A square peg in a round hole

“Every so often, I get the worse team of writers that you have in the organization, assigned to me. How do you expect me to get them to perform?” Soumya gulped, suppressing her tears.

Jessica sat calmly in her chair, observing the woman who sat opposite her and let her vent it out.

“You know that I’ve been your top columnist for all the three years when I was writing columns for  Racontez . You can’t just wake up one day and issue me a warning on my performance. It’s not even  MY  performance. It’s the performance of these dunce writers that you’ve aligned to me. Why do Vikram and Sharon always get the best writers we recruit? You are clearly being biased!” Soumya continued to defend herself.

Soumya had joined  Racontez,  a renowned magazine-publishing firm   as a freelance writer, five years ago. Six months later, she quit her banking career and joined  Racontez  as a full-time columnist. Her articles and stories would attract a lot of applause not just from readers and colleagues but also won her accolades from veterans in the field.

After two years of contributing to the magazine as a writer, and another year of mentoring junior writers in the firm; Soumya had thought she was ready to take the next big step and had applied for the post of the Junior editor. She was ecstatic when she walked in one day at work and the whole place began to congratulate her because she had got through her promotion. Little did she know then, that things were about to change.

Soumya was always a straightforward person who would call a spade, a spade. She wasn’t adroit at keeping a quill of writers, not procrastinative. Month after month, the strategies of handling the task at hand not just challenged her nonchalance but also began to faze her composure. Even after putting hours of strife at work, she would just not be able to drive the results. Her team of writers would keep missing important deadlines, never be able to deliver a flawless article without Soumya’s editorial intervention; and worse – even end up in tussles with one another over petty politics of which article deserved how much importance and what place in the magazine. 

The stress of the failure of meeting deadlines or even being a people’s favorite anymore had driven Soumya into an apathetic person. She no longer enjoyed being around people. Every petty issue bothered her. She could not see ‘friends’ in her colleagues anymore; and her pent-up temper would find a vent on her family members. Her creativity had been bridled by the shift in her responsibilities at work. Her professional as well as her personal life had plummeted and she had begun feeling thoroughly demotivated about life.

Jessica was the chief editor and Soumya’s manager. The woman had been in her role since donkey’s years and had mastered the art of people management. She offered a glass of water to Soumya when she had paused. “Feeling better?” Soumya drank the glass of water in a rush and nodded, while Jessica continued, “Look Soumya, you signed up for the post. You will have to deal with the expectations of the role, my dear! You cannot keep blaming everyone else for your failures. Your strategies clearly don’t seem to be working out. Let’s do this. Take a few days off, think about how you can turn your team’s performance around and let’s have a meeting on Monday and discuss your plan of action. Cool?”

“Not cool, Jessica. But oh! Do I have a choice!? I’ll see you on Monday!” Soumya stomped out of Jessica’s cabin, as her unfazed boss muttered, “Good!”

As she drove through the traffic, her mind was cluttered with thoughts. 
Vihaan has to submit the story on the bandits before Saturday afternoon. Aranyaa has still not sent me the tarot write-up for November. Abhi is going to kill me for forgetting to buy Maa’s medicine even today. Oh my God… Palak’s geography project. I forgot to get her prints again.

When Soumya reached home, her twelve-year-old daughter Palak walked ahead and warned Soumya, “Dad’s upset about something. He fought with Daadi only because she did not make his  gajar ka halwa  today.”

“Yeah, like Daadi has nothing else to do with her life but just fulfill her son’s stomach’s desires!” Soumya sniggered. Palak joined her; and Soumya’s mother-in-law, who was seated at the dining table peeling green peas – also winked at the both of them. 

“Sorry beta, I forgot to get your prints even today.” Soumya informed Palak who grimaced as soon as the words reached her ear.

“Maa! How could you forget? Now that Shriya will submit her project first, and Swati teacher will again make her the prefect!” Palak complained.

“I’m sure she’s forgotten to get Daadi’s medicines also.” Abhinay, Soumya’s husband remarked as he walked out from his bedroom into the living room, switched on the television set and sat on the couch.

