Turn the Full Stop Into a Comma
- Meenalochani Kumar
- Back to Work, Restarter Stories, Working Women, Mentors Speak
- 19 Nov 2018
“What belongs to us will come to us” is the mantra that has defined the lens with which I view the world and my life.
Power of Silence
I was raised by parents who stood up for humane principles and a lot of that rubbed into me. Having grown up with lots of people at home, values such as sharing and caring became a part of me. Education was forefront at home. My family curated and inspired my thoughts. In hindsight, I was fortunate to be a part of an intellectual, grounded family.
“We are all born for a larger purpose and the crests and troughs of life are woven in advance for our learning”. This was true for my first inflection point when I was married at 18. Being married into a joint family taught me much. And in later years, it helped me sift and sail through difficult situations at work. Three qualities I learnt that aided my career were diplomacy, letting go, and seeing the big picture. While other girls had a balance of fun and responsibility, the cross of responsibility set in very early for me. This phase of life taught me the “Power of silence” from which I would immensely benefit all my life.
Graduation, Post Graduation, and career was all post marriage. I topped the University in my Masters despite everything going on around me. In hindsight, much of what we become, tie tightly back to those very fundamentals that shape us.
I Started Working Three Years after My Son Was Born
My family supported my decision of starting my career and monetary needs only strengthened my decision. I started as an HR Executive, wore multiple hats, executed roles in Business HR, Organization development (did this at a time when OD was at its infancy), Talent, Learning, and Leadership development in my profession. The one thing I learnt is not to say "No" to any role that comes your way in the early stages of your career. Those very experiences count in the latter half of your career journey. From a humble HR beginning 19 years ago to being in a responsible position of Senior Leadership Development, the journey has been intense. There have been times when I have wanted to just drop everything and walk away. It is exactly at those times, I have managed to pick up all the broken pieces and moved on to paint a new canvas.
Diagnosed with Cancer at 32
My second inflection point came when I was at the pink of my career. I was diagnosed with cancer at 32. I thought my world fell apart for a brief period. The biggest motivation for me to fight and survive was my son. He was in his second grade then. Cancer is a big teacher. It somehow has a way of making you feel small in the battle unless your grit drives you otherwise. Thanks to multiple factors and an amazing doctor, I survived to tell my story
It was amidst this that I perused my PGCBM in XLRI. Amidst chemotherapy and hospital visits, I did complete this education with a standing ovation.
I Am Proud and Indebted to Four Organizations
I have been with- Lister Technologies, Mindtree, Cummins, and Sutherland. Lister gave me opportunities and a platform to try. At Mindtree, I was given a choice to work reduced hours to accommodate my health. I was provided a role where I could contribute effectively, as a Program lead for the mentorship program. At Cummins, women were respected. There was much focus on gender diversity and to discover that in a manufacturing organization left me with awe. At Sutherland, the option to work from home, the trust and encouragement, the support during my second experience with cancer, and the welcome to a post-cancer stint is truly admirable.
The Men Who Shaped My Career
In the interconnectedness of life, it is time to acknowledge the men who shaped my career. Be it my father, my husband, my son who acts as my sounding board occasionally now and rationally opines, my mentors, or leaders who have pushed and encouraged me to dream big – each one ‘s part in my little success story has been important.
My mother provided the quintessential, selfless support all through. Not to forget a handful of good friends who cheered and did not let go of my hand when things were tough.
I have reached a career stage where I have won several awards despite all the hardships and challenges physically and emotionally. I just know this could not have happened alone. Every person comes in your life to teach you something and for a reason.
I am passionate about almost everything except adventure. A gamut of things from spirituality, cooking, time with children, teaching, jewelry making, time with family, long drives, watching nature, photography and the list is endless. I cherish every little thing. As they say, you attract most of which you don’t want, and to say the least my life has been nothing short of an adventure. Two qualities that have truly helped me tide so far is my positivity and resilience.
Mentoring; A Passion!
