What Do Adult Friendships Actually Look Like?

Friendship is a topic that my co-founder Akshara and I think about, like, a LOT. Mostly because pop-culture has us believing that ideal friendships look a certain way and ‘best friends’ (ugh) behave a certain way. After all, friendships are like bodies – they come in all shapes in sizes! And each friendship is meaningful in its own way.

But pop culture wants women to believe that there are only certain types of friendship that are aspirational or worth seeking. Whether it’s Sex And The City or even the more recent The Bold Type, friends are expected to navigate their lives in a deeply connected and almost symbiotic way. We don’t think that’s practical or realistic, so we thought we’d talk about what adult friendships actually look like.

Friendships Should Allow For Honesty

When we say honesty, we don’t mean spilling raw details about your life, but a relationship that allows for you to be the most authentic version of yourself. A good friendship allows you to not only be open about your circumstances, opinions and feelings but also be unapologetic about it. If your friend wants to go out, for example and you don’t want to, you shouldn’t have to force yourself to go out. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to do anything for a friendship. All of us have been through our share of peer pressure in school and college and done things we haven’t wanted to. But when you’re in your late 20s/30s, peer pressure is not something you want to sign up for – especially when you’ve signed up for a million other things already.

Friendships Should Allow For Boundaries

A good friendship allows you to draw clear boundaries for yourself. You get to decide what you want to participate in (whether it’s a night out or a whatsapp group) and what you don’t want to participate in. If this person is a good friend, odds are that you’re going to like doing similar things together. But there will always be times when you might not feel like being a part of something, even if you have done it before. An adult friendship should allow you to draw these boundaries out without it having to cost the relationship itself.

Friendships Should Be Free of Pressure

This is a continuation of the point about boundaries, but there are concepts like gifting, for example, or hanging out only at certain types of places, that can cause invisible pressure on you. If the interests are mutual, then hey! you guys should totally do what you enjoy. Gifting and partying are fun! But not gifting or not wanting to go out is just as okay. Every friend has a different definition of what it means to show up and express affection. You shouldn’t have to conform to theirs and they shouldn’t have to conform to yours. You do you! It’s that simple.

All Your Friendships Are Valid

As we grow, we find a number of interests along the way and consequently, different people we share those interests with. While having friends with whom you can share your every day is fantastic, the idea of ‘best’ friend is pretty dated in our opinion, despite the pop culture pressure to have one. Besides it’s kind of unfair to expect one person to cater to ALL your interests! We might have a bunch of people we only share memes with. We might have another group of people that we might not necessarily have a deep connection with, but have a fantastic time when we go out. Friends to share celebrity gossip with. Friends who get excited about your reading list. Friends who give you the best Netflix recommendations. They’re all valid friendships that are worth seeking and maintaining.

4 Ways To Measure Your Growth At Work

A large part of our career is spent thinking about “what’s next”. Our heads are always clouded with ambition about our next big title, our next big move, how to get the dream job — right? It’s always focused on where to go, and not necessarily how to get there. And let’s say that we do set benchmarks for ourselves to get there — even those tend to be too rigid and we end up feeling like we’ve failed or not moved. Believe me, I’ve gone through this vicious cycle and it’s not pleasant.

Recognising that you’re in this pressurising cycle is the first step to fixing it. The second, is to constantly acknowledge that your journey is independent of those around you. This also means your progress is different. You can’t just say that to yourself once. You have to keep reminding yourself that just like your face, your brain and your body — your capabilities are also unique to you.

Here are some of the ways I’ve measured my growth in the past two years.

Your parameters are based on what matters to you

This is extremely important. If you haven’t done this already, I’d urge you to define what progress means to you. Create a set of custom benchmarks for yourself that you can use over general, conditioned benchmarks that exist in the workplace today. Instead of the usual questions like “what title do I want” or “how much should I be making by this age”— which, by the way I’m sure most of us know the answers to — ask yourself more specific questions. What really matters to me? Do I feel like I’ve mastered a skill that helps me level up? Have I been a fair and empathetic colleague and leader? Am I a subject matter expertise in my area of interest yet? Did I get a certification for anything? Do people come to me for problem solving? — These are examples of specific parameters for you to measure your growth at work. If you have a rating or a percentage that you can mark yourself against through the year, you’ll know if you’ve put the effort into getting there. 

You have new problems to worry about each year 

I know, I know. This is an awful thing to say. But it’s true. Having new problems to solve is, in some way, growth too. By “problems”, I don’t mean things related to toxic work cultures or peers, but I mean actual work challenges. This can be anything from new projects that need a fresh perspective to doing away with problems that once existed but aren’t even on your radar anymore, applying new skills that you learned in the year that passed by, more confidence in your articulation or ability to look macros and micros of your work— if this is all more natural to you each year, you are growing. Don’t disregard it. 

