Posted by & filed under Everyday Lessons.

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I turned 34 last month and for the last couple of years, I have written an annual post reflecting on my life at that point. This year I was torn between writing and not writing my birthday post. I didn’t think much had changed and didn’t think this post would be different than previous years. And of course, I had the good old excuse of not having time to write. I am glad I left the kids with dad this morning to spend some time at a coffee shop with my hot chocolate in hand to write. As I thought about what I wanted to write on my walk here, it was this post that wanted to be written. I had a kind voice in my head that reminded me that even if the post sounded similar, it was beautiful to pause and capture what this year meant to me.  Thank you, kind and wise inner voice! Here I am with what this moment in life looks like.

  • Gratitude – This is my first & biggest emotion. I feel so much joy, love, and gratitude for everything I have in my life. Every time I pause and think about the millions of people who don’t have food on the table, women who work as sex workers, children without parents and the dozens of other situations that makes life so much harder I feel nothing but gratitude for how abundant, beautiful and purposeful my life is. This has been the most valuable life lesson I have learned from my dad, thank you, papa!
  • Blur & Magic – And yet, this year is what I call a time of blur and magic, of fog and fun, of chaos and beauty, you get the picture. Life with two little kids is so all-consuming and I can be so exhausted that I can fall asleep anywhere, yesterday I fell asleep on a beach!!! And yet, I so enjoy the simplicity of children, the challenges of parenting, the fulfillment of experiencing a family of four, way more than I could have ever imagined. It truly is magical.
  • Alignment – For the most part, my life feels in alignment with my values and that feels good. Yes, there are parts I want to change and cards that I wish were dealt differently but for the most part, things feel in balance. It has meant constantly questioning how much is enough and being okay with the fluidity of priorities.
  • More than mom – Now, especially that I have two kids, I feel an even greater need to nurture other parts of myself. There often are times on a Sunday afternoon, where I secretly hope my mom would appear and take my kids for an hour, so I could do something to nourish myself. I also find myself missing a lot of things about my pre-kiddo life. Perhaps it’s a function of the enormity of the work with two kids or it’s that I have been a parent for almost 4 years and the accumulated exhaustion wears in. I think it’s a little bit of both😊
  • Parents & siblings – I didn’t get to spend as much time or invest in my relationship with my own family as much as I’d like to, given how much I love and get along with them. I can attribute it to the fullness of my own life, but I want to change that.
  • Cancer – One of my close friends was diagnosed with cancer and it was very hard in so many ways to watch her fight cancer (which she did incredibly well). I feared for her life, for my own and my loved ones but then would struggle even more as I questioned why such diseases and suffering exists in the world and the millions of lives that are disrupted with this disease (and others). Still, no answers and my quest continues. I also often felt guilty of not being there enough for her, for not spending as much time as I’d like to.
  • Podcasts – I recently discovered the joy of subscribing to podcasts and it’s been a beautiful addition to my life. I have learned so much from them and realized the power of a few minutes here and a few minutes there to nourish myself. And yes, same goes for audio books!
  • Grad School – I completed grad school this year! So happy and excited to be done.
  • Marriage – This was the hardest year of my marriage in many ways. The details deserve a separate post. It was the small stuff, but I saw first-hand how the small stuff can become the big stuff and how and why people can fall out of love or get divorced after decades of being married. I also feel incredibly beautiful that we caught some of our red flags and are tenderly attending to the broken parts and working on ourselves and in our marriage. Grateful again.
  • 52 Hikes – I committed to 52 hikes this year and completed my 50th hike yesterday and it feels wonderful. This experience deserves its own detailed post too but overall it was great to hike with the family and friends, expose the kids to the outdoors and experience the joy of completing a project. I exercised the most I ever have, even before I had my kids and that feels like a big accomplishment.
  • Mortality – I have also been thinking a little more about my own mortality and accept that as much as I may want to I will not be living forever and my time on this planet is finite. Sometimes it makes me sad, both as I think of my children but also as I think of what I can do in this world and how self-centered my life is. I am trying to channelize this more constructively and it’s a work in progress.
  • Injustice – This year was so difficult with so much injustice and pain in the world – natural disasters, crime, violence and more. Every time, I am exposed to this I shut down in some ways. I feel incredibly guilty for not doing enough. This is one place where guilt is very prominent, and my way of coping is acting to help. I am working on a campaign for next year to do more. Hopefully, the fog with little ones will settle and I will see more clear skies and have more headspace for this or as I often say, I will make more headspace for this.
  • Blog Love – And finally, I have learned that this blog, my writing and my community of readers is a very integral part of my life. I haven’t written as much this year, but I hope I change that in the months to come and write more, create more and give more through this medium.


