Dear 17-Year-Old Me, I Have Bad News From The Future, But It’s All Good!

Posted on November 29, 2015 in Society

By Vishesh Jain

Dear Vishesh of 2008,

For representation only

As you are studying for your class 12th board exams, worrying about which college to take admissions in and what to be, by all means I urge you – worry! Yes! I have bad news from the future, these marks matter. Mom and dad were right! It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and every decimal of mark matters.

I have more bad news from the future. You will not score well. You will score a 50 in English and go to a Grade-B college to study business management. You will not follow father’s map of success – go to a top college, then graduate school, land a high profile consulting job, and find happiness. You will not find the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow there, the success you were striving for. You will not even find the rainbow – the passion that would take you to that pot of gold. But the good news is – it’s all okay!

You see initially you will chase all the wrong things – marks, attendance, peer validation, and parental approval on your career choices. The problem is you don’t know what’s out there and what matters to you, so you will take others’ word for it and think this is what career and life are all about – the best college, the highest marks, the best job, the best salary, which isn’t a lie because to a large extent these things do matter in your career.

But, here’s the other side. You will realise that to your employer, your analytical skills and concise writing skills matter more than your comprehensive high-scored answer sheets. You will realise that the best salaries sometimes come at the cost of your sleep, weekends, and creative freedom. You will realise that life isn’t always a popularity contest and having your own identity matters so much more. And at that moment you will question everything you learnt, and start your own quest to find your answers and identity beyond the boundaries of academic sessions and books.

In this quest, you will learn that more than marks and attendance, skill and exposure matter. You will learn that you will gain these two attributes not from the classroom sessions or boardroom meetings you currently dream of attending, but from various experiences in the field as a salesman, freelancer, and NGO volunteer and by working directly with people who are smarter and wiser than you are, sometimes even for free. You will learn the 4Ps of marketing not from the sermons delivered by professors, but from the ‘lala‘ at your local Kirana store. You will learn more through experiential learning than bookish learning will ever teach you. You won’t be alone – the future Prime Minister of your country never went to college. He is an experiential learner too.

You will one day look back at your college education and feel it failed in its primary purpose – to expand one’s horizon of thinking and help develop critical thinking skills which the individual can apply to an array of problems. After all, what is work but getting paid to solve people’s problems effectively and efficiently? What’s more, you will see similar loopholes in school education as well. You will soon see that it was never about the drainage systems and Great Bath of the Indus Valley Civilization or who built which Pyramid, that’s trivia. It’s about the kind of thought process and resourcefulness those civilizations had despite their technological and scientific handicap. But, which history teacher ever told you that? You will understand Akbar the Great wasn’t so great, and there is more to Hitler than the Holocaust. Your first people-management lesson will come then – people aren’t just black or white as you were told. They are both.

There are going to be things in life which will affect your career and matter more to you way beyond the syllabi of any comprehensive school or college curriculum – how to not be broke, how to get laid, fall in love, or manage a broken heart, how to manage failures, and how to plan your future.

And then the holy grail of all realizations will come to you – dad’s map of success is flawed. It will not work for everyone, every time. It won’t for you. So, you will go ahead and try looking at other maps for a while – your friends’, family’s, bosses,’ in biographies and autobiographies, in self-help books, in spirituality.

Until you will discover that it doesn’t exist. There is no one map to success – only a compass, pointing to a different north for different people. So you will start to build that compass with your own unique skills, experiences, exposure, desires. You will start your most treasured collection – of mental models – different perspectives, ways of thinking, advice from different experiences you had or people shared with you. And then you will be ready to move towards your rainbow and your pot of gold, not the world’s.

The bad news is that formal education will fail you. But the good news is, life’s lessons won’t.

Vishesh of 2015