Who gets there first?
Often, thinking what the future holds for us is much more exciting than pondering over the past. Sometimes, you don’t need to look up too high to find inspiration and a reason to do better than before. From being in a slump to racing each other, my sister and I have grown a lot. And, Aditya Birla Group has and probably will give us the fuel to continue this chase for a long time.
Right from our childhood, Yamini and I weren't the brightest in school. We weren't the biggest fan of the rat race anyway. The one thing we did do better was sketching and painting. The only difference, I did that without any indulgence, and she did it with a lot of passion. We did well enough in the essential exams. But life is so much bigger than school. I being the elder one, opted for the usual path, not knowing anything better. What I did know was that my sister was pursuing the arts very seriously. She had a very different set of exams, which got me a little worried. Just imagine what it did to our parents. They were probably relieved when she finally opted for engineering. She was doing well in college too. She was a nine pointer. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that. Meanwhile, I was starting a new life with my job in the IT industry.
But all of that will change just after a year. My sister tried those art exams again. And this time she got through. She got an offer from NIFT, Delhi, one of the "top of the line" colleges in the industry. There was a lot of backlash from the family for trying to get into that college. She was getting bribed, convinced, pleaded, etc. to continue with engineering. This might be the only good thing that I did up until now; I supported my sister. I understood what she might be feeling, and that feeling is rare. Achieving what one wants is a rare feat these days. This was the moment we bonded and never looked back.
One day we were talking over the phone about our future, career-wise. I let her talk because I had no idea. Somehow ABG popped up in the conversation. My opinion was: yeah ABG, they have their ads but never saw any related product or service apart from the More retail store. She was quick to correct me. The conversation went another hour about how ABG is big in the fashion industry, and it is a dream for the designer in her to get an opportunity with ABG. I started my research. I realized that many of the brands in the mall I visit are ABG's: Pantaloons, People, LP, Forever 21, Van Heusen, and many more.
What amazed me was the clarity she had regarding her career and the way to go about it. It made me think long and hard about my own life. If she can bring a change in her life for the better, why can't I? So I dusted off my old notebooks, made a YouTube playlist of math puzzles and started on the project named Vivek Anand. Now I am here at IIM Visakhapatnam; the first goal has been achieved. The next goal is a career in finance. Since I worked in a custodian bank, I got to know about how their business works. I was especially drawn towards credit and equity. A quick google search brought ABG in the first page. Furthermore, ABG, through this contest, is already playing a significant role in my professional life.
My life has changed for the better in the past two years, from a slump in the IT industry to a goal-oriented finance enthusiast and I have my sister and ABG to thank for it. And to answer the question, whoever gets there first, the other will catch up in time.
My Tryst with Public Speaking
Most of the fears and weaknesses a person has been created due to some life-changing events. Those events may try to leave a permanent scar on our psyche, but I eventually realized that it is up to us that we move on and try again. The best way to do that is to leave ourselves in a situation where we don’t have any choice but to face our greatest fears. Before I messed up a debate competition when I was in the second standard, I was known as the "Story Teller" of my class. I even addressed the school assembly once with one of the stories. I remember that it felt just fine.
Following that reputation, I tried my hand in the debate competition. Someone just came to my class and asked for the interested candidates to meet their respective house management. I was selected in a jiffy. Their decision was a no brainer when I showed up. The topic was "Computers: A boon or a Bane," and it was 2001. Furthermore, I was told that I am going to be speaking against the topic. Being a technology enthusiast, the only thing I could talk about in this context was that it harms our eyes. But I was not to worry because after half an hour the management gave me a prepared speech. Problem solved, right? All I need to do is to memorize the piece and deliver with some modulation. I was even called by the house warden after school hours to help me with the speech. That is where I was hit with the proverbial nuclear bomb. I have to deliver the next day. Was it fair? Probably not. I still tried to memorize as much as I could. But then the next day happened. I can really not forget how it felt when I could not recall the last paragraph of that speech. I was stone cold, shaking, and was thinking of possible repercussions of this incident. I saw my warden signaling me to speak up, but all I did was say "thank you" and leave.
