As soon as I was starting my standard eighth, I was introduced (properly) to this beauty named IIT and the beast named IIT JEE. In order to get to the beauty, one had to kill or least over-power the beast. That was the deal. I understood, after making a cocktail of all advice and lectures given by my well-wishers, that if I was as intelligent as I claimed and wanted to do anything worthwhile later, I had to slay this beast and get myself branded with IIT. I bought it. All through my standards 9-12 I lived with this dream and gave it everything I had. I am more of a self-learning person and contrary to the popular coaching classes, I just subscribed to the famous Brilliant Tutorials and drowned myself into their materials. Studying for the school or board stuff and IIT JEE hardly left any time for anything else in the world. (Later many of my batchmates claimed that they didn’t put in too much of an effort or gave up nothing to get into IIT, making me feel pretty bad).
So, three years of rigorous self-study got me a rank of 479 in 1993 IIT JEE. Yahoo! (hope I am not violating any trademark laws here) So that was it. But there was bloodbath if you looked around. For every successful student there were 99 more who didn’t get admission in the coveted colleges. What about these guys? Sure, a large fraction of students who write the exam know that they don’t stand a chance but they do it as the default option. Even then what about the other serious and intelligent aspirants? How would they fare in life later? Their immediate dream was shattered and life looked quite hopeless.
I understand that the same drama is repeated today with more intensity and at a larger scale. The only difference is that very few of the really frustrated students were earlier committing suicide on campus earlier but now even the IIT aspirants are being forced to end their budding life for something that may or may not be what they actually want. My father was a government employee and so were the parents of most of my schoolmates. For a middle class student with little or no family security, legacy business etc, engineering and medicine were and even now continue to be the most sought after options. So, no harm in aiming for them. It is easy to say that there are too many other career options but when you are seventeen with a conventional background, you and specially your parents cannot even entertain the idea of a non-conventional career. I am sure things are changing but the pace of change is same as that of removal of caste system form Indian society.
So, if you did aim to get into IIT or even a prestigious medical college but were not successful, what should you be doing with your life? My schoolmates or friends (which is the sample set I can authentically vouch for) whether from engineering or non-engineering education have fared pretty well in life. They are occupying senior as well as overseas positions in well-known companies. Few started their own businesses or developed other talents along the way and reaped them commercially. Beware; I am deliberately not talking not about my IIT friends here. There are many reasons for not overly worrying about not getting into IIT. Remember whatever you didn’t get, pushed you to get something better. And that better stuff lies beyond IIT, though your vision is blocked by IIT today.
1. Accept and move on: This is not applicable only in your current situation; It applies to everything in life. The sooner we develop this thinking, the better for us. There are failures in love affairs, job interviews, projects, sports. Understanding the urgent need to move on is the first step.
2. Fill the Vacuum: This is my personal favourite. When you have cherished a dream for long and object of your dream, IIT in this case, is taken away, you are like a baby whose one and only toy is lost. What do we do when a baby loses a toy – buy another one for her. If we don’t fill the vacuum fast, it can be devastating. If you look at nature, it pushes all its might into filling any vacuum anywhere. I am sure you have done this as a child, just take a tumbler and put your mouth into it. Suck the air out and create a vacuum. As you suck more, nature tries to push your whole face into the tumbler just to fill the vacuum. So find another objective in life and find it fast. If you don’t fill it with something good, inevitably something bad will find its way into your life. I know students who start smoking, drinking alcohol or even drugs after getting frustrated. To start with, just do any random activity that keeps you physically and emotionally occupied. It could be exercise, running, sports, photography, writing, painting, music, anything.
3. Introspect: The answers to all your questions lie within yourself. The problem is that we look for answers everywhere but within. So take time out to actively introspect. Think along many directions, take notes of any particular thoughts that you like. Introspection is opposite of falling into depression. Both are solitary activities but are very different. In depression, one becomes the slave of thoughts but in introspection, you are at the driving seat, firmly in command. This helps you evaluate options and figure out what do you want to do next.
4. Talk to people: There is only one difference in the world today vis-à-vis when I was seventeen year old – Internet. Internet is the mother that has given birth to things like LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter and many more would have by the time I share this with you. It is so damn easy to connect and talk to any particular kind of person or professional today. If you want to have a chat with someone who topped a college X in the year Y in the discipline Z, you got it, right here. Just interacting with a diverse variety of people on the world-wide-web can do wonders to your way of thinking. And believe me, there are experienced and senior people who are willing to offer a perspective. But you have to ASK. The plain old Sanskrit adage is true even after the advent of internet – Nahin Suptasya Sighasya Pravishanti Mukhey Mrigah! (please search for translation yourself).
5. Meditate: What? I am a seventeen year old cool dude and I am being asked to meditate? It’s my age to hang around with friends at a disc or a coffee shop and what kind of crappy advice is this? Sure, enjoy life. Do what you like but devoting only fifteen minutes per day to your pure Self will not do any harm. Meditating is the different from introspection. You try and keep the thoughts to bare minimum. This way you have a clearer view of yourself. Instead of giving yourself an artificial choice of choosing from the choices given by someone else, you need to create your own choices. To start that, meditation or looking inwards quietly is the only option. The fun part is that you don’t need to share this with anyone or seek approval. Just do this in a closed room in solitude. If you want to understand how to start on this path, refer to my blog here. Simple Meditation – This Changed Me Forever!
These simple things should help you in finding and focussing on what next. Take your time, figure out and don’t jump into something because of peer or parent pressure. You tried something either with your own choice or under external pressure, it didn’t work out. Now, its time to do what you want and do it well.
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A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.