Sitting in the train from Gurye to Seoul, I can see my Ironman event on Sep 10th flashing by. Both Nitin and I had signed up for our first #ironman at Gurye in South Korea post completing our #ironman70.3 #Bahrain in Dec 16. We believed it was a relatively flat bike course and the swim was in a lake, reasons good enough to sign up for our fist IM event in Gurye.
As the event became closer, we realized that it was a majority rolling course which meant the difficulty level was higher and the event would be more challenging. I don’t fear the open water as much as we have been swimming at least twice a month in Lake Bhardwaj along with our Chief Mentor- Mohit Oberoi. The swim practice in Jirisan lake on 9th Sep went well and I was confident of finishing it under 2 hours. It was the bike leg i was afraid of coz I had a fall in Bahrain just 5 km in the bike leg and I was planning to be super careful this time. I was confident of finishing my run no matter my condition so it was the bike leg which was my concern area as flats can cost you time. A recce bike ride and run also turned out fine except for Nitin having bike issues which were fixed by the Mechanic at the Expo.
Come Sunday wearing our wetsuits, we waited for a call out for the rolling start but it didn’t happen and we jumped in with a bunch of others. My objective was to be closer to the yellow buoys which meant being with the herd. A few hundred metres into the swim, i was forced to change my strategy due to repetitive kicking and pulling. Being slightly away from the herd made the swim more smooth and swam like i never swam even in my training. As I crossed the half way mark in the out and back course, I could sense fatigue setting in but I kept pushing myself and when I got on the pontoon , my Garmin read 1.37 hours for 4.1 km . I was ecstatic as the first hurdle was out of the way and I did way better than my target. It was a “High Five” moment for me and i did say WOW to myself.
With an extra 23 min in my kitty, I set out for the bike leg. My objective was to maintain a pace of 25 km an hour. I knew the bike leg would be tiring with the rolling terrain but with consistent efforts i was confident of cracking it. The first uphill was a killer one with the steepest incline and I was literally struggling to stay on the bike and pedal my way up. The three loops of 43 km each were also rolling but not as tough as the first. I maintained my pace to 25 km per hour till 100 km and then it dropped to 24.3 by 160 which meant a target finish of 7.3 hours, half an hour extra than what I had accounted for. At 160 km mark, i was at 8.2 hours into the event and 20 km to go in 1.4 hours. There was enough time to finish the last 20 k.
But it was not to be, at 170 km on the highway and just 10 km to the finish line. My bike gave up. The rear wheel got stuck to the frame and just wouldn’t move. I dragged my bike a bit and then I could hear the whoosh sound as the tire became flat. I was in two minds whether to change the tube or drag the bike along and try to finish. My speed had dropped to 6 km an hour and there was an incline on the highway. 8 more km to go and I had an hour and few minutes. With a speed of 6 km an hour it was unlikely that I could have made it. So I fixed the tire hoping the wheel would also fall back in place. Earlier, a volunteer and a fellow triathlete tried to help but they weren’t successful too and then I saw Nitin. I had no clue that he was behind me. It was like my knight in shining armour moment for me and I became hopeful of the bike being fixed and completing Ironman.
Alas, he also could not fix the issue and I decided to drag it. He promised to send help once he reached the transition. At 3 km to go, I saw Carl who was one of Ironman officials on his bike. He clearly told me that I had to finish with my own bike and with 3 km to go and the cut off in 10 minutes I simply couldn’t make it. I wanted to disagree but how could I. I got on his bike with my bike and rode to the transition area.
My Ironman dream was shattered at 177 km and with just 3 km to go. I was so close to the finish line of the bike leg yet those last 10 km seemed forever.
Carl offered me to finish the run course but I was not simply motivated to do so. A few minutes later, I met Nitin at the aid station and he was so disappointed on my DNF. We had a target of doing this together and now he was alone in this journey.
As I walked to the run area, I was pleasantly surprised to see Akshay Khanna, a dear friend from WDR. He had happened to be in Seoul for a conference in the previous week and both Akshay and his brother – Ankit had driven down from Seoul to be our cheerleaders in Gurye. We were supposed to meet post the swim however when I didn’t see them during the bike course too, I thought they have left.
