By being prepared adequately and by “skilling yourself appropriately,” you will give yourself a much better chance at succeeding in your endeavours.

Pratibha Girish

She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails – Elizabeth Edwards

Let us play a mind game. Assume that you are 18 again. You have a long life to live ahead, about 30-35 years to earn and about 60-70 years more to live and sustain yourself. What is the most important asset you will create and invest in, to help you sustain yourself well for this long lifetime ahead?

No, this is not question asked to trick or trap you, and the intuitive answer to this riddle is of course “yourself”. This is because you only have control over yourself. You do not have control over the life you are going to lead and the circumstances that you will face. But by being prepared adequately and by “skilling yourself appropriately,” you will give yourself a much better chance to succeed in your endeavours.

Interestingly, for those of us who were in this stage of our lives a couple of or even three decades back, skilling ourselves meant becoming graduates and post-graduates, so that we could get good jobs, and earning enough.

Upskilling for employability

For many of us, this helped as we did well, built good careers for ourselves and reached both professional and financial stability.

But over the last 10 years, and increasingly so as the years pass by, things have changed, on at least two fronts. First, skills no longer denote knowledge (i.e. professional degrees) but also denote life skills or competencies. Second, obsolescence cycles of professional skills have shortened and, in this digital age, threaten to shrink even more dramatically. Simply put, what you learnt a few years back may be completely irrelevant today, unless you manage to “upskill” yourself on the changes that have taken place. In extreme scenarios, entire skill-sets are becoming redundant and one has to completely “re-skill” oneself and build a career afresh.

While all this is true for both genders, it is even more crucial for women to take note of these aspects as they build and manage their professional lives. This is because, like it or not, we tend to let our aspirations and needs take a back seat, given our preoccupation with both our career as well as family. And while organizations are making an effort to implement gender-neutral and women-centric policies, the reality is that, on the societal front, things are not changing that much. And therefore, our careers have that many more breaks, stops and starts. And sometimes even complete break-downs.

I have seen this happen in the past with a couple of friends at work, both of whom were top performers in their work-roles.  One of them had to cut short her work career pretty abruptly since the family consisted of not only a ready-to-go-to-school child, but also ailing in-laws. After a seven-year break, when she decided to step out to get back into the corporate world, she found that the skill-sets that she had along with her work experience were completely irrelevant and antiquated compared to the requirements that the same organization had.

Another friend and colleague who had to leave her job for similar reasons (starting a family) found it tough to get back to work at a similar level even three years later. Slowly, as time passed by, this led to a lot of heartache and frustration. She knew her capabilities but never realised that her inability to spend time upskilling would cost her dearly. Luckily both of them were enterprising and set up businesses that they operate from their homes. The businesses are doing fairly well, but the point is that they missed the corporate train merely because, they did not remain in touch with their industry & domain expertise and did not continue to upgrade their professional skills to keep pace with the change that was overtaking their respective industries during their break.

While this is essential for women who are taking a break, this is even more essential for those women who either do not start their careers at all, or leave their jobs with no intention of getting back, at least not in the visible future.

Invest in yourself

Parents leave no stone unturned to ensure their daughters get the best platform when they choose to take off. However, once she decides to stay at home for whatever reason, acquiring new skills and being employable is the last thing on her mind. But even if you choose not to work or are not able to, there may be unfortunate circumstances when you may be forced to.

We encountered two extremely tragic circumstances in just the past month. In both cases, the women were suddenly widowed in their early thirties. Both the women are well educated and articulate, but had never attempted to generate an income either through employment or business.   Now, with the unimaginable tragedy striking them, they suddenly have to stand up and be the pillar of support to their young children as well as their grieving in-laws. Not only are they suddenly being pulled into taking financial decisions with no prior experience in the same, they also are forced to look at ways to start generating an income immediately. The worry on how to pick up the pieces is writ large on them. They do not even have the comfort of grieving in peace.

So, what is it you can do? How does one upskill/reskill oneself? Programs which add serious value to you are going to cost you decent money. Start with earmarking a part of your salary towards acquiring new skills. Ensure that you don’t give yourself the chance to carry the money forward and push it off to another year. Keep a target of doing one new certification/ program a year, plan for it immediately after your appraisal, and make it an annual exercise. Also, register yourself for industry journals/blogs to keep yourself updated on the changes that are impacting your skill-sets and what you need to learn anew.

Even if you are not pursuing a career right now, give a serious thought to what your strengths are. Find time to test how viable it would be to go commercial on a venture you think you have figured out.  You may not make tons of money or achieve great success, but the confidence that you can start something on your own whenever you choose to, will do you a world of good.