Deep gratitude to Lindsey Mead for her post This is 38 and Dina Relles for her post This is 35 for inspiring me to write this. You can read my posts, this is 32 here and this is 33 here.

Posted by & filed under Everyday Lessons, Parenting.

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Almost a year back, I got a phone call from one of my closest friends announcing her pregnancy. A friend I have known for over a decade. A friendship that has seen a lot of ups and a few downs but has thrived through it all. And I experienced joy in two ways – joy for my friend who was pregnant after a miscarriage, after a period of uncertainty around having kids. I  was also joyful (selfishly) for being able to experience this beautiful journey alongside a loved one.
A few minutes into our conversation, I was asked the unexpected – “So, do you have any advice for me?” Unexpected because I have often gone to my friend for advice and call her the wiser one. This time I had a lot to say and yet in many ways parenting is so personal, so intimate and so complex that I didn’t know what to say.

Advice didn’t seem like the right thing to offer.

Yet, I have experience – not that of a perfect mother or a flawless parenting journey but one that is rich and precious so I thought I’d document what I have learnt. Hopefully, it can be of some value to my friend and perhaps to others who are new parents or are thinking about becoming one.

And yes, hopefully on days, when I need my own sane voice to guide me, I will come and read this😊

1. Invest in your partnership (if you have one) – The internet is full of advice on going for a date night or with reminders that children will eventually leave the house but your partner stays longer. While I don’t disagree with this point of view I believe each partnership is different and what one relationship and family needs is different at various stages. At some point, you may need to spend more time alone without the kid(s) but maybe you need to express your love by giving each other more space. At this point in our lives not having a lot of time with each other feels right knowing that it’s a very small window when our kids want to spend so much time with us while still feeling connected to each other as spouses. I know my emotions and needs as a wife have changed over time. Know that your relationship is important but nurture it in ways that matter to you.

2. You are enough – There will be many, many times that you will doubt yourself. You will make mistakes and will often want to course correct. You will read, discuss, reflect and make changes. Remember to do that all from a place of abundance and respect for yourself.

3. No wrong emotion – I am a big believer in this. Yes, there is bad behavior and bad actions but our feelings are our feelings. Honor your needs through all of this. There may be a time when you want more time with your child and there may be a time when you want less. Sometimes, Monday mornings may feel like a blessing and some Mondays may bring tears. All of this is a part of the journey.

4. Continue your adventures – Yes, their manifestation will change. An adventure may mean a mile-long walk on a paved trail around the block. It may mean a painting that you will take months to complete but keep your own soul alive. You are a parent for life but you also have other identities.

5. Outsource – As much as your budget permits, outsource things that don’t add value or joy. Be intentional about the trade-offs and constantly reflect on your values. Maybe you want someone else to do your grocery or maybe that’s a precious activity that you enjoy. I have found that being able to get help for a few hours of household work while cutting down on other expenses has been a well-worth adjustment. (I do recognize that I am incredibly privileged to be saying this and am very grateful)

6. Manage overwhelm – Yes, there will be moments, sometimes days & weeks that feel overwhelming. Know that most things in life are not permanent and your overwhelm will ease. Yet, there may be some minor changes you may be able to make to simplify your life a tiny bit. Keep at it as it is often worth it.

7. Find parent mentors & friends – This one has been huge for me. Finding other mothers, I can learn from, look upon to and most importantly have honest conversations with has been one of my most precious gifts as a mother. Some are close friends, some are co-workers, others are bloggers who have inspired me. They each have a unique role to play.

8. Filter advice – There is a lot of advice out there (and I am not helping by adding to it😊) but it helps to remind yourself, not everything needs to be taken in. Put your filters to work here…

9. Keep guilt out of your dictionary – This one can be tough for so many of us. Yet, I have learned that chronic guilt benefits no one. When guilt knocks at your door, pause, reflect and see if you need to make any changes. If the status quo is joyful and aligned with your values, waive a kind goodbye to guilt.

10. Be your own kind of parent – Ultimately, be your own kind of parent. Learn from others and their experiences but ultimately trust your own instincts, make your own rules and lead from a place of authenticity. (Yes, I used that word intentionally as I strongly believe parenting is one beautiful leadership experience.)

Welcome to the club. It is indeed an incredible one that we are very privileged to be a part of.

 

P.S – I have been writing and reflecting about side projects and I found this very interesting interview with the former head of marketing at Nike who has had a few different side projects. Yes, she isn’t a parent so some dynamics are different but I really enjoyed this conversation and thought you’d like it too!