I was down and out but the moment I met AK Brothers and shared the unfortunate incident, i felt slightly better. I got to know how Wdrian’s were tracking our progress and cheering for us through the event. Once they left, I started tracking Nitin on the Ironman tracker though I knew he was mentally tired after the bike fiasco but the tracker showed he had picked up speed. I met him at 17 km and he confirmed that he didn’t seem mentally drawn to run the course. I egged him on to finish it which he said he would but by walking. We walked for a loop of 12 k and we kept chatting all the way about the unfortunate events of the day.
In the end, he did finish his run leg in over 6 hours and became an Ironman finisher. At least, we have one Ironman finisher at home now.
The entire episode has got me thinking whether I could have done something different during the training or in my bike leg. For sure, I could have been faster but would that have meant, the bike not breaking down. I had time to drag the bike to the finish line but i wasted time trying to fix it. Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know and I can only say that I wasn’t destined to become an Ironman this year in my first attempt. I am quite aware that Nitin is extremely unhappy with his performance for reasons beyond his control.
Just yesterday, our daughter Myra called Nitin -Ironman papa and I look forward to hearing -Ironman Mama soon. Missing out on hearing the words “You are an Ironman” is a big loss and something i will yearn for next year. This is surely unfinished for both of us and we have to work towards coming back even stronger.
It’s been a lot of hard and gruelling work during the training for that coveted Ironman title. Our kids, families, friends and office colleagues have been a part of our journey and while we were out doing this for ourselves. The stakeholders were many more.
Thank you to all our well-wishers for being a part of our journey. A special thanks to Akshay and Ankit for being there for us at the event.
Motherhood is a very unique and transforming experience. And if you are a career woman, this transition is even more dramatic. The thought of quitting perhaps might have crossed most of the woman entering into motherhood. Many do. For those who come back to work, there is constant challenge – guilt of leaving behind the little ones, fear of being left behind owing to the maternity gap, lack of confidence for not taking challenging projects owing to work-life balance, being judged in personal and professional domain.
What I have learnt from my journey and of some exemplary women leaders who have gone through this journey is that there are no absolute rules. Mothers, you have to make your own rules. Yes, there are learnings which can guide us to make us our rules.
- Guilt free Motherhood – Every mother goes through this emotion of guilt. As Indira Nooyi says, “You have to cope, because you die with guilt”. What stands most prominent in this statement is ‘cope’. Yes, each one will have to build a coping mechanism to reduce the feeling of guilt.
Find people whom you trust. Ask them how they have done it. Read stories of inspiring career woman who have gone through motherhood. Believe in what you have learnt and what is best for you.
A clarity on career and life vision would help you asking the right questions. Remember, some days would be for the mother in you, some days would be for the professional in you. Weigh what is most important today. Take your decisions and remember, there are many more strong women who are both mothers and professionals who are perhaps sailing in the same boat. You are not alone.
- The Mom Community – Communities act as a great support system. Be a part of the working mother community. If there is none around you, take the lead and create one. All our challenges and problems might already have a solution. Internet provides access to many such communities. Research has proven that we feel more confident and are able to face our challenges more confidently when we are part of a community. Some of the renowned online community is ‘Lean in’ by Sheryl Sandberg which has local chapters across many cities in the world. A little research and you might find many more local working mom community.
- Create the Extended Family – Quoting Indira Nooyi again, “Train people at work. Train your family to be your extended family”. Before people stop expecting from you, you need to bring down your own expectations from yourself. The perfect mother syndrome is killing. Is being the perfect mother, your only identity? If not, then shed it right now. Allow your family members
- to help you. Trust your husband, your parents, and your in-laws. They love the child as much as you do and would do a good job of taking care of the child.
- Overcome the Judgement Game –We are a society who is ready to pass judgements at a drop of a hat. Just as every individual find their individual coping mechanism to overcome guilt, you need to find your coping mechanism for this one as well. There could be few who give a damn to anyone judging them. For some it could be quite troublesome. If the person judging you is not important for you, don’t waste your time dealing with it. If it’s someone who is important – your spouse or some important family member, you would need to confront it. Do it with empathy and love. Have repeated conversations, take help of mom community, reach out to a common friend or family member who can be an influencer and sometimes just ignore. But remember, it’s about them, it’s not about you. Till the time you don’t judge yourself, you would be able to manage it.
- Have a Mentor – Mentoring is often best used when someone is facing a key transition point in their career, at the moment when self-doubt and lack of confidence may hold us back—a great mentor helps us to hold onto our ambition and to truly realize our potential. What can be a bigger transition than maternity transition? Having a mentor helps you keep focus on essential and important issues. A mentor can help you navigate your career points, network better and create effective strategies. A 30 minutes talk with your mentor can be the most energising and effective booster. Ask your organization to assign a mentor and if they can’t, reach out to leaders whom you admire and trust.
