Have you noticed how often a woman’s identity is tied to others? – So-and-so’s daughter, Such-and-such’s wife, ‘my friend’s mother’? As though, if you didn’t know her father or her husband or her children, she wouldn’t exist! In my parents’ generation, it was commonplace for a man to introduce his wife saying, “this is my missus” – he would not even think to share her name – after all, he had told us everything that we needed to know about her – ‘she is his wife’ – end of story! Bhanu, an indePenn member and I were sharing memories, when it occurred to me that working women struggled less with this. Maybe Returning to Work is the way to rebuild your Identity.
Every adult woman has experienced this at some point or the other. It first happened to me, when a friend asked her two-year old daughter if she knew who I was. Prompt came the reply, “of course. She is Nav’s mother” – completely matter of fact. I was taken aback, that in the 4 years since I had a child, I’d misplaced my identity!
How often has it happened to you? Do you even notice it after a point? Do we internalize it and start introducing ourselves this way? Do we begin to think of ourselves this way too?
If we’re happy with it, that’s fine.
But Bhanu was not.
Bhanu had a straight, unbroken line graph for school, college, and work. She was a merit student in school, with a lot of co-curricular activities – debate, elocution, sports, music and dance, and so on. She is a university gold-medalist in Engineering and was one of the first to find a job during campus placement in a prestigious company. She barely had two months of vacation after completing her degree, before she had to report to her company for training and on-boarding. Everyone knew her as “Bhanu – that girl who won …”.
A few years later, she got married. When she had twins, she decided to take a pause from her job. Her twins started school. The principal of the school addressed her as Mrs. Ravi – since the children were Nitin and Kishore Ravi. Bhanu very politely said, “I’m Bhanu, not Mrs. Ravi”. The principal looked puzzled but replaced Mrs. Ravi with Bhanu. Then someone else asked her if she was Nitin and Kishore’s mother. She said, “I’m Bhanu”. This happened a few more times in various contexts.
That’s when she decided that to be ‘Bhanu’, she needed to replace the descriptors “Mrs. Ravi”, “Nitin & Kishore’s mother’, etc with a descriptor of her choice. The identity that she wanted for herself.
And here’s her journey to re-establishing her identity.
After these incidents at the children’s school, I decided to reclaim my identity. This time as “Bhanu, the woman who does…”.
The challenge was to figure out how to get started – previously, I’d worked in electronics design and that was my first choice. So, I reached out to a former colleague, the HR Business Partner in my old company and asked him what roles were available and how I should apply for them. Sadly, all the roles that were suitable to my background and experience had moved to a site that was a 2-hour commute for me. Each way. I knew that wouldn’t suit me, so I wrapped up our conversation, asking him to let me know if he knew of something suitable.
I was cool – so certain, that given my experience and performance, I would hear from a search consultant right away – my former colleague would put the word out that I was available, and I would be snapped up in no time. Just to be sure, I also posted my résumé on all the job portals.
I didn’t hear from anyone.
I realized that in the technology world, three years is a long, long time. My experience was not really current. I started to panic – that’s when I joined indePenn, by the way! You guys helped me so much!
Based on my background, indePenn connected me to my current boss, the director of technology at an electronics design and manufacturing company. He suggested that I join their second-career programme as an intern. I was a bit reluctant – it felt that I had gone down that long snake on the snake-and-ladders board.
But, once again, indePenn’s coaching sessions helped me see it in a different light, I realized that if I wanted to get back to the work I enjoyed and rebuild my identity, this was a possible path. I joined the 6-month long internship programme – it was a refresher course and it also allowed me to learn the new developments in the industry.
A year back, I became a full-time employee! It took a little more than a year – from the time, I decided that I wanted to get back to work to the day I got my letter of appointment!
“At work, I’m ME – not someone’s wife, mother, daughter”
And now, I introduce myself as “I’m Bhanu, an electronics designer. Ravi is my husband and Nitin and Kishore are my sons. Notice the difference?
What do you think of Bhanu’s journey? Do let us know in the comments section.
If you’re a reader of our posts, you already know that indePenn brings women on a career break back to work. If you’re wondering whether you can return to work, reach out to us by signing up at www.indePenn.com – we’ll handhold you through the journey of getting back to work.
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