By Erin Abrams (New York City)
How often do you get to attend a conference related to your Wall Street job, and hear a story that involves high intrigue, risk taking, impersonation and leading a double life? Well, I guess this isn’t so uncommon these days if you, like me, work in the field of white collar criminal defense. However, I’m happy to report that Preethi Nair’s story at Tuesday night’s 15th Annual Women on Wall Street Conference (probably) didn’t involve any criminal activity and had a much happier ending than the tale of your average financial fraudster. Indeed, her exciting and frequently hilarious explanation of her journey from frustrated management consultant to internationally acclaimed author and creative project entrepreneur ended the presentation on a high note and inspired many of the women in attendance.
Ms. Nair, author of 100 Shades of White, The Colour of Love and Gypsy Masala and founder of Kiss the Frog, a project tasked with reintroducing creativity into the workplace, has experienced quite a reversal of fortune from just a few years ago. In those days, Ms. Nair explained that she would get up in the morning and get dressed in a suit to fool her British Indian parents into thinking that she was headed to the job as a management consultant that she had prematurely quit, and would sit in the public library in London dreaming up ways to become a successful, internationally recognized novelist.
Ms. Nair’s story is a testament to what one woman can achieve with perseverance, hard work and creativity (although, it doesn’t hurt to add a sense of humor, a vivacious and a fearless alter-ego named Pru singing your praises to anyone who will listen in her capacity as your imaginary publicist). In brief, although Ms. Nair was encouraged from a young age to become a lawyer and pursue a career in business, she found herself working as a well paid but unfulfilled management consultant in London, spending her daily commute writing down her thoughts and musings on how to become the person she wanted to be. Those writings eventually formed the basis for her first novel.
After sending the manuscript of her novel to Britain’s top publishing houses, she put in her notice at work, sure she was on the path to stardom as an author. However, by her last day of work, Ms. Nair’s manuscripts had all come back rejected, and she faced the prospect of being unemployed with no idea where her career would go next. But instead of giving up on her dreams of becoming an author, Ms. Nair explained that she wrote down on a piece of paper all of the goals she wanted to achieve as a novelist, and then set in motion a brazen and madcap plan that seemed to be two parts Bridget Jones Diary and one part Catch Me if You Can. She created a publicist persona, the aforementioned Pru, and called every literary agent in the UK to plug her upcoming book, which she self-published with the last of her savings. Despite several major mishaps and setbacks, including having all copies of her first book held hostage in London’s gas strike, she managed to get her second book picked up by a major publishing house and parlay that into a three book contract. And the imaginary Pru was nominated for publicist of the year!
Ms. Nair’s uplifting story showed the conference attendees that it was possible to break out of the mold of the typical corporate desk job and pursue your passions, if you were not afraid to take risks, step out of your comfort zone, and think creatively about how to succeed.
Other highlights of the conference included an all-star panel, moderated with humor and grace by Joanna Barsh of McKinsey, who tapped into the hidden anxieties of every woman in the audience when she urged women to seek other explanations for why things weren’t going their way on the days when they felt like “I’m a terrible consultant, I’m probably going to get fired … my husband doesn’t love me … and on the downward spiral goes.” Instead, Ms. Barsh asked participants to think about how to find passion, meaning and purpose in our work, instead of being overly critical of ourselves. “Joanna was truly an inspiration. Her views on finding passion in the workplace absolutely resonate,” said Sandy Missmar, an Engagement Manager at McKinsey who attended the conference. Ms. Barsh also encouraged us to think of three good things that happened each day before going to bed, and then, if something bad happened, to put in perspective, noting that “we can all deal with a ratio of three good things to one bad thing.” I took her advice.
Three good things that happened on Tuesday were …
- I did a good job on a research assignment at work;
- I reached out to a friend in my extended network whom I hadn’t spoken to in a while; and
- I attended WOWs.