Find Your Wings
If you are an urban working woman living in a nuclear family with kid(s), chances are you have turned into a modern avatar of the Hindu goddess with 18 arms irrespective of whatever religion you practice. And you are always juggling, always running, always a little behind schedule in everything. Self-time? Forget it for a few years perhaps. Just proper sleep at night is a blessing enough. Frankly, I’d say, without wanting to incur the deity’s wrath, that you are probably even greater than the goddess herself as surely even the goddess doesn’t have to do as much as you have to.
I run travel workshops across India. I do that with an intention of inspiring more people to travel to know, understand and appreciate our world. Most people who attend my talks are men, young girls and boys, and women above 50 ready for their second innings of travelling. One key demographic missing is the working women with kids. “Of course”, you say, “how can we travel as much as we would like to with all the things that we have to juggle between work and home and kids?” I would agree with you. It is impossible for you to take off if you don’t have your support system in place. Hence I begin this monthly column with some tips on how to build a support system that empowers you to do more with the limited time that you have. A good support system can give you wings.
Using your professional experience at home can help you handle domestic situations in a more efficient manner. Like a good manager at work, an important skill that you must implement at home also is planning and delegation.And a proper analysis of what to outsource. Just like in your office, you don’t start doing the work that your team is supposed to do, similarly, don’t be tempted to do all the work yourself if your helper at home is not coming up to the mark. Sure enough, sometimes it may be necessary. But if your team is not pulling its weight, replace the team till you find a team that does its job well. Apart from what you deem as most important and something that is best done by you, rest everything should be ruthlessly delegated. I have heard many working women say that they can deal with the worst possible personnel at work but managing maids – now that is a different ball game. Hardcore professionals have been known to crumble when it comes to managing maids. So we’ll start by touching the hornet’s nest :
1) Maids – the biggest boon and the bane of a working woman
I am part of some groups on Facebook which utilize peer-to-peer references for maids in Delhi, Bombay and other cities. I don’t have to tell you how much desperation and helplessness can be felt in these groups where women come looking for maids. There’s also frustration and anger at the unprofessional behavior of maids all over. Situation is the same in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad – perhaps that gives you some solace. Like any other woman who has dealt with maids, I can also write a book on this topic but for this article, I’ll stick to three basic tips:
Overstaffing is better than understaffing: Don’t be totally dependent on just one resource till you find someone who perfectly fits all your specifications. Divide the work between two or more depending on your own personal situation. In emergency, one can fill in for another.And all of them won’t bunk together.
Use technology: Deploy monitoring systems such as cameras that you can track from your phone or computer. Teach your maid how to connect with you on Skype/ Google Hangout on the tablet that your kid plays with at home. You will feel more connected and more in control. And your maid will appreciate that you taught her something new that she can brag about. Or that you acknowledged her technological prowess.
Processify: Here’s the thing with maids. They don’t last. By the time you’ve got one to understand and work to your rhythm, some inexplicable thing happens and she leaves or you have to fire her. The distress of training a new maid every few days can be minimized by standardizing your house work almost like making a manual of things that you want done in a particular way. Just like you make a Standard Operating Manual at work. You’ll be lucky if she can read your manual, but even if she can’t , you can do her briefing faster without forgetting anything important.
2) Love thy neighbor – or know them well at least
Networking :Your next best support system, after maids, believe it or not, are your neighbors. In big cities, it is fashionable to not know your neighbors or to meet them only at the society’s annual Diwali party. We have grown more connected but we don’t know what’s happening next to our houses. If this describes you, change it immediately. The same networking skillsthat you use at work, put them to practice in your building, in your block, on your street, in your colony.
Your neighbor can watch over your kid for a short while if you need to dash for something urgent. Or she/he can pop in to your house to check on your maid and kids. There might be an old lady staying closeby who might not mind if your maid took the baby to her house for a couple of hours or she came over.
Treat kids’ activity centers like you treat your industry networking events. This is where you will get to know other women (some working, some not working) who will give you numbers of day care centers, crèches, other helpful information and of course references for maids ! Store all numbers. Every single one.When in need, call every number on your list. Like Sales people do cold-calling.
3) When in need, don’t be shy, deploy the whole platoon
Spare no one who is willing to help you with anything. Friends, family, co-workers. Guard in the shop who agrees to watch the wandering kid while you are standing in the queue to pay. No one. A distant aunt who is willing to send food. A friend who is ready to do a bit of shopping for you. Don’t feel guilty in taking their assistance. Just return the favor by helping others in need whenever you can.
Do not feel shy about taking your kid wherever you are going and if there is no one at home to take care of him/her. You can take her to the gym, to your office, to your class, to the restaurant, even to a meeting if you can see to it that you can do the meeting and not just sit outside tending to her. Ask a colleague or the guard to look after her as she sleeps or plays or drinks milk. Desperate times might need desperate measures.
