Tag Archives: empowerment

My Involuntary Retirement Years…

When do normal people retire? Typically after their kids leave the nest and they have hit a certain age. For me retirement came at the ripe old age of 30! Yes 30! After being a full time mom for several years and spending every breathing moment with my toddlers, they suddenly left me for prospective elementary schools. I went from needy toddlers hanging from my arms to totally jobless and unattached (to children). For six hours every day I wandered like a ghost from room to room in my empty house.

I spent the mornings surfing the web or watching talk shows. After lunch which was usually leftovers or something out of the freezer, a great weariness would come over me and I simply had to lay me down for a nap. Once a week I went for gentle yoga classes at the community center. Gentle yoga is a euphemism for I’m-too-old-to-bend-like-that! My instructor and all the other students were silver haired and had grandchildren. They were a jolly bunch and always commended me on being extremely bendy. Once a week I did grocery shopping and found that all other retired people liked to shop early in the morning on a weekday when the crowds were thin. Made perfect sense to me if you wanted to avoid running over toddlers and not have to deal with traffic jams in every aisle.

It really didn’t help that I lived in the retirement state of Florida. My hair which was jet black up until my 30th year slowly started showing signs of graying. It was like my hair decided to catch up with my retired lifestyle. It wasn’t all bad. Being at the other end of the age spectrum prematurely, helped me gain a lot of wisdom and insight. Like the rat race was good for people who wanted to lose weight. If you have seen me you know that weight is not one of my problems! I was forced to slow down while everyone else was scurrying around being really busy. In fact they were all so busy that they had no time to spare. Me? I had all the time in the world. Time to idle. Time to read. Time to chat with friends. Time to play with my kids. Time to cook. Time to write. Time to simply let my mind wander.

When you have a million things to do your mind is on overdrive. Jumping from one task to another. I was standing still while the world around me was in constant motion. Time also stood still and mocked me. But in those still, quiet moments I found myself and healed parts of myself that were broken.

Then my life took a drastic turn and I was pushed out of my involuntary retirement into a life full of busyness. Quite like in the movies where the protagonist is running happily across a corn field (in slow motion) and then suddenly she is scurrying around hurriedly trying to do a million things (in fast forward). Pretty comical!

I’m no longer bored and can’t sit around idling. My mornings I devote to household chores and cooking and then go to work in the afternoon. The thing I miss the most is my afternoon siesta. I also miss staying in my pajamas all day or having inspiration strike when I’m folding laundry or packing lunches.

Now I know why writers shut themselves up in their rooms or run off to some exotic and totally remote location to get away from it all. My mind is always racing these days and my creativity has taken a beating. That Frost guy really knew what he was talking about. I really don’t have the time to stand and stare. On more than one occasion I have begged my family to go on shopping trips without me simply because I yearned for some quiet time with myself. Yes, the ghostly ghoul side of me feels neglected. Haunting rooms is much simpler than trying to juggle everything and trying to be a superwoman. Simple but mildly unsatisfying. Not to mention the dire consequences that your brain has to endure from too much sleep, too little activity and hardly any stimulation.

Anyways in another decade or so the kids will be really gone (not just gone all day). Maybe I’ll have a career. Maybe I’ll be a best selling author with a vacation home in the mountains somewhere. Or maybe I’ll just be retired and living in an empty house full of memories. But I know I’ll be prepared. I know I will enjoy spending time with myself. My involuntary retirement years taught me that there is a time to be busy and a time to slow down. So Life, bring it on!

The Work you Do…

This one is for all you unemployed and underemployed people out there. Even all the homemakers and stay-at-home moms. I was there and I know what it feels like. Sending out countless applications that get sucked into the cyber space blackhole. Shamelessly asking friends to find work for you. Begging your spouse to forward your resume to his or her boss. Feeling helpless and totally worthless. Yes, I’ve been there.

On the flip side I’ve also been vain enough to gloss over plenty of jobs because I thought they were beneath me! Luckily, I had a choice. Working was an option. My husband put food on the table and paid the bills. So I could afford to be picky and choosy. Unlike the CEO who got laid off and had to work as a pizza delivery guy to feed his family. One day he was a millionaire and the next day he was bankrupt. Or the Iraqi doctors who had high flying careers and ended up as refugees in the United States. They couldn’t practice medicine and did odd jobs just to survive.

