Growing up, I was a smart kid (or so others thought; I always had my doubts). There was constant validation from all around. Teachers, family, even friends. Never even had to ask for it. It would simply flow in. In the form of marks, compliments, awards. Life was good.
Then, college happened.
Mistake Number 1: Engineering
Until a few days ago, I used to think I was miserable in college because I was lazy, and because I didn’t work hard enough.
Only now do I realize I was miserable because I didn’t like Engineering. Or Science.
I thought I liked Maths, when all I really liked was numbers. And anybody from a middle class family in a small town in India will tell you, liking Maths equals liking Engineering. And so, Engineering it was.
Having been a constant high performer in school, I wasn’t prepared for failure. And so, when I failed for the first time in my life, I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t get up, pick my pieces and fight back. I gave up. I quit. I became somebody who didn’t care.
I did just enough to get me through exams. Perhaps, even less. But I made good friends. Who carried my weight.
I passed. But in actuality, I started thinking less of me. Like others around me.
I lost my magic. I became a muggle.
Mistake Number 2: MBA
I was smart to realize engineering wasn’t “my thing”. But not smart enough to know what was. So, I played blind. Again.
To be fair, MBA wasn’t entirely a mistake. I met some wonderful people, regained part of my confidence, and “got back in the game”.
Like many, this was my chance at REDEMPTION.
Only it wasn’t.
Two things happened here:
1. I was constantly surrounded by people way smarter than me. So, I was never the smartest person in the room.- Good Thing.
2. The smart people aren’t always the nicest ones, especially when on the edge. And God knows everyone in a B-School is always on the edge.- Bad Thing.
There is a constant sense of urgency, and the system is designed for you to compete against each other. Even grading is on a normal curve. By the very nature of it, you can’t all get As. Even if all of you were to do exemplary work.
True, there is a lot of room for everybody in a B-school to try out a lot of things, but very little room to sit down, and think, and grow as a person. You ought to be doing something. All the time.
And who’s to blame? The ROI has got to be worth it, right?
An interesting event happened here. I started keeping my mouth shut.
I had always been outspoken. Even when I wasn’t sure if what I had to say was worth saying. But being constantly called out for “not speaking enough sense” made me begin weighing my words. Withdraw. Even when I would know the answer, I stopped participating.
I became bridled.
Three years out of school, I am happy that my years of formal education are over.
I am learning to think for myself, trying out new things, and most importantly, learning to fail, and being okay with it.
I am starting to feel like my older self again.