Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stand up to yourself.

Her name is S. As a 7th grader S must have been 12-13 years of age.  Its the most challenging age. Its when the hormonal roller coaster ride starts, sadly for women to not end for another 40+ years.  But coming back, her dorm changed when she started 7th grade. From the senior dorm, where S was placed initially due to lack of space in the age appropriate one, she was now given permission to go hang out with dorm mates from her own grade. And yes she was excited.  S became instant friends with another girl.  Lets call her A.   A was a quiet girl, just like S.  They were like two peas in a pod. Life was moving along fine, and they were a very happy dorm of 10 girls with a warden who was, lets just say nice in her own special way.  All was well, the girls had learnt how to wake themselves up, manage  their laundry, watch out for each other and even mastered the art of whispering under the blankets so the sounds of ten girls giggling away could  escape the alert ears of their warden. 

Slowly and steadily S noticed a change, A would not hang out with her anymore. Not only A, all the other 10 stayed away or answered in mono syllables. As a 13 year old, S didn't really know why. She  tried very hard to talk and please them, but to no success. And if this wasn't enough, she was made the dorm in charge for the latter part of 7th grade.  7th grade ended, they were all promoted to the next grade, came summer vacation, S took her flight to Nigeria, where her parents were and enjoyed every bit. Came back, only to find out that the situation had not changed one bit. They still wouldn't talk. At this point she was confused and was almost ready to go talk to the head warden, when one night at the "meditation hall," a sermons being read was about "internal strengths." The sermon hit the right spot and S decided to wait. After about a year of being taunted and smirked at, she had mastered the art of ignoring. It was easy to now go on with life as if nothing was wrong. Thank fully, it was a girls only hostel, so bullying was limited to verbal words or at the most ignoring. 

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The status quo continued and somewhere towards the end of 8th grade, few of the girls decided to come talk to her.  And she never asked them why they did what they did?  Sounds silly, right. Anyone with a brain would want to know why? Not her, she didn't care. After about a year and a half of smirks, it didn't matter. 

You're wondering where all this is going. Well, you see, somewhere along the bullying, S had developed an internal strength so strong that allowed her to move on and even till date the strength holds her in place. 

And in case you are wondering, this is a true story and S is yours truly. Yes this happened to me. 

Like everything in the 21st century. Bullying too has evolved.  Its no longer restricted to school and college campuses. It has found roots in offices, play fields, and even the cyber space. Can it be eliminated? I don't think so. Just as for every hero, there are a few of us who would rather clap than strive to be the hero; similarly for every bully, there are few of us who would rather surrender than stand. And as long as we have surrenders and clappers, bullies and heroes will co-exist. 

We all know bullies exist for they are trying to fulfill a need or a gap in their being. It could be a desperate call for attention, a desire to be popular or a vent out mechanism for anger stemming from another cause. Irrespective of the cause, it's negative. Positivity from bullying can happen only when the recipient can stand up not necessarily to the bully, but more importantly to themselves. 

Bullying is not only about people physically, verbally or emotionally hurting you. That's just one side of the coin. The other side is YOU getting hurt. We have all gone through life and am sure can cite multiple examples of when we were called names, or boo'ed at or maybe even felt hurt by a very dear and special friend. I know I have. Every single time, my reaction has been to go into the silent zone. I don't know if this is good or bad, but it does help me think through the situation and not reacting instantly sometimes is all that is needed. This strategy works for me. Find out what works for you. Find out what is it that gives you the strength to focus internally, when faced with an adverse bully situation. 

The silence helps me stand up and see the face in the mirror and smile. 

So next time you're in a situation of bullying. Stand up to yourself first and then to the person in front of you. Trust me, standing up to YOURSELF will take a lot more effort. But after that it'll be a cakewalk. 

Why did I choose the topic of "bullying." This friends is my first on demand post. Yes, two weeks ago some one actually texted me and asked me to write about 'bullying." And she's one of the sweetest people I know, so I have wondered why she wanted me to write on a topic that basically translates to aggressive behavior.  I never asked her and now its too late :) 

Her text said "write about bullying in one of your blogposts," and here I am sitting on a wednesday night at 9.04pm, pondering on what to write about bullying. Surely, you're not interested in the clinical perspective of it.  Drawing a blank, I Googled quotes for bullying. In case you haven't figured out, I have a "thing" for quotes. I have always loved them and even today preciously hold on to my collection of "quotable quotes" from my high school and college days. 

The topic resonated well also because its a discussion I have often with both my 11 and 4 year olds. In different perspectives of course. The 4 year old often has a complaint about her friend in preschool who apparently won't play nice if she doesn't get the first turn.  Bullying nor not? Clinically maybe. Realistically speaking no. The little kid is exploring her boundaries and the world around her. For the 11 year old,  I have already narrated this story to him more than once. Told him to NOT please friends, just so he can be in their good books. Told him, that good friends will see through and positive behavior is what gets things going. 

