A third grader was perched on top of a table so she cannot get down unless someone helped her. Somehow it seemed like a set up similar to an interrogation room. There were three adult men in their late twenties to mid thirties that took on this little child probably with intent to ‘catechize’. If someone outside of that arrangement would look, it would seems like that the child had committed some awful crime.
One of the men started instigating the child by saying that her mother was radical, non-conforming, characterless and deranged. Others joined by saying that she was useless to the society, family and to friends despite being highly educated. By any means that child wouldn’t or shouldn’t have known how to recourse and retaliate. But she did. She started giving it back to them, much to their disbelief.
That child’s vocabulary and annoyance for being cornered far surpassed any follow-on criticism that those men together could come up with. But one of the men despite that defeat from the child continued to brag about how accomplished his kids would ever be compared to this child who was being unnecessarily evoked of emotions that were unwarranted for her age.
As a final blow to the foolhardy men, that child in a very confident tone said, “I will watch how far your kids will go and hope you’ll be alive to see how I do.” At that time, one of the men might have suddenly realized that they were persecuting another human being that was a fourth of their age, and asked the others to stop doing what they were doing. Decades later, that child’s prophesy came true.
All of them indeed could see her progress. Sadly, their wishes wishes to see their own thrive, didn’t come to fruition as much as they wished. With such experiences accumulating over the years, the then third grader became astute to life’s philosophies, managing personalities, exuding diplomacy and audacity appropriately and most of all spotting abuse from a distance. That child was me. And that mother in question was mine. It was never okay then to be exploited by anyone and it is not okay today to be taken advantage of.
Yup, that’s me. Thanks to Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security, Risk Management & Privacy for the opportunity to feature in the NextExecPodcast, “A Day in the Life.”
In this episode, Katie Margraf, Vice President of Information Security at Citi, hosted me for a candid conversation about my aspirations to be a journalist, my career in pharmacy, and the events leading up to how I landed in information security which I’m sure is my calling.
It wasn’t easy being an immigrant and assimilating into a new culture but I strongly believe that the mix of my Indian and Italian-American parenting, doing my MBA with the executive program despite being an International student, starting my first job at barely 20 shaped who I am today – as a mentor, friend and leader to the teams I support.
When I started creating content for social media, publication or speaking events, I never thought anyone would be interested in reading my posts, my blog or hearing my voice.
I was worried that I might not have anything new to say and was tensed about being just another.. But never through this journey I thought myself as an influencer or someone that needs to be given a higher pedestal.
Some of my friends thought I was short selling myself while my mom is constantly sore of my limited marketing enthusiasm because I don’t like to force on anyone leave alone reminding them to watch or read my stuff.
“To be inspired is great, to inspire is incredible.” Hope I am able to do both through meaningful content that is socially, culturally, psychologically, and humorously supportive to anyone who takes the leap of faith in me!
I am not a perfect leader or manager. Neither do I aim to achieve any sort of perfection. What I aim is to go through my work day with common sense, some logical balancing act between empathy and urgency, expressing in a straight forward manner when deadlines are about to be missed, when SLA’s are breached, and when there is a need to challenge status quo.
Again, I have not figured it out how to be robotic about having critical conversations, confronting bad behaviors and dealing with emergency situations without being the human I am and being humane. While there are of growth opportunities for me to exhibit that near sophistry, I am very congnizant of the dislike from those who may not identify with my ways of working.
The realization that no matter what type of leader one may be, knowing when to seek help, managing through integrity, adapting, fostering innovation, building relationship towards business value, knowing fully that there will always be someone who finds faults in your methods, is sheer enlightenment. I am often reminded by what Thomas Jefferson said, “In matter of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
All those leaders who are criticized for being aggressive, competitive, decisive, penalized for personality, results-oriented, the ‘how’ of their delivery during crises, or not having tone monotony, you are doing it right. No one deserves to second-guess themselves when they are already being effective leaders. Because good leaders are work in progress but great leaders have the courage to be imperfect.
From being called a tomboy to a call-girl even when I didn’t know their urban meaning, to being called the worst human and a racist recently, I think I pretty much covered it all. A rare privilege indeed. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t find anything nice of being referred that way Name-calling was common amongst kids even when I was growing up and looks like it is progressively getting worse these days.
I was raised by most educated and liberal parents while I was in India. And I definitely didn’t fit the stereotype at any phase in my 19.5 years that I lived there. To add to that, I had the best of Catholic Convent Education that I’m forever indebted and proud of along with the multi-socio-cultural experiences I garnered living across a slum called Kaladera Colony on which is based my next semi-biography Black Canopy!
