SEVEN LESSONS OF FOURTEEN YEARS
In April of 2007, we had moved back from Mumbai to Delhi and eventually to Gurgaon.
When we made the decision to move back, a lot of well-wishers tried to dissuade us, saying, I won’t be able to survive in “North” after having worked in Bombay for 5 years. I really have never understood this divide that people often refer to between Bombay and Delhi. To me it didn’t matter.
As I complete 14 years with WPP today and look back, I am amazed at myself because didn’t know I could stay in one place this long. But this “place” offered me so much to be thankful for, both personally and professionally. And these 14 years have taught me so much and helped me grow into a successful, confident and a happy person that I am today. Some of my key lessons include:
1. Don’t give up- On July 2nd of 2007, I walked into the GroupM Office of Gurgaon. Since I was the first person to join the HR team back then, the finance team was tasked to help me with my joining formalities. During my interview I was also told that the current office space is temporary, and we were to soon move into a swanky DLF building. I will always remember my first workstation that I got when I joined. It was in the basement of an old building. And because I was the only person in HR, I was sitting with 50 colleagues who were from finance and operations. And did I mention, I was the only woman!!! And that there was only one washroom on that floor. Many times, the thought crossed my mind- should I quit to join some better-looking place …Thank God I stayed…
2. Build relationships- When I joined GroupM, I was new to this world and didn’t have much exposure. So, I had to literally start from scratch- both my understanding of business and people in it. I can proudly say, I did well on both fronts thanks to the support of so many of my colleagues who were always willing to come forward and lend a helping hand. I have built relationships and friendships that will last me a lifetime and I know that. Infact when am asked the question about my biggest achievement here- it is this treasure of friends I have.
3. Don’t be afraid- The corporate careers can be sometimes limiting, boring, biased, and very hierarchical too. We have choices: we can either be whining and complaining or be bold and speak up and help bring the change, we’d like to see. I am lucky to have had several opportunities to create and nurture a workspace that valued people, appreciated teamwork and above all, allowed to experiment and support. But balance is important and therefore we need to have equal measures of being bold and respectful, experimental, and consistent.
4. Ask what you need- this has been my biggest lesson. Don’t assume things and never take them for granted either. Else you will end up regretting often. In the Indian cultural context, asking is not what comes naturally to many because we are made to believe that it’s a “bad thing.” And this gets even more stark in case of women. You should always ask for what you think you rightfully deserve- don’t be scared to hear the word NO. And if you get it, you can be assured that asking helped.
5. Don’t lose yourself- It’s easy to get charmed and carried away by the corporate life. I’ve been a victim of it myself. But it’s important to stay centered and rooted in your values. I am often told, I tend to see the world in “black” and “white” whereas it’s important to see and understand the greys. But I am happy to view my world in B&W and be confident in my own skin. Infact, I have also learnt from those who exemplified the greys, because seeing them gave me the wisdom of what I don’t want to be.
6. Own the Canvas: at different stages of our career, we are like the painters drawing on the canvas. Now sometimes, what’s to be painted and how it’s to be done is all decided in advance. At other times, what needs to be painted is decided but the “how” is left it be discovered- so you get to decide the form of art, the type colors, size of brushes, etc. And many times, you get a blank canvas to convert into a beautiful painting, how you want it. Career is like a canvas where sometimes you get full freedom and sometimes you must work within boundaries. But in all scenarios, don’t leave the painting halfway if it’s not coming out the way you expected or you are feeling pressured with too many advises — keep at it and keep the conviction and trust the process. It will turn out to be beautiful.
7. Stay Dispassionate- while loving what you do. And love and dispassion can coexist beautifully. It took me a while to learn but it’s a valuable lesson, I have learnt for life and practice it diligently.
In today’s day and age, 14 years seem like a long time. Friends often jokingly refer to me as “furniture” but one of my closest friends had redefined the word furniture for me rather eloquently and beautifully saying I am a piece of furniture which is strong, provides comfort and utility and above all is constantly reinventing (remodeling) to suit the changing requirements (times) and can never go out of fashion. If at all, I shall only become antique and rare.