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Can I Be Both Indian And Confident?

Can I Be Both Indian And Confident?

April 27, 2013
How to get beyond that ‘humbleness’ that being Indian brings.

I have always envied my Western born and bred colleagues especially the women. They always appear so well coiffured, sophisticated and that embody that other C world, I mean confident of course!

Put them in the spotlight and every one of them seems to be able to keep a natural dialogue going with the audience. They know how to speak their mind and they start early.

I look at them with awe, for buried deep within me, in the core of my DNA is a voice that stops me from coming forward, putting up my hand and claiming the spotlight, for fear of over-stepping many lines.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about leaning in—in her latest book. Of how when faced with choices which tempt women to step back, one needs to instead accelerate, lean in as it were, and I for one would agree with this philosophy in principle.

But then, Sheryl doesn’t come from good South Indian middle class stock intertwined with education at a Catholic Convent Girls’ School run by French nuns in suburban Bombay, does she? It’s bad enough to have one but being a product of both streams, and exposed to that conditioning during formative years as a teenager? Gosh! You can only imagine the confusion reigning supreme in the mind of such an individual aka someone like me.

Don’t get me wrong, its a background which ensured I had comprehensive education, strong manners, lots of culture, great moral fibre but was also intertwined with many inherent insecurities with its focus on intelligence over wealth quota, on honesty above everything else, emphasis on respect for parents, teachers, all elders (tag on bosses to this list) and somehow that bugbear of humbleness – of not being able to accept praise even when it was so patently due to me. Every time I claim the stage, make a presentation, establish eye contact with the person opposite me in a meeting, the ghost of my forefathers stands over my shoulders telling me off, cautioning me to hold back.

No wonder then that in every job interview I have had, I have always quoted a salary way below my real market worth. It is because I am Indian or a woman or both or simply just the confused me? Still figuring that one out.

So from the outside of course it seems I have come a long way of course, worked in many multinationals, spoken at many events, learnt to surf the web of conditioning, even accept that involuntary shirk of guilt in claiming the limelight.

Yet, it’s never far off, that temptation to hide behind that umbrella which warns me against speaking up, to toe the line, to be a good little employee who simply does what is told, and never questions the status quo.

I do get to the other side, and manage to reveal the newer, shinier, poised new me many times, but mostly it is only after a hard climb over the boulders of self-effacement that lingers from my steeped-in-modesty-background.

Have you had similar experiences in your working life?


  • Rajpriya
    01.05.13 08:49 PM

    Please note two corrections:

    1. Surprisingly it was about an Indian Lady (I am not using the word woman here to give respect where its due) appeared in a German magazine for women “Brigitte Woman”.

    2. Since 2006 she is Chairperson & Chief Executive Officer of Pepsi an Indian Mrs.Boss. Phew! I am sweating.

    She is the only Indian among the twelve leading Power Ladies in the world’s Business scene today

    She says that she worked extra hours, made sacrifices and compromises to overcome the challenges that confronted her on her way to the top.
  • Himanshu
    01.05.13 02:18 PM
    It was mesmerizing reading through your post. It was like somebody has put words for my thoughts.
    The answer to your concluding question is of course a big 'Yes'.
  • Rajpriya
    01.05.13 01:19 PM

    Prompted by your article I was looking for information about Indian women who may have made it to the top. Surprisingly it was about and Indian Lady (I am not using the word woman here and give respect where its due) appeared in a German magazine for women “Brigitte Woman”.

    It was about Indra Krishnamoorthy Nooyi, 57 years old, born in Madras, educated at Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary school in Madras and later received a Bachelor's degree in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics from Madras Christian College in 1974 and a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta in 1976 and earned a Master's degree in Public and Private Management from US Yale School of Management in 1978. Since 1976 she is Chairperson & Chief Executive Officer of Pepsi. An Indian Mrs.Boss. Phew! I am sweating.

    She has been awarded Padma Bhushan in 2007. She played a guitar in an Indian Rock Band too? Has two daughters. Goes to prove there are very exceptional Indian women who have not only made it to the top but also could remain there.

    The German magazine Brigitte she had to overcome obstacles being an immigrant, colored and being a woman that stood in her way to the top. So what happened to many Indian women who went in search of fame abroad?
  • Rajpriya
    30.04.13 10:32 AM

    I read through your post with interest. That was well written article and the comparison of two entirely different environments in which is children grow up makes the huge difference in what they become in their adult life.

    Being born and bred in a Western country as you say would certainly make a huge difference when compared to the sheltered upbringing of girls in India. A majority of children born in western countries grow up with better-informed parents, in far more educative environments, and have access to far more advanced resources for learning at an early age.

    Many people you come across in your day-to-day life in western countries are far better informed than people you might come across in India under similar circumstances. Rarely does a woman in those countries need to look up to some one else as role model. Most of them would not think its necessary to try to be different than they are.

    Being well coiffured and being sophisticated becomes an added advantage only when a woman’s brain is full of stuff and Sheryl Sandberg is out of the ordinary and an exceptionally talented woman. She is the first rate person of herself. Every German newspaper has articles about her since weeks and earns 13 times more money than Mark Zuckerberg her Boss.

    Trying to imitate her any other woman would only become a cloned version of her. Steve Jobs was an individual for example and the company feels his absence right now if you read recent news.

    By trying to be someone else you need to disguise your self. Try to become someone require an enormous effort? Do you have to please others by trying to be what you are really not?

    Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble. ~Samuel Johnson
    India needs update its university education systems
    to be in par with Harvard and the like in the US. The first thing for Indian women is to make hard choices like getting good education, getting married to the right man who would share the upbringing of children equally if any and many other aspects needed for success in the corporate world.

    If many Indian women rise up to be like Sheryl Sandberg they could automatically make the Indian man wake up to be better or even extraordinary.

    With many women like Mrs. Boss Sheryl Sandberg might also result in many Steve Jobs in India.
    29.04.13 01:27 PM
    @ Laxmi

    Apple can't be an Orange.

    No matter what you do you will always be same and I mean that in a good way.

  • Dr.B>S>Rawat
    28.04.13 08:58 AM
    Yes , you can be both. Just train yourself to feel easy among strangers, 99% of them are like your elder brothers, parents, uncles aunties, encouraging you once they know your personality . So be bold, have faith in you (your Indian upbringing)and let go. I know it from experience. My three daughters, all post graduates, have succeeded in becoming their own selves with grace.

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