How I became an engineer-turned-marketer + tips and resources to be a 10x marketer

A mediocre product can be passed off as interesting with the right marketing techniques.

I can tell this from my experience of watching 10 seasons of Shark Tank. (Someone sold a pimple popping simulation to the sharks, FGS.)

But this wasn’t what I always thought of marketing. What follows is a familiar story for many engineers…at least in India. 

I studied to be an engineer but moved into business and marketing functions slowly. 

Before I became one, I thought that marketing in all forms and shapes was dishonest and awesome products didn’t need any marketing. 

The product will sell itself, I thought.

When I joined the marketing department of a company in the capacity of a content marketer, I thought it to be a writing job. Oh sure, I could write. I always prided myself on being a good writer. One fine day, my manager told me that I needed to focus a bit on the marketing bit of content marketing too.  

(I wasn’t even adding CTA at that point, which now makes me go pink in the face. Hindsight is always 20/20.)

So what is marketing?

If you’re reading this post, then you are interested in marketing and are inclined to grow your knowledge in this field. But here are some pointers I wish someone had told me when I was in the thick of a career change. 

  • Career does not have to take a linear path. I’m so glad mine didn’t turn out how I expected it to when I was 20.
  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Update yourself constantly. Don’t draw your knowledge from one place or source.
  • Despite the infamous backlash, engineers make good marketers, especially tech marketers, because they are trained to develop an analytical and process-oriented mindset.

How I became a marketer

Disclaimer: I did all these in addition to parenting and working full-time, which is to say that this list by no means is exhaustive. 

  1. Find and emulate

Find out who you want to become like and follow their work. For me, I wanted to be a good marketing writer. I dug deeper, going so far as the 2nd page on Google. 

Copyhackers has a ton of resources for new marketers. Their work is not just limited to copywriting, but they also cover techniques that go behind good copy like the psychology of selling, CRO, etc. Copyhackers’ Tutorial Tuesdays seemed to have answers for every single question of mine. I took notes diligently by hand. I found myself implementing the tips I took notes of. It’s true what they say-  writing anything down makes you recall it better. 

I created a Twitter list of famous people in marketing and read the resources they shared. Other places to stop by are CXL, The Copywriter Club, Hubspot, MarketingProfs, Growth Hackers, etc.

2. Create a swipe file

Every email, article, headline, ad copy that I liked and wanted to reference later, I stowed in a swipe file. I wasn’t sure about the viability of the pen and paper model for this, so while I wrote in a book, I took pictures and stuck them in Google Drive.

My swipe file is where I go for inspiration. It has works of my peers and some of the best brands. A repository like this helps when you’re stuck with writer’s block or are hung out to dry for inspiration.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel— take a great idea someone has already created and put your creative spin on it. Now don’t just swipe the whole thing, that’s clearly plagiarizing. 

3. Learn Google Analytics

Because data= moolah. Any good marketer worth her salt will tell you the importance of measuring things to improve them. Luckily, my coworkers in the team were more than happy to answer any questions about Google Analytics metrics. If you’re thinking why a content or social media marketer needs to learn about numbers, here’s why:

  • There’s no guesswork— your content strategy is backed by data.
  • Your visitors’ behavior becomes apparent. Are they even spending time to read the landing page you painstakingly created?
  • SEO won’t be a stab in the dark anymore. You can optimize pages that are doing well already.
  • It’s easy to understand which social channel works for your business and focus resources on that. 

I can go on, but you get my drift. Once you understand what data matters to you and how to track it to take advantage of the data and improve the performance.

4. Be a T-shaped marketer

A T shaped marketer has the knowledge of the entire marketing spectrum like branding, copywriting, data & analytics, design & UX, customer experience, etc. with vested specialization in one of these areas. Buffer’s T shaped marketing framework got me intrigued. I figured that if I loved marketing, it wouldn’t hurt to dabble a little more in the field. 

How to Become a T-Shaped Marketer

I also had to understand what my teammates worked on to perform better myself. The thing is, I worked with a bunch of smart folks in their early 20s, who were up-to-date with app recommendations and marketing know-how. I started to Google marketing terms that came up in meetings. I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, but I had the curiosity to learn new things and Google was my best friend. 

5. Learn to write

Marketing leaders are increasingly emphasizing the importance of writing good copy as a top skill in marketing.

A marketer must be able to write, at least to market themselves. Many companies are forced to work remotely owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Team dynamics change when you’re no longer in the same room. You’ve to put in the extra effort to market yourself within the team— judiciously picked words and communication become key. 

Pick any or all of the following and get started

  • Seth Godin

If not anything, I admire the man for his consistency. He’s shipped a marketing newsletter/ blog post every day for years. His book ‘This is Marketing’ is a good starting point. Seth Godin also offers online courses.

