Priya, The Woman Who Never Says Never

What is it about a woman that gives her the strength, the courage, the ability to begin from scratch an innumerable number of times in life? What is it that enables her to pick up the threads of her life again and yet again and start anew? Is it her conviction, her resilience, her desire to bounce back? What is it?

My real-life story this time is about one such woman. A woman who despite several challenges in life, challenges that made it impossible for her to pursue her passion, follow her dreams eventually found her way around them to get to what she wanted to do. She tried her hands at being a corporate professional, an entrepreneur and finally found her calling in teaching young kids. And although she took the time to discover her passion, once she did that it was only upwards and above.

My woman achiever this time is Priya Saxena, a woman who I see as someone with an incredible amount of grit, courage, confidence and conviction. Priya at the moment is the Cofounder and Principal at Early Learning Village, an institution with a vision to offer the best early childhood education in India. The institution does this through an internationally accredited curriculum, high-quality facilities and an outstanding team of educators. The aim is to prepare young children to be lifelong learners and global citizens of the world.

As Principal of ELV, Priya ensures that children take the best of the age-specific programs that the institution has to offer. She also closely monitors the quality of teaching and learning at school. It is therefore not surprising that within a short period, ELV has become a much sought after institution with parents queuing up to get their children in there. It is getting a lot of recognition and has recently been featured in Education World, the largest free, independent resource on the Web for educators and rated as one of the five best preschools in Gurgaon.

Priya has Bachelor degrees in Education and History and a Postgraduate degree in Special Needs.

She has a wide range of interests which include trekking, running, and reading educational journals and blogs.

Priya was born in Lucknow, India in the late sixties. Her father was an officer with the Indian Police Service while her mother was a homemaker.  She and her brother grew up in Gujrat, and since their father had a transferable job, she ended up studying in eleven different schools all over Gujrat. However, a significant part of her schooling was done at Carmel Convent in Ahemadabad and Rosary Convent in Vadodra. Her brother, after his education in India, went to the US for his MS and then settled there.  Priya, on the other hand, stayed on in India.

Both brother and sister had a happy and balanced childhood. Their parents were extremely loving and caring towards their children. They were open and flexible about most things but placed a lot of emphasis on honesty, integrity and hard work. From a young age, the need to be honest and hardworking was impressed upon the children. But it wasn’t as though only the children were expected to be like that. The parents also believed in these values and were the perfect role models for their children. The fact that their father was an honest and upright police officer became evident to the children as they realized how often he was transferred from one place to another because he didn’t toe the line of the political bigwigs.   So though the children had the freedom to do most things, they could do them within the boundaries laid down for them.

As a child, Priya loved to play outdoors which got manifested into a passion for trekking and running, something that she enjoys till date. Allow her to scale a peak or run a distance, and she is all set!!

After finishing school, Priya went on to pursue her graduation at Maharaja Sayagirao University in Vadodra. After that, she joined the ITC Welcome group Management programme as a management trainee and moved on to handle Sales and Marketing for the group in Chennai. From a young age, Priya knew that she wanted to work and not be just a homemaker. For her, the need to be a financially, mentally and spiritually independent person was and still is very important, which is why she always wanted to have a career of her own.  So, therefore, after completing her training she started working with the ITC in Chennai.

While she was in Chennai, she met her future husband, Rajesh, who was working with Citibank at that time. And in 1992 the two of them got married. She continued to work after getting married, and although her job was very demanding, she continued to work being neatly able to balance her work life with her family life. And of course, she got an ample amount of support from her husband. But then she became a mother when their daughter Nidhi was born. Though motherhood brought a lot of joy and happiness in her life, it also presented her with a new set of challenges. How was she going to balance the role of a mother with that of a corporate professional? Though she tried to do that but couldn’t for too long. And so came the time to take a call. Was she going to carry on with a job that was demanding, had long hours along with huge targets and leave her child in the care of a stranger? Or was she ready to give it all up, the position, the perks, the money and focus on raising her daughter in the warm, cocooned environment of the house with her being in charge? The mother won over the corporate professional and Priya decided to quit.

The decision to quit was not an impulsive one. It was well thought out.  Priya was aware that since she and her husband were living on their own and in a different city, their families could not be of much help. Also, her husband’s work pressures far exceeded her own, and therefore, she felt that it made sense for her to quit. She decided that she would take a break from her work life and spend all her time and energy on raising their firstborn. But she had underestimated the amount of energy that she had. After being with her daughter, taking care of the house, entertaining guests she had a huge spillover!! And that needed to be put to use. So it wasn’t long before she realized that she needed to do something more. And like they say God helps those who help themselves. Since she was so eager to optimally utilize her time, along came an opportunity to start something with her father-in-law.

