It was 10 years ago when I decided to take a leap into the unknown. I had been a financial services professional for slightly over 6 years, but knew in my heart that I didn’t belong to the corporate world. The Global Financial Crisis which peaked in 2009, came as a blessing in disguise. I was in-between jobs, jobs which in the financial sector were hard to come by at the time. But more than that, I simply didn’t want to go for a job interview that I knew wouldn’t satisfy me.
I have done both my graduation and post-graduation studies in commerce and finance, so really, I was not qualified to be in any other industry. But there was a desire to do more, to have an impact with the work I do and there was a desire to be creative, to make something that has individualism and uniqueness. What I did next was rather unconventional, even for an independent thinker like me, however, it taught me the greatest of life lessons.
Owning your choices
I’ve never been a frivolous person, which meant I was not going to take up work just for the sake of it. I thought about it and decided that it was time to follow my heart. This is not an easy decision to make. The two most critical factors backing this decision were, unconditional understanding from my spouse, and money I had saved up from my previous job. The former gave me confidence to make decisions without the need for prior endorsement, which meant being able to make unorthodox choices at that stage of life. The latter gave me the financial cushion I needed to start my journey, without depending on my spouse or parents.
This was still the easy part. When the rest of the family realised I was serious about learning hair styling techniques, there was a clear disappointment with the choice. A well-educated, bright individual opting for what was essentially looked upon by elders in the family as a low-quality profession was a narrow-minded falsehood I chose to simply ignore rather than defend. That’s what owning your choices means; you push ahead with confidence regardless of what difficulties arise and what those around you say.
There will be situations where one neither has the support of the spouse nor the financial cushion I was lucky to have; however, there is always some positive in any situation, find that silver lining and use it to your advantage when you are taking these kinds of steps. Be sure to think through your decision and ensure that the choice you make is independent of any coercion and it is what you want, rather than what someone else wants for you.
Learn to say No
Often the expectation from women, particularly mothers and homemakers, is this ability to take on professional work without disturbing the balance at home. Sure, some can. But honestly, if you are going to spend more hours working outside your house, you need a plan to manage daily needs back at home. Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ every now and then to special requests from family members. If you genuinely don’t have the time or mind space to cater, then first admit to yourself that you can’t manage it and ask for help from your family rather than accepting all responsibility as before. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your spouse, neighbours, house help and extended family for support in your daily tasks.
You now have to find a balance between what and how much you do at home, and how much you must do to attain your independent professional identity. Learn to let go of smaller things and that will require you to simply say no when its not convenient; this will also give you the space to focus on the more important decisions and activities at home.
Let go of Ego
At other times, you will have to suck it up and let go of your ego. I remember two distinct situations where I had to swallow my pride to achieve somewhat of a balanced outcome for the family I love, and for my desire to have an independent individual identity. These two may sound mutually exclusive, but in fact they get stronger by feeding on each other.
The first set back to my ego happened when I finally chose my alternate career in personal finance writing about a year after finishing the hair styling course (yes, a different path but I’ll explain the link). The choice of work in personal finance writing was exactly what I was looking for, but the compensation was nearly 30% lower than what I was drawing in my last job. That hurts. It makes you question your abilities as a worker, as an individual and as a contributor to the family financial statements. Suck it up. If you are sure about the journey you are undertaking, then it’s important to just move forward. Earnings will follow. Being content with your choice is what will bring the balance in your life which will help your family too. Where the money is concerned, look at it like this: by doing the work you like you are investing in yourself and in your family’s future. Don’t settle for compensation that is too little, but don’t chase money either.
My second ego deflation came more than once. Often when I walked in to my house in the evening after a long day at work, along with my husband, the expectation from the elders of the family was always that my husband gets his tea and a snack on time, and I, of course had to take over the children and the kitchen. No one asked me if I was tired and would like a snack. It hurts. But you realise that having an identity at work which is independent of your family, doesn’t mean that you are separate from them. In any household, one spouse has a larger load of caretaking than the other. I never shied away from my load of caretaking at home, but again I was lucky with my spouse’s support at every step.
Today I am in a much stronger space, with a family that relies on my support and my ability to take care of them, along with a professional identity which is widely respected in the industry. The learning is to let go of ego which comes in the way of love, love for your family and love for self which allows you to be unique and successful as an individual too.
Taking up an alternate career or restarting your career after a break is not easy when you already have responsibilities at home. If you give yourself the confidence to push forward, you will find that you have all the tools within to take on this difficult task. However, never forget to maintain that balance – family, work and you – all three must be cherished.
Despite, having spent a substantial amount on training and topping my batch after six rigorous months of learning, I did not take up hair styling as a profession. What the experience taught me however, was critical in the next stage of life. I learnt that I could not embrace a profession without creativity as part of my work. Whatever I did next had to involve my unique personality and perspective to deliver the outcome. That is the realisation which brought me to writing, and here I am.
Had it not been for the risk I took with the hair styling course, I would never know for sure that I had this ability to use talent gainfully. Hence, no experience is little, take that first step and you’ll see how capable you are and how much more you have to offer.