My Life … My Career … My Decision
Since Class IV, I was quite clear that I had to become an IIT Engineer. I used to straight fail in every other subject except Science and Maths. Deeply influenced by films where scientists made accidental discoveries, I set up a small lab in our attic, convinced my mother to finance beakers, test tubes and pipes. I used to randomly wander in the neighborhood collecting weird plants and boiling them in my equipment, hoping for some miraculous discovery which will either save the world or give me super powers. None of those happened; all I ended up doing was making my only beaker explode.
Chemistry was expensive and it did not feel right, engineers do not work with beakers and test tubes – gradually I moved on to electronics. Unfortunately electronics was even more expensive, the generosity of a cousin brother kept my passion alive. Numerous experiments and countless electrical shocks over the next couple of years, led to my best science project in Class VII – the AC to DC converter and speed controller. It was a transformer connected to a couple of resistors and capacitors lighting up a torch bulb and running a small fan. My School sent me to a State level science modeling competition which had participation from students up to Class XII. I bagged the fourth prize; the judges were impressed that a student in Class VII understood concepts which are taught in Class XI. That victory sent joys across my extended family and everyone including myself was quite convinced that not only was I born to be an engineer but also that I was on track to IIT.
In Class VIII, I was introduced to Computers for the first time. We were taught coding in GWBASIC. It was love at first sight. Within months I reached a stage where I could write programs faster than the teacher could finish dictating what to do. It was no feat, they were standard easy ones, print first 10 even numbers etc … Now I did not love Electronics any more, my destiny transformed to an IIT software engineer. I was so confident of my applied passion that my relatively average marks in Science and Maths never deterred my resolve.
My School City Montessori School, Lucknow was widely considered the costliest and best private school in town. The school had unrelenting focus on academics; more than 20% of its student every year would leave school with more than 90% marks and admission into a top Engineering or Medical college. At least when I was there they did not even have humanities or commerce streams in the school. The school also had the reputation of organizing big national and international level school competitions. The funny part was that our teams rarely won, as on the one hand the competition was being organized in the school compound on the other hand principal, teachers and students considered the competition a distraction from academics. Somehow I started getting interested in debating and representing the school team was a piece of cake because only a few idiots would want to take their eyes off IIT or AIIMS and invest time in competitions.
QUANTA 95 an international level competition organized by my school changed my life forever. I was in class XI and was part of the school debating team. We competed during the day and in the evening we had bonfires and cultural programs. I distinctly remember sitting in my group with a couple of non Indians, a team from Kochi and a few folks from Delhi. I started the conversation with “How is your preparation going?” This was the only thing we used to talk amongst ourselves and I thought it was logical to ask this as IIT entrance exam is what everyone in Class XI is focused on. I got the weirdest looks of my lifetime, my fellow event participants responded “What preparation, I want to be a Fashion Designer, a Channel Marketer, a Sportsman … ” Being a debater the feeling of being super smart and super intelligent came naturally to me. But, I was shocked at my ignorance, I said to myself: “Maybe Engineering is the best career option for me, but it will be best if I at least knew what else existed, forget about knowing or understanding, I had not even heard of any other career option.”
I panicked, and I suddenly felt that I knew nothing about where I was heading. There was hardly any good source of information, no internet, no counselors, the only thing I had was Education Times supplement which used to come with the Times of India on every Monday. I started reading every single word of that supplement. Within a month I realized that Computer Engineering is all about sitting at a desk with hardly any interactions with the real world, it gave me goose bumps, despite of my love for programming there was no way on Earth I was going to spend the rest of my life behind a desk. In my mind, my long cherished dream of becoming an IIT software engineer was worthless now and I panicked even more because I had never dreamt of anything else except IIT so if not Engineering then what?