4) Even a space-ship can be delivered at home
These days, in big cities, there’s nothing that will not be delivered at home. Including your Charles & Keith shoes that you had to send back to the showroom for a size exchange. You just have to ask. Medicines in the middle of the night, groceries, food, fruits, books, bread, condoms, hair color, you name it !
There are two kinds of home-deliveries. One, your local shops whose numbers you should always have ready on your phone and the other are the online businesses which have sprung up in every big city of India. If you have never ordered vegetables and phenyl etc online from a website like localbanya.com, eazygrocery.com, kaisediya.com, I suggest you try it out once. You will be hooked once you experience the convenience. You can shop for home linen, fish , sunglasses and new non-stick cookware all within 30 minutes without getting up even once. Use sites like Amazon, FabnFurnish, Firstcry and other e-comm sites every time you have to buy something. Even your favourite stores which happen to be 30 kms away from your house may have a website to order and your item will be delivered to you.E-shopping should be your first option, not just a new fun thing to do.
5) Someone else can do the running around for you
In places like Bombay, Delhi, there is no service that won’t come home. Beautician, Masseuse, Gardener, Gourmet Chef to cook food for your party at home, Bartender whoever you want.
There are services like Chachii, Getmypeon, At Your Service who will provide you with a person to collect documents, pay bills etc. Services like Hammer and Mop and TimeSaverz will send cleaners to clean your entire household. Good to use if the maid has decided to disappear and is not picking up her phone.
There are services like BadhaaiHo that will come home on festivals and special occasions to decorate your house in the way you want. They will support you and you will support their business. This is a win-win situation
6) Make Kids independent from an early age
If you wish to be a superwoman, train your kids to become superkids at an early age. Always give them an opportunity to do more than you expect them to do. They might just surprise you. Just like how a good supervisor pushes his/her team to reach their full potential. Here’s a list of what you can expect your kids to do as per their age.
7) Memory and Reference Aids
Manage documentation just like you do in office. Keep all small details in a notepad or else you will be wasting a lot of time later trying to recollect details. I know friends who use a camera to click pictures of all the stuff they are keeping in attics so when they start searching for it they can just refer to the pictures rather than opening the attic and taking everything out just to discover that the sought-for item isn’t there. Working women should not depend on memory for small matters. Your brains are busy with so many other matters.
Use technology – gadgets, internet, mobile apps to their maximum. Read and keep yourself updated aboutnew websites and services that you can make use of. Try the things that you or your mother have never done before. If something sounds totally outrageous, try that particular thing first of all.
Once we have got our support system in order, then we will find time for ourselves and go on a trip or two either with the kid or leaving the kids behind with the maid for a couple of days with the neighbor ensuring that he/she will keep an eye on both.
Sounds outrageous? Unthinkable? Good Stay tuned for next month’s article.
Seven Deadly Sins For Working Women
According to Bible, the most deplorable acts that man can commit are envy, greed, lust, pride, gluttony, sloth and wrath.
While these sins may be applicable to men , I propose a different list of seven cardinal sins for women. We are in the middle of Women’s Day and Easter and this might be an apt occasion to release the new version of seven deadly sins applicable to working women.
1) Not reading news : Women have so many things to take care of – home, work, kids, relatives, self that there’s no time to even sit and take a deep breath.One of the first things that women give up is reading (or watching) daily news about the world, about politics, economy, business, environment, new technologies and general trends. Some women think that they don’t need to stay updated through news and some women don’t give it the priority it deserves. While almost all men will start their days with newspapers, women won’t even look at the newspapers for days together.
Irrespective of you being a working or non-working women, it is important that you are in touch with what’s happening outside of your personal comfort zone. Being in touch with the world is as important for you as for any man. Perhaps, even more. Even if you read nothing else, you must read the news. And with technology at your fingertips today, this is easier than ever. That brings us to sin no. 2
2) Not using Technology: The biggest beneficiary of today’s technologies – mobile phones, apps, internet, other home and kitchen gadgets should be women. It is strange that men who don’t have that much to do go gaga over technology because it is supposedly a man-thing to be tech savvy. Whereas women who can really ease up their lives if they knew and used technology, they somehow feel some inexplicable block towards technology. Most women don’t even use the gadgets they already own to its fullest extent. Like mixer-grinders. Most kitchen processors these days can handle more than one function. Surprisingly, most women just use it for its most basic grinding function.
Or take your mobile phone for example; there are apps and services that can solve a lot of your problems. There are apps for simple things such as reminding you of repeated tasks like giving medicine to kids, scheduling servicing of domestic appliances to ordering groceries, keeping track of what is available in the fridge for today’s meals, an app to connect you with all local Yoga enthusiast women and there’s even an app to tell you when the customer care exec has come back online after putting you on hold. Technology can save you time and free up your mind for other important things.
