Saturday, 7 September 2019

ದೇಶ ನೋಡು ಕೋಶ ಓದು - Part 2

...Continued from Part 1. You can read it here

The more things change…

Along with the days building up to the journey itself, the first few days are quite surreal! Back home, it was a place where I had spent almost my entire life - so everything seemed familiar and relatively easy - shopping for stuff, arranging documents, speaking to cargo handlers, arranging for foreign exchange, banking and so on - we even had our vehicles to move around as per convenience - so the days leading up to the move were exciting but not as challenging. The real difficult thing was convincing people that this move was necessary, especially the in-laws ;) - they felt that we were going in exile to some far away forest land and living like hermits maybe! I never thought seeking permission to travel would be such a big thing as it was never an issue with my parents. So, after the long convincing was done, we visited all the familiar places, binged on the delicacies we thought we will miss the most, met people close us and bid farewell to them. The travel day was fun as well - airport check-ins, lounges and inflight entertainment kept us entertained. As soon as we landed, we had a person waiting to drive us to a temporary accommodation and so we were dropped off in our temporary home without too many issues.

The big moment of truth is really the morning after. No amount of pre-preparation can really prepare you for what is going to hit you! Waking up in a completely new place and realising that everything has changed! You don't have any familiar things anymore - the currency has changed, time zone has changed, weather conditions have changed, sun is out at such odd time that you never considered possible, language has changed, there is no hand faucet in the toilets anymore, people drive on the other side of the road, seem to be more crazy about football than cricket, the food is not as spicy and you have to rely on public transport as there isn't a car anymore. Even fanta orange was not orange coloured ;) It was like day 0 and we had to start from the scratch - figure out a place to live, figure out about contractual and administrative obligations, figure out where to get the basic stuff from, arrange for utilities like water, phone and electricity and set up the house- and all this on top of figuring out the new workplace and way of working. We were given a clean canvas of Google maps with no starred places nearby! We had to build a completely new normal around it and start marking our stars.

The initial days are when everything seems different - most people you see greet you with a 'bonjour' by default than the more familiar hello. Google translate and maps became our most trusted companions as we started exploring the new city. Grocery shopping, which used to take us less than twenty minutes back home became almost a tedious one hour task - we found ourselves holding out the translate app on product labels / menu items to understand what they really meant most of the times! Things started a get a bit comforting when we eventually figured out stuff like the familiar vegetables, fruits, and the global food chains with their familiar food like the McChicken meals and the barbecue chicken pizza! It was a challenging first month - but we somehow managed to find our feet in the new city! I must say that I was really helped by my lovely wife during this whole process - she took to the new place like fish to water. Although we both did not know either of the the official languages, her familiarity with many things like household stuff, exotic food, cuisine, etc and more importantly an eye for detail and quick decision making on household stuff really helped us get settled down faster! I dont know what the in-laws were worried about! Maybe my parents should have worried more! The people here were very welcoming as well - One thing that struck us the most was how friendly and polite they were - they smiled more often, greeted you when you looked at them and at the same time, no one tried to over-impose themselves, all the while giving us our pace and space to get comfortable!

As we started settling down and finding our ground, it gave us an opportunity to travel and observe the first world countries in more detail. I always had asked myself this one question while I was back home - Why were we still called 'developing' economy and what made a country 'developed' / 'advanced'? Of course, I know there are a lot of macro-economic indicators and measures which can quantify a country as developed / not but now that I was actually here, I wanted to see how development did look like to a layman eye? Did it mean that the infrastructure was completely ready? Did it mean that there was no crime / beggars? Did it mean that there was no corruption or politics and the bureaucracy functioned like clockwork? Was it the fact that all services were digital and there was no more need for paperwork? Was it the trusted healthcare?

The more they remain the same!

