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  • Sonal Goel

#AgainstAllOdds

TEDxHansraj

February 2021


Let me begin by asking you all, what could be the immediate odd you foresee, you could face in the near future?

One of the odds that you might face is that you are preparing for CAT exams for getting admission into MBA after graduation, and it might happen that it doesn’t materialize. This could be one odd I could think of for you. This odd I know is one that not many of you would actually face, but still, it’s imperative that we have a plan- B.


Regardless of who you are in this world, life shall always keep posing some odds, adversities & challenges. Whatever be our goals or dreams, we are bound to encounter obstacles before hitting the targets. But the way we overcome it is determined by our own strength and resilience.


As a child, I remember having read the famous poem

‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost.

The last stanza, which I’m sure many of you know and remember, but I shall reiterate it here again -

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.


Over the years, I have ingrained these values and realized that one has to keep walking, i.e. One has to reach a destination, one has to continue the rhythm of life.


Sonal Goel IAS

My Journey


So let me begin by mentioning my story briefly. I would like to take you all to the early 2000s.

I come from a small town called Panipat in Haryana. While Haryana has so many positives to its credit, we also have had the Issue of being a state which has been predominantly patriarchal. The societal ecosystem expects the females to be performing traditional roles of being a housewife, or at the maximum, undertake jobs that allow them to justify the domestic front fully. This was an odd which I was facing. Being brought up in a middle-class household, dreams tend to shrink and one may not aim too high. From a career point of view, I had thought I would join the private sector and follow the traditional path of my family.

But here I would like to share, how I decided to join civil services.


I came across civil services during my 3rd year of graduation from SRCC. I was already doing CS along with B.Com(Hons). But the feeling to do something for society & choose a platform by which I could contribute towards people’s welfare was backing me from my subconscious. So It was my inner drive that pushed me to attempt to appear in civil services. The opportunity it gives to work for & connect to masses & society is unparalleled!

When I discussed this idea with my parents, they had those little apprehensions. The All India services are cadre-based, so they were worried about service, cadre, family life etc, but then finally they agreed.

My father suggested that I have a fallback career option. Therefore, I decided to do LLB from Delhi University after my CS was over. Then I started my preparation for civil services along with LLB & a part-time job as Company Secretary in 2004. From 2004-2007, 3 things were moving parallel in my life- Focus on civil services preparation, doing regular LLB, & my part-time job. Those were the days of struggles, various choices to be made, a kind of ‘self-quarantined’ life, wherein it was a commitment to oneself. I completed my LLB in 2007 & I got selected in Civil services in my 2nd attempt in 2008 with All India Rank 13th.


The support of my family has been the reason, how I challenged the prevailing societal ecosystem & I became the 1st one in my family to have joined the civil services, and despite me being CS LLB, I shifted from the corporate sector to the government to serve the nation and society. Also now I am fortunate, my husband & kids have been very supportive and they understand well my professional compulsions.


Now many of you might be assuming that once you get selected into IAS, life becomes smooth & you attain everything. But my dear friends, let me tell you it was just the beginning of altogether new challenges & opportunities, many of which we didn’t even anticipate earlier.

Starting with training, my life started changing. LBSNAA Mussoorie which I joined for my training in September 2008 was the 1st hostel for me in my life. After training, another challenge came to me when the Cadres were allocated. I got M-T cadre and was allotted Tripura state. I joined there in June 2009. A state having different language being spoken, different cultural customs, having an issue of connectivity to an extent, different food habits etc. But I took it as an opportunity to have new experiences. I learnt Bengali language there, tried adapting to their culture, enjoyed their food, mingled with people. All this helped me during my stint of more than 7 years till 2016.


If I look back, from the day I cleared Civil services to now, life in bureaucracy has been full of experiences & learnings both in Tripura & Haryana. There are various factors affecting public service delivery, like political will/ influences; public expectations, limitations in the system in infrastructure & resources both financial & human, frequent transfers, pressures from the press, citizens / more so after e-Governance & digital interventions; everything in the public domain. There is an increasing Impact of social media, moving towards G2C & C2G governance. There are a lot of dynamics & equations that ultimately affect our working & decision making, however rather than giving up, it is always important to stand upright and give your honest efforts with conviction & determination.


One example of how I tried to connect with people I would like to share. As my 1st posting in 2010, I was posted as SDM Ambassa in Dhalai District Tripura. A


predominantly tribal Village Maldapara was one of the remotest villages of sub-division and there were issues of connectivity. Through the regular intervention of administration, with the active support of BSF & Youth there, we could mobilize the working of departments like school, AWC, PHC etc. Similar initiatives continued when I was ADM & Collector.

I tried to make people overcome the odds which they were facing in their daily lives, which I would say indirectly helped me develop my personality, understand the issues with more maturity.


Challenges continued along with professional growth. In July 2016, I came to the Govt of Haryana on Inter-cadre deputation. It was professionally a new slate for me but my work experience at Faridabad, Jhajjar, Gurugram has been quite varied and diverse. The odds compel you to learn and perform.