But what was liberating in all of my life was coming to the United States. There is still no dearth of patriotism for India or camaraderie for other Indians. However, it was my ticket to freedom, a certain independence from circumstances there. Little did I realize that people are people anywhere. There was always something that I was not, for them. Yet, for me, I became that person I aspired to be and bonus points for becoming the person my parents always thought I’d become.
For those who only know about my Indian origin, would probably fall from their chair to know that my formative adult years were influenced extremely by conservative first generation Italian Americans, two of who I call my host parents. I lost my host mom a few years ago but my host dad does not stop instilling conventional values that I’ve realized I identify myself most with. So when someone recently called me a racist, I wondered which kind they meant?!?
While India and Indians across the globe celebrate 75th Independence Day of the Republic of India, I celebrate more than that. I celebrate my own independence from the parasites who tried to erode my identity, from the scars on my body and mind that are now nothing more than beauty marks, from the names I’ve been called to achieving a stature those unworthy cannot probably scale in their life, from standing on the edge of life to living life on my own terms — that is perhaps what gaining independence from our past feels like.
I had to share. I had to remind myself and those that I am surrounded with. I had to reiterate to all those I look up to. I just had to. This particular experience of mine dealing with those who call themselves celebrities is worth a satirical propound. And this is a first hand depiction of the charlatans who are often put on a certain pedestal that is unnecessary and unfounded.
For those who are truly service oriented need no recognition, or evidences or any huge words of praise. They just continue to give back to the community their best, quietly, subtly and without pomp. But these camera savvy, publicity hungry, holy grails of deceit, and epitomes of pretence have mastered the art of inanity with quite the dexterity of the genuine. I’m in awe of how well they probably sleep at night living the life that is full of nothing but pretence.
I had a brief stint with two such ass wipes. One who would grace any occasion, only if there are no empty seats in the room and they could be surrounded by a mob brought together to show are thronging for them. The demands were insane and inhuman especially towards people like me who have not had the honor of running into such for the last 22 years. At times I felt pity for their entitled butts and how they’d fail making a penny on their own.
Their sidekicks were no better. While one wanted their commands to be fulfilled at lightening speed, the other wanted me to extend certain business courtesies in person and in his hotel room. They also expected some of us assigned to them, to stand up in revernace when these bimbo-himbos walked into the room. A practice which I’ve limited to three as I stand in my life: my motherland, my work land which I call home and my mother who gave birth to me.
Not to say there were not those who wanted to cater to the whims and fancies of these good-for-nothing creatures. What stunned me was their manipulative abilities, wasting of resources, thousands of dollars which were not theirs, and the chameleonic transformations on and off media presence. I don’t even know where to begin about their arrogance and inhumaneness towards anyone that looked beanth them and of all places in the world in United States.
Even though social stratification is unheard of here, these pillocks seem to think it is quite okay to vandalize the systems that exists in this country for a reason. For all those that are curious on exactly what those references are, I’m sure many of us that were involved would be happy to entertain and take the purdah off any zealot who’s idolized these twits. At this point in my life, I am just unable to stop harping on how they could come to another country and stoop so low.
A dear friend who was catering to another dimwit apparently got yelled at and was called a liar. Just because they were trying to coordinate to the best they can but when you have thousands of people involved, chaos is bound to happen. And just because this wannabe is the cousin of a yesteryear beauty queen practically means nothing. Infact she should be glad that my friend didn’t call the cops on her for creating nuisance in a public place.
Everyone that is reading my quip, that had to work through life on their own, please look yourself in the mirror and gush about yourself in greatest pride. For those venture capitalists, writers, published poets, entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers, beauty queens or anyone that has in their way made a niche in this country, in a land so alien but ours more than ours ever was. Yet, remained to stay humble and kind. We are true celebrities and we shouldn’t need any other.
When I took one of my real first jobs after college, I was very self-absorbed, and a Ms. Know-it-all. Even though I had a commendable work ethic, I was closed to learning. I retaliated for every feedback and felt very entitled. One of my previous bosses even said recently that he was proud of what I became compared to this annihilating character I was.
Then, my egocentricity included tit for tat responses because I felt I was always right but I wasn’t, not asking for help, dismissing guidance and treating my direct supervisor like an emotional trash can. Yes, I was a jerk. Perhaps back then they didn’t make the assessments like we do today. But I remember my manager sitting me down for what may have been their last attempt to save me from being an utter failure.
Not that I became outright virtuous after this revalation. It was a long process that included more of listening than reacting, exhibiting compassion more than passion, thinking before speaking and assuming positive intent! When I started taking managerial roles years later, it was not about doing the right things but doing things right. Here were my first steps when I took my shot at being a manager.