Your colleagues and peers consider you a dependable person

I’ve learned over time that you can excel at a job that’s given to you when you’re working independently. But it’s a whole other ballgame to share, teach and learn from others. This is where a lot of us miscalculate our abilities to work with people. It’s funny when people say that businesses are all about the money — yes they are, but they don’t run like a well-oiled machine without a great people. You can be a master at your job, but if you can’t work with others, you haven’t really grown. Do people trust you? Are you a part of important decisions made by your team? Can someone rely on you to get the job done? Do you speak up and share your thoughts? Do you support team members and have their backs? It seems like it’s an emotional or a personal thing but it all matters because thats the only way you learn how to lead. If you’re considered as someone who exhibits leadership qualities by your peers, that is a sign of growth. 

You’ve been rewarded for your work 

Of course, the last and most evident sign of growth is when those incredibly hard days and nights (that once seemed senseless) add up to a sweet bonus, a hike, a change in title or a promotion. It’s not common to have crazy jumps in these things, but if you’ve also been in a slump for several years in this aspect, it’s definitely a matter of concern. Either you’re not being rewarded or you’re not finding a way to articulate your progress and expectations in a way that makes sense to your management. This is probably something you want to address sooner than later because the decision, no matter what it may be, can propel you in the right direction.

In conclusion, these signs of growth aren’t meant to be groundbreaking. They’re holistic, real ways of measuring how far you’ve come each year and how much farther you have to go to get to the job of your dreams or reach your ultimate career goals. In today’s workplace, your growth as an employee goes far beyond just being skilled at your job. It’s all about your eq, your ability to manage people, delicate situations or a crisis, your sensitivity to political and cultural issues etc. which is why this approach is more likely to give you a holistic sense of your growth. I hope this was useful to you. Let us know all the ways in which you measure your progress and growth. 

5 Things To Consider If You’re Going To Grad School

In every twenty-something’s life comes a time when they’re posed with a question – “Should I go to grad school or not?” I’m no different. When I turned 24, I’d worked for close to 4 years full time and felt like I was ready for it. It turns out I was. I picked the right course, the right school and more importantly, the right job to create the career path that I wanted for myself. But what I wanted to write about today, is that it isn’t all attributed to grad school alone.

While it can be a great life experience, there are some things that you should consider before you go. These are factors that can impact your experience and your life after grad school, so I’d suggest not discounting them entirely. Please note that this is my personal viewpoint and entirely based on my experience alone. They’re also specific to studying abroad, in addition to some of the risks and uncertainties involved.

Consider your long-term career goals

This is one of the most important things to do before you go to grad school. For me, personally, it was my four years of work experience between undergrad and grad school that helped me understand what I really wanted to do. For those of you who are dead sure, that’s great. For those who aren’t, I’d suggest you gain relevant work experience. At the end of the day, grad school is expensive and you want to study something that will benefit your long-term career. If I’d gone earlier than I did, I’m pretty sure I would’ve applied to the wrong program. Working at an organization helped me understand my strengths, my areas of interest, peaked my curiosity and allowed me make an informed decision.

Consider your financial situation

Everyone knows that grad school, especially one that’s abroad, is an expensive affair. You’re not just paying for the course, you’re not even paying for your experience, you’re paying for the possibility of migrating and building a life there. Very few people come back right after grad school, and this is because they want to be able to gain work experience and see some return on their investment. Here are some things you can ask yourself. Is this doable right now for you financially? Do you have any savings? Do you need a loan and how long is it going to take you to pay it back? If someone else is paying for you, how stable is their financial situation? Is the city you’re going to extremely pricey? These things are important in making a decision like this. I went to grad school because I wasn’t loan dependent, and I saved extensively on living expenses by staying with family. This reduced some of my costs marginally.

Consider the likelihood of getting a work visa

The year I went to grad school in the US was the year Trump became president. Visa rules became extremely stringent. While I wasn’t directly implicated, I found that interviews actively asked about work permits. Even internship interviews. A lot of these things aren’t in our control. It didn’t matter that I had great scores or prior work experience or that I was hardworking. In countries like the US, where the political scenario is unpredictable, the chances you’ll get a visa is 50-50, or less. The H1B lottery system is fickle (here’s hoping the new administration changes it), and while many have been able to stay back, let’s not forget that MANY have had to return to India. Remember that if things don’t work out after grad school, coming back or finding an alternative could be a possible outcome and that’s not a bad one at all. There are plenty of companies in India that are growing rapidly across industries, and all it requires is a positive mindset and the ability to adapt to change.

Consider the trade-offs

We’ve always grown up with the American dream and the conditioning that everything in the west is just magically better. But it’s not always the case. Life there can be as hard, if not harder. There’s a lot that you have to do yourself with no help. Of course, it’s an incredible experience to step out of your comfort zone and there’s no denying that. But eventually most of us have the same routine irrespective of location – a job, a family, a circle of friends and a few things we do to stay sane. It can be challenging to stay away from home and your loved ones for a long time and not everyone can cope, so know that the life you’re investing in will have trade offs. You will have hard days there too and that’s ok. It’s a choice that you’ve made for yourself as part of your larger dream.

