Life can be hard when you’re a woman. It often throws curveballs that leave you lost and shaken. But we’re always stronger than we think – always. Every woman has within her the strength to rise up and rewrite her narrative.

For International Women’s Day, I’m sharing a part of my journey in the hope that it will ignite hope and courage in women who are navigating their own unique challenges and paths.

My journey has been unconventional, and one belief that has stuck with me on the way is that everything happens for a reason. Adversity can be the foundation on which untold successes are built.

The First Cut is The Deepest

My biggest loss, at the age of 13, was the loss of my father to cancer. I know it sounds clichéd, but he really was a friend, philosopher and mentor to me. The days I accompanied him to Tata Memorial Hospital for his radiation sessions wrenched my soul.

Watching cancer patients and their families struggle, I encountered some of life’s harsh realities at a very young age. And so, my story gets off to a messy start – losing my dad was a huge punch in the gut. He was my strength, confidence, and an ever-present pillar to lean on when things got hard. The loss hit me hard.

To make matters worse, I started stammering because of the of the post-traumatic stress disorder the loss of my father brought about. I was a budding teenager, deeply denting my confidence and causing me to doubt my capabilities and place in this world.

My mother was a homemaker, and we struggled to make ends meet. Our financial dire straits required me to start working at age 20, so I threw my energy into academics and chose to pursue chartered accountancy – one of the few courses available at the time that could be taken alongside a graduate degree.

My real dream was to become a creative advertiser, but I lacked the means to pursue a post-graduate master’s degree. For better or worse, I was heading for a CA’s career – not the worst possible path, but my creative streak seemed doomed to atrophy.

The Turning Point

All this changed when I happened to witness a macro-economic event during my first job at KPMG. In that time, the real estate sector opened to foreign investments and I grabbed the opportunity to join their real estate private equity advisory team.

Thanks to my father’s unfailing support while he was still with us, I was never afraid to take leaps of faith, try something new, and experiment with the opportunities that came my way. It was 2005 and this was my moment. I seized it.

The world of real estate and private equity captivated me, and my career course changed drastically. With resurging confidence, my stammering evaporated. There was no looking back, and I progressed from consulting to investment banking and private equity. Crafting intricate funding deals allowed me to unleash my creative impulses in a way I had not thought possible. But my artistic leanings were finally unleashed to the fullest in later years…

I was exposed to different businesses, and my horizons broadened. With the lean years behind me, my appetite for being challenged was boundless. Eight years ago, I set my sights on the Executive MBA program at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It was a make-or-break point for me – would I get the support I needed to realize this vision?

Workplace Culture Matters!

At the time, I was working for international property consultancy JLL and needed their approval to pursue my plans. We read many horror stories of women’s’ careers deteriorating after they’re interrupted for some or the other reason. This was when the importance of a workplace that nurtured and supported its employees was brought home to me. JLL, then headed by Anuj Puri, stood firmly by me.

I will never forget the words of encouragement I got from Anuj, who went on to create ANAROCK in 2017. He said he respected me even more for taking on such a significant challenge mid-career. That support and encouragement boosted my motivation and paved the way to my MBA – which had a profound impact on my professional development.

The 21 months program involved extensive travel to Hong Kong, London and Chicago. Balancing studies with work was challenging, but I had youth, determination and support to back me up. I successfully graduated with Dean’s honors, and my greatest source of pride was in seeing the tears of joy in my mother’s eyes at her daughter’s achievement during the convocation ceremony.

I consider the MBA program among the most enriching experience of my life. I am proud to have friends in 43 countries, with access to a network of distinguished faculty and alumni. I use this network to the fullest in my current position at ANAROCK, where I took the helm of industrial, logistics and data centers four years ago.

This company was a catalyst for my personal and professional growth, and I cannot emphasize this enough – workplace culture matters!

Full Circle

Now, fully restored confidence and several performance awards and industry recognitions later, I still find it hard to believe just how far this heartbroken, stammering girl headed for an obscure chartered accountant’s desk job has come.

Back then, my teenage speech impediment had seemed like a death knell to my future. Today, I speak with confidence at industry conferences and lauded for not only my knowledge but also my communication skills.

Last year, I took another leap of faith. While continuing in my role at ANAROCK with their full support and encouragement, I ventured into the fashion world as an investor-founder with a D2C womenswear brand, IREA Life. True to my life experiences and convictions, my vision is to create apparel that supports and enhances women’s personality and confidence in themselves.

Clothes to empower women through a unique style – that is something both my creative streak and life experiences can lean into! The artist in me has finally got a shot at the stars.

A Message to Women

My career began in adversity but went on to unfold in almost miraculous ways. Luck? Before I dismiss that notion entirely, I will admit that luck does play an important role in a woman’s life.

By that, I mean that the backing you received from your parents is a throw of the dice – either you had it, or you didn’t. Determination and hard work can make up for the lack of such empowerment in your formative years, but you’re ahead of the game if your parents gave you grit instead of grief. Mine did, so yes – luck comes in there somewhere.

But far more important are the choices you yourself make when you reach life’s many crossroads later. The people you choose to associate with – personally or professionally – must support your dreams and life vision.

I chose to work for companies that encouraged and fostered my ambition. Please, make the right choices. You know you’re in the right place or with the right person when you hear words like “it’s great to see you balancing your career here with your creative side” and “whatever you choose to do, I’m with you.”

Three things have shaped my career journey and choices – my father’s lasting influence, my mother’s resilience, and very supportive work environments. The first two were my good fortune; the third was absolutely my choice.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I urge you to embrace your journey, whatever challenges it may present. To believe in your abilities, nurture your desires, and pick your associations wisely. Don’t rush into the first opportunity that presents itself. Remember that if you don’t make your own plans, others will make them for you.

If my story can inspire you to take believe in yourself and take the brave high road in your life, then professional recognitions and successes fade into insignificance. That will be my biggest reward.