Q1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your family.
I am 58. I have a daughter who is 23 and is starting her Ph.D. in neurobiology from the University of Chicago. I moved out of my marriage three and a half years ago, after 29 years. Currently, my mother is living with me and I have a beagle who is 11 years old.
Q2. What gave you the strength of taking a career break at the peak of your 13 years of corporate life? How did you go about making that decision?
I had never planned to take a break, but once the baby arrived my priorities changed and I felt there was no way I could leave the baby and go to work. While I was struggling with this dilemma, my husband got transferred to the US and I jumped at the opportunity of being a trailing spouse. It felt like someone made the decision for me. I did not deliberate too much about it. At that time being a trailing spouse and giving up a career for motherhood was quite normal for many and I never thought that much about it. I had always wanted to have a career but was not that ambitious about it so it wasn't a soul-destroying choice for me. Of course, it helped that one was financially able to make that choice.
Having said that, I do have to say that there were many times when I missed the corporate life and the validation work brings to you. There were many times I felt remorseful about making that choice - but I would not have traded that for anything and I still think it was the right thing for me and my daughter. The remorse was only because it radically changed the dynamics in my relationship with my husband, and eventually, that was the price I paid for it.
Q3. You did something that most women in today's time are struggling day in and day out. And that's reinventing yourself after taking a career break. Tell us a little about that. How did you go about it?
After coming back to India when my daughter started school I then started scouting around for opportunities for myself and realised the world had changed since I had left the corporate world. I left in 1997 and by the mid-2000s India had been through the IT boom and everyone was working across time zones and geographies, and the internet had changed a lot of things. So to get back I would need to completely re-skill myself, besides having to work late into the evenings across time zones. I was not keen on doing that.
I had always been interested in becoming a counsellor right from my school days. I wanted to study psychology but was told that there were not many jobs after a psychology degree and so should do economics. And that’s what I did. But I never really enjoyed it.
Fortunately I came across an organization that does training for counsellors and did not need a psychology background - it was a course for a year and a half and I found that absolutely wonderful. It also led to a lot of self-reflection and self-growth and I decided to stay in that space. Once I got into the field I realized that I was getting more out of it in terms of personal growth as well and that this was a field where one can keep growing, keep giving, and keep receiving. It is also a profession with no retirement age and so that is a big plus - the older you are the better you get as you leverage on your experiences.
So here I am in the space of mental health since 2007 and even got my masters in psychology in 2013 at age 50.
Q4. What were some of the challenges you faced when you decided to get back to the corporate world?
I got back in a very phased manner, first as a school counsellor 3 times a week for 3 hours a day, and the occasional private client. Now I work for a global company that offers mental health support to corporations across the globe. So I have a full time, pretty demanding job. But besides that, I do have a fairly full private practice as well and am a regular writer and trainer on topics related to mental health. Fortunately for me, I did not face too many external challenges getting back to work. The universe kept giving me the opportunities as I became ready to take on more. And for that, I am extremely thankful. I do know that many have not been able to successfully make the transition, or come back if you will, after a ten-year break.
Q5. Looking back, would you change any of your decisions?
No. I still think taking that break was the right thing for me and my daughter, even though for me it came at a big price, a price that I had never anticipated.
Q6. If you have to give one piece of advice to someone who’s looking to reinvent themselves, what will that be?
When you reinvent yourself, do it for yourself - not to prove something to someone. Do it in a space you enjoy. I think our first career choices are often driven by external pressures of financial stability, image, competition, etc. Next time around do whatever you want or believe in because you really don't need to prove anything to anyone. Also, believe in yourself. Accept yourself for who you are, with all your strengths and weaknesses. Don't let anyone undermine your strengths and over-emphasize your weaknesses. We all have them. We need to be self-compassionate about them. No one is perfect, and no one needs to be.
You can reach Maullika at www.personalorbitchange.wordpress.com