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Wisdom Stories Ep.31: Dr. Aruna Sharma

Cultural expectations surrounding the elderly are being challenged today, and with good reason!

While it was the norm to slow down and retreat into a quieter life post-retirement, more men and women are finding purpose and joy in doing the opposite.

WisdomCircle honours such men and women by shining light on their journey through an inspiring series called “Wisdom Stories”. These people have successfully smashed stereotypes, and their stories remind us that life should be lived to the fullest, no matter what age or stage.

I grew up in Madhya Pradesh and moved to Hyderabad for my higher education with no set career plans, till our neighbour seeded the idea of Government Services in my mind. Soon after, I prepared for and got selected into the Madhya Pradesh cadre in 1982.

I have had a rewarding career spanning 4 decades, leading critical missions and solving complex problems. There are a few that stand out. As Managing Director – Dairying, my mandate was to turn around a sick dairy unit, or shut shop. My motivation was strong, as I saw that livelihoods were deeply impacted. In the face of opposition in my first meeting, I firmly pounded the table, and the glass cracked under my passionate fist. This seemed to galvanize the team, and after many months of hard work, we succeeded in saving the business.

As Director General of Doordarshan, I walked into this role a year before the Common Wealth Games. There was no preparation in place, and we built out teams and our plans to execute them in record time. My time in the Steel Ministry wasn’t one without challenges, as the industry was in turmoil. I am especially proud of leading the team that was the first to establish Direct Bank Transfer in India with MGNREGA patents in 2012.

Over time, I realized the importance of establishing and inculcating system-based delivery vis-s-vis personality based. Leaders come and go, but if you establish the right checks and balances, your legacy carries forward. Pitfalls are inevitable, especially when you are a high-level decision-maker. My positive outlook has helped me weather many a storm. I have always been decisive, as I believe that it is a criminal waste of one’s authority to not make decisions and play it safe. Failures need analysis to transform into opportunities.

After retiring as Secretary, Steel for the Government of India in 2023, I firmly believe that this is my time to create a fresh chapter around my aspirations. My father once said that we don’t retire, but “retyre”; meaning to say we recalibrate and take a new path.

If one is passionate about a cause, avenues automatically open up. Today, I am on the Board of 5 companies, and an Advisor to a few organizations. I spend time with my 91-year-old mother and take pleasure in nurturing my garden. I have written 5 books (Dancing Towards the $5 trillion Economy on Holistic Beat, U@ Game Changer-translated in 5 languages, Resource Convergence Mantra Model and followed by an impact study published by UNDP and The Heartland of Divinity: Fairs & Festivals of Madhya Pradesh for Wisdom Tree) over the years, and want to keep learning.

I have set 5-year goals for myself, and aim to keep reinventing myself every 5 years. 

Dr Aruna Sharma

Interview Credits: Saonli Sen Choudhury of WisdomCircle

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