The mood was sombre and thoughtful. Staring out of the window, on a rainy afternoon, she started reminiscing. “My mother had cleared her Civil Services exams. She started preparing for them after getting married”, she said out of the blue. “That’s a hard one to crack,” I agreed. Civil Services entrance exams are one of the most challenging all India level entrance tests, which requires patience, persistence and discipline. Managing all that with the demands of a married life deserves credit. My train of thought was disrupted as the story of her mother’s arranged marriage, and career aspirations unfolded. She narrated-
“My mother was married off right after she turned 18. In a strange city with a new family, my father was the only support she had. She was propelled to make a continuous effort in the marriage and succeeded in her role as a housewife, daughter, and daughter-in-law, with all commitments and no expectations. As the bond between the two grew deeper, my father began to sense a growing restlessness and discontentment in her. With all the luxuries in life, something was still amiss. Emboldened with a plethora of trust in my father, coupled with an iota of confidence, she convinced him to let her finish her graduation. Now with a degree in Arts,she took another plunge blindfolded. She expressed her desire to pursue a career in Civil Services. Not just did my father agree to this, but he believed that it would be good for her to have a life of her own. Thus began her rollercoaster ride. Dividing her time between household work and self-study, she was working round the clock to meet the stringent timelines. Hope, optimism, and determination helped her sail through the momentous journey, and she cleared the preliminary exam.”
“What happened then?” I enquired.
“Celebrations followed. Not because my mother cleared the exam, but because she was pregnant”, she smirked. “It was a complicated pregnancy. My mom was advised to take bed rest throughout. With deteriorating health and the prospect of a new responsibility, her preparations, unfortunately, took a back seat. My mother always says she is grateful that my father allowed her to give her dreams and hopes a shot. Now a housewife, she tells me that everything probably happened for the best. However, sometimes when I look at her slogging in the kitchen all day long, I wonder if she regrets leaving it all behind for me. I fear if I may have to do the same for my child in the future”.
The ensuing silence was interjected with a deep sigh. Now in a pensive mood, I wondered why her mother did not return to preparing for the exams again. Her father would have let her mother pursue her dreams. That’s when it struck me: Women are allowed, not encouraged or pushed. Encouraging or driving someone to achieve essentially means pepping them up, guiding them, correcting them, and above all letting them make mistakes and learn from them. Encouraging is creating opportunities, and allowing is giving them one chance to explore a possibility which they have managed to discover. Encouraging is helping someone navigate through troubled waters by being his or her constant support, and not just celebrating their success.
Speaking of women who are already pursuing mainstream careers, it is essential to know that job frustration is as much part and parcel of their lives as it is of their male counterparts. We all face Monday blues once in a while. We all have had to deal with challenging bosses and colleagues. We all have bad days. We all want something that we don’t have. There are days when all of us, men and women alike, become disgruntled and frustrated with our work. ‘I need a break!’ is an all common phrase we all use. The difference is the society’s reaction to the expression of this frustration. I have seen men being told that things will change for the better and encouraged to hang in there. A woman, on the other hand, is often merely told to quit if she can’t handle it. She is more often than not, reprimanded for putting herself in a situation of frustration rather than being encouraged to overcome the stressful situation.
Changing priorities demand different responses from both, men and women, at various life stages. We all log in and log out of work, sometimes literally and sometimes emotionally. Accepting this reality and continuing on the quest for identity requires us to remember:
‘Career is not a sprint race; it’s a marathon with breaks and pauses’