FINDING MY CAREER PATH – AN ARMY WIFE’S CONFESSIONS
Location: The sleepy town of Allahabad. About fifteen years ago!
‘I’ll get a job,’ I said confidently. I don’t remember in what context I said this. Perhaps I was grumbling that the kids were fairly grown up and I had far too much time on my hands. I wanted to do something useful.
My husband chortled, although not unkindly. ‘Who will give you a job?’ He asked smiling indulgently. ‘You have no experience.’
That hurt. Although I had to admit he was right. The only experience I had was of working at a primary school at Ahmednagar, soon after getting married, for a couple of months. My princely salary was four hundred rupees.
I can’t say my husband and I had a whirlwind courtship, but, it certainly charted out the course of my future. I met my husband when he was at the IMA and I was in school. We got engaged when I was in my first year at college and married within two weeks of the final year exams. Life was too much fun to work. I enjoyed playing the role of the ‘Little Wife’ who kept a spotless house and cooked amazing meals. Then the kids came along and I enjoyed being a Hands on Mom and watching them grow. I have no regrets about that. I did a bit of writing during that time and even got some articles published in magazines. And I did a lot of painting and sketching!
But he was right. In the eyes of the corporate world, I definitely lacked in experience. But not in my eyes! This is how I saw myself.
Skills and experience: Interior decoration( making the most basic accommodation into a warm welcoming home) Crisis management (dealing with kids getting hurt and swallowing strange things or managing to break some part of their anatomy), people skills (convincing Principals in new schools that they would not regret taking my children into their school midsession) , counseling (wives of the soldiers who had personal problems, young brides who had trouble settling into the army way of life, my own kids when they had to move to new schools and had trouble settling down), event management (birthday parties, parties at home, ladies meets, welfare meets), cooking (turning out mouthwatering dishes in remote places where only basic things were available, especially innovating for birthday cakes), hair styling, (some brave ladies who allowed me to cut and style their hair when we were at places where there was no decent parlor), body language(always looking cheerful and pleasant at a party even after an exhausting “maid not showing up” day, gardening(turning the bare patch of land outside the house into a lush garden with flowers and vegetables), art of conversation (talking about the weather for an hour in an effort to make small talk at a party). I’m sure I have left out many things. I don’t know if finding interesting things to shop for in the most unlikely of places can be counted as a skill. If yes, then that medal goes to me!!
I was pretty upset after my husband’s remark. I went about my house completing my chores. As I picked up a week old newspaper to put away, something caught my eye. An IT company was looking for an English editor to edit their software programs. I called them up and they asked me to come for an interview. The interview was a breeze. They gave me a written test which I passed with flying colours. In a few days I had the appointment letter in hand. The money wasn’t much but that was irrelevant! I had a job! With an IT company! I worked there for about six months till we were posted out.
At the new station, the CO’s wife asked me if I would like to be the emcee for the Ladies Coffee Morning. To date, I don’t know what prompted me to agree. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I wore dark glasses, on the pretext that the sun came in to my eyes, but more to avoid direct eye contact with the audience. On the morning of the event I clutched my notes in my hand even though I knew my lines by heart. I read and reread them every time there was a break. At one point, I forgot my lines and broke into a sweat. Then I innovated and said something else. That’s when I realized that as long as I spoke with confidence and made sense, I could carry the day.
I started volunteering to compere shows and became better and more confident. I realized that I didn’t need notes, in fact speaking ex tempore was often better. A sense of humour went a long way in helping tide over a difficult moment. I also realized how important eye contact and establishing a connect with the audience was.
Armed with this bit of confidence I applied for a job as a free-lancesoft skills trainer. My experience as an army wife gave me an edge in terms of the way I dressed, spoke and presented myself – something I guess we army wives imbibe automatically. I was also open to learning. I watched other speakers and picked up tips from them. I made my own presentations and found innovative ways to keep my audience engaged. I did extensive research on whatever topic was assigned to me. I did training programs to help hone my skills and read voraciously in order to increase my knowledge. I found, to my surprise, that I received so many assignments I had to start turning some down. It was a happy situation to be in.
Some years later, when I had decided to move beyond freelancing a finishing school offered me a position as the Head of Training of the company. I was hesitant. Was I good enough? Did I have enough experience, the necessary know-how? My husband told me to go ahead and take it. He told me that if I didn’t like it, I could always leave but if I didn’t try it I would always live with the regret of what might have been.
Luckily my fears were unfounded. I picked up the role, grew with it and worked with the company for four years. I learnt so much and I do believe that I contributed in adding something of value to the lives of the people I coached. I became a mentor and guide for many of them. I am still in touch with a number of them. They often write to me asking me for advice and reminiscing about what they say was a life changing experience for them. And while I leave with my laptop and formal suits to work each morning, I also have the luxury and comfort and getting back to the army life I love so much in the evening.
Eventually my husband was posted to Meerut and, being an important assignment, I made the decision to go with him. I remember thinking to myself, with a tinge of regret, that it would be unlikely that I would get another job again. However, a chance meeting with the owner of a travel company gave me freelance work. My job was to research and write about travel destinations in terms of the culture, the places to visit and what made them desirable places to visit. It was interesting work. Two years later we were back in Delhi. I told myself that since I was unlikely to find a job I could get back to painting and sketching. However, fate had other plans for me. Barely a month after we had settled down I found myself working with an education company- a completely new job profile- planning, researching, writing and designing educational books for children! As for the future, who knows?
People often ask what qualifications got me my inroads in the corporate world. I can say honestly that, more than the formal qualifications which I picked up along the way, what really helped me are what I learned as an army wife in an army environment. The skills I learnt there, helped me in the civil and the army world, and helped me find myself, both, as an army wife and a career person.
You always surprise me every time with your writing n every article is as worth as a diamond.. beautiful. Most of all very very inspiring n motivating. You are a complete package. Keep up the good work Mrs Supriya Dogra... 😗😗😗
Very nice and informative article, please write more.