Once we started making sense of the changes and started to observe more closely, things started to make sense. We realised that things are not really as different. Fanta orange might not have been orange coloured anymore, but it was still the same sugary slow-poison that junkies thrived upon :) The infrastructure was great, roads and railways were densely developed so that we could completely rely on the public transport for daily work - however, there were still breakdowns, strikes and maintenance works. There is this high speed train that I need to take occasionally to reach another office (in a nearby country altogether!) - it just takes one hour to cover the 110 km journey, but it is known for delays that people usually make fun of it in the same way we made fun of our public transport / local trains back home. On one particular occasion, we were stranded on the train by more than four hours due to a service breakdown. Although train delays were not new to me, this incident made me realise that it was not really a 'developing economy' issue only. As for crime and poverty, although the general population is well off and there are minimum wages and employment benefits for every kind of work, I could still see there were refugees and immigrants in many of the European city centres. Crime, incidents of violence were not as rampant back home - but it was still there to cause the occasional outrage among citizens for the way in which it was carried out. With governance and administration, I found that there were 9 different forms of government for a country that was one fifth the size of my home state, let alone the country! It was able to function with a care-taker prime minister for almost a year! As for the politics and corruption, I found that there were similar issues like language imposition, minority appeasement, diversion of funds, etc - but ofcourse not at the level at which we witness back home - just stray incidents here and there that came to light! It is just that there were good, bad and evil humans everywhere - maybe the mix changed from one country to another!

So, what did developed really mean to the people? Maybe the economics has a proper answer and since we are all taught these kind of stuff in school, we kind of believe in them. From observing people, I am still discovering the answer to this but from what I know so far, it seems that people are generally happy and content with their way of life in developed countries. The national identity numbers are reliable, serve as enablers to the government and people trust the government that their sensitive data will be protected. It really helps that there are not a billion of them to feed anyway! The towns and cities are planned such that green spaces are maintained, there is enough space for roads, footpaths and bicycle tracks wherever applicable. People know that their taxes are put to good use. And instead of blaming the system, they participate actively by being part of it and are ok to pay their taxes than evade it. Even with infrastructure and transport, although there are maintenance days and downtimes for public transport and strict traffic rules and taxes for private cars, there is a very reliable system in place and people can trust it to work for most of the times. The police are not someone to fear - but are the friendly people whom you can approach for any issues. Waiting in line is considered as ok as long as there are rules on how to go about it. Even the tedious bureaucracy and paperwork is accepted as they know the benefits of having these procedures in the first place. And the main thing - people trust the government to take care of them when they are sick and old and their healthcare system is top-class. Hence, the priority is to have a balanced life rather than run after money and build the retirement funds in fear of having no one to take care (maybe this point applies to just the socialist Europe and not the whole of western world in general). There was dignity of labour as well, again due to the minimum wages and benefits. We were just amazed by how much people seemed to enjoy their life outside work - cycling, taking long walks in the park, pursuing their hobbies like swimming, painting, dancing, etc, drinking beer at pubs/ terraces - just unwinding and relaxing during the long summer evenings!

I was really lucky enough to find some really nice and like-minded people at work and got to learn a lot about the local way of life interacting with them. Although the native languages were different, the emotions which make all of us were really the same and even thought-process were similar. Even these different languages had some subtle quirks here and there which you start to enjoy once you figure them out. I still cannot claim I can speak any of the languages myself, but I have learnt enough to know that there are indeed two different languages and can identify who is speaking what! For someone who has never been exposed to these languages before in my life, I consider that as a good start! As for the way of working, I found that apart from a few things here and there, corporates still worked the same way everywhere! Politics, greed, jealousy, favouritism, Monday morning blues-you name it - these were all universal phenomenon. And as was the case in all my workplaces before, coffee and lunchtime conversations, offsite events/ unwinding sessions after work, making jokes (usually about the higher management), Dilbert, subtle office humor, etc were still the ones which kept the offices running!

A year goes by

Living on the earth is expensive... But it includes a free trip around the sun. I have taken more than 30 such trips in life till now, but the last year was completely different compared to others before in a new way. I really got to see sun in so many different angles like never before. Living in the tropics, the sun always rose in the east and set in the west. Although this is still factually true, there were some very short days in the winter when I saw sun rise and set in the south and it was a completely counter intuitive experience for a directionally sensitive person that people preferred south facing compared to east facing! With the ever reliable European rail, I got to roam around a lot of countries as well, which I had only dreamed about for the last few decades. The real highlight of the trips was when we were able cover the globally strategic and acclaimed cities of London, Paris, Amsterdam and Zurich in a span of one month - all this without having to take a single flight! Yes, the train even crosses the ~50km English channel via the Chunnel !