Professionally, I am passionate about mentoring women, especially those in their early and mid-stages of their career. What fuels me to mentor women is the fact that I can tell them with confidence that I have walked their path, been in their stage many years ago to become who I am today. Focus on self-esteem and confidence are pivotal to a woman’s career.
"Horizontal careers, second careers are no way lesser than a continuous vertical path. "
In my own case, I did quite the reverse. I started as a full-time professional, and to balance my home and child, opted for a flexi- career for a brief period at a time when flexi-careers were unheard of (I was even ridiculed for this decision), chose to come back to mainstream when my son completed schooling. There are no right or wrong choices, but learning to be happy and to make peace with our choices is the key
I enjoy contributing to the Talent, Learning and leadership development space. I like bringing order from chaos and have developed the ability to have a solution mindset over the years. I have evangelized several Leadership and Mentoring frameworks, contributed to the International Mentoring Association as an Honorary Director, been a guest speaker at many forums all the while remembering the blank canvas I started with. Creation of success stories where the paths are ambiguous is also my strength.
What Does It Really Take to Succeed Professionally?
Here are a few I have found useful. Discipline to remain focused, keeping thoughts and tasks simple, and capability to compartmentalize actions truly help. The grit to be a constant Learner and understanding that Knowledge is queen builds confidence over years.
"I learnt to navigate organizations very late in my career, but I learnt."
I think this is an important skill required for a Leader in a highly matrixed environment. Having a handle on technology is certainly a big ask today, so don’t ignore this aspect and remember to work on your Executive presence to scale the ladder.
A woman can have a successful career if she accepts her flow of life holistically. For most women, career would be akin to a horizontal tree with branches. Each branch is a twist and turn in the career journey, but remember it comes back a full circle to the same tree.
"I had three inflection points, at 18, 32 and 46. At 18, I was married, at 32 I was diagnosed with cancer and at 46, cancer struck again."
What Keeps Me Going...
Is the fact that this is MY flow of life, and the more I resist, the more I am refraining from learning life’s lessons. Not learning would be a costly mistake. What cancer taught me is the strength of relationships, both personal and professional. It made me reflect that I am a microcosm of life, and many things cannot be dictated in the larger ecosystem. The earlier we make peace with this as Leaders, the easier it gets to untangle the cobweb of thoughts. Every inflection has taught me to accept life with grace and acknowledge the interconnectedness of human existence. Once we understand this secret, surviving and succeeding in our profession becomes easy. The key to a successful career as a woman is to remind herself that she has come this far and so the rest of the journey would be well too.
Many people ask me as to how I manage work and life. My answer and approach have been simple. When its work, its 100% focus there and when at home, its 100% focus here. The key is to be present completely wherever we are. Not that I don’t have overlapping thoughts or conversations that crisscross, however, I have trained myself over the years to know that both are very critical for a wholesome life.
"I have had the good fortune of not one but two mentors, who have pushed me to dream more, work more and achieve more. They have mentored me for close to 15 years now. Having the right mentor can propel your thoughts and drive lasting insights."
My Dream for the Future...
Is to help women acknowledge and accept themselves in all shapes and sizes, work on building their self-confidence and to be passionate in the field of their choice without getting overwhelmed by snide comments that will be part of all our career journey. We need to be like a dart, focus on what is important and move on. I would like to be able to influence women to strive for mental peace. I dream of a world where women aspire a happy, and healthy life for themselves, both of which should not be compromised for a profession.
My biggest single learning in life has been that we need to be aware of every fleeting moment, enjoy each day as it unfolds and not wait only for big-ticket items to fill the basket of life.
So, women, turn your full stop to a comma and surge! Nothing can stop you but your own thoughts!
About the Author
Meenalochani Kumar is a seasoned HR professional and her focus has been Organizational development, Learning & Leadership architecture in the past several years. She is a Mentor, Author, Speaker, and a Continuous Learner. She has served as an Honorary Director in the International Mentoring Association, is a pioneer in the Mentoring space in India and brings insights into this domain. Her passion is to mentor women and help them transform into confident individuals in the workplace. She believes in simplicity of thoughts and actions
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