Be Yourself

by Neeraja Ganesh

NeerSpires: Be Yourself

Oscar Wilde said,
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”
I think this statement is so much more applicable today than ever before, be it in one’s choice of education, while choosing a holiday destination, or even in one’s ambition! To understand this, let’s deep dive into one of them.
Let’s start with the term “AMBITION”. Everyone needs to be ambitious. However, how does one define ambition? What triggers ambition in people? Is it internal or through external factors?
I am sure you all can remember the number of times you have been asked these questions, right from your school days –
“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“What do you want to become when you are older?”
These questions then further lead to –
“What do you want to study in college?”
“Which course or subjects will you be choosing when you start college?”
How does one even begin to answer these questions at such a young age? Most of these answers are often triggered by external influences and observations. Hence, “ambition” is also built upon influence by external sources. One starts to think that there is a certain way to live, there is a way to grow, and there is only a particular way to look at their careers and lives. That way is based on what the rest of the world is doing. That way is based on what the rest of the world defines as ‘ambition’ and ‘success’. This leaves no time and energy for the person to reflect on what gives them happiness, what their purpose and passion in life is and hence, eventually what their ambition is.
The first time I had to make my own choice was when I had to select the subjects for my 11th grade. Everyone around me was choosing the Science stream — Physics, Chemistry, Math and Biology! I felt the need to follow the crowd and hence, picked up the same subjects for my 11th grade. I hated my two years at college as I did not like 3 out of the 4 subjects. The only subject which I enjoyed was Math. I struggled and completed my 12th grade with marks which I was not proud of. That was probably the first and the last time I tried to fit in. After that, I have always led life on my terms, making choices based on my interests, passions, purposes and values. I have loved every moment of my life since then and have been satisfied with the outcomes I have seen at every stage of my life.
Few years ago, I was selected for a global women’s leadership development program within my company, which was a residential program conducted in Paris. It was an extremely proud moment for me as I was one among 11 other women leaders across the globe who were selected for this prestigious program. It was a very stringent selection process and I was told that just a nomination from my Business unit leader was not the reason why I had made it to that program. There were leaders across the globe who questioned every nomination that came through and finally, the 11 of us were selected. Being part of this program meant that I would learn from my global peers as well as meet and network with some of the top leaders from the organisation. Not just that, I had the opportunity to be assigned a career coach with whom I could work on my future career aspirations. It also meant that these 11 leaders would be considered as the first choice for some of the most exciting and challenging assignments that would open up in the next few months. As part of the orientation for this program, one of the things that was told to us was that the dress code for the program was to be Western formals. I have never worn Western formals in my life. My belief is that one should wear what she is able to carry off well, and in India, a saree or a salwar kameez does qualify as formal office wear. I called up the coordinator for this program and told her that I would not be wearing western formals for the program. She was taken aback and tried telling me that it was a mandatory requirement to be part of the cohort. Me being me, I told her that I didn’t see how a leader could only be recognised as a leader if she wore western formals. I would wear what I had always worn to work, which would be either a saree or a salwar kameez. After the intense selection process based on past performance and future potential that the selection committee saw in me, if someone was not going to consider me as a part of the cohort just because of my preference of clothes, I was ok to be out of the cohort. She came back after some days and said I could wear salwars at the program as long as they were in “muted” colours — the black, white, beige types! I was ok with that as I thought those were probably the colours that most western suits came in and hence, I would match the rest of the participants’ attire in some way!
I went to the training hall on day 1 of the program and saw 3 other Indian women, all in western formals. And then there were others from USA, UK and Japan. But I didn’t see those people dressed in western formal wear. They were in nice flowy skirts or pants, and wearing very pleasing colours too as it was summer time in Paris then.
And this made me wonder why people don’t ask themselves these questions. Why are we trying to comply without asking questions? If something is making us uncomfortable, why don’t we bring it up for discussion?
In all my life after my 12th std, I have made choices based on what my inner self told me to do. Even if I was the only one amongst my peers choosing that path, even if it was so very different from what was considered the “right” and “normal” thing to do, I have gone ahead and done it. It has only brought me more success and happiness. I have also seen people look up at me and respect me for who I am because I am always myself!
When my daughter
Sneha Ganesh
was in the 8th std, studying in the ICSE syllabus, we started the usual discussion on “What would she like to do after 10th grade?” After a lot of deep reflection, discussion, google searches etc (Aspire For Her didn’t exist then for her to have simply scanned through the various career previews!), it appeared that the only subjects she liked was Math, Computer Science and English. We started exploring career options based on these interests and she finally narrowed down on pursuing Data Science as a career. Doing further research, we realised that the core subjects that are needed to pursue a career in this stream are Math, Statistics and Computer Science. So she took the decision to move out of the ICSE syllabus to the State Board syllabus in the same school since she had made up her mind to focus on the core subjects needed for getting into the course of her choice and build on some other skills of hers. All conversations with her seniors and teachers in school pointed to the fact that she would be able to pursue her chosen stream by studying in the State Board and taking on the State Board Pre-University course. Most of her peers at school and many parents were shocked by her decision. Some even recommended to send her to a counselor as they were of the opinion that to be able to get the best career prospects, students had to be in CBSE or ICSE. Well,
knew why she was choosing to move out and did not let others’ comments affect her. We, as parents, were supportive of her decision as it was based on good research and led her to what she had decided as her goal for her college. I have seen her enjoying her 9th and 10th grades, scoring the top marks while at the same time focussing on all other extra-curricular activities and bagging many trophies in the same. She joined the State board for 11th and 12th grade and chose Math and Computer Science, and continued to enjoy participating in all the extra-curricular activities inside and outside the college, which eventually led her to win the “Student of the Year” award in 12th grade. Today, she is studying the same subjects that she had decided to pursue in 8th grade, in the same college that she aspired to be in. She has enjoyed every moment of her school and college life and continues to enjoy and see success in whatever she does. This is purely due to her following her passion and interests and “BEING HERSELF”, despite the majority of her peers picking up those most sought after courses like Engineering because it’s considered that the only way of becoming successful are with these limited courses.
The message is not to condemn wearing western formals or choosing an Engineering course. If that’s your passion, and you feel good in doing so, by all means, you must do so. But if it feels like a compliance because someone has mandated it and the majority of the world is doing so, then I would urge you to rethink, question, challenge and make a decision based on what you really want to do. Because that is your ambition and only then, will you be able to aspire and reach there!
After all, as Eleanor Roosevelt said,
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

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