“It ain’t about how hard hit! It about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done” – Rocky Balboa

As the flight took off into the night sky, he looked back on his life. The last 48 hours seemed a complete blur, yet it was how his entire life had been. Somehow, chaos seemed to be the only bit of order that he could find in his life. His mind wandered to his school days; to the football grounds and red buildings that housed some of his most cherished memories. Already in his third institution, he remembered how insecure and sad he was as his mother dropped him off in this imposing prison that he would go on to call home for 11 years and relate to all his life. A feisty, talkative kid he remembered being told off regularly for being talkative. Intuitive and smart as he was considered, all his parent teacher meetings revolved around unfulfilled potential due to restlessness. Years passed by as the kid grew into a tall-for-his-age and confident-for-any-age adolescent. The talkativeness remained; the grades went up to relieve some of the pressure. A new love flourished for a 30-in diameter ball as he realised he was as good in football as he was in studies. With a belief in his identity and confidence in his abilities, he appeared what was to be the first big exam of his life; ICSE.

What a disaster that turned out to be! Not because he did badly. Everyone around him thought he had done well for someone like him. Yet he knew within that he had not done justice to his potential, having scored the same in 9 out of 11 papers. Conspiracy theories crowded his mind, as he was unable to accept his shortcoming. It just got worse as he was passed over for house captain even though he had turned down being school captain for the same. With a crippling sense of belittlement, knew he had to get away and shifted schools, justifying it to himself by saying that CBSE was an easier board for preparation for competitive exams. Two years, a few new friends, one past and one present girlfriend later he stood at the next hurdle.

An upturn in fortune? Not quite yet. He keeps underperforming in every major entrance exam. His IIT-JEE sees a massive difference in his performance in the first and second halves; as if two different people gave the exam. Fear of computer reliability meant giving AIEEE on paper and pen, a move that backfired manifold as online papers by general opinion were much easier than the offline one he had to give. Finally, in his own state joint he managed to mark incorrectly four answers on the OMR sheet; even after having used them for at least the last 6 years. With his fate sealed and advice from all quarters that he should try repeating the exams, he chose his college, as he did not believe in looking back. The belief within: I will top my department and get to something of my choice.

Alas! If only he was not so naive. Like everywhere before life had other plans entirely for him. An injury in the finals of a football tournament meant he was bed-ridden for a month. His grades plummeted as he tried to reconcile with the fact that his career was fast changing around him. He would not have the required grades for shifting departments and he might have to give up football for good. The blow changed him for good as a person. He became more cynical and mistrustful, wary of any happy events. However, it also opened new avenues like debating and quizzing which had taken back seats. Studies started to get back on track as he realised he liked civil engineering. Life had taken a new course altogether than he had imagined.

Fast forward, a couple of years and a harrowed young man was wondering whether to prepare for CAT or not. Juggling multiple responsibilities, from being placement and class representatives to being a member of the college debate and quiz team, he had a lot on his plate as his placements loomed near. Yet, this was something he had always been interested in and thus on his girlfriend’s persistence and hoping to get to spend more time with her he enrolled. However, as his placement season grew nearer he almost never had the time to study. Parental insistence ensured he did not skip the exam entirely but in his mind, he might as well have. A lacklustre placement had the same niggling doubts he had had all those years back crawling through his mind.

‘99.31!’ That score flashed on his cell phone that afternoon. Relieved? Elated? Not quite. Turns out even here, he had missed the one institute he had always aspired. As thoughts of skipping the entire interview stage for other IIMs tried to overpower him, his parents acquiesced him to sit through them. His best shortlist was IIML and it was the only institute he now wanted. The interview went better than he had hoped. He hoped to have gotten in. Yet, as the college kept releasing its shortlists, he only kept meeting with disappointment. At last, when he had stopped expecting it, he got a call two days before the course started that he had made it.

The pilot’s announcement for imminent landing brought him out of his reverie. As he buckled in the seat belt, a steely smile played across his lips. Life had always been harsh with him. Hundred percent was never enough to achieve the same. Yet, he loved it. He loved the challenges it set before him. As time passed by that became his single biggest driving force; to over-achieve. Although life had never put him on the path he wanted to be on, it kept sending him along similar lines. It was a beautiful game of cat and mouse as he tried to keep abreast with his own unrealistic targets. As he looked back out towards the city of ‘Nawabs’, he knew that life would not be smooth here; but then again it had never quite been for him. They say, “Failure is the pillar of success”. Well, he had enough material to build his Parthenon. As his car pulled up to the institute gates, he smiled. The game was on!