Years pass, and now I am in an engineering college. After the "incident," I did only the small stuff like group recitation, group discussions but nothing like addressing a sizeable crowd. I let a glass ceiling from above me. But it's college now, right? A fresh start. A chance to begin again. Everything was plain exciting: the classrooms, new friends, new place and of course, a new crush. We had this new subject, professional communication. Looking at the book, it was all about writing letters, communication loop, etc. etc. Nothing fancy. Then came the first PC class. I took a seat, somewhat bored, making jokes and giving my new friends a hard time. Then she comes, our PC teacher, Swati mam. The first thing she says is that we will have an ice-breaking session for everyone. Anyone can come up whenever they are ready. I see a few people go and tell the most random things. Now the class is for two hours. There was no time to prepare. Everyone will speak in this session itself. My friends caught on my mumbling, I was thinking about the things I would say. Mam says, "Who wants to go next?" My friend grabs my arm and raises it. And now suddenly there are these chants, "Vivek! Vivek!! Vivek!!!"
Of course, I had to go. So much attention, I could not resist it. So I slowly walk to the stage approaching the corner I put myself in. The chants ended, and reality sets in. Needless to say, I was sweating profusely in a 20 degree Celsius room. I look around and at the crowd. There is my crush, cheering me on like anything. Looks like someone told her and she is trying to get me even more nervous. I blanked out for a second, but it felt like an eternity. That debate failure was flashing in my head. But I had to say something. So I went like, "Hi people, I am Vivek Anand, and I am very nervous and sweating rivers." The crowd had a good five-second laugh. Seeing me quiet, one of my friends perhaps felt terrible about me and told me to tell how I feel right now. A quick observation gave me quite a few points. I spoke about my legs shaking, my shiny palms, the adrenaline rush. Then someone asked for the reason for my nervousness. I talked about the debate session. By the time I stopped talking, five minutes had passed. That was the longest anyone had spoken. I was still shaking after the speech. But when I calmed down, I had the glimpse of the old me.
The Storyteller. That could be one of the greatest tags that could ever exist. I picked up a few more things. Firstly, awareness: if I am aware of the things that I want to speak, there will be no blank and awkwardly quiet moments. And secondly, crowd interaction: perhaps, the crowd is not there to judge me but to learn from me. I should really interact with the audience. A conversation is much easier to handle than a speech. I would go on to present projects made in the incubators to school going children to inspire them towards research and innovation. At least now I would step on the stage without someone raising my hand for me. I would like to thank that someone for the gesture and the ones who asked the questions.
The story isn't complete yet. The most important pieces of learning are yet to come. Flash forward a few months after college, I am working in the IT industry. During our brief time in training, one day Ramkumar sir steps in and asks us if we would like to witness the Toastmasters session of the company. I had no idea what Toastmasters is. So the curious my went in. I see people speaking in the fanciest way possible. The host, the speakers, the president, everyone trying to put on a show. Then comes the table-topics part of the session where guests can participate. I see people going in, picking a chit, and speaking for a minute. I went in to try that with all the confidence I gained from my college experience. The topic was unfamiliar, something about music. I couldn't speak much. I wasn't feeling aware. The extempore obviously went badly for me. But it was a safe space, so no harm is done. But I wasn’t the one to back away thinking that not all topics will be so unfamiliar. So I went to speak in the next meeting, then the third, then the fourth, still no luck. But, something different happened in the fifth meeting. I just started speaking random things and in the end, closed my eyes and spoke the last line. It felt so good. I never looked back ever since. I won the table-topics award in almost every other meeting they had.
I got involved deeply with Toastmasters. I went as speaker and evaluator to external meetings to get varied opinions, joined the executive committee, and volunteered in much higher level Toastmasters competitions. The takeaways: stay in the game, and the ability to speak in public is a perishable skill. And this one I learned a little later when I was not winning in the prepared speech sections. Though the delivery would be excellent, people were not as involved as they would have when I participate in extempore. It was then I realized that people need a story, not a sequence of facts and pieces of wisdom that I usually delivered. It has changed my style of conversation, my friend circle, and eventually, my life for the better.
My public speaking, now a skill has helped me a lot in other facets of my life. It allowed me to volunteer for anchoring in a few of the Rubik's cube competitions that I participated in. The feedback I got from strangers in the competition was mind-blowing. One would say that I should make announcements in the airport, another would say I sound like Farhan Akhtar, and the best one was that I should go and try being a radio jockey or a standup comedian. Being able to think about unlimited possibilities gave me a kind of joy unparalleled by anything else I would ever expect to encounter. I started to say yes to things the old me wouldn’t have and ultimately I took the chance to host my own official Rubik's cube competition which apart from being a huge success gave me a chance to give back to the causes I believe in, enhanced my fearless attitude, brought me many other opportunities and most importantly, it gave me a chance to learn a lot more about working with different entities and thinking on my feet. If there could be a single string of words that would summarize this story, it would be: start and just keep walking, the grass will eventually get greener.