I have been in a very reflective mood lately and one of the things I have been thinking the most about is my education. I was a good student and while that may seem like a good thing, it is actually one of the biggest regrets of my life. When I look back at my school days, I can’t recall friendships, pranks, crushes or boyfriends with the same depth as I can the exams, scheduled tests or results. I never learnt to celebrate a 29/30 in a Sanskrit exam-I only knew how to sulk about not getting full marks. I never learnt how to be a gracious loser and clap for the person who beat me in tests….I only felt a wave of jealousy and humiliation at being beaten. I never realized that in life, what matters in humility in victory and grace in defeat…but God has his own plans and it took me years of insecurity, competitiveness and personal, academic and professional failures to make peace with the fact that one can’t and shouldn’t always be first. Sometimes, being first makes you win the battle, but lose the war.
I wish I had let go of this competitive attitude at least during my college years…but old habits die hard. Today when I look back at my college years, I regret not hanging out in the canteen after classes were over, or not participating in more inter-collegiate events. What I regret the most however, is not learning how to deal with failure or rejection. I never let guys I liked know that I liked them because failure wasn’t an option in my life. This stupid mantra in my academic life spilled over to my personal life as well and the cost was huge..probably something I am paying for even today.
The mania to succeed became even more ridiculous with every passing year and degree. It didn’t help that I chose degrees that required a grueling spirit-The CA degree for example. Even today, years after that torture is over, I feel pangs of sympathy and pain in May and November, the two months when thousands of innocent kids sit down to write those exams. I feel even more sympathy for those who write the exams under the pressures that Professors/CA Parents/their study circle enforces on them-“clear on first attempt”, “get a rank”, “get marks so that you get into the Big 4”…seriously? Ask any one ten years into their qualification if these truly matter. I know for a fact that I was one who succumbed to these fanciful notions and they got me no where. If anything, I wish I had studied to learn accounting and taxation rather than to get marks. That would have stood me in better stead.
And as if CA wasn’t enough to test my patience, I also decided to take the CAT one year. Good lord, that made CA seem like fun. Not because of the academic part, but just because of the ruthless competitiveness of the entrance exam. The way one’s self worth was determined Sunday after Sunday with mock CATS. The way one felt like a complete idiot if one couldn’t solve a question on probability. The way CAT professors treated their “not so smart” students like second class citizens and split them into batches depending on their aptitude level and then only gave respect to the ones who were scoring 95+ percentiles in Mock CATS. The experience scarred me so much that in spite of cracking the CAT, I decided I never wanted to do an MBA in a CAT scored B-School because it would ruin my self esteem and take away whatever little human emotion I was left with.
I know my rant so far makes it seem like I hate these degrees and the education system-I wish to clarify that I don’t. They have produced extremely successful corporate honchos, so there must be something that I am missing. The only reason I write about all this is because I wish to voice a heart felt plea.
Don’t let your education, grades or qualifications determine your self esteem or your life course. I now know tons of highly successful people with very “mediocre” education. In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if you took multiple attempts to clear your CA final or if you got 60 marks in Economics in TYBCom or a 34 percentile in a Mock CAT. What matters is the friendships you made and the relationships you fostered. What matters is that you tried out all sorts of things…perhaps you succeeded, perhaps you failed..as long as you learned from the experience. What matters is how self aware and secure you are, what your value system is, what your motivations are….those are the things that will determine your success, in both, your personal and professional life.
We have only one shot at life, only one childhood and one teenage life. Don’t squander it away in the quest for marks and grades. By all means, give your academics your hundred percent..but because you want to learn and grow and satisfy your intellectual curiosity. Never be afraid to fail, personally or professionally because when you look back, it will be those failures that have made you a better person. Live your life fully, doing things you love with people you love, and do things for the right reason..else you will be writing a similar post, filled with regret on your blog someday.
The author is a MBA from NUS Singapore, a Chartered Accountant and a rank holder at Mumbai University and at Narsee Monjee College Of Commerce and Economics. She is currently working with a leading FMCG multinational and is based out of Singapore.