“An Ode to women of Substance” – Ramya Ranganathan
Voylla.com has started a special 7-part series celebrating women hood. In this we will feature one influential woman every day. Here these ‘women of substance’ will share their achievements, their challenges and also a word of advice for all budding women entrepreneurs and leaders
Ramya Ranganathan-Organisational Behaviour & Human Resources Management Visiting Faculty, IIM Bangalore
Q1: Every women dreams to be successful and famous. You are someone who has managed to create a niche for yourself, so please share how was your journey so far? The Challenges & the Achievements?
My foremost identity has always been that of a poet and a dreamer. I spent nearly a quarter of a century writing poems, practicing yoga, reading books, creating flower arrangements, climbing trees, making deep friendships and having fun. Somewhere between these life sustaining activities I qualified myself professionally with the degrees of a BTech in electrical and electronics engineering at IIT Madras and a PGDM at IIM Ahmedabad. After that I spent around 4 years working in the corporate world with some big names like ICICI, Infosys, and Citibank. What I gained most from these years was the growing clarity and intensity of a fundamental question that would take over my life from that point onwards –‘Why do people work’? This simple question took me on an intense personal and professional quest where I simultaneously studied organizational behavior, psychology, philosophy, and theology. Six years later, equipped with the formal degree of PhD in Organizational Behaviour from London Business School, and the informal degree of ‘Parent’ bestowed by life, I decided to start sharing with others what I had discovered (and continue to learn more about) related to the nature of work and the various ways in which it can influence our individual and collective experiences. What better place to do this than in a Management Institute since the ‘person-work’, and ‘person-person’ relationships are the building blocks of any management principle.
Although in spirit still a student of life, in formal designation I am a faculty in management with IIM Bangalore.
Before coming to IIM Bangalore, I had taught organizational behavior and negotiations at the London School of Economics and had mentored participants during the global leadership assessment for managers at London Business School. At IIM Bangalore, I have designed my flagship course titled, ‘Personal Values, Goals, and Career Options’, as well as a doctoral seminar in Positive Psychology which I have been teaching since 2010. Each year I find the demand for these courses going up and the heartfelt appreciation and feedback that I receive from students only serves to reinforce my belief that these courses are addressing themes that are becoming increasingly important to people as they navigate the terrains of the corporate world. I also conduct seminars and workshops for working executives in which I cover the topics of ‘personal mission and vision’, ‘redefining work’, ‘leveraging strengths’, ‘nurturing excellence’, ‘work-life alignment’, ‘personal reinvention’, ‘stress management’, ‘leading with joy’, ‘right brain at work’, ‘appreciative inquiry’, ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘integrative thinking’, ‘conflict management’, ‘motivation’, and ‘finding flow’. These programs are very close to my heart and I am grateful to be able to share what I am learning with others. At a personal level, I am committed to making a difference in people’s lives by encouraging them to discover their unique strengths and personal passions and use those to find meaning in their work.
My journey has been interesting but by no means has it been easy. I have faced several challenges along the way especially in terms of self doubts and confusion regarding what I should do with my life. I have felt unworthy and like a failure when I could not enjoy working in the corporate world while my peers seemed to be able to do so. I have felt guilty about my engineering degree which I did not put to use. However it has been these very challenges that led me to my deep quest to understand the relationship between human beings and their work and has led me to eventually find work that I absolutely love. One of the my main sources of strength and direction has been my personal mission, which is to allow myself to be free to explore and share different ways of communing with inner and outer nature.
Q2: Its said that we should keep on striving for more because if we stop we stagnate, so what is the next milestone you are aiming for?
My next milestone is to combine the work I do in exploring our inner worlds with my love and passion for outer nature. To do this I am aiming to design workshops and retreats in natural places like beside the ocean and in the mountains for creating a space where participants can explore communing with inner and outer nature.
Q3: I think most of the women have faced this challenge of maintaining a perfect balance between work-life & personal-life. So, we will like to know how you strike a balance between the two?