- Plan, Plan & Plan – If you are a working mother, probably you are juggling with various chores throughout the day. The best way to reduce the stress and anxiety is to PLAN. Make technology your best friend. There are many planners and apps which help you plan and organize in the most effective manner. ‘Todoist’ is one such app which can be downloaded. It distinguishes your work in important and not so important category. It gives you reminders and also brownie points when you accomplish your goals J choose what works best for you but do spruce up your organizing skills.
The key to all the above is clarity and understanding of what you really want of your life and career. A two year maternity transition is not the all and end all of your career. You never stop being the mother, even when your child is 20 years old. Building a career is like running a marathon and not a 100 metre race. It requires vision, courage, stamina and strategy.
Wonder Woman is not just a movie. It’s a welcome changing narrative of the society. A society where we grew up listening to fairy tales of the beautiful princess in distress and the brave prince who brings in peace and justice is awakening to a new story of women playing a powerful and equal role, where strong is beautiful, where they are not trying to keep up with the boys but actually are better than boys.
The typical man –woman role is reversed which is a great step forward in breaking stereotypes. Thanks to wonder director Patty Jenkins and actress Gal Gadot for bringing forth the story with such conviction. What is very interesting and important is that Diana’s beauty does not at any point take away the viewer’s attention from her courage, sense of righteousness or purpose in life. It’s refreshing to see her warrior skills which she demonstrates with such ease.
Princes of Amazons, Diana, she is trained to be unconquerable warrior. The emphasis of training is not just the art of fighting but more importantly the art of believing in self. We all have powers more than we know about, we are not able to harness our power because we do not believe enough. I am guilty of same, but then as long as one works on it, perhaps you are moving in the right direction.
Patty Jenkins definitely need a pat for celebrating with feminine traits of the warrior princess. The empathetic side of Diana is what we celebrate most amongst her bullet repelling jewellery and brilliant swordplay, her wrists which would fire shockwaves and her courage to take the most powerful. To be a warrior, the woman does not abandon her nurturing side. A strong message is that to be in the man’s world, we don’t have to change who we are but we need to strongly demonstrate who we really are. Gadot proves that women can be fierce and loyal, as well as empathetic.
Not to forget the brilliant opening of the movie where we see an enchanted island, the women warriors prepare for the day when they would probably be wiped out by God of War Ares. There is a common purpose which bind them together, as the camera pans through the training ground…..wrestling, archery, horsemanship, the swings and the flights. The image of women with such fiery strength and purpose reinforces my own sense of purpose in life. To me, in just this opening scene these women destruct the stereotypical roles and images of women.
What amazes me is also the juxtaposed social construct in which I see this movie. In the same theatre there are men who can’t see much beyond what is literally shown and there is an audience which celebrates and claps for Princess Diana. I left the theatre with a smile, with loads of gratitude for Patty Jenkins to make a movie which without taking a higher pedestal has a message for our girls and boys and hope for a more equal society.
I once asked in one of my talks – Do you think Men should be included in the Menstrual conversations?
A girl raised hand and said yes. I asked why do you think so? She responded because the word MENstruation has MEN in it…:p
While the entire class burst into laughter, I paused and acknowledged what she said was just perfect.
But truly speaking, I feel not just because Menstruation has MEN in it becomes the sole reason for having inclusive period conversations. But there’s a lot more to it.
Menstruation, a life-giving process yet a timeless taboo, is untouched by any of the modern evolutions. Though half of our population gets their periods for almost half of their lives, most women still shudder to talk about it normally.
The key to breaking a taboo is openly talking about it in society and the conversations should be inclusive ensuring to include both men and women.
When I was in 9th standard, we had a team from Whisper at our school who encouraged us to use napkins and maintain hygiene. One of the giveaways was a calendar to maintain a period track and I loved maintaining my tracker and made some notes about my menstrual experience. One of the days, we were away for our library period and when we came back, I had this weird sense that boys of my class were looking at me and talking among themselves, laughing loudly, cracking jokes. And then a boy who was also a good friend of me, came up and hinted that we opened your bag and found something. My heart skipped a beat as I was praying they didn’t see my period tracker. But I was wrong, they saw it and were making fun of it. Making fun of all the pics in the calendar, of the fact that we bleed. This embarrassed me so much that I was absent for the whole of the week and would check with my friend every day to find out if those guys had forgotten about that incident.
