As a child, did you know what you wanted to be when you grow up?
Did your life pan out as you had envisaged?
Did you admire or envy those who knew exactly what they wanted to be and charted their path as per the plan?
I don’t know about you. But life unfolded for me, mostly unplanned. With a few kicking in at the penultimate moment. Often, I had to change plans.
This is my story.
At 15, I wanted to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). I chose the arts stream in 10 (+2) to help me get there. My decision at that time invited scorn. When friends of my family came home, they either scoffed at my choice or kept quiet, convinced I must be a pathetic student. I made no effort to change their impression.
Two years later, I even tailored my graduation subjects with this single goal in mind. I had no love for Sociology or History. I chose them because I believed they’d help me achieve my goal.
When CAT Triumphed Over IAS In My Mind
Shortly after, I met Sid, a friend who influenced me deeply. It didn’t take long for me to change my mind and follow him in his quest to pursue business management. I decided to sit for the Common Admission Test (CAT).
Both Sid & I cleared the written test and were invited for a group discussion followed by an interview. It was a dream setting for me. I knew 11 out of the 13 in my group and it helped me to speak when I wanted. I think I made my points cogently.
The interview went well too. I was quizzed on my extracurricular activities which were stronger than my academics.
I was confident of being selected to the Xaviers Institute of Management (XIM) at Bhubaneswar.
My name was not on the list of selected applicants released a couple of weeks later. For a brief period, I felt life had come to a standstill. I had no Plan B. I was in a quandary.
How I Entered My Profession by Accident
Pursuing post-graduation did not appeal to me then. To reappear in CAT the following year seemed like a waste of a year.
Luckily, Sid spotted an advertisement by the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) inviting applications for two of their courses:
· PG Diploma in Journalism
· PG Diploma in Advertising & Public Relations
I liked writing and am fascinated with advertising copy. Sid applied for himself and on my behalf and ticked the course in advertising and public relations in both the application forms.
We were taken aback when we received the admit card to appear for the written examination for the course in journalism. Sid couldn’t have erred, I was sure. It had to be an administrative mix-up.
I had never thought of journalism as a career option. I did read the daily newspaper and looked forward to the weekend news magazine out of interest. But nothing more.
With options drying up, I kept an open mind and decided to appear for the written examination. So did Sid.
For the first time, I felt I was tested on what I knew, not what I did not know. When the results were announced, I was lucky to find my name on the list of selected candidates.
I completed my course nine months after joining it. It is the shortest professional course I know of.
I was lucky to be among the first two students to find a job. I researched, interviewed, sat on edits, and lined up the resources required for the next day or week. Things were good. Till I was asked to sell. To make cold calls. To pitch for work.
I sucked at sales. Neither did I have an aptitude for it, nor did I wish to do it. The job required it; I was told, 10 months after I had signed up.
I told my boss that if I had to sell, I would have joined sales. I didn’t wish to get into anything I wasn’t cut out for. I quit the same day.
More on that later.
In two weeks, I was selected to join a prestigious content production house that was expanding its team. It was an entry-level position in the production team that boasted movers and shakers. In just under a year of entering journalism, I switched to a backroom role.
Since I was new to the workflow, I made myself useful running with the tapes carrying the edited stories from the production area on the fourth floor to the Production Control Room on the second floor – where the news bulletin or show was assembled.
I spent a full month as a runner. I lost weight and became fit, but this was not the reason why I had taken up the job.
My next assignment was to produce three headline news bulletins daily. I took charge of this responsibility for the next three months.
A few weeks later, my then boss summoned me to her cabin and handed over the next assignment. She began by stating the criticality of the task at hand and how the state of video archives left much to be desired. She termed it the most important project of that year and asked me to collaborate with our video librarian to put our archiving system in place.
This assignment required us to work the graveyard shift. For as long as it takes to sort out the mess. My colleague and I roughly estimated a timeline of three months, but we completed it before time.
Nearly nine months had passed since I joined. And I felt I hadn’t learned much. A colleague who joined the same team with me had picked up a couple of technical skills which allowed her access into the hallowed world of the Production Control Room (PCR). It is here, I was told, that the men get separated from the boys.
I began to wonder if I was in the right place. I again considered quitting. But not without a plan. I had no desire to lie on my bed and stare at the moving blades of the ceiling fan. I had briefly endured how frustrating it was when I quit my first job in a huff.
