8 years of womensweb

Q & A: Handling The Realities Of Workplaces

Posted: September 23, 2013

In this edition of the Q&A for working women in India, life coach Jaya Narayan answers two questions from young women on the realities of the workplace today.

1. “Hi, I am pursuing my masters in law in a university in a small town. My LLB marks were merely average. Nor did we enjoy internships like the law students of undergrad courses in national law universities. These days many law students are ditching the regular route, and opting for entrepreneurial ventures. My question is, can I too pursue anything off the beaten track? Moreover these days social media sector is booming and I was wondering whether there is any scope for people from a legal background into the social media background? And without having internships under my belt, am I doomed?” – Jayshree

Dear Jayshree,

Most often we pursue a career with unrealistic or idealistic expectations which gets grounded in reality when we work in a real context. Typically an internship process helps in getting our hands dirty. Even if the educational institution does not facilitate it, all students should look at ways to make it happen on their own. Using social media for this purpose is a great idea.

Before you start exploring alternative career tracks, I suggest you work in the core field (law) for a few years. Please don’t get swayed by fancy terms or new upcoming fields without grounding yourself. You will find your core career path (mainstream or alternate) as soon as you are ready. Spend the next few years recognizing your strengths, core skills and competencies.

Even if you have got average marks in your LLB and have not done your internship so far, you can still apply for project based work in small law firms or in the law department of other organizations. Initially they may offer you something small and it could even be unpaid. There is no harm in taking something up as long as it provides a solid learning opportunity. Try reaching out to your college seniors or informal network to seek information on the job learning experience. If you give it your 100 %, doors to your career may open up.

…often we pursue a career with unrealistic or idealistic expectations which gets grounded in reality when we work in a real context.

2. “I’ve always loved life sciences. When I had to choose between Math and Bio for my higher secondary, I decided I didn’t want to give up Math so early, so I took PCMB. I never thought I was (medical) ‘Doctor material’, so I began to learn about Biotechnology and it really got me going. I had always thought I’d do B.Sc. + M.Sc. in Genetics/ Biotech and go on to do a PhD. (The PhD was mostly because I always had this dream of being a scientist who would discover something life-changing and be awarded a Nobel for it!)

As the first step towards it, I graduated with a Bachelors and Masters (dual degree) in Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering from IIT Kharagpur. I liked most of my courses and did well in them. However, I could never get myself interested in those I didn’t like much and I ended up getting low scores in them. Nothing fatal, I always passed. But, during the course of five years, though I knew I loved the subject, my research experiences/ summer internships were nowhere like I imagined them to be.

I didn’t like the environment at my workplaces. I thrive when people around me show confidence and love in me; and my workplace was like the antithesis of it. It was like were people expected me to fail, to be lazy and also to work miraculously at the same time. I felt as though I was constantly being judged, that I had something to prove. 

So, of course, I messed up my thesis project and got a low grade in it. But, since everyone around me (family and friends) expected me to pursue a PhD, I tried applying to universities in USA. But, my professor refused to give me a recommendation and my effort bombed. 

I got placed on campus in an IT MNC but didn’t join because I wasn’t sure anymore what to do. A lot of different people gave different counsel and the result of all of that was I stayed home a year after graduation doing nothing but learning how to cook roti and listening to everybody lecture me about life and how it’s not fair. Applied to universities again on being coaxed by my parents (because I couldn’t tell them I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to get a PhD) and still got no admissions. If I say I got fairly depressed, it’s not an understatement.

One year staying home, I decided I was done doing nothing! A friend helped me get a job at a consulting start up. I made the decision to join the company and moved out in 2 days.

Been working here for 2 months now, feels like 2 moments. Love the job, love the place. But, I’m afraid of what’ll happen once this feeling passes. What should I do then? I sure will love the place, but since this is a start-up, what I have to work on will evolve.

I want to figure out if what I really have an aptitude for, where I can really make a difference and how I can do that. I don’t like ‘settling’. I want to find something I can be passionate about. 

Please help. Thank you!” – SNA

Dear SNA,

Your story sounds like a fairy tale that went a bit sour. I am amazed with your determination and clarity of thought especially when you make choices. It seems like the work environment during the summer internship has shaken up your self-confidence and dipped your performance.

“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”- Lou Holtz.

I would say to you – it’s how you work through expectations in the work environment that counts most. Though you are self-aware of what brings the best out in you, remain flexible in dealing with contrary styles. Here are some must-have workplace skills irrespective of where you work:

1. Managing your performance & work expectations

2. The ability to say “No”

3. The tact to negotiate time and tasks

4. The skill to remain self-motivated

Keep acknowledging your progress and be willing to work on feedback. Somewhere you seem to want to do only what you like and where it “feels” right. You need to find ways to be self-anchored and work through any difficulty, likes and dislikes. Always remember, you do have alternate choices in not letting others’ behaviour impact you so deeply.

I am sure the “feeling” will last because you “control” it!

Do you have any career concerns that need to be addressed? Click here to send us your questions and get them answered by the experts!

*Photo credit: Schmeegan (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

About The Author: Jaya Narayan is a Life Coach and Facilitator. An alumnus of TISS, Mumbai, she has over 15 years of experience in the HR field. Her current interests & engagements include behavioural assessments, HR in startups, behavioural training, writing, and blogging. She is also a full time mother of 2. You can follow her on her professional blog, No HR Gyan.

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