Soumya sat heavily onto the couch next to her husband, “Palak, could you get me some water, please?”

“Why just water? She’ll get you your food as well.” Abhinay snapped.

Soumya went red with rage, “Damn it, Abhi! Could you please not get me started?”

“Started on what?” Abhi sat up on the couch, ready for a fight.

“I have already had a bad day at work. Please don’t frustrate me further!” Soumya pleaded.

“Just leave the damned job if you can’t deal with its pressures, Soumya!” Abhinay scowled.

“Enough! Don’t you dare label me as a failure. You men have a problem reporting to a female boss. It’s always about  your  ego. I am dealing with the pressure my way. You don’t have to tell me how to handle my work.” Soumya yelled back.

“Handle your work? You’re not even being able to handle your personal life, Soumya!” 

“And Maa’s medicines and Palak’s print-outs are  my  responsibility, right? Just because you are busy with your career! And if mine keeps me occupied, that’s when I can’t handle pressure and find a balance with my personal and professional life! How convenient, Mr. Abhinay Gupta!” Soumya got up from the couch, and clapped away sarcastically!

“Shhh! Enough, both of you. Just go freshen up and let’s have dinner. Both of you are just grumpy because I’m sure you have not eaten anything after lunch.” Soumya’s mother-in-law tried to make peace between the couple.

While Abhinay sat unaffected and continued to watch the cricket match on TV, Soumya got up at once and barged into her bedroom shutting the door behind her. She walked into the restroom and wept her frustration out. 

“Maa?” Palak had followed her mother an was now knocking at the door.

“Go outside, Palak! I’ll see you in few minutes.” Soumya said, trying in vain to not let her voice crack up.

“You come outside. I know you are crying. I don’t like to see you like this, Maa!” 

After a few minutes, Soumya walked out of the restroom. Palak was seated on the bed, waiting for Soumya. She got up and hugged her mother. “When I am upset, you tell me to have a conversation with you. When you are upset, you just lock yourself up in that restroom! That’s cheating, right?”

Soumya laughed, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I just had a bad day at work. And then Daddy made me angrier!”

“Your boss doesn’t allow you to write anymore? I don’t see your stories in  Racontez  anymore.” Palak asked innocently. 

Soumya explained to Palak about how things had changed for her at work and that her role now was to make sure that the other writers write their stories and articles in time for the next publication.

“But then, what about your stories? How will I read them anymore? And if I don’t read them, how will you get to know how awesome they always are!?” Palak said.

“Hmmm. Good question, Palak. But life changes for everyone. We can’t be doing the same thing always, or else how will you grow?” Soumya said.

Palak did not seem convinced with Soumya’s response, somehow. “Maa, you remember I joined this Bharatnatyam class because Kavya had joined it… but then I never enjoyed it.  You  told me to quit that class and then I joined violin classes and I enjoyed it. Had I continued with that Bharatnatyam class, it would have been such a waste of time for a person like me.”

Soumya listened to her daughter intently as she continued, “You were happier when you would write and people called you up to appreciate your stories… and you know what, Shriya’s mom was jealous of you!” Soumya laughed but Palak didn’t stop. “Maa, you should do what you do the best.” 

Palak’s words stayed on Soumya’s mind for a long time. She had indeed been happier 
in her previous role. Her promotion in fact, felt more like the worst career move she had ever made now. She realized her personal relationships were strained not because she was not giving them enough time but because she was investing her time on things that did not really make her feel optimized. 

On Monday morning, Soumya walked in to Jessica’s cabin – a more poised person. She presented the plan she had chalked down for her team; backing it up with an application to create her own space on the magazine for her stories. Her vision had more clarity now – her stories always attracted more readers! Perhaps, a happier leader would be able to create a happier team. 

It’s often so simple, yet we complicate things so much under the pretext of growth and progress. Realize, when you find yourself a part of the wrong jigsaw puzzle and move out gracefully. And… it’s okay to accept failures and honor your sensitivity!

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2 replies

  1. That’s a wonderful story and often children are attuned to lessons we aren’t prepared to understand. We lose this ability as we grow amidst all things we want to achieve.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.

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