Life Means More – A Message For Every Student In India
I woke up today to the sad news of an IIM Lucknow student’s death. It was shared on whatsapp by one of the members of our student team. Media reports claim that it is a case of suicide.
At this point of time, my first thoughts are with the parents, close friends and the entire IIM Lucknow community. My mind races back to 2010 when I lost a close friend, while on campus at IIM Indore, in a bike accident. It was an extremely tough time for all of us and I can empathise with everyone in the family and on campus. A loss of life is a loss of life. This alone can lead to profound sadness. If indeed this is a case of depression and suicide as claimed in many reports, it only makes the situation sadder.
The IIMs and top MBA schools in the country have done a lot of good. They have helped create a competent pool of managers and leaders in India. However, the journey from first deciding to do an MBA to taking CAT to graduating to spending the first few years in the job is designed in a way which can lead to anxiety, envy, pressure and exhaustion. You will meet people who glorify the ‘race to the top’ and spew terms like ‘survival of the fittest’ etc. Often a lot of it is driven by ego, status and money. And high aptitude and seemingly intelligent people indulging in it doesn’t justify this conditioning. I have a few suggestions to try and stay calm and maintain perspective in your journey.
You’ll be okay – Nothing is worth being constantly anxious
Some of you will make a lot of money without creating anything of value. Some of you will make a career in selling addictions. There is nothing wrong if you take that path. You should celebrate what you think is success. But there is no reason to feel as if you’re god’s gift to mankind. More importantly, the others who aren’t playing this game need to realise this. You’ll be okay irrespective of which company hires you or what career is in store for you. The anxiety around bagging that coveted job is not justified because it is inherently worthless. I will argue that you will probably increase your chances of getting there if you approach it without anxiety or fear. Desire it too much and you are bracing yourself for stress and an eventual breakdown.
So what if you don’t bag a INR 25 Lac Salary from campus. You will figure out what makes you awesome and really excel at it if you’re patient and open to different things. Whether money determines you self-worth is a question you need to address very early in life.
Pick your battles
One surest way of inviting disappointment is trying to be everything. You will be brilliant at a few things. Identify those and give it all you have rather than trying to be good at everything and then end up being mediocre. This in turn leads to the same negative feedback loop of you feeling worthless.
Never forget who you are
The fact that you made it thus far is probably because of hard work, perseverance, good choices, good upbringing and a healthy slice of luck. Some of you come from very small towns where just being where you are is considered a privilege. Some of you have parents who ensured you got the right things at the right time. Count your blessings and be grateful. Some of you have fought all odds to reach here. Be proud.
Remember all those things that gave you joy. A few things are part of you. It could be a relationship, a hobby, a mission or a skill. Never let go of it. Treasure it. It will help you be close to your true self. The closer you are to your true self, higher is your chance of being joyous, fulfilled and honest. It’s the best situation to be in.
Cut out every activity from your life that takes you away from your true self.
Relationships are of all kinds. You cannot control everything.
Relationships – especially campus relationships are of all kinds. Some of your connections will be so deep that you will be friends for life. Soul mates even. Some relationships will be intense for a very short period. Some people enter your life for a specific reason and then go away. You are part of people’s life for a reason and you will move on. All kinds of things happen. So relax and enjoy what you can.
You will never be able to control this part of your life. Come what may.
Don’t believe everything you see on social media. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.
No one is as happy as their photos seem to suggest. At times, people putting up those pictures themselves aren’t aware how they feel. Almost everything you read in mainstream media has a layer which needs to be peeled before you believe something. Feeling worthless because you think the whole world is better than you or that they are having a great time while you lead a miserable life is plain wrong. Dig deeper, let people take off the mask and see how vulnerable they are. There may be terrible sadness underneath the pretence.
Life is a game. MBA is a game. CAT is a game.
Don’t take anything too seriously. Absolutely no one knows what the true reason for our existence is. Maybe, trying to figure out what it is could be an interesting game itself. We need something to look forward to each day. Some people pass time watching youtube videos, some people play video games. Some people create a game for themselves by starting a company and chasing revenues or impact. Some people take up running half marathons and make a game out of it by trying to run faster each time. Mere survival becomes some people’s game – circumstances force it upon them – economic, health related or a natural calamity. Whatever is your story, just know that it is just a game. Giving it more importance than it deserves is supremely unhealthy. In fact, revel in the game with detached involvement. Enjoy the experience irrespective of the result. Remember the cricket match you played in your building or colony. Most things in life deserve exactly the same amount of importance or probably lesser.
All of the above are easy for me to write and extremely tough to practice in real life. But we have got to move forward.
Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus says the stories we tell ourselves give our lives meaning. If that is true, I believe a positive story you tell yourself will give your a life positive meaning.
P.S. I don’t think I can help people who think they are depressed or those who have already been diagnosed as having depression. Please do reach out to an expert. If you don’t know who to reach out to, please write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will connect you to the right people. However, this piece is for everyone else – especially for those on campuses across India. It is something I have always wanted to talk about. I hope you don’t look at this solely in relation to the sad event that has taken place.
(This story was edited on 17th November 2017)