During the break after Class XI my parents felt I was grown up enough to make a solo trip to Dehradun (my home town). My village happens to be right behind the Indian Millitary Academy. I got fascinated at the view of traffic stopping for two Gentlemen cadets passing from one IMA gate to another. Respect, adventure, honesty and quality of life. Army had everything which I wanted from my life. I came back to Lucknow all pumped up and instead of studying 12 hours every day I started jogging 12 kms every day followed by free hand exercises. Around the same time Param Vir Chakra movie was released, I saw it several times and had its song ‘My first love my nation, nation, nation …’ recorded on both sides of an audio cassette. The song used to play in the background at full volume while I sweated out. This song playing stopped only when my mother could not take it anymore and one fine day she confronted me at 5:15 in the morning saying “Now I will also get into the Army and so would the neighboring Aunty and everyone else in the neighborhood as everyone has been listening to this song over and over again. Stop this song right now and let everyone around sleep in peace.” 6 months into this deeply passionate training, I filled out the NDA form only to realize that I was medically unfit for the Army as I had knock knees.
I had only 4 more months before I left school and I had no idea of what I wanted to do after School. No Engineering, no Army, now what? I started getting nightmares where I was standing in the middle of the road and just could not move. Back to my collection of Education Times, I read each of those newspapers again, word by word. I used to seek information from everyone; my favorite questions were: What do you do? What do you like about what you do? What do you dislike about your job? It could be anyone, my co passenger in the train, my neighbor, my friend’s dad, absolutely anyone. I became so possessed with my research that I became shameless. We used to live in a Lower Income Group house and very close to our neighborhood we had big bungalows in huge plots. I remember knocking at the gate of a Chartered Accountant to understand CA. He came out a little surprised but was a nice man; he invited me in, gave me a glass of water and sweets and spent an hour explaining what CA was. Not every adventure was pleasing though, but I did not care. I had just one thought in my mind, this is my life and I need to figure out what to do with it.
Time passed and over the next couple of years several things changed but the continuous process of thinking, introspecting and taking my own decisions continues till date. My confusion and earnest attempt at taking a smart career decision paid off as I ended up having IITians work for me (a throughout average student) while some of my friends were still finishing Engineering. But not everyone is as lucky, I was fortunate that I had that evening which changed my life and set me thinking about my career. I hope something happens in your life which does set you thinking. Maybe this text becomes your turning point but chances also are that for many of you that turning point may never arrive at all. Your eco system will keep telling you, focus on Class X then think about your career, then focus on Class XII then think about your career, then get into Engineering then think about your career, then get into MBA then think about your career, then get married then think about your career, then have kids then think about your career. And, finally you may never end up thinking about your career and you will most likely end up giving exactly the same sequence of advice to your own children.
The choice is yours, you can listen to your eco system or you can declare to yourself “My Life … My Career … My Decision”. Whatever you choose one thing is for sure that everything, I repeat everything, in your life will depend on that one single decision. If you set out to be an Engineer, life is one way. If you set out to join the Army, it is another way. If you set out to make a career in Management, it is again completely different. Where you live, what you wear, who your friends are, who you marry, which school your kids go to … everything will depend on just one thing: your career decision. Interestingly, even after you leave this body you will still be known by the career you pursue. This is how important this decision is. And the right time to start thinking about your career is NOW. It is not 1 minute later, it is NOW. Whether you are a school kid, or a college student, or a doctoral fellow or a professional who is not happy with his job: the right time for you to think about your career is NOW. You maybe super smart and super intelligent but if you catch a train to Mumbai when you actually wanted to go to Delhi you will never reach Delhi until you change course. And living amongst you might be some really average people who have just one thing working for them; they catch a train for Delhi when they wanted to go to Delhi.
Chances are you do not even know that you need to take a career decision, for 90% of my student life I was pretty clear that I wanted to be an Engineer. If you want to test whether or not you have taken a smart career decision. Just pick a piece of paper and write a 10 line essay about Engineering, Medicine or whatever else you wish to pursue. Do not write illogical lines (as was the case with me) like I am interested in Engineering, I want to be an Engineer over and over again. Write (What Is, Education, Skills, Positives, Challenges and How a day goes) in the profession you have chosen. The depth of this essay will reveal to you whether or not your career decision is smart. If you are unsatisfied with your level of knowledge about whatever you wish to do for the rest of your life, then I suggest you drop everything and become paranoid starting right NOW.
The LifePage Story has chapters from a book currently being written by Mr Kapil Rawat, Founder of LifePage.