When no one would hire me for jobs that fit my profile because I didn’t have enough experience or had taken a long break to raise my kids, I got frustrated. I started applying for jobs that only needed a high school diploma and not a Masters degree. Guess what? I still didn’t get hired because people thought I was over qualified! The frustration mounted and when I couldn’t even get an hourly or part time job I started believing that I was beneath it all. Something was wrong with me.

It dawned on me that I did not have an impressive resume or the experience required. People mistook my resume to be me. I could have cooked up a very eloquent resume but it just wasn’t my style. I realized you needed to know someone in the company you wanted to work for just to get your foot in the door. So finally I got to a place in my life where I knew someone and I approached them with my resume. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’m glad I did it because it paid off. I got the job. Now its not the kind of job that one would be jumping in joy for but I’m jumping in joy all the same. I’m back on the workforce after a long hiatus. I wasn’t hungry, in debt, homeless or desperate. I was well cared for and I could have continued being a stay-at-home mom that volunteered like crazy! But I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t broken. That I could find employment. That I wasn’t what I had become. I have potential. I can add value to any place that I work for. I have something to offer.

It’s funny but this I-am-not-good-enough lie continued to shadow my life. Especially at work where I kept thinking I’m not good enough and that I’m doing something wrong. The fear of getting fired overwhelmed me. It isn’t just me, every woman or man who goes back to work after a really long time has these baseless fears. But with time and a lot of overworking and trying to impress (God knows who!) we get over it. The question we need to ask is – Is it worth it? Most of our assumptions are not true any way. It’s just a bunch of lies that we keep feeding ourselves. Or something we start believing after we have been told the same lie over and over. We believe it to be true and let our towering selves be diminished. Finding a job, finding a spouse, getting whatever you want on your wish list aint going to heal that wound. Chances are it will still nag you and in extreme cases will make you lose all that you worked so hard to achieve.

When I realized I was going to sabotage my own happiness I quit worrying. I replaced my worry with a sense of pride in the work I did. Wish I had figured that out years ago when I was home doing the most important job I ever did – raising my kids. No one ever patted my back. No holidays or bonuses. No remuneration. Sometimes lots of criticism. But nevertheless it was/is a labor of love. One with high dividends. It’s not easy and many women wallow in self-pity (like I did) thinking the work they do doesn’t count. It does count. Fixing meals for your kids, putting them down for a nap, bathing them, feeding them, caring for their boo boos – yes someone else can get paid to do it while you chase your dream career but no one – NO ONE can do it as well as you or with as much love.

Again I’ll be the first to say I don’t want to victimize women for making the choices they make (knowing firsthand how horrible it is to be judged for being a stay-at-home mom). No two families are the same nor are their circumstances the same. So how about we change how we look at work. All work is sacred. Paid/unpaid. Gets you laurels/goes unnoticed. A job well done is a reward in itself. So don’t look outside of yourself for job satisfaction. You won’t find it. Take pride in all you do and respect the work that others do for you as well. You never know when the tables will be turned and then the prince will become a pauper.

 

Tried and Tested Steps to Change

So the new year is here and you’ve written your resolutions and sworn to stick by them only to find yourself stuck. Stuck with the same old, same old. Many of you started making changes and then found that your enthusiasm fizzled out and some of you haven’t found enough strength to take that first step. Whatever your predicament, the following steps will ease you through the process of change. They have been tried and tested by yours truly.

Taking that first step

So now you have made up your mind to change but you have a big problem. Every cell in your body has turned to lead and it seems impossible to overcome the heaviness. It’s hard to take that first step. You want to just give in to the heaviness and slump down in a heap on the floor. It’s too hard or too scary to change. Fight it! Muster all your strength and make that all important first step.

Do it as long as it takes to form a habit

You took charge and started making changes but somewhere along the way life and its complexities got the better of you and slowly but surely you went back to the old ways. It takes time to form a good habit or make a positive change in your life. If you do it every single day for a month you end up making it a habit. Consistency is the key to success. Make time for what is important to you every single day and victory will be yours. Now you own the new behavior and you can work it like a pro.

Make a small change

Don’t try to change everything at once. It took years to get into the mess you are in so it will take time and a lot of WORK to get out of it. Don’t be discouraged. Take that first step and make a small change – no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. It will have a ripple effect and before you know it you are in a completely different place in your life.

Don’t listen to that negative little voice in your head

Your worst enemy is your mind especially if it is constantly playing negative events and saying negative things about you. You say you want to change and it says you can’t. Shut the voice out for long enough and it won’t have any power over you.