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

I have a confession to make. I have had a very difficult relationship with my writing over the last one month. On one hand, I absolutely miss it and can’t wait to write down my thoughts and share my words and my voice. My journal has a lot of entries and there are sticky notes everywhere – at my desk, my wallet, my purse with ideas and thoughts

and YET

I haven’t been able to carve out the time or energy to write as much as I want to and I am still figuring out why…

Perhaps, it’s the sleep deprivation as my baby still wakes up multiple times a night to nurse so while I am still functioning well, my creative energy is at a minimum. My writing typically happens on a weekend morning when I wake up super early and head to a coffee shop but these days, I often sleep as I am in such a big deficit (I am yawning and rubbing my eyes as I type this too😊). And then, I also really have been wanting to spend more time with the kids. We have been going on fun family adventures that were much more challenging with school and I am absolutely loving that connection with the kids and my husband. I am already fearing that this window where we spend so much time with each other, where I am loved so dearly by my kids is such a small window that I truly want to soak it in as well as I can.

And yet, I am missing my writing and am struggling to do more of it.

It’s also a momentum & habit thing. When I don’t do something for a while, the habit starts dwindling and then I lose steam. I have also been exercising a lot more than what I have in the past and again that’s competing for my time as well but it sure has been a huge help in functioning with less sleep. Perhaps, it’s because my blog and identity as a blogger

is in flux – both emotionally as I am developing my new voice but also more tactically as my new website is still in the works.  Perhaps, it’s the enormity of work that comes with two children and I am still transitioning to being a mom of two and not one. Earlier, I could optimize and write around naps, etc. but with two, I haven’t still figured out how to get their schedules to perfectly line up. The blessing often is that I then get some good soulful time with the other kid…

But again, I miss my blogging

The other unexpected (well, perhaps not that unexpected) part is the inner critic that shows up at these times and here’s how she can sound

  • Wait, you were trying to build a community of parents with side projects and look at you, haven’t written a blog in about a month?
  • You are thinking of stopping to write? What about all your big and grandiose dreams?
  • You have the energy to go exercise and hike and organize a volunteering project and invest in a mutual fund but not to write?
  • Have you seen your writing lately, it’s not edited well and it doesn’t have that richness as it once did?

I need to start with love and compassion for myself and gently saying – “no thank you” to my inner critic. Over the years, I have gotten better at not listening to her. She shows up, I notice and have learned to not value her as much as I once did. It is a tough (although rich and meaningful) phase in my life and I need to accept that my blogging pace will be slow. I need to feel grateful that I am spending my time in ways that align with my values and that my creative energy will come back. I can make some minor changes in my schedule and carve out more time but sleep deprivation will compete with creative headspace.

I also need to remind myself that this is also a part of having a creative project, especially as a working parent that there will be periods of lulls and energy dips where ideas will not flow through. Making time for what matters is often complicated and exhausting and that is the reality behind a lot of the work that looks well-polished on the outside. And going slow doesn’t mean I don’t care but that it’s a lower priority at this point even though I am still in love with my calling. It also means that “maybe” my calling will change and that is beautiful in its own ways too and I need to love myself “for” and “through” that.

And perhaps most importantly, I need to continue to write even when it’s not perfect – both the writing and my life and talk about the messy and complicated parts of pursuing my callings at this stage of my life.

And here is a sneak peak into a few images on my new blog homepage! Feeback and changes are welcome…

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Posted by & filed under Creativity, Work, Writing.

Ever since I was a child, I had this strong desire of opening up an orphanage in India – a place where children were educated and loved for who they were. For many years, well into my twenties, I thought the “only” way of realizing any part of that dream was to work really hard, make a lot of money and then find a way to open an orphanage.

However, when I started working, I was miserable at my first job. It wasn’t that the company wasn’t good but there was a strong misalignment between my personal values and what I experienced at work. And I realized very early that my model of working hard to climb up to the top wasn’t quite going to be the way I experience joy and purpose and more importantly how I defined success. And while it may have helped to open that orphanage, the journey wasn’t worth it.

So, then began my quest to find a job to fuel all parts of me. Over the next 8 years or so I switched multiples jobs, companies and industries. I worked in HR and I wrote code. I did ethnographic research and I managed incentive plans. I got my yoga certification, volunteered, led workshops and retreats. And oh yes, I even went to business school to learn more about the intersection of sustainability and business.

All in the hopes of finding that one perfect thing that would fuel all parts of me: nourish me emotionally and intellectually, allow me to express myself, contribute positively in the world and of course pay me a decent wage.

Once I was pregnant and had my first child, I realized my equation was even more complex. Commute time ranked higher on my priority list. My expenses were higher and when life at home was a little more chaotic, I valued stability and security more than I had in the previous years.

And my quest continued – with lots of self-doubt, frustration, a loud inner critic and yes, a lot of tears.

And then about 2 years earlier, something shifted. I got a job that fueled many parts of me in a very beautiful way(not all) and I  worked on this blog consistently. This is the best I have felt when it comes to thinking about a life of meaning and purpose.

