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How I Chose to Be Financially Independent

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  • 15 Aug 2015
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On this, what we at JobsForHer have coined our "Financial Independence Day", we share excerpts from our conversation with inspirational restarter SHABANA ALI LODHA, of Schneider Electric, Bangalore, to cultivate hope and ambition in the minds and lives of women across our city and country...

I GREW UP watching my mother work and always knew I’d follow in her footsteps. After my graduation, I got to live on my own in Mumbai for a while to finish my studies. That experience taught me to manage myself in an unknown yet familiar city, like Mumbai.

I then moved to Bangalore to look for my first job. My fiancé and I had decided that we would get married as soon as I was financially independent. I also remember telling my manager during my interview that if I got selected, I would need 3 weeks off for my wedding. We got married 3 months after I was offered my first job.

For the first few years, work was the centre of our lives. I was happy taking on projects beyond my years of experience, and delivering them well. Recognition, and a bigger/better portfolio all came with time. At this stage, I was nominated for an IIM program from my organization, which I found very fulfilling. We were soon blessed with a baby boy.

I went back to work after my maternity break with a support structure intact at home. I had a nanny to take care of my son, with whom I had spent time during my maternity break, and my mother would visit me often.

But, I took a break in the 6th year of my career for one year, because my support system collapsed when my nanny left without any notice. I did not expect my mother to come and stay for extended periods, and so I needed to make a tough decision to leave work until I found a replacement with whom I was comfortable, and who I trusted completely.

My organization offered me flexibility, but I was torn between a job that needed me to be “present at work”, and my son – and I wasn't able to juggle both. So, I thought that I should take a break and focus my energies in one space at a time, or I would not have been at peace with myself. It was tough, but it was the right decision for us all, and one that I look back on with a lot of fondness.

When I was ready, I came back to a role of leading a function, which I had not done earlier. The hiring manager was a lady who had spent more than 20 years in that organization and represented what the organization stood for. We connected very well and I chanced upon a wonderful support system at work, too. My career switch opened up another aspect of myself. I got a chance to directly touch the lives of people via my professional work, and I found it very fulfilling. I saw scope for advancement and yearned to extend myself and take on more. So I did!

On the personal front, we had our second baby come to us – a lovely little girl – so it was double the fun! My husband and I have always been a balance for each other. We are hands-on parents and truly co-parent, not assuming that any one of us has a specific role in our children’s lives. We both are mum and dad when the time comes.

More than anything, or anybody else, it was my self-doubt – whether or not I’d be able to manage things, would my son understand why I was away, and a general wavering in my self-confidence – that I had to deal with when restarting my career. My husband was a huge support who told me to believe in myself and that together we would adjust to the “new normal”.

All this time I was trying to hire someone on whom I could rely. It was a very difficult time because I am essentially a working girl who had to make peace with the break. Once I hired someone I trusted, and of course, trained and tested, I was ready to get back to work.

In the beginning, I had started off by assessing what I should do, and decided that I should go back to my core competence, but unfortunately I hadn’t kept in touch with many people, and so my network had disappeared. I had gone into a cocoon during that year away from work. I reached out to a few organizations, but when they heard that I was not working, their obvious questions focused on how confident I was of my situation, and whether it was sustainable. I was clear that I needed flexibility and sometimes that was a put-off.

During this time I also learned how to drive, and I loved the independence that it provided! I was then asked to come for an interview to head a sub-function, and met the lady who headed HR at that company with more than 20 years in the organization. I remember her asking me a question - "How would you describe yourself?" And my prompt reply was – “I am a mother first and then a professional, ” And then, of course, I went on to talk about my achievements in my previous roles, and how I could add to the present organization. I realized later that I had spoken to my true potential because I was very comfortable in that crucial conversation. It’s so important to create that.

Restarting my career was, I think, more than anything a sense of re-validation for me. I was beaming on my drive back home, I remember, with loud music! The best part about it was that they did not use my “off time” in my offer or designation. They ensured that I was treated with respect and gave me my due. I felt very excited and happy that I’d be going back to a “me” space.

The changes I saw in myself were wonderful. I was less irritable, I was spending quality time with my baby now, and if I look back, it was then that I started reading bedtime stories to him, which established a wonderful habit!

I also kept talking to our son’s nanny and empowering her with some decisions, guiding her on how to tackle things when I was not there. A lot of online grocery shopping helped as well! My husband and I started to plan weekends better with activities for ourselves and our son. I was definitely calmer, and internally I had a sense of achievement again. The first pay-cheque after my restart felt almost the same as my first pay-cheque had!

My advice to other women who are contemplating restarting their careers is that I think we need to be easy on ourselves, and not overly critical. Give ourselves time to ease back in. We should also not expect the first interview after our break to result in a job offer! Keep the network alive, and keep in touch – that’s so important.

When I look back on that period, even though going through it was tough, I feel that I definitely grew as a person. I slowed down, which we so often don’t get an opportunity to do. I learned so many things about myself. I dabbled with things that I would never had got the time to try before. So, enjoy the time.

Creating a support system is also very important, and allowing that system to work and flow is essential.

It’s important to let go because we really can’t do everything!

We ask all women today to share one line on "I want to be financially independent because..." accompanied by the hashtags #HappyFinancialIndependence Day and #JobsForHer on our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ pages. Pass the word on to other women you know, who are starting, restarting and rising in their careers, and urge them to share their stories too!

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SHABANA is a Post-Grad in Management with over 10 years of experience in Human Resources across organizations like Infosys, Thomson Reuters, Northern Trust, and Schneider Electric, essaying multiple roles. When not working, she has her life full with two kids, and a third one who happens to be a puppy, topping the list. She loves road trips, and gardening, and recently started focusing on her health via yoga.

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