And there were many girls who went through the same distress and agony at some point in their lives. These incidents impact a girl’s productivity because she misses her school, in rural areas some of them refrain from attending school during these days, which means they lose out on 15% of their studies every month. And collectively it is a lot!!
When I think back of this incident, it just reinforces the belief that it is so important for boys to know about periods, it is important for them to understand that this is a normal biological process of a woman’s body and that it is the source of existence of human race on earth. There is nothing to make fun of or joke about it and that their understanding will empower the women of their lives to be smarter and confident individuals tomorrow.
To accelerate this, we have started to conduct inclusive awareness talks and our first talk was with the employees of a multinational corporate. We were overwhelmed with their response and their support implying that they too felt, it was important to break silence around this topic, it’s important to break stereotypes after all menstruation is not just a woman’s thing. It impacts the people around her as well, directly or indirectly.
What do you think about this? Are you comfortable having an open conversation with your father, brother or son about periods?
Benetton’s latest and much raved about campaign on social media, #UnitedByHalf urges women to claim their equal half. To challenge unconscious bias and redefine their roles. At the workplace, at home, in a relationship.
But let’s ask ourselves: do we really dare to be as bold as the ad portrays us to be? Or do we leave that to the “feminists” to do? Are we really forceful actors in this play called ‘life’? Is the glass ceiling a making of the unjust system, or first, of our minds?
As more and more women join the workforce (and more drop out of it!), it’s imperative we are empowered with the right kind of attitude and confidence to tackle our responsibilities, and go beyond. Here are a few pointers we can put into action; they may be small, but go a long way:
- Recognise unconscious bias.
A couple of years ago, a male colleague was driving me to a meeting. On the way, we were to pick up another (slightly older) male colleague. As we approached his house, I offered to shift to the back seat. I thought it was the polite thing to do.
“Why?” my colleague asked. I honestly had no idea. Perhaps because I’m conditioned to watching my mother give up her seat in front for my father’s colleagues. I assumed, they always had much to talk about. While that may be the case, there was no need for her to mute her presence.
Sometimes, we may not realise when we become victim to unconscious bias. Do you usually find yourself being asked to book a cab to a meeting? Or, get the cake for a colleague’s birthday? Order dinner in when it’s a late night? Can we challenge these norms? And start saying no, for the sake of saying no. Let’s stop disappearing into the back seat
2. Speak up more.
My ex-boss, after any presentation, would always make it a point to ask for the opinion of the ladies in the meeting room, first. Most times I would be the only woman in the room, and I would be urged to share what I thought. I’m grateful for those opportunities because it built my confidence and shattered my fears of “being wrong”. At times, it’s more important to be heard than to be right.
We need to start being the voice at the table. Overcome the hesitation and be vocal about what we’re thinking. Many times, I’ve sat at meetings, silently brewing an idea in my mind, only to have a male colleague say the same thing ten seconds later! At that point, it doesn’t help to say “I was just going to say the same thing”. Whatever one says from that point on will only be passed off as an echo. Let’s start setting the precedent. State your case clearly. The greatest ally you have, even if the entire room is against you, is logic. Logic knows no gender. Put forth your argument with logic, and it will be difficult not to find any takers.
I long for the day, when firstly, there are more women in the room with me; and secondly, we don’t have to be prompted to speak up.
3.Be aware of the signals you send out.
An ex-colleague and good friend from my previous company shared her experiences of interviewing candidates. Most often, she says, it’s the women candidates who ask her: How long do I have to stay? What time can I leave?
Not only are they “seeking permission” – something Sheryl Sandberg, in her book, Lean In states that women tend to do. They’re also sending out strong signals: I really don’t intend to be here, I have another life to go home to. Should we then be offended when colleagues are surprised to find us working after 6 and say, “How come you’re still here?”
Are our careers simply an add-on? Or do they form a defining element for our lives? More importantly, what do we portray it to be.
4.Market yourself openly.
Women feel extremely uncomfortable talking about their accomplishments. We’d rather wait for someone else to point them out. This, too, is a product of our upbringing. When was the last time you heard your mother brag about her cooking?
My mother has never once talked about the lovely and nourishing dishes she cooks day after day. On the other hand, when my dad makes even the most banal sandwich, he’d make it a point to extol its virtues at breakfast. Having now expanded his portfolio to wines and pickles, he uses every opportunity to unabashedly talk about them to every guest who walks into our home. He rightly calls it “brand building”.