Hubspot invented the term inbound marketing. They have ground-level information and certification courses in the ambit of inbound marketing.

For starter or refresher courses on digital marketing and SEO. 

  • And of course, there are Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera, Upgrad where you can choose to dive deep into a specific topic within marketing. 

There are enough and then some more free courses online. Unless it’s a deep specialization, I don’t see the need to buy a course. Here’s a hot tip: follow marketers you admire on Twitter and ask for help when you feel like you could use some real-world advice during the jump.

The marketing community on Twitter is pretty active and quick to help but kindly refrain from ‘asks’ until you’ve contributed to or struck up a conversation.

Wrapping up

It is never easy to move away completely from something you’ve spent significant time on. But I can assure you that it will not go to waste. The experience counts, right? 

I wrote this blog post to make the transition easy for anyone who’s looking to change gears and make a career in marketing. 

Do you feel like you could do with some direction in your career shift? You can tweet to me or comment below for help!

If the world were to end tomorrow, would you still send a boring email?

Every year, I read an “email is dead” article without fail. Is it really?

Email has been around from even before the time I’ve been around on the internet, which is a really long time. I’ve been using the internet since I was 9. I am 30 years old now. Yeeaaah.

Social media will get you noticed. But it is also the ‘come and go’ communication, especially with the unpredictable algorithms that the corporations dangle as and how they like. 

With synchronous communication tools like Slack, email gets a stiff competition, but when was the last time you muted your email or got annoyed by it huh? Email stays on, because it is personal and gets the job done.

It’s going to be 2020 soon, there will be more noise, and email is the only way to get heard. Now that I’ve said it enough times to convince or scare you about email, let’s talk… email. Here are my learnings from writing corporate, startup, nurture, hihello– all kinds of emails. 

The subject line

This is where it all starts, right? Ditch the subject line generators. While we are at it, ditch the headline generators as well. 

I’d say, write the subject line at the end. Do Not Use Title Case in the Subject Line. It screams non-personalized. 

If you have a large sample size, you can A/B test the subject lines with emojis, shorter subject line, etc.

Just checking in

Please don’t ever start your follow up email with ‘just checking in.’ You need to drop the ‘just’, especially if you’re a woman

Always open with the context– “I sent you tips on growing your subscriber base in my last email. I know you’re busy, but I hope you had the time to check it out.” 

With most emails “just checking in”, “circling back”, or “moving to the top of the inbox”, maintaining a connection is always worthwhile.

It doesn’t have to go viral

We’re all here to solve problems. No one cares about epic, viral emails. 

Remember what problem you’re solving and write to that one person about it in the most conversational way possible. 

I’m sure you don’t talk “can I revert to you about not boiling the ocean on this topic?” Or do you?

Use a different preview text

Katie is smart. Be like Katie.

Most of us do not capitalize on what could be a wonderful opportunity to make readers open the email. Instead of the same preview text as the first few lines of the email body, you can write something attention grabbing to make them open the email.

Check for mobile compatibility

More than 70% of us check email from our phones

Always check how emails read on a mobile phone, especially if you’re inserting images and want to check for alignment. If you’re using a longer subject line, it cuts off the latter few words on a mobile phone. 

Double check for [placeholders]

Every so often, I receive emails that read “Hey [first name], are you ready to slay this year with [company name]?” 

Mistakes happen to the best of us. The only way to redeem and minimize the impact is to send an honest apology. 

Establish your brand identity

It could be your opening/ sign off signature, it could be a funny PS line that you include in your emails. 

Mine would be food references, The Office, calm tonality (I cannot do the excited, exaggerating, jumpy personality.), sappy lyrics, etc.  

Make the email all about you

The ‘you’ here is not you, but your reader. While establishing your identity is important, aren’t we forgetting something visceral? 

Forget about appealing to the reader’s ego, why would anyone want to read an email that is all about *your* business offering? Rather, talk about their problems and how your offering can help solve them. 

Have a well-defined CTA

Lastly, tell the reader clearly what they need to do after reading the email. Or they’re going to close it and forget that you even sent an email. 

If the intention of the email is to stay at the top of your reader’s minds but you do not have an offering as yet, encourage them to talk by asking questions. Your CTA could be as basic as “What’s the one (your business offering) problem you want solved, like now?” 

So now

The thing with clients who’ve been writing corporate emails for so long is that it is difficult to make them look past the rigid “Dear Sir/Ma’am” framework. 

Their hurtful actions may or may not have been prompted this blog post. These tips are super simple to implement and attract open rates like flies.

If you are still wondering if email is a worthy investment, YES! Time to hire that email copywriter and stay at the top of your email game.

