‘My dad always told my sister and me that we are capable of achieving anything. Unfortunately, in Indian society there was, and still is, a difference in how men and women are judged. Aside from the fact that in certain areas it’s just not safe for women to move around on their own, there’s also the general public’s perception that the people who make the real difference - CEOs, inventors - are generally men. When a woman does something remarkable, that is portrayed as a “miraculous exception”. Women working as teachers, doctors or in arts; that’s all fine and accepted, but we’re not necessarily encouraged to shoot for a career in engineering, science or research. My dad, however, always pushed us to be ambitious, and told us to reach for the stars. And so I did.’
‘Somewhere during high school, my fascination with technology was sparked - the fact that it was ever-changing and evolving was very exciting to me. Towards the end of the graduate program, many established companies visited the campus to showcase who they are and what they do. Accenture was one of the companies I interviewed with. To me, the fact that Accenture was widely recognized as a great place to work for women was definitely one of the main reasons I chose to sign with them. That, and the traveling opportunities.’
A proactive, out-of-the-box thinking captain
‘I was 23 when I started. My first project was in Bangalore; it was a perfect opportunity to leave home and take my independence to the next level. The feeling was very distinct: that fact that my path wasn’t as clearly mapped out, like in high school or university, was equal parts thrilling and nerve-wracking. It was truly exhilarating: I was now the captain who could - to a certain extent, of course - choose what to do and how to do it. Being proactive is very much who I am, especially when I am given a certain sense of freedom and can think out of the box when it comes to how I plan to reach a goal.’
‘Additionally,I find it very important to involve my team in everything I do - I make a point of guiding my team in such a way that we move to the next level together. Not just in the technical aspect, but also when it comes to communication, setting expectations or means to solve a problem.'
I work to the best of my ability, and I hope to empower those around me along the way, basically.'
Lack of a (decent) diagnosis
‘It is a privilege to be in a position to influence and inspire people, but it can take its toll. It’s super important to remember to empower yourself, too. It was during the summer of 2015 that my neck and shoulders became very tense and painful. My doctor instructed me to do yoga, not sit in a chair for too long and keep a close eye on my posture. Unfortunately, none of that helped; if anything, it got worse. I didn’t receive an accurate diagnosis until 2016 when a new doctor noticed my C1 vertebrae was deviating to the right. He prescribed some physiotherapy, and I was relieved that I could start treatment. I was positive it would do wonders to my situation, which I was convinced was only a physical thing.’
‘It wasn’t. After a few months of physiotherapy, my neck and shoulders were indeed starting to feel better, but I woke up feeling very fatigued every morning. In fact, I felt drained. It was my team manager who convinced me to see the company doctor. If it wasn’t for him, I think I probably would have powered through until I crashed. The company doctor told me I might be suffering from a burnout, and while it wasn’t severe, he told me I was close to breaking point. I was shocked: “Me, a burnout?” Yes, me, a burnout. Apparently, I completely matched the profile of those who experience burnouts: women, expats, age group 25-35.'
I was shocked: “Me, a burnout?” Yes, me, a burnout.
Perfectionism: friend and foe
‘I added some counseling to my treatment, and the sessions were truly eye-opening. Burnouts are usually self-inflicted. Perfectionists who often set unattainable goals and struggle to ask for assistance can develop unhealthy patterns. More than anything, a burnout is a signal from the body telling the mind that it needs to take it easy and that something needs to change. Looking back, I certainly turned a blind eye to that signal.’
‘So I made some changes, but nothing too drastic. I didn’t want to reduce my office hours - “What if people would think there was something wrong with me?” - so I took on a little less work and asked if I could work from home two days a week. My team’s support was fantastic: they covered for me in every thinkable way. However, I know now that to overcome something, one really needs to pause and reflect, instead of trying to battle it while still moving - it’s just not as effective. However, while the burnout prompted me to make some fundamental changes to my life, I didn’t.’