This integration of multiple bodies of work, projects & hobbies has collectively fueled all parts of me.

And interestingly, living in this mindset has made me less emotionally dependent on my regular job but I feel more invested in and committed to my career as a product marketer. And yet, I have also been able to make time and space to pursue other projects like the 10K project, 52 hikes project (on instagram) and create some small pieces of art for my home.

While I do know people who have one job or business that can fuel them completely, I know that’s not my path at least for the short term and here’s why.

  • I have multiple interests and sometimes competing values (creativity & stability) and it is realistically hard for me to find that one thing. It’s not just about finding that one thing but then convincing someone that you are the right person to do that job:)
  • I am relatively new to writing. As I am honing my skills and developing my voice, I really appreciate that I can write that I believe in and what I want to say. I don’t have to focus on aligning to what an organization or manager wants me to say or do. If this was my full-time job, I’d be a lot more nervous and anxious and that would take away from the joy of the creative process (at least as a beginner though at some point I hope to do more of writing)
  • I have a myriad range of skills and relationships that add to the richness of my life in a way that one thing independently could not.
  • Most importantly, having multiple identities has made me less attached to any one of them but more committed to the effort, process and journey.

 

If you are curious about the whole concept of side projects, here are my favorite resources!

 

  • Side Hustle School – This is a great resource for people looking to start side projects that can generate an income. Great podcast, inspiring stories with a strong bias for action.
  • How to be everything – I recently read this book and wish I had found this earlier in my life when I felt my day job had to fuel all parts of me. I was wrong and this book shows you the many, many ways to feed all parts of you with side projects being only ONE of them!!
  • One person, many careers – Another interesting book and as the name suggests a guide to have more than one career in your lifetime
  • Plan C: Full-time employee and part time entrepreneur – I had read this book a few years back and was a great way of thinking of how to combine a small business and a full-time career

 

And as I had shared in my previous post, I am working on pivoting my blog for parents who want to pursue or are currently pursuing side projects. To help me realize this vision, I am looking for what my target audience currently values and would love to learn from you. I’d greatly appreciate your participation in this quick survey  or feel free to drop me a note with your ideas and feedback at Mandhani dot neha at gmail dot com

Posted by & filed under Callings, Creativity, Parenting, Work, Writing.

 

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I had always wanted to write. I had started writing my first book when I was 13 but very quickly convinced myself that it wasn’t a good idea (my inner critic entered my life very early on!). I had many, many reasons (aka excuses!) through my 20s to not give birth to a writing project. And then I had kids and I realized that my life wasn’t going to get any easier for the next 18 years and I felt deeply called to express myself through this medium. Voila – I have been writing for the last 3+ years and it’s been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. It’s helped me both as a parent and a human being overall but also added to the joy I experience at work.

And then one day, I realized my husband was doing the same thing – he had a full-time job and a side project and that even though our lives were (and still are!!!) a little crazier than the average two working parents and two little kid household, our lives feel rich and purposeful. It is by no means easy or straightforward and takes a lot of planning, trade-offs, and empathy for each other but in the end, we both can’t imagine not creating and working on our respective projects.

And as I started looking around I noticed a pattern of several parents who had side projects. There was a huge range of what I saw – music, dance, photography, painting, writing, new businesses, volunteering, and so on.  The motivations also varied – some wanted to work on their callings that couldn’t find a home in their day job, some wanted to contribute in the world differently, some wanted a creative outlet outside of the daily commitments of work and family and more…  Some wanted to test out the waters before making their side projects a full-time thing but some wanted to keep their side projects as is and had no intentions of leaving their full-time thing. For many the scale of the side project was small but the impact in their lives and I’d argue in the greater world was huge.

And yet, I also noticed another pattern – a voice of overwhelm, exhaustion, guilt and “not enough time” when we think or talk about working parents. We are told to put our dreams on hold, quit our jobs to pursue our calling or stop fantasizing about having a “real” hobby while working full time. And yes, this advice absolutely holds true for many of us who do not enjoy doing more than one thing at a time and this idea feels absolutely crazy. And there are others who are in a particularly challenging season of life where a spouse has cancer or an aging parent needs extra care or one is struggling with an impending divorce. For some parents, spending an hour a week away from work or kids don’t align with their parenting values. There are single mothers struggling to bring food on the table every night or those working 2-3 jobs every day to keep a roof over their heads.

Yes, I absolutely understand and respect the differences in the way people live their lives. I also recognize that I am coming from a place of great privilege to have my basic needs met to think about my purpose and my callings and that many don’t have the luxury to do so.

