Pritika Gupta: “Who gets to decide what a perfect career narrative is?”
June 14, 2021
How Kulfi Beauty became an indelible part of my career path.
By Pritika Gupta, Contributor
The most well-intentioned criticism I have ever received in an interview was, “Looking at your resume, it just doesn’t make sense as to why you want this job.” Searing, I know. In that moment, I jumped to my career’s defense with a perfectly practiced pitch that linked everything from my college major, to my stint in investment banking, to working in Beauty, and to even the interests section of my resume (Seriously, why is this on my resume? — I barely have time to water my houseplants, much less have interests).
But looking back on this comment, I don’t think I should have. I should have taken a moment to step back and realize that this interviewer is absolutely correct in her question. She was simply pointing out what years of conditioning have subtly done to all of us: it has made us assume that every step in our careers must seamlessly lead to the next without pausing for a moment to consider what threads are missing. I think it is interesting that I found her comment so incisive. It has since dawned on me that it felt insulting that someone with the pedigree that she had, did not feel like my choices exhibited a cohesive enough narrative that made me a viable candidate for this job. But this whole incident begs a more important question:
What is a perfect career narrative? And who is the judge of it?
I met Priyanka Ganjoo during my second month of business school. I had recently left a 5-year career in investment banking to get a graduate degree and thought of myself as a reflection of the career I had had, rather than as someone on the threshold of possibilities that come with a new city, a new phase, and new experiences. A friend in my program had met Priyanka at a Diwali party in 2019 where she told her about her dreams for Kulfi. This friend was kind enough to tell Priyanka that I had most recently worked with retail companies and often lamented the lack of brands that had products for my skin tone and went ahead and made the introduction (thanks, Mallika!). Three meetings later, I jumped at the chance to work with Priyanka. I’m not someone who can chalk every good decision I’ve ever made up to my gut feeling, but as Gen Z-ers say:
When You Know, You Know #WYKYK.
Over the months that followed our first meeting in Hudson Yards, I joined Priyanka’s founding team with the intention of focusing on Partnerships.
But the wonder of joining an early stage startup is that you’re exposed to and learn about so much more than you thought you would.
I got to go with Priyanka to investor meetings, sat on her living room floor when she found the perfect colour that would go on to become Purply Pataka, applied to accelerators with her, and was on Zoom with her and Samia when we thought through the early content on Kulfi Bites. In coffee shops across SOHO and in her living room, I learnt so much about the industry, about building a team and about scaling a business.
photo of: Pritika Gupta & Priyanka Ganjoo
Watching Priyanka function is also like watching a force of nature; I’m yet to meet someone who can rally people around a cause and lead with as much clarity as she does. It is impossible to join a company at that stage and not find yourself deeply invested, both emotionally and professionally, in the success of the team and the company.
What I didn’t intend to happen while I worked at Kulfi was finding myself drawn to a completely different career path and in doing so, discovering a completely different side to my own goals and aspirations.
And, perhaps, a completely different set of choices than the ones I had set out to make. I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about whether my inability to achieve a certain, intended goal made me want to explore other paths and the conclusion I’ve reached is this: finding my life’s mission of creating products that are consumer centric and make this world inclusive may not have necessarily been at complete odds with the career path I was on, but it did catapult me into thinking about other career paths — particularly those congruous with Kulfi — that I would enjoy more or better yet, perform better in.
I’m not saying that it isn’t important to have goals that we aim to achieve, I’m simply acknowledging that:
Creating space in our lives for possibilities can often be a source of a certain kind of joy.
— both personal and professional, that we simply couldn’t imagine but can ultimately be deeply grateful for. It is natural for us to box ourselves based on the experiences we have had and accumulated, but beyond the confines of these very career narratives and perfect stories, seems to be a version of our interests that we haven’t explored, often because these opportunities simply haven’t presented themselves before.
A few months ago, as business school was drawing to an end, I had an interview that was diametrically different from the earlier one. I think it had a lot to do with the way I talked about my own journey. Instead of defending my career choices, I’ve started to find common threads that I can point to that would make me a more viable candidate. Where I would shrug at something that seemed incongruent, I’ve opted to discuss my learnings or shortcomings that came out of those experiences. I am realizing that every opportunity is a microcosm of another set of opportunities and this makes it imperative to be clear and true to who we are and what we want to do, rather than who we are expected to be. Priyanka recently said, when talking about her experience at a panel, that the evolution of her confidence over the past year has entailed being able to approach a panel of investors and tell them her story authentically without fear of whether “this makes sense or not.” I feel similarly about explaining my own story when thinking about my next steps.
A perfect narrative on a resume, while commendable, is difficult to maintain for anyone trying to switch careers or embark on a journey of self actualization.
But authentically explaining my learnings, dissecting my experiences, and connecting the dots as a reflection of what they meant to me has proven to be a more accurate indicator of my personality than any other behavioural questions I could answer. And I have those very incongruent experiences to thank for that.
I never wanted to write an email to the Kulfi team that started with “Today is my last day at Kulfi,” mostly because I could never imagine it and more personally, because I simply never wanted this to be the case. There is so much heart in this team, so much warmth, and so much hard work. You cannot ever truly walk away from it. But as I head to the next phase of my life, I realize how much better I am because of them and how fortunate I am to have learnt some of my most valued lessons from this exquisite group of BIPOC women.
It really has been sweet to be Kulfi.
About — Pritika Gupta is a recent graduate of Columbia Business School and was a part of the founding team at Kulfi Beauty, focusing on Partnerships. She will be joining Uber in Washington D.C. as a part of their Strategy & Operations team and plans on wearing Purply Pataka everywhere she goes.