When it all fell apart
‘Things went downhill rather quickly in September 2017, when I had my first panic attack. My heartbeat escalated to the point where I thought I was having a heart attack and was going to die. When I went to see my doctor, he told me it was most likely a panic attack and that my heart was fine. I started counseling again and scheduled some more me-time. I started spending more time with friends, go see movies and generally do more things that bring me joy. I thought I was doing better, until I suffered my second panic attack in January. Everything just fell apart, and this time it wasn’t just my pumping heart; I suffered the worst mental agony one can imagine.’
‘I would like to say that things improved after that, but they didn’t. These days, I’m still suffering from regular anxiety and panic attacks. The episodes come and go, some “only” last a day, but they can also take up to three weeks to subside. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - which is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. The fact that this form of anxiety is not caused by specific triggers is both fortunate and unfortunate: fortunate because I don’t have to explicitly avoid certain situations; and unfortunate because focused therapeutic desensitization can’t be applied.’
Tranquility in my brain
‘After my second attack a realization came down on me like a ton of bricks: you can’t overcome things by just wishing them away, popping a pill or simply by working fewer hours. I have been doing endless reading on how these conditions evolve and what helps in combating it. Being a practicing Buddhist has been a blessing; meditation techniques offer strength, as well as new-found respect for yoga, which I always thought was for lazy people. Now I know these things are key to finding tranquility in my brain.’
Unexpectedly, weightlifting also proved to be therapeutic.
‘Unexpectedly, weightlifting also proved to be therapeutic. The first time my personal trainer handed me two 6-kg dumbbells, I looked at him and asked: “What exactly do you expect me to do now?” He retorted with: “Why do you think you can’t lift them?” Even though I always felt strong physically, I never thought I could do weightlifting - it looked so painful! It wasn’t. Nowadays, I can not only carry our 15-kg French bulldog up three flights of stairs (we don’t have an elevator in the building), I can deadlift more than my body weight. Knowing my body can do this, combined with the endorphins - one can never have too many endorphins! - that are released when I’m doing it, totally renewed my confidence in my body.’
Back on 100% - but definitely not the same as before
‘While I work from home more often these days, I’m back to 100 percent effectiveness. Of course, that doesn’t mean everything is what it used to be. I am very open about how much I can take on and don’t I feel guilty when I ask for help - which I do when necessary. My situation has taught me to put personal boundaries in place and to look at myself more thoroughly. I need to let go of the idea that I might not be enough, and rather have faith and confidence in my own abilities. I have come a long way and my situation has improved significantly, but there’s more work to be done.'
I was determined not to hide what I was going through.
‘My burnout and anxiety showed me many things. For one, I realised that ending up in this situation says nothing about how strong, focused or determined I am. However, my greatest hurdle wasn’t to admit to other people that this is what I’m suffering from, but admitting it to myself. It took me nearly two years to come to terms with the fact that I had a burnout, and now I have to go through a similar process with the panic attacks.
'I was determined not to hide what I was going through. Not because I like being the center of attention, but because coming to grips with my situation and realizing I wasn’t weak meant a lot to me, and perhaps to others as well. Mental illnesses are widespread, yet we still know very little about them. What we do know is that it can happen to anyone, and that anyone can overcome it with the right tools and guidance. Initially, I thought no one would understand, but I now know that it’s extremely common and that people will understand. I have found that the more transparent I am about my situation, the more other people open up to me about their struggles, too. That’s why having this conversation is crucial.’
Be happy and enable others to be happy.
Shruti Pathania (1984)
Studied: BA Information Technology, Uttar Pradesh Technical University (2007)
Started working at Accenture: August 2007
Relationship status: Married to Abhishek
Loves: The smell of books
Gets annoyed by: Carelessness
Favorite food: Ramen
On my nightstand: A whole bunch of books on anxiety and Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Listens to: Eighties and nineties pop music
Last purchase: A Kindle
Would like to sit next to in the plane: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Life-changing event: When I chose to practice Buddhism in 2007. It made me realize that I have the power to control my life
The best lesson life has taught me: ‘It’s okay to fail’
What I learned last week: Happiness is a choice
Most beautiful place on earth: Anywhere green and full of chirping birds
Hobbies/passions: Reading, watching movies and writing
What nobody knows about me: Whenever I enter the room, I assume I’m the smartest the person - even though I know it’s arrogant
Life motto: Be happy and enable others to be happy