Women at the workplace need to put out the signals that they’re in the race too – be vocal about your ambitions and feats. Recently I chanced upon an empowering video series called “The Best Advice I Ever Got”. A senior creative director at an agency recounted her experience at an interview. The recruiter told her, “You’re way more talented than any of the other guys at your level. But they’re a lot more well-known. You need to work on your brand.”
5.Never be ashamed to say you want more.
At my previous company, I had been working for so long without a vacation, that I almost felt guilty for taking a three-week-long Christmas break. I asked one of my seniors, “Can I take three weeks off?” All he said was, “How would I know? Take however long you need.”
He was right, but why did I hesitate to ask for more? In fact, why did I ask at all? (Corporate tip: never ask for a vacation; always inform.) The more “cultured” we become, the more we hesitate to speak our mind. A nine-year-old orphan, “desperate with hunger,” asked the master for more gruel. He said, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
That’s how hungry we should be, too, at times. Say you want more pay, more leaves, more work. Be vocal about what you want. Let’s change our “Can I” to “I Can”. When you seek permission, you are letting someone else decide what’s best for you. Believe you are worth it and feel no shame in claiming what you want.
6.Champion other women
It’s not enough for us to silently believe and fight our own battles. Call out unconscious bias when you see it happening to other women around you. Because when they win – you win. A good friend recounts an instance when she heard a male colleague ask a female colleague seated next to her to “order some food online”. She regrets not having told the male colleague to do so himself. And rightly so! Couldn’t he have typed just as well as she does?
We need more women – and men – to champion the cause. To speak up, not just because others don’t have a voice, but because others may not even know that they are victims to unconscious bias.
Although it may seem like I’m talking from the other side, I’m really talking to myself as I write this. And hopefully another woman out there. Let’s first crack the ceiling in our minds, before we take on the world.
It was my 13th birthday and my aunties and cousins had gathered home for a birthday hi-tea. After I did the cake cutting and everyone wished me Happy Birthday, I realized my aunts were whispering in my mom’s ears – It’s her time, make her understand about it. And my mom reciprocated with an embarrassing grin, saying – I have asked her cousin to talk to her.
I overheard this conversation many times. While this made me happy for all the attention I was getting, I was also curious to know what was this thing.
I am sure by now; you must have guessed it too. Yes, they were talking about Menstruation, menses, periods, monthlies.
Menstruation, a life giving, biological process of our body, yet a taboo in our society. It is so ironical, when a woman is pregnant, has a life inside her, she is pampered, her pregnancy is celebrated but on the other side when the same woman gets her period she is abandoned and almost secluded from the society.
In my 10 years of corporate stint, I realized even the corporate women; the educated, independent and significant lot of our society fail to express openly about this bodily function. They may joke around this topic, may laugh at the code words used for addressing menstruation but the fact remains that they still feel the need to shush around often when talking about periods.
So, coming back to my 13th birthday, and the time arrives when my cousin finally gathers the courage to talk to me and explain about this phenomenon. While I don’t clearly remember about what she told but I do remember her expressions. Throughout she was hesitant and embarrassed. She asked me to always keep it a secret, to not talk about it with anyone, and especially not with my papa and bhai as men are not supposed to know about this at all.
While this episode left a not so good impression about the upcoming phase of my life, I now feel that at least my mother was keen to make me prepared for my first period.
Per few studies – Even today, about 70% of mothers in rural community think that Periods are dirty and impure and sadly they pass on this stigma to their daughters. About half the girls are unaware of their first period and are not prepared. Many girls I spoke to shared they thought they had got some disease.
What does this unpreparedness lead to? Confusion, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, feeling of isolation, loss of confidence, inferiority complex and the list could go on.
Menarche – What could have been a cherished experience for girls becomes a dark memory of their lives that they want to forget about. Having to adhere to societal practices in name of rituals and traditions, feeling as if their wings had been clipped. There’s nothing beautiful about womanhood for them.
However, we all can bring a change in our society. One of the important contribution can be normalizing periods, normalizing conversation about periods and helping to invoke immense confidence in our daughters so they never dread of Periods in their lives like a lot of us did. We must talk to them and assure that Periods is just another biological function of our body, yet important, as important as breathing.
Let’s enable them to celebrate this phase of life…LET’S TALK PERIOD!!!