Column: On Work-Life Balance



People have often asked me whether I would recommend stepping off the
corporate ladder. My invariable answer is, it all depends on how you define your
priorities and how you view success. For me, at work, bigger or more is not
necessarily better, rather building a repertoire of experience and enhancing
reputation is.  It is more important
to me to lead a rich and varied life that offers a steep learning curve and to
give my all to differing priorities through points in time. I believe, to quote
a term coined by Charles Handy in his classic book Age of Unreason, in leading a
“portfolio life”.

The “portfolio person” is someone who draws on a number of elements, as
in an investment portfolio, in his or her work-life. It is no longer a balance
between rest-of-life and work. It is one response to the era of rapid,
discontinuous change that characterises today’s work environment. It is
certainly uniquely applicable to career women or men who may at some time
redefine their priorities and choose to pursue a different trajectory in the
corporate world.

I took my first step away from the corporate world when I left Ashok Leyland
to study for my PhD in Organizational Behavior in the US (I didn’t complete it
though). The second was when my first child was born. And the third was for a
year to work with an NGO after Talisma, the company I helped start up, was taken
over by a private equity group.

The first break was an academic one, so it wasn’t really an issue flipping
back in. My second path away from the corporate career track was actually the
longest-about seven years. This was the pre Internet era, when corporations
did not or could not provide for anything other than a full time in-the-office
role.  So I redefined the playing
field and ran my own consulting organization.  I chose assignments that were intellectually challenging and
at the same time met my desire to lead a life that provided flexibility, shorter
work hours and little or no travel.  I
became a start up specialist and worked on long tern assignments with some
leading organizations from very different industries-Levi Strauss, Cargill
Seeds, Akzo Nobel Paints-that provided me a very broad breath of experience
and perspectives.

“The
‘portfolio person’ draws on a number of elements…it is no longer a
balance between work and rest-of-life”

I then started out in an industry that was completely new to me-IT-when I
joined my friend Pradeep Singh’s organization, Aditi Technologies. I also got
my first shot at full-time entrepreneurship when we started Talisma, India’s
first CRM product company. It was an exhilarating time that offered some
fabulously intense learning.

 But by late 2002 I decided to
take another break. I took the time out to work for a non-profit organization
that worked with underprivileged children and pursued my outdoor interests in
hiking, long-distance cycling and photography. This too was extremely
fulfilling. At the same time, I gained a whole new perspective on life that I
might not have had if I had not stepped off the corporate world. Joining
Accenture in January 2004 marked the start of another move up the learning curve
of dealing with complexity and scale and rapid pace as we grew Accenture in
India dramatically in the last 3 years.

Looking back at my journey so far, I cherish the varied experiences that have
provided a rich texture to the fabric of my life. 
I changed the balance of my work portfolio as life changed.

I strongly believe that as long as we approach what we do with passion and
commitment, life is rich and energizing.

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