Here is what Pallavi from IIM Bangalore has to say about exploring paths without a clear end goal, rather than doing activities that generally people think is of great value.
You believe in following passions without a clear end goal. Can you tell us more about this?
Generally people understand ‘following your passion’ as choosing your career path. This is a long term perspective. But I’d like to think of it in terms of the choices we make on a daily basis.
When I was in class 12, my parents were posted in Bangladesh and I was visiting them over the summer. I happened to read the book ‘Banker to the Poor’ at this time. It is the autobiography of Dr. Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Laureate and Founder of Grameen Bank). I got very interested in his concepts of microfinance, at that time when microfinance did not receive the kind of coverage it does today. Simple ideas like weekly installments and social collateral seemed to be yielding ~99% repayment rates which is higher than any commercial bank, despite it being from poor people.
I was excited and traveled through Bangladeshi villages to see if this was actually true. I carried a handycam and took video recordings of my experience, interviews with borrowers etc. I ended up making a 14 minute documentary on it which I screened in an International Summit attended by students from 6 countries, which my school happened to be hosting. It received a standing ovation. In subsequent years, I screened it in several places to great responses, and got increasingly interested in the subject. Further, Dr. Yunus coincidentally came to Delhi for a microfinance conference. I approached him and gave him the documentary and he actually wrote back to me in praise!
It has been 7 years now. Even today, I call this my “most significant achievement’ because of how much it meant to me. I had stumbled upon something I realized I was very passionate about. During undergrad, I interned at a microfinance research institution. While I’m currently going towards a career in consulting, I still follow developments in microfinance and its something I may pursue later in life. As an added “benefit”, even today when anyone looks at my resume, their eyes move at a varying pace through the page, but necessarily stop at microfinance, at which point they look up with great interest and ask me to tell them more about it. Be it my Citibank interview at undergrad, be it IIM-B, be it BCG now.
The key point is that when I went into those villages in high school, I could never have imagined this day. I was in Class 12 (the all-important “Board Exam year”) and should logically have been studying given that I was aiming for Delhi University which only asks for board marks. I was not even applying to the US where such things have mileage. I just took the path blindly with no end goal in mind. I kept going where it took me. The rest just… happened.
Does this apply equally to life at the IIM’s where people have very little time and too much to do?
At IIM, some part of our day is blocked beyond our control (classes, projects, exams, company PPTs, resume submission etc.). But there is still enough time left, which is where we need to make our choices. A flood of publicity around events and competitions will repeatedly vie for our attention. We can get absorbed in it, or we may choose >8 hours of peaceful sleep and a few selected activities of interest. I just feel that while choosing activities, we need to stop applying the “what will I get out of this?” question. Even if the answer is “nothing” but it’s something we really feel like doing, we should do it. It could be choosing an elective that seems interesting to you, even if it has “random grading” or some other usual perils. It could be an “event” like a case study competition, with very little prize money but a topic that totally fascinates you. It could be designing a marketing campaign for a friend who is working on an exciting start-up and asked for help. It could be sitting back and reading a novel you really feel like reading.
We’ve done enough to come so far and its time we stop doing all the “right” things. Our small everyday choices can make a much bigger difference to our lives than we can know. Small choices- of interest over utility- can trigger a series of events that take us in a direction that is truly meant for us. While this should not be the driving factor, my personal experience, albeit limited, suggests that even recruiters value our authentic choices far more than the usual good stuff. To quote Dumbledore out of context, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
It’s nice to have a map before undertaking our life journey. But at 20 something years of age, we can’t be expected to have it! So we think that wherever everyone is going is probably the right path. But sometimes if we take small blind turns, take a left when the others are taking a right, without knowing where it leads, we may discover paths that take us to our true calling.