you. You are the promise for a more equal world. You are our hope. I truly believe that only when we get real equality in our governments, in our businesses, in our companies and our universities, will we start to solve this generation’s central moral problem, which is gender equality. We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.

So my hope for all of you here, for every single one of you, is that you’re going to walk across the stage and get your diploma. You’re going to go out tonight or maybe all summer and celebrate. You deserve it. And then you’re going to lean way into your career. You’re going to find something you love doing, and you’re going to do it with gusto. You’re going to pick your field and you’re going to ride it all the way to the top.

So, what advice can I give you to help you achieve this goal? The first thing is I encourage you to think big. Studies show very clearly that in our country, in the college-educated part of the population, men are more ambitious than women. They’re more ambitious the day they graduate from college; they remain more ambitious every step along their career path. We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap. (3) But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in. Leadership belongs to those who take it. Leadership starts with you.

The next step is you’re going to have to believe in yourself potentially more than you do today. Studies also show that compared to men, women underestimate their performance. If you ask men and women questions about completely objective criteria such as GPAs or sales goals, men get it wrong slightly high; women get it wrong slightly low. More importantly, if you ask men why they succeeded, men attribute that success to themselves; and women, they attribute it to other factors like working harder, help from others. (4) Ask a woman why she did well on something, and she’ll say, “I got lucky. All of these great people helped me. I worked really hard.” Ask a man and he’ll say or think, “What a dumb question. I’m awesome.” So women need to take a page from men and own their own success.

That’s much easier to say than to do. I know this from my own experience. All along the way, I’ve had all of those moments, not just some of the time; I would say most of the time, where I haven’t felt that I owned my success. I got into college and thought about how much my parents helped me on my essays. I went to the Treasury Department because I was lucky to take the right professor’s class who took me to Treasury. Google, I boarded a rocket ship that took me up with everyone else.

Even to this day, I have those moments. I have those moments all the time, probably far more than you can imagine I would. I know I need to make the adjustments. I know I need to believe in myself and raise my hand, because I’m sitting next to some guy and he thinks he’s awesome. So, to all of you, if you remember nothing else today, remember this: You are awesome. I’m not suggesting you be boastful. No one likes that in men or women. But I am suggesting that believing in yourself is the first necessary step to coming even close to achieving your potential.

You should also know that there are external forces out there that are holding you back from really owning your success. Studies have shown–and yes, I kind of like studies–that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. This means that as men get more successful and powerful, both men and women like them better. As women get more powerful and successful, everyone, including women, likes them less.(5)

I’ve experienced this firsthand. When I first joined Facebook, there was a well-read blog out in the Valley that devoted some incredibly serious pixels to trashing me. Anonymous sources called me a liar, two-faced, about to ruin Facebook forever. I cried some when I was alone, I lost a bunch of sleep. Then I told myself it didn’t matter. Then everyone else told me it didn’t matter, which just reminded me of one thing: they were reading it too. I fantasized about all kinds of rejoinders, but in the end, my best and only response was just to do my job and do it well. When Facebook’s performance improved, the trash talk went away.

Do I believe I was judged more harshly because of my double-Xs? Yes.(6) Do I think this will happen to me again in my career? Sure. I told myself that next time I’m not going to let it bother me, I won’t cry. I’m not sure that’s true. But I know I’ll get through it. I know that the truth comes out in the end, and I know how to keep my head down and just keep working.

If you think big, if you own your own success, if you lead, it won’t just have external costs, but it may cause you some personal sacrifice. Men make far fewer compromises than women to balance professional success and personal fulfillment. That’s because the majority of housework and childcare still falls to women. If a heterosexual couple work full time, the man will do–the woman, sorry–the woman will do two times the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare that her husband will do.(7) From my mother’s generation to mine, we have made far more progress making the workforce even than we have making the home even, and the latter is hurting the former very dramatically. So it’s a bit counterintuitive, but the most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further. A world where men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions would be just a much better world.