5 Tell-Tale Signs Content Marketing is Not Working for You

Content is king. (This phrase is done to death, but humor me this one time.) I’m not going to add statistics to prove my point, because we all know content marketing is an integral part of a successful marketing team.

In the last decade, content marketing has yielded wonderfully for many businesses. In fact, many marketing teams now focus solely on content marketing to generate leads. But not all brands see the same shiny results. There can be a number of reasons why your content is not performing effectively. Here are a few signs that your content marketing isn’t working and suggestions on how to fix it.

No shares or retweets for your content

Check the numbers on your analytics dashboard and compare them with the best performing months. Has it flat-lined? Yup, your content marketing definitely needs a makeover. 

How to fix it: Refine your content strategy. Tie every piece of content to a tangible KPI. The ultimate goal of any marketing effort is to increase ROI. However, depending on the stage of your business growth, content marketing can be used: to increase traffic, for brand awareness, talent branding etc. Content creation is one thing, but promotion is everything. Create a content promotion calendar, much like an editorial calendar and be sure to use different captions tailored to suit different sharing platforms. 

Your content does not provide value to the reader

With so many trends in marketing, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re creating content to enable your audience. The best content is defined by how relevant and useful it is to the people consuming it. This problem is apparent when the content marketing function is outsourced to an agency.

How to fix it: Do not outsource content ideation to an agency. This is the job of your marketing team. Create buyer personas, ideate content for every step of the buyer journey, and pass on this information to the agency. Try different formats— case studies, long form blogging, white paper, research report, slides etc. Hop on to Quora and Reddit to understand what questions your target audience is asking. Do not create content because your boss asked you to or because your competitor is doing it. 

Your site receives healthy traffic but not paying customers

Or the wrong people are signing up for a trial account. This is the #1 problem the sales team complains all the time about. A business needs qualified leads that convert. 

How to fix it: Step back, shift gears, and create content for engagement and not lead generation. It makes a world of difference when you’re not forcing the conversions. Have fun with the process. If you’re boring yourself, it is likely that you’re also boring your reader. Use review mining to understand what words and sentences your customers use to describe a problem and mirror it to them on the sales page.

 Customers have unrealistic asks from your brand

This might seem silly, but is a sure shot way of knowing your content strategy isn’t working. Did anyone sign up for your product lately and asked for ‘X’ feature that is completely irrelevant to what you do?

How to fix it: This is bound to happen when you diversify your content too much. If you’re selling cloud communications platform, it’s smart not to do a roundup of the best CRMs in 2019. This results in reader confusion and also sets impractical expectations from your brand.

Your content is not valued internally

You can create the best content there is, but if it is of no use to the Sales or the Customer Success teams to share with the customers, then there’s no point in churning one white paper after another. Marketers spend a huge amount of time in ideation, creation and distribution, they often overlook an important factor: internal support.

How to fix it: Content does not come from the content team or the SEO team alone. Brainstorm with the customer facing teams and write about what customers want to hear or are talking about. Share the content you create with other teams, put it in a hub where teams can pick it up, localize and repurpose as required. 

These are merely 5 of the many signs that content might not be working out for you. Content marketing is not a sprint, there is no finish line either. Carry on with the hygiene checks, be consistent with your content, have fun creating it, and take risks every now and then.

7 Principles Guaranteed to Boost your Conversion Rate

You spend your waking hours thinking about your pitch, writing the proposition, and finally, you put it up on the website and wait for the magic to happen. And then wait some more. Only to not see the conversions that you expected. Then you lose sleep wondering how to boost your conversion rate.

Trust me, we’ve all been there. It happens to the best of us.

One person dug deeper to find out why this happens and what are the magic words that tap into the human psychology that persuade to complete an action. His name is Robert Cialdini, author of the book “Influence”. This book is regarded as the seminal literature in conversion marketing. 

If you are a marketer, you’ve probably heard of Cialdini by now. If not, he might sound like an Italian chef, but let me assure you that he’s not. His book is fantastic, and you should get it.

Cialdini’s 7 principles to write high converting copy

Reciprocation 

… a.k.a “give me something and you get something in return.”

Have you observed: you look at someone, they look at you, the other person smiles, and you smile. Rather, you’re forced to smile. This is reciprocation at work in a social setting.

B2B (or B2C) companies usually ask for customers’ email or phone number in return for a free trial, sign up discounts, relevant resources such as an ebook, etc.

When it comes to using this principle, it is very important to define your target market. Is it SMBs? Is it enterprises? Then it becomes easier to set a reciprocation strategy that is appealing to your target market. 