Technology is your best friend. Don’t be scared of it. Embrace it with open arms if you want to accomplish the fifty thousand things on your to-do list. This brings us to sin no. 3
3) Trying to be a superwoman: Efficient managers in offices know that however good an employee may be, he/she cannot handle everything. Similarly, it is almost impossible for a woman to handle everything perfectly. Learn to let go. You don’t have to look immaculate all the time and handle your work and kids perfectly and have a home that looks straight out of an interiors magazine and socialize and everything else too. This is a recipe for disaster, frustration and most often in women’s cases: guilt. It is important that you do not fall in the trap of superwoman typecasts created by media. Do what you feel is most important for you and that you can’t delegate. Delegate everything else. And what you don’t deem important and you can’t delegate, let that go. Reading News is important.
4) Worrying more about looks than your health: In the middle of fifty thousand things that a woman sets out to do, her own health takes a back seat. Take your back for example. There are very few women who don’t suffer from back-ache due to all the work in the office and at home. Even then, most women will take time out to go to the parlor for their regular pedicure and facial rather than visiting an orthopedist and doing regular exercise or even physiotherapy. Most women will always worry about a diet to lose weight but not visit their GP to see if their bodies need calcium / iron / vitamin supplements. (most Indian women need it !)
Be smart and prioritize well. Your health is your most critical resource, not blow-dried hair so much.
5) Not running your businesses professionally: A very big number of women these days start their own businesses after marriage or after having a child. This women-working-from-home industry is actually very big in India but it is not treated like one. The business-women themselves treat it like a hobby or a time-pass rather than serious business. They won’t form and register the company, won’t file IT returns, and won’t make use of laws, regulations and govt. support that can benefit them. Most of the times, the excuse is that the business is too small. But even small businesses can be run professionally, giving it the seriousness it deserves and also support from all concerned.
6) Running away from paperwork and ‘mathematics’: School results have proven time and again that girls are no less than boys in math. And in paperwork matters they could actually be better than men. But strangely enough, in financial matters or any matter that involves paperwork and / or numerical analysis; most women start feeling somewhat uncomfortable and would much rather that the men in the family handle that. This results in most women unable to do investments, financial planning etc for themselves and their businesses.
Don’t shrug it off without trying your hand at it just because traditionally men have taken care of financial matters. Remember, most large banks and financial institutions in India today are run by women CEOs.
7) Sowing the seeds of gender divide in children at an early age: Sometimes women do this unintentionally and without even realizing. Accepting their sons’ habits to keep the house dirty because boys are like that and expecting daughters to keep everything neat and clean because girls are supposed to clean up. Or by choosing art classes for girls and skating classes for boys. Choosing different kinds of books depending on if it’s a little boy or a little girl. And many other small things that go un-noticed.
Don’t make choices by gender. Choose by what your child’s interests are and what would you like your child to do irrespective of his/her gender. Gender bias begins very early and if we are not careful when kids are young, this cycle will take forever to break. Women as mothers can do a lot right in the formative years to not help build the biases that work against women in the long run.
What do you think are the other ‘sins’ that women commit against themselves making their own professional and personal lives difficult?
Go Solo. Ekla Cholo Re if need be 🙂
A Solo Traveller might be alone but will never be lonely. The world is full of friends that we haven’t met and when you travel alone, chances are that you will notice them more and be more willing to open conversations. Or as in most cases, they will open a conversation with you.
When you travel alone, your senses are heightened. You see more, hear more, perceive more, absorb more and at an overall level your consciousness is at its peak when you are alone. I am a big fan of solo travel. Even if you have many groups that you can travel with – family, colleagues, friends, group departures, yet you must take at least one trip every year with just yourself.
Or on the other hand, if you are not able to find any companion for a trip that you really want to take, don’t wait. Head out alone. The basic tip for any solo traveller – specially for newbies – is to always remember that there are millions of people who are travelling solo in the world at any given point of time. Be it for business or leisure or research or army duty or anything at all. Billions of people of all nationalities, gender, age, socio-economic backgrounds, literate/ illiterate have done it successfully and so can you.
Solo travel can make you independent like nothing else can. “Ekla Chalo Re” is not just a patriotic call, the message really is “If no one responds to your call, then go your own way alone”. It’s true for life, and true for travel.
Here are my favorite tips for new and seasoned travelers alike that can make your solo journey a tad more comfortable and less anxiety-ridden.
