A Year In The Life Of An IIM Student
Time has a really wonderful way of showing us what really matters.
There are these days which pass us by like towns on a highway. You really want to stop at some of them, but life pushes you ahead. And then, there are these oases you hit upon and that moment, every part of it will live on, forever. It would seem like a mirage, even if a part of you knew that you were looking for it, but when you find it, rationality takes over. You’re suddenly not sure if it’s what you wanted. If the last leg of the journey is worth it or you have another landscape to venture to.
The dilemma of the quest, not the destination.
Exactly a year ago-the results of CAT’16. My quest had reached its tipping point. Looking back, I know that the past year was the experience of a lifetime. And a large part of it was getting to where I did, but there’s more to that particular story. Happiness doesn’t seem like a fleeting thing at that moment when you hold your breath, go to the webpage that displays results, and you enter your details. That was a surreal moment, that screen which said “Congratulations! I am pleased to invite you to join the Post Graduate Programme in Management (2017-19) of the Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirappalli”. The year that followed changed a 20-year-old fresher from a BBA background into someone who had to learn to make mistakes faster than anyone in her batch so she could get back up. The point of this story is to reach out to those freshers out there who have yet to make my mistakes, but need not necessarily need to feel like it’s a bad thing to get things wrong the first time, so here is the host of things I would tell my pre-IIM self. (Obviously other than, “You’re in for the bumpiest ride of your life yet. But you’ll learn and cherish those moments the most.”)
- Ease up a bit – It’s true, you’re younger and way more naïve than at least half your batch. Which means you, of all people, have reasonable justifications for making minor infractions. They’ll tell you that you’re way ahead of them because of how early you got into b-school when you question if you’re lacking something as a fresher. You came to this institute to get better, and you’re trying. People will say what they will. You’ll learn not to listen to everyone. And you’ll learn how to spot people who are your type. I say “type” because you need these faces of familiarity that remind you of home or family or simply the security that they have your back and you can truly relax around them. Remember to treat them well.
- Your perspective matters – If you don’t let the words start falling out that first time, you’re going to regret it. The folks with work experience might find certain aspects relatable that you do not, but you don’t have to keep your silence. You’ve lived a life too, and its time you learned to connect dots based on interactions with people from experience. Or read the news enough that it makes up for the extra life they’ve lived. Just care enough that you modify your methods and refuse to be a bystander.
- It’s okay to put your foot down in front of people you respect – This is not even about being politically correct. It’s about standing for yourself when your intent is right. There’s only so long your ego will digest things that go against very fibre of your being, but of course, there are lines you will do well to be mindful of. Years down the line, you’ll have only yourself to question if what you did was worth the cost, ultimately. So in your thirst to prove what you’re worth, understand that diplomacy and holding your own can go well together. Like Pineapple on Pizza. You have to find a way to make it work.
- It’s easy for low standards to creep into high places – The workload will get to you at certain intervals. And sometimes you’ll justify your negligence, especially if it gives you a few more precious hours of sleep or silence. It is at these times you have to tell yourself not to end up becoming like the knuckleheads you used to roll your eyes at. You’ll learn of something called cognitive dissonance (the state of discomfort a person feels when your actions and intentions/words don’t coincide. Humans do what they can to reduce that state of dissonance or they justify it enough so they can live with it). Do what you have to, so you sleep better at night.
- Your equanimity will be tested – You’ll lose your cool in font of people you barely know. You’ll get really mad at someone and you’ll wish you could take it back. Whether the people on the receiving end had this coming or not, it does not do to let the unchecked range of emotions run awry. You’ll perfect the poker face and the death glare. All in good time.
- Don’t forget your family – It is them that got you this far, and it is the memory of their happiness (and thereby yours) that will take you further. So take time out to update them on the most trivial things you’re doing because you don’t need me to tell you how much it means to them. Sometimes listening to them describe their issues, however mundane they may sound in comparison to yours, may give you the inspiration to sort out your own as well. They don’t need you to solve their problems while you’re sitting in b-school; they just want you to be with them, wherever you are. While we’re at it, your significant other who might not be from a b-school still deserves the best of you. You might hear the phrase “You’ve changed after getting into IIM” in an uncomplimentary tone and you couldn’t disagree more. But, pause and think, just for your inner circle.
- Remember that your priorities are not necessarily the same as the rest – As a fresher, you really don’t have the necessity of the biggest, fattest paycheck since your “Opportunity cost” (the cost that the workex folks incur because they’re giving up their existing salary to study in B-School) is far less. That’s okay, you still have the privilege of starting your career from a higher pedestal than your peers. You can choose to prioritise your chosen club or committee or hobby over other things simply because you enjoy doing it, no matter what they say about trade-offs, as long as your grades are satisfactory. Coming to grades, from a personal standpoint, like any other student in one of the premier institutes of the country, you’ll learn two things. First, you’ll be better than the rest in certain things and worse than the rest in certain others. Second, grades are not everything in B-School. Point being, your standpoint could be very different depending on what you want from yourself.
- Do whatever you can to enrich your b-school experience – There are opportunities that knock on your door in B-school that wouldn’t have, if you weren’t here. Like live projects and competitions, your professors or your dorm. Try your hand at those Cultural activities your fellow batch mates conduct to make you feel more alive and young. Never would you have lived with such a diverse bunch of people with even more divergent capacities before and its folly to not get to know as many of them as possible, because there comes a time when you’re just comfortable with what you’re comfortable with and that lets you withdraw into yourself.
And it is at that time that you’ll remember what the Pulitzer Prize-Winning author Anthony Doerr said in his book, All the Light We Cannot See, “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever”. A part of you will always remain in those nooks of rooms and corners of staircases that the past year led you to explore. But, there are more to find before you leave and miles to go before you sleep.