I have a six-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter. I want more choices for both of them. I want my son to have the choice to be a full partner not just at work, but at home; and I want my daughter to have a choice to do either. But if she chooses work, to be well-liked for what she accomplishes. We can’t wait for the term “work/life balance” to be something that’s not just discussed at women’s conferences.

Of course not everyone wants to jump into the workforce and rise to the top. Life is going to bring many twists and turns, and each of us, each of you, have to forge your own path. I have deep respect for my friends who make different choices than I do, who choose the really hard job of raising children full time, who choose to go part time, or who choose to pursue more nontraditional goals. These are choices that you may make some day, and these are fine choices.

But until that day, do everything you can to make sure that when that day comes, you even have a choice to make. Because what I have seen most clearly in my 20 years in the workforce is this: Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.

These women don’t even have relationships, and already they’re finding balance, balance for responsibilities they don’t yet have. And from that moment, they start quietly leaning back. The problem is, often they don’t even realize it. (8) Everyone I know who has voluntarily left a child at home and come back to the workforce–and let’s face it, it’s not an option for most people. But for people in this audience, many of you are going to have this choice. Everyone who makes that choice will tell you the exact same thing: You’re only going to do it if your job is compelling.

If several years ago you stopped challenging yourself, you’re going to be bored. If you work for some guy who you used to sit next to, and really, he should be working for you, you’re going to feel undervalued, and you won’t come back. So, my heartfelt message to all of you is, and start thinking about this now, do not leave before you leave. Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.

What about the rat race in the first place? Is it worthwhile? Or are you just buying into someone else’s definition of success? Only you can decide that, and you’ll have to decide it over and over and over. But if you think it’s a rat race, before you drop out, take a deep breath. Maybe you picked the wrong job. Try again. And then try again. Try until you find something that stirs your passion, a job that matters to you and matters to others. It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a very clear path to happiness.(9)

At Facebook we have a very broad mission. We don’t just want you to post all your pictures of tonight up there and use Facebook to keep in touch, even though we want that, so do a lot of that. We want to connect the whole world. We want to make the whole world more open and more transparent. The one thing I’ve learned working with great entrepreneurs–Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google–that if you want to make a difference, you better think big and dream big, right from day one.

We try at Facebook to keep all of our employees thinking big all day. We have these posters in red we put around the walls. One says, “Fortune favors the bold.” Another says, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” That question echoes Barnard alum Anna Quindlen, who said that she majored in unafraid. Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face–and there will be barriers–be external, not internal. Fortune does favor the bold, and I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try. (10)

You’re going to walk off this stage today and you’re going to start your adult life. Start out by aiming high. Like everyone here, I have great hopes for the members of this graduating class. I hope you find true meaning, contentment and passion in your life. I hope that you navigate the hard times and you come out with greater strength and resolve. I hope that whatever balance you seek, you find it with your eyes wide open. And I hope that you–yes, you–each and every one of you have the ambition to run the world, because this world needs you to run it. Women all around the world are counting on you. I’m counting on you.

I know that’s a big challenge and responsibility, a really daunting task, but you can do it. You can do it if you lean in. So go home tonight and ask yourselves, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” And then go do it. Congratulations, 2011.

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So… ladies and gentlemen. Let us discuss. 40 marks for theory and 60 marks on the practicals :p

1. What will you do with your education and how will you change your world? I find this one a rather loaded question. How do you define change and how do you define world? I do agree Facebook has changed the world but the more I look around the more I see most of us plodding on in meaningless jobs and wait – they are meaningless not to me, but to those who hold them. Always whining about how they hate the job but must do it. Are you truly using your education and changing the world? Think about it.

2. We’ve heard this one often enough. We already know the reason. Yes, 50% of women should have the top jobs and there is a glass ceiling that most women don’t have the strength to take on. Mostly because at any given time there is so much else to do that men aren’t handling – missing maids, in-laws, sick children, husbands who don’t pull their share of weight at home. Nothing is impossible – but at some point juggling all those balls in the face of so much opposition gets too much.