Yet, I also believe that this narrative of “chronic overwhelm and kill your dreams” for all working parents is not the only truth. As a working mom to two little people, my life also has moments that are hard, challenging and all-consuming but the reality is that it is not that way 24/7 and there are some rare special moments where I do get to create, to dream, to build and to contribute. And over and over, I see this pattern – the overwhelm and exhaustion combined with love, creation, and impact in the form of side projects…

So, here I am, after nearly 3.5 years of being a working mom, feeling inspired to amplify this narrative that being a working mom and nourishing your soul and contributing to the world is possible. I hope to live in a world where more parents give birth to their dreams and projects that can make a difference in our world. I hope we can model for our children what we teach them through our words on living more fully and giving back in the world.

It takes awareness on what matters, a supportive job that allows you to create room and space in your life, a supportive spouse/partner to not think you are crazy that you are waking up early to train for your marathon and not folding laundry instead and graciously being there with the kids while you work toward your goals!!! It takes a supportive circle of friends and community to pick up the kids from school for an afternoon when you are attending that training to learn some new skills for your project. It means a lot of love and respect for yourself and your own needs. It isn’t perfect and 30 magical hours don’t appear every week but yes 30 hours can appear over a few weeks or months that can take an idea from a thought in your head to a product that people are using.

I hope to re-brand and pivot my blog to build a digital home for working parents who want to live richer, fuller lives with new & interesting projects. There will be conversations with parents who are doing this so we can all learn from their journey. I will continue to blog regularly on ideas related to having a side project but even more broadly in my journey as a working mother and even my journey as a human being. My blog will look a little different than what it looks like today but my commitment to each of you remains the same – I will practice courage, honesty, vulnerability, and kindness in my words.

To create this new digital home, I’d like to ask for your help. If you are a working parent or know of other working parents who feel the urge to create, express yourself or give back to the world in some way beyond what you do in your day job or have no desire to quit your job in the short term, I want to hear from you. Here is a link to a survey or feel free to drop me a note with your ideas and feedback at Mandhani dot neha at gmail dot come including recommendations on parents with side projects that I could interview for this blog.

So while I work on the new website and new content, here are some additional resources if the topic of side projects resonated with you.

  • Side Hustle School – This is a great resource for people looking to start side projects that can generate an income. Great podcast, inspiring stories with a strong bias for action.
  • How to be everything – I recently read this book and wish I had found this earlier in my life when I felt my day job had to fuel all parts of me. I was wrong and this book shows you the many, many ways to feed all parts of you with side projects being only ONE of them!!
  • One person, many careers – Another interesting book and as the name suggests a guide to have more than one career in your lifetime
  • Plan C: Full-time employee and part time entrepreneur – I had read this book a few years back and was a great way of thinking of how to combine a small business and a full-time career

Much gratitude!!

Posted by & filed under Callings, Creativity, Everyday Lessons, Parenting, Writing.

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The last few months have been intense – incredibly beautiful, rewarding and meaningful yet exhausting. In many ways, life has been overly generous and kind to us yet the daily commitment of work, family and everything else has left me feeling a little depleted. Perhaps, in some ways this is expected with a 9 month baby at home who still wakes up multiple times at night and the accumulated sleep deprivation that comes with it has stirred up my world a bit.

In some ways, it’s interesting that I feel great in my body and have the energy I need but it’s my soul that wants some nurturing. I have been really missing time alone, time where I can take care of myself and no one needs me or I don’t have to get anywhere at a certain time. I truly feel like slowing down and my introverted self doesn’t feel like socializing or talking too much. I often want to stay in bed with a cup of tea and read or write in my journal. I am really longing to go on a retreat for a few days but given that I am nursing the baby, this will be somewhat harder. I haven’t written much this year and my heart is really yearning to reflect more, type up my thoughts and share.

I remember, when my first child was around the same age, I had this strong desire to be in the woods for a month with a book and my journal and I often get that same longing again except that this time as much as I want the family to be there with my in the woods, I am also longing for a “little more” solo time. I am typically pretty good about taking care of myself but this time I feel I need a little more care and love from my own self…

For the last few days, I have been reflecting on what I need but also what is realistically feasible given the current structure and season of our life. As I sit down and listen to my inner child, she tells me she wants to create, she wants love, she wants nurturing, she wants play, she wants unstructured time.

So here I am, honoring that voice and committing to 30 days of creativity for the month of July. I know I am being ambitious because not every day will I be able to create something but I am giving myself permission to not follow through as well. Some days I’ll have more energy, head space and of course time and other days will be harder and that’s okay. There will be days when all I can do is 10 minutes of writing in my journal and there will be others where I will be able to paint for 2 hours.  I am giving myself flexibility and committing to 30 hours of working on my blog and perhaps some artwork for the house.

