How Indra Nooyi kept me from going crazy

Advice to working mothers everywhere, from Indra Nooyi.
Advice to working mothers everywhere, from Indra Nooyi.
Image: EPA/Olivier Douliery /POOL
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It was 5:30 am on a weekday and I had been awake for the last two hours, cradling my one-year-old in my arms and panicking about how I would manage the workday, which would begin in about two hours.

Before I log in to work, I need to prepare breakfast for the family and plan the menu for lunch and dinner, and have a cup of tea by myself (only because I deserve at least five minutes of me-time), and also squeeze in a few minutes actually engaging with the family before we all get lost in daily hustle.

“So when will I sleep?” my overtired brain wonders. “Just keep breathing, we’ll figure out something,” I reassure myself. After all, I have survived a whole year of such full-nighters with the infant.

Like I do on most such rough nights, that morning, too, I plugged in my headphones to binge-watch YouTube—mainly to shut out the more depressing thoughts.

And there I heard just what I needed to, a soothing voice from an older, wiser mother who has been through all of this before, telling me: “[Y]ou’re not crazy. You’re human.”

The voice belonged to Indra Nooyi.

The 62-year-old Indian-American business executive has struck a chord with me nearly every time she has shared an anecdote about how she has balanced her personal life while heading one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, PepsiCo. After 12 years at the helm, Nooyi will be stepping down as its CEO, PepsiCo announced today (Aug. 6).

In the video I watched in the pre-dawn hours on that particular morning, Nooyi was sharing the stage with actor Priyanka Chopra and Forbes Media executive vice president Moira Forbes, and talking about breaking barriers.

As Nooyi offered personal anecdotes about trying to do it all, occasionally laughing and making light of the situation, I derived courage and learned some strategies that I feel every working mother must know.

Strategy No. 1: Know that you are not alone


“Any way you look at it, motherhood is a full-time job—especially when your kids are babies. Being an executive is a full-time job. Being a wife is a quasi-fulltime-ish job…There’s only 24 hours in a day and we have to do all these jobs: be a parent, be an executive, be a daughter, and, in the Indian case, also daughter-in-law, and somehow find time for yourself.

How do you make that happen?

So there are tradeoffs you make all the time. …[A]ll of us women have been told we can do everything. We’ve been given hopes and dreams and the education. [But] then we have these other issues to think about. … So, I think, it’s very important that we all understand that if you struggle with these choices, you’re not crazy. You’re human.”

Strategy No. 2: Redefine “me time”

“When I worry about my husband, that’s time for myself because this is my husband. When I worry about my kids, I am worrying about myself because they’re my kids. …

I may not have time to sit around in a spa for hours, but if I took my kids with me to the spa, we have together time. And if you can convince your husband to come for a pedicure with you, that’s together time. So you have got to figure out all these things. You have got to figure out unnatural situations to be together because otherwise there is not time. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in a day. You have to stretch it.

Yes, you give up time for yourself, stuff that you like to do. When you want to hang around with your own girlfriends, you don’t have the time. That’s par for the course. You can’t do it all.”

Strategy No. 3: Pick your battles

“When my kids were small, anything that they missed at home—even if dad was at home—they’d call mom. Mom would be in [the] office. ‘Hey, your dad’s in his office, can you go call him? He’s right there.'”

— ‘Mom, you tell us.’

And then the worst is when the dad calls you and says where’s his shirt?

— ‘It’s in the cupboard.’

— ‘No, it’s not in the cupboard.’

— ‘It’s six inches to the right. Why didn’t you just move your head six inches?”

— ‘Why did you move it six inches?’

— ‘I didn’t move it, you did.’

But that doesn’t matter. For the sake of harmony… [I’d say], ‘Yeah, I did it.’ I don’t wanna argue.

My daughters say [to] fight for yourself. I’m like, ‘Why? He’s the best.'”