It doesn’t always have to be a free trial. But if it is, and the customer is in two minds thinking “gah, I forget to turn off my subscription and lose money all the time,” then consider not asking for a credit card at all. Add a “credit card not required” caveat. It reduces friction and helps the reader proceed with the intended action. 

Drift assures that its demo is 100% free and there’s no need to give your credit card details.

It’s 2019, but brands still use ‘free’ in their copy without discretion. The word ‘free’ has been exploited so much, and now it is spontaneously associated with ‘spam,’ ‘junk’ and ‘less worthy’ in customers minds

How to use Reciprocity to boost your conversion rate

Reciprocity is at the core of inbound marketing. 

It is imperative that you give without expecting anything from the person on the other side of the screen. If not, it renders itself as sleazy copy that repels users instead of converting them. 

Businesses such as consulting cannot offer a free trial for their service. What they can do instead is create gated high quality, actionable resources like ebook or white papers; or simply turn them into website traffic. 

Meera uses an ebook as lead magnet to build her email list.

Commitment & Consistency

Humans want to be seen as consistent beings who are committed. Which is why being capricious, fickle, etc. have a negative connotation and take the rap.

Consistency is the core value that makes people defend their lifestyle choices- meat/ no meat, political affiliations, etc. 

Once you commit to something, your actions are tuned in ways that are consistent with the commitment. 

Anne Hathaway, who won an Oscar for Les Miserables, confessed she was miserable preparing for the role. But because she was committed to the role, she made it a point to be consistent with her diet of lettuce and oatmeal paste to play a miserable Fantine.

In the business landscape, you get your leads to make a commitment for something inconsequential, say, getting a free ebook. This triggers the Rule of Consistency, which then helps evoke the coveted “yes” for much larger requests like buying your product at full-price, thereby improving conversions.

When you can get them to commit, you are creating an easy path for your customers to consistently come back to your business, share your content, follow your CTAs, and increase conversions.

Copyblogger commits its visitors to a free marketing training program so it becomes easier to ask to buy their programs.

How to use this principle to boost your conversion rate

“Create an account to read more” is a commitment to your brand. Thereafter, engage with them consistently.

Ken asks its readers to register for a free account for a free story every week. At some point if they want more subscribers for their paid product, it’s easier to ask from the existing free users.

Social proof

We want to be liked. Is there anything that says validation than subscribing to the thoughts and actions of well-liked/ influential people? Or even from people just like them, who’ve seen success from using your product. 

This is why testimonials work so well, especially in the SaaS business.

When people are hovering over that opt-in wondering if they need yet another email in their inbox, a powerful sentence with company numbers or a testimonial pushes readers to sign up. (Check out how Ken harnesses testimonials in their opt-in).

85000 companies! Wow, my business will be in good hands!

How you can use Social Proof in your copy to boost your conversion rate

Basecamp nails social proof and how! The number of businesses signed up is not 3500 or 4000. It is an exact figure (3849) that is up-to-date (until the previous week). They have also listed testimonials from companies below this, making it a fully approved social proof package.

Authority

We listen when it comes from authority. Period. 

Many brands have established authority with their content, design, service, etc. It takes years to prove expertise and authority in a niche. 

Ann Handley is a marketing copywriting superstar.

Recently, I took a “what kind of a copywriter are you” quiz which had Ann Handley from MarketingProfs listed as one of the options. That’s her authority in marketing copywriting.

The Authority principle is also the rationale behind the influencer trend on social media. What was the last item you bought because a famous Instagram influencer recommended it? 

(I’ve bought a lot of junk jewelry and sarees, even though I rarely wear them.)

How to use the principle Authority to boost your conversion rate

Words that hint at authority like subject matter expert, seasoned, expertise, help in establishing your dominance over a topic. State your experience and don’t be afraid to mention your influential mentors.

Liking

This principle ties into the commitment principle- the more you like someone, the more you’ll be persuaded to buy what they sell.

Which is why your ‘About Us’ page is important. It portrays your core values, dislikes, etc. Readers assign themselves to your values. 

Write about how you started on this journey, your failures, and your struggles. It makes you more human and likeable. Choose the right words for your page and not be overly cheesy or extremely curt. Find a balance.

Ensure your copy always speaks to the reader… when there’s more of ‘you’ than ‘we’ or ‘I’, readers feel an instant likeability to your brand. 

How can you use Likeability in your copy to boost conversion rate?

One way to be universally likeable is by being transparent and honest. Buffer has ‘transparency’ not just listed in their core values, but also walks the talk. Their salaries and platform downtimes are all public. 

Use cheerful images and positive words. After all, you want them to associate your brand with, not chase them away.

Scarcity

We really, really, really want things that we can have less of. 

This principle is a B2C forte, and many brands have mastered the FOMO (fear of missing out) factor.  