3. Very true. Only two days ago a rather slim girl I was talking to, said something to the effect of – I only need to stay slim till I get married. I was shocked. This was the height of her ambition. No job, not even a personal desire to stay fit. Why do we expect so little of ourselves. I often have people telling me that I try to fit too much into a day. And I guess this is my personal ambition. To do everything. Maybe not be the best at one particular thing because then you have to focus on it. But to die, knowing that I have tried everything I wanted and fitted it all into my life. Choose your ambition, I’d say. And don’t let anyone else define it for you. Not even Sheryl Sandberg. If you studied literature because it interested you and not because you wanted to be a professor or writer, that is fine. But if you do want to be that professor, don’t let anyone get in the way. Not even yourself.

4. True this, too. The moment people compliment me on a well kept house or slow tracking my career for the kids or something, I instinctively get uncomfortable with the praise and start dragging the OA in for his share saying – Oh, I’d never have done it without his support or some such shit. I should just grin and say  Thank you. And I will, starting today. Similarly, read an interview with any of the biggest names in the corporate world and they will all tell you how their inlaws helped raise the kids, their husband stayed home when they were travelling etc. How many men will tell you who attended the PTA meeting while they were jet setting? And last of all, the SAHMs too. Compliment them on their choice and they will promptly smile and say they can afford to it because their husband is earning enough. The truth is, there is never enough. These women would have made the same choice even if their husband were earning more or less (as would I) because this is the person they are. But we are still too reluctant to stand up, accept our due, and be proud of our choices, our strength and our achievements.

5 & 6. This one never fails to bother me. Why are powerful women less liked? Is it because traditionally women are not meant to be in positions of power? What about people like the Rani of Jhansi or Razia Sultana? Were they hated too? Is it because strong women aren’t feminine? Is it because women are meant to be feminine as opposed to strong and masterful? Are feminine and strong mutually exclusive? What is feminine? Are we still defining it? Why do even men, let M&Bs define roles for them?

7. Much though I love the OA I must confess he didn’t do half the housework I did when I was working and we were in Delhi. On the other hand, I’d already taken a flexible job and sort of set myself up to be the one point person for everything anyway. So I blame myself. I should have gone to work and let the house fall around our ears, let him come home to no meals, piles of laundry, inches of dirt and more. But I think a lot of this is to do with the fact that homes are still defined by women. He grew up in a tiny 2 bhk that was functional at best. I grew up in a house spread across acres, with brass and silver shining and wooden floors that a man spent a day polishing, with napkins and butlers and a head cook and two gardeners. Even if the OA made his peace with the filth I allowed to build up, I couldn’t have dealt with it. To say nothing of the fact that my kids would be growing up in that mess and dirt. It might have been easier before we had kids. We’ve worked ourselves into a corner and now we need to push out. But with the way work hours are in India its not easy. The OA is rarely home before 8.30 and living in Gurgaon has just made it impossible to have any semblance of work and life balance. If I go to fulltime work our kids will be raised solely by hired help and our home will go to rack and ruin. Which brings us back to the first question – what really is my ambition?

8. So true this one. The first time I quit my job to move with the OA it was because he earned more than me. But I should never have let that be the definer. A job and a career is what it is, and who earns more should never be the question. But I reminded myself that I wanted kids, that I wanted out of Bombay’s rains and small homes so that my kids could have a lawn to play in and if that meant quitting, I’d do it. As she said, I leaned back when I should have been leaning in. We had the Brat a year later – but I am no longer sure what I should have done. I know kids are raised in all parts of the world but I stepped back thinking already, not of myself even, but the fact that my children should grow up with wide open spaces to run about in.

