(This article was published on AVTAR I-WIN’s The Future of Work publication in September 2013)
As Indian women, most of us are brought up to become superwomen. Look at the matrimonial section of your local newspaper to get an idea: Wanted: A fair, tall, traditional, homely, highly qualified working girl who can cook. Okay. I have exaggerated a bit, but I’m sure you get the drift!
Over the past three decades, the Indian woman has been playing a dual role in carrying on with the traditional role of home-maker besides making significant progress in bringing the bread to the table. Of course taking on the additional responsibilities are not without their share of problems. Let’s face it. We are not superwomen. We are human beings with limited capacities that we need to translate to infinite possibilities. As women, we walk a thin rope where we balance several items to ensure we give our best to our family and career. In the process, we tend to carry several traits and attitudes that tend to bog us down, rather than propel us towards our goals. The only way we can hope to run freely forward and taste success is by lightening our load.
Here are some of the top five loads that we Indian women could let go to win that race without compromise.
Nothing can crush our confidence as much as guilt. The guilt of not being able to take care of your children. The guilt of not being able to serve hot meals at home. The guilt of not being able to stay back in the office late to complete the assignment. The guilt of not being able to exercise. We need to pause and breathe and realize that guilt is just an empty feeling that carries the maximum weight. Do your children really need you 24/7? So long as your family gets healthy food, does it really matter who cooks it? As for work, do we really need to give 200% of ourselves to make up for not being able to stay in the office beyond 6 PM? It’s a known fact that women do get their work done without having to stretch by simply managing their time better. So how do we get rid of this colossal guilt? By being more realistic and objective about our expectations. By welcoming alternatives. Most of all, by telling yourself, “I’m doing the best I can!”
Most of us are brought up to suppress our reactions, box in our feelings, and rein in our impulses. We are expected to fit into a stereotype of a woman who listens to everyone, gives in to everyone’s demands, and fulfils her personal needs last. We are expected to follow old-fashioned traditions without questioning. I know of highly qualified and successful women who cannot wear western clothes for fear of being criticized by their “elders”. On the other hand, our equally capable and qualified male counterparts are given more leeway and freedom. Over a period of time, this builds resentment and unvoiced frustration, leading to passive-aggressive behaviour. How could we let go of this resentment? Assertiveness is the key. Assertiveness helps us put forth our point of view objectively and confidently, without resorting to aggression. The ability to forgive and move on also helps in getting rid of resentment.
There is no virtue in playing a self-sacrificing martyr. Leave that to the movie moms! We have too many things to take care of. Neglecting ourselves, our health, our appearance, benefits no one. While we love our family and our work, we have to learn to take care of ourselves first. I remember coming home from work feeling famished, and waiting for my family to get ready for dinner. By the time they all gathered, I was so angry and exhausted, I barely could smile, leave alone respond to their questions. I remember feeling undervalued and unappreciated. Over the years I have learnt to feed myself as soon as I get home. It feels so good! Do make time to go to the salon, take that 15 minute daily walk, read the newspaper. It won’t make you a bad mother or a selfish wife! On the contrary, your family will respect you. So let go of martyrdom!
Diffidence means to doubt oneself. We are worried about being criticized that we second-guess ourselves constantly. In fact women tend to be self-critical. Moreover, we tend to compare ourselves with other women and wonder whether we are doing the right thing. Remember, you are your own best judge. What works for you, may not work for someone else. If you make a mistake, you are only human. “Do I look fat?” “Did I sound okay in the presentation?” “What would he think?” “Should I ask for a promotion?” Celebrate being you. Self-confidence and self-acceptance is the best way to throw out diffidence.
Fear of change. Fear of losing control. Fear of criticism. Fear of failure. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of being imperfect. These fears are so drilled into us, that we often overlook opportunities to grow. We need to throw the “What would others think?” out of the window! We need to learn to anticipate and accept failure. Made an error in judgement? Learn from your mistake and move on! Fear is a debilitating burden that eats into our very core. Over a period, this makes us stressful and anxiety-ridden and prone to health problems. How can you overcome your fears? By expressing them and thinking objectively about ways to overcome them. Prayer, meditation, keeping a diary, talking to a friend, or getting coached are a few ways where you could bring your fears under control. It is okay to be afraid. Just don’t let it weigh you down.