These were just intial experiences. These impressions might and will ofcourse change with new experiences. Something which felt really new and different in the first year when we were here, has already started to feel routine now - like driving on the right, footpaths on most streets, etc. Maybe I might come back in few years to write a post on how nothing is actually different or maybe not. Do you people have any developed-vs-developing stories that made you realise that it was indeed different? If yes, I do request it to share it on comments / message me as it can help me to relate to my experiences and learn. I hope to continue this desha nodu way along with the kosha odu in the years to come and hopefully come back to write more often about my experiences. And of course, eventually go back to my home country with these new experiences and help to make it a real 'developed' country in all senses, not just tagged as one. I wish this happens soon!

Sunday, 1 September 2019

ದೇಶ ನೋಡು ಕೋಶ ಓದು - Part 1

Knowledge is indeed powerful and the pursuit of the same can be a journey of a lifetime. The yesteryear philosophers in my state narrowed this pursuit very simplistically to two things – ದೇಶ ನೋಡು ಕೋಶ ಓದು (desha nodu, kosha odu - roam the country, read the books). It actually seems too simple – but the more I think about it, the more accurate it seems to acquire well-rounded knowledge - mix the knowledge from books and written soruces with the knowledge gained from experience of travelling and meeting people. Reading through loads of archives helps our brain to acquire the bookish knowledge while traveling lets you experience the same knowledge contained in the books in person, thus making us wiser. If I think about my personal experiences, I do realise that it is indeed the books and travels which has helped me in my learnings. Ever since I was in kindergarten, I have liked geography, so naturally I was more inclined towards the desha nodu way of learning. As a kid, I used to look forward to the long road/train travels and kept a log of the places / stations that we visited in my dairy. It still brings back memories of those travels and experiences when I read through those pages! One of our favourite pastime as kids was to be engrossed in either an atlas or a map and look up countries, places, roadways and train lines. When we got a dial-up modem internet in our house, Wikipedia used to be my favourite site where I used to spend a lot of time reading about places, their history and culture. With ADSL and faster internet came the mighty google earth - I was completely fascinated by the level of detail which it made available to a normal person just at the click of a button! Me and my brother spent countless hours on google earth as we clicked through streets, houses, stadiums, train stations, airports and what not - exhausting all the costly bandwidth in the process!

Although we had the atlas, google maps, etc to keep us company, growing up in a middle class family and school/college schedules meant that we could not have real travels around the world - they were few and far in between and remained restricted to my surroundings in south India. I still remained a kosha odu person. For almost 25 years of my life, the northernmost place on the earth that I had been to was Dakshineshwar (a small town on the banks of river in West Bengal). And the irony* in that statement was evident for a geography lover like me, I used to wonder if that would ever change. Some of my closest friends Tosi and Gunda moved to the United States almost a decade back, a time when everyone of us were finding feet and getting independent in life. In fact, for the first two years after they moved, we used to eagerly wait for the mails that Tosi used to send us, chronicling his life in a new country and how he dealt with being a student and eventually finding a job and settling down in the US. When the rest of the us who stayed back met and talked, we used to always discuss those mails and the way he described his experiences. Most of our gang's opinions about the culture and way of life abroad in developed counties was based on the stories they used to tell us. It really shaped our world-view. As part of my consulting work, I used to work for clients worldwide, creating maps of early adopters for a telecommunications client in far south NewZealand to analysing buying ice-cream buying patterns for retail stores in the northern part of United States. Through the course of such projects, I learnt a lot about the people from these countries, their culture and everyday way of life… and with all these stories, I had formed an image of how these places looked like in my mind… all the while wondering if I would ever get a chance to actually visit them!

