It was January of 2017. As someone who prepared just enough to clear aptitude rounds of recruiters, and took CAT as any other engineering graduate’s ritual, I wasn’t expecting much. I thought to myself ‘I could only attempt 4 DI sets out of 8. It would be a miracle if I receive calls from the new IIMs. I have a job offer, will probably try again next year’. And that’s where my ignorance gave way to outright delight.
When I did receive the results, my attention went straight to ‘Your CAT 2016 percentile is 99.73’. The immediate reaction was of such disbelief, that I legit asked a couple of friends to read it out and verify this wasn’t a spam. By the time it did sink in, I had already started weaving plans of the Holy Trinity – IIM ABC. And flaunting it over social media – who doesn’t like a buzz on their profile, and this was bound to create some. Congratulatory calls started coming in from all over the place even though it was just the first round.
But soon, excitement turned to despair – even this high a percentile couldn’t secure me a call from IIM A or B or L or even I. The realities of being a ‘GEM’ (General, Engineer, Male) dawned upon me. Only IIM Calcutta and Kozhikode were kind enough to extend calls. And my insincere B-school plans had already led me to not apply to other reputed ones like FMS, SPJIMR, XLRI, etc.
I feel like I must pause here and rewind back to December 2016. Final placements were in full flow and I got placed on the first day itself. Unfortunately, many of my batchmates (belonging to Dept of Civil Engg) couldn’t get placed. Demonetization coupled with the dependency on PSUs had led to scarce placement opportunities, but to see folks with whom I shared classrooms (who cleared the same IIT-JEE, with one of the toughest odds: 5000 odd in a sea of million+ make it through) not securing jobs was hugely disheartening and being a part of Placement Committee, I blamed my own self to some extent. Add to that my mother’s terrible condition (which I got to observe first-hand after I went home in December) and a good friendship turned sour, and what one gets is borderline depression.
Interview preparation and the actual D-day, all flashed past in a whizz. When it was time for results, I was waitlisted by both – where I ultimately converted Kozhikode, Calcutta waitlist fell short by roughly 15 spots. But the storm raging inside me, due to both ‘Do I need/deserve this seat?’ and ‘I am sure I can do better’, convinced me to give up the seat for an experience of corporate world (I come from a family of homegrown businesses).
They say when the insides of you are at a disharmony, the outsides don’t really make much of a difference. And that turned out to be true at my office. The thrill of a new city, the joy of first paycheck, the excitement of living a financially independent life, all of these evaded me. The moments were there, the emotions weren’t. Looking back, those few months easily made up the most troubling phase of my life.
Slowly but surely, I stabilized myself, and no measure of gratitude is enough for the people who helped me through this. By this time, I had set eyes on CAT 2018 and was set to take back what was rightfully mine – a seat at a prestigious B-school. But fate always has surprises for you. Even after consistently scoring 99+ in mocks, my actual CAT attempt was average. Moreover, I missed sectional cut-offs by a whisker in both IIFT and XAT entrances. Got calls from NITIE and IIT-Bombay. The former's interview was indescribable, and the latter’s interview seemed like a breeze, but the reality was another impossible waitlist in both of them.
Exactly a year back (May 2019), I was at this crossroad where I was not enjoying my job and had the option of either switching just for better pay or diving into another year of strenuous written and interview test preparation. This time I let my discussions with people I trust lead the way, instead of the storms raging inside me (sometimes even romantically called ‘intuition/gut’). The line was set in stone and I would give it my all, without expectation or entitlement or complacency, and most importantly: enjoy the process. Took even more mocks, redid them to rectify errors, took up more work as it was my promotion year as well. Come the 24th Nov, 2019 (CAT test day) and contrary to what you’re expecting: DI failed me again, or maybe it was the other way round. A few days later, answer key came out and I was sure 99+ will be a forgotten dream. IIFT was just a week away and I instead focused on that, and after 3 years and 5 bschool entrance tests later, did I feel that I performed well. It was 99.48 and securing a place at IIFT-D was the next objective.
When it was time for the last ‘test’ of the season (and of my life, if I didn’t end up in any bschool), namely XAT 2020, I made it even more memorable by reaching the center barely 5 mins before closure. Verbal ability section was excruciatingly tough, and I remember saying my mom “I’ll lose faith on entrance exams if I’m able to clear English sectional cutoff in XAT”. And guess what, that did happen (it is 2020 after all). Probably fate also wanted me to realize there are much, much more factors at play than what’s visible or quantifiable. I cleared the cutoff by a whisker (exact opposite of previous XAT) and secured a percentile of 99.752, by far my best performance. And to think that I could’ve missed the test altogether is agonizingly funny. Interview experiences across IIM C, K, NITIE, IITB, IIFT, SPJain prepared me well enough to not lose out on XL.
Thus, began the waiting game, thanks to lockdown. When it was result night on 20th May 2020, I made a small prayer remembering all the times that have passed, all the lessons learnt and all the people who supported. The journey was worth it, and that gave a certain relief from the uncertainties of result. As it turned out, I made it through. Yes, the three year-long love-hate affair with bschool entrances ended on a ‘positive’ note.
As you’d observe, there’s no grand moment here because ‘grand moments’ don’t really happen (not the least in our sense of interpretation) and getting an admit is just a small step, so is any other individual step in life. The literature, movies and other art-forms will rather have us believe life is primarily defined by life-changing incidents, but often it isn’t so. Your continued efforts with a decent amount of random luck/fate/blessing/whatever will keep nudging you to a path. Continuing it or breaking the shackles to chart your own, will require similar small, continued efforts.
So, as I write the last para of an already out-of-bounds article (by most standards), I wish you good luck in whatever you aspire for, provided you’re completely honest to yourself and the goal. And even if you end up not getting there, I wish the journey turns out to be worthwhile enough. And in the worst of cases, even if the journey is an awful experience, I wish you have the courage to start again, to the best of your abilities and situations. Life is, after all, an act of letting go, without giving in (remembering one of my favourites here).