Nostalgia and other stories — Coolest Professor slash Mentor from my MBA days

Morpheus (the mentor) and Neo (the mentee). image borrowed from this blog post.

If life is a highway, then the milestones would be important people you meet along the way. People who fundamentally alter the way you live or work or earn. It is some combination of all this. For instance, I met my wife on an online marriage platform. Now, 6 months later, she has fundamentally altered the way I live, what I aspire to and my priorities.

Another such milestone aka person who fundamentally altered my life is this super cool professor I met at my b-school. I usually refer to him as my economics professor.

First Impressions

I still remember seeing him for the first time, happily munching samosas at the on-campus Nescafe coffee shop.

There is something shocking and flabbergasting about seeing a 40ish (he could be younger or older, I cannot tell for sure. I have never dared to ask him what his actual age was in any of my dozens of meetings over the last decade) Phd degree holding, award winning, highly intellectual individual, standing on the sidewalk and enjoying snacks with not a care in the world.

Perhaps it is the contrast with the rest of the faculty. Not just at the b-school, also at my engineering college, high school, PU college and many other places where you meet ‘teachers’ or ‘sirs’ or ‘mams’ or any authority figure who is supposed to teach you stuff. Of all them, this person stood in stark contrast.

As a long time fan of anything that is different from the ordinary, I was hooked. Yes, if there was ever a faculty that I will respect and appreciate, this is that person. My personal list of educators that I respect is very short. This person, on that day, was added and immediately put to the top of the list.

Class Room Experience

Prior to joining my mba, I did my homework. I came to campus, and met a few seniors. Did my homework about placements and average pay packages. Visited the library for what it’s worth, even though, on a fundamental level, I am not a big library fan. Checked out the classrooms. Did research about the faculty, classroom strength, rankings. I spent a ton of time doing R & D, like is my habit since childhood about any endeavour.

I came away with the impression that this b-school might be totally cool. It is going to a different experience. But, no, it was not cool at all. Now at 35, as an educator myself, I know that by design, it’s impossible to make educational settings fun and exciting. It simply does not work that way.

Just as I was about to lose all hope, comes the economics professor. He waltz in with his back pack (other faculties would carry binders and pen drives and leather bags. Seriously, why leather bags, eh? ). There is no attendance book in tow. He is the first faculty to treat his students, and especially someone like me, like a proper adult. I always wondered, why, in a classroom filled with people in the age group 21 to 31, a faculty would venture to take attendance?

Mysteries abound.

In fact, he was always happy to announce that students are free to listen or not listen. Not show up for class at all. I even dared to ask him, if I can fall asleep. He said, I have the freedom to fall asleep in the class, and he would not mind in the least.

Of course, I slept in all the classes, but ironically, I was unable to sleep in his classes.

Professional Teachings and Learnings

The general coolness aside, I spent hours and hour studying him. There is a fundamental division between how people perceive freedom and restrictions. It was through this professor that I understand a major aspect of my own personal life funda.

There are people who like everything to be told and informed. They want someone to tell them what time to wake up. What time to work and how much. They need to be managed. They want the restrictions, as they say.

I did not want that.

I realised, as I spent more time in his classes, people like me — who don’t conform to the general expectations of society — thrive when there is freedom in our actions. Due to his success I was inspired to be who I am. I stopped trying to be like everyone else. I was my own man, and I don’t have to be someone else’s projection of an idealized individual.

For the first time in a classroom, I was not put down for my crazy ideas. I was not asked to dress better or comb my hair or ask questions in a certain way. I was not asked to come to class on time or write answers in a certain predetermined way.

I was forced to ask myself a number of questions, the answers to which have guided my life ever since.

  • why is it, I, the guy who will exploit every loophole in the system to avoid coming to class, was attending his classes regularly?
  • why is it, I, the guy who never submits his assignments, was very prompt to submit his assignments?
  • why is it, I, the guy who does not have any respect for a majority of faculty, have put this guy at a high pedestal.
  • I always thought that my inability to conform to society expectations was a weakness. Then, this guy, who is far more nonconforming is chilling out, making a good living and having a ball at it. Can I replicate his success?

By the time the semester was over, I had made a conscious decision. I had decided that, when the time is right, I will model my professional life after him.

Post MBA and Ten Years Later

As I write this, it has been more than 14 years since I first saw him at that coffee centre, munching away at those samosas. The economics professor is as good to me today, as he was all those 14 years ago. I make it a point to keep him updating about my professional life on a monthly basis. Even today, he does not fail to reply to emails, always adding little titbits of funny sentences, and also offering valuable advice about my business and way forward.

Thank You Sir For All Your Help

Sometimes I agree with his advice. Other times, I don’t. He is okay with that. However, I always remembered what I learnt from him in 2006. I can be myself, and I will achieve some level of success and I don’t have to fall in line with what other people think.

I did just that. I followed my own instincts and continue to do so even today.

This year, I celebrated my eighth year of full time freelancing. I got married to a fantastic woman last year. My wife and I are expecting twins later this year (and I hope there will be no complications). I am currently the founder and CEO of a small software company. I have clients all over the world, and almost all of them say that I am very good. Most of my customers are repeat customers, some of them working with me for months and paying premium dollars for the same.

My clients say that I am one of the most thorough professional that they have worked with. I owe all this and more, especially the professional part, to the economics professor. The promise I made myself in 2006, about following in his footsteps, looks like I made it happen for realz.

A lot of this is because of my hard work, my mother and father’s support. More recently, my wife has played a big role in this. But, outside my family, two people have acted as my mentors. One of them is this economics professor and I will always be grateful to his help.

If you are reading this sir, please note that I am ever so grateful to your help.

Final Note

I want to add that, he was the very first investor in my business, but unlike so many investors, he has let that money ago. He was also my first client. I don’t think he ever used that software I built for him all those years ago. I keep telling my wife that, I would like to take his debt and go to my grave with it. I have also told her that if he comes asking for it, to repay the same debt after I am gone.

But I don’t think he will do that. For someone like him, money is irrelevant. That makes me wonder, what is relevant to him, and I don’t have an answer to that.

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