What really matters: A fresher’s journey into MBA life

Six months back, I had been as typical an Indian engineering student as you can think of; living in one of those huge campuses in as unhappening a town as Trichy. For those of you who haven’t heard of Trichy before, it’s a small boring place in Tamil Nadu, clearly not a very fancy place for college students to live in. NIT Trichy gives you the kind of life where you wear bathroom chappals and awfully mismatched clothes and cycle as fast as you can to land up in class in the first place, where fancy dinners mean dhaba food for 150 bucks, where you have to find new innovative (or rather, discover old traditional) ways to keep yourself from boiling in the absence of ACs, and you have to travel an hour by public bus and almost suffocate every single time, to reach the main city. People around me couldn’t wait to get out of that “shithole” and go clubbing and fine-dining every other night in posh cities which treated them with the kind of luxury they craved for.

I had been brought up in Kolkata, and as you would have guessed, my idea of college had been very different when I first joined NITT. When I first landed up in Trichy, the idea of living in a city with no CCD or KFC or Subway itself was something it took me a while to get over. There was no mall to shop in or no proper multiplexes. There was a cinema hall but we could almost never make it to the English or Hindi shows (which often came to Trichy a week late btw), because they would be scheduled beyond curfew hours.

Somehow, all this made NITT a turning point in my life. And today, I can’t think of a better place to have spent those four years in. I’m not a very party-loving person anyway, and I had the most fun I can probably ever hope to have in my life in my last two years at NITT (although my parents were always worried about how I was constantly losing weight). There were ups and there were downs, and there was the fact that I was preparing hard to crack CAT and secretly hoping to land up in one of the top IIMs of the country in my first attempt, to satisfy the overachiever in me. And it turns out I did. I’m currently in my first year at IIM Bangalore, and the overachiever in me is proud I made it.

Every year during Convocation, when the seniors came down and they’d be given their graduation gowns and hats, my friends would be very eager to try them on to see how they’d look in it when their turn came. I never did, because, one, I was scared I’d jinx it, and second, I wanted the first time I wore it to be special, meaning I’d only wear at my own graduation. Turns out I couldn’t go for mine, because exams in your MBA life happen over weekends. That was undoubtedly the biggest blow I received in the past few months, and it took me quite a while to get over it. But my point of this is not to crib about what I haven’t gotten but to tell you about what I have.

I’ve told you before how my final two years at NIT Trichy were very special to me. I made the best friends one could possibly ever ask for, and I knew they were ones I’d made for life. They were a combination of the geeks and the “badass”es, and quite naturally, my life ended up having the best of both worlds (without me really realizing it). Both the overachiever and the fun-lover in me were content. Amidst all the nothing-much-to-do’s and dhaba dinners, NITT had a charm of its own in making people bond by forcing them to hang out for long hours, doing nothing. Like everyone who thinks their undergrad life was the best, I do, too. Inspite of this, when it was time to leave, I acted all brave and tried not to get too depressed over it. I told my friends we’d talk often and meet whenever possible and things would stay the same. Maybe somewhere, I expected IIM Bangalore to live up to what my notion of “college life” had been for so long. I was just going to college again, so my defense mechanism tried not to make too big a deal out of it about how “everything was ending”.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. MBA life can be tough when you’re expected to sleep at 6 AM without your consent and all of a sudden, you seem to not have time for anything or anyone. What’s worse is that for the first time, it challenges the overachiever in many of us. Low grades, being told that you are not up-to-the-mark, studying hard for every exam to be rejected yet again; none of these are easy things to handle. And the change in me wasn’t easy. When no amount of adjusting and striving suffices, you tend to give up and just do what you can and leave the rest to fate. And I slowly learnt to do so too. There wasn’t a single day I did not miss my life at NIT Trichy, fully aware I could never have it back again. MBA life has its weird ways to ask you to make friends, it’s called “networking”. One of those things I never put in as much effort as I should have. I did not have time to talk to those few friends I had made and I suddenly started realizing how lucky I had been to have had them in my life all through. If there was one important takeaway from my new life, it was to never take the relationships in it for granted.

The overachiever in me is quieter now, but could not be more proud. During our orientation week in IIMB, we had a workshop where we were counselled on why we shouldn’t lose our originality and our own little goals and happiness in this ratrace for marks, hefty packages and merely doing what everybody else does. I realize that was the most important lesson I’ve had in my entire first term. I realized how patience and acceptance are the two things you need the most to fight your way through the unending exam of life. The overachiever in me has her own OCDs and I know I will never be able to completely ignore them. But I don’t want that part of me to rule over me anymore. And hence this post. To remind myself every day that I have more in life to be grateful for than I ever imagined. I needed this to teach me the value of relationships, to make me look at the bigger picture with more clarity. And this is particularly difficult in a place where you are surrounded by overachievers and your aim every morning when you wake up is to think of resume points meant to prove how many people you’ve outdone in your life or how you’re better than the other 404 overachievers around you.

At IIMB, a lot of people ask me if I regret getting into MBA as a fresher. My answer to all of them is, I feel quite the contrary. This revelation had to come one day and I’m glad it came this early for me. Priorities matter, but what matters more is to prioritize rightly. There is a beautiful world each one of us is a part of, away from marks and the glamour of a corporate life and learning Finance and Strategy. A world that needs the right amount of attention and faith at the right moment to become as beautiful as it ought to stay. And very ironically, sometimes going to sleep at 6 in the morning is what it takes to make you realize that.