Consider the alternatives

If you don’t go to grad school, does that mean you can’t still achieve your life long ambition? No, absolutely not. Remember that a grad school degree in today’s world doesn’t always set you apart entirely. It gives you an edge, sure. But you need a lot more than that to compete. You need experience, you need to build skills that your peers and counterparts don’t possess. Let’s just say that grad school makes you competitive for a job, but it doesn’t help you keep the job. I always believe that grad school is only what you make of it. If you’re going, use every opportunity to get in front of your dream jobs and employers. Push your school to do more for you. Network, do informational interviews, meet everyone that’s relevant to the process.

If you decide not to go, that’s fine. I didn’t go to journalism school to write for Vogue India and I certainly didn’t go to marketing school to be the head of customer marketing at my company today. Most of my skills have involved unlearning and learning on the job and I wouldn’t discount that. I’ve often seen that there’s a lot of arrogance around going to grad school abroad, and I might’ve even been that way myself early on. But as I’ve evolved, I’m not sure I feel the same way anymore. What I’ve seen is that grad school or not, I’m surrounded by people who just go make things happen even if they don’t traditionally have the “checklist”, and that’s what is truly inspiring.  

Grad school is a great experience, and if you have the means to do it and you really want to go, you should. But know why you’re going, what the likelihood of you staying back is, and what trade offs your making because those are big decisions. Initially it’s all exciting but over time these things do weigh on you. Just be aware that in an unpredictable world – especially in the middle of a pandemic, things may not always go smoothly and that’s the reality. Another thing to remember is not going doesn’t make anyone less deserving or qualified for a job or a role. You can do online certifications, be mentored, gain as much relevant work experience as you can and keep learning. Everyone has different priorities, so be sure to choose based on what’s important to you, not just because the world expects you to do it. Most importantly, remember that there are multiple ways to pursue your career ambitions and that grad school is just one of them.

5 Ways To Save For Entrepreneurship

One of the positive effects of the lockdown has been the time that it’s given us to really tap in to our interests and hone them – to the point where a lot of us are considering entrepreneurship more seriously than ever. Having a side hustle in addition to your job can be hard to juggle, and the temptation to jump into your passions full time will be strong.

Entrepreneurship is often portrayed to be something that’s very sexy and appealing, but it can also be extremely stressful. And one of the most crucial ways to reduce stress is by having a strong financial foundation.

Here’s how you can prepare yourself, financially, to save for your entrepreneurial dream –
Don’t Quit Your Day Job To Get Started

A steady stream of income is hugely underrated. If you are itching to act on your entrepreneurial venture, don’t quit your job to get started! Setting up websites and social media accounts to start selling can be done in a snap, so there’s really no need to not get started. Holding on to your day job while getting started with your business journey also allows you to gauge how you feel about dealing with customers, vendors, queries and all the administrative dailies that come with running a business. I’ve personally noticed that a lot of people who love what their hobbies end up hating it simply because the administrative tasks put them off. When you hold on to your day job, you can gauge your own reaction to the every day stresses of business and figure out your next steps. Yes, juggling both will be hard and you’ll definitely see yourself working longer hours but the peace of mind that comes with this security is priceless!

Save For Six Months

If you’ve decided that you are indeed going to go down this path, allow yourself to save for a six month runway, or six months of your pay in the bank. This will be your capital and peace of mind! It also enables you to take the decisions you want to take without the pressure of banks or lenders who you might have to answer to. While loans and funding will eventually follow, this six month runway means you can set up on your terms.

Check Your Credit Score

Speaking of loans and funding, if you’re looking to start up on your own, definitely take the time to check your credit score. Your credit score is a 3 digit number that conveys how trustworthy you are as a borrower. Your credit score determines the amount you can borrow from the bank. Checking it in advance – and consequently – improving it can help you borrow on better terms from banks. You are eligible for a credit score report from CIBIL, the government’s credit information agency, once a year. Alternatively, there are a number of other options including creditmantri, paisabazaar etc.

Prep Your Insurance & Savings Accounts

A day job comes with certain savings and insurance protection – PF, health insurance etc. The moment you shift to entrepreneurship however, you need to set up alternate insurance policies and savings channels to make sure your savings don’t stop and that you’re always have a backup if you or your family runs into health issues. This is often overlooked, so make sure you set up alternate channels of saving and get yourself a health insurance policy even before you start pursuing your entrepreneurial dream full time.

Stay Liquid

It’s nearly impossible to predict the financial needs of your business, which is why you should aim to stay liquid during the initial days of setting up. Remember that 6 month runway we spoke about? Make sure it’s instantly accessible, either as a fixed deposit, or even in another bank account that you may have allocated for your business. The idea is to always have it on hand and not in hard to access investments like long term bonds or in mutual funds which may experience fluctuations in the short term. Staying liquid will help you stay on your feet as you set your business up!