Around the same time, the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) advertised for their Advertising and Public Relations course. I still fancied being a copywriter. I decided to sit for the entrance test.
I topped the written test, the head of the faculty later told me. The interview went well too. However, my name didn’t appear in the final selection.
When I approached the head of the department to check what went wrong, she said the institute selects candidates who need the course and can benefit from it.
I had already covered much of it as part of the journalism course at the same institute. The admission panel felt the seat would get wasted if I was chosen. They decided to give it to someone else who needed it more.
I got back to my day job. Gradually, things became better. Working the graveyard shift on an empty floor to fix archiving had helped me reap rich dividends in the future. I had the unique advantage of knowing where to find footage required for editing stories since I had archived half of it. Stories were turned around faster if I was on shift. The word reached my boss through a reporter about how much value I added when I was on the editing floor.
I was assigned other tasks. My learning curve increased manifold. One thing led to another. I was fully enrolled in the world of news and current affairs.
When the Heart Trumped the Mind
The editor who also anchored the show decided to move on to start a new brand. Having seen my contribution and capability closely, he offered me to build the new brand from scratch.
I was due to get married the same year. I did not want to begin two new milestones in my life simultaneously. It was an unsettling thought. I thanked him for the opportunity and declined the offer.
I attended his farewell party and in an emotional moment or two, I changed my mind. I agreed to join. It was now a decision taken by the heart. The mind had taken a backseat.
I quit a job where I had proved my mettle over long years of hard and qualitative work. Where I had been promoted just six months ago. Where I had accumulated and was granted a full month’s leave to get married.
I had to prove myself all over again. I had to start from scratch. I couldn’t hope to ask for more than a week’s leave during my marriage. The new brand was due to launch around the same time.
I was the third to be hired by the new company. The first and second to join – my bosses at that time – were offered a minority stake. It made much sense for them to join. I had no such offer. My parents were bewildered and hoped I knew what I was doing. I flew down to meet them to let them know why I had chosen what I did.
My parents did what they had always done. They let me do as I wished.
17 years have passed since then. I am still a part of the same brand which has grown to be India’s largest news network now. During this period, there were at least a couple of occasions when I felt I could no longer continue.
I almost quit eight years ago when things reached a breakpoint. While heading to my desk to draft my resignation, I crossed a colleague who knew the sequence of events that led to my decision. He persuaded me to wait and complete the project in hand despite the incredible deadline. Though it seemed impossible to carry on then, I heeded his advice. It was the right move.
I entered the profession by accident. I am still active 27 years later.
But life could have been very different if I had not made those choices when things didn’t stick to plan.
When you are young, you have pre-conceived dreams. You are impatient. You expect things to pan out exactly how you have envisaged and as per the timelines set in your mind. But life does not necessarily work that way.
When I look back, I am grateful.
I am lucky my parents never pressured me. They let me do as I felt.
I do know many who succumbed to the pressure from family and society and are leading unhappy lives.
My request to all parents:
If your children want to take the unconventional path, allow them. Don’t pressure them to follow the stereotype. Encourage them to listen to their inner calling. Let them decide for themselves
5 Takeaways from My Story
1. When one door closes, chances are some other will open. Don’t give up.
2. Quitting at the drop of a hat is a bad idea. Sleepover it. Give it time.
3. No situation remains constant forever. Things change. You need to be there to ride the wave.
4. Life may not exactly pan out as you envisioned it. Keep an open mind.
5. You can plan as much as you want. Whatever has got to happen, will. Sometimes, unplanned opportunities can be much more satisfying since there’s an element of surprise.
A vacation planned two nights before it began is among the most cherished holiday I have had. I was not supposed to go. Some of my relatives had planned the trip a few months ago and invited me at the last moment to join them.
I began this piece with a question if you’ve admired or envied those who knew exactly what they wanted to be in life and charted their path as per the plan. While I do admire them, I don’t feel any less fortunate in how my unplanned life has shaped up this far. To each, his own is how I look at life.
When plans change at the last moment, enjoy the adventure, excitement, and thrill that comes with it. If life was predictable, would it be fun or boring?
My life experiences have taught me to keep an open mind. And embrace, enjoy and enrich the journey. I’d urge you to do too.