This means creating space in my calendar, in my head and my heart to create. I have left our July calendar pretty open intentionally to have a lot of white space. I am not proactively reaching out to friends and family to make plans. I prioritized renting out a room in our house to have some additional income that I can use to outsource certain household tasks to free up time and space for myself. I also secured 30 mins of extra childcare hours at the kids daycare for days when I may need more space. I struggled really hard with this one and there was some unexpected guilt and sadness here but I realized I needed to nourish myself and trust that I am a good enough mother even if I spent a few less hours with them in a month. I am still struggling even as I have completed typing this sentence, sigh!

I have never committed to anything that I’ll do everyday so I am not sure what to expect. Perhaps, this will become a part of my life or maybe it will be too overwhelming and I’ll give up mid way (hopefully not!). I want to try and show up, every day and practice self-compassion on days when I can’t. It’s a practice to learn to love all parts of me. I want to show up for myself but also as a way to model self-care to my husband and my kids who are still little but hopefully some day when they read this they too recognize that their needs, their desires and their souls matter.

How are each of you doing? Not at the surface but deep inside? What in your heart needs more care, love and nurture? What calling of yours wants to see the light of day? Where are your fears being bottled up?

I found these beautiful lines on Elle Luna’s website. I had the honor of hearing her talk live and highly recommend Elle’s book – The crossroads of should and must. I give her tremendous credit of inspiring me on my journey to create.

 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

Posted by & filed under Everyday Lessons, Imperfections, Parenting, Work.

 

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I completed my MBA a few weeks back. I am incredibly excited, grateful, somewhat relieved that I have a new life with some “extra??” time in it. Sometimes, it feels surreal to not plan my weekends around homework after having done that for almost 5 years excluding a few breaks when I had my kids. Sometimes, I truly wonder how exactly did I fit it all in my life while still feeling fairly good in most ways that matter, meaning I wasn’t chronically stressed or overwhelmed every minute of my day. After having kids, I often questioned if I should continue or give up as my career aspirations changed significantly as what got me to go to school in the first place had shifted in my life. Yet, every few months, my husband and I would evaluate if I should complete my degree or quit and we hesitantly landed that this would be the right choice for us and that he’d support me to get to the end.

 

I feel blessed to have had lots of love and support both through this journey and at the finish line. Graduation notes often said very thoughtful things and some called me a superwoman or asked how I did it all. I felt honored and grateful to hear this, to be loved and care for so deeply.  Yet in many ways, this didn’t feel right. I felt as if I had created this perfect picture of my life, in some ways that were too focused on the bright side and that wasn’t really true.

 

One – I truly don’t think it’s about me. Yes, I did a lot of the work but truly, truly couldn’t have done this without the support of many, many people whom I have written about here but most importantly my husband who literally had to take primary responsibility for the kids when I was away for classes or doing homework.

 

Second – I truly am no superwoman or did it all. Yes, I feel very grateful for what I have accomplished but there were lots and lots of things I didn’t do. There were significant trade-offs that I had to make every quarter, every month and then more literally every single day. For example, my house is almost ALWAYS in a chronic mess. There are toys all over the house, a huge pile of unfolded laundry that magically appears at all times and the kitchen always has food and dirty dishes lying around. Most days, the kids don’t see me in the morning and I very rarely get to sit on the couch and watch Netflix with my husband once the kids are in bed because I sleep when the kids sleep. Weeknight dinners are often interrupted many times and some days all I can eat is a glass of smoothie for dinner once the kids are fed. There are times when my marriage has felt tough and I always recollect the words of a friend with young children who once commiserated – “I feel like we are roommates raising a child.”  I too have had a fair share of those emotions. I put a lot of my many dreams on hold as I knew I couldn’t do justice to them. I also often especially toward the tail end of the program did the bare minimum to get through the class. I don’t remember much about stock options trading, price elasticity or supply & demand frameworks. I didn’t have enough headspace to process all the information coming my way. My biggest trade off was giving up many, many weekends where I too wanted to be at the park, at the zoo and the museum with Sumit and the kids or just cuddle with them on a Saturday morning in bed where I was instead in class or at a coffee shop finishing up homework.

 

Through these last few years, fitting in school into an already full schedule especially after the kids was perhaps the best hands on education on the real meaning of values and priorities. I said yes to some things and no to others and both came with consequences, the good and the not so good. I had to constantly think about how much was good enough? What else did I need besides the essentials to thrive and how could I prioritize joy in my everyday life. What was important all throughout was being intentional about what was truly important to me as a human, as a mother and then for us as a family and what were we willing to give up in our lives.  And then even more important was compassion for myself when I couldn’t act in alignment with my values, the struggles and confusion of what should I say yes to vs not. Some were easy choices but some were much, much harder.

