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Not Enjoying The Ride? Get Off!

It is better to be on a rickety bus that’s headed to the right place than to ride comfortably - on the wrong bus!


Even as the debate on the glass ceiling in corporate India continues to rage, the banking sector has proven to be a bit of an exception. We all know of Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma - successful women in their own right, and role models too. But there’s another inspirational woman-banker-CEO that I want to tell you about.

Her name? Gail Kelly. If you find yourself stuck in a job you hate, or if you find competing pressures on the domestic front pulling you away from your career journey and if success, fame and fortune look like distant dreams, you should hear Gail’s fascinating story.

Gail is a South African who rose to become the CEO of one of Australia’s largest banks, Westpac.

Born in 1956, Gail had an ordinary upbringing and education, culminating in a degree in arts. At twenty-one, she got married to her college sweetheart, and picked up a job as a teacher in a government school.

Life was good. But she hated her job. All she remembers from those days is the bunch of difficult students she had to manage. She vividly recalls getting angry with a student who had left his jersey inside a sports room she had just locked up. ‘I felt ashamed of myself for screaming at the little kid. I was allowing my unhappiness to affect who I was!’ she recalls.

The next day, as she sat in the school bus, she hated the thought of going back to the school. She decided she must do something about it. And she did. She got off the bus.

That was the turning point. She then applied for and got a job as a teller in a bank. She did well and soon got promoted to a role in human resources. Some years later, at age thirty, pregnant with her first child, she enrolled for an MBA degree. After completing that, she went back to work for the same bank, and her career graph continued to rise. She was soon pregnant again and was surprised to discover that she was carrying triplets. Five months after the birth of her troika, she was back at work. Back to doing what she enjoyed.

To provide for a better future for their children, Gail and her husband decided to migrate to Australia. Gail was forty-one. She went to work for a bank there. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Gail attributes her success to a lot of things: passion, hard work, the MBA degree, a supportive husband and fabulous teams. But most of all, she knows that none of this would have been possible if she had not decided to quit her teaching job and ‘get off the bus’ that day.

So what’s Gail’s message for all of us? It’s simple. If you are not enjoying the ride, get off the bus.

Too many of us spend all our lives in jobs we hate. We hate every minute of it, we complain, we show our bitterness, it affects our performance and yet we don’t act to change things. We lack the courage to call it quits. We hesitate to get off the bus.

There is also a flip side to this - there are many amongst us who board the wrong bus. But once inside, we start enjoying the comfortable pushback seats, the air- conditioning, the personal entertainment system and the wonderful companion in the next seat. We push away the recurring thought that we are on the wrong bus, headed to a place we do not want to go to. We wonder what people would say if we were to leave a comfortable air-conditioned bus and move to a rickety non-air- conditioned one. And so we stay put.

Don’t let that happen to you. It is better to be on a rickety bus that’s headed to the right place than to ride comfortably - on the wrong bus! Life is too short to be wasted doing things you don’t enjoy. Doing what you enjoy offers you your best chance of success. It also gives you the strength to overcome all odds.

So, if you are not enjoying what you are doing, do a Gail Kelly. Learn from her. Get off the bus!

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.

Prakash Iyer

Iyer is an author, speaker and leadership coach , and former MD of Kimberly Clark Lever

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