Monday, July 25, 2016

Sexism and the Workplace

No, this has nothing to do with the Happiness Project, but everything to do with an article I had read quite some time back. An article that created a thousand thoughts and retorts in my head, but me being the lazy person that I am, I never really got down to actually putting them on paper (or to be more precise, MS Word).

And perhaps that’s for the best. It’s a sensitive topic, and writing about work is something I usually prefer steering clear of on my blog, if for no other reason, to at least not get fired for my words.

But this is something that really should be written about.

So when the article went viral recently, it saw a lot of friends and acquaintances jumping in and talking about how much they agreed with it. It’s the story of a girl in the advertising industry, and the insane amount of sexual discrimination she faced in her career. Let me at the outset be clear, I have not worked in the advertising industry, and if this is industry specific, I would not be aware of it. But at the same time, what she faced seemed so extreme, my first reaction was, what if she really is a horrible person to work with, and hence lost all those jobs and opportunities?

But then I wondered, what IF she was right? What IF she really did face that level of discrimination? What a horrible experience to have at work, over and over and over again. What if others are going through that as well?

At this moment, I have to say I’ve been lucky to have worked in organizations and teams where at least knowingly I have never faced discrimination of the kind mentioned by the writer. I haven’t been skipped for promotions because there was a guy in my team who got it instead. Nor have I been told that I am difficult to work with (yet). In fact, some of my bosses I’m pretty sure didn’t even realize I was a girl so to say, and for that I absolutely love them.

But that doesn’t mean the workplaces have been completely free of sexism.

Nobody knowingly has ever discriminated against me, I think.

And that’s the biggest issue. Everything is done without knowledge, without a thought… Things that are so harmless that they shouldn’t matter, and yet, added up over the years, they do.

As my luck would have it, I have always worked in roles where my team has majorly been made up of men, with women as a far minority, because somehow you just don’t have as many women who deal with numbers and excel. I don’t know why or how, but that’s how it seems to be. And it’s made no difference in my head. But over the years I’ve heard a lot of things.

I was jokingly told by a colleague that I shouldn’t expect a promotion in the team that I joined, since only girls with moustaches do well there.

I was jokingly told by a senior, how a pretty girl in the team manages to get all her work done quickly by our client, and I should try her methods as well.

A client, a senior head of department would watsapp me good morning every day on the pretext of getting an update on the project. Weirdly, my male colleague was asked for no such good morning updates.

Another client inferred that his colleagues were asking him to extend the project I was working on, so I stick around longer.

I’ve been reprimanded by a female colleague for wearing a dress (one which fell below my knee, mind you) in an organization where there were only seven women, as against a hundred men. Because, well, how can you dress like that in a place with dominated by men (Like, whaaaa???)?

And then there are the super subtle harmless ones. Harmless, but annoying. Ones that you can avoid so easily.

Don’t hire me because I’m a girl, and you need a better gender ratio in your team. Hire me because I was the best suited for the job.

Don’t assume I’ll order food for the team lunch, or decide where to dine just because I’m a girl. Ask me to do that because you like my choice in food.

If your values forbid you from abusing in front of women, then don’t. Don’t abuse and then apologize because I’m in the room. Whether or not I have an issue with expletives becomes irrelevant at that point. It just makes things awkward.

Don’t ask me leave office early because I’m a girl and it’s getting dark. How about you don’t work that late? Don’t make me miss out on important meetings that the men can attend, and women aren’t able to.

If I am not asking for special concessions because I have a meal to prepare / clothes to wash / housework to do / kids to get home to, then, don’t ask me to do anything at the workplace specifically because you think girls can do it better. Like, why should a girl present a bouquet to a guest speaker at the office? Like, really?

Work place behaviour is so complex, I find myself contradicting my own thoughts very often. I consider myself a feminist, and yet so many practicalities get in the way. Some people call it wanting the best of both the worlds, but this world isn’t perfect, and as much as I want to be equal to the men, I find I want some considerations. I don’t want to travel back home alone post 11pm. I do want my preferences and comfort levels to be taken into account when planning team outings. And if tomorrow, in the middle of a lot of work pressure, I was asked to choose between hiring a girl about to start a family (with promises of a maternity leave and a lot of shorter office days ahead), and a guy with the same experience, but maybe marginally weaker, I can’t honestly say who I’ll give the job to. And for that, I hate myself, and the current work environment, and pray that I never have to make that choice.