Tip No. 1 : Don’t Appear Lost : Even if you are, do not appear to be a lost traveller, confused at a cross-road with a road map in hand. These days you can be far more discreet with maps downloaded on your mobile phone. It should look as if you are just reading an interesting message from a friend. If you do need to refer to maps or guidebooks, try and do it inside a shop or a coffee place. Appearing confused and looking like a tourist is like sending a signal to potential trouble-makers. And while on the topic of not looking like tourists, how about ditching those bulky DSLRs hanging from the necks ? 🙂
Tip No. 2 : Act like a local : Just like a local back in your own hometown. Don’t do things you wouldn’t do even in your own city like giving your details to strangers, inviting them to your hotel / hostel without knowing them well. Or wearing dirty, hippie clothes. Or buying things from vendors at the very first price they quote etc. 🙂
Tip no. 3 : Travel Light : Do not think of carrying your entire household and everything that you have ever needed just because you are alone. In case of an emergency, everything can be purchased locally. Made in China stuff is available the world over. You should only carry as much luggage as you can carry yourself comfortably. Remember you may have to sometimes run to catch trains / buses etc. or walk long distances within stations / airports itself. And you have to do everything yourself !
Specially for women : Do not carry cumbersome handbags that you need to constantly adjust or carry on your forearm (who invented this ??!!). Just use a backpack or a cross body sling bag. Anything which keeps your bag in your view and leaves your hands free is a good bag to carry.
Tip No, 4 : Research for typical tourist scams beforehand : Yes it is true. While bad people can keep coming up with new innovations to trouble people, each region / country has a specific pattern of scams. Like in Rome, fake police coming to you and checking your money for counterfeit currency is an old trick now. Paris is notorious for pick-pockets. So on and so forth. Read up on the standard con-jobs that tourists everywhere can fall prey to. Forewarned is forearmed.
Tip no. 5 : Learn to take your own pictures : Now that you have read up on the tourist scams, you’d know that handing your camera to strangers to click your pictures every now and then may not be a very smart idea. Make use of selfie sticks, tripods/ remotes, selfie options on your phone camera etc.
Tip no. 6 : Keep folks back home updated : Through whatsapp – calling, voice messages, pictures, texts etc. You could even fix a time at which you send them a message every day. Don’t make them keep checking your FB page or their phones to see if a message from you has arrived. Most parents don’t allow even their grown up children to travel alone because they are concerned for their safety. Keeping them updated can help assuage their fears.
Tip no. 7 : Single surplus charge : Although this is less common now but if you do find any of these charges in a hotel or a package, just look for other options who do not penalise you for being single.
Tip No. 8 : Try not to arrive in a new city too late in the night : Or if you can’t avoid it at all then be very well researched on how to reach your destination and confirm your bookings before-hand. You could ask your hotel / hostel for the best way to reach in the night as many modes of transports become unavailable at night.
Tip No. 9 : Avoid utopian expectations : Human beings are human beings everywhere. Some are good and some are bad. Poverty is a reality everywhere leading to thefts or even general grumpiness. Sometimes the sights that you see might not be exactly like in the photos. And sometimes you might not see the Northern Lights or the mythical lion / sharks / whales that you came so far to see. Remember, the journey is its own reward. You will go back a changed person regardless.
Tip no. 10 : Acts of kindness : Just because you are solo doesn’t mean you have to withdraw in a shell. Open up. Don’t be shy of eating out alone, doing things alone. Talk to strangers. Don’t be behind a shield at all times. Smile at others. Ask them about their work, how their day has been and you will be surprised to see what a friendly place our world is and how we are all different and yet united.
Bonus tips for women
While I am not pro any kind of gender divides when it comes to travelling, it is true that women do garner more attention than men the world over and it is also true that in India, culturally women have always been more protected so sometimes they are ill prepared to travel alone, so it could help to keep these tips in mind. And then the more you travel alone, the more you will become accustomed with the following :
Tip no. 11 : There can be bad men anywhere. Just because Europe is deemed safer for women does not mean that you will not encounter an unruly drunkard who is flashing his genitals in a public park. Trust me it happens more abroad than in India. Be aware.
Tip no. 12 : White lies are sometimes ok : Invent a friend or a boyfriend or a husband who is waiting for you at the next stop or back at the hotel if need be.
Tip no. 13 : Danger has no gender : If you are meeting a new person (male or female), arrange to meet in a public place first. Your sizing up of the person may or may not be accurate but avoid going to any addresses that looks secluded. Starbucks Zindabad !
Tip no. 14 : Dress conservatively and don’t be a lout. Don’t draw un-necessary attention by getting drunk / wearing too much jewellery/ dancing on the roads etc. You get the idea 😉
Tip No. 15 : When you feel danger, scream. In any language. Women raising voice alarmingly is a universally understood gesture and you don’t need to know local language to draw people’s attention.
Finally, the oft-heard tip ‘trust your instinct’ is overrated, trust me! If it was so easy to listen to what the instinct is saying, nobody would ever do anything wrong. Trust your research and then listen to what your instinct tells you. Instinct without researching and reading up in advance is just a guess so read, read, read about the place that you are going to. And irrespective of things going as planned or not, be confident that you will be able to make it through and will have many amazing stories to tell.