Be your own cheerleader

If you can get that little voice to cheer you on, you will be unstoppable. Replace all the negative mind chatter with positive stuff. Keep repeating it like a mantra and soon your mind will catch on. Fake it till you make it baby!

Be strong in the face of opposition

Not only do you have to deal with that inner voice in your head (like that isn’t enough!) but you also have to deal with the voices of your loved ones. They are guaranteed to react adversely every time you try to change something in your life. It’s just a test. They (or their ego) wants to figure out if you really want to do this because it means they cannot continue behaving the same way. They feel threatened. Ultimately your change will transform those around you. So they better co-operate or bail out.

Remember your victories

This is important when you are afraid to take the next step. Remember how far you have come and step boldly to face the next challenge you have decided to take on. Usually what is most scary to change is the one thing you will really benefit from. It is your most important lesson. Once you cross that hurdle, all else will be easy.

Persistence

If something doesn’t work or doesn’t give you the desired result try something different. But don’t give up. Persistence has its rewards.

The buddy system

This works if you find it hard to motivate yourself or are not clear on what steps to take to reach your goals. Friends help you work through your fears and insecurities and also help put things in perspective. It goes without saying that it is fun to have someone share your journey with you. When you are slacking they will give you the much needed push to get up and get going.

A word of caution before you embark on this glorious and extremely fulfilling quest. Don’t try to fix your spouse, your boss, your mother or your kids. I guarantee you that you will fail and end up right where you started. Your job is you and that in itself is a daunting task. Be clear about your motives for change. Do it for yourself and know what you want and why you want it. Doing it for others only gets you so far, doing it for yourself is what keeps you flying high.

 

 

 

 

The Illusion of Time

Time waits for no man and yet we spend our lifetimes waiting for something to come along so we can finally live our lives the way we imagined it. Time becomes our enemy, robs us of peace, health and happiness and keeps us prisoners of hope.

The clock ticks on incessantly – each tick taking us closer to our mortal end. Each tick making us anxious and worried – is it here yet? When will it arrive? When can I finally have it all?

For some of us it is a life long struggle to find the right partner. Hits and misses. Heartbreaks. Failure to commit. Infidelity. Broken promises. Sometimes even divorce. We end up thinking we are broken and need to be fixed. Or we come to the conclusion that we are meant to walk alone on this journey. And yet something tugs at our heartstrings. This need to share this life and love another human being burns in our heart- a feeling that never goes away. For some it comes easy and others have to wait longer than they can imagine. But if the heart longs for a partner believe me it will materialize – in time. Don’t buy into the lies that you grew up hearing. If you wait until your 30s or 40s to get married, all the good guys are taken! What a lot of baloney that is! Getting married early has it’s pros but if you want to be really clear about what you want from a partner I think that sort of clarity only comes when you are older. Men too mellow down and realize good looks and a great body aren’t the only things that matter.

For others a partner comes along quite early and their fairy tale begins. They settle into a new life, roam the world, throw themselves into their careers. Until they wake up one fine morning and decide they want to have kids but due to some ugly twist of fate, they can’t. Again time is working against them. This time biological clocks are ticking loudly and maliciously. Time is running out. Couples go through a lot of physical and emotional pain to have babies. And yet a miracle is always in the works. Some wait for a decade or more before they are blessed with a baby. Is it the fruit of a thousand prayers? Faith? Absolute surrender? I’d say all of the above.

And then there are others like me who get lucky with finding a husband and having kids. But my career eluded me. I fooled myself (like the single folks) into thinking I was happy being a stay-at-home mom (single in their case) for the rest of my life! But that nagging doubt in my heart would drive me crazy with sadness every once in a while. Now for me the long wait has ended. 11 years of being unemployed. Without getting a pay check. Feeling like a total loser. Feeling dumb. Like I was worth nothing at all.  All those years I spent bored, sad, my self esteem teetering on low, seem so insignificant. Like a tiny blot on the vast expanse of my life. Like a distant memory of a past life.

But before I could change the course of my life, I had to feel good about myself. I had to stop beating myself up for not being the career woman I dreamed I would be. There was work to be done in the world and I went out and did it. Even if it didn’t pay. At least I felt like I could contribute something and that it was appreciated. My confidence levels slowly rose. I attracted helpful friends into my life who nudged me in the right direction. I started looking inside of myself for guidance and answers. The work I do now is not what I thought I would be doing. I thought I’d work for a magazine or write a column for a newspaper. But I’m a blogger (how did that ever happen?). I thought I’d make money as a blogger. I was wrong again. The work I do has nothing to do with writing and yet it is very satisfying. Even though I don’t have a degree in that field, being a mom and volunteering at schools landed me my current job.

