15,000 feet above the sea level, standing at the edge of a plane that I am about to jump-off, I try to rethink my decision. The fierce wind, the whirring engine, loud thumps in my rib cage, numb hands, the infinite space, my logical brain was screaming, “Woman, you are definitely out of your mind, step back NOW, you shouldn’t be doing this. This could be the end of everything”, I draw a blank, my reptilian brain gifts me a moment of nothingness….and a pearl! The picture of exhilaration at the end of this adventure eggs me to do it. I jump and experience the elusive union of mind-body-soul, in high definition, each sensation video-graphically etched in my memory.
This was suddenly familiar: the fear-reset-plunge-awesomeness cycle has been my story all though. It has made me who I am – I look at the reward, weigh my risks and jump. I imagine the endgame, picture the achievement and then pursue my vision relentlessly to make things happen.
My name is Bharti Dekate. My story starts like every average Indian girl, born to middle class parents. I grew up struggling to make sense of the cultural contrasts offered by stints at Bhopal, Mumbai and Delhi. Thanks to dad’s transferable job, I went to all sort of schools, half schools, schools in slums, schools that used the stick to discipline, those that made me feel miserable, schools that helped me discover the national stage and schools that put me in the midst of intellectual elites. In hindsight they taught me about my country, about its fascinating juxtaposition, about its myriad diversity, about the splashes that relationships and work would make on the canvas of life. My dad’s job rendered us nomadic. I learnt about the transient nature of friends. The constants of family, books and nature that emerge as companions of middle age – I learnt to value them at an early stage.
4 parents 1 blessed life
I guess where I beat statistical average is having parents who believed I was meant to do big things. I had a say in the architectural consultations for the new house, my views found an audience with dad’s colleagues, while I heard stories of factory workers fearing my dad, I noticed a dash of pride when he lost after-dinner debates with me. My mom ensured my foodie brother didn’t polish-off my favorite kheer and dad ensured I always had access to books or a library.
In my family, excellence in whatever you do – academics, sports, art, performance – was considered hygiene. I saw my dad work hard and bag double promotions consistently in a government job. My mom is a housewife, who lovingly and patiently toils away to create artworks for everyday consumption – be it food or embroidered linen. I learnt handiwork from her and developed an appreciation for finesse. I learnt from them that details and excellence separated the ‘best’ from the good in work, art AND life. Excellence afforded the enjoyment of finer things.
Since marriage, I have two supportive set of parents who deliver sound advise, constant encouragement, uninterrupted support in domestic affairs and child care. All that I have learnt and achieved, I would attribute it to all four of them without a moment’s hesitation.
- Growth thrives in conducive environments. Choose to create a positive environment at home
Destiny has a grand plan, embrace it with grace:
After Std 12th results, I was sure that I wanted to study Psychology abroad. By late 1990s, Internet search engines had begun to shrink the world already. I had done my research on colleges, I was preparing to write my qualifying exams, aiming at a scholarship. I needed to complete one extra year of education before I could be accepted in UK or USA universities. I had no plan for it. I was an adamant anomaly in my social circle full of prospective engineers and doctors. Out of nowhere, a cousin based at America called. He checked on what I had planned for my studies, he sensed my dilemma and shared that he had some really sharp colleagues who did their Human Resources from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. I could consider that institution since it was aligned with behavior studies and would provide me an interesting perspective to carry to post-graduate studies abroad. In a span of 20 years, this was the only conversation I had with him. He was destiny’s sutradhar – he spoke into my consciousness.
I went to TISS, stayed back to complete the program, was the first one to get a placement offer on campus from my summer-job employer, where I joined to eventually meet my husband. This episode underscored two lessons:
- Stay alert to signals: People, events, thoughts – the environment constantly speaks into your consciousness. Listen, observe and embrace with grace.
- Give it your personal best – anything less and it is not worth your time. Prepare and work diligently to cover the ground
Make one wise choice: Design your life
I was pregnant when my mother-in-law faced cancer a second time. In between the family’s numerous visits to the hospital, relatives generously staying over to help us, we all learned major lessons – and learned quickly. If we all had one choice to make, we’d not choose a career, or a role, or a location or a package. Experience taught us to choose life – rest would follow automatically. Design your life. Your health, work, earnings, happiness are all a function of how intentional your life is. Three things define quality of life for me: Happiness, Health and Support system.
4. Happiness is an everyday choice – I learned from my gritty in-laws and supportive mom that one could be cheerful and grateful in spite of trying circumstances.
5. Health first – healthy, balanced meals, fresh food, exercise, peace of mind, minimized stress has long term upsides that can never be measured.
6. Build you inner circle – when things go wrong, it is this inner circle that is a constant source of motivation and support. But, it as to be nurtured when things are right with the ‘value of love’ as the senior Covey would put it. This circle is less about blood relations, more about human connections. Selfless advise, support and unconditional nourishment come from here.
While I matured as a mother, I joined a boutique consulting firm. I was developing business, designing solutions and was responsible for delivery of large projects and prestigious clients. My workdays would extend to 12 hours while I learned to juggle home, kid and my various interests. I nursed my son till he was 22 months and that came with challenges of its own. I never lost track of my health and work. Yet, it was becoming clear that stress had begun to take a toll. By now, I had developed the knack to identify when a skydiving moment was approaching. This was another one. The stress was not worth it, my work was not enabling a better life (4) and all my work was happening because of AND at the cost of withdrawals on my inner circle (6). After 3 years with the consulting firm, I left it to choose ‘life’ again.
I started my own consulting firm. My son was growing up and I was working for about 100 days in the year, with selective list of clients. When my son started Std1, I was trying to be home by 3pm when my son returned. I was as busy as consulting days, but far more unproductive. This is when I noticed the phenomena of the Juggler’s catch for the first time. I think it is applicable to each mother. I was doing the most unproductive things. My daily routine was busy – making client calls, pitch presentations, answering the door bell, making tea, making learning worksheets for my son, organizing cupboards, grocery shopping ….what not. We mothers take great pride in juggling multiple priorities and roles. We all know that it takes a toll. Here’s the truth. If you are spending your time doing things that others can do more efficiently you are most likely falling into an ‘activity trap that soon degenerates into the jugglers syndrome. Compulsively taking on more makes us feel valuable, simultaneously diminishing the value of that task – because it’s is so effortless. The juggling act has a limited life – determined more by physics and biology than anything else. You can stretch of course, but I asked myself, “What’s the pay off”? I had learned this:
- Guiltfree delegation – I had only a few hours each day and I HAD TO choose my non-negotiable’s as priority. I HAD TO ask for help. In order to achieve what I thought was priority (like making this world a better place versus grocery shopping), I needed to give up on the others WITHOUT GUILT. Today I delegate ‘shamelessly’. My non-negotiable’s that I don’t want to outsource to anyone else are only three:
– my son’s all round development
– meaningful connection with people who matter
– reaching my full potential
Every once in a while, I ask myself “Who is you and what is your work?” Every time, the answer is slightly different, a more evolved one. Never irrelevant. Answering this one question helps me refocus, cancel out the noise and gain the courage to skydive all over again.