Those are my five principles when it comes to saving for a side hustle. Are you a recent entrepreneur? How have you approached your finances? Let us know in the comments!

How To Pace Yourself At Work To Avoid Burnout

I’ve often found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed at every thing I have to do. They’re absolutely regular things. They’re things all of you do — heck, you probably do more. I’m sure one among them is managing responsibilities at work. But it obviously doesn’t happen in isolation because along with with it, you’re managing your home, your relationship, your children if any, your friendships and your mental, physical and emotional well-being. That can be exhausting in today’s world and impacts how you pace yourself at the workplace.

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While it’s easy to go back to the example of our parents, I personally don’t think it always helps. Our lives today are in stark contrast to theirs — in our dreams, our access to the world, our exposure to technology, the new pressures of being constantly connected, and current global circumstances. To say “I wish I could deal with my problems the way my mother or father did” becomes moot for me…so I don’t. Instead, I look at how I can do it my way — an approach that is sustainable to my life’s context and truthful to who I am as a person.

Here are some of the things I do to pace myself at work:

I manage my own expectations

Before you manage anyone else’s expectations of you, you need to manage your expectations of yourself. Here are some basic questions to think about. What do YOU want? Do you have enough clarity about your area of passion, and if not, do you even want to figure it out or do you want to try different avenues before you get there? How fast or slow do YOU want to go at work? People have all kinds of timelines in their lives. I’m not a believer of it, but many people are. And that certainly influences the speed of your growth at work. Some people have goals for certain milestone ages, others have personal dreams they want to focus on and prefer to put work on the back burner. Is the path you’ve set out for yourself aligned to your end goal (whatever it might be) — being an expert in your field, simply making good money (an underestimated, valid goal in my opinion), the C-suite title you dream of, run a business, be famous, be an artist, do something where you’re not conforming to capitalistic standards…whatever you fancy.

There is no right answer here. For me, I know that I’ve always wanted to work within luxury brand management and strategy, so I’ve ensured to take steps in that direction. While I’m excited to discover new avenues within my job, my area of interest is super focused and has remained the same since I was 12. This focus automatically helped me weed out roles, jobs and companies that weren’t in this space or aligned to my dreams. I know it’s a niche, and I like it that way. That’s the expectation I have for myself, and it works. But this is specific to me. If you want to experiment and be jack of all trades, you probably want to try your hand at multiple things, and there’s a way to plan a career around that type of radical growth too.

I don’t just acknowledge my highs and lows, I prep for them

In the last two years, I’ve come to realise that I can’t be perfect at everything. It took me some time to realise that it’s okay. We’re all too conditioned to work super hard and to perfection, but that doesn’t always translate to working smart. When did “perfection” alone become the metric for success? What about outcomes, delegating successfully, widening responsibility, consistency, keeping your team motivated, growing significantly year on year? All those things count too!

When I initially joined my company, I found myself highly controlling of every task and would be afraid to delegate — I’ve talked about this here. I realised that in my effort to be “excellent”, I stopped being consistent. And let’s face it, no one can be excellent all the time. So I’d find myself going through extreme highs and lows where my output would be fantastic one quarter and just about sufficient in the next. This didn’t just affect my work, it affected me mentally and I did not recover in time for my good quarter again. This year, I decided I wouldn’t make that mistake. Some months are better than the others for every single person and I’m no different. So I prep myself for times I can shine, and other times when I can let my team shine so we’re not out of fuel entirely. I call them my rest and recovery/backstage/behind the scenes time… you get the drift. This perspective shift has helped me enjoy my high phases and bounce back faster after my low phases and move on without much regret.

I have a solid support system

I don’t know about everyone else, but I can speak for myself when I say that I can’t survive my days without my support system. I just cannot do what I do in isolation. I need my people and I strongly believe that they’re the reason I continue to grow in my career. This support system can be anyone — your spouse, family, friends, mentors and most importantly, your work-wives (essentially your core group at work that gets you through basically anything). I don’t always talk to everyone about everything but it’s a safe ecosystem of sorts for me — to learn, to debate, to bounce off ideas, to vent, to be challenged, encouraged and eventually, fly high.

I religiously practice a self-care routine

The problem with self care is that it’s often looked at as selfish, and I couldn’t disagree more. Can you ever pour from an empty cup? The answer is no. You can’t take care of others if you’re not taken care of — to me, it’s almost a way to be kinder to yourself and people around you. I look at self-care in three ways. One is of course, the ornamental (but necessary version) — a great skincare and beauty routine, buying something I really want once in a while even if it’s expensive, a vacation, a massage, general personal upkeep and maintenance, etc. The next is physical which is to eat well, feel nourished and workout in a way that’s sustainable.