Tourist versus emigrant

Like every wannabe globetrotter out there, even we (my wife and I) had Europe in our bucket list. Now, no encyclopedia can be ever complete without the mention of this small continent called Europe - at some point or the other, almost 90% of the world was colonized by Europeans and they have had a great influence on shaping the history of the world. Although I knew about its historical significance since high school, the real desire to visit Europe came from one game which Ultra and I used to play on our computer during graduation - NFS 5 (Porsche unleashed). The game featured some of the famed roads located in European countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, etc and gave us an opportunity to race Porsche cars on these tracks. A significant amount of college days was spent playing that game, virtually driving those porsches on Autobahn, Normandy, Pyrenees, etc, and then reading up on the car models and highways / mountain paths/ race tracks across Europe. This was the early 2000s and there was no real deadline set in mind when I actually go visit these places. It always remained 'someday in the future'. Around latter half of this decade, with the new found economic independence, we found that so many in our social circles were holidaying in Europe and posing pictures with some philosophical captions, it seemed that taking a trip to Europe (especially backpacking and living in hostels) was the new cool in-thing! By then, we already had a fair share of our trips outside the country - some neighbouring tropical and relatively similar third world countries which had a bit of an exotic feel but mostly similar to our own in aspects of weather, food and local culture. But Europe seemed so exotic with lot of adventures and experiences to offer travellers. Ultra was already there for two years doing his masters and a visit was long overdue - maybe around the time of his graduation. So, we started looking up web-sites for travel deals in order to plan our European holiday!

In middle of all these travel preparations, came an opportunity to work in Europe and stay for few years. My wife and I were thrilled and scared at the same time! Travelling to Europe was definitely exciting but we still had to consider the relocation. When visiting a place as a tourist, we always have a normal - we have our lives, jobs and family back in our home country. We know the normal is always back home. We know the vacation is temporary, so the stakes are not as high. We could have one bad experience here, one not-so-great hotel there and still take back nice experiences. But moving meant so many things to consider - packing for the whole year, finding the right accommodation, arranging utilities, help with local language, shopping, tax, finances, etc. We would have to build a new normal right from the scratch. For some people, moving is not as big a decision as they find our country too judgemental. Don’t get this the wrong way - but people do find my country (especially the southern cities) a bit intolerant! I have had friends who have at some point complained that my city is a bit conservative. Especially, if someone is an non-local living an independent life or for couples who marry out of their own caste, there are a lot of people who quickly pass judgments! Although it is not directly on your face, the undertones are still there which is why someone who has experienced this would definitely have no problems emigrating! We had no such complaints. We had a big gang of our friends and relatives around us and did enjoy the company immensely. So, moving away from all of them was still a hard decision to make. However, in the end, we knew that the travels and stay out of our comfort zone, would give us more self-realization and would definitely help us expand our thinking horizon, thus we decided to go for it....

1. Daskhineshwar : Town on the banks of river Hoogly in WestBengal, India famous for the Kali temple. Irony is because the word Dakshin in Sanskrit means 'South' and it was somehow the northernmost place which I had been to in life

Continued in Part 2 here

Monday, 18 December 2017

The illusion of control

The scene is a typical Indian services quarters from the 90’s – the kind of sub-600square feet dwelling blocks the government usually provided to their lowest rung employees back then along with a meagre monthly salary. The camera zooms into one of the balconies of that building – a young man is staring into the night view deep in his thoughts – his small home in the background. There are celebrations in that house that night, as he has bagged a job in the esteemed Indian railways – about 5000 rupees per month plus benefits – something that the whole colony is excited about. But he has an alternate career in sports, knows that he has it in him to strike big but somehow things have not worked out as he had hoped. Although the offer in railways is very lucrative, he feels that it is a dead-end in life, and would take him nowhere close to what he has dreamed…

At this moment, his elder sister walks up to him, notices he is worried, and gives him words of comfort – saying he is destined to become a great man. She reckons that someday, he could even end up at a top position in the railways. The young man just smiles at her soothing words but the conflict in his mind is evident – he is struggling to accept the current reality and wants to know where destiny takes him in life…