9. Find something that combines passion and contribution. Now again – contribution is hard to define. Are you contributing to society by raising your kids well? I think you are. If you feel you are the best suited for it and no maid or daycare, more power to you. Are you passionate about it? Great. Do you think you will excel at your job? Go right ahead and excel – but find one that you are passionate about.

10. Never let fear overwhelm desire. You hear this often but how often do you identify fear for what it is. We find excuses for a lot of our choices, we justify, but we refuse to accept that we were unwilling to take that one brave step into the unknown. A good friend still tells me she let go of the man she loved because she was scared he wouldn’t earn enough. At that point (when she was making the choice and I was urging her to follow her heart) she kept on about the importance of keeping your family happy, tradition, keeping culture alive blah blah. And married a man her parents chose. They’re okay today. Like all couples married ten years they know each other well, are good human beings so make the effort to keep their marriage going and have kids they focus on. But we have long chats over coffee and things pop up – fear that she would have nowhere to go if things didn’t work out, fear that her parents would hate her, fear that he wouldn’t earn enough to support her in the style she is accustomed to – mostly though, she hadn’t been taught to trust herself. She didn’t trust herself with such a big choice. Isn’t that sad? In the midst of all this I want to remember to teach my kids to trust their choices and their instincts.

I love the last line and I ask all of you – What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Give me an honest answer.

More on the knee

It’s been a while since I quit my job and began to run the knee tests. A set of blood tests that cost me Rs 8000 *faints*, bone density tests and appointments with the top doctor in the city. Thank you New Mum on the Block. The appointments don’t  come easy though and I had a one month plus wait but it was worth it.

The problem is simple, the cartilage and bone are wearing out due to the lack of Vitamin D. I also seem to have an excess of Vitamin B 12 which is supposed to be water soluble. He doesn’t know what to do about that. The dermatologist I am seeing for my pimply face was boggled by it too. Excess Vit B 12? Never come across it before. And so I turn to you as usual, wise internetz. Ever been diagnosed with it? What does it do to your system? Which of my ailments can I blame it for?

That said, I’m walking at least once a day for an hour or so. Building up strength in the legs so that the pressure goes off the kneecap. I am avoiding the stairs (which isn’t easy in a duplex). I am not better yet, but getting away from the toxic work atmosphere has helped greatly. I continue to work with the publication along with doing other freelance work so its pretty much win-win. And here I thought that was never possible.

On working women and feminism

Do you remember this post on working women that I did a while ago?  You know, the one where my head caught fire over the whole – ‘don’t discuss feminine problems at work and don’t use your child’s photo as your screensaver’? Well, Dipta (yeah, whoulda thunk it?!) sent me this piece by Rashmi Bansal. I know a lot of you love to hate her, but I do like her work.

I much prefer her thinking to the Jessie Paul way of thinking because it fits what I’d want for my life. I don’t want to neuter myself at the work place. I want to have it all and I want it my own way because I am worth it. A nice example she gives is of film stars taking their kids and nannies on location. In the Indian context, as she points out, it is affordable because househelp is cheap.

And I’ve done it without househelp too. I’ve taken a 2 month old Brat, strapped to my chest, on location to interview filmstars. I’ve taken him along while interviewing for a flexitime position, again, hanging on my chest. I am a mother before I am an employee – always. My family is important. I am ready to do all the work you want me to – just – on my own terms. And perhaps I will come back to a regular rigid corporate day when I am ready. Or maybe, just maybe, I will be a small part of a huge social change waiting to happen.

Before anyone objects, no, I am not suggesting we all take our babies to work and lay them out on the desk. Merely saying that we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do and let our work speak for itself. Whatever that flexibility might be, we’ve got to demand it and then deliver on what we promise.