Priya and her father-in-law decided to start a business in the space of pharmaceuticals. They formed a company called Shailco Pharma to export generic medicine to CIS countries and got a drug license for this purpose. The company was involved in sourcing Adelphine Esidreck, a blood pressure medicine from pharmacies in Chennai and Bangalore and sending it to Delhi from where it was exported to CIS countries. This kind of work suited Priya as it not only gave her something to do, but she could do it sitting from home. And what his more it enabled her to earn a good amount of money as well!!

She did this for two years by when Nidhi was three years old and had started school. Since this meant some free time for her,  Priya decided to go back to the corporate world. But getting back was easier said than done. While she had been away tending to home and hearth, her peers had forged ahead, and she had been left behind.  They had moved to senior positions while she had to begin from like scratch. It wasn’t an easy situation to be in but Priya being Priya decided to dig in her heels and carry on. And then Lady Luck decided to smile and present her with a fabulous opportunity. Priya was offered the position of Director, Sales and Marketing with Radisson hotels.  The Radisson Group had just entered India and was looking for someone with her kind of a profile, and there she was!! She was given the opportunity to set up their marketing office in Chennai, a role she loved and played to perfection.

But now she had to balance being a mother and a wife with being a corporate professional. While on the one hand, she wanted to be a thorough professional; on the other, she wanted to be a great mom. She wanted to drop her daughter off to school, be there to pick her up and be there for her whenever she needed her. How was she going to pull that off?? Balancing everything was not easy, and she always found herself torn. But in spite of everything she carried on and carried on beautifully.

But then came the year 1999 and her husband got transferred to Dubai. While this meant a significant career boost for him, for her, it once again meant a decisive moment.  She was thriving professionally at that point, and the future seemed bright, but then she had to take a call. Did she want to be with her husband, which meant putting her career on hold, or did she want to pursue her career, leaving the husband on hold? And obviously, she chose the husband, and without blinking an eyelid, she resigned from her job. She moved countries to be with her husband and daughter and begin life in a new country.

While in Dubai she gave birth to her second child, a son who they named Manav. After two years they had to move once again and this time to Israel.  She hadn’t worked for almost three years now, and the restlessness was creeping back. When she moved to Israel, the desire to work came back with a vengeance, and she was itching to pick up a job. The option available at that point was the job of a substitute teacher in her daughter’s school, the American international school in Israel.

It is when she took up this job she realized that teaching was something that she not only liked but thoroughly enjoyed. It was like her true calling. She was extremely good at connecting with the children, and that made her good at her job. It was the Principal of the American School in Israel, Mike Levenson, who advised her to consider teaching as a career option. Though Priya felt at that point that she wasn’t qualified to be a teacher as she didn’t have a degree in Education he told her that she had the essential ingredients required for being a teacher, a heart in the right place and a heart that cared for the little ones.

So going by his advice and by the fact that she did enjoy teaching, Priya decided to reinvent herself by getting a degree in Education and at a later stage went on to specialize in Special Needs Education. This change in her career path, according to her, is the wisest thing that she could have ever done. The job of a teacher she found was way more gratifying than any corporate job she had ever done. She enjoyed being with the kids, and the bonus was that it enabled her to get adequate time to be with her children, thus letting her strike a balance between work and family.

She continued teaching when her husband moved back to India and this time it was with the British School. It was during this time that she took a sabbatical for two years to finish her degree in Education. She took the RCI[Rehabilitation Council of India] exam, which qualified her to teach special needs students in any school. And to top it all she got a gold medal for her PG diploma in Special needs from SNDT Mumbai.

Around this time Priya decided to add another feather to her cap.  One day she and her husband were having this conversation with their son who wanted to know about his parents’ achievements in life. It was a part of his school project. While the father could rattle off a number of them in terms of gold medals for academics and other things Priya couldn’t list anything. Her son, at that point, considered having a certificate or an acknowledgement as a sign of having achieved something. Anything else was of no consequence. So, therefore, things that his mother considered to be achievements did not fit the bill as far as he was concerned. So if she thought that helping her husband set up homes in different parts of the world, learning different languages or even working at various points were her accomplishments, he did not agree. He felt that all those were run of the mill things which would have been done anyways. There was nothing special about them. His idea of achievement was an acknowledgement in the form of a certificate or a medal. And she had none. That pinched and made her feel inadequate.  It was as though she was not good enough in the eyes of her son, and that wasn’t a nice feeling. It unsettled her and made her want to do something to change the situation, the impression. The conversation was like a turning point in her life. She decided that she was going to do something more than what she was already doing, something that could be viewed as an achievement, something for which she could produce proof or an acknowledgement.

