Sunday, May 29, 2011

Who do you want to be today? What's in your mind when you start the day? What's your first thought? 
Do you go through the day keeping your eyes open? Seeing, looking and observing? Hearing listening and registering? What is the last thought in your mind when you end the day? Do you think that there is more to life and living?
As we grow ad observe the life that happens around us, we come to realize that there are not too many absolute truths or absolute lies. Things are not black or white and that they are mostly gray. And perhaps we derive clarity depending on how dark or light the shade of gray is. 
But there might be times, if we listen, will reveal to us the truths we want to live by. And we being wired the way we are - which is usually, to follow the pack because it is the safest thing to do, wondering if our near and dear and even the not so dear would approve - decide to ignore these insights. And thus let the magic slip right between our fingers.
After a point, like the wise say, these magical opportunities decide to find a better medium of expression, reveal themselves to those that will work on them and manifest them into reality. Someone once told me that ideas float around in clouds. And though several may see them, some might identify them, only one or two might actually have the guts to work on these ideas and bring them to the fore. Who is the first mover, is the million dollar question. How many times have we heard some people say, 'Yep, I had the very same idea"? 

During my mentorship program, I was mostly listening and observing. Every cell in me listened, observed and learned. Thank God for that opportunity. A lot of my talented co mentees in the program who came from Libya, Egypt and Palestine had to speak about the turbulence in their countries to most people, they were constantly asked questions because everyone was interested to know what a 'real' person said, to see how different it is from what the media was feeding them.I met truly inspirational people at various events like the WNBA Luncheon, or a Fortune Most Powerful Women gathering, or at the board room of American Express at the WFC, or the cabins of the various women who had given me time from their super hectic schedules to talk to me, understand who I was and how they could help me, Joan Amble and Denise Pickett, my mentors from AMEX and AMEX Open, I have come to know even better that opportunities present themselves to us each day. It truly and really depends only on us on how we want to make it work, if at all. Possibilities are endless. And this entire trip reinforced the belief what my mom inculcated in me, to be genuine, honest, no bull-crapping and to be closest to the truth as absolute as it seems to me. 

Even though the experiences and life in general might lead us to question and even decide against such a path, which is definitely difficult, but its all well worth it. Insofar as the life I have seen so far, I have had my own share of experiences, some of which I wish you the reader dont ever have to go through. Even more so for the ones that my mother had to face. 

Inspite of what everyone may or may not tell you, this life is yours. You can be all that you want to be. Everything you want to be. We are at most time, everything that others want us to be, isnt it? So its not really beyond us to not be all that we want to be. 

Grab every opportunity. It doesnt matter if you didnt succeed. And then again, the definition of success is very fluid and is not set in stone. The dictionary's first result of success is : "the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors". 

So there you go. Give your own personal definition to success. Or just dont define it at all. May it rise beyond definitions. 

Most of the time, my mother and I were advised a lot of things. The ones closest in my memory given to me - "Don't talk. Dont host a TV Show. Dont host a radio show. Thats too much talking for a singer. Dont blog. Dont tweet. Dont be accessible to people. Make yourself rare. Behave like a celebrity. Put up your price. Dont do dubbing. Concentrate only on music. Dont think about Blue Elephant and sell the company. Quit Business. Get off Facebook. Stop tweeting...." Tired? I usually hear stuff like this on a daily basis. Sometimes I do think that being simple and humble got me nowhere and it did lead to a lot of people taking undue advantages. I did my duty. But they didn't do theirs. Anyway, I cannot change from my core values. 
Mom had the wisdom and courage to decide against all of that. The question I hear the most " How do you manage your time.. you are doing soo much??!" Honestly the one answer I can give - my mom. She has, without spelling it out, let me be everything I wanted to be. And more. Her insights and her unshakeable guidance is why I am here today. And will be all that I want to be in the future as well. Everything which will be firmly rooted in the ethics and the truth I have grown up with.

So... who do you want to be today? And how do you want to get there?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 2 in Corporate America

So here I am sitting at the 30th floor at the World Financial Center, AMEX office.

I have been meeting amazing women and a couple of men too, who are nothing less than hugely inspirational. One of the things I really liked was this conversation with Mr Ira Galtman, Corporate Archivist of the American Express Company. And as I walked into office today, I saw this book "Becoming American Express". This is a company with quite a rich history. And as Mr Ira said, there are not too many companies who can claim to be in business for over 160 years.

One of the best events on Day 1 at Amex was the lunch with Joan Amble, my mentor, at the 50th floor which has this most amazing view of New York. And as the gentleman who served us our lunch told me, he would whip something up "fit for a queen". You bet I felt like royalty that day.

Walking across, meeting various people who are leaders in this company and the community that they affect, its been enlightening.

Its true when they say you learn a lot when you travel. And you probably learn a lot more when you talk to people.