I read something at Prema’s place some time ago.  She calls it selective feminism. Why, she asks very rightly, is it that only women choose to adjust for the family’s sake? I don’t know. I gave it some thought. Are we more nurturing? Less ambitious? Is it conditioning? Yes, to a large extent it is. I guess when I  say I am doing something for the sake of the family it is for every member. It is for me because I need the rest – juggling too many balls was getting to me and too many slipped and fell down. It is for my kids who benefit from having me around. And for my husband who wants to take a break but would be committing suicide professionally and also a social outcast. It is for us as a family. And if I didn’t want to work as a family, as a team, I shouldn’t have signed up for marriage. It does not always have to mean compromise (that ugly word) – it merely means pulling together, even if it doesn’t mean personal and individual success and glory. You could have it all (what exactly is all?), but at times the price you pay is too high.

By the same token, the OA cannot put up his feet the way I did and say he quits.  Well, he can, if he wants to, but it would not face the same acceptance that my quitting did and he is conditioned to be a work horse till he dies. To provide for wife and child and ensure they never know want. Society would look down on him and while that might not count, I am sure plenty of his contemporaries, colleagues and perhaps even family, will be disappointed in him. We can go all idealistic here and say screw them, but I’m looking for a solution that doesn’t take away from anyone. A man isn’t allowed to take a break unless he gives it a creative name and claims that he is backpacking across Europe and taking pictures. No company will hire a man who took three years off to raise his kids. He’d not come across as the aggressive alpha male most people are looking to hire. Yes, women and men are seeking equality, but neither is getting it. And we won’t get it as long as we try to be like the other gender, or hell, even like another person. To me, a job is like a saree blouse. It has to be something that fits me perfectly. And I could borrow yours, but it would never be a perfect fit.

What say you, wise internets? And err.. prospective employers?! Times they are a-changing. Are you ready to keep up with them?

I quit

Yep. The job. Am done with being a corporate slave. Exactly two years ago I took on this job, as I turned 30. And I turn 32 tomorrow and realised that I’d outgrown it.

I suppose a lot of you saw it coming. But here are my reasons for letting the job go.

- The commute. I was spending 4 hours a day and it was killing me. I hated the waste of time and although I could use it to read, it was still dead time.

- The knees. My knees have reached a stage where they need serious attention. Sitting around in a car for hours with no space to stretch out, was really telling on them. I wasn’t even able to go and get my x-rays and scans done because of my tight work schedule. I blacked out again a couple of times because of the pain and realised that the end was near if I didn’t do something about it.

- Toxic work atmosphere. Remember the day I wrote about women being their own worst enemy? Well, I’ve been dealing with a very vindictive woman for months now. She is fine with those who do the usual ass-kissing – which entails standing outside with her while she smoked and had her coffee. All of which I was willing to do in winter, but had no intention of doing in summer. I mean passive smoking is bad enough without having to stand in the blazing sun at 48 degrees while suffering through it. But the thing that bugged her really badly, was my flexitime deal. It began with her nasty jibes on how there are other women who have children but find themselves able to work a full day. Which was fine – except that she has a 14 year old and I had an 18 month old – slight difference that she was unable to appreciate. The tension grew and soon another woman joined – again leaving a 6 month old with her parents who lived with her. And soon they were a gang. Let me tell you how petty it got. Phone calls were not passed on. Information from the editor was suppressed so that I ended up never getting the damn memo. Invitations were trashed. They’d pass food over my head in our little cubicle. They’d refuse to answer if I asked a question. I began to wonder if it was just a nightmare because I can’t imagine such unprofessional, terrible behaviour. Particularly because I have always got along fantastically well with colleagues. Hell, I married one. Another two are old friends, one of whom I refer to on the blog as my best friend. Another’s wife reads the blog and is one half of the embarrassed couple who got read the riot act by the Brat and Bean for not having kids. So for someone who has been pretty much a model colleague for the last 10 years, this was a bit of a shock. The OA and my family and friends believe that one of the reasons I was getting so ill was the stress. I’d get up each morning bright and cheerful and as it was time to leave work I’d start getting nervous. Soon it got so bad I had to ask a friend in another department to come and sit next to me to save me from the nasty jibes. The problem really was that the boss still liked me, the colleagues in other departments and other cities liked me and the PR, the people we interact with, everyone liked me. It was only them and they couldn’t think of any other way to get back at me. The last straw for me really was that I was out on shoots two months in a row when my paycheque arrived. They refused to let the courier guy leave it for me, the damn cheques got lost both times and I finally had to threaten to complain to the HR department. That worked. But it was the last straw for me. The ill will and the tension had begun to show on my body and mind and I didn’t want to take it anymore.

