The Pandemic’s Catalyst Effect: The Great “Re”
Last month, ARA had the honor of presenting a panel discussion at the Chicago Women in Technology Conference (CHIWITCON). Led by Sandee Kastrul, three top women executives, Kendra Cato, Disha Gulati, and Madeline Stone Kutis discussed how they have found success in getting to know people and reconnecting remotely.
These days we have a greater appreciation for opportunities to reconnect with people in person, and “CHIWITCON: Reconnect” was no exception. The event was full of many inspiring stories and provided opportunities for participants to meet, get motivated, and uplift one another in this unique time.
Panelists discussed tested methods for bonding remotely, personal stories of reimaging paths, and the importance of understanding the reality of now in how we uplift others. We’ve collected some insights and key takeaways from the panelists.
“Re” moments that got our panelists through the pandemic
- Re imagine, Re define and Re calibrate. When Re imaging your path and leaning on others in your re calibration, remember to lift others in their journey as you climb. We are never alone on the path that we choose. (Disha)
- Re orient — To move back to the light. Re orient our internal compass towards the rising sun of our passions. (Madeline)
- Re invent — Rise up and support others. If you have only one smile in you, give it to the ones you love. Leave them better than you found them. (Kendra)
In the spirit of the times we live in today and ‘respecting the reality of now’, we know that things don’t always go as planned. Friend of ARA and tech executive, Deepika Duggirala, was sidelined from participating in the panel due to losing her voice. While we weren’t able to hear from her directly during this event, we wanted to share her inspirational thoughts and personal “re” moment story.
As I sat down to reflect on key moments over the last couple years, it really hit home how we have all experienced a whole lifetime of experiences packed into a short time. A global pandemic, social reckoning, political turmoil, climate calamities, economic uncertainty. In my case, personal circumstances meant that I happened to be on a personal journey as well – so picking one “re” moment just doesn’t do it justice. I am going to share a few moments that have defined me and how I am approaching this new normal we live in.
I’ll start at the beginning — in early 2020, our son had turned 16, begun driving and was discovering his independence as teenagers typically do; his life only intersected with his parents at mealtimes or when he needed money. I had just accepted a new job, an exciting role that I felt passionate about, and I had this vision of exactly how a “new me” was going to show up because my mom guardrails were coming off and I could do what I wanted to, when I wanted to; I would travel, meet people after work and network.
That’s when the pandemic arrived!
At first, and for a long time, I loved it. The introvert in me enjoyed not having to step out of the comfort and security of my home while I could still work and play. Professionally, the new job started in a remote world. But it wasn’t too bad. I met people virtually, I built relationships, learned what I needed to learn and dove in. The networking and the traveling etc. were on hold, but it was fine with me.
At home, my sixteen-year-old was suddenly always under the same roof as us – classes, tests, social life, everything from home. So instead of having to stay up waiting for him to come home at night, we were hanging out, making dinner together, playing board games and talking and reflecting on everything that was happening in the world around us. My husband and I, who were typically very busy juggling work and home, would take long walks in our neighborhood, wave to our neighbors and pet their dogs. It really felt idyllic and luxurious and was exactly the slowdown in life that our family needed.
Our first re-moment — getting re-acquainted with each other and ourselves and our priorities, our home, and our neighborhoods.
But as the days and months wore on, and fall turned to winter, how we felt about it changed. We all needed more, wanted more! We didn’t know what that “more” was or how to get it. The rollercoaster that was the pandemic had begun to take a toll and dissatisfaction levels with the same things that felt idyllic and luxurious before, set in.
But, as it usually does, life kept moving forward. We were accepting that this might be the new way of living and working – our home now had two offices and plenty more office furniture. The great resignation meant that several people (many of whom I still had not met) but had begun to get to know and appreciate were moving on to different adventures of their own. Our son went back to school, went through college applications, standardized testing (oh what a nightmare that was!) and left for college – several states away.
We were settling into a hybrid way of work life and an empty nester way of life. Work and life were colliding pretty heavily and emotions from one were bleeding into the other. That new me that I thought my new job and newfound lack of childcare responsibilities were going to bring out had not shown up yet – I was still saying no, where I thought I should say yes. I was feeling anxious and dissatisfied and began questioning everything. I wanted to break free and for everything to be different.
From the depths of this dissatisfaction and frustration is when the re-discovery came. I had to take stock of who I really am, what inspires me, where I get my energy from, what drives me and makes me show up in the best way for my family, my friends, and my colleagues, my work.
And I realized a few things:
The reality is — I don’t enjoy quick interactions with many people. I am someone who likes to connect with people on a personal and individual basis. That’s the basis of my friendships, my leadership, my partnership style and how I “manage up”. Meaningful connections are important to me and there I thrive.
The reality is — I am never going to be the networking guru or the life of the party. I can’t be that leader who can get up on stage and blow people away with my outgoing personality. I need to be ok with that. I had fallen into the trap of our “culture of personality”, thinking that to be liked and admired, I needed to be extroverted.
The reality is — everything I told myself I was “de-prioritizing” until my son was old enough was not a priority to me in the first place. Sure, I had more time, and a freedom to take on anything I wanted to. But, I already knew what was important to me and I was already making time for it. I had found the work life balance or work life integration that was right for me
As a leader, I can inspire my teams by just being myself — sharing my vision, my passion, my commitment and connecting with them meaningfully in individualized interactions. That’s who I am — that’s who I was and that’s who I will be — it is my strength. Every other version of me is inauthentic and takes me away from what I am good at. This realization is helping me define my new way of working and living.
So, as we find ourselves in the second half of 2022, and the pandemic is now endemic, I am leaning into this better understanding of myself to Reemerge and Reengage with the world around me. And, I find that I since I am no longer holding myself to an unrealistic ideal (that is definitely not me), I am much happier and more present in the moments and interactions which ironically have resulted in me being more like that “new me” I had envisioned.
So, I will leave you with this thought:
You know yourself; you know your strengths, you know your priorities. It is about accepting and honoring yourself as you are and being unapologetic about it. There is no new version of you, you are you, unique and special. And, that is your superpower.
ARA, an organization that aspires to Attract, Retain, and Advance women in technology, is pleased to partner with the Women of Enova for the seventh consecutive year of ChiWitCon. We believe women’s voices are critical to all aspects of life, and our mission continues to be one of support, action, and, ultimately, lifting other women.