But people do make that choice, every day. And I don’t see that choice changing, unless we see a major overhaul of the entire work culture in this country. And maybe some things can’t be helped.

But these silly unknowing tiny sexist choices can.

Because really, what’s our excuse for that?

P.S. One of my biggest fears in life is that one day, when I’m leading a team, I’ll be labelled as a stereotypical bitchy female boss. Isn’t it weird that that should be my fear at the workplace? Not if I’ll be able to manage the job, but whether my juniors will dislike working with me because I’m a female boss, and most female bosses are absolute bitches? If they’ll comment on how it’s that time of the month for me, always? It’s funny how we never make that comment about cranky male bosses, no?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Of Uncle-Aunty Gyms and The Happiness Project

So of course I’ve been annoying people with reminders about their happiness projects, and gotten everything from grunts to confused looks. Also random texts about, yeh kya bakwass hai?

And no, don’t worry, I’m not explaining it all over again. But more importantly, what I’m seeing is different versions of the project popping up, and that makes it all worth it! You see, it doesn’t matter whether you made a list of resolutions and an excel to track it. Or whether it’s daily resolutions or doing something different that makes you happy every day. Because the entire point of this project was one simple thing, really, take some time out and think about what makes you happy. And all the variants are doing that, in one way or the other. And that’s really all that matters!

In related news, while I haven’t been super successful in most of my goals this week (missed hitting the gym in between, missed sleeping by 10.30 on MULTIPLE counts!), it still has been fun to think about these things at the end of the day and hope to do better tomorrow. On the other hand, I have actually found a tiny voice in my head chastising me for getting annoyed at work or elsewhere and poking me to see the brighter side, or at least create one. And that tiny voice, as annoying as it might be, helps.

The one goal that makes me the happiest though, is going to the gym. Now this is one activity I genuinely enjoy, I love the aching muscles at the end of a session, that reminder with each step that “Hey! You actually have muscles here dodo!”. And while I have visited gyms quite a few times in Andheri in hopes to sign up, I’ve been dissuaded rather easily. Yes, the timing and distance and need for sleep have been major reasons for not sticking to my earlier gym routine, but another major reason is, there is no such thing as an actual gym in Andheri West.

Let me explain.

Those of you familiar with Andheri West and Lokhandwala, would also be familiar with the majority of the population this little township boasts of. Yup, all the starlets and strugglers, and a lot of directors and producers. So, it’s hardly surprising when you realize that 90% of the Andheri West population is highly fit. In fact, fit is an understatement. Rippling muscles, six packs, and washboard abs describes it better. And while the entire area is filled with fancy gyms, all you find in them are already fit people. Already fit people who come to the gym as dressed up as when they go to the party. Because, that’s just how it’s done.

And then I enter the fancy gym. Baggy t-shirt and sweat and insecure fat. Conscious of how much the treadmill might shake, and how the 1kg dumbbell refuses to go over my shoulder. All the while looking at some TV star who was until recently fighting with a snake-turned-woman on screen flexing his pecks. With the snake-turned-woman flashing the latest branded sports bra and perfect abs near him. And chances of my stint with the gym lasting get considerably reduced.

But I recently discovered a small treasure in the midst of this protein shake jungle. A tiny gym, inside a society, with unfriendly timings and no fancy equipment ti records every centimetre of you and remind me how little I worked out, you silly pig. With an average membership demographic of 40+ years of age, this gym is full of real people, with real fat. And women who wear actual baggy t shirts on top of their sports bras. You know, because actual women sweat. And don’t always look like Nike Ads.

And I absolutely love it!

Even though the instructor suddenly decided I needed to do squats. And I couldn’t really get back up.

Even though I am now acutely aware that even my butt has muscles, and they can ache bloody murder.

Even though all the Uncles & Aunties can kick my ass at crunches.

I feel happy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Your Happiness Project

So now it’s time to actually get down to business. It might sound a bit tiring or tedious, but bear with me and read this through. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about to begin with, you might want to read the intro post to this project here. The original Happiness Project lasted a year, but given my lifestyle and tendency to really not manage anything long term, I’m proposing a 3 month project. A quarter sounds pretty doable, no? While that’s what the duration of my project will be, the beauty of this is there really is no format. Every project is unique, and you could choose to just plan a one month project, or an adventurous 5 year plan (who are you, exceptionally planned latter human being?!). In Gretchen Rubin’s words:

“Your happiness project can start anytime and last as long as you choose. You can start small (putting your keys away in the same place every night) or big (repairing your relationships with your family). It’s totally up to you.”

