Aroon graduated in 2017 with a Dual Degree in Electrical Engineering and is now a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company. When not giggling at memes online, he daydreams of pursuing higher studies in a non-STEM field (as a result of surreptitiously attending over a dozen Humanities courses during undergrad).
Like every other freshie, my first few nights in Insti were spent sleeplessly, wondering how I would ever fit into this humongous well-oiled ecosystem where every senior I met seemed to have found their place. Over the first few months, I saw some of my batchmates also find their places – some in academics, some in sports, some in TechSoc, some in LitSoc, some even in gen fart-putting with the right seniors. As time went on, I saw more and more people discovering their own cog in the machine, and so I, too, focused on choosing one for myself.
My first forays were into academics. The first two semesters were full of JEE subjects I loved, so I was able to navigate myself into the club of 9 point someones without much effort. As semesters went on, however, I found that I would have to increase my efforts multifold to catch up with the dedication of some fight-putters, who were taking a regular interest in the subjects they were being taught (the horror!). So I took lite. I tried to find a field where I could maximize my output without having to apply myself so much. I’d found success in cultural competitions in school, so I turned to Saarang, dabbling in Spons and Saarang Dramatics. But here, too, I found that I would need to apply myself at many levels to find the kinds of success I found many of my batchmates had found in their chosen fields. So I ditched these too.
I believe you must be seeing a cliched pattern by now. I had a preconception of success regardless of the activities I took up, and blinded by it, I ignored the process that I would have to follow to achieve it. The next steps I took were even more cliched. I clung to any incidental success I found, proclaiming that I had “found myself”. Alak almost clinched LitSoc when I was LitSec, amassing 4-5 times the points that we had ever done before, so I convinced myself that this had been my true calling. Everyone around me was doing the same – Spons coords and cores were announcing to the world how they were created by God only to do Spons (because the Spons core in their freshie year happened to be from their wing), the research junta crowed from the top of acad section how research was the only pursuit worth following (because they happened to have found an easy Prof to publish a paper with), and so on and so forth. The pressure to “be somebody” before you graduate becomes so intense that almost everybody forgets the serendipitous nature of most of the successes they find, and start associating themselves too strongly with the tunnel that their vision lands up in.
I found even more fortuitous successes after that. I won the Speaker elections with no background in SAC against three worthy competitors who all had years of SAC experience. I landed a great job, beating out really smart people in the process, and I even managed to publish a paper, even though I have never had any illusions of research in my time at the Institute. But despite knowing that I was luckier than chosen for these achievements, I continued to have a sense of proprietorship over all of them. I believed I had truly earned them, and in that sense, I perpetuated to my juniors the same narrative that had been perpetuated to me – that one must have a story of success.
For me, the moment I broke out of this mould was when my Institute Blues application failed. Others around me blamed the selection process itself, and flawed as it is, a nagging doubt started growing within me. What had I really achieved in Insti? At the fag end of my life here, what is it that I really valued? Most of my batchmates were quite content to take their Insti story of success and use it to project themselves into the new phase of their lives, be it in research, or consulting, or core jobs. But I found the insecurity from my first month at Insti returning to me full force. How had I grown? All I had done so far was package my five years here in an attractive manner, but I had neglected true contemplation and introspection into all my experiences – successes and failures alike.
My incidental successes had a humongous role in shaping who I am today. Had I not won the Speaker elections in fourth year, I would never have appreciated how varied opinions can be on the same issue, and how my convictions on them could be egregiously flawed. Had I not been LitSec, I could never have learnt how much better we function as a team than individually. But at the same time, I’d had more than my share of disappointments, and these, too, contributed to who I am. In freshie year, I had tried to get into my hostel football team, but I was never able to make it into the A-team because I wasn’t as skilled as my hostel mates. I marginally escaped failing a course in third year. I had to resign from a team because I wasn’t contributing to the level that my core expected me to. A play that I did for my hostel bombed horribly, and we ended up placing in the lower half. I wasn’t awarded a PPO for my third-year intern. All of these experiences had a major impact on the person I would be five years later, but I had chosen to ignore them all this while. In Insti’s CV-driven universe, these character-building incidents have always been glossed over. And it leads a seriously flawed understanding of what leading a good life in Insti really means.
This wasn’t an earth-shattering change for me, though. I still find myself yearning for glory and success, especially when I venture into something new. But I found a leash to keep that yearning in check. I try to value whatever I do in its true worth, rather than as a means to some imagined successful end. And this really has helped me transition much better from college to my new job, compared to my transition from school to college. A lot of my time in Insti was spent trying to secure my ego in order to feel happy, but I find myself focusing more on better things – the content, the people, the learning – at work.
Insti is full of insecure overachievers, and sooner rather than later many of us buy into a major narrative. We construct our story in such a way that it seems like we started out weak and confused, but then soon found our rightful place. In a sense, this story is supposed to comfort bewildered freshies, by telling them that their bewilderment is normal and that they’ll find their own place like everyone else before them. But unfortunately, this story has become a requirement now. You have to find your place, and you better project it as the only place you would ever love forever and ever. This drained the joy out of so much that I did in Insti. I look back at courses that I neglected because they required too much effort to land grades, and I realize that I would have loved their content, regardless of how much I could score on their tests. I look back at Shaastra events and I realize that I would have loved the experience of building things, regardless of whether I was the best at it or not. I look back at my interactions with my seniors and I realize that I need not have stopped myself from interacting with them, regardless of whether they would think of me as cool or not.
People at Insti don many goggles, but mine is by far the most prevalent and it is the one that I would like Insti’s future graduates to avoid (ironic cliche coming up) like the plague. Once you do, you find yourself enjoying Insti more, and trust me, that is all that will matter in the end.