The last one, is psychological. I do this by creating boundaries to the extent I can. I don’t engage in conversations that are degrading, nasty or uncomfortable for me anymore. I make my discomfort visible. If other people are uncomfortable with these choices, I don’t fill in awkward silences to make them feel better. I let them feel uncomfortable if they need to and fight their own demons. I also communicate in a clear, comprehensive manner without having to yell or fight for myself. This progress is plenty for me. Self care might not be directly related to work, but it informs the way you think, communicate, speak and listen to others, even at work. Your success could lie in using self care tools to pick your battles, be civil with problematic colleagues, navigate your career path or voice your opinions in a way that you’re heard — so don’t underestimate it.

What are some of the things you do to pace yourself at work?

Tell me in the comments!

Image: Free illustration by Oblik Studio

What does self care mean to you?

This week on our Instagram, we asked you guys what self care meant for you. And there were some really fantastic answers! Thank you for sharing. I thought I’d also take the time to talk about what self care meant for me in some detail. So here goes –

1. Self care is NOT selfish

There is a tendency to look at self care as a luxury or as superficial, after all, a lot of popular imagery around self care is focused on long bubble baths and other expensive and time consuming activities. But the fact is that self care is essential, simply to keep your sanity in check. It’s a time where you prioritize yourself and do things that make you feel happy/relaxed. So for me, self care is an essential. Besides, if you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of those you love? Practising self care allows me to be a better partner, a better mother, a better friend and a better me.

2. Self care doesn’t have to be time-consuming

5 minute meditation sessions, 10 minute manicures, 20 minute workouts – are all valid forms of self care as far as we’re concerned. The key is to ensure that you do something small, consistently, instead of doing something once a month. I’ll give you an example – I love working out because it clears my mind. If I decided to work out for 2.5 hours on Saturday instead of 30 minutes from Monday to Friday, not only is it going to be ineffective, but it’s also going to get me injured. So make consistent pockets of time for yourself and stick to it.

3. Self care doesn’t have to be expensive

You really don’t have to buy anything to feel good about yourself. If buying something will 100% make you feel better, go for it, but never feel pressurized into buying something because it’s advertised as ‘self care’. There’s a lot of ad copy out there these days that insist that whatever they’re selling is the key to inner peace, but nope. Only you know what will bring you joy and peace. Sometimes it’s as simple as a walk. Sometimes it’s literally just texting an old friend. You don’t need to invest in expensive things to feel good about yourself and that’s what self care is about! It’s about looking inwards and seeking out what makes you happy.

And that’s what self care means for me! My favourite self care activities are exercising, getting some fresh air and doodling on my sketchbook. What are your thoughts on self care? Drop a comment below and we’ll talk!

Leading When You’re Not A Natural Leader

My history with leadership

I am not a natural leader. Perhaps this is a product of circumstance. Although I took on leadership positions in school, I never got to hone it once I was out. During my Chartered Accountancy articleship I preferred to be in teams which already had strong heads or to be left alone. Cut to my time practice, I overlooked audits but I was never truly a part of them. This was because I had to manage multiple audits while balancing individual work. So while I got a chance to head teams, I was always only a stepping point to the finish line. I never got to lead them. I never got to nurture them.

As a result, I was – and still am – an excellent team player. And I’m even better as an individual contributor. But a leader? A manager? To be honest I thought this was something that would occur naturally to me, but it didn’t.
When I became a manager in my organisation and got a team of my own, we worked very well together. But as time went by, it became clearer and clearer to me that I wasn’t able to lead the way I thought I could.

Part of this was because I saw leadership as a talent and not as a skill. A talent is usually innate. Natural. And some of us are natural leaders. But when you’re not a natural leader, it is vital that you don’t see it as some kind of internal failure but flip the switch on it instead. What if leadership could be learned, like calculus or French? Taking this mindset on took me time, but now that I am here, I find myself becoming a better manager with each passing day.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Accept the fact that you’re not a natural leader

This is very important. In order for you to make a change, it is vital that you acknowledge the need for one. It’s easy to be in your cocoon or even tell yourself that this is your leadership style, but take the time to introspect. If you didn’t have the title, would your team still look up to you? Come to you? Ask and respect your opinions? The more you introspect, the easier it is to see the need for change.

Tell yourself that it’s a mindset

A talent is something that you’re born with and comes naturally to you. A skill is something that you acquire after working on it every single day. Even natural leaders aren’t exempt from honing and refining their leadership skills, so don’t think that leadership is unattainable. The moment you tell yourself that you can’t do it, you can’t do it. But when you tell yourself that you can learn how to be a leader – and you can – you will find yourself actively working towards that goal. Sometimes this is by way of reading books (really recommend Mindset!), sometimes it’s by confronting everything you dislike about being a manager. I’ve always despised tough feedback talk, but I confronted it this quarter. And yes, it was difficult the first time but the more I confronted it, the easier it became.