It's okay to clap as the heroes pass by. But it's NOT okay to surrender.  

Taylor Swift sings it very well :) Mean. Love this song! Its so true. 

“If you're horrible to me, I'm going to write a song about it, and you won't like it. That's how I operate.” 
- Taylor Swift

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lean Upon, 'Lean In' !

So here we are, women united as one.  From Eve to the woman of 21st century, we have wandered, gathered food, fed our families, fought for it from Roe vs.Wade to our right for equal pay. Today almost a century and half later since the Syracuse convention, as we bask in our respective glories of achieving the lives we love and dreamed about, there comes a huge thunderbolt.  A book that tells us we forgot to 'Lean In' and it creates a rift between us sisters. Sisters who have for centuries thought of each other as one. 

I am  joining the 'Lean In' discussion very late, I know. The media buzz is fading out and yet, here I am, a laggard just joining the discussion.  I am going to take a few steps back. I downloaded the book "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg on March 11, 2013.  It's the day it was released. What took me so long? Well to be quite honest, I had to read it twice, before I was confident enough to write this post. 

Read it twice! I know its odd. Well here's why? The first time I read this book, it left me feeling angry, frustated and annoyed. It made me feel that everything I had done so far in my life was wrong. It made me feel that if I had  been just a little more adamant, maybe just maybe I too could have continued to have a career and a family like all my friends. And this was within the first 20% of the book.  I wasn't enjoying, so I just stopped reading it.  

I was confused.  I know what I was reading, but logically or emotionally it didn't make any sense at all.  How can a woman icon; Sheryl Sandberg write a book that generates  such strong feelings of self doubt. This book was supposed to be about empowering women, I said to myself.  It just didn't add up. So I decided to let it sit and not read it any further. 

Then, ironically Facebook came to the rescue. A women's group decides to read  Lean In as part of their book club initiative.  I pick it up again, this time instead of continuing where I left off, I start from the beginning, and try very hard to not think about what the media said or what I read in its reviews. I try very hard to not take every word in the literal sense but rather apply it to my situation and see if the logic works. And interestingly it does. 

This post is not about critiquing the book or analyzing it in anyway. The merit of the book is given. It's amazingly written and speaks to every women irrespective of geographical boundaries. Instead, this post is about what I am taking home after reading the book.  

Lean In has interestingly allowed me and other women alike, to Lean Upon Sheryl Sandberg, and I say this metaphorically. It has allowed women across the globe to lean upon her experience, her insight, her familiarity to the subject, her exposure to the corporate world, her understanding of the problem and above all her maturity of accepting that we are all alike and yet different. Sheryl Sandberg has allowed us to lean upon all this and take in her worldliness and apply it to ourselves.  

What do you think, this is leaning on ? :-) 
As I lean upon , 'Lean In',  I realize, that it's okay for me to not want a high profile career like my fellow friends. I realize that its okay for me to continue being adamant about saying NO to job offers that do not allow me to leave at 2.00pm and pick up my kids from school and more importantly I realize that it's okay for me to be a mom first and everything else, there after. 

Happiness has an academic definition, but I am yet to find a definition that fits us all. Happiness is relative.  

The book in some ways tells us to focus our energies on the internal locust and not on external locusts. It tells us too not worry about the world around us, because guess what the world doesn't care. 

At the first read, my interpretation of the text was that every women needs to be an executive striving for success and if she doesn't, she is short selling herself.  Second read, I read it differently. It does not say that. The book simply asks us to identify our aspirations irrespective of the conventions around us.  It could be interviewing for that dream job or the vice versa leaving corporate world and doing something for yourself. Either way, it tells us women to find what makes us happy and go for it. 

This is important because what makes us happy changes as we move along in life. As a 20 something, I wanted to own the world and then came along my son and I didn't care about the world as much. Maybe it was hormonal, maybe it was his smile, maybe it was my wish to be there for all his firsts.  Today, when I have a little bit of "me" back; the concept of "myself" is coming back in the happiness equation.   I am sure as I grow up, my equation will change again. 

To find your happiness quotient, lean in to your network. It does not matter if you are a high profile corporate executive or a newly wed, we all have a network. Sometimes its just a matter of asking. As a SAHM when reading this book, I thought to myself, where in the world will I find such a network? Interestingly, when I started talking, I found quite a few who were willing to talk and give advise and that's really what it is.  

It's my job to reach out and go for my dream, but if I can find a few who are willing to point me in the right direction, it makes the journey shorter and allows me to enjoy the success faster.  

How the book will change corporate America is yet to be seen. It has however succeeded in waking us up from the complacent stage that we were all in.  It might even add a new measure of success that goes beyond the profitability of a company. 