Takeaway selling is a less direct and more impactful method of creating scarcity, but it’s also a double-edged sword. A familiar way of this playing out is making readers feel like they’re accepting mediocrity and are okay with heading towards failure if they don’t take up on your offers.

Some say it is a turn off. Personally, I find it off-putting too. 

How can you use this in your copy to improve the conversion rate 

Use the loss aversion technique to create pain. Example: “your webinar seat is reserved. Do not miss a chance to learn from the experts.”  Your audience can sense fake and false from a mile, so be genuine when you are using this principle.

Unity

A potential customer feels connected with the brand based on shared values and beliefs, like we already learned from the Liking principle. A brand is more likeable when the reader feels a connection with the brand. Unity is crucial to selling your brand because it’s about a hundred times more enjoyable to build a business around people whose values resonate with yours.

Brands should focus on creating solidarity with potential customers. Remote working, documented mental health policy, flexible vacations are deeply resonant with the value of family, which in turn builds a camaraderie.  

How you can use this in your copy to boost sales conversions

Use language that implies family and belonging that pleases the “we”. It can also be a collective identity- the city you’re from, your football team, religion and so on.

Persuasion vs Empathy: What works best to boost your conversion rate?

It is not an either/or between persuasion and empathy. Empathy is the ultimate persuader. In the madness of getting your page ranked on Google, it is important not to lose focus of the fact that at the end of the day, you’re writing for humans. It is another human reading your copy. As easy as it is to apply these persuasion principles and convert your readers to customers, a little bit of empathy in your copy goes a long way to boost sales conversions.  

  • Use conversational vocabulary.
  • Pleasant and positive language.
  • No judgemental words.
  • Tell character-driven stories.
  • Use story activators (have you been in a situation where…)

Stories with all of the above elements release Oxytocin- a fuzzy hormone that is released when people bond socially. It is a happy hormone associated with well-being, which is how you’d want people to feel after reading your copy.

Why use these principles?

Cialdini wrote the book a long time ago in 1984, but all of the principles hold true in 2019, because Influence deals with the science and psychology behind persuasion. You can directly apply this to your copy on your landing pages, sales pages and other marketing collateral. You’ll notice an evident boost in your conversions over time. 



Why there is *really* no best time to post on social media

Last week, I read a report on the best times to post on social media and thought to myself, “Man, are they still selling this?” Brands are obsessing over “best times” to the point it sounds superstitious. But really, are there such sacred time slots to post on social media?

Short version:

Nope. Not really.

Long version:

If I have to send out an email newsletter on a Monday, I’d think twice. Same goes with Friday. What can I say, I’m a marketer who watches open rates like a hawk. But when it comes to social postings, it doesn’t matter.

Most of these articles reports have a psychology backing, which I understand. Monday = grumpy day. Friday = happy day. Wednesday = hump day = perfect day. Going by this, all posts that receive the best engagement must have been posted on a… Wednesday? Think about it.

I’ve been using social media for a long time (even before the Orkut wave…phew!) now — in work and personal capacity. So here are my thoughts on why the “best times to post on social media” does not matter.

1. Your audience has a smartphone

More and more people are now talking about being mindful while scrolling through social media platforms. However, the majority of us do not stick to a particular time slot to scroll through the feed. I catch up on Twitter and Instagram even if I have 5 minutes when I’m waiting for someone. Social interaction, as we know it, is dying. Social media interaction, however, is not.

What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter if you post at 9 A.M or 12 P.M because the smartphone generation will find it and like it if your content talks to them.

Social media best times to post

2. Your audience is cosmopolitan

Many brands now have a global audience. I live in India, but I follow brands like Glossier, Colourpop, Cult Beauty, etc. because I love their products. (God bless brands that offer international shipping!)

I see the updates posted at 12 P.M GMT only around 5:30 P.M IST. Has that stopped me from keeping a track of their updates?

1_-AbdnUc2PUzPo9lnQxKTRQ.gif

3. Algorithms do their own thing

Twitter has ‘Top Tweets’ (unless you choose to disable it) and Instagram stopped with the chronological display of updates. Facebook’s updates are seen based on the engagement from the audience. Linkedin is no different either. So even if you post during particular times of the day, there is no guarantee that it will pop on someone’s newsfeed.

What brands can do instead

There’s no one size fits all solution for social media engagement. This is because every brand has a unique audience. Brands must spend time to understand their engagement and their account analytics to figure out time/ time slots that work for them.

It is essential for a brand to consider factors like their target audience, the geography of their audience, algorithms of the social platform and past successes to figure out a time that works for them.

It doesn’t pay to fish where the fish are biting when it comes to publishing on social media.

PS: I wrote this post originally here.

