Technology & Product Organization, U.S.
Shalini came to Conduent from a project management background, but her time in the military had an immense impact on who she is. Below she shares her story about her journey to becoming an army officer and the hardships she overcame on the road to becoming the woman and single mother she is today. In Shalini’s words, “My favorite part of the storm is the moment afterward when you realize you survived it and are overcome with gratitude.”
Joined Conduent in: 2018
Current location: Iselin, NJ
Current responsibilities: Program management and product management.
Main areas of expertise: Banking and Capital markets (10 years); military (5 years, extensive 3.5 yrs training)
Previous roles/professional background: Senior Program Manager, PriceWaterhouse-Coopers; Senior Associate, Goldman Sachs & Co.; Captain, Indian Army
Awards and Achievements: Recommended to the post of Aide-De-Camp to the President of India; All-India merit 15th in National Rifle Shooting; Real-time Recognition Award, PwC; Best Lady Officer, Young Officers Course; Best Cadet (1st in 400) – National Cadet Corps; Gold and Bronze medals for College and University
Education: MBA, Finance & Operations – Baruch College, New York City; Bachelor’s degree, Zoology – Delhi University, India; Bachelor’s degree, Indian Classical Dance (Kathak) – Lucknow, India
Personal highlights: Best word to describe me: passionate; I detest: fear and flying; I love: energetic people; I cherish: my childhood; I’m scared: if someone proves there is no God; my favorite person: my grandmother (RIP); my weakness: my kids; my strength: my kids
From Shalini on Overcoming Hardships
My name is Captain Shalini Narula (We do not give up our rank even post retirement/resignation). I was born to Wing Commander and Mrs. S.C. Narula in a small town in India. My father is a veteran from the Air Force (proud fighter pilot) and my mother is an Economics and English Literature Professor. Growing up, I learned two major things that carved the path for my thinking. First – upbringing plays a major role in every child’s life, and second – parents are the only people who give unconditional love.
My parents made every effort to teach us anything and everything and my house reverberated with thoughts about building a well-rounded personality. At 14, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Indian Classical Dance and had experienced falling off a horse, diving from a 10 m diving board, and helping change a car tire. I have one sibling and our personalities are polar opposites, but that is probably what keeps us bonded so well.
The academic and pre-army journey
Post school, I cleared the All-India entrance exam to pursue Civil Engineering. Though I did well academically, Engineering was not my cup of tea. I wanted to “serve.”
Meanwhile, the new concept of women joining the military was emerging in India. I became completely mesmerized by the idea that one day I could follow my father’s footsteps and serve my country. I started my training early on. I knew I had to go that extra mile and do things out of my comfort zone to excel.
When the world enjoyed weekends, I ran, I crawled, I swam. I did everything under the sun to pain my body. I knew that selection in the Army was not a piece of cake. I was thin and timid. I would be competing with girls who were better built and structured than I was. I knew what my secret to success could be. Forget the body, go for the mind! Build a strong mind and the body will follow. I developed a “can do attitude.” I told myself “if anyone can do it, it’s me”. I joined the National Cadet Corps to get a feel for the military life (though to be candid, it does not come close to the actual army world).
Rejection then selection
The Army entrance exam in India spans a test of 12 hours per day for five consecutive days. You are grilled on multiple areas, starting with mental endurance, to teamwork, to general knowledge, group tasks, and extemporaneous speaking. I passed this entrance exam twice, but thereafter, one must go through all-India merit testing. From thousands of applicants, they shortlist 100 people and rank the top four based on merit. Unless you are in the top four, you don’t get into the army. In both my short-listings, I did not make to the top four. This left me dejected, broken and feeling bleak about my future.
What was I was doing wrong? I only had one attempt left. I had to make it to the top four. I decided — don’t worry about it and take the exam casually. It worked! I placed in the top two in the all-India merit. I still remember the day I received the letter from the academy with my joining instructions. I felt I had conquered the world. I saw my bruised body and knew that all the pain was not in vain. I would serve my country the way I hoped to.
Living my passion
The officer’s training academy was huge. It was miles and miles spread across huge golf courses, Olympic-size pools, horse-racing tracks, drill squares, shooting ranges etc. It was a city. The pride you feel as you walk into the academy is unparalleled. I knew I was walking into it as a girl and would walk out an officer (provided I completed my training without any broken bones).
Our training started the minute we entered the academy. There is no breather. You are never allowed to walk. You either march, run, or crawl. I did not know what hit me. All my physical training to join the academy seemed miniscule. I was getting into something very big. Imagine the training if running five miles every morning before breakfast is considered the easiest task. We were not allowed to cry or complain. To be honest, we did not have any time to cry or complain. Of the 24 hrs, 20 were spent training and the remaining four were spent trying to realign ourselves with the real world.
The training had only one goal: “To make us quit the training.” The instructors did every possible exercise for us to say, “I give up. This is beyond me.” Many cadets ran away — some officially resigned and some unofficially quit. Our morale started to decline. This training was beyond what the human mind can imagine. Trainees get so immersed that at times even forget their own names. There was no portion of my body that was not scarred, bruised, bleeding or torn — but my heart was intact. My mind was intact. It was a game of mind vs. body.
I made my mind win. I completed my training and was granted the President’s Commission to become an Officer of the fourth largest Army in the world. At 22, I was leading men under fire. There were no excuses. My soldiers looked up to me. I got the opportunity to serve in a counter-insurgency area. Thereafter, I got selected to be a training officer. I trained boys to become soldiers.
Fulfilling the American dream
My Army tenure ended when I got married in Cleveland, Ohio. I hung-up my uniform and gave up my passion to start a new chapter of my life. I felt uprooted. I had to carve a niche for myself in a new land all over again. I pursued higher education and started working. Life in corporate America is very different than life in the Army. I had to adjust. I had to align myself with a different lifestyle. I happily accepted.
I love my life. I would not want it any other way. My marriage ended recently, but I have two daughters, and they are my world. We three live a very fulfilling life. I am writing a book about my experiences in the Indian Army for my daughters to learn from. I teach my kids gratitude. Yes, things do go wrong and they always will, but we cannot give up on living and believing. Like they say, “Miracles happen to those who believe.”
I still hold the fork
In a buffet dinner, the plates get taken away but we all get to keep our forks. I like to go by this theory. The best is yet to come. Hold the fork to welcome the dessert. I am yet to find a person or an experience that can break my spirit. I believe I will find my soul mate one day. I know that if something bad happens to me for no fault of my own, something good will also happen to me for no reason. I am looking forward. This is my open challenge to the world. Find me a person who is more happy and thankful than I am. Every single day is a bonus. To have survived my army tenure and to still be alive is a bonus. I had joined the Army to dedicate my life to my country, alive or dead – I did not care. And here I am today, happy smiling and forever passionate!