1. Knowing my limitations and ask for help without feeling inferior 2. Making learning a continuous experience 3. Reducing ‘decision fatigue’ by not always wanting to be in the middle of things 4. Knowing that my boss will make decisions that I may not be privy to 5. Curtailing the savior mentality to inspire one and all 6. Taking care of my mental and physical health before I put ‘care’ first for my employees 7. Appreciating that I will fail a lot more than I want to but it is the journey that matters 8. Aiming not to be perfect but a work-in-progess
The importance of good managers is often cutback in the corporate kerfuffle. I have always been blessed by some amazing managers who imbibed in me that “Management is taught, while leadership is experienced!” When one is a good manager by thought and practice, being a leader is not far behind.
“Dancing faces you to heaven whichever direction you turn.” And the last one month has felt like transcendence. My newfound appreciation for Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi, their esteemed gurus, the stage debutantes, their parents, support system is beyond comparison to any recent experiences I’ve had. It feels like I’ve achieved nirvana!
Starting with Shristi School of Dance and being the emcee for a bestie Chetana’s daughter’s Arangetram. A skill that I always wanted to my name. The hard work Guru Vani Ramesh put into me, to ensure the enunciation and pronunciation is acceptable for the decorum, the grandeur of being part of the milestone will always be an unforgettable experience!
I don’t know where to begin thanking Lakshmi Babu for giving me the opportunity to be a special guest at their most euphoric, eclectic and energetic Rangapravesham events. It was an elevation that I never imagined for myself and a chance to replenish the hope I have in my future through Kuchipudi Dance Academy.
And somewhere in between I got the chance to see a childhood friend Malini’s daughter grow into the finest Odissi dancer whose manchpravesh was soul-stirring and made me wonder where the time flew when this kid was reciting nursery rhymes at my wedding! The simplicity of Mayur Dance Academy reiterated that no matter how successful one may be, humility should be a life long lesson.
Thank you to all for saving me a lot of money on therapy. The soothing affect these dance forms had on the mind and soul were better than an apothecary. Somehow, I felt like a new person at the end of each performance.
The audience were selfish just like me. Especially those that has to break away from memories of IIT, EAMCET to support their brood in building strong minds and bodies so their retirement is assured and well.
Even though I don’t dance, art (in my case poetry) has helped me cope with tragedy, bullying and other modern problem. These debutantes already knew the magic of embracing art to sublimate all negativity, distress and hurt into positivity, radiance and service to community!
I cannot wait for these young women to rule the world one day. They’ve just started and I am sure to be witness to the great things that await them and people like me who wish them nothing but the best. There is no great honor than seeing history being built right in front of our eyes.
My objective in life, is to serve. Many may feel this is cliched but I am because of the countless people who did exactly that – to be of use to community and people like me that needed help. When I got such a chance at the 17th American Telugu Association Convention and Youth Conference July 1-3, I was skeptical because I always thought I was a cultural, linguistic, and traditional misfit. Infact I felt like I was stepping back into deep rebellious dogma that I chose to ignore for 22 years ago.
But I proved myself wrong and it has been one of the best feelings. What’s such experience without life lessons and ‘aha’ moments. Here is how I arrived at this gloat post contributing to Women’s Forum as Chair, Business Forum as moderator for ‘Women in Business Leadership’, supporting Senior Citizens medical panel discussion, being a scrum master for core team ceremonies, helping those with writer’s block, along with being a point person for two special guests from overseas, and any role that the leadership team thought I could fulfill.
✳️ By being prepared for chaos and snafu of all original plans. My ability to contingency plan has become A+ ✳️ Even though some had their doubts about my execution skills being ‘new’ to cultural organizations, I was able to assure naysayers with poise, groundwork and a great team. ✳️ Thanks to a special guest that felt our programs and participants were not worth their time, I used that to do my first full length impromptu stand-up and it was so well received. 🔮 Please do watch my blog for a momentous roast on this particular experience — Write-up coming shortly. ✳️ Taking my authentic self to wherever I went gave me a chance to gain goodwill and build a solid network ✳️ Through Srividya Reddy Suma Reddy Ranapratap Chegu Veena Gundavelli Padma Putrevu Deepika Boojala Laxmi Prashanthi Muthyala SPC5 Preethi Munagapati Sunitha Allugubelli, I learned that true celebrities are those that lead by Ebullience, Empathy and Example!!
When I look back it feels like I overcame mammoth blockers that required situational leadership, diplomacy, certain native knack with lot of room for self-improvement dealing with personalities more than people especially when stature and seniority takes priority. But what is success if I didn’t have these hiccups, fail forward moments and the making of remarkable memories along the way?!? “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” – Molière.