It’s been 3 years of motherhood. What have I learnt!

My son turned 3 recently. But not before throwing some entertaining drama our way.

As it turns out, kids have a knack of falling sick before any event.

What we thought to be a regular fever and throat infection developed into something way worse. On his birthday evening, we checked into the hospital and spent 3 nights there.

I want to write down my experience, so let’s get to that.

Take each day as it comes

No two days are the same. It is not only a great parenting tip but as I discovered recently, makes for a good life tip as well. It helps not to be hard set on how your day or life has to move on. So when things go south, you can always shrug and be agile. This doesn’t mean you should not have a basic list of things to start with— S-M-A-R-T goals are the way to go!

Find your non-mom groove

I’m not the mom who cannot stop talking about her child. It’s something I do a little consciously, but I’m not very rigid about it. That said, I do have mom friends who are my first point of contact for anything child-related. I also have other friends to keep my sanity in check when I’m tired of mom things. I watch sitcoms (The Office, again!) after my son’s bedtime and it makes a huge difference, especially with a FT job.

Children are resilient

It is us with our constant worrying that we undermine the true strength of children. My son was burning at 103 on his birthday, but still indulged us and cut his cake. Allow me to gloat- my child is the most understanding 3 year old ever. Last month, I was away to take care of my unwell mother-in-law. My husband was away on a business trip, and the child was with my parents. I’m sure he missed us, but he was a champ the whole time.
I draw strength from him from time to time.

The child and I watching out of the hospital window.

Humour me

Parenting is trying as it is, so why would you walk around with the grumps? It might be difficult at first, but being mindful about seeing the lighter vein of things can change your day. If there’s nothing to laugh about, I have giggle matches with my son. I guess our neighbours are used to all kinds of noises now. Also, a bad hour does not mean a bad day. If all else fails, then ice cream for days.

Show up

One of the biggest learnings of my adult life is (no, not taxes, still figuring that out) that showing up is half the problem solved. It could be a workout session, work, your duties as a daughter/wife/parent— just about whatever you’ve signed up for.
Give yourself grace, but show up and be consistent.

The last three years have been fulfilling. I wouldn’t say my child has helped me find my purpose, but he is my hope. He makes me want to be a better person than I was yesterday. In some moment of threenager despair, I cannot wait for him to be 10 years old already and in another moment of intense love, I want to bottle his tiny self up.

Baby A being his whimsical self.

His father might be my child’s ‘besteam’ (his version of bestie), wife (yeah, don’t ask me about this), baby sister (!!) and I am relegated to the mere position of a friend, but I’ll take it. (do I have a choice now?)

Not before reminding him how I went under the knife to get him out into this world 5599 times.

If you’re a frazzled mother reading this (also a note to myself), none of what is worrying you right now will matter next week or next month. Big picture, girl. You got this.

What is it like to be a woman in India?

The answer: exhausting.

On a good day, you will go about without having to come up against casual sexism, harassment, inappropriate touching, or being raped.

One evening last month, I decided to go for a run after sunset. 2 km into what I anticipated to be a fabulous run turned out an absolute nightmare when a young man on a bike thought it fun to slap my hip from behind. I was shocked, but gathered myself in time to yell obscenities at him (which I think he rather enjoyed. What is the deal with men, really?!)  

I informed my husband, shaking as I typed out the scene. He was beyond mortified, but didn’t ask me to come home either. With his words of support on Whatsapp, I decided to not let some doofus who couldn’t keep his hands on the handlebar win and continued running. Needless to say, I ran the rest of the distance in fear and watching my back constantly. I still do.  

I didn’t share this with anyone else because I know better than to do that. I’m 100% sure the fault-finding would’ve started with my running in the night. Why did I have to do that? Why wouldn’t I run in the daylight? I’m sure that if my non existent brother or son went for a run at night, they wouldn’t have to come up against harassment or fear, let alone this being a topic of discussion. We live with this imprint and yet fight patriarchy every way possible in the hope for a better tomorrow.

You will be judged, no matter what

The tomorrow seems bleak, however. Women who speak up are slut shamed, harassed and straight up told that they’ll be the reason why workplaces will think twice when it comes to hiring women in the future.

One of my male relatives has an issue with my having a career after a baby, and he’s made his disapproval clear by bringing it up multiple times. When parenting books say watch what you speak in front of your children, they mean well. Because this relative’s son who does not even have a degree to his name yet has a problem with my working and working out after a long day away from my child. This is a just a fragment of the balderdash an average Indian woman has to deal with on a daily basis. Said relative also has a daughter who thinks it is normal to shame women who pursue a career after a child.