- Knowing myself better. I recently read an article where this IT bigshot lady is quoted as saying that her husband told her on the second day of her marriage that he wanted a wife who was a career woman, not a working woman. It’s another matter that I don’t see myself being told what I should be, by the OA. But that isn’t the point. I thought about it. Am I a career woman? Is my career important enough for me to be defined as one? I realised it isn’t. I love my work. But it doesn’t define me. I am just a working woman and I don’t know if that is good or bad or permanent. For now, my ‘career’ is a bit of a joke. Again, a disclaimer – perhaps the key is finding a job that really fulfills me.

- Job satisfaction. I loved getting a pay cheque, being a working woman and stepping out in my smart shoes and snakeskin leather bag and black rimmed glasses and meeting interesting people. But that is it. Over the last two years I felt I wasn’t growing professionally. I had stopped learning. I could do most of my work with my eyes closed. I wasn’t working on the cure for AIDs, I wasn’t helping the poor and I wasn’t building bridges. I didn’t think my work was satisfying me at an intellectual or an emotional level. It was good for the ego to be ‘the working woman who was doing it all – home, kids, job, nice house’ but it was killing me and I didn’t think I was giving any of it my best.  It was all just a satisfactory job. If I were marking myself I wouldn’t give myself an A+ on any front.

- The kids. Somehow moving to Gurgaon and the long drives gave me a lot to think about. During the 2 weeks of sick leave I took, the kids stuck to me. The Brat began to speak more, read more.. his personality underwent a sea change. He’s become naughtier but I have a feeling that is a good thing. He’s more willing to experiment, to talk, to understand and really coming in to himself. I hunger for them when I am away. I ache if I come home to realise one of them came back from school with fever. I want to be there when the Bean hangs a necklace around her neck and sings ‘Happy Birthday necklace’. I want to be there when the Brat finds an injured baby bird on our balcony and sits for hours watching over it, stroking it, and feeding it till it gains enough strength to fly away. Yes – both of those happened that week. They’re not special things to anyone but me. No maid can report them to me and I can’t think of anything more beautiful to watch. I know all mothers miss their kids and I think some find a work life that makes it worth that ache. Me, I haven’t found it yet. Or perhaps I am just not capable of handling time away from them

- Money.  Funnily I realised my salary was adding to the family kitty, true, but I was spending most of it. Buying  decent work clothes, having to keep up with friends and colleagues who were out for lunch, increased petrol and phone bills  - there were no savings. Also my job took me to places that tempted me to shop. Places I wouldn’t go to normally. Once pulled out of temptation I was fine.  I mean I could have saved all that money by being really strict with myself but I realised there’d be no joy left in my life then. Slogging all day and salting away money and having no life, just didn’t seem worth it. The OA, by God’s grace, earns enough to keep us well and happy and healthy. We don’t own a home yet but I don’t really see that as a problem right now. There’s no real hurry or deadline to meet. So if I don’t want the money badly and I don’t care to rise up the ladder, then why put up with a toxic work atmosphere? And most of all, why crave more money if God is good and has given us enough for our means?