Resolutions, as mentioned in my earlier post, are integral to this project. They’re the pillars of deeds that will add tiny increments of happiness to your day. And hence, it’s highly important to take some time to think about what your resolutions will be. You could try answering the following questions, truthfully to yourself:

What makes you feel good? What activities do you find fun, satisfying, or energizing? What did you love to do as a kid but no longer have time for, or are maybe too embarrassed to do now?

What makes you feel bad? What are sources of anger, irritation, boredom, frustration, or anxiety in your life? One of the facts to accept about happiness is that it isn’t just positive actions that lead to happiness, it’s also the lack of negative actions. Do you get annoyed returning to a messy house (I know I do)? Do you have a bad temper, and snap at people, but later feel bad about it? Are you so negative at work that you sap all your motivation? Maybe try to eliminate some of the factors that annoy you? Maybe try to change your behaviour or attitude towards your work? Maybe remember to count to 10 every time someone says something stupid, instead of responding sarcastically?

Is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change your job, city, family situation or circumstance? Are you living up to your expectation of yourself? Are you the best wife, mom or team member you know you can be?

Are you growing? Are you learning new skills? Meeting new people? Understanding different cultures? Reading news? Listening to different opinions?

Answering these questions can help identify areas that need work, or activities you’d like to undertake. Once done, form specific goals that seem measurable. For example, ‘Go to the gym everyday’ is more specific than ‘Get fit’. Again, these aren’t new year’s resolutions. These are simple deeds meant to become habits to lead to a happier, satisfied you.

Finally, figure out a way of tracking your happiness goals. I’m using a print out of this excel, and putting ticks and crosses each day. You could customize this same sheet for yourself, or use a habit app, create your own chart, post its, diary, whatever rocks your boat! Though, I have to mention, research indicates things written and drawn by hand are ingrained far more than prints and apps. Just saying.

So to get your started, I’m outlining what my happiness resolutions are like. I’m starting off with the ones I have for the first month, starting yesterday:

  1. Go to the gym: A recent tryst with a back spasm brought into light what I was ignoring for a long time. I had the muscles and stamina of an 80 year old. 14 hours a day spent sitting in office or a cab, followed by sleeping just doesn’t help. And with my current hours, it’s always too easy to say there’s no time to actually exercise. It’s true, but easy. So once the physiotherapist looked at me with pitying eyes, I realized it was time to make things a little difficult. I signed up for a gym near my house, and now am in the process of trying to get up at 5.30 AM every day and push myself out of my comfy bed and onto a treadmill. Moreover, this isn’t just about getting healthier. I’ve spent my whole life battling with weight. I’ve never been fat, but never really slim. And yo-yo-ing weight doesn’t do much for the self esteem. I find myself rather depressed when I try to try on jeans, and realize my waist size has gone up, or try to fit into last year’s dress only to realize it’s no longer possible. That’s the kind of sadness I can really do without!
  2. Sleep by 10.30pm: This is something I’d love to do, but given I only reach home post 9, is quite a challenge. It’s just so tempting to catch yet another show or movie on TV, or just stay put on the sofa out of sheer inertia. More than anything, I hate the thought of my day including only office and sleep. But given that now I’m trying to fit in more stuff into my day, and that my day’s starting earlier, getting into bed by 10.30 is more a requirement than a good-to-have point on this list!
  3. Read half hour every day: Simply because reading actually makes me feel calm, gives the feeling of time well spent, and alleviates my bad mood pretty fast. I do usually manage to catch up on my kindle during travel hours, but if not, half hour before bed is a must!
  4. Don’t crib!: Now THIS is the biggie. If you think getting up at 5.30 is going to be hard, this is going to be so much tougher for someone like me! It’s just so easy to get grumpy and sarcastic about life and everything in it. It’s so easy to be pissed off by taxi drivers who refuse to take you where you want, a job that’s too demanding, colleagues who don’t get along with you, even family and your spouse. Life is difficult. And it’s SO easy to make it sound exactly that, difficult. But, if there’s one thing I’ve realized, my mood rubs onto those around me and vice versa. Even if I start my day on a good note, a cribby colleague get’s me cribbing as well. And then everything looks so much worse than it is! I get annoyed even more than I should, react worse, snap harder. So this one is about me making a conscious effort to take things in their stride, to try and see the positive, to realize that life isn’t as bad as I’m making it seem. And if you do hear me crib, point it out, just so I’m more aware, just so I’m reminded to make an effort. Because I’ll need all the help I can with this one!