The young man has now moved to the SER (South Eastern Railway) headquarters at Kharagpur, a handful of people have gathered in a small railway quarters in Kharagpur to watch India play the WC finals of 2003 against Australia. Tendulkar gets out pulling a slower ball from McGrath in the first over and everyone knows the match is gone! The same young boy gets up and walks into the kitchen to make tea for others. He is already feeling depressed that his life has come to a standstill, and is visibly upset. There are voices from the other room who start discussing that Kaif, Mongia and Yuvraj were contemporaries of their buddy at the under 19 level. But they have moved on to represent the country in the world cup, but somehow things have not worked out well for their friend. He listens to their conversation feeling sad and knows they mean well for him, but destiny has been cruel to him so far! Would his destiny ever change? Or would he live as a ticket collector all his life?


We all know where destiny took him!


Rahul proposes his love for Priya in college. She says yes and soon they become the cutest couple in college. Rahul gets good grades in tests whenever Priya wishes him with a red rose. During campus interviews, Rahul is able to secure placement in a very high paying MNC overcoming tough competition from his peers. Priya always feels that Rahul is her lucky charm and that she gives her best performance in exams / interviews when she speaks to Rahul. They believe they are lucky for each other. They want to get married and stay together all their life so that the lucky charm continues all their life…

Today, Priya is settled in the US after finishing her post-graduation from a top university. She is married to Arun, an US based NRI. While Rahul is settled in Mumbai with his wife and 2 kids. Rahul and Priya broke up 2 years after they graduated from college - Rahul wanted to crack CAT and pursue a career in management in India, while Priya wanted to pursue MS in US. Soon, the lucky charm started ditching them, Priya got rejects from most universities after a great GRE score while Rahul’s 2 attempts at CAT did not yield any positive results. They seemed to struggle for even trivial issues at workplace and missed delivery deadlines, got reprimanded by seniors for errors in their delivery, found the going very tough during appraisals and struggled to get even a 5% increment. They fought with each other whenever they managed to meet up on weekends amidst their coaching classes. One fine day, they decided it was enough and called it quits to go their own paths.

When they look back at their relationship from college days, they keep thinking whether it was their love for each other or the supposedly “lucky charm” that kept them together for 5 years.


Pooja thinks that she is born lucky and whatever she predicts comes true- like the outcome of a cricket / soccer match. During a college sporting event, her college team needs a highly unlikely 5 wickets to win in the next two overs while the opposition needs just 10 runs. She predicts that the opposition will be all-out within 1.3 overs and to everyone’s surprise the opposition chokes dramatically and does manage to lose, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! This incident enhances her reputation among her friends and she starts to predict outcomes of national matches on TV and it turns out to be right all the time. She then tries her luck at stock market and strikes gold within the first two months. She thinks her life is set!

Today, Pooja has lost over 3lakhs rupees in the stock market. Although some of her picks have delivered good returns, there have been big crashes as well leading her to doubt whether she was born lucky in the first place.


Po wants to go watch the dragon warrior selection matches in the palace on the hill. He does not get tickets. His dad gives him a cart of buns to go and sell at the event, which he is not able to drag on the steps because of the cart weight. The gates to the event close before he enters and he feels unlucky that he has missed watching his favorite heroes perform at the event.

We all know where Po’s destiny takes him!


There seems to a common thread connecting these stories? All of them try to elucidate the effects of luck and destiny. Many people interpret these two words differently. But the one that most people seem to agree on is that luck is an instantaneous thing – something that effects the outcomes of our current situation. While destiny is more of a long-term thing – it is what we are entitled to do in the larger scheme of things. A small event in life like a job interview today or a football match tomorrow could be affected by luck, while destiny or fate is what affects in the long run. When a strong team bows out of the competition in a shocking manner, it could be attributed to luck or one-off bad event. But when a strong team with world beaters (say South Africa in cricket) keeps bowing out due to rain/luck or some other factors every single time, then the question definitely arises on the destiny of that team whether it is ever fated to win a trophy

Luck is usually a measurable quantity. Of all the likely events that are going to happen, some could be favorable to you and others might not be so much. You could use probability to count how many times you got lucky. But destiny or fate is something which cannot be determined. Many thinkers / eminent personalities / philosophers have spent a lot of time thinking about destiny and how to measure it, but it is something that is unfathomable. Yet, it is something that affects us greatly in life. If we were to link it with pure statistical terms, luck would be correlation – just the association between two events happening because of chance, while destiny is the real ‘causation’ – the real reason why things happen in a particular way.

