July 6th, 2015 around 3PM I was standing outside the Dean’s office with a couple of my friends, waiting for our turn to get in. He wanted to check on the arrangements related to an event which was to be organized for felicitation of an FMS Delhi alumnus who had recently topped the coveted Indian Civil Services Exam.
Just about then I received a call “Congratulations, you’ve got a PPO.”
There was a sudden surge of emotions and the only words out of my mouth were “Oh My God. Oh My God. Thank you so much. Thank you so much.” The conversation ended with me saying “When do you want a treat?” to the God sent angel in the form of that HR professional. I don’t remember what she replied because by then my mind had gone numb. So numb, that I forgot completely that I had to meet the Dean. Instead of jumping around happily, my mind just froze. After 10 minutes, I started calling and messaging people in Dubai, USA, Mumbai, Bangalore etc. etc. to share with them this big news. It took another 3 days for the news to actually sink in.
Within 30 days from that day, I found myself sitting in front of a psychiatrist.
Never in past 24 years of my life had I ever felt the need of visiting a psychiatrist. No medication, nothing. But what happened post-July 6th was the beginning of a unique phase.
Do you ever remember a time in life when you did not aspire for absolutely anything? I tried to remember and I failed. At every point in my life, I have had goals or aspirations in at least one part of my life. As a child, I wanted to somehow manage to play soccer every day and score the maximum number of goals. I wanted to manage to get my Mother to allow me to play for as much time as I wanted to, and later to let me watch TV too. I wanted to score well in my 10th Boards as it was “popularly considered” very important. I wanted to crack JEE and get admission into IIT-B. I wanted to fall in love. I wanted to organize the best college festival. Best job at my engineering college. Best CAT score. Best B-school. Best job at B-school.
Now, with the entire 2nd year of MBA ahead of me, there were no exams or jobs to aspire for. I had made it to one of the most coveted Jobs in one of the most, if not most, coveted B-schools in the country. I had already opted out of all extra-curricular activities giving the reason that I want to “chill” in my 2nd year. My relationship with my parents was awesome. My sister had just cleared CA finals. It had been more than 8 months since the breakup with my girlfriend and it was a phase when I was happy and I didn’t want a girlfriend either.
It was the perfect life I had always aspired for, just that it lacked even a single thing to aspire for.
Apart from 3-4 hours of college, I had nothing to do in the day. I was not feeling interested in watching any TV series. I did not eat properly. I could not sleep in the night because my mind used to be filled with unnecessary concerns and fears (empty mind = devil’s workshop?). I had started to get nightmares. I did not get up on time in the morning because I didn’t care about my attendance in class. Unlike me, my friends hadn’t got jobs yet and were also very busy with extra-curricular activities. So I was lonely too.
I narrated all of this to the doctor and his response was, “I don’t think you have any problem. You just need to learn to keep yourself occupied. No medication needed whatsoever. But do exercise and meditate regularly”. I went home happy thinking I am perfectly alright. Although life was far from alright.
The struggle continued for next few months. I didn’t like exercising in the gym. I loved going for Dance classes, but the venue was too far. Searched for good yoga classes and failed there too. The only saving grace was helping juniors with their placements as doing that was a fulfilling experience, as if I was trying to give back to the college the knowledge it had helped me gain.
Enter Prof. Suneja. Professor for some, God for most students. Prof. Suneja, unlike most professors, does not penalize his students in any manner for any reason whatsoever. Doesn’t take attendance. Doesn’t penalize for defaulting on assignments. He believes that his primary purpose is to make the students curious enough to drive active learning among them. He believes that by being strict or by giving the incentive to learn, he can only induce them to learn temporarily. But by generating curiosity in them, he can transform them into students whose hunger for learning will never seem to seize and thus the students will continue the pursuit of knowledge through the rest of their life. His lessons are not just business lessons, but Life lessons. Business, strategy, marketing, human resources, economics are all part of Life. So fair enough.
Once, to everyone’s astonishment, Prof. Suneja expressed his serious disappointment about the miserably low number of students in class. I was confused. On one hand, he had publicly made it clear that he didn’t care about attendance. Now he was expecting students to still turn up. This just didn’t make any sense.
After class, I visited him in his office in college premises. And I openly expressed to him my confusion. I told him, “If you want students to behave in a particular manner, you’ve got to become a little strict”. His response blew my mind.
He said, “From childhood, our education system has trained our students to only follow carrot and stick orders. Don’t do this else you will be punished. Don’t turn up late to class. Don’t default on your homework. OR, if you do this, you will get this reward. If you come 1st in class, you will get this. If you score the most runs, you will be the man of the match. Never were the students encouraged to just do what they want to do. To learn what they want to learn. To an extent, that by the time they are your age, they are programmed to respond only to carrots and sticks. The size of the carrots and sticks has just got bigger”. I argued with him that it sounds good theoretically but practically it’s impossible. Our arguments continued for weeks to come. I sat in his cabin for hours at a time discussing the pros and cons of this approach.
While it may be clear to you while reading this, it took me a few months for my Eureka moment. My life was miserable exactly because of the endless carrots and sticks fed to me through my life. Get a good college so that you have a good career, play well because only good players receive appreciation. There was always an incentive or punishment attached to each of the goals. Now that there are zero carrots and sticks, I am calling my life miserable? This should technically be the phase of absolute freedom from all worldly norms. Am I a fool or am I a fool?
Now the important question was, what was it that I really wanted to do in absence of all carrots and sticks.
The answer I found for myself, not immediately though, was reading. It was the one thing that I always wanted to do but never gathered the courage and willpower to pursue. I had started multiple books but always abandoned them mid-way. Neither did anyone force me to read. So I went to the room of my friend who lived in the same apartment, glanced through the shelf and picked up a book. It took 3 to 4 weeks to complete the first book. But over 7 months I read 18 books (cover to cover), which is a big achievement for me. The genres included biography, business, self-help and fiction. Reading not only provides the basic hygiene of keeping my mind occupied, but it feels to me like a meaningful expenditure of time that I am learning something new and I am growing as a person. More importantly, I am reading not because someone else wants me to read or it is 'good for my future'. I am JUST reading.
Life slowly came back to normal soon after I started reading. No more struggling to get through the day or night. No more nightmares. God bless Prof. Suneja (How can God bless God?!).
Reading is not my life. At least it is not yet. But it was the process of finding this goal for self which was a personal breakthrough. The pursuit of finding a new meaningful goal, which is meaningful not because the world says so but because I think it is so, is an idea that I think can guide me through life for at least some more time.
Now that I have started at my job, my perspective is way different from what it was a year back. Yes, we have incentives to complete our sales targets, but my life doesn’t depend on them anymore. I have made it my personal goal to not just care about targets, but also the process by which they are achieved. Otherwise, I am just the same old kid again who is trying to score the maximum number of goals.
“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, Individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”
- Mihaly C.
From the book Flow, which I happened to read long after Prof. Suneja enlightened me.
I hope someone out there finds this relevant and helpful.
About the Author:
Guneet Singh is an alumnus of FMS Delhi and is currently working with Reckitt Benckiser. Dance is his passion and he loves going for long drives with his friends. He has always been a Marketing enthusiast.