I cracked IIT JEE with Rank 101, and went to IITK, considered academically the toughest and challenging of all IITs. IITK shocked this winner by awarding SPI of 6.7 out of 10 in the first semester. I proudly declared to my friends in Hall 2 Mess, “A mistake and fluke. I will score 10 in each subsequent semesters and will end up with a final CPI of 9.6.” That was 30 years ago… But the moment and incident is still etched in my memory… Did I score 10 each semester? Did my grades matter later? How did IITK transform the once shy, socially inept, grade-driven teacher’s pet into a Dramatics enthusiast and a Security In-Charge of all IITK Events? How did my later choices transform me, someone who started with a Sales Job into a Coach at IIT Mentors? If you want to find out, please read on…
Hi, my name is Chandra Kant and I graduated from IIT Kanpur in 1985.
My father worked for the Indian Railways, was posted mostly in small villages and got transferred frequently; causing disruption in my early schooling. When, one day, I returned from school after having learnt some of the choicest swear-words, my mother declared that we should forget about the small village Railway job and settle down in one city. We settled down in Bokaro, a small upcoming town, where I had all my schooling. In Bokaro at that time there was little social company for children of my age. I was a shy person, especially in this new environment and did not interact well with others. But I did develop a deep love for reading (novels in addition to my text books). I was among the top 10 students academically throughout my school life and was a teachers’ pet. I thought highly of myself, had an inflated ego, believed that I could do anything, and that I did not need anyone. Well, to be fair, to a school boy academics and marks are everything, and I exceeded all expectations all the time. As a side effect, I continued to remain socially inactive and awkward, a low priority for a school boy. I did not develop any social skills, only academic skills.
The JEE Dazzle & Subsequent IITK Welcome
I cracked IIT JEE with an All India Rank (AIR) of 101 and dazzled the City of Bokaro. IIT-JEE was the most coveted exam and produced excellent Engineers and I joined the company of some of the best minds of the country. I selected Electrical Engineering at IIT Kanpur and went forth to conquer IITK. Back then, I was academically good, socially terrible, overweight and very sensitive. Those days, IITK had the tradition of physical ragging and I was a butt of lots of physical ragging. Fortunately I had a relative as local guardian. So to escape ragging, I started to stay at my relatives’ house nearby. Psychologically, I could not cope with it.
The whole of first year, because of low self-esteem, I was plagued with respiratory problems and was hospitalized often.
Once the ragging was over, I emerged from my cave. In the very 1st semester I realized that there are lots of things to do, apart from studying. Since all my life I had studied, I went the opposite way, counting on my past ‘brilliance’ for good grades. Dramatics interested me and I quickly got involved in a play, rehearsing late into the night and missing morning classes while catching up on sleep. Since I had not interacted with seniors during ragging, I did not understand the level of competition for good grades and the amount of study required. In my arrogance, I also ignored all advice from well-wishers and roomie.
In the first semester I scored 6.7. That came as a shocker. How could the Brilliant Guy, The Consistent School Top 10, Teacher’s Pet, IIT JEE Rank 101 get a 6.7/10? Must be a mistake. So “Nonetheless,” I famously declared to my friends in Hall 2 mess, “I will score 10 in each subsequent semesters, and therefore end up with 9.6.” (We were the last 5 year batch.) I dropped Dramatics, attended all classes and sure enough, I got great scores…7.9. Oops !!…
The Introspection & Enlightenment
After getting 7.9 in the 2nd Semester, I did a lot of introspection. Empirical data of the 1st year made it clear that I was not cut out for academics and somehow I had to survive. My brilliance had failed me; even dropping Dramatics resulted in only a minor improvement. So, I started depending on my friends to get me through by teaching the barest minimum required to get by. I focused on what I loved doing best and was getting passionate about, Dramatics. In hindsight, I suppose Dramatics was a way of avoiding the truth about my laziness in studying, and an escape to keep me busy and justify my laziness in studying. I had applied to join the Counseling Service as a student counselor / guide, as I felt that I could be of service. My application was rejected. I think it was because I told the interviewers that I still believed that I could get a CGPI of 9 or above. I suppose it meant that I was still not in touch with reality.
Dramatics, Technical Drawing, and My Big Size Became My Saviors
My involvement in Dramatics saved me. If I had not get involved in Dramatics, I think, I would have been miserable. I did go through a bad phase and even tried “stuff” to numb down the pain. I changed my circle of friends and rooms often because I could not adjust to their style of functioning.