Don’t worry about lucky charms – they come and go. The best part about life is we don’t know what we are destined for. We tend to worry about small things. Standing in the balcony of that railway quarters, young Mahi worried what would life turn out to be. Would it be any fun if anyone went to him right then and told him that his destiny would be to hit the winning six of the world cup final? We have to live in the moment, take control of what is controllable and play the game of life in the best manner possible. What is in destiny would eventually come to us. This is true in every field and in everything we do in life. Maybe that 3BHK apartment by a dream builder is your life’s ultimate desire at this phase of life. If you don’t get that/closely miss it due to bad luck, you might feel depressed. But if you are destined to own a villa, no one can stop you from getting it eventually. So, do not worry about seemingly important things now, because destiny always has the bigger picture in mind for you.

One thing the ancient people have concluded is that everything in life is controlled by your past actions. Although this might not be entirely true, it helps to explain the sudden unexplainable events – somebody rising in their field suddenly without any support, a miraculous escape from a sure shot death, etc. ‘RuNaanubandha rupeNa pashu patni suthaalaya’ - Destiny is nothing but a result of our past actions. So, if you are seemingly stuck at some point in life and feel life is being unfair, just remember that the only way out is to write off that past debt is by continuously giving your best shot at all things you do and hoping that things eventually turn out good for you. And finally, acknowledging that a higher force is responsible for the results of our actions would immediately comfort us in sad times and help us stay humble and grounded in happier times.

Another common occurence is that a lot of people interpret these ancient philosophies to undermine natural talent and hard-work. At times, people even get complacent thinking that things are anyway going to be controlled by destiny - Waqt se pehle aur nasseb se jyaada kuch nahi milta, so why put in the effort. This is exactly the opposite of what those philosophies stand for. It is absolutely essential to put in hard-work and improve our skills. It is only by doing this, that the effects of past actions would be nullified and things start turning around. What is more important, however is to not lose focus when things don’t seem to be going the way we like and persist with the efforts such that eventually there will be a worthy reward.

On the personal front, the year has been a demonstration of destiny in action. I tried do too many things and expected too many things too soon. I wanted very quick results for my seemingly heavy efforts, while I now realize that the efforts were average at best, minuscule at worst. I guess I was just hoping to get lucky with without putting in the real hard-work required for the results. The year has made me realize that there is no point in trying to control the uncontrollable and brooding over not being lucky on seemingly important things. Destiny will pan out itself eventually and it is better to let go of the illusion of control and concentrate on the putting in the efforts, in the hope that turnaround would happen when the time is due! And the most important thing is I've learnt that the only way to become better is by perseverance. I plan to continue the same efforts in the next year and beyond. My personal experience has been that whatever is destined would be much greater and better than what can be ever desired! The earlier we make peace with that, the more we can try and live in the present. I wish the coming years would turn out very good for each one of you and may your destiny bring you all those things that you ever wanted and much more. Wish you a happy new year!

1. Images subject to respective copyright owners. Source: Google images.
2. Movies referred to in the post: MS Dhoni: The Untold Story chronicling the life of Indian star cricketer and captain, MS Dhoni and the superhit 2008 animated offering from Dreamworks: KungFu Panda.
3. Comic strip from Dogbert can be found here.
4. Some fictional scenarios are used for illustrative purposed and bear no resemblance to any real-life people.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

"In the next five years, I see myself as a middle-management professional in one of the top companies of the world, helping their growth in the process of helping myself grow. I would have acquired the best techno-managerial skills from an esteemed premier institution - like yours :). I want to grow in the industry to as high position as I can where I have the power to bring a change in the working practices for the organization. I want to observe the entrepreneurs closely so that I can learn the intricacies of business from them."

