The one thing I learnt at IIM Ahmedabad

A man can be destroyed, but never defeated.
~ Ernest Hemingway.

The question that I get asked often is what was my foremost learning at IIMA? I mentally swipe through topics starting from finance, strategy, operations management, and organizational behavior to marketing strategies. However, only one thing stands out- that was not a part of any course per se. But most of my friends too are unanimous on the choice- it taught us resilience. I would not be here 10 years from now to speak about this and more about my Alma mater if we did not manage to harness this trait within us.

We need to consider that we were all experienced people joining the IIMA bandwagon- our experience ranges varying from five to fifteen years post-graduation- so we had a prior understanding of what it takes to survive the daily grind in our lives. So that coupled with our time on campus would have made us seasoned warriors for the battlefield beyond (and how many of us use that word “seasoned” in our professional summary?).

But despite that time and again, I have walked out of the meeting room, of client sites, even my home- feeling dejected, lost, and hopeless. I knew that I had been done for- all that I worked for or worked towards was no longer feasible. I would have to shut down my plans, wrap up my things and look for something new. Time and again I have been told that my approach did not make sense, my project plan had too many loopholes, my business case was not worth giving a go. During all those times I had questioned myself- why had I not come up with a better plan, or even why had I thought of making that business case? I should have understood that it would not survive past the first discussion. Things have gone totally downhill at times- I have been questioned if I really had it in me to do what I my role required me to do. We have had several if not at least one bout of self-doubt, self-pity, and lack of confidence in what we believe is our core competence. We would all agree that most of us have been through such instances.

When the winds gets rough, the strong get going

It is in those times that my memories from the campus have come flashing back to me. How many times have we made a presentation only to be told that it is nothing but complete garbage? How many times have we gone through the loop of futile discussions only to come up with a solution to a case at 5 am, only to discover next afternoon in class that we had not accounted for a critical factor that would throw all our solutions off track? We have been thrown three assignments requiring three hours each, to be done in a couple of hours, with zero margin for error. We had started knowing the odds were insurmountable, but still had managed to come up with something feasible. Sometimes it had worked, sometimes it had not. We had taken it all in our stride, knowing failures were as important as success- it only teaches us how to be a better us.

That is only a fraction of the innovative challenges we faced on campus. Add to it the rigors of managing time between classes, assignments and family, answering your spouse of what the hell we were doing with a negative balance each month when we should be focusing on earning money to secure a stable future,  and if it made sense to take out an educational loan at a point in life when a home loan would have been a prudent option? When you decide to reboot your career eight-ten years well into it, you do tend to pick up a lot of risks when you can never be sure of mitigating. So we vigorously keep adding a good amount of mental stress to our already overflowing kitties of stress – of what would we do if the year on campus doesn’t materialize into a nice career transformation strategy that we had envisioned it would? And let us agree no matter what we think or say in the interviews, for most of us it translates to making a lot of more money than we were making before we took the leap of faith.

So, with that mindset in place, it does come as a shock when we gradually start realizing that the year of academic pursuits has not really gone the way we thought it will. Results take time- and so we must build resilience and the patience to wait before we get the returns of this investment.

That is when the answer to the question I get asked becomes clear to myself. We were not on campus to learn how to make better market entry strategies, robust bottom lines on the annual income statements, or an innovative and sustainable business  plan- we were there to build a better us, a sustainable us- that would allow us to mitigate through the ups and downs that come with pursuing one’s dreams with unflinching focus. It taught us to tackle those, and at times how to take our minds off what we had and had not- and only focus on what we actually needed to be there, and wanted out of life – so that when the day comes we can stand up and say, yes we have done what we wanted to. And we are happy with the way things have turned out to be.

Nothing puts this into perspective better than these lines from one my most favorite movies:

Rocky Balboa: Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.


If you like this article you may also want to read

Have we learnt anything ? (published on the official student blog of IIMA)

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