There was an interesting article that talked about how men attribute their success to their skills while women attribute it to the help they got from others - family and friends, colleagues, opportunities given and even luck.
When I look back, while I acknowledge my strengths and abilities, I too feel that the support, guidance I got from all my mentors played a larger role in my life and the surroundings I grew up with helped me learn what I learnt.
I grew up in a small village with about 500 families in southern Tamilnadu - a typical Tamil Village that had a temple in the center with roads running parallel, and a river flowing in one side of the village . A place very close to the western ghats, with opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the clouds crawling over the blue mountains, trees that showered abundant flowers! Such a safe place that my parents did not have to worry about me and my friend spending our time under the big sacred fig tree (அரசமரம்) outside the temple or Jasmine tree (பன்னீர் மரம்) in the sub-registrar office making bouquets out of the grass flowers & tree jasmine flowers… This village had a library at a walkable distance, very close to my school - for that matter every thing was at a walkable distance and there was nothing much to worry about safety of girl children. My school had a library too. It was a perfect setup with less distractions - way too less distractions than that were present in a city!
Life was moving at the right speed! There was something to work on every day! There were monthly tests for all subjects, quarterly, half-yearly and annual exams and a series of competitions all thru the year - in recitation, elocution, essay writing, quiz, hand-writing - all in both Tamil & English; and all fine arts like dance, vocal (all forms classical to folk), handicrafts, sewing etc. ! All of these set of competitions were conducted on various topics by different organizations - school had its own set of competitions, Trust established by Poet Bharathi's family, Trust by old students, Vivekananda Kendra, Thiruvalluvar Kazhagam, District Science Center repeated the entire set of competitions on topics suitable for their objectives. This made me comfortable with public speaking, writing, celebrating the victories, failing in spite of best efforts and performance, accepting failures gracefully while taking victories as a stepping stone, helping others handle their failures without feeling guilty for winning them; more than all this I learnt about a huge varieties of topics that were needed for life. I learnt to enjoy different art forms, subjects and life as a whole!
Sports was also part of the curriculum. I enjoyed Kho-Kho and tennikoit with interest but played other games like Kabadi, volleyball, shot-put, javelin, discus throw etc. just enough only to clear the tests!
Every week, there was one period dedicated to literary association, moral instruction and cultural activities, in which students planned, managed, presented the whole event. The events were organized in the typical "school day" format - starting with a prayer, welcome address, presidential address, association progress report, dance, song, speech, skits, puzzles, quizzes, vote of thanks and national anthem. students played as MC, key note speaker, president of the event and conducted all cultural items. It taught me how to plan for an event, conduct an event, how important are backup plans and of course different dimensions of team work.
Can I say, only my efforts, intelligence and ability taught me all these? Of course there were students who did not use these opportunities, my will & ability made me grab these opportunities. But can I say it was only due to me! I had opportunities to be with wonderful teachers, I learnt quite a lot from them about subjects and life!
My first mentors are my parents! They lived a simple life and helped me learn all that is needed for life. I remember going to post-office at the age of seven to buy stamps, inland letters, postal cards etc.. I started buying daily vegetables around the same age. I was learning without even knowing that I am learning. when I was 9 years old, I started going to banks for getting the withdrawal slips, updating the passbook, submitting the cheque book requests on my parents' behalf. I remember the bank staff used to make me repeat what I want multiple times! I used to think that they do not understand and developed patience to explain multiple times… later I realized that they were enjoying a small girl (I was shorter than my age girls and looked like 7 years when I was 9 years) asking for such stuff :-)! Many of my classmates did not even know these terms even at the age of 20!
I wanted to learn Indian classical dance. There were no classes in my village. The only option was to travel to a nearby town that was about 20 kms away. I was eleven years old. Not many kids of my age traveled alone in buses those days. My parents let me do it with a carefully designed KT plan :-) the first weekend my parents came along with me, next weekend I traveled with someone following me without my knowledge as a fall back, from the third weekend I traveled alone. As a next step, I traveled to places like Coimbatore and Chennai alone. Now I can travel alone to any part of the globe! Of course I was bold enough to venture into this but they wanted me to be independent. I know many women of my age, my economical, social, educational and professional background, who cant even travel 50 kms alone! I don’t know if I got this ability only because of my own boldness!
None of my dreams and ideas were rejected as ridiculous or stupid even if they were. I experimented with a plant, watered it with blue ink mixed with water to see what my science teacher taught me was right. I had a glass bottle with layers of sand, gravels of different size, soil and water and waited for it to become a rock! I was 8 years when I did this! Every morning I checked this bottle and complained to my mom and dad that it is not changing to a rock! They both were science teachers, they could have just told me that it would take millions of years for a rock to be formed this way and it needed a lot more pressure; the water I had on top of the bottle will not be sufficient. But I would have forgotten the lesson!
Not only that, I when I chose computer science as the main subject in graduation, there were no known safe professions for women in India for computer science - at least, it was not known to my circle of people. My parents could have forced me into other subjects or into teaching profession! So I do not think it was only due to my ability to take a risk based on whatever I had read about computers from the magazines and newspapers! It was also due to my parents' care to give me the freedom to experiment!
I agree that it took effort, courage and will from my side. Without that they could not have taught me all this. I did not learn to swim and ride a bicycle in spite of their efforts to teach me these skills; I could never overcome my road fear and fear of drowning & choking. While I recognize the importance of my own abilities and effort, I am hesitant to attribute my successes only to myself!
Recently one of my colleagues described how he learnt everything on the job! His experiences were pretty much like mine! But he was attributing his learning to his abilities more than what I would have done! May be, our brains are wired differently and the article is right in generalizing it based on gender!!!