 

As I sit on my couch on an early Sunday morning while the rest of the boys lay asleep, I feel the warmth of the sun on my face and sound of the birds chirping fill up my heart. As I get to the end of this post, I tell myself, I have just enough time. Actually no, I’ll gladly take a few more hours in a day that I don’t have to share with anyone but just me, my journal and my computer to type but since that’s not happening, I will repeat and tell myself – “I have just enough time in my life and what matters is how I fill it up and how I choose to spend it.”

 

P.S. – I am incredibly grateful to Laura Vanderkam for helping me rethink my relationship with time. Her Ted Talk, book and a few articles here and here are my favorites!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by & filed under Everyday Lessons, Happiness, Parenting.

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My oldest son, Vivaan turns 3 tomorrow. In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday that I was in labor unsure of what motherhood would mean to me. Yet, in other ways the last 3 years feel incredibly rich, meaningful and abundant with so many memories. It’s yet another example of how I can experience opposites together.

 

I just called my husband and told him that I was feeling a little weird that I had not purchased a traditional gift for him and that we weren’t planning to do so either but I wanted to pause, reflect and write him a birthday post that he could read later and understand a little more about what he was like at 3 and what our family looked like.

 

I often joke with people that Vivaan keeps our marriage in check and in many ways, its partly true. Over a year back, Sumit and I were arguing about something trivial, I suspect schedules and getting the kiddo in bed soon and my voice went up and the little toddler said – “Mummy, papa stop. I not like it.” Now that he is a little older, it seems that he understands or perhaps accepts that mom and dad will have arguments though I am trying my best to practice even more patience and kindness. However, when our voices go up (and it’s typically me as I am the more impulsive between the two of us) he checks in – “Mummy, papa is everything okay? What are you talking about?” And that’s a reminder for us to calm down even more.

 

Another vivid memory is that of all of us trying to share a piece of Ferrero Rocher chocolate. Both the boys were trying to eat one round solid with pieces melting on each of their faces… For some reason, sharing with mommy wasn’t part of the deal so I jokingly asked Sumit – “ Where’s my share?” and before my husband could respond, the little toddler took a piece out of his mouth and put it in mine. I experienced the power of love, the abundance of motherhood and the wonder and miracle of a child’s innocence and compassion in that very moment. One of my most powerful memories of the little bambino…

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I am always humbled by his love for the little monkey. There can be unlimited hugs and kisses especially during bed time. If Vivaan is awake first, its almost given he is going to wake up Saveer. He will keep asking – “Is Saveer awake? Can I woke him up?” (yes, the grammar is broken). And sometimes he gets so excited that he can even hurt him and then there are some rare moments when jealousy kicks in and its hard to share mom and dad and there can be some hitting and tears for the baby too. I have been trying to teach him that we can have difficult feelings but we can’t engage in bad behavior. The other day, Saveer was crying and Vivaan goes up to him and said – “Brother, why are you crying? What do you need? Tell me brother, tell me.” He keeps saying – “Saveer is my best buddy” and I can often smile and tear up at the same time.

 

He loves to hike, spend time outdoors and cook, play in muddy puddles and make “stuff” with dad and even told him he wanted to be an engineer when dad told him engineers make things. I hope we are not pigeonholing him.  He is big into spending time with his close friends and people in the family that he is close to but isn’t a big fan of large birthday parties or crowds and prefers to be in smaller circles. He struggled a lot with separation anxiety during school drop offs and is just beginning to enjoy those moments of daddy saying good bye. Just as any other toddler, he loves to ask me lots of questions and totally wants to be a part of every conversation between mom and dad.

 

We have a lot in common and sometimes I fear I hope I am not raising a mini – me as that is not how I want to parent. I hope he continues to question the status quo and disagree with me (without a tantrum would be nice!!) and find his own answers to life’s questions. As he grows up, I hope he finds pleasures in the little things as he does right now. I hope he remembers that its okay to fall and make mistakes and saying sorry is an act of strength, not weakness. I hope he continues to ask – “Is this healthy mama?” to develop a psotive relationship with food. I hope he remembers that nothing is more important than love, kindness and compassion and that no matter what, his family is a place where he will always be loved & accepted for who he is.

 

Happy Birthday Vivaan. It’s my honor and blessing to be your mom.

 

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Posted by & filed under Callings, Parenting, Work.

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This post was originally published at Motherly.

What if we “leaned in” to something other than just our careers?

I greatly admire Sheryl Sandberg’s vision with her “Lean In” movement and personally found great value in her book; I love how she helped us look beyond traditional linear careers and inspired us to be our personal best version as we navigate the complex world of work and family.

More importantly, I admired that she has been asking us to lean in to our careers so that we have more women at the top not to have power for the sake of power but because when women run the world, the world benefits.

