A Bad Beginning?

Get up in the morning, walk up to office just down the street, have breakfast, then head to your computer to check e-mails, read through and resend funny forwards, head to the coffee machine and for some nice coffee, come back and play some computer games, then catch up with your roomie for a cigarette, then get back to your seat for some cubicle gossip, then lunch. After lunch, head home for a nap. Post nap, catch the bus to the city to catch the evening show of the latest movie, have dinner and head back home. Come weekend head to the wine shop to get a few bottles of cheap liquor to keep you company as you embark on a journey of discovery through life, the universe and everything with your room mates. And nothing like Biryani at the local Malayalee Muslim hotel to top off the weekend. Or should you say bottoms out? And the icing on top of the cake - you get paid to do this. Idyllic life, isn’t it?

Well, not really. Not when you got to do all this with a sword hanging over your head. For as you know there ain’t no such things as free lunches. And here we were getting not just free lunches but also free breakfast, dinner, computer facilities plus money for movie tickets. We were a bit like calves being fattened for slaughter. Pink slips they were called – the slaughter devices. We used to hear horror stories from other IT companies – of employees on bench being handed pink slips and sent home. A rather ominous start to one’s career, wouldn't you say? While outwardly we seemed to be totally on a roll, living it up and all, our spirits were actually down. "Any new projects come through yet?" "Any new projects, Sir?" "Any new projects, Ma’am?" The delivery unit head, and the deliver unit HR were  fast getting tired of our constant pestering. “Be patient. We will let you know,” was beginning to sound banal and repetitive even to them. But they too had nothing else to offer. It was a slow walking race between the project and the pink slip – which would get to us first?

Even without the pink slip hovering over our heads, it was a dampener of sorts. Fresh out of college, you are full of energy and all raring to go. And here you are – idling away – frittering away your excess energies. A practical approach would have been to use this time to upgrade one’s skills or prepare oneself for Plan B. But one can’t think practically when there is so much uncertainty in the air. You can’t plan anything when for all you know the next day may either be your last day of idleness or last day of employment. So, all you can do is distract yourself by partying away to glory.

Life continued that way not for one or two but five whole months. Five months is a lot of time. And now looking back I can think of so much I could have accomplished in that time especially so early in my career. I could have prepared for my MBA entrance and cracked it the following year. I could have learnt more of the latest technologies. Maybe I could have used that time as the time for rumination that I always long for when I don’t have it. You know to figure out that ever elusive purpose of life and all that.

Or maybe not. At that time, I did not even have the slightest inclination to do an MBA. So that was out of question. And as far as technology was concerned, I had just finished a grueling 4-month company training. And during my engineering holidays my over enthusiastic parents had already got me to finish courses in Oracle, Java, C, C++, Visual Basic. What more should I be doing? What I needed was project experience. And that was not in my hands. Maybe I should have pursued some course that would have taken me on the part of a technical architect that I had inclination towards. But I first wanted to experience as a programmer before I could think about being an architect. And as far as ruminations about purpose of life went, I had already done enough of that in my last semester in college and concluded I needed more data in terms of life experience before I could embark on the quest for that holy grail all over again. So that way, most probably all those roads I regretted not taking never existed in the first place.

And maybe I did take the right road after all – the road not taken - the one conventional wisdom would not have had me take. What I experienced was the college life I had never had at college. An experience of youthful revelry – a life of hedonism. You know there are some experiences that you can experience only at a certain age. Once the opportunity is missed you can’t come back and experience it again - this was probably the last window of life to experience them. Now when I look back all the memories of the anticipation and uncertainty are erased. Only the memories of all the fun I had and the close bond I shared with my room mates remain. Maybe that was a very essential human experience I had to go through. Maybe it was something essential to the development of my character. One can’t dismiss that lightly, can one? Sometimes one tends to think of oneself in robotic terms, especially in a professional context. But if there is one thing, I have learnt through two decades of professional life - very often your success or failure in a corporate setting depends on relationships and human interactions – with your colleagues, your clients and other stakeholders rather than astuteness in technical aspects. Possibly things are different in non-corporate settings – I can’t comment till I have experience the same. But at least in typical corporates, human interactions are the key. And however much ever one may want to believe it to be so, one can’t really delineate their personal from professional relationships. I mean some are extremely adept at donning masks but what we are at the core will find some way of expressing itself through the cracks in the mask.

But then what about all those with careers at faster than sound Concorde speeds. McKinsey partner in eight years from graduation, founder and CEO of a unicorn at 26 and the like. They do sound fancy. But one never knows the full story unless one has walked in their shoes. And  I never even aspired to become them. So what is this regret about not becoming something you never wanted to become. The real question is where I would have got to today without that experience versus where I am today. Maybe not even that for the story is not complete till the closing lines are written, the murderer is revealed, lovers are reunited and everyone goes back to living happily ever after in eternal boredom.


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