Career is not a race; it is a marathon

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When I look back at the two career breaks that I have taken, I do not have even a tinge of regret. Because things always fall into place and looking back, I am able to connect the dots. A career break need not mean limiting my aspirations but rather served as an opportunity to unfetter my dreams; by giving me the time to move away from the short-term ‘sprints’ and think of my long-term goals
After graduating from Delhi University, I started working as a fashion merchandiser with a leading apparel house. I was ambitious, hardworking and a keen learner, ready to scale up the corporate ranks. At the age of 22, I married my boyfriend, after dating him for 2 years. I left home for the first time and relocated to another city. Soon after that, I secured a job with Google in sales & marketing in the digital technology domain. I enjoyed my work and got multiple promotions quickly. It was a smooth sailing until then.
At 25, I had my first child and that was when my life completely changed. I joined back work when my daughter was about 6 months old. Although I was happy to be back to my amazing team at Google and settled back into work quickly, I realized that a lot had changed intrinsically for me. I found it heart wrenching to see my little one cry inconsolably every day when I left her with someone else in the morning. I missed her terribly during the day and could not wait to get back to her in the evening. I was in a great conundrum and struggled to reconcile to the conflicting demands of my career ambitions and my desire to spend more time with my daughter. While I was grappling with all this, my husband’s company relocated him to another city and that factor nudged me to make a choice. I thought hard and finally took the decision to quit the job that I loved. I made a conscious choice to take a break and devote my time to the nurturing of my daughter – to be there to enjoy every moment of her early childhood, watch her cross each milestone and to make great memories with her.
When you are racing ahead in your career, you are so caught up in the everyday grind that often you do not realize what you truly want to do and where exactly you want to reach in life. It is always the next promotion, the next appraisal or the next new role. Sometimes, you need to pull back and introspect. It was during my yearlong break that I reflected deeply on my journey so far and re-discovered my long time aspiration to start my own business. Fortunately, my neighbour and a dear friend shared my vision. Together we started a fashion apparel retailing business from our home premises itself. Running a business with very limited resources came with a different set of challenges but also gave us an immense learning opportunity. While working on our own schedule, we managed everything end-to-end, right from sourcing to sales & marketing. Having limited capital led us to become very innovative in our approach. For example, instead of renting space for an outlet, we sold via pop-up kiosks at leading malls and exhibitions at different establishments. We leveraged online channels for our marketing campaigns and slowly built referrals via word of mouth. Revenues grew steadily but we faced many issues in scaling up our business. After a run of 2 years, we finally had to wind down our business. Nonetheless, it imparted invaluable lessons from not only an entrepreneurial perspective but lessons that also held well for corporate life.
I relocated to Gurgaon with my family and enrolled my daughter in Nursery. That is when I decided to get back to a corporate job and faced the issues that so many women face after a career break. Many headhunters and HR managers are wary of taking someone who is returning to the corporate world after a break, especially a woman with a young child. Disappointingly, the one question that almost every recruiter asked me was how I planned to manage work along with the responsibilities of a child. I wondered if a man looking to return after a break would ever be asked the same question. However, I did not let such questions or skepticism deter me. I never let my confidence level drop and I persevered in my search to find the right role that I desired. My husband was my strongest pillar of support during this time and kept me constantly motivated. Finally, I got an opportunity that fit in perfectly with my career aspirations. I joined an apparel e-commerce company, right when the entire e-commerce startup ecosystem was taking off in India. Joining a start-up gave me a lot of ownership and responsibilities. I put my entrepreneurial learning as well as my digital expertise from Google to great use and helped the company grow rapidly. The head of marketing (my boss) was a very supportive person who helped me greatly in making the transition back into corporate life. I started to thrive both personally as well as professionally.
Three years later, when I was expecting my second child, I remembered some of the lessons imparted by Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In, one of my all-time favorites. ‘Careers are a jungle gym and not a ladder’, ‘don’t leave before you leave’ and ‘make your partner a real partner’ were some lessons that I had imbibed deeply. I worked hard until the last day of my pregnancy and toiled to leave a lasting impact on my organization through my work. After the birth of my second child, I decided to take another break, this time for upskilling myself. I realized that in order to achieve my dream of becoming a business leader in my chosen industry, I needed to upgrade my skills. Doing an MBA was a long cherished dream of mine, which I had hither to not pursued owing to an early marriage followed by motherhood. I knew it would be a tough journey quitting a job with great prospects and going back to school after two kids. Nonetheless, I mustered up all my courage and went ahead. I gave the GMAT, applied to business schools, prepped for interviews through my maternity break and finally got admission in one of the top business schools in India, IIM-Bangalore. My husband was a real partner and took care of both the kids with support from our respective families. I graduated with flying colors (2nd rank in my batch) at IIM-B and landed a coveted job in strategy consulting. I am happy that I chose to take those breaks as in a long career span, it is not the breaks that matter but the determination to keep going.
Never let a career break, whether taken due to circumstances or as a choice, to limit your aspirations. Career is not a race; it is a marathon. Keep your confidence high, constantly upskill yourself and persevere relentlessly to achieve your dreams!
Please note: The views, opinions and beliefs expressed by the authors in the articles on the blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Lean In India.

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