What I ‘Became’ in 2018: My Story of Meaning and Gratitude

diary girl hand journal
Writing my story

I cherish solitude on the eve of a new year. Last night, I read Michelle Obama’s book ‘Becoming’ as I maneuvered my dinner – placing some spicy tandoori chicken onto the soft sweetish rotis. I find her book an extremely apt read at the end of the year. As the author traces the story of her life, it gives the reader the opportunity to trace their own story, and with that guided reflection we find one or two things about ourselves. More importantly, we get more clarity about who we want to become. To do this you need solitude, and that’s why I prefer to spend a new year’s eve alone.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve forged an end of year tradition to make note of landmark personal events during the year. Rather it was an exercise in gratitude and finding meaning in the year gone by – to list down the qualitative events that gave me sense that the long year was not in vain and that I’m in fact moving towards the kind of person I want to be. A couple of days ago, equipped with a pencil and a notepad, I began to list down. I knew this year had been eventful and good for me. But even then I was surprised to find many little achievements that made me feel grateful and believe more in my life project. I’m sure if you list down, you’d feel the same.

I started out the year as a five month old b-schooler who was still only grasping the foundations of management. I had certainly found a joy and thrill in my cases and classes. Yet, there was no light about what part of management I really liked, nor did I have expertise in any particular area. But I could make a reasonable business case and was accustomed to management thinking. My team and I traveled across the country, from the northern end to the western end, to participate in the final round of a case competition. Intense brainstorming sessions, dissatisfaction, long working hours, meeting with a professor, working at airport, checking into our hotel rooms, and rehearsing our respective parts before bed. It was like a precursor to our careers. It was my coming of age at b-school.

Soon after, we were headed to our summer internships. New city, new firm, new people, new challenges, new anxieties. For the first time, I’d have the opportunity to apply our education in the real world, and more importantly, I’d be judged by the people in the firm. But those two months were quite a flourishing period for me. I made an impression with my mentor, had fun staying with half a dozen batch-mates in a large flat, and the city was New Delhi – among my favorite in India. A film festival, ‘fill as many books as you can’ box sale, ice-creams on hot summer nights, and dinner with friends. During the time, I met a few interesting people who nourished me with their conversation and with whom I still keep in touch.

This year, I finally began to do things that I had always aspired to do. Unlike the maddening hours of campus life, the summer internship was a structured experience with clear deliverables. This meant that I had I time for myself on the weekends. I took to writing. Previously, I had written only for myself. I had especially admired William Dalrymple kind of writing – a mix of history, religion, culture and a personal touch. It was the month of Ramzan and a visit to the largest mosque in India on a Friday evening gave me the divine push to write about my sublime experience. I continued to write once every week, and at that time I didn’t know that I had started something that’d grow bigger.

I remember the joyful conversation I had with my mentor about her little son over a lunch of burger and coffee on the last day of my internship. It felt heavy to leave what you called home for two months. As much I was excited to be back in campus, it also made me a little nervous to go through the numbing routine. But as the classes started, I was grateful to be back in the classroom, absorbing the wisdom from the professors, and loving the cases – the opportunity to be a new person, in a place, with a new objective every single day. I was fortunate to be blessed with some amazing professors that term who would leave a lasting impact on me. The learning was substantial that qualitatively raised my confidence to tackle business problems. I learned to figure out a firm’s story from its financial statements, was smitten by the detective nature of management consulting, developed skills to listen to the story data tells us, and traveled the world through International Business Strategy case discussion.

But being back in campus meant that I’d be attending to cases, classes, and assignments all day all week, and would be bereft of the escapades or exciting experiences that I could write about. I wanted to keep my writing thing going. Why shouldn’t I write about what I do at b-school? I made a little decision that is among the best I have ever taken – to write 300 words everyday about whatever we did and learned that day. It was small perfect decision, what my strategic consulting professor would call a SMART goal and probably that’s why it was so effective. I completed a month and then I pushed it to a hundred days. I was quite taken aback by the support and encouragement offered by my parents, friends, and even professors. The diary seemed to be sending out positive ripples to everyone who came to know about it. I did not foresee the positive potential.

I had my share of fortune this year. The recruitment seasons at b-schools are quite unforgiving in their ability to cause stress in the students.  I was very fortunate to be recruited early by a firm that was on the top of my list and in an industry I preferred. This gave me a lot of time to work on things I wanted to in the last quarter of the year. It is another story that I did not do much with the time boon. When has too many options to do with ones time, one does not get much done at all.