Many people do ask me also whether I feel any prejudice or bias or challenge as a woman administrator; is there any discrimination wrt role as male & female bureaucrat? I would say from my last 12-13 years of experience in Government, that there is no such inherent bias against women administrators, but yes there are certain issues which I would rather say occupational hazards revolving more around women than men. I feel that still, certain postings are considered more appropriate to be headed by male officers preferably. There is always a doubt of the people in the ecosystem around women, in your work delivery capabilities & commitments, compelling you to keep on proving yourself constantly. Many-a-times for lady officers, their career and family life progress is not in tandem and it may rather be non-harmonious with each other. But it is the act of balance, which matters.


TEDx Hansraj, February 2021

I firmly believe that efforts to bring in ‘Gender Parity’ in society need to be taken by all. I have always tried to undertake such initiatives during my postings at Tripura and Haryana.

From my own example, I can share that I became the 1st lady CEO/ Commissioner of AMC Agartala Municipal Council in 2012 & the 1st lady DM of Gomati District Tripura in 2014 & 1st CEO Of FSCL Faridabad Smart City Ltd in 2016 & at the 1st Lady CEO of GMCBL City Bus Service Gurugram in 2020.


Challenges we faced as posed by Covid 19

A very important reflection for all of us as to how we have faced an Odd collectively & how we have overcome it is the response by humanity to Covid 19. India and the world faced unprecedented challenging odds, a crisis of having been inflicted by a pandemic caused by what is called, Covid 19. It affected us all in many ways. It has taken a toll on our mental health, a toll on economies and thrown governments and societies out of gear.

However, we did not give up. We continued to strive, to explore, to experiment, to analyse and find a way out of this and we did. We stood against the odds and today we have derived the cure, the vaccine to this.

Facing The Odd

So my dear friends, what we do finally!

Identify what drives you - your purpose

The courage and persistence to keep going on, is powered by purpose. Keep reminding yourself, why did you start in the first place? And what drives you to keep going?

Against all odds, I think the attributes that are required for people to overcome odds, adversities, challenges are quite simple. These attributes are -

Determination, tenacity, focus, willpower and positive attitude.


I’m sure many of us have seen those determined ants, walking relentlessly and with diligent focus. Often we do not have a plan for what we do when faced with an odd or a challenge or adversity. We must have a plan, what I call a response matrix. It’s always critical to have a response matrix by your side and have options, okay this is also called scenario building. Now, what are the possible scenarios and what is my response matrix?


Ask yourself 3 questions-

What is the best that can happen, what is the worst that can happen, what is most likely to happen? If the best happens you will be very happy; if the worst happens then also you are prepared for it, and you will with ease accept what is most likely to happen.

I have over the years, through my student days and as an IAS officer also, felt that there are challenges that one faces every now and then so how should I respond? Either I collapse, as they say, you sink or swim. Now sinking has never been an option so swimming is the only option.

In order to swim, I have created a framework, what I call ENNO i.e. endure; you’re faced with a challenge, you follow the ENNO formula i.e. Endure, Negotiate, Navigate and Overcome. If you keep that in mind, I think there is no looking back and succeeding against the odds will become a habit.


Take away Points for Youth:

So from my session, I request you all to consider the following always & they might be of some help.

- Begin with End in your mind; Identify the Burning purpose

- Recognize the importance of today; avoid Delays, time is of the essence

- Perseverance is very important- Keep Doing it & doing it

- for example- for fitness, you need to exercise again & again in your routine

- Have a positive outlook and Stay Optimistic

- Have someone in life for mentorship- seek help – I'm confident that youngsters have all the potential to excel, but sometimes seeking help also is essential

- Be open to learning – Even though you may know many things, but may not know everything under the Sun.

- Dream big in life; Realize your Potential


I would like to mention 2 stories of people who have proved their mettle.

Wilma Rudolf: American athlete – She overcame her childhood illness and physical disability caused by polio and infantile paralysis to become the fastest woman runner in the world in 1960. She was a world record-holding Olympic Champion and International Sports icon in track & field following her success in the 1956 & 1960 Olympic games.

Arunima Sinha – Indian mountain climber & sportswoman who became the world’s first female Amputee Mountain climber to scale Mount Everest, Mt Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Mount Elbrus (Russia) etc.

Both the powerful women have shown how they rose above all odds & nothing could deter their spirit.

So keep reminding yourself of what drives you; identify your path and achieve your goals with your strength, determination & consistent efforts!

If a tiger was chasing you, you will not be looking towards a motivational speaker to guide you. You will instantly run. We can hear all the motivational speeches and read motivational books we want, but does it end there? Things are incomplete until you do it. Doing is most essential. Be prepared to run & run fast!

As we know- Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that matters.

The 3 C’s – Courage, Conviction & Consistency shall help you sail in all situations of life and enable you to achieve your goal.

I always recall a prose -

‘Tum samay ki ret par chhodte chalo nishaan, dekhti tumhe zameen dekhta hai asmaan’.

Love what you do & Do what you Love.

Sonal Goel IAS

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