The rear view mirror

One of the most ego-boosting experiences in life is being invited back to your alma mater to disseminate some words of wisdom to current students. Not only is it immensely gratifying that you were “chosen” amongst all other alumni to “show the way” to youngsters, but it also recreates a much-craved connection with the place you once called home.

So when student representatives from IITK (Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur) called me recently to spend a day with students on campus and talk to them, I was elated. The actual experience was even more pleasing than the idea of it. My student hosts were extremely gracious, and I was blown away by their hospitality. It made the experience of being back on campus that much more memorable.

The guidelines given to me about the “Talk” weren’t very clear. They were loosely about choosing management as a career path, opportunities along that path, advanced study choices etc. I don’t consider myself an expert on any of these topics, so I decided to start by talking about the choices that have shaped my career and some principles I seem to have followed along the way. I also spent some time talking to them about the HBS experience and the big bundle of opportunity called entrepreneurship. But that’s for another day.

So here are the three mantras that emerged, that have determined my professional path so far:

1. Analysis Paralysis

Don’t over-analyze things. And definitely don’t over-plan. I can bet that you won’t be where you think you will be 10 years from now. Or even 5, with the way things change today. So setting long term goals and trying to architect your path towards them is not the ideal way to spend your life. Besides, goals change. You change! So live in the moment. Think about what makes sense for you right now, what you would enjoy doing and thrive in, right now.

2. If not you then who

We are a privileged lot. Decent education, background and opportunities. We can take this privilege and view this in two ways. We can look at it as a burden – expectations from us are higher and we can spend our lives trying to live up to those expectations. Or we can look at it as a gift, a safety net. A good background gives us the power to try new things, and have something to fall back on if we fail. It’s a no-brainer which option I am recommending. We need to use our strengths as assets, and not liabilities!

3. Get on a rocket ship

I’ve borrowed this one from Sheryl Sandberg. But it’s apt. Always be open to new opportunities and experiences. And when you find something that’s exciting and challenging and has potential, get on board! You can only do this if you stay flexible, are open to new experiences, and are not afraid to fail. When you choose what feels right in the moment. Because the right time and the right opportunity don’t come together very often. So grab with both hands when they do.

It was a fun time talking to students about their hopes and aspirations. And all the questions they had. It also made me pause and reflect on how I got to where I am today, and how things have changed. But these mantras haven’t. And they hold as true today as they did when I was graduating and full of questions, just like the wide-eyed, enthusiastic and totally clueless students I had the pleasure of speaking to.

4 thoughts on “The rear view mirror

  1. In support of Point 1… just read this

    The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
    Gang aft agley,
    An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
    For promis’d joy!
    — From the poem “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns.

    Meaning:
    The best laid schemes of mice and men
    Go often awry,
    And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
    For promised joy!

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