Sitting in India, we have this glorified view of women in western countries that they have it all figured out, all worked out and everything is easy as, to us, thousands of miles away, the west is made of so many progressive countries. But for the first time, I have come to know of the challenges that women here face. How the women here are forced to leave illustrious and promising careers just to save their marriages and take care of children. And when, unfortunately the man, during a mid-life crises or whatever one might want to call it, leaves her for the cliched younger woman, she is left without the man that she believed would lead her remaining life with, without a career and basically with little direction about where to head in the future.

I hear, its quite rare, but not impossible, to have an American husband supportive of his wife's thriving career. Many talented women have left the workforce because the men have told them to. And they just decided to do it that way, inspite of the void they feel. Or they simply take the highway.

In comparison, I am beginning to think that men in India don't seem to have so much of a problem with their working women - women have been in the fields along with the men (and I mean the agricultural field), girls outperform boys each year at school exams (I am not sure about what happens at university) and unless of course, the women starts making more than her husband or is in a higher position than him, there isn't too much of a problem.

We had a woman Prime Minister about 30 years ago, which most nations cannot claim. And some nations aren't even getting close to that. Its true that I have mostly met only women achievers so far. And their journeys are incredible.

I just heard a speech (It's a Jungle Gym Out There) of my mentor, Joan, at UCLA and she ended that with "Success comes from knowing that you did your best, to become the best".

And of the many things I will take back from these amazing women and this amazing lady who is now my mentor, this is something I am going to paste on my wall.

Listen to her speech here and I wish for you that you be able to learn a bit of what I am learning with her right here, at Amex.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Week 2 - New York

I have probably not had a week this hectic in recent times. With everything planned to the last minute and the last detail. 

Learned a lot about how events are organized. Events or entertaining , as such in India is nowhere close to any of what happens here. In spite of the kind of people I have met and who they are.... some of them are on the Fortune Most Powerful List.. but they come on time. They respect other people's time. While in India, there is an ongoing battle with everyone to do anything on time. Forget award ceremonies, thats too much to ask for in India I guess, but I still do not understand why most channels cannot start their shoots on time. Anyway. Cannot but help compare it with what we are used to.

On the other hand, our mobile phone services are better. There are just way too many dropped calls here. Domestic flights are way better. And in a way I think we Indians are comparatively more polite and nicer on the services side and are willing to help or assist.

Also, talking to the other mentees who are a part of this program has been quite an illuminating experience on cultures, thought processes, people and their perceptions. And also, no matter where women are, which country, which culture, we can all connect instantly. And I guess it makes sense to have more women as policy makers and in politics. I somehow believe the world will be a better place that way. 

I have also been meeting mostly women the past few days who are key decision makers, high level policy advisors ( We met the Policy Advisor to the First Lady at the White House), women who are campaigning for change and yes this country needs a lot of work too. A lot of us outside of America think this place is perfect, but not quite. I met Michela English over lunch yesterday and was totally amazed by her work and the facts she showed us. is the President and CEO of this organization. You might want to take a look and I learned so much from her in those two hours.

Other observations -
Washington is way smaller than I imagined. Most roads are single lane in the city
Roads in Chennai seem wider :)
Traffic is held up here as well when an important politician passes. We were held up for about 10-15 minutes in DC. So maybe we in India should not complain. It happens in developed countries too :)
Amazing subway system and the officers at the Information desk at the subway are super helpful.
And meeting so many women and actual doers in politics I wonder how much longer before it all happens in India. And I wonder how much longer we will have excuses. How much longer the really educated and visionary enter politics. How much longer......

Monday, May 02, 2011

Week 1 - Washington DC

I realized I wouldn't have much time to look aroundWashington, which seems smaller than how it is made to look on the screen. Decided to visit the Smithsonian and look around a bit before coming back for the welcoming dinner organized for us. And I finally met all the other mentees yesterday over dinner and also Chris Miner, Managing Director at the US Department of State.
The CEO of Vital Voices addressed us telling us we got here after a really competitive selection process.  I have the embassy in Chennai to thank for this. All this seems bigger than I imagined. Meeting women from Egypt, Pakistan, China, South Africa, Ghaza..Most of us are still learning to say each other's names correctly :)

Talking of names, my last name is being pronounced in the most interesting ways here.

Today we head to Panel Discussions at the US State Department and the White House.

I thought, some day I would be performing at these places sooner or later but never imagined to be part of panel discussions with some of the most powerful women in the US State Dept .. ever. My Blue Elephant is quite a lucky vehicle :)

Listening to the women at the introductory dinner, their challenges, how they have grown to be who they are, their dreams for the future, was more a time of bonding than just mere introduction. Vital Voices has an interesting thought of "Invest in Women Improve the World" and I cannot agree more. Every lady who has been selected as a part of this mentoring partnership somehow made a silent pledge to just not help each other but also each others' communities. The world is as small or as big as we want it to be.