I was scanning through some of my archived mails from 2009 and found this in one of the MBA interview documents that I had prepared. Notice how the 'like yours' is added right after the “esteemed premier institution”. I did not even know which institute would even call me for an interview, let alone offer me admission to the course. It was a generic statement added just to earn brownie points from the interviewer. Ah... The extent to which we would go to please the colleges to take us in!

Another eventful year 2014 has ended! The above document which I found dated back to late 2009 – it was the serious preparation time for MBA entrance tests, group discussions and personal interviews. It has indeed been a full five years since then! I wish each and every one of my readers a very happy and prosperous new year 2015! And this time of the year is usually a good time to look back at the years gone by, to plan for the years to come and to be thankful for all that we have been able to achieve. With that in mind I thought of reviewing the above statements that I prepared as compared to what I actually wanted, and how things actually turned out.

What was written v/s what I wanted?
Back then in late 2009, I was stuck in an organization without knowing what exactly the right career path was for me. Being a software engineer, I loved writing code, debugging and relished the challenges that programming offered, but I failed to see how all of these fit with the bigger corporate goals. Even the world’s largest mobile phone maker that I worked for was going through a very bad phase with no long-term goal/strategy in wake of cut-throat competition in the market. I was too frustrated with the daily work being done in our smaller teams. There was politics, biased decisions, the proverbial ‘glass-ceiling’ and most importantly, loss of precious hours on futile and pointless discussion about product features without out an actual implementation plan for any of them.

So, when I said I wanted to be in the ‘middle-management’ having ‘techno-managerial’ skills with ‘power to change working practices’, it all boiled down to one simple thing – I emphasized on getting things done with some ‘quick-wins’, in a way that it brought returns to the company, rather than sit and discuss about a thousand eventualities, most of which would never happen anyway! And the last part about ‘entrepreneurs’ was added only to know how much of a risk setting up a new business would entail – something which I was curious to know, even though the probability of me setting up one was very minimal at that point of time.

The part about faster career growth, higher salary, and a reputed institution branding were some of the things conveniently left out in that answer. I wanted to attain financial security for me and my family, attain personal happiness and make my parents happy. All those things were like a given which came with MBA – something that the interviewer and interviewee had already agreed to. Who does not want a higher salary anyway? :)

What did I learn in this time?
So, I thought I had it all planned for the next 5 years, and all I had to do was stick to that plan and execute it to perfection. It seemed all set – career, life, love –everything! The five years saw too much happen on all of these fronts – some turning out good, and some not so much or in some cases, outright tragic. I did manage to flatter some of the professors of a reputed institute with those well-prepared answers and survived the rigor of a tough MBA curriculum (once you cross the initial few days, it is quite an enjoyable experience anyway). I got into a company and career track where ‘quick-wins’ and fetching ‘incremental returns’ were a daily mantra. While earlier I used to lament about how slow things moved, the pace with which things happened in the new domain and roles were such that sometimes, I just prayed for things to slow down. All in all, it has been a wonderful five years, every experience teaching me something new and helping me to discover a bit more about myself.

Here’s a summary of the five main things which I learnt with respect to long-term planning in the last five years:

1. World changes every day and so should our priorities and plans: Even when Sachin Tendulkar batted on wickets that were bowler friendly, he batted so beautifully that a score of 300 was always possible in an ODI. But once he got out, there would be few more quick wickets and new batsmen found it hard to adjust. India was always forced to revise the projected score to 250-270. The same is the case in most fields. You can never accurately predict what would happen in the next few days. And things quickly change with disruptive innovations coming in almost every day. Even when I quit Nokia in 2010, it was still the world’s top phone manufacturer. But their devices unit ceases to exist today. And the company itself has faded away in the phone market! It is very important to continuously evaluate your plans and see if it makes sense even today. What seemed a best career choice two years ago might not such a good thing to do today. Hence, it is always important to prioritize in order to stay relevant.

