THROUGH A WOMAN’S EYE IN A MAN’S WORLD
Being little girls we are taught certain behaviors and attitude, we are told what we should and how we should do it. We immediately know where our place is and what we certainly won’t accomplish, all these shape our future life in this and not in the other way.
Does it really have to be this way? Aren’t we capable of gaining more? Although being the earlier mentioned girls we are confident about the information we are presented with, growing up we start noticing that the world is much more than being a woman in the stereotypical meaning of this word.
We also start observing that we can successfully take up the same activities, do the same sports and jobs, which seem to be purely and simply reserved for men. And while striving for excellence, following our passions we often have to hit a wall, the wall of a man-dominated world in a given profession, where male professionals are still more respected, more likely to be hired, and most importantly better paid.
The thing which can give us some encouragement is the fact that women are neither weaker nor worse, they are simply perceived in a different way. More and more of them, on a daily basis, keep proving that they are valuable employees, not second to any male counterparts working in a given field. I’m truly pleased to introduce you to my today’s interviewee – Shashikala Shanmugasundaram – a wonderful woman, specialist, who despite obvious obstacles gained recognition in the professional world, the one in which women don’t have an easy life. Moreover, she decided to share her thoughts in the book, which can be read in any corner of the world.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Shashi: I am an experienced architect and a seasoned project manager who loves transforming land into a landmark. My expertise lies in leading and managing the design and construction of huge integrated developments comprising malls, luxury condominiums, hotels, offices etc. I live in Singapore and have been contributing to the construction industry for more than 28 years.
I am also the author of the book – IN THE RING WITH LIFE, taking the punches and winning the game! I launched the book last year during the midst of covid – 19. My main purpose in writing the book was to take a positive message to the world during the pandemic. Prior to embarking on the journey of becoming an author, I was the Senior Vice President of a reputed hospitality group in charge of construction projects across South East Asia and Australasia.
Passion Piece: You’re a successful woman who has established her position in the male-dominated world, which is the construction industry. What made you choose such a demanding career path?
Shashi: Yes, the construction industry across the world is very much male-dominated. Probably it’s because of the nature of the industry. Work-life is tough and long working hours are very much part of the package. People tend to be rough. Loud rugged men often call the shots. A construction site is generally noisy, dusty and unsafe. Walking through equipment-laden sites, balancing over reinforcement bars and climbing multiple stories using rickety make-shift staircases is a common routine. It’s certainly not a comfortable environment where you can dress pretty, talk politely and expect people to reciprocate. That’s why probably we see fewer women entering this domain.
Well, for me I love design and project management. I love to see beautifully designed buildings sprout out of the sheer ground. I love to transform the city’s skyline and create spaces which define how people live, work and play. I am super passionate about this whole thing. My passion drives me forward. It doesn’t matter if the industry is tough or is full of men, I love the profession so much that I find a way to survive.
Passion Piece: So how have you managed to survive and climb up in this male-dominated profession? What is your advice for women struggling to climb the corporate ladder?
Shashi: Women need to remember that there is absolutely nothing that they cannot do. Here is a quote from my book “If a man can do it, a woman can do it. If a man cannot do it, a woman can still do it.” Ha ha.
Passion is key to success. When you love your job, problems are easier to overcome. Educate yourself and increase your knowledge. Knowledge is power. Even the all-powerful Covid-19 cannot take away our knowledge from us. It is important to learn throughout life. I did a masters in project management long after I graduated from college with a child at home. It is never too late to get back to college. Needless to say, hard work and commitment go hand in hand with success.
It does not matter whether you are a racial minority, the youngest in the room or the only woman in an industry dominated by men. What matters is what you bring to the table. How good a professional are you? Know everything about your job, be passionate, committed, resilient, work hard, and be willing to give it your all. You will survive. You will not just survive, you will rock. My motto has always been — Be so good that they cannot ignore you! Trust me, it works.
Problems will come in plenty. Be so strong that nothing can get you down permanently. Dust yourself, learn your lesson and get back on your feet again.
Passion Piece: How did being retrenched influence your life? Was it difficult to find yourself in such a new reality?
Shashi: Let me start with the obvious — no one likes to be retrenched. Especially when it blindsides you. In 2019, I had just secured the job of my dreams. I loved everything about my job — my friendly colleagues, my admirable bosses, my exciting projects. I had big plans and was looking forward to a bright future. Then came COVID-19 and with it, a retrenchment letter. Suddenly, my life came to a grinding halt. There were no more team meetings, no coffee chats in the breakroom, and no finish line to race towards. It felt like I was breezing through a marathon, just to fall on my face. Hard. My life felt like it had lost its purpose.
Going through retrenchment can be a distressing experience. I found myself wallowing in self-pity, blaming external factors for how I felt. It took me months to accept my new reality and find the strength to move on. The reality of life is that it can and will knock us down. Like it or not, we will end up in situations we don’t want to be in. We can either let them control us and derail our lives, or, we can carefully choose how we react, up our game, and try to bounce back.
Passion Piece: Why did you decide to become an author? Had you written anything before you came up with such an idea?
Shashi: Once I came to terms with my retrenchment and accepted my new reality, I was able to find the strength to move on. A sense of direction and clarity dawned on me. I thought, how do I take this painful experience and transform it into something positive that propels me forward. Many people had lost their jobs during covid. I could share the lessons I learned from this experience, with the world. Not just lessons about retrenchment, I could share all the lessons I had learnt throughout my life on how to be resilient. The very thought of taking a positive message to the world made me feel good and I found the motivation and inspiration to make it work. I decided to channel all my energy to write and self-publish a self-help book and take a positive message to the world. My retrenchment suddenly had a noble purpose.
