Sunday, March 22, 2015

“What did your MBA give you?”

XIME turned 20 and the celebrations were big! A kind, unsuspecting alumnus asked me to write a nostalgia-driven article for a magazine that was to be published for the occasion. Here's what I managed to cough up.

As a member of the minority race in my first company – I was the rare MBA graduate in a sea of Chartered Accountants – I often got asked questions on my MBA experience.

Why MBA?”

“What made you decide you wanted to do MBA?”

“What did your MBA give you?”

While I have been dishing out adulatory hokum that seemed to serve as appropriate answers, the anniversary celebrations at XIME did get me wondering - what did my MBA really give me? 
Now, I couldn't conjure up the perfect answer, but please indulge me as I attempt to put it down here.

From my two years at XIME, dotted with several hundred precious, some painful and many nerdy memories, one in particular overwhelms me the most – one made during our batch’s twelve day educational tour of China / Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. (That trip faced ridiculously high expectations set by 180 eager students but boy, did it deliver!)

As a part of our tour, we had the blessed opportunity to visit The Great Wall of China. Everyone was obviously kicked to the hilt all through the journey..only to reach the destination and find the mighty place dressed with fog and rain drops. But before I could complete my whine about how a sunny Great Wall would have made for a better experience, the boys from the batch (and some girls too!) made their way up the steps leading to The Wall in speeds that could make Usain Bolt proud.

Juyong pass, the part of The Wall that we visited, had six watch towers (or levels, as we called them) along the way to the summit. Considering we weren’t the fittest of the lot, my friend Shinu Simon and I decided we could loiter around a couple of levels before hitting the tour bus. We enthusiastically covered two levels and clicked enough snaps for Facebook glory along the way. As the rain began coming down harder, our motivation to touch level three grew weak. It absolutely did not help that the steps got steeper and the path, narrower. But uh oh – there it was. Peer pressure! With nearly everyone wanting to cover as much ground as possible, we coaxed ourselves to go one level further. And we hit Level 3! 
But..could we possibly do more? Our Duracell-driven Mallu peers (who’d happily made their way up to the summit and were headed back down) threw incentives at us – Level 4 had a souvenir shop that handed out medals, they said. Before we knew it, Shinu and I were staring at our medals with so much pride, you’d have thought we held new-borns in our hands. But hey! Mission accomplished! 
Or was it?

At Level 4, the number of enthu-cutlets running about The Wall had trickled down to 1/5th the number at the base. It was cold – SO cold, I remember feeling pain in my fingertips and toes. The stinging rain was no less harsh, slapping us in our faces every time we attempted to raise our heads. We were incredibly exhausted and our muscles seemed to have taken turns to submit their resignation letters. We looked up at the VERY steep steps leading up to Level 5, looked at each other, felt common sense leaving our bodies and hauled ourselves up, step after step. With every step I took, a voice in my head broke down, abusing my unnecessarily zealous ideas. When we finally did land at Level 5 though, the voice shut up. Shinu, my voice and I – we all knew we could go no further but we also knew we had gone an extra mile, pushed our limits like never before and accomplished something that would make us smile every single time we thought of it.

Yep, just how it makes us smile now!

I find myself comparing this experience to the two years of MBA itself.
Most of us started off with two things: a definitive goal (get a job?) and a hazy path that we hoped would lead us to said goal. We made our way through one year – learning, bonding, winning, fumbling and discovering our capacities, our friends and ourselves. As we approached the second year, having gotten a taste of all things Corporate during the summer internship, the ascent got steep and tense. We had to decide (if we didn't already know) our majors / career-streams, embrace them and work towards them. There was encouragement and advice from professors – some of whom we can (gratefully) still call on - just as much as there was pressure from peers.  We constantly fell out of our comfort zones (for instance, some of us had to befriend the enigma that called itself International Finance(!)) and were compelled to go a level further than we ever had before. And we finally made our way to the finish line hoping we'd given it all our best. Hoping, that we’d enhanced our skills and opened up avenues for a career that could keep us happy. Hoping, that we’d made a good number of friends for life in the process. And hoping, that we’d look back and smile. 
Now, three years since that hike, I can’t find reasons not to.   

If you haven’t already given up on my almost-failed attempt to give that question an honest answer, here goes:  What do I think my MBA gave me? It gave me what I worked for and what I longed for.
Simply put, my MBA gave me everything I really wanted to take away from it. 


Shinu Simon said...

Love it,love it dearly! This should go up on Lonely Planet and more people will want to visit The Great Wall ;p

Arjun S Bharadwaj said...

The last paragraph is a beautiful analysis for a non-quantifiable quantity.

Sonali Ramaiah said...

Much likings :)

Merin said...

:) Thanks muchly, guys!