I think the notion of ‘perfect balance’ is a fictional creation. This does not exist and need not exist unless we want to buy into it. I have chosen to stop looking at my life and work as two different buckets that need to be balanced. Instead I am increasingly cultivating an integrated approach to life where I exist as a part of multiple contexts (work, family, friends, etc.) and I allow my intuition to guide me to give more or less attention to each particular context depending on the needs of the context as well as what my own inner self is drawn to. Further I do not limit my involvements with each context in geographical terms, so I might work from home or take my kid to office whenever I feel a need to. I also like to keep a lot of free (buffer time) in my schedule so that I can attend to any extra demands from a particular context if they suddenly arise. I think the key is to be flexible about switching between contexts and to remain sensitive to developments in each context.
Q4: There are so many budding women entrepreneurs and leaders who are trying to make it big, any word of advice for them?
For several years I had harboured an outside-in approach to life. I believed that my happiness and my fulfilment were contingent upon my getting or attaining specific outcomes and circumstances. I believed for example, that if I was successful in certain academic or career pursuits I would be satisfied. I believed that the right partner in my life would make me feel fulfilled. I believed that a certain type of living environment and lifestyle would bring me peace. In short, I believed that my happiness was contingent on a specific set of outcome variables that were outside of me. I stayed trapped in this outside-in paradigm for several years. I struggled hard to try and achieve the specific outcomes that I believed would make me happy. However I realized over the years that happiness was a moving target and that once specific outcomes were reached, my list of desired outcomes would also grow and there were new targets to chase. This ambitious chase was invigorating at times, but more often it was exhausting, frustrating, and draining. Nothing ever seemed good enough for long enough.
I was quite deeply entrenched in the outside-in paradigm when quite by chance I stumbled upon an alternate paradigm to approach life from. This paradigm which I am going to call ‘inside-out’ paradigm for the sake of brevity had its roots in positive psychology where researchers were beginning to discover through scientific experiments that happiness was a state of mind and it did not need to be dependent on specific outcomes. I have been experimenting with this inside -out paradigm for the last five years and the more I have adopted this alternate approach the more convinced I have grown that this new way of orchestrating activities in my life is not only easier but also far more joyous and fulfilling.
Initially I had feared that deciding to be happy regardless of the outcome would reduce my drive to achieve and pursue new frontiers. What I discovered however was that the effect was quite the opposite. The more I decoupled my happiness from the specific outcomes and circumstances the more I freed up my own inner resources to dream and innovate fearlessly. My productivity increased and my creativity skyrocketed. I was daring to think bigger than I used to when I was bound by my need for specific outcomes. I became more accepting of myself as a unique individual who had specific gifts and talents. I became aware that there were some areas which were my strengths and some others which were not. Rather than focusing on fixing the so called ‘weaknesses’ to make myself some sort of an acceptable rounded human being, I began to hone and nurture my innate gifts so that I could become a unique contribution to the planet. This shift from focusing on the fixing of weaknesses to flying on strengths became possible only when I started from the premise that I was already happy and fulfilled. When I began from the premise of being happy at the start itself then the actions I undertook were infused with a sense of playfulness and experimentation. I felt freer to engage in activities that resonated with my own core values and I began to use my life as a canvas to express those core values.
My life no longer felt like a series of circumstances that was happening to me, rather it began to feel like an engaging piece of art that I was crafting on an ongoing basis. This shift from being a passive consumer of life circumstances to becoming an active crafter of one’s own life experiences is what my own personal growth has been about. The inside-out approach to crafting our lives is not a fix-it-all solution or a prescription for happiness or success. Rather it is an invitation to experiment and play with a new paradigm where we see ourselves as co-creators of our life experiences rather than victims or consumers of external happenings and circumstances. I have no prescription or advice to give to other women but I would like to extend an invitation to everyone to try and experiment with this approach of crafting their lives from the inside-out. The growth, the achievements, and the progress then starts to occur organically as our true inner aspirations begin to effortlessly manifest as outer achievements and accomplishments.