Recalibrate your instinct

We’re often told to ’trust our gut’ because our gut knows what’s best for us. But when you’re naturally inclined to avoid confrontation, your gut instinct will tell you to avoid it. These are the times when you have to actively recognize that this is your natural instinct to shy away from hard conversations and work against it. It’s not easy and it’s not intuitive, but it is necessary. Over time, you’ll find yourself naturally doing things that you were uncomfortable doing because you’ve managed to recalibrate your instincts.

Take things one at a time

Yes, you may have recognized the problem and I’m sure you’re working towards getting better but remember that it’s a process and you don’t want to be overwhelmed by it. Acknowledge that you’re not going to be a fantastic leader overnight and take baby steps that will help you achieve consistency instead. Remember that it’s a long game!

Let your team shine

Last, but not the least, let your team shine. One of the side effects of having been an individual contributor is that you often mistake credit to be the sign of a job well done. When you’re a leader or manager, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about your team and how you can enable your team. A good leader makes her team feel seen and heard. So do all you can to make your team successful – and that marks your own success as a leader.

Are you a natural leader? Or are you learning to be a leader? Do let us know your thoughts in the comments! We’d love to carry the conversation forward.

4 Things That Helped Me Build My Career

It’s been close to a decade since I began my career and started working full time. Ten years may not seem like a long time for most people, but I’m certain that the experiences that have shaped me in this time have set the tone for the direction I want to take in my 30s, both personally and professionally.

Before I jump into what some of my biggest learnings have been through this journey, let me quickly take you through who I am and what I do for a living. My name is Akshara Subramanian, and I’m currently the head of customer marketing at Vue.ai, a company that works with retailers across the globe to optimize their digital businesses using AI and automation. We specialise in retail verticals including fashion, beauty, home, health and wellness. I’ve been at this company for a little over two years and have had the incredible opportunity of working with brands like thredUP, Depop, The Tata Group, Forrester, publications like WWD, Vogue Business and many more — a dream that’s now a reality.

Before I joined Vue.ai in 2018, I did my masters in Strategy Design and Management at Parsons School of Design in New York City, worked at Jabong and a health and wellness startup called Stepathlon in their content teams between 2012–2015. I’m also a contributing writer to Vogue India and have a new piece coming out in November 2020.

Today, I’m going to talk about the things that helped me build my career and get to this point. I hope it’s useful to anyone that’s reading!

1.I stayed true to my interest and passion, even if it seemed offbeat.
While I grew up in a fairly open-minded family, fashion was still not looked at as a lucrative career option in our immediate environment. I knew for a fact that my strengths weren’t in physics or math — I was always naturally creatively inclined and didn’t allow anyone to deter that path. Being true to my passion helped me quit jobs that had no future and realise what I didn’t want to do very early on. This might not be relevant to everyone because each person’s goals are different, but I’m one of those people for whom a job is never “just a job”. If I’m spending 9–10 hours doing something, I’d better care about it for reasons beyond being paid, otherwise it’s not worth it to me. If you’re bursting with ideas, don’t let anyone else’s negativity or disbelief in it stop you. People can only project on you, it doesn’t mean their failures or insecurities become yours.

2. I didn’t put myself in a box.
I always knew that I wanted to work in fashion. I just wasn’t sure about what avenue I’d take. With that as my north star, I started experimenting with different paths within fashion. My first internship at 18 was at The Hindu’s retail supplement in the south. I had to cover stories around what college-goers were spending on their wardrobes, what buying trends the city was seeing, retail budgets and store launches. This was my first ever stint with writing and I didn’t think much of it, because I felt like I hadn’t explored enough. My next internship was with IMG, the company that runs Lakme Fashion Week. I did this in Mumbai, and I learned so much about the technicalities of events, sponsorships, designers, logistics and the production of something as large as this event. I wrote a fashion blog for several years (before I shut it down cos I just couldn’t manage producing the level of content it needed while simultaneously managing a full-time job). I tried my hand at a bunch of things before I did my masters. This also helped me realise what I wanted to do long-term. If you have some sort of overarching passion but don’t know how to go about it, it’s really okay. I feel like your early 20s are the best time to learn as much as you can. You can always become a specialist later in your career. Putting yourself in a box is extremely limiting, and I wouldn’t recommend it unless that’s something you voluntarily want to do. In that case, go for it!

3. I rely on my professional mentors heavily
I’ve always made it a point to stay in touch with my old bosses or people who have in some way shaped my career. Every time you hit a roadblock, or you’re not sure of your next career move, their guidance and opinion can help you gain a new perspective, or one that’s really different from yours. It’s also a great way to stay connected because you never know when you’ll cross paths again. I have always worked with my old colleagues in new roles — and it’s been great for my personal growth.

