Transforming Obstacles Into Opportunities

Swagata sitting in a park staring at the sun during sunset

It was the end of 2017. I had to make a very important decision in my life. My husband was already in the US, while I was in India with my two kids, taking care of my mom who was recovering from major surgery, and my father-in-law, who had just moved to a nursing home for advanced dementia, along with managing a demanding career.

Move or stay?

I really needed to decide whether I wanted to move to the US with children, leaving my job, and other responsibilities back home. It wasn’t a simple decision in my circumstances.

However, after the sudden passing of my father-in-law, we moved to the US in April 2018. The transition wasn’t super smooth. Adjusting to a new culture, a new community with two grown-up kids was difficult in the beginning. Moreover, suddenly I didn’t have a job! It was really a lot to deal with. 

Gradually things started falling in place. I signed up for a couple of volunteering positions and started my blog on gender equality and women empowerment. I participated in a program in a local non-profit. After the program, I joined the Board of Directors and became the secretary. I eventually became the co-host and the Director of the same program.

My kids showed a lot of resilience and settled down in schools. And finally, I got a job in an academic research university as a clinical researcher. 

We were very happy that we took this decision to move here and stay together.

Back to the start

Fast forward from 2018 to 2020

I still remember the day in June when I received this email from my supervisor – ‘Swagata, we are so sad to see you go. Please, please keep in touch.’ I was overwhelmed with emotions, my eyes filled with water. 

No, I wasn’t laid off. I lost my job for a different reason. My work authorization in the US had expired in April. Even though I applied in December 2019, I didn’t get it renewed until then. My employers couldn’t wait for my return forever. After 3 months they really had to hire someone in my place.

Losing a job is sad for everybody under any circumstances. But for a reason completely beyond my control, made me feel really powerless and helpless. I was also very angry at the beginning. My research studies were essential. Thus I was working as an essential worker in a hospital, with research patients. My mom was with us then, she was a cancer survivor with several other comorbidities. Every day, every time I went to work, I knew I put her life at risk.

I worked risking myself and my family members during the shelter in place for the people of a country which failed to complete my paperwork on time to keep me employed, and economically secure!! It was hurting.

Empowering yourself

But after the first couple of weeks, I realized that I could not afford to continue to feel helpless, feel like a victim, and still remain positive. I didn’t want this powerlessness to overpower my spirit. I decided, I would not look at myself as the victim of a situation and will transform this helplessness to an opportunity to grow, learn, evolve and to help others.

Eventually, I sat down with a pen and a paper and did some self-reflection. What are those personal projects, small goals of life, passions, dreams I always dreamt of but never pursued because of the lack of time?

To my utter surprise, within half an hour, my page was full of bullet points. After a lot of soul searching and self-reflection, I picked up 3 goals that I wanted to focus on immediately to keep myself grounded and motivated.

  1. I decided to transform my personal blog to a digital advocacy and activism platform for women’s rights advocates and activists. My purpose was to educate, mobilize and engage young men and women from around the world in gender equality movement.
  2. I decided to start an interview series for my website with notable women’s rights activists from all over the world, to use their stories to inspire the younger generation.
  3. I was managing a program in the United Nations Association San Francisco Chapter. Taking the leverage of the virtual format we decided to make it accessible to the global young professionals

These goals were set in May. Ever since, for the last 4 months, I have been working more than 12 hours every day to make them reality.

Turning a dream into reality

I began with completely redesigning my blog, improving my social media presence and outreach. Then I started a few online campaigns and developed a social networking platform for women’s rights activists to connect with each other, network and collaborate. 

Right now I am collaborating with two other grassroot organizations, to start a mentorship program for young women from underprivileged countries. 

In terms of the second goal, I reached out to activists through LinkedIn and Twitter to be featured on our website. Within a week, I received so many positive responses, that it became overwhelming for me to manage it all alone.

In the last month, I have interviewed more than 15 activists and published 8 of them. Some of them are internationally well-known personalities, all of them are famous in their own countries. Most of them have been featured by famous international media. 

For the third goal, as soon as we made the announcement on social media, applications started pouring in from all over the world. I personally conducted more than 40 one on one interviews and we enrolled 25 participants from all 5 continents. Which was so exciting!

Sometimes, I just can’t believe that all these are actually happening in reality. I have been doing all these work by myself!

However, I am still unemployed. It is hard financially. If I am not looking at my bank statement or credit card statement, I don’t even remember that I don’t have a job. I have been working for more than 12 hours every day.

The news and the new beginning

As I was finishing this post, we got the news that our visa renewal request was denied. Which means we have to immediately go back to India, and start our lives there from scratch again!

 It is difficult at so many different levels, not only for me but for my entire family. My daughter has been accepted in UCSB for her bachelors. I have never seen her happier than the day she got her acceptance letter. The look in her eyes since we got this news breaks our heart. My son, who is now in tenth grade, didn’t speak after he heard that we have to leave the country in a few weeks.  

I have no idea what life has in store for me and my family. But I just promised myself that in future I will look at these phases as a time when an opportunity came to my way to learn, grow, evolve and help others, not when everything was taken away from me.

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