As I come to the end of this post,  I thank Sheryl Sandberg for allowing the women of the world to lean upon her know-how and apply it to their unique situation. 

To me this quote sums it up beautifully:

"Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim." - Nora Ephron 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thank You or Not!

A few days ago, she was asked a simple question, why do we say thank you? Came from a 4 year old  who didn't want to express gratitude and her mom was just being adamant that she should. I am sure you all know who the mom was, so moving on. Mom tried to explain that it's just a way of saying "you liked what you got and are happy."

"But I am smiling, that means I am happy," came the smart response. "Why do I have to say thank you every time?" It was a busy day, so making a mental note to herself, Mom carried on.

Come night time, Mom's "me" time. She is busy texting away with friends in India, when she says "thank you" to her friends for promoting her blog on their FB walls. They all in one voice say, "don't say thank you, that's what friends are for." And it took her back to her college days, when often she was the center of attention simply because she said thank you for an act that was considered intrinsic of the job description.

It took me back to yet another time. A time when my older one had also stopped saying thank you and I struggled at that point too. For not too long ago as a  family we moved from the heart of the USA, Midwest to the Silicon Valley. The Valley where all the magic happens. The Valley where if you can imagine it, chances are you will find like minded folks who will help you make it a reality too.  

Coming to the valley, showed me a US that I never knew existed. Here was a state which was a melting point of ethnicities.  California is ethnic but I am still debating on whether it is diverse or not. Diversity to me is when in a class of 30 students there are a few blends of ethnic flavors, and few is more than three to me. 

Ethnicity is an interesting concept. True, that different cultures bring in new perspectives and introduce us to the world around us. It also brings in something else, variations of the simple "Thank you."

7 years ago when we moved to the valley, my son then 5, stopped using his Please and Thank you's and upon asking why? He simply said, "no one else does." Sadly, he was right. This is something I had noticed too and had hoped that it would escape the innocence of my son. But it did not.

Does that mean that people here are rude? ABSOLUTELY NOT! 

The valley attracts the smartest brains and the most creative minds. It doesn't matter what you wear or look like, you will be accepted for who you are.  But within this ethnic pot is a variation of cultures. Cultures that have the same core values but how those values are expressed is worlds apart. 

My friends in India often joked that I should have been born in the US, not because I didn't know the local language but simply because I did something which was not considered a necessity.  India is a very emotional country.  It has cradled civilizations for centuries and with this age comes the maturity of relationships. Relationships that are taken for granted and yet go beyond the Please and Thank you's. Relationships that tell each other that we are there for you no matter what. 

And similar is the case of other Asian countries.  Like India, they have too cradled civilizations and matured.

The western part, no not western, but the US is a much younger country. A country that prides itself in individualism, innovation and its capability to adapt to change.  The immigrants brought with themselves the cultures they grew up with. The assimilation of cultures has found its balance and the American way of life is very informal.  American culture is not rigid and set in manners, unlike the European countries that brought in the early settlers and immigrants.

This cross cultural drift often leaves our kids "in between" cultures.  In the US, it is good manners to say thank you to a clerk who helps you, a store attendant who answers a question or just about anyone who you talk with, specific relationship ties are not necessary.  But in India, I was never taught to do that. I was taught to be polite and respectful, but not necessarily say thank you. 

©Imperfectly Perfect Creations
Saying Thank You is special
but saying it with flowers is even better. 
I am not a historian or a cultural expert. Just a mom, who sparked by the simple question of her younger one is trying to understand the importance of the two magic words. 

My conclusion, the difference between why some cultures use please and thank you so abundantly while others don't, probably stems from their roots. 

The age differences of the countries.

The United States is a very young country as compared to some of its Eastern counterparts. It's still in its twenties and  defining its relationships, trying to understand what works and what does not. It's been at the brink many times, but its youthful capabilities to adapt help it bounce back like no other country. The pride and arrogance of adolescence coupled with its young energy allows it to reign without mimicking its ancestral roots.

Gratitude is present in every culture. Across the globe we all know and understand the word 'thank you,' however here in The United States, we express it abundantly, because the youthful nature of the country allows it to show gratitude without wondering whether it should or not.

Coming back to my problem, what do  I tell the 4 year old and not let this cultural difference change the values that are important to me. I did the same thing, that I did with my son. When he resisted saying please and thank you, I stopped responding.  

Success rate; Partial.

And I am okay with it. Because part of the trick to survive in a melting pot is blending in. I don't want him saying it so often, that he gets singled out.  Just like him, I am sure my daughter will too find her groove and balance of her please's and thank you's.

As for me, I continue to say "thank you." My friends still remind me in every chat session and I say Oops! every time. I know when I meet them, this habit will entertain them for a few minutes and that's okay, because when they chose me for a friend, they chose me with all the please's and thank you's that come with me. 