4. I said ‘YES’ to things I was uncomfortable with.
I’ve found that the best way to learn how to do things you don’t know and become indispensable in your role is to simply get down to doing it. Through the years, I’ve started a podcast. I’ve done crazy amounts of cold outreach. I’ve run instagram accounts for three companies with no professional training and was able to grow them significantly. I’ve hosted video conferences. I’ve learned everything on the job — some things came to me naturally, some really didn’t and I had to spend time training myself to get better at these skills. I don’t usually have that whole “this isn’t my job” attitude. It may not be your job, sure, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn a new skill. I know I’m not always going to say YES to everything in the future and I know this sounds like major gyaan — but it’s really not. There is some truth to what they say about growth being outside your comfort zone. When work becomes like exercising a muscle or a reflex, it gets a bit mindless. At least for me. Trust me, employers are not looking for “experience” on a fresher’s profile — they’re looking for people who are willing to get their hands dirty!

I wrote this piece specifically for those who are starting out, but might find certain things daunting to do early on in their career. I know things like these would’ve helped me when I was starting off, so sharing what I can to pass the knowledge!

Thanks for reading if you made it till here.

5 Things I’m Doing To Lead Better

“You’re a natural leader” — this is something that I’ve been told since I was in my early 20s. I never really understood what it meant, but I always took it as a compliment. Today, when I think about what kind of leader I want to be, I am drawn towards a more collaborative, balanced and forward approach to leadership. You can rely on your natural tendencies to be a good leader, but it’s not enough to stay a good leader. Just like every skill in the world, it needs honing, thought, practice and evolution. Here are some of the things I’m doing, with examples, to become the kind of leader I aspire to be.

  1. Don’t hate, delegate
    In the early days of my career, I struggled with delegation. This is because I didn’t understand the concept of letting go. I wouldn’t micromanage other people, but I wouldn’t give the work away either. As a result, I’d build resentment within and feel frustrated, but I’d also be overloaded with the work that I refused to delegate. This style was not sustainable. I slowly realised that everyone’s learning curve might not be the same as mine, so I started creating room for people to adapt to new working styles, new jobs and measured incremental changes instead. That was a game changer for me. I now set expectations with my team that while they can do the job or the work in a style that’s comfortable to them, the end outcome is specific. This also helps people plan ahead or plan backwards. Delegation isn’t weakness, it’s actually powerful. Don’t assume that someone can’t do the job better than you or as well as you. They need the right tools and resources and you should be the one that gives them the support. And that brings me to my second point.
  2. Be an enabler, not a blocker
    Once you delegate work, learn to develop trust. If it’s a new person and that’s hard for you to do, reset your expectations because it’s likely that they won’t do exactly what you want them to. It takes time for people to work like a well-oiled machine, and expecting it to happen over night isn’t just impractical, it’s impossible. With these biases, you’re basically setting them up for failure, which is a very unfair thing to do. I’m not saying I’ve always been good at this but I learn so much every single day on the job. If you’re not enabling your team to take decisions themselves, they can’t do anything without you.

    We’re now a small team of five at my current organization, but I make sure that my team feels confident in taking decisions themselves and take on more individual accountability each quarter. Similarly, if there’s someone who works better as an individual contributor and is clear about not wanting more accountability, then find a different way to handle their role. You can’t force people to go against their core nature. This has done wonders for our team because it gives them a sense of purpose, and a feeling of mutual trust. It makes them feel like they’re here for a reason and that they can get the job done. This dynamic also helps when you might have a personal emergency and need to put someone incharge to look over things. That’s also when you’ll learn who’s most dependable.
  3. Set clear personal and professional boundaries.
    I’m very open minded when it comes to leadership styles. I don’t believe in traditional corporate structures where everything is an application, a form-fill and there’s no human connection whatsoever. For me it’s not “cut off after 6pm” from your work folks, nope. I don’t function that way and I’m glad that I don’t. I care about my team and the people I work with. I spend more time with my colleagues than my family — and for the time you’re working with them, they become an integral part of your day. Their personal losses and gains are a source of sadness and joy respectively for our team. So it’s very natural that you learn about their interests, their families, their lives etc. However, I do understand that we’re also here to do our jobs and business outcomes do matter. I tell my team repeatedly that my critique on a certain project is not a blind reflection of what I think of them as people and that it doesn’t have to affect our overall dynamic. I ensure that our unified focus, as a team, is the quality of the output we produce and that we’re allowed to poke and prod until we get that. We’re allowed to push each other until that point and it’s something we all understand and agree upon.
  4. Let people rest when they need to
    Pushing people beyond their capacity doesn’t always work. I understand that everyone might need a nudge to hit their actual potential, but I’ve seen a lot of leaders and bosses just not know when to stop. And that is something I’ve learned NOT to do over the years. I’d much rather give someone who has really great potential a few days off here and there to recoup than lose them for good. I’d prefer not lose the value they bring to the team, the talent that I hunted to find — all over a few days off or a low-phase they’re going through. If it’s something deeper, it’s probably something they need help with. If you know their true potential, you’d ideally guide them back towards it than get rid of them. The trade-off makes zero sense to me. The other question to ask here is WHY are they so exhausted or tired? Are they hitting too many roadblocks? Is a process that YOU designed failing and they’re not telling you? Don’t make assumptions. Dig deep and find out why things are the way they are. I’ve been vocal enough to ask my bosses for breaks when things have been unbearable for me. And to my surprise, they’ve always given it to me. Ask for a break, ask for rest. Both marathons and sprints need rest times. How they choose to rest doesn’t matter as long as they’re given the option. If people wanted you to operate like a machine, you wouldn’t do it for too long either. Remember that the people that report to you are people too.
  5. Your team’s spirit is on you
    Jobs today aren’t like they were back then. In this pandemic, all lines between personal and professional lives are blurry. You’re never “OFF” even when you’re off. You’re on the phone, texting, responding to emails, watching your colleagues on social media. There is no “at work / outside work” anymore. Your team’s environment at work deeply impacts how well they do their jobs. Check on them individually every once in a while in a personal capacity, organize a non-work team activity (we watch 90s tamil movies and cringe together), organize zoom pictionary or play on skribble. There’s plenty of things to do to keep the camaraderie going. Don’t make it all about work all the time.