So she decided to go back to one of the things that she had always loved, and that was running. She decided to train for a half marathon. She did that and then wanted to do more. After the marathon, she got interested in scaling mountains and went for her first challenging trek to Nepal in 2011. And after that, there has been no looking back. Despite her busy schedule, she finds time to fit in a trek or a run in her life at regular intervals. And each time that she has been awarded medals and certificates, she has made sure to treasure them and keep them as evidence of her achievements. Trekking and scaling mountains have become a part of her life and give her an immense amount of joy. Scaling mountains is like ‘completion of a task’ for her.

If that wasn’t enough around the same time, Priya decided to add another accomplishment to her now ever-growing list. This time it was on the career front.  Priya decided to combine her organizational skills acquired from her time in the hotel industry with her love for teaching and her entrepreneurial mindset to set up ELV along with two like-minded women who wanted to do the same. Having been with young children for so long, Priya now had her own ideas about imparting Education to them. She had her partners wanted to come up with a novel approach which pertained to educating children from the age group of 18 months and above. Breaking away from the convention, they wanted learning to be stimulating and experience-based. They wanted to empower and equip each child with the excitement, curiosity and love for learning for life. And so they set up Early Learning Village which in a short span has made a name for itself and is extremely sought after by parents for the early schooling of their children

Having worked for over 25 years now and in different areas, Priya feels that the biggest challenge that she has faced in her life came from within her. And that stemmed from her mindset, which did not let her give her job priority over her husband’s. She always chose to play second fiddle to her husband’s career, which made her always give up her success over his. Though she doesn’t regret having done that, she feels that each time that she had to do it, it took a lot out of her. But somewhere it was her mindset once again that pushed her to get back into the workspace and start from scratch. And then achieve success in that new field as well. How incredible is that !!

Other than that she feels that for any working woman, the biggest challenge is time management and the ability to strike a balance between work and family. It is always tough to do that, but with the right kind of an attitude and a supportive partner, it becomes relatively easier.

Her husband, she feels has always been supportive of her career and the choices that she has made. He has always been incredibly proud of her commitment towards her work and believes that teaching is one of the most challenging and toughest professions. In particular, when she co-founded ELV, he took on the added responsibility of her son, who was in senior school at that time along with taking care of things like grocery shopping for the house. He was there for her emotionally, mentally and physically.

As far as the outside world is concerned, she feels that respect for a woman’s work depends to a large extent on what she does. Till the time she was a teacher with the British School, people didn’t take her work very seriously. Though she was working very hard, it didn’t mean much as far as the outside world was concerned. But with ELV and the success that it has achieved the respect and the recognition has grown tremendously. But then ultimately it all depends on what gives happiness to us.

As has been with her today once again, she is at the crossroads of her life. She and ELV have made a name for themselves in the space of early Education, but now once again, her husband has moved to a different country, and she has decided to move with him. Leaving ELV, her baby even for some time is heartbreaking, but she feels that she needs to be with her husband who otherwise will be all alone in a new country, the children having flown the nest. So she though with a heavy heart is all set to be a new country, a new setting. And knowing her, it is a matter of time before she finds something else to do.

One thing that stands out in the journey of this woman called Priya Saxena is the sheer tenacity of the woman and the unconditional love that she has for her family. Every time she has had to choose between her family and work, she has chosen the family. But at the first available opportunity, she has jumped back into the workspace and made a success of whatever she has chosen to do. From being a corporate professional to a businesswoman and then to an educator and being a wonderful mother all along, the woman has worn many hats!! She may not have stuck to one role or one industry, but she has held on to her desire, to work, her ambition to make something of her life. In spite of being married to a successful man, she has not chosen to live only in his shadow. She has stepped out and carved an identity for herself. Not only has she been a successful working woman, but she has raised two lovely children with the right values and upbringing who have also achieved success in their chosen fields. Her daughter is working in the US while her son is studying in a well-known college in the US.

And while juggling between all these roles, she finds time to go on her trekking and running expeditions regularly. If this isn’t an example of time management, then what is?

Priya strongly believes that working mothers should not be too harsh on themselves. She feels the mantra to a happy life is to give your best wherever you are. When at work, give your 100% there and when with family then give 100% there and enjoy the ride. With a head that is firmly planted on her shoulders, she had made sure that she has done just that.

Thus the story of the life journey of Priya Saxena is undoubtedly one which can and should inspire one and all. It is the story of a woman who has reinvented herself a multiple number of times in life and emerged stronger and wiser. A woman who has managed her career, her responsibility towards her family and also been able to fuel her passions. All the roles played to perfection. The wife of Rajesh, the mother of Nidhi and Manav, an educationist, entrepreneur, trekker, marathoner, and a woman with a resolve of steel. Priya is a formidable individual who is ever ready to take on life’s challenges!!

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