I realized something when I landed back in India. You are not the same person you were when you return after a significant period of time. Some call it ‘brain-drain’, some call it ‘turning into a foreigner’. I would just call it an expected metamorphosis. It’s impossible to stay the same person when you live in a different country, with people who have different cultural and moral values. I read this article that talked about how our values change with time, corroborated with an experiment conducted on 36,000 adults. They observed a clear change with age, but surprisingly not with gender.
At the core, I believe values are what changes when people change. When I say values change, I mean our prioritization of a fixed set of values change. If ‘social interaction’ was an important value for me when I was 18, now I would say ‘seeking knowledge’ is more important. This was what I was mulling over when I stood at the fortunately short immigration queue waiting to enter the mothership.
1. Expectation vs Reality
You enter grad school with a lot of expectations. At least, I did. As far as I can remember, I had the following goals in mind:
- Get into a top consulting firm
- Finish grad school with 4.0 or 4.0+ CGPA
- Continue playing badminton and writing frequently
- Take weekends off to explore New York city
- Find my long-term passion
It is safe to say that I did not accomplish any of these goals. I abandoned consulting within the first few months to enter Product Management, I did get a few sub-par grades that put my CGPA at 3.84, I played badminton thrice in 1.5 years (although I wrote quite frequently – so hey, not a total loss!), I spent my weekends either studying or completing assignments and my long-term passion seems tangible but not strong enough for me to hold it yet.
The strangest part is, I don’t feel disappointed. Accomplishing those goals would have been a nice personal ego-boost, however, this teaches a good lesson of why reality overshadows expectations. When we set goals, we forget to take into account internal and external factors – external factors which we cannot anticipate and internal factors which we refuse to anticipate. One internal factor would be the laziness component. Nobody likes to think, ‘I tend to procrastinate 20% of the time, let me re-evaluate my goals’. The external factors can range from a lecture to a person you meet.
Now, think back, what were your goals? It doesn’t have to be for grad school or even school in general. Did you have expectations for your life a year before? Did you accomplish the goals? As the New Year rolls by, it’s a good time to introspect. I also like to use this FutureMe website to write a letter to myself which gets delivered 1, 3 or 5 years from now. Maybe you would like to as well.
However, I will still set audacious goals for myself this year. Goals I know I probably won’t accomplish. Why? Because it gets me through the day, it makes me feel like I have a purpose to fight for and a set of goals to live by.
2. Amateur to an Aficionado
Have you ever had this tugging feeling that your focus is wide-spread? That one day you wake up and realize you are nothing more than a dilettante? I struggled with this feeling for a long time. I pushed myself to different ventures where I felt I might find my calling. However, find your passion is the epitome of easier said than done.
A long conversation that I had with a good friend of mine cemented this idea. I knew I had to narrow down my focus and go deep into a few fields that pique my interest. I spent the last week of December shuttling between what to focus on, and narrowed down on a few. Writing is obviously one of them. The others… well, you will know with time. 😊
Are you a dabbler or an expert? A tinkerer or a maestro? Think about it. It matters.
3. My Sincerest Gratitude
On my first day in New York, I cried my eyes out because I was scared. I was terrified to be in this new ostentatious and brightly lit city where I didn’t know anyone. I was terrified that my excitement was about to be disillusioned by people I could not relate with. Fast forward 1 and half years, I cried my eyes out on my last day here because I was sad. I was sad to leave behind this majestic and beautifully lit city with people who had a deep impact on me. The intensity of grief was the same, only the reasons starkly different.
I understood the beauty of New York only in the last few weeks – its meticulously built subway system (which has a very interesting history), the ease of transportation it provides, the ability to wake up at 3 AM and still be able to order or go to a deli within half a mile, the people who walk fast but will always open doors for you, the uneven geology that brings with it beautiful mountains and rivers to visit and witnessing four different photo-worthy seasons in a year.
For any of you out there who are choosing between Columbia and another University for undergrad/grad, if you can resonate with the aforementioned paragraph and if location matters to you, Columbia wins hands down.
Goodbyes are hard indeed, but I also like them. They make you take a step back and value what you had, and in my case document that in the form of an article I can look back at even a decade later. I thanked a lot of people on my Instagram account in the last ten days. However, I wanted to emphasize my gratitude once more to all of you reading this – I would not have been able to document my grad school without at least one of you telling me how you loved reading it every week or so.
I don’t know if I will write about each month moving forward, or start another ‘series’, or stop writing. The uncertainty is exciting though, gives you room to think. I ask just one favor from you – if this was an interesting/useful/fun read for you, can I know what you liked about it and what could have been better? This will only take a few seconds of your time but help me improve immensely. 😊
P.S. Some nice pictures to end this with.
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