There are a bunch of other things I do, but these are my key ones. Comment below what your leadership style is and how you function, I’d love to know!

7 Tips To Write The Best Resume Ever

Your resume is the first impression that any recruiter has of you, so it’s important that you make an impression by standing out – in a good way. Between the two of us, we’ve had a fair share of jobs that we’ve applied for as well as resumés that we’ve gone through. The pandemic is an especially critical time to know how to write a good resume that will immediately make you appealing to recruiters. After all, there is a lot of uncertainty in the job markets and if you are looking to shift, it’s important to know how to write a good resume.

Here are 7 tips that we’ve personally tried and have known to be effective.

Keep it to one page only

The most effective resumes are only one page long. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have – you should be able to fit into a single page. Recruiters usually skim through resumes and the moment they notice that a resume is 2 or 3 pager, they might immediately be put off by it and not even consider you for the job! Being concise and to the point is a characteristic that is greatly valued in every company, so please refrain from sending in novels about your life in the office. If you’re finding it hard to concise your experience, use a resumé builder like Novoresume, Resumegenius, Zety or any other tool that’s available online to help you figure out how you can best compress everything to a page.

Customize your resume for every application

This might seem like a pain to do, but the results are incredibly effective and they go a long way in helping you keep your resumé concise. Every time you apply for a job, make tweaks to your resume based on what the job description says in the hiring call. If there’s an emphasis on a particular skill (Excel macros, for example) and you know it, make sure it’s front and centre on your resume. If they’re looking for someone who’s worked extensively with customers from a certain geography and you have, make sure it’s highlighted. Think about it this way: the perfect candidate for their job matches every bullet point in the job description. How can you be that candidate?

Stay away from the photos

There’s a lot of divided opinion about this, where for some careers it’s okay but for some others you’re better off without them. In our experience, we’ve noticed that photos are ok in creative fields as well as startup environments. However, we would ask you to err on the side of caution and not include a photo in your resume unless specifically called for. If your headhunter must absolutely know how you look, they can always look you up on social media. And if you must include a photo, make sure it’s a professionally shot one and not a blurry iphone selfie/you posing on a bike/an uneven crop from a group photo (these are examples from actual resumes we’ve vetted during hiring processes in the last year!). It creates a terrible first impression.

Quantify your impact

Numbers add a significant weight to your experience. “Written articles” and “in charge of newsletter” is not nearly as impactful as “authored 20 articles on xyz” or “wrote 50 editions of the company’s newsletter over the course of 6 months & doubled subscribers”. Representing your achievements in a quantified form – where you can clearly demonstrate the value you brought your employer is one of the most powerful ways to make an impact to your recruiter.

Start Strong

This is more of a hack – make your top section the most impactful section in your resume. We know that recruiters skim, so make sure you give them what they want right upfront. Make it the most powerful part of your resume and give them reason to pause and go through your resume in full.

Add links wherever possible

If you have a blog or a body of work or a website that has more information about the work that you do, add links so the recruiter can check them out. Given that we all live in the golden age of pdf resumes, linking to sites and even social media profiles is almost necessary. Please remember to only link to open content. Providing links to sites that are password protected or social media accounts that are private only cause irritation.

Use action words & success words

Resumes can tend to sound repetitive, which is why it’s important to use a healthy combination of action words that demonstrate the work you did and follow it up with success words that indicate value. Actions words are ‘led’, ‘created’, ‘organized’, ‘managed’ and success words are ‘added’, ‘accelerated’, ‘grew’, ‘expanded’, ‘eliminated’ and so on. This article from Inc. is a great reference point for the success words you should look to add in your resume.

And those are our tips! If you have any questions about creating powerful and successful resumes, let us know in the comments! We’ll try our best to help!