I finally wrote about films. It was a wish of mine to draw lessons from films and make more of the films I watch, in general. I was able to do this when I wrote an article drawing management consulting lessons from a Japanese film. I squirmed with it for two months on and off struggling to find a structure before I was satisfied with it. Later, I also drew negotiation lessons from the Cuban missile crisis based film Thirteen Days and some historical documents. Life came a full circle when my interview at the firm I was recruited began with my article on the Japanese film!

Then again, I had some very interesting classes and even more memorable professors. Together, we discovered the world of systems thinking and business dynamics through modelling a variety of problems including the dynamics of a beer supply chain, the unique competitive nature of platform businesses, sustainability of fishing resources, quirks of social media advertising, and driver income on mobile app taxi platforms. We also explored the struggle of organizations as they tried to digital transform themselves, and explored some amazing cases that included a weather forecasting company and a newspaper. Block-chain, internet of things, and artificial intelligence began making sense to me.

It is also a time I developed an interest in the airline industry. I found it really cool. We worked on a few projects on the airline industry from multiple angles – valuation, financial analysis, business dynamics – and also wrote a few articles on it. Look backing, it seems to be only a passing interest. I feel no more pulled by the airline industry but it was a great fling while it lasted – I had a great time learning, analyzing, and sharing the knowledge. May be our tryst is not over yet. But I still definitely love airports.

I definitely had my share of failings this year. I had made an uninformed ambitious plan of getting the blog edited into a book within a month. But when I started it I found it daunting, and could not put in work. For weeks, I loathed myself for not being able to do it. Over time, I’ve realized that the obsession was not healthy and I could let myself more time to work through the editing. In other failings, I’ve left incomplete at least half a dozen books that I started to read, my personal schedule has been a wreck, and I’ve been lazing too much in the last couple of months. Not proud of this, but I will have to learn to manage myself better.

But again there was always a silver lining. I spent time with a few close friends over food and cups of premix teas of various kinds – cardamom, saffron, ginger, and lemongrass. Tea premixes could make Orwell turn in his grave, but I assure you that the tea was excellent. I’ve made some happy memories and a few friends who would be long lasting. More on the people side, I’ve made several mistakes and in the process learned a thing or two about leading a team.

Towards the end of the year, it was a poignant moment to enter the last term of b-school. Probably the last time I get to be in the cocoon of the classroom. If I was given the opportunity to be anywhere in this world, I’d choose to be in a classroom with a great teacher. I’m still amazed by the kind of professors I get to meet. A couple of days ago, in a course on information technology and innovation, the professor was a man with almost 30 years of teaching and researching in one of the top b-school in the country. His enthusiasm for his subject, his kind wisdom, and his self-deprecating jokes on the ostrich-like behavior of the management academia were a pleasurable. He had a lifetime of stories rattling them off whenever the opportunity permitted. I couldn’t help but wonder about myself at sixty years of age.

Would you believe if I said that seven months back I did not have Instagram on my phone. This year I’ve finally embraced social media with a bear hug. Somewhere I realized that these social media platforms, especially Instagram, gave me the wonderful opportunity to express and document my micro-thoughts. My regular blogging and search for more readers only reinforced the general need and power of social media. I hope to write soon about the potential of Instagram to infuse positivity and mindfulness.

Of course, I had my quota of films and books this year. I’ve made my list of this year’s roundup of ten books and ten films on Instagram. I began reading Michelle Obama’s book a week ago, and it probably will be my best read for the year due to a personal association I had developed with the Obamas due to my reading of the two books by Barrack Obama. I’ll read this book through the break of the new year.

Well, I did not plan to write a long post. I had intended to make a bullet pointed note for the things I was grateful for this year. But I guess Michelle Obama’s writing had rubbed off on to me and I was driven to write a long narrative. But writing this felt satisfying. I needed to hear my own story. We all need to hear our respective stories. Now I definitely know that it was a meaningful year for me and I had my share of blessings. This was an important year for me. This time, last year, I had ordained year 2018 as a year of transformation. I believe, it was one indeed. I needed this. I shall strive to prevail the better angels of my nature into the new year.

Signing off for 2018.