Thank you is important to me. I say thank you not because I am being formal, but because I appreciate what you did for me. I say thank you not because I am Ms. Elegant, but because I really like the gift you gave me. It's a simple word but can bring the widest smile on a glum face. 

So, Thank You! 

Thank You, not because it's a befitting ending to this post but because I know you have a busy schedule and yet you took the time to visit this blog, and I truly appreciate that. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

When Life Stood Still !

Gone is the era when we hoped for some social life, looked forward to meeting long lost friends, or feel the joy of actually sitting down and writing a letter. 

"Life is busy, and busy is good," is the mantra now.  From CEO's to elementary students, we are all juggling our scribbled in calendars.  If you are thinking, this is one of those posts, where I tell people to slow down and smell the roses, you are wrong. I am not going to do that, because you have been told that before by one and all. 

What I am going to tell you is a little story, and maybe you have heard this story before too. But I heard it for the first time today. 

To make a long story short; the children had just come back from school. The older one was a busy guy, he announced that he had two tests and one quiz to prepare for, and also that he was really tired, he wanted a break. The younger one a kindergarten genie, announced that he was also very tired and wanted to rest. 

Their mom looked at them, thinking, she is also very tired, maybe she should also rest. It was one of those rare moments when all the planets were aligned perfectly and much to her surprise, she said "o.k how about we all sit down with some popcorn for a snack and watch a show or a short movie." The kids were shocked and gave each other the glance. Is she serious, they thought. A weekday and she is asking us to sit down and watch T.V, that's typically been a total no no with her. They just stood there, thinking she is going to laugh out loud and say "Got Ya!" But she did nothing of the sort, she picked up the remote and turned the T.V on.  

The kids excitedly jumped on the couch and took their favorite spots, really looking forward to their surprise T.V time. 

"This is so much better than a surprise quiz," said the older one, while giving his younger brother a high five.

And then it happened, suddenly there was silence and their mom had the frustated, irritated look on her face. "What happened?" asked the children worried. "I don't know, why isn't this thing working, why is it that when we really want to watch something, this  never worked," she continued to talk with  herself. 

She went and picked up the phone to call the cable company only to realize the phone wasn't working either. 

To be connected with OR To be connected to. Its a choice! 
She tries to log on to the internet to see if the cable company's website had any information, and of course, the internet wasn't working either.  Perfect! she said. "The one day, that I want it work, nothing happens."  

"Why don't you text dad and ask him?" suggested the smart 5 year old. She tried, only to realize the Wifi is dead too.  Great! There is no way of instant communication, she thought. She tried calling her husband, no answer.  

From the time she had picked up the remote to the moment she tried calling her husband, the time lapse was only 7 minutes. And they felt like the longest 7 minutes. She told her kids to go back to studying and their normal schedule.  "Why?" said the kids, "if we had been watching a movie, this would be a break, why can't we have a break and do something else.

No! She said firmly, I have to figure this out. So off went the kids, while she stood in the kitchen wondering what to do. She looked at the time, 8 minutes now.  

She decides to have a cup of tea, and as she was filling up the kettle with water, she decides to go check the Time Capsule. It had a blinking orange light. That can't be good, she thought. So she got the manual out and read through. 

"Blinking orange" meant no internet connection. Great, so the internet was down, which meant no phone, no T.V no nothing. 

Her life came to a standstill. She looked at her watch 10 minutes. How does she solve this problem? She can't google anything. Deep in her thoughts, she dumped the water back and found the quick cheat sheet of the cable company. She read through it, nothing useful. She looked at her watch, 13 minutes. 

"Mom, what is the meaning of this word?" breaks her silence. "Why don't u google it?" she responds instantly. "I can't. Remember," quips the son back and "I don't have a paper dictionary," he reminds her again.  She walks up to her son and tells him the meaning of "archipelago" and comes back to the kitchen.   

It happens, she hears the humm, the humm of a new email on your smart phone. With alert ears, a racing heart and trembling fingers she picks up her phone. 

YES! she shouts out loud.  She quickly picks up the landline, it's working, she turns the T.V on, its back.   "What happened?" asks the 5 year old.  "Nothing!" says his brother "Mom got her internet back," beating her to the response. 

"Yeahhh! Now we can watch the movie, right Mom?"asks the little one.  

She looked at his pleading eyes and said, "sure, why not?" "Really!" The kids were so excited and super happy. She looks at them all smiles and says to her self, "this is better, I can post the blog later."

You guessed it right, and I will let you separate fiction from realistic fiction from non-fiction. 

But it's worth thinking, it was measly 13 minutes, did life really stand still for her. No! she chose and made "life stand still." 

It's yet again, one of those "Imperfectly Perfect" situations.  

Lesson Learned!