So when I look back at the (then) puzzling events in my life, they make perfect sense (now). Everything I did in the past was in perfect order and brought me to right where I was supposed to be. There were no mistakes. It felt like time was standing still, like I had missed the opportunity and that I was destined for more of the same. But on every account I was wrong.

So when you finally arrive at your destination you forget the long grueling uphill climb, all the missteps and falls. The whole experience of finally getting what you always wanted transforms you. And after waiting for something as long as I have, I don’t have the time to dwell on the past. I’m too busy enjoying the realization of my dream. If you do that time loses its power over you. And that is the secret. Lose yourself in what you are experiencing now. Go with the flow. Trust that you will arrive at your dream destination. Time is just created by the mind to make us feel small and mortal. Rise above it and even the longest wait will seem insignificantly small.

The Charge of the Pink Brigade

  Tucked away in a remote part of Uttar Pradesh, India, is a firebrand of a woman. Her name is Sampat Pal, leader of the Pink Gang (Gulabi Gang). The word gang conjures up images of mobs of unruly thugs out to create chaos. But believe me this gang is a far cry from that. Donned in pink saris, wielding lathis or sticks, these women show up at courts and police stations when justice turns a blind eye to crimes committed by powerful politicians or wealthy landlords.

So who are these powerful women? Usually victims of abuse or violence who had no one to turn to and got justice through the Pink Gang. They in turn joined the gang to help other women. Sampat empowers these women – usually illiterate, tied down by housework and children and financially dependent on their husbands. She teaches them to speak up, seek help from other women and also stresses the importance of education. Learn to ride a bike so you can get to the meetings by yourself  says Sampat. She even encourages them to learn a skill that can help them earn money.

To understand how much she has accomplished, one has to get an idea of the Bundlekhand region. There are no sewers, no running water ( in certain villages), no roads even. The caste system is alive and well and inter-caste marriages are frowned upon. Many cases of honor killings have also been reported. Dowry deaths and abuse of women and girls is rampant. Where are the police you ask? The police pay the politicians to get them a job. The politicians are mostly criminals with several pending cases and criminal charges against them. The police end up being sidekicks to these lawless netas (leaders). The poor don’t stand a chance here where money can make the scales of justice sway its way.

From the gutters of Bundlekhand rose a lone Dalit woman. She simply decided to take a stand. To not be afraid anymore. To fight instead of cower in fright. Her grassroots movement has given a voice to the voiceless, faceless victims of Goonda Raj (thugs ruling over the state of Uttar Pradesh). Her fearless spirit wreaks terror in the hearts of anyone on the wrong side of the law.

Sampat’s life was not easy to start with. She was married off at the age of 12 and was a mother by the age of 15. The little she knows to read and write (she didn’t go to school) she learnt by watching the teachers and with some help from local boys. She taught herself how to sew, bought a machine ( by selling grain that the family stored!) and made money by stitching garments. She also knew how to ride a bicycle. One day she gathered a group of women from her village and accosted a neighbor who was battering his wife every day. After they threatened him, he stopped beating his wife. This marked the beginning of her activism.

Sampat believes that in unity there is strength and women should help other women. She also felt that wearing the same color sari gave them an identity and that is how they came to be known as the Pink Gang. She has an office and people show up asking for her help when the corrupt police turn their cheek. She then organizes rallies and sit-outs, outside the police stations and the court houses. She even gets the media to inform the public about the case. Invariably she wins and justice is served. Now the Pink Gang operates in other towns as well and she has women (trained by her) who deal with simple cases on their own. As of today they have twenty thousand members.

In the past four decades the number of reported rapes has gone up by 792 percent. Sadly, the conviction rates are dropping. Domestic violence on the other hand has risen by 30 percent. We can no longer wring our hands in despair and say – what can we do? If someone with Sampat’s background can make such an impact, we have no excuse. We have to form our own gangs and demand justice. This can’t go on. We have to deal with it. We can’t allow our daughters to deal with it in the future.

I encourage you to read the book “Pink Sari Revolution” by Amana Fontanella-Khan and I would also like to thank my friend V for thrusting the book into my hands at the library. After reading this book, I’m filled with hope. I know we will leave a safer and much more empowered India to our daughters and sons.