Who is the architect of your life?

You’re sitting in an exam, for which you moderately prepared. One by one, you trudge along answering the familiar sounding questions.

Then suddenly, your pen stops. It’s a question you have never seen before. What do you do?

One choice is to leave the question altogether.

If you do attempt to answer, you can sneak a cheat. You can just shoot in the dark by writing a lot of gibberish.

Or you can think about it, and write what makes sense.

I have never been an advocate of cheating. My own record is not spotless, but I can count the number of spots on my fingers.

The earliest instance is from primary school, in an English class. The class test was of ‘Opposites’, and I knew the answers to nine out of ten questions. The tenth word was rich, and I didn’t know the word poor. So, I peeped into a nearby student’s sheet and copied it.

When the teacher returned our test results and I saw 10/10 on my sheet, I felt terrible. Terrible that I wasn’t happy despite the full marks. Knowing that I didn’t deserve full marks, was intolerable. Yes, my teacher and parents will probably be delighted, and they’ll be proud of me. But what good is it if I can’t pat my own back?

Unable to endure it any longer, I walked up to the teacher with my head hung in shame, and told her what I did, and to correct my score. I don’t remember what she said. But I remember how I felt then, which is the same thing I feel today: proud of myself. Even at that age, it was one of the most important things to feel.

And though the remaining instances are limited, I am ashamed of them to this day.

The latter points of my academic career are strewn with average scores. I am neither the sharpest pencil nor the hardest worker.

However I can tell you, almost every time I faced the questions that stopped my pen, I resorted to the rational choice: think and attempt. The most important feeling was to be able to look at my present or past at any moment, and know: that I earned it. To know that I am the hero of my story, and I made that hero.

Life is an exam we are all moderately prepared for.

It is full of questions we don’t know much about. The choices are the same: ignore, cheat, shoot in the dark, think and attempt.

Interviews are full of such questions. Why do you want this job? Why MBA? Why Marketing? What is your greatest weakness?

And the alarming tendency of a great many people is to google for the best answers. In fact, certain institutions are set up within schools or otherwise to teach you the best answers.

“No, don’t mention that weakness. It’s too honest. You need to tell them how your weakness is also a strength…”

To them, what looks good on paper matters more than the naked truth within all of us.

I was once asked in a job interview why I haven’t scored well in high school and college. I replied, “because I didn’t know it would matter this much later in life.” (referring to B-school applications and CV shortlisting) They burst into laughter, not derisively, but appreciatively at my honesty. I joined in as well.

What about the consequences, you may ask? If a bit of tweaking here and there can get us a great job or a promotion, or a presidency, why not? Why risk the truth about what we think, what we feel?

You may ask why can’t we just take the recommended path? Why does everything have to make sense?

Because I believe I am a product of the choices I make, not the consequences I suffer or enjoy.

Because throughout life, someone or the other will tell you how to live each step of your life. Parents, teachers, friends – they all do it. They all want to be the architects of your life, and make a skyscraper of it. While cheating and copying is prohibited in exams, it’s funny how it is encouraged for the questions about how to live. Many parents are in fact terrified of their children answering such questions for themselves.

But I want to be the architect of my life. And I want to inspire others to build their own lives.

The truth is I am often confused about the next step. The next big question. I don’t have all the answers. I am even tempted to compromise to conformity, though it may not be making sense. But when I finally choose to act, it is with the most powerful of convictions. And that power comes from that fact that I chose to do it.

Of course, what I finally build may not be a skyscraper. It may be quite ordinary to others. But I’ll know what it means. I’ll always know.

I’m not alone. There are hopefully many others with a stronger belief in their values and convictions than mine.

Maybe somewhere out there, an interviewer will ask ‘Why MBA?’, and the candidate will reply ‘Why indeed,’ and walk out.

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