Dramatics helped me create a lot of friends; people recognized me and I gradually gained self-esteem from their appreciation of my dramatics skills. I also got me noticed by my professors (whom I diligently invited to all my plays) and I was able to have conversations with them which helped me not to fear them, regardless of my grades.
The biggest boost to my grades and confidence came when I topped the Technical Drawing course. I started taking tutorials for the juniors, which were better attended than the professor’s class!! It helped me to build the much-needed rapport with my juniors and batchmates, which would have been impossible based on the grades. I used whatever talents I had to build rapport and I actually became popular among juniors and my batchmates. Also, I had academic help from my friends. Life once again looked good.
My respiratory issues miraculously disappeared in second year, therefore could be considered psychological in origin.
I re-applied for a position in the Counseling Service. Due my rapport with the juniors, I got selected. I really worked hard with my counselees and they appreciated it so much that they canvassed on my behalf for Hall 2 General Body Representative Elections. I did not even go seeking for votes, assuming that since people knew me, they would vote for me. I learnt that helping people selflessly was good for me. I also worked on the computerization and process creation of the counseling process. I discovered computers and I spent all my free hours doing programming. I had found my other passion!
My huge physical size also turned out to be an asset. I got appointed in-charge of security for most cultural events like SPIC-MACAY!! Although I was not interested in classical music etc., by virtue of being security in-charge, I attended all such events and learnt to appreciate Indian music, dance and western classical music. My friends, too, introduced me to poetry, old Hindi songs, pop and rock music. Coming from a small town in Bihar, I had no exposure to this wealth of knowledge.
Academics In Retrospect
In retrospect, I realize that I didn’t pay enough attention on academics throughout my stint at IIT Kanpur. I took electives because other friends took them, without knowing whether they would be helpful or whether I would pass them. Some of these courses were tough and were really bad choices for me.
Interestingly, I think I passed one of them because I offered a Professor a smoke during end-semester exam. I was a smoker and the professor had run out of tobacco during the end-term exam; I offered him mine!!… Thinking back, now it looks ridiculous but I need to tell the sort of ideas I had. I had no idea what sort of jobs were available, what I wanted to do in the future, and I lived life one day at a time.
This carelessness and care-free attitude showed its result during placement season, when the only job I could get was in sales and not in technology, that too, for a princely sum of Rs. 1,000 per month. I suppose this had also to do with the fact that I was so unclear about placement, that I did not know what I was supposed to do in order to get a good job. My interviews were terrible. Other friends around me had better ideas about what they wanted to do – Civil Services, Higher Studies and applying to companies like Tata Unisys and Tata Consultancy Services to go abroad. They took the advice of their seniors and prepared accordingly. I remained blissfully unaware.
This dumbness continued even after IITK. The same superiority complex and expectations, that I am an IITian and people should look up to me, and that I am capable of anything, made me botch up 2 years of corporate life and corporate relationships, and if I had not been selected in IIM Calcutta, I would have been out of a job. I was lucky. IIM Calcutta sort of woke me up from my stupor and I got a bit worldly-wise.
But, I suppose that naiveté saved me from a psychological breakdown as I did not worry about the future. I also believed that good things will always happen. I was lucky to have friends who supported me, and to have parents who did not question what I did or what I planned to do in the future. Depression happens when you think about the future and you seem to have no choices. Fear happens when we imagine a future that has all negative things happening. Living a day at a time helps when the future is not clear.
30 Years Later
Life has come full circle now. I have now become a professor. I left corporate life at the age of 45 to teach in a private business school founded by an IIT K alumnus, in Bangalore.
I had learnt in corporate life that technical skills are not enough, and we need the right attitude and relationship skills to do well in jobs.
This is what I teach in my courses and even published a book on how to be an effective manager. I also became a certified counselor and do emotional counseling and career mentoring for all my students and ex-students, who have similar issues about academics and pressure.
What Did IITK and My Life After IITK Teach Me?
For me, IITK was the place that taught me everything I know about culture, friendship, loyalty and different types of people, although, I daresay, I did not learn much academically.
The lessons I learnt at IITK and now during my counseling practice:
1. Friends and relationships are important
- These friends are the ones who taught me all I know, and they supported me when I needed help. Even now, my network of friends comes real handy with jobs and careers.
- With the advent of social media, our circle of friends has increased but the depth of friendship has decreased. Thus our relationships have become shallow. It is hard to accept, but is a fact of life. The effect is that there is a very small support circle in case of psychological breakdowns and during really tough times. In IITK, our friendships were few but deep and there was a lot of emotional support.
- Since we are not interacting face-to-face, we have lost the subtle signs, the verbal and facial clues that indicate emotions in others. This creates barriers in evolving deep relationships as we do not understand the emotions behind the words.
