What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
As a child, in primary school, I loved participating in fancy-dress competitions. Dressed up like Nehru, with a rose pinned on my chest, I would go on to speak like a mini-statesman. Fortunate to be blessed with the gift of oratory, I went on to win many fancy-dress competitions. Every win used to fill me up with pride, so much so that I would go on to ‘fancy’ my chances of becoming the Prime Minister of India someday. And the innocent soul I was back then, I would actually answer every ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ with ‘Prime Minister’ in utmost seriousness.
Today, when I think of it, I wonder when the ambition of my life changed. It is, perhaps, true that children are fearless in thoughts. Uninhibited by the limitations of feasibility and practicality, their thoughts are boundless. And so is the enthusiasm they display for every new thing they encounter.
Sometimes, I wish I could go back to that state of mind, being confident about what I wanted to be, an optimist to the core. As I grew up, with a penchant for learning and knowing things, I discovered the reality of the world I lived in, about how politics was ‘bad’, about how it required money and that it was only for the ‘corrupt’ among men. I was conditioned to love science and mathematics, because, well, that is what an average middle-class Indian is supposed to do, love science and mathematics! Fortunately for me, I was pretty good at those subjects and could portray that through my academic scores. As science seeped into my mind, my answer to ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ now changed to the scientist. Of course, I did not know the intricacies of science, but I still wanted to be a scientist, primarily because it sounded ‘cool’. Also, all academically good students are expected to take up science.
High school was a bit of a revelation for me. I discovered my love for languages and the social sciences. I abhorred geography but I loved history and economics. But the stronghold of science and mathematics was maintained. By the end of high school, however, the love for science and the urge of being a scientist was replaced by its higher-achieving sibling, ‘engineering’. And so my journey of preparing for the mighty IIT JEE began, even before I could fully enjoy the vacation after the board exams. As I laboured on, solving numerical question after numerical question, half of India’s famed demographic dividend laboured on with me. And as I failed to step into the hallowed portals of an IIT, so did the demographic dividend. A thousand other engineering colleges welcomed us with open arms.
The journey of engineering began with gusto. Brooding over the first failure of life, I strived to make up for it by studying harder. The perks of studying in a relatively unknown engineering college, far away from any major city, were the opportunities to initiate and lead student activities. Having never found it difficult to balance extracurricular pursuits with academic studies, I made the most of these opportunities, involving myself in as many events as I could. However, the larger objective of excelling academically still remained etched in my mind. Having chosen electronics engineering, I dreamed of working for the best companies on challenging projects or probably doing my Masters at better universities. But engineering, as they say, changes you as a person.
It was in the process of organising an event based on financial markets and international affairs that I first thought of subjects outside engineering. Although I had a fair understanding of economics and finance, the revelation that these subjects were all interdisciplinary and involved a fair amount of mathematics and logical thinking revved me up. This was also when Raghuram Rajan was rocking the scene of Indian economy. And as my dreams had proved to be so malleable in the past, I started seeing myself as a world-renowned economist or an investment-banker. Slowly, but steadily, my mind shifted from GATE to CAT. ‘Arun Sharma’ started figuring in my Google searches more often. Evenings were reserved for solving questions or giving mock tests. Surprising though it may sound, I was pretty confident of cracking this test (unlike a typical fairy tale success story where initial failures are a must!). That was probably because I had always enjoyed solving questions of this nature and a good reading habit translated into great verbal scores. Having aced the entrance tests, the next step was preparing for the interviews. Reading newspapers had always been an enjoyable activity. But what terrorised me was the perennial terroriser ‘Why MBA?’
Having thought over my fantasies of being an economist or an investment banker, I had started realising the naivety of my thinking. Management makes you a generalist, seldom a specialist. Also during the same time, my love for creativity had started manifesting itself in my responsibility of being the editor of my college magazine. Having been involved in publicising and marketing the magazine, I developed an active interest in advertising. My Facebook wall now showed Mad Over Marketing videos more than anything else. As the interviews inched closer, I was not sure about what my answers were going to be. Fortunately, however, I scraped through my interview and converted the call from IIM Indore.
A phase of uncertainty over my decisions and an appeal for bureaucracy and the Civil Services made me take the wild decision of withdrawing from IIM Indore and choosing to prepare for the Mother of All Exams. Plans did not go as they were supposed to go, however. And after about a year of futile mental turmoil, predominated by the confusion of career choices, I chose to reappear for MBA entrances. As I write this, I am sitting in a comfortable chair in a large, spacious room of Fr. McGrath Residence, XLRI Jamshedpur.
What was the point of this long charade after all? The motive was to drive home the point that I do not conform to the prevalent hullabaloo over doing something that you are ‘passionate’ about. I love multiple things and can safely assert that the love is strong enough to qualify as passion in many cases. But I was never sure of what I wanted to do. And I still am not. Is that bad? For all the importance attached to ‘knowing oneself’ and ‘taking the right decision’, I am probably the worst example citable. But what I have seen in this fledgling existence of mine is that a lot of students, some of my closest friends, break their heads over this decision, of being ‘sure’ about a career option. Not for no reason are engineers parodied for having chosen to do an MBA after engineering.
Of course, it is a heavenly feeling to know the reason for your existence. That has been the perennial question humanity has struggled with- ‘Why am I here?’ Some may say it is for the ‘pursuit of happiness’ that mankind exists. But I beg to differ. Pursuing happiness entails setting a goal that purportedly provides you happiness. But what about goal-less, aimless fools like me? Where do we go?
And it is for fools like me, that I suggest letting go of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ for the ‘happiness of pursuit’. Not all journeys need a destination. Some may prove to enchantingly beautiful without one. The destination might present itself at the destined moment.