It is a bold, audacious and an incredibly noble vision to aspire for a world with more women in influential positions.

However, this vision can also imply a very limiting definition of success, meaning and purpose that is very generic and doesn’t take into account that not every woman aspires the same for her life. This movement has unintentionally also sent a message that if you are not aspiring to be in the C suite of your organization, you are not “leaning in,” perhaps implying that you are not good enough.

What if we expand the definition of leaning in to not just your career but also your personal life? What if it was okay for women (and men!) to decide, without pressure or obligation, how much “work” and how much “life” is right for them?

What if climbing up to the top of your organization was one of the many ways to lean in—and not the only way? What if we were to optimize for personal fulfillment and social impact? We may have just as many or maybe slightly fewer women at the top than what Sheryl envisions but we’d have a world with more joy, meaning, peace, empowerment and the permission for each woman to authentically define what lean in means to her.

What if leaning in also meant:

  • Saying no to that promotion as a Director of Brand Management so you have the time to build a non-profit that provides sanitary napkins to women in developing countries.
  • Taking a sabbatical to write the Brunch & Breakfast Cookbook that you have always wanted to write.
  • Moving from a manager role to an individual contributor as a creative designer to pursue your love for design work.
  • Moving your growing family to a different country and embracing a different culture and pace of life.
  • Quitting your well-paying consulting job to spend time with your children, visit museums and parks and work towards your dream of working at an art gallery.

The point isn’t to not aspire to be at the top but to remind yourself that there are many ways of leaning in.

Make decisions around work and life that put you at peace, not ones that only please others.

Think about how you want to spend the waking hours of your life, and ponder what you want to best model for your children. Work backwards from vision of the person you want to be. Design that around that vision. Lean in to your life.

Posted by & filed under Everyday Lessons, Mindfulness, Parenting.

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This post was originally published at Motherly.

I still vividly remember a moment when I was contemplating having kids, and a well-meaning male friend said to me: “When you are a mom, you are always guilty.” He went on, “If you work outside the house, you feel guilty about leaving your kids with someone else, and if you stay at home, you feel guilty about not leveraging your education and experience and thus not contributing to the household income.”

I didn’t agree and found this theory disempowering. However, I didn’t have kids then so couldn’t speak from experience.

Today, I do have a 17-month-old son and I think a lot about guilt and motherhood.

Now, I believe it is deeply problematic for our ourselves, our families, our professions and society at large, if we as mothers live in chronic guilt.

Yes, the choices we have to make, and the tradeoffs we balance, are incredibly hard. I haven’t figured it all out yet and often wish parts of my life were different or that I had made a few different choices around work earlier in my career. But for the most part I am content. The truth is that the word guilt doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.

I don’t chronically worry that my working outside the home will harm my child. I don’t fret that he is harmed by having parents with professional lives outside the home. Nor do I experience deep anguish that I’m doing something wrong by working. I’m largely content.

And yet, I still cry.

I cry because when I am at work, I miss being with my son Vivaan. Every time, I see a baby or a toddler in my office café, I secretly wish that I was having lunch with my little munchkin, holding him one more time, giving him another hug. I miss spending more time with him at the sandbox. My heart yearns for more time at the playground and tears trickle down my cheeks. As much as I appreciate the peace and quiet after bedtime on a Sunday evening, I also fondly cherish the wonderful time on the weekend and know that Monday will not be like Sunday.

I am blessed to be working for an incredibly supportive manager at an organization that understands the needs of families. My husband is an amazing father doing his share to raise our son. We both chose our jobs consciously in order to integrate our professional lives with our lives at home. When I look at our family life in chunks of weeks, I feel content.

But, I still cry.

I make peace by reminding myself how blessed I am to have someone in my life I can love so dearly that even when I am three miles away from him and see him everyday, sleep next to this little being, I miss him so dearly. No matter how many hours I have, my heart wants more. It is a struggle between being content with what I have and constantly feeling like I wish I had a few more minutes with him.

I also make peace by reminding myself that I choose to work and refrain from using language that says but “I have to work.” Sure, I am a significant contributor to the income in our home but again, I am choosing financial security, intellectual stimulation and a career I care about. All of these are choices that come with consequences. There are millions of Americans, raising very happy, successful and resilient kids on one income or two part-time incomes. There are also millions of women, many with better educations and more career options than I, choosing to spend their time raising their families full-time. I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. But I know that we have found the right balance for our family.

I don’t know if the tears will ever stop. Part of me wishes that they do and I could spend every minute that I am not with Vivaan being fully present at the task in hand but part of me hopes that I always love my child and enjoy his presence enough that I miss him every time I am not with him.

My tears are not full of guilt, remorse or regret but with love—pure love, big love, mommy love.