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?