Monday, May 03, 2010
If I could sum in two words what you should do in college, I would sum it as “Take Risk”. From the time you enter graduation till the time you are done with your studies the big thing that you should do is - take risk. And if you have not done it so far, do it during your MBA (and do pass this advice to your juniors still in college.) And if you do it right, you will also have the keys to a very successful career handed over to you alongwith your degree. Unfortunately it will not be taught as a course, nor will someone teach you to do it. You will have get up and do it yourself.
Do note that the time that you study is the best time of your life, for most of us. Once you are in a career, you will never get time like this. Or worse, if you spend your entire education worrying about the career you will have, like many of us did, it is a worry over a future you have no control on. Use college time to try your hand at various things that you never did as part of your education so far.
Now, of course, you can argue that you dont have the time. If time is your excuse, then, do remember that it is usually the last excuse for someone who does not want to make an attempt. The best time you can have in your life, ever, is when you are studying. Read that sentence again. There will never be so much time that you will have as you will have when you are studying. In general after that you will have more responsibilities than less.
Now, heres what I mean when I say take risk.
Want to try your hands on something new? Try it. If you are an engineering student, get out and spend time to see how technology impacts people. What can you do about it? For all you science and commerce students - read history. Any history. The history of India. The history of technology. There is a lot of collective knowledge out there. And as a bonus you get to read a real history of India, not the ones that were fed to you through politically clouded lenses. Heres a book for starters. India: A History by John Keay
And if you are already a history student, try learning a computer language. Pick up the computer lying in your home and a book and try your hand at it.
Surf the net. And I dont mean social networking sites. Start a blog. Start a website. Start a shop on e-bay. Learn to do business. Thats the theory anyway in an MBA. Do the practicals too.
If you are studying for an MBA in finance, try out a marketing project and vice versa. Organize festivals and events. Try to get people together for a cause. Try out, for that is when you will figure out the skills you have or the skills you need to build.
Far too many people in an MBA or engineering treat it as just another college course where as if you treat it as an opportunity to build skills that you will use in the real world, it is far more rewarding.
Try starting a business - on a shoestring budget. I know many who have found their careers, calling and talent this way. Treat it as a special project. Think small, think low impact, think prototype. If it succeeds, great; if it doesnt, you have a great learning on your hand.
In any case most people are going to take the standard job route. Try your hand at entrepreneurship. Show your potential employers how you have used your time in college. Sure, nobody does that, but the fact that you are doing it would interest employers. Everybody wants people who can take initiative. What better time to do it than now? Who knows, you might end up as an entrepreneur instead of with a job! (And if you are a born entrepreneur, do take up a job, it too will open your eyes like never before.)
Work with an NGO. Work in the villages. Work with a political party. Help someone set up his or her business. Sit in a kirana shop or an icecream shop or one of those newfangled retailers. Find out how they manage their work on a day to day basis. Get your hands dirty in something you have no clue about. Try to be an activist, if that’s your style. Work on a local awareness campaign, be it on polio, be it in demonstrating a new product or work on a theatre project, if you are lucky enough to find one. Work with a school – try to teach students – you will realize that it takes a lot of patience (and is quite exciting) to teach. Perhaps you may realize that this type of work is not for you. In any case, taking risks like these help.
Try to learn a foreign language. Or learn some ancient ones. Try your hand at marketing surveys – the guys who do the door to door survey go through quite a bit of learning. Once you spend time as one of them, you will think twice before you slam a door on one of them who has come to take genuine feedback. (Yes, you guessed it, a marketing survey job was my first real job when I was in college and I learnt a lot in those couple of months. No classroom can ever teach that.)
I could go on and on, but I hope you understand what I am driving at. College years are the years you are investing in developing your skills. During an MBA take up all those offbeat projects. If you are a born leader, take the back seat and vice versa. At the end, taking Risk in exploring all the things you ever want to explore and they will all stand you in good stead – both with the experiences and with the networks.
(Edited version published in Advancedge in May 10)