Other resolutions for the coming months include learning belly dance, sorting out my finances, finally writing my novel, concentrating more on my freelancing etc. You get the drift!

So this is what I propose, think about the questions posed above, make a list of everything you think could make you happy, or less annoyed at the very least. Shuffle them to see what you want to tackle head on first, and distribute amongst the length of your project. I’d suggest start small, maybe half an hour dedicated to painting every day, maybe an hour of  ‘me time’ away from all family duties, maybe some time in office dedicated to work that you love… the possibilities are endless!

I’d love for you to share your goal chart online on Facebook or here in the comments, and let me know of your status and how you’re doing. Of course, while I would love this, it’s totally up to you. If you’d rather keep it a secret, if there are certain resolutions that are private, feel free to keep it with you. I’ll be sharing all my updates here, and would love to hear from you! So don’t forget to tag me if you do share something publicly! Put up your gym selfie... Your little notes to self... A pic of your progress chart. Document it however you like! Let’s catch up at least once a week to see how we’re doing, no? Because while this might not work, what if it does? What do we really have to lose, by trying to be a little happier?

So go on, #GetHappy!

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Happiness Project

I recently chanced upon a book by Gretchen Rubin, in which she documents a project of self-discovery undertaken by her called, you guessed it, The Happiness Project.

Now anyone who knows me even half-decently, would pretty much know I’m one crib-pot of a human being. It isn’t something I’m proud of, but the simple fact is, shit happens, and my life seems to be a bit full of it. Given this awesome nature of mine (Oh, and sarcasm seems to totally flourish in my head), I was naturally intrigued by the topic of this experiment. The simple thought that happiness could be turned into a controllable year-long project with actual results seemed a bit laughable. But intriguing, nonetheless.

So I spent an entire day pouring over her book, and was pleasantly surprised. And a bit inspired.

This isn’t necessarily just a project for people who are miserable, looking to be happy. In fact, her research revealed that majority of people claim to be happy. And I’m sure, so are most of you. In fact, despite all my cribbing, so am I. After all, I have a good life, a happy marriage, a decent job, a loving family and good health, all basic markers of happiness.

But do I think I’m as happy as I have the potential to be? Definitely not. There’s always a happier image in mind, of how life should be, rather than is.

And what do we have to do to be as happy as possible?

The truth of the matter is, while grand gestures like quitting your job to travel, moving cities or countries, taking a sabbatical are often on our minds (well, at least on mine), they’re tough to accomplish and usually far off. So it’s a little sad to stay sad in lieu of them, isn’t it?

The Happiness Project is actually about identifying tiny deeds to be done every day that could increase your happiness. And I don’t mean like tiny deeds of kindness and selflessness (though if that’s what makes you happy, sure, go ahead!). I mean absolutely selfish things, done purely after introspecting what you’d like to do, or not do, that could contribute that tiny marginal amount of happiness in your day. It could take some time to identify these deeds (or resolutions as Gretchen called them), or they could pop up in your mind as the most obvious thing ever.

And unlike New Year’s resolutions, which are literally meant to be broken, these deeds are divided across the months. Start with a few small changes, track them on a daily basis, and next month add a few more!

You’re reading this because either I tagged you, or you somehow managed to tumble upon my blog. Either way, as it’s quite obvious by now, I’m embarking on a Happiness Project of my own, and I’d really like to encourage you all to do the same.

It will require some introspection, some nerdy tracking and quite some bit of will power. But isn’t it all totally worth it if at the end of it all, you feel better… happier?

Thousands of people across the world claim their projects worked.

So, what’s the harm in trying?

I’ll put up further details about exactly how to go about this project, and my own project resolutions soon (since this post has already become a bit too long). I hope some of you find it in you to take this up, because I’d love to see how it’s helping, and how different it can be for each person, and share our progress and experiences. Either way, I’m going to be boring the crap out of you with my own experience here, so, oh well!

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