I had not written any books before. I am a hard-core project management professional and had only written multiple contractual letters to my consultants and contractors. Ha ha. When I embarked on the unfamiliar journey of writing and self-publishing a book, I was scared, unsure, and totally new to this part of the literary world. I was however clear on my mission and to accomplish it, I was ready to do whatever it takes. I learned, persevered, did my very best, and successfully self-published my first book. The book has garnered good reviews and also an award. This itself is testimony to the fact that any human being is capable of succeeding in any endeavour they put their heart and soul into!
Passion Piece: The title of your book sounds so intriguing to me. IN THE RING WITH LIFE: taking the punches and winning the game! How can we face our life and how do you define the punches we need to prepare for?
Shashi: The title of the book says it all. If we consider ourselves in a ring, with life as our opponent, how well are we going to play this game? I believe each of us is playing a game with life. Sometimes, we play our moves damn well. We duck, defend, and punch life on its face and win. Other times, we get punched, kicked, and knocked down. We dust ourselves, slowly stand up and the game starts again. We are always being tested. With every life experience, we learn new lessons and become better, wiser, and stronger. We need to hone our moves and level up our game. If we succeed, we move on to the next life lesson which is usually even harder. If we fail to learn, we get pushed back down and have to take the test all over again.
I have learnt many such lessons, as highlighted in my book. Life is all about learning lessons from our setbacks, standing up again, playing our best moves, and winning the game. However, enjoying every bit of the journey is more important than securing victories!
Passion Piece: Who is your book aimed for? Is there a specific audience?
Shashi: My book will appeal to anyone and everyone who wants to play the game of life well —young, old, men and women. I do believe that this book has something of value for everyone.
Passion Piece: Which topics do you mainly focus on and why did you choose them in particular?
Shashi: The book covers a wide spectrum of life topics —health, happiness, continuous learning, success, goals, parenting, adoption, living for a cause, retrenchment and the struggles associated with them. I have also touched upon challenges which women face during pregnancy, childbirth, and climbing the corporate ladder in male-dominated settings.
I chose these topics because these life situations have taught me big lessons. I do believe insight into these topics will be beneficial to many people. The purpose of the book is solely to inspire someone somewhere, who has been knocked down hard by life, to stand up again and face life head-on!
Passion Piece: Were you prepared for such a good reception of your book? Do you plan to work on the next one?
Shashi: This is my first book and I was totally not expecting such a good response. The book held the No 1 position on the Amazon charts in Singapore for more than a week after launch. It has garnered very good reviews and a rating of 4.91/5 on GoodReads.
I was also pleasantly surprised to get the “Emerging Author of the year award”
Reviews and awards aside, what makes me happy is that people from around the world are reaching out to me, sharing how the book has inspired them. Many women have written to me that they can relate to the issues that I have highlighted in the chapter “Women in a man’s world.” Young people have messaged me that they are motivated to pursue their goals. The book is indeed serving its purpose.
I have received multiple requests asking me to write another book. Some people have even said that they are glad I got retrenched. Ha ha. I have received feedback that the book is easy to read and understand – like a conversation with a friend. They want me to continue this conversation. I am glad that my simple style of writing has appealed to people. This and the fact that a book can inspire multiple people around the world certainly motivates me to keep writing.
Passion Piece: You’re not only smart, but also generous, since 50% of the book proceeds will also be donated to charity. What do you value in life the most?
Shashi: Thank you. I value “Living for a cause” the most in life.
Our time on this planet is limited; we are all born with an expiry date. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to use this brief window of existence, meaningfully? To leave a mark? We pay to live in our homes and for our belongings, but what do we pay to consume oxygen and occupy space on Earth? Shouldn’t we give back to the planet and its occupants in some form?
Early in life, I decided that I am not just going to occupy space, consume resources, and merely exist in this world. My life has to serve a purpose — a purpose greater than myself! Over the past thirty years, I have financially contributed to the education of underprivileged children, hospitalization costs for those in need, and disaster relief efforts, among others. It is heart-warming to know that people have benefited and are still benefiting from my existence. This gives my life a sense of purpose and meaning.
Most human beings have a kind heart and want to help. But they always get busy with their own lives and don’t know where to start. We are stuck with the notion that helping always has to be some grand gesture, requiring immense time and money. This need not be the case. Every little action counts. Every little step makes this world a better place. I have a chapter dedicated to this in my book which addresses the most common concerns in this regard and suggests a simple way to make our lives more meaningful.
Passion Piece: What are your hobbies? How do you love spending your free time?
Shashi: Apart from bringing giant buildings to life, I enjoy fitness, reading, travelling, and hanging out with friends. I keep my creative juices flowing through “nail art”. You can see my creations on my Instagram page.
I am a strong advocate of volunteering and don’t want to leave this planet without making a substantial difference.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in the nearest future?
Shashi: Whether I lead a few more projects and inspire my teams or write a few more books that inspire people, I see myself healthy, happy and peaceful doing my little part in making a difference on this planet.
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Shashi: “When life knocks you down, learn your lesson and bounce back stronger.”
Life is beautiful and blessed. At the same time, Life can also be tough, unfair, and ruthless. However, we are so much stronger than anything life throws at us. There is absolutely nothing that we cannot handle!
We are all in the ring with life, taking the punches and learning our lessons. What is important is that we get up after every fall, and keep trying. Winning the game is not important. Learning and enjoying the journey is!
Take care, play your best moves, have fun, and show life what you got, my dear readers!
Passion Piece: Thank you for this truly inspiring conversation and I wish you continued success in the future!
See you around!
Photos by: Shashikala Shanmugasundaram