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BW Businessworld

Column: No Comfort Zone

Nothing works wonders for your advancement more than inculcating an enormous passion for what you are doing

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If there’s one thing that defines my thirties, it’s that it was then that I was pushed completely out of my comfort zone and discovered hidden facets to my personality. The decade of the 1980s is when I started coming into my own at ICICI, the organisation I joined at the age of 26. While the initial few years were spent in trying to find my feet, things started changing at a fast pace in the eighties when ICICI gathered steam. In many ways, my story is the story of ICICI’s evolution and in my mind, it runs parallel to the development of India at that point in our history.

When I look back now, my thirties was when I went beyond my role as lawyer at the organisation. I must confess this was not something that I did proactively — it was almost forced upon me by a series of seniors and mentors who nudged me in different directions till I woke up to the inherent strengths I never knew I had. Till then I was the in-house lawyer interested only in figuring out how I could get my clients speedy access to the funds they required but I ended up working on a series of projects that were completely uncharted territory for me.

For example, when ICICI went for a $30 million bond issue to be listed on the Singapore and Luxemburg stock exchanges, I was pulled right into the centre of that project and got a fascinating up-close look at the world of foreign investment bankers, lawyers and bureaucrats. The organisation was one of the few that lent foreign currency to Indian borrowers in what was still a closed economy and the job on hand entailed understanding the intricacies of legal and forex regulations of the individual countries, a subject that was intimidating but fascinating for me. It was also the first time I found myself working directly with the top management setting the grounds for my future growth. To this day I maintain that the distance I covered in ICICI was not due to my great talent but because I was lucky that a few seniors saw potential in me and entrusted me with tasks that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

It was not always easy. In fact, it was never easy. There I was, a science graduate with an additional degree in law, both of which gave me no preparation or tools to succeed as a business manager in the world of finance into which I fell headlong. I learnt the art of negotiating deals while on the job and each time I swung a deal or delivered on a project, I discovered a new facet to myself. It was no cakewalk though and I struggled, wept buckets when I was yelled at for botching up something. But each time I got right back up on my feet and on the job. In my thirties I discovered the value of seeking feedback from mentors and seniors and acting upon them to improve myself.

I remember a time when one of my seniors sent me to a banker training programme where he wanted me to address the gathering. I was terrified at the prospect because in my school days I had once jumbled up my lines during the assembly session and my teacher had ticked me off so badly that I had developed a lifelong fear of public speaking. On my senior’s insistence I addressed the bankers and imagine my surprise when many of them lauded my talk and asked me follow-up queries by the dozen. That day I discovered that fear is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to our progress. The discovery that I could speak effectively led to my becoming the ICICI’s chief spokesperson for a while. Today I am comfortable talking to audiences that are a a thousand strong.

I know how lucky I was to have been in that organisation at that point in time. If there was a quality I wish I had back then, it would have to be a curious nature because I know today that to be constantly curious is to give yourself the opportunity to learn new things and that is what leads us to succeed.

And if there is anything that I would like to tell women in their thirties, it would be this: Nothing works wonders for your advancement more than inculcating an enormous passion for what you are doing. Once you zero in on what you want to do, put all your energy into making that thing happen and play to win. I do that and it has always worked for me.

And don’t ever think that you might not be able to achieve everything you want because of your gender. I believe every person can have everything they want — job, career, great family life — all you need is the passion and the perseverance to make it happen.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Kalpana Morparia

CEO, J.P. Morgan India

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