Personally, I was mortified not because of what he said, but because he said this in a room full of opinionated people and no one thought to contend him. My 2 y.o son was in the room too, and I took a stance because I do not want him to think it was normal to judge people for their choices.

I have come to believe that this relative is very insecure from the realization that I can be anything I want to be and successful at that than he will ever be. And it’s about time I break association with the family for my sanity’s sake.

Everyday misogyny and patriarchy

The most venerated movie stars in India have spoken dialogues in their movies that are offensive to women. An aspiring CM candidate of the most progressive state in the country- Tamil Nadu and his son-in-law have spoken enough regressive and outrageous drivel against women in their movies to invite backlash, but have expressed ZERO remorse for it.

Other aspiring actors or actors at the bottom of the pyramid discovered this formula working and propagated misogyny because hey, the superstar does it and the audience seem to enjoy it!  The famous jokes by famous comedians are always at the expense of others, most often, a woman. I have a problem with standup comedy for precisely this reason (other than never finding them to be funny). Oftentimes, I’m labelled a spoilsport who can’t take a good joke. So be it, man.

Right from adolescence (wouldn’t be a bad idea to start from birth, given the current climate of women’s safety), girls in India are taught to make themselves less visible. If you can be invisible, nothing like it. Whereas boys are encouraged to go conquer the world. This gender inequality has percolated slowly but undeniably over the years that it has become a matter of glory for any man who “allows” his wife to work.

Relax gurl, not all men are like that

One of things I learnt early on in my life is to always make data driven arguments. According to statistics from the NCRB, I’m winning so far. (no link, because look it up if you really care) Show up with the data to support your argument, and let’s discuss this then? Also, masculinity is not a matter of pride. It’s just your gender- there, there I spelled that out for the feeble minded and innocent men who think women do not need the ‘special treatment’.

Okay, what’s your point here?

When a prominent figure of this country attributes his state’s high malnutrition rates to the figure conscious girls who are scared of getting fat, there’s only so much hope we can garner in the commoners.

Women in India and across the world are enjoying privileges (!!) today because of the persistent work of many feminist movements.  We must keep talking, challenging the status quo, and fighting for ourselves because in the words of the great poet Vairamuthu ,“Puratchigal Edhum Seyyaamal Pennukku Nanmai Vilaiyadhu” (The good will not come to women without many a revolution).

What am I driving at, you ask?

I’ve been riding a scooter since I was 14. But this post is about my experience in driving— or lack thereof— a car.

Growing up, I looked at women drivers in awe. Not in a condescending “Oh look, they’re made fun of globally for being bad drivers, yet here they are driving around like they’ve been born with it.” way, but in a very wistful manner that is reserved for things you can only dream of.
Sorry gentlemen, I don’t feel the same way about you driving. Maybe it is something to do with some reckless men on the road?

I enrolled in a driving class in the summer of 2008. My instructor was 60 year old gentleman who retired as a lorry driver. My cousin and I took these classes together, and often after the classes, we would wander off to the movies, forgetting all about the lessons for the day. It was like one of those not-so-serious hobbies that are meant to be forgotten soon after the summer vacations.

The second time I enrolled for driving classes was in 2014, just before my wedding. I never got around to applying for a driver’s license. I moved to Canada, and found the joys of driving an automatic car. Even bigger was the  joy of driving on almost empty roads with no one honking. I was driving around with my Indian 2 wheeler license. Don’t ask—I’m not proud of it, but we all have some illegal skeletons in our closet. Since I didn’t have a license, I drove less frequently.

We then moved back home, to India.

Three’s a charm

For the longest time after moving to India, I didn’t find the need to drive. Then the pining hit me again, and off I went to register with a new driving school. I was driving fairly well, took the test and passed it.

I drove short distances with my husband around, and it seemed easy enough. I was still very very scared of left side intruders, speeding, honking etc. I will explain the reason for this unfathomable anxiety in a bit.

One fine Saturday, armed with Youtube videos of “how to reverse a car without killing anyone”, I decided to take the car out without my husband’s assistance. I was so feverish with enthusiasm that I banged the car into the gate. It was so bad, the front portion (still learning the anatomy of a car, forgive me) of the car was stuck to the gate and would only come out with the combined effort of three strong people.

I was riddled with more self-doubt. Was I ever going to drive a car at all? Maybe I was not cut out for it.

Flashback— Why The Fear

We met with an accident in January 2017. What made it worse was the fact that my then 11 month old son was also in the car with us. Three men who were piss drunk in broad daylight and riding on a single bike hit our car (which I wasn’t driving, by the way) in the wrong direction.

Thankfully, we were alright but it was bad for the biker dudes— three of them flew in three different directions and were bleeding profusely.

