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How I Learned to Measure Success by Happiness and Experiences

Anitha Kadam (NCB Management Services) shares her story of risk, bravery, and eventual success after she immigrated to the United States.


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I started off my mid-twenties with heartbreak.

I was suddenly widowed and left with two children. 

Unfortunately, widows around the world, and especially in India, are considered social and familial burdens. I was determined to not let this be the case for me.

I knew nothing of the world. I was shy and insecure. I had no special skills to claim or to be proud of. However, for the sake of my children, I knew I could not give in. I had to change. I had to take control of my life. 

In order to provide for my boys, I thought it would be best to go to America, the land of opportunity and dreams. So, on a beautiful summer day in 1996, I left my children at a boarding school and headed for the Mumbai airport.


Did I just see my children for the last time?

As I sat at the airport, ready to fly for the first time, I was surprisingly unafraid of the uncertainties that awaited me across the ocean in New York. I thought to myself “What could be worse than living the life of a widow in India?”

But, I was haunted by the faces of my children.

I needed to find a good job, build a stable home, and bring them to America as quickly as possible. I charted out steps and drew flowcharts in my head as people rushed by me in the airport. Then, suddenly I started seeing the holes in my plan. My thoughts spiraled.

What if my plan fails? What if I can’t find a good job? Will I be able to make a good home for my children? Will I ever see them again?

I wanted to drop my bags and run back to them. I felt my body collapsing. I felt so lightheaded that I nearly fainted. Overwhelmed, I slid to the floor, hugged my knees, and placed my head in between.  

Fortunately, a family who happened to be traveling to New York noticed my posture. The mother approached me and asked, “Are you okay?” Shaking, I let her know I wasn’t. I was brutally honest to a stranger for the first time in my life. She looked at me with sympathetic eyes. We shared our stories and she managed to calm me down.

For the rest of the journey, I was a part of their family. She took me under her wings and stayed with me during the flight. This random act of kindness from a stranger gave me the courage I needed to get on the plane and changed the trajectory of my life. 

When I arrived in New York, I found my master’s degree from India was not enough for me to do the work that I wanted. So, I went back to college and got my first job through campus recruitment. I fully immersed myself in the work because I knew it was the only way to bring my boys to the States. 


My identity became that of an immigrant woman with no option but to succeed.

After two gruesome years, I was finally able to bring my children to America in the fall of 1998. 

Although I was ecstatic that they were finally close to me, juggling work and being a single parent was extremely challenging. And, advancing in my career proved more difficult than I had anticipated.

I realized the lack of opportunities for women was not just isolated to small villages in India. It was in every state in every country in the world. But, that wasn’t going to stop me. 

More determined, I stayed late after work every day, I never said no, and I always finished my projects early. 

I was so caught up in work that I barely had time for my children. I began to miss basketball games, award ceremonies, cello solos and piano recitals. It broke my heart to not be there.


As a result of my blind dedication, I found success at work, but I did it at my own expense. 

I unknowingly isolated myself. I had no time to build friendships. I rarely talked to anyone about my personal life. I wasn’t there for my sons like I would have liked to be. It was a downward spiral reinforced by approval at my job. 

It all came crashing down when my company went bankrupt. I had poured my time and freedom into my career, and it was all gone in a second. I started feeling the same emotions that ran through me at the airport in Mumbai. 

Over the next several months, I showed irritability and a lack of self-confidence. My job had given me a purpose and without it, I felt inconsequential. I had mood swings and insomnia. 


Slowly, I regained my sense of self. 

Without the constant stress of my job, I realized that my job didn’t give me purpose, my children did. I lost sight of that somewhere along the way. They were the reason I came to America. The reason I wanted to succeed. I felt like the universe had sent me a sign that I needed to reframe my priorities.

There were so many things I wanted to experience in life but never found the time to do. I grew up wanting to see the world, travel, and learn more about people. So, I started measuring wealth by experiences and happiness. My boys and I love to travel together, eat new foods, and spend good quality time. 

As I remember every version of me, I would have so many things to tell my younger self, but the most important is this–do not lose sight of what matters most to you. Take time to think about what your priorities are and do your best to put them first.