The untold story of a not-so-successful woman


By Sairana Mohd Saad

We were walking back to the office one afternoon after lunch, when a colleague commented about how lame a forum was. She had just attended (yet another) one of those “Successful Women Leadership Talks”. By the sound of it, she obviously didn’t learn much and regretted wasting her time there.

Naturally after over 20 years of corporate life and motherhood, wouldn’t we already know the grind and politics of the big corporate world?

Needless to say, we have seen for ourselves what it takes to be “up there”. It was just a question of whether or not we were up to making some “sacrifices” along the way. In terms of technical knowledge or capability, you really do not need to be another Einstein.

My colleague has one kid and I have three (with the eldest being 22). Hence, why talks by “successful individuals” are often taken with a pinch of salt and a light smirk as we listen to these women’s wonderfully narrate stories. Yeah, it sounds all well and good, I must say, especially with a microphone in hand.

So what’s the real story behind it?

Whilst it is encouraging to observe how International Women’s Day was celebrated with much hype on social media, I feel obliged to explain the real meaning of success for women at large.

In retrospect, and as a young mother, who did it three times, with a gap of 3.5 years each, I must first thank God, for all the energy I had. And the unrelenting support I received from my better half who did all the ferrying around (home-mom’s home-kindie-back home), the maid who did all the mothering jobs while I was busy climbing the corporate ladder and my mother who did all the supervisory/monitoring tasks.

By the time I got home each evening, I was usually flat out from the rush of work, battling traffic (never had a driver) and really had very little energy left to “play with the kids” or “attend to their homework”. And yeah, we also have to cook when we get home, don’t we?

I shall skip the phases when I had overseas assignments, and was never home for days and weeks on end (that’s what happens when you work for MNCs).

I was also not part of the “Stay Home Mom Club when the Child is Sick”. God took care of my children and He still does.

I had no work-life balance when I was younger, for sure. And I have stopped dreaming of attaining that balance after all these years. What balance are we talking about, I really don’t know.

And so, we had maid upon maid, during those days when maids were still affordable and aplenty. Of course, it all came with a cost and emotional strains – and anecdotes about maids, we all know, there are a gazillion of them.

The life of a normal executive, with a handful of kids, and travelling duties, and housework, is a little bit different from those who have risen through the ranks faster than the rest.

The decisions of a wife who wants to balance her marriage and duty as a mother, are often miles apart from those who are willing to accept late night outs, or after-work social sessions. The more posh word used to describe it is “networking” but in reality, it’s just entertainment, mingling and laughing with “top corporates” who can place your career on a fast track.

So if it is that easy, why isn’t everybody doing it?

Most of us, at least the less ambitious, have a different set of priorities and are not willing to forego family time. And that is why, most of us who share similar values, are contented with our smaller successes, smaller office corners, and lower heat zones.

Does it mean that we are less successful or less intelligent or less aggressive in reaching the top or breaking that imaginary glass ceiling?

No, it really means that we are confident enough to know what we want, and that does not always mean being top executives at the places we work in. We know that living a full life goes beyond our 9-5 jobs.

To each her own – and do celebrate your success in your own way, however small it may be.

Sairana Mohd Saad is an FMT reader.

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