9.00 AM - The piercing blare of my phone’s alarm brings me back from the thirteenth dimension of deep sleep as my non-REM cycle aborts and I awake with a splitting headache, with the choicest of cuss words for my phone, my timetable, my life in general. But a good seven snoozes later I’m back to my best behaviour. Picking the least smelly pair of jeans from the laundry bag, I jog to my 9.30 class.
1.30 PM - The entire morning passes in a blur of professors talking about Financial Derivatives and Consumer Behaviour. Some of it my mind registers, most of it passes by like alpha particles through a gold foil.
2.30 PM - Surprise quiz. One part of me is rolling on a sloping green meadow laughing at my haplessness. I meant to study for this test but couldn’t. The other, saner part of me is working frantically to recall the bits and pieces I gathered in previous classes. The test ends but the dichotomy continues. One part of me tries its best to forget the fiasco that ensued; the other part makes a mental note of always preparing for this subject. Then the first part says, ‘Yeah, right’.
6.00 PM - Project meetings begin. I down two cups of strong double coffee in an attempt to gather my senses. As my group pores over research journals, my mind cannot help but wander back to the dreamy days of undergrad college, where projects were a matter of Wikipedia and copy-paste. And I realize I have leveled up. Maybe two or three levels at once.
11.00 PM - My phone lights up with a barrage of WhatsApp messages. I realize I have another report due at 11.59.59 PM and everyone in my group is caught up in some meeting or the other. With no time for dilly-dallying, we assemble to delegate work. Fifty minutes of furious checking, formatting and rechecking later, the submission is mailed.
12.00 AM - The section gathers for a birthday hooshing. A bunch of frustrated adults encircle the birthday boy and vent their exasperation, while the meek stand back and clap gleefully. The pains are forgotten in that brief moment of merriment and free chocolate truffle cake. But there’s no time to pause. I return to work wondering about the feasibility of intravenous coffee injections.
1.30 AM - My inbox is flooded with mails from my club’s Senior Coordinators. They are appalled by the perceived indolence of junior coordinators. I know there’s no point trying to excuse myself. Tomorrow will be worse. Instead, I excuse myself from my project group to get this work done.
2.30 AM - For my latest event idea, I cook up a mishmash of previous event formats, hoping it will pass. One ominous look of disapproval from the club head and I know this is not how stuff works here. I brace myself for a long night ahead.
4.00 AM - I return to my project group to find they disbanded for the day. An overpowering feeling of guilt washes over me and I vow to participate more meaningfully the next day. If there’s anything more ignominious than failing a subject in a b-school, it is free-riding. Weary with toil, I haste to my room.
4.15 AM - It’s not over. Not yet. I prepare for next morning’s case, convincing myself that I can absolutely not forgo any more class participation marks.
5.30 AM - As I hit the unkempt mass of towels and clothes that is my bed, my body discovers new realms of pleasure. But my brain invariably replays the day’s proceedings, and I smile at the work I got done and rue the time I wasted ruminating. I think about my abysmal grades and console myself that it’s okay to be average sometimes. I study with some of the smartest people in the country, and the competition is brutal. I find solace in Ayn Rand’s words: ‘Genius is an exaggeration of dimension. So is elephantiasis. Both may only be a disease.’
So if the purpose is not to top my class, why am I here? I’m not a genius in any sense of the word, surely I don’t belong here.
One day I decided to break this ruthless cycle and talk to my friends about this. Funnily enough, they all felt the same way. Except, a few of them had it figured out. The purpose is not to be the best; it is simply to push yourself. Push yourself to work harder, to take more responsibilities, to ace that surprise quiz, to taste failure, to earn a professor’s praise after a sleepless night of PowerPoint preparation. Appreciation does not come easy in the world. And we are taught that the hard way. And the right way.
This essay roughly describes my life in the first term (with a great deal of exaggeration for effect). As I write this, I am almost done with my first year at b-school. And I’m surprised at how much I’ve learnt. At the age of nine, to teach me to swim, the instructor threw me into the deep end of the pool on the first day. At an IIM, everybody is thrown into the deep end of the pool on the first day. The boundaries that separate people with work experience from the freshers blur. And two years later, at the other end of the pool emerge people who can take responsibility and steer a corporate ship. Or at least a corporate fishing boat.
I may not be qualified enough to comment on this, but my limited experience with employers (yes, summer internship) tells me that they look beyond grades. They look for responsible and passionate people. And b-schools attempt to bring out those aspects in you from day one (or day zero, as they call it).
And while I’m still only halfway there, I surely look forward to choppier waters ahead.
The writer, Ashutosh Pathak, is an alumnus of IIM Bangalore. A Mechanical engineering graduate, there is much in life he needs to figure out. Till then, he is happy living in the shadows of marketing gurus and finance gods.