Although born and raised in Australia, Rakhee Ghelani had family ties in India and when her life was at a crossroads, she elected to pack up and head to the Sub-continent on a journey of exploration. She estimated that this would be a period of around twelve months, little imagining that she was embarking on a journey that would not only teach her about her ancestral country, but would launch her on a new career. Five years later, she has established a business that crosses international borders and which she can maintain from any country.
Can you tell me what were the circumstances to lead to a change in your life/career direction?
I was working for one of the big four banks and not enjoying it any more. Frustrations with corporate politics coincided with personal difficulties that were trying and sucking the joy out of life. I was offered redundancy with a generous package and decided to take it and to take the following year off. I had always wanted to see India and this seemed to be the perfect time to do that. I packed up my house, put everything in storage and booked my flight out of town. It all happened fairly quickly and I didn’t agonise over my decision – just acted on it.
I backpacked for an initial 10 months and experienced such a lot. It was amazing. I had the flexibility to keep moving or to stop and explore in greater depth. Towards the end of this period, a friend came from Australia to join me and we travelled together for a couple of weeks and that was good too. We visited a friend in Mumbai (Bombay) who offered me work in his new start-up business and that lead to me remaining in that city.
What decision-making processes did you have to go through?
There were so many decisions and at different levels. The decision to take the redundancy was the easiest as the offer was too good to refuse. I never thought that I would be away for as long as I have been so leaving Australia for India wasn’t such a big decision at the time. To my amazement though, come July I will have been here for five years.
I didn’t make any concrete plans beyond the decision to travel to India. I stayed with relatives for the first couple of weeks, which helped with some of the initial orientation and got myself a phone and a bank account. With that part of my life under control, I then set off on my travels and stayed flexible about where I went and what I did.
What difficulties did you encounter?
In a practical sense, India is a culture shock – the noise, the colour, the tastes, the number of people, the living standards, the attitudes; all of it. I started learning Hindi before leaving Australia and with what I picked up after my arrival, that enabled me to get by.
As far as personal difficulties went, I was in a challenging place emotionally so it was a good time to go. At the time, it seemed to be a logical rather than a difficult choice.
Did you have any external support during this process?
I had relatives in Vadodara, a cousin in Delhi, and family friend in Mumbai, so there were contacts in India. Also I was provided with an outplacement service as part of my redundancy package, and that company put me in touch with their Indian counterparts. I didn’t end up getting any practical assistance from that resource, but it was reassuring to know that it was there. The internet provided a lifeline during my travels and that made a huge difference. I began to use Twitter and it kept me company. I made a lot of friends via this medium.
Was the change in direction a single step, a series of steps, or was it a gradual or trial and error process?
My career changes comprised a series of steps. I didn’t have any networks in Mumbai and they are crucial in India. I blogged continuously while I was travelling and grew a following as a result. People messaged me offering me writing opportunities. I made very little money that way but it got me thinking that perhaps in some way there could be a future in writing.
My friend in Mumbai had a start-up business and I agreed to work for him for two months, managing his marketing and communications needs. As my expertise and value to the business became apparent, the contract was extended and I remained with the business for several months. This role was my introduction to the corporate world in India and contributed to building up local experience.
At the same time I was looking for writing work. I managed to pick up bits here and there which would give some return albeit small, and then there would be nothing. They were times of famine and feast and it was really tough for a couple of years. I have now found my niche and am focussing on corporate work and content writing. There is a lot of romance associated with travel writing and blogging, but travel is really hard. Everyone fancies themselves as a travel writer and there is intense competition, plus a lot of people write for free.
I enjoy the corporate work and being able to use old skills. Corporate clients appreciate me more and that is comforting also. They appreciate the fact that I am more mature, and have had my own businesses and can write as a thought leader. Marketing my business is a constant process. Some of it is luck and it often depends on who you tell that you are looking for work, but now I have learnt to tell everyone. I am just judicious about what I tell.
Although still living in India, my work is internationally based. My dislike of Indian business practices has led to me seeking clients elsewhere. They are American or Australian, and predominantly in the finance industry. I now have enough business that I can use local writers when I have excess work and I pay them well. This means that they prioritise my work and we are all happy.
Is there anything, which on reflection you would do differently?
Yes – I wish I had been a bit more calculated about the job situation and thought about it more constructively before I left Australia. The problem is, I didn’t know that I would end up being a content writer. The career change happened organically and that was hard to anticipate. More initial planning would have helped because it has taken a long time to get to where I am now. There were many times of feast and famine and I was on a steep learning curve and trying to build up the networks that are crucial to survival.
What has been the best result for you in making this change?
I now have great flexibility in my working day and significantly reduced stress (aside from having to look for work). I don’t get caught up in corporate politics because I’m not working internally. The downside is not having as much human interaction. There aren’t the water cooler chats. I have made compromises to give myself flexibility.
Best of all though is that I now have the freedom to control my own destiny and have learnt to value myself in a different way and that would not have been possible five years ago.