'Being a mother is learning about strengths you did not know you had and dealing with fears you did not know existed' – Linda Wooten
I was over the moon when I realised that our lives would change forever. Embracing motherhood for the first time was making me nervous and excited both at the same time. I have always loved to be an over-achiever, set targets and achieve more than that, so when I was expecting my first child, my mind was crowded by thoughts about whether I would enjoy being away from my professional life. I had qualms about the stereotypical judgements of society that when women go on maternity, they slow down!
There are examples of women professionals who are judged and criticized by the way they juggle careers and motherhood. So, when I had my daughter, the most beautiful bundle of joy, I was so elated yet apprehensive – is this where I need to slow down? There was one thing I was definite about: I never want my little girl to grow up giving into this thought that motherhood can slow down a woman’s career. Motherhood should be by choice and a very joyful choice to be made by any woman who wants to become a mother.
Three months after giving birth, while I was still enjoying snuggles, having sleepless nights of feeding, changing dirty nappies and fighting postpartum hormones, I thought to myself it could not be a better time to learn than now. I have not only just birthed a new human but also had a new birth for myself. That is when I took up this challenge and enrolled myself on the Oxford Executive Strategy Programme; it was always a dream to be associated with the University of Oxford once in this lifetime. Balancing life with a newborn and the extensive learning programme was not an easy task. But what is motherhood without demonstrating superhuman capabilities and unconditional love both at the same time?
So why this programme? I am an electronics and communication engineer, with a masters in software engineering and an MBA in information technology and more than 16 years of professional experience working in various IT roles and in different capacities supporting the CxO functions in defining and implementing strategy.
This is a subject which has always intrigued me as to what goes behind when strategies are implemented, what happens in times of uncertainty – how quickly can companies adapt, how each board leaders think differently when it comes to aligning strategies to the organisation’s mission, vision and values and why do some strategies fail when fundamentally nothing was wrong with them. Many such questions would cloud my mind and it felt like I could not put the puzzles together to understand the bigger picture. Through this course, I have gotten into details of what is the backbone of strategy, how to define them, go into depth of strategic tools and framework.
At Oxford, one has the privilege of learning from the best. Since the delivery mode of this programme was virtual, I had my doubts about whether I would feel engaged enough and catch up with my fellow cohorts. But in the first week itself, I could feel the energy was different, it was a diverse community with varied professional backgrounds and industry experience, everyone at different levels of understanding and defining strategy and the result was by the end of week one we were all bouncing ideas within the group. We collaborated so well that we even formed a group chat and did a couple of local meets. The group is still on and even after a year of the programme completion we are still in touch sharing how we have implemented the learnings into our work and the results we have seen.
All through the programme, I had the privilege to learn from experts like Professor Richard Whittington, Dr Trudi Lang, Murray Cook, Lesley Katts and a great community of successful present and future leaders who were part of the programme. As easy as it may sound, it was not, there was a lot of reading to be done, the course work will really make you think and challenge some of your own old understandings, it will make you talk to more people and build your approach to practical applications. Most days I would find myself sitting with my baby at 2am finishing the assignments!
There were days I felt like giving up due to physical and emotional fatigue, but the toothless chuckles of my daughter would remind me that one day I can be her first role model. Yes, a mother is not the same woman she was before maternity - she is stronger, more strategic, excellent with time management and more responsible. I have gained immensely from the programme at Oxford and now it's time for me to give back whatever I can, I have joined the larger community of Oxford business alumni (OBA) network. I want to share my experience with all existing and new learners and specifically connect with mothers who are giving second thoughts about whether they should embark on the journey of learning – to them, motherhood teaches the biggest life lessons, so you have got this!