- Time. While living in Delhi I still managed to get a life beyond work and kids. I worked a flexitime job and that meant 4 hours in office and the rest from home. But with a four hour commute I found myself spending 8 hours away from home and 4 hours more of work after that at the very least. Once we moved to Gurgaon I ceased to have a life. Weekends we were too pooped to do anything and on weekdays we didn’t lay claim to even a pretense of a life. We went on a lot more holidays and picnics and had fun before I went full time. That was because I handled everything that had to be done at home, organised everything for the holiday/picnic/outing and all the OA had to do was show up and drive. I look back on those days with a wistfulness. Everything now was rush rush rush. Get up early, get kids ready, pack tiffins and bags, send to school, get dressed, rush to work, stay in traffic for hours, put up with those two harpies, come home, get homework done, organise a new house that is way too big for four people, work some more and then crash like a log.

- I know this will get most feminist hackles up, but the whole situation was getting crazy – let me clarify  - it only became crazy after we moved to Gurgaon and were spending extra hours on the road. It felt like a company with two CEOs. When what was needed was maybe a  CMO or CFO. The OA and I both working long hours, both out of the house, both trying to be available to the kids and getting completely rushed off our feet. I know a world out there is doing it but somehow to my mind delegation and segregation works better when kids are this age. I need one of us to be home and when I mean home, I mean properly. And I have realised that I am the one who wants it. The OA supports me as much as any man could. But it wasn’t enough I realised, because that wasn’t what I wanted. There is a lot that falls between the cracks. Who stays home if the kids are sick and he has a meeting and I have a shoot? I have a friend who also works from home and her logic is very clear. She works and she manages her daughter. That’s it. No doing up her home, no major partying and no dressing up. She and her husband have also very clearly picked the slow track at work. I admire that clarity of thought. With me, it seems worthless to earn more money if the home I come home to isn’t up to my standards and I am not getting enough time with my children. I realised that both of us were more tired, more cranky, more stressed, not exactly shooting up the career ladder and definitely not feeling that our personal life was good.

- Support structure. I also realised after meeting many career women  - that most of them seem to have good family support. Either parents or inlaws who live there and take care of their kids. I don’t have that option. I don’t like the idea of my kids going to daycare. I have new maids every 6 months and my poor accommodating kids are just learning to go along with whoever is the latest. No doubt it is in some twisted way preparing them for change in life, but it’s just not right to leave them all day with women they are barely used to. The formula is simple. Parents/inlaws during the early years and then boarding school as soon as possible. Also, I feel its confusing them. When I am home – breakfast and dinner, I let the kids feed themselves and make a mess. At lunch the maids feed them so that its faster and less messy. Undoing all my work. I let the Brat bathe himself but the maids insist on bathing him if I am not around so that he doesn’t wet up the loo. You get the picture.

- Over the last few years I’ve also learnt that I love having a breadth of life. Doing lots of things. Reading, gardening, painting and writing.  This, above time for my husband, children and job. I just don’t have the time to do all of that and I feel the pinch. In the last couple of months I’ve had both my cousins here and am local guardian to both of them. Apart from two children who fall ill once in a while I have two teenagers with fever, cough, cold and yes, even dengue. I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone else but its important for me to be available to family if they need me. Even though I am not their mother and it’s not my job. But with a houseful, its getting harder to get anything done.  And these two were my first babies. I held cousin K in my arms at 13 and he feels like a son to me. I’m glad of this time I’ve got to spend with them after so many years. I enjoy their company and its hugely invigorating to spend time with people who are younger and full of ideas and opinions.

As for why I’ve written this detailed post, it is because I know I’ll be crawling up the wall in a few days with either boredom or frustration, feeling the lack of a salary or company. That’s when I will come back here and remind myself of all the reasons I chose to do this. Will I go back to work if I get an offer? Sure – if someone trusts me as the last boss did, to deliver on time. And lets me take the flexi route….

Until then, my loves, I am BACK!!!!!!!! So much has changed since I last was a SAHM. Tharini and Gauri have jobs. With Ro home on maternity and Poppy having quit, maybe its going to take me quitting for the world to fall back into place ;)

Edited to add – You guys are all getting it wrong. Check the date. My birthday is tomorrow – 25th September – not today :) But thanks all of you who wished me today, anyway