2. Don’t Expect or Seek Parental/Teacher Approval for Everything
- Since childhood, we have been helped, taken care of and even compared with others, to make us perform our best. Failures are few and we are never taught how to handle our failures. The approval of parents and teachers seem conditional on our good performance, be it in academics or in any field, and coming second or last does not seem acceptable. We are always compared with others. This creates a lot of self-esteem issues and we measure our value in terms of how others see us or what we can give to them. This leads us to seek others’ approval in many forms. The reality is that handling failures comes gradually. First step is acknowledging that failure is temporary and success will follow. Remember the times we failed to walk as child, or the time it took to learn to ride a bicycle. Falling down is a part of the process.
- Parents do put a lot of pressure on children, because they believe, in all good intentions, that it is necessary for survival and competition.
- We should find alternate means of satisfying our need for approval and recognition, academics is not the only way.
- Academics is important depending on your goals. Most interviewers do not look only for grades; they want to know if you will fit into their corporate culture and have got soft skills/communication skills.
3. Become Emotionally Resilient
- People expect a lot from us. This binds us into an endless performance loop which can lead to negative emotions of fear, anger and depression. (Remember the Star Wars/Yoda). The stiff competition for IIT-JEE already burns out most students, and once in IIT or MBA, they want to chill out as they think they have got it made. This doesn’t work, because you are competing with some of the best minds of the country and no one is going to be winner in everything. Checkout this excellent video about Secret to Happy Work http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html
- We judge ourselves too harshly and prematurely for not coming up to our expectations and our failures. We also disconnect from our close ones because of their expectations and their judgments about us. Even the best of us do not how to handle the breakdowns and failures.
- Getting frustrated, angry and depressed when we are unable to get what we really want is natural. It becomes worse when we do not know who to turn to, who to trust and how to ask for help. Remember that anger comes when we do not meet our expectations, or others do not meet our expectations. Depression is strongly related to perceived lack of choice. When we feel that we have no choice, we get depressed. When we have psychological problems, we cannot see the wood from the trees. Asking for psychological/emotional help is natural and the social stigma attached with failures is unwarranted and misplaced. Every human being undergoes these emotions at one point or another and needs help at that point.
- We are always told stories about failure and the result of failures by well-meaning relatives and ‘uncles’, who foretell how we will live a life of poverty if we do not do things their way. We believe that money is everything and therefore poverty or inability to spend terrifies us. These warnings are misplaced. The future is unwritten, and the past is gone. The unknown future looks bleak, because of the fears created inside us by our parents, teachers and other ‘uncles’. But it is more in our imagination than a reality. So make the best of the present and future will be fine.
4. We need to find our strengths and work with them
- All of us are capable of doing great things. We simply need to find out what our passion is. IITK is a great place to find this passion. The more we go out and participate in non-academic things, the more we can find out what we love doing. I found and developed programming and dramatics as two passions.
- It is no use looking at our weaknesses and working on them to remove them. These are familiar weaknesses and we should leave them as they are and work around them. Similarly in subjects, we should focus on those subjects that we can do well, and leave the others alone, simply doing enough to get by. Focusing on subjects we are not good at is not really a good return on our investment in time.
- We have to develop strengths in understanding relationships, people, and how to socialize and work in groups. IITK celebrates individual achievement more than group achievement, but the ability to work in groups is very important in corporate life.
I hope you find my story helpful. I remained a not-so-great student academically, but I gained a wealth of knowledge in other ways. What life has taught me and I want to communicate to you all and emphasize on is “Find your own path, focus on your strengths, and follow your passion.” If you need any advice on dealing with emotional problems, career mentoring or what really matters in the corporate world to survive and grow, please do contact me at email@example.com
Chandra Kant graduated from IIT Kanpur with B.Tech. in Electrical Engineering in 1985. He did his PGDM from IIM Calcutta in 1989. He has been an Information Technology Consultant for 25 years and still serves on the Board of Advisors for several startups. He is currently a Professor of Management Skills and IT in Indus Business Academy, an Autonomous Business School founded by an alumnus of IIT Kanpur. He is also a Certified Counselor and helps students and alumni in emotional counseling and career mentoring. He is part of the IIT Mentors Group http://www.iitmentors.org . His detailed profile can be seen at http://www.linkedin.com/in/efficacy. He blogs at www.chandra-kant.com.
We encourage you to communicate with him by posting your comments on the blog or directly writing to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is available to those who may need advice on emotional issues or skills needed for corporate survival.