We spent more than half of the car’s buying price to get it repaired, so can you even imagine the extent of the damage? People who saw the accident spot or photos of the damaged car told me that it was a miracle that we were unhurt.

It’s been 2.5 years, but I still shudder and jolt at sharp turns or when someone tries to speed past my car. I understood that this is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and that this is a baggage I’m going to be carrying around for a long time. On some days when I’m overcome with emotion, I remind myself that I still haven’t given up driving, or the will to drive, and then I feel so damn proud of myself.

Driving it home

Soon as I acknowledged the fact that the accident was deathly serious matter, and that it was okay for me to feel scared, driving started to feel a little relaxing. Before this realisation, driving was extremely stressful and almost always ended with me cursing or eating shitloads of junk food to deal with the trauma.

Last Sunday, I decided to take matters (or the steering wheel) in my own hands and drove unassisted for a short distance on a busy road. This drive was such a confidence booster, and I take so much pride in it!

I owe it to my husband (or husbae, like kids these days talk) for the constant reassurance that there are far more terrible drivers on the road than myself. The man doesn’t coddle, it’s only tough love.

Since then I’ve drawing up an image of myself driving around the city, swaying to the music, sipping coffee—stone deaf to the horns blaring around me. There’s no stopping me!

Leaning In: A Personal Account

I avoid self-help books like plague. My theory is— to each, their own. I do not subscribe to most of these views, so it is counterproductive and I almost always feel lousy afterwards because books are expensive. The last few self-help books I read were from the “parenting” genre. My my, that is still a colossal work in progress.

I’m trying to squeeze in few minutes of reading before bed time and during my commute to work. I picked up ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg recently. I’d been hearing this phrase and her name for quite some time, and I told myself that it’s alright if I do not end up liking the book, I would maybe derive some perspective out of it. This book couldn’t have landed into my lap (erm, Kindle) at a better time.

Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about women in workplace. I take the Metro to and from work every day. Recently, they reserved the first two coaches exclusively for women. I see a lot of frazzled women in the train going to work in the morning, and I’m thinking about child care, equal parenting and lots of associated thoughts. I wouldn’t have given this scene a second thought before I became a mother myself.

Anyway, the book. I read it with a very open mind, and now I have so many takeaways from the book— yay, a victory for self-improvement books. I could relate to a lot of things discussed in the book.

Lean In

I am a content marketer now, but my last job was in the manufacturing sector. I decided to change my career path at 28. This meant that starting out as a fresher again. I earn much lesser than peers my age and some of my coworkers who are much younger than me. I would be lying if I said this doesn’t bother me. This was a risk I did not think much about, because I enjoy what I do, and I’m grateful that I am at a place where I could afford to take that risk in the first place.
My career is well on its way to climb the jungle gym and not a corporate ladder, and I hope it stays that way.

I am one of the many women who will not actively discuss their children at work. This is partially because of my anxiety that my priorities will be questioned. But also mostly because my co-workers are much younger, and I am sure they do not want to hear about how less babies sleep or how much babies pee (A LOT).
I don’t want anyone thinking I do any less at work, because talking about my child means I’m thinking about him rather than thinking about work. Irrational, right? Try telling that to my snoozing brain that’s overworked from thinking about all irrational scenarios.
I also compare my time to my colleagues (who stay at work late) and feel like I don’t measure up. I know I’m setting myself up for a disaster, but after reading the book I know that I’m not the only one engaging in this pointless exercise. Misery indeed loves company.

Sheryl Sandberg on women at top management
Source: Linkedin

Pick your poison

Despite having a great support system, I find parenting to be the hardest thing I’ve done so far. This might sound whiny and entitled. But ultimately parents are the ones picking up the tab, (at least in our case) so a great amount of my emotional energy is spent on making sure that I’m doing things the right way. The problem, however, is that there’s no one right way. There’s also no “done is better than perfect” when it comes to parenting. You aim for perfection, so that you can land near “done” at the very least.
As a working parent, it all boils down to which poison you pick or which battle you choose to fight or.. oh my god, this is becoming a bloody mess (pun intended). Always pick your poison wisely, no two poisons are the same, and what poison works for others might not work for you. PSA: I’m not being literal, please don’t pick up any poison.

Like Sheryl, I was naive enough to believe that because of the hard work of the previous generations, we are better off when it comes to women equality. Let me tell you about my reality check when travelling in the metro recently— a gentleman felt so entitled that he decided to travel in the women-only compartment despite the staff asking him to get off.

To talk is to empower

It helps to talk even if you think you’re not making a difference. Sadly, there are still a lot of people like the man in the metro even in the current generation. To talk is to empower. Till the time we have more and more women at the top management, it is our duty to keep talking and challenging the status quo, and in this I fully support the author.