2. Being happy is one of the most difficult things to plan/achieve: You could buy a house, a car, earn a promotion, or have crores as your bank balance. You could sail through a tough professional course, get a promotion and double your salary every 3 years. But the most difficult thing to achieve is being happy with what you do. What is the point if you are stuck in a job which you don’t really enjoy doing in spite of having all things mentioned above? This might be different for different people – so, it is not always higher salary or a great or even having a great car to commute to work. So, it is very important to find out what exactly makes you happy and then plan towards achieving them.

3. It does not matter how many steps/turns you take as long as you are headed in the right direction: I have come across people who always hold back on doing stuff just because they fear that it might “not look good on their resume”. If your job is a real dead end in terms of pay/work, why don’t you quit? “It might not look good on my resume”. If you are really interested to pursue higher studies now, why don’t you do it? “It might not look good on my resume”. Why can’t you do a hands-on role after doing a MBA if it really gives you the growth you always wanted? “Because it might not look good on my resume”. You must be getting the drift now. Nothing can be preposterous than this! As long as you are headed in the right direction, it just should not matter what things would look on the so called ‘resume’. If you are able to explain the real rationale behind your decisions, things always will look good on the resume.

4. There will be adversities to disrupt execution of your plans: Life is uncertain and there will be adversities, unexpected things that bog you down. I have seen people just give up on their goals when these things happen, and crib about them later on saying ‘If only I had got it done then, my life would have been so different’. A better attitude towards handling uncertainties and adversities would be to go back to point one, ie, evaluate and reset your goals. For example, if you failed to get admission to that top college this year, would it be in your best interests to try for it next year? And if the answer is yes, then just go for it! As long as you are headed in the direction of your dreams/passions, the minor impediments should just not matter.

5. Designations don’t matter, nor does the current pay: This one is solely for the people in the corporate world. I often see people in my org looking at some of their batch-mates in totally unrelated domains and grumbling ‘Look at that girl. She is already an ‘area sales manager’, while I am just an ‘accounts officer!’ or ‘The guy from our class has already got a six digit monthly salary and we are still getting peanuts here!’ and so on. It is absurd to be comparing yourself to someone because the kind of work/domains for the two be totally different. And the work that they do there might not at all be something to your liking at all. Maybe if you swapped roles with that other person, you would not enjoy your life/work as much as you would now. So, instead of making foolish comparisons, all that we need to focus on is to stay market-relevant in our passionate area, strive to excel in that and constantly believe in our abilities!

So, where do you see yourself in 2020?
For most people in their early 20s, the answer to this question pretty much remains the same – complete professional courses/training, secure a high paying job, buy a house and/or an expensive car, get settled in life, get married to your college sweetheart, etc. It is once you get past that stage, little bit of disillusionment sets in – whats next? Would you revise your goals? Would you realize the futility of planning for the future and give it all up? It is here most people start doubting, disbelieving, giving up, doing something outrageous, questioning their existence, etc in search of a bigger overall goal of life.

Yes, these things are all but natural feelings of emptiness once you have achieved/are close to achieving what you set out to achieve. But the most important of all to consider in all these is your happiness. If you feel happy doing whatever you are doing right now, then just continue to do it and excel at it so that you earn a good name in your field. If you feel there is still a lot of scope to improve from where you are right now, just continue putting in your best efforts to get to wherever you aimed to be. And if whatever you are doing is not making you happy, just try experimenting to see if there is some other thing which makes you happy. I understand that there would be a high risk and a lot at stake if you want to switch into an alternate career if you are at later stages of your life, but it is always better to take a calculated risk to understand yourself better, rather than not having tried at all. In simple words, in the next five years, we just need to aim to be happier and better persons than what we are right now. At least if your efforts are in the right direction, then all the other things will automatically fall in place. And that exactly would be my answer if I were asked this question in any interview. What would be yours?

“We plan for things to happen in one year, ponder over it for 2-3 years and it somehow takes 5 years to finally get executed”
- Great philosopher :)

1. Securing admission into any professional course follows a lots of sequential steps like score in entrance tests, group discussions, SoP writing, etc and not based on professors getting impressed in one single interview. It has been depicted only to set the tone of the post
2. Video courtesy : youtube; Movie: 'Love aaj kal'- used to depict the feeling of emptiness/disillusionment once goals seem achieved