When I look back at my early career (high school and early part of college), and wonder how I was so successful back then, I think it was primarily because back then I was pretty good at managing myself. Even at that early (!! ) age, I had a good idea of what I was good at, and was able to either take paths that were aligned to my strengths, or outsource cleverly, in order to do a good job of things.
For example, back when I was in 12th standard, I was “Maths Association President” in my school, and was in charge of organizing the Maths section of the school exhibition. The first thing I realized then was that while I was technically good, I sucked at managing people, and the first person I recruited was someone who I got along well with, and who I thought was an excellent people manager. I think together we managed to do a pretty terrific job.
Another example was when I was preparing to get into IIM. I recognized that CAT was something I was inherently good at, but wasn’t sure of my ability to do well in interviews. So I decided to prepare hard for CAT (though I thought I didn’t really need it), so as to maximize my performance there and render the interview irrelevant. Thinking back about my IIMB interview, I’m surprised they let me in at all, and I guess that was because of my CAT maximization only.
There were several other such occasions. Like when I decided not to prepare for JEE at all in my 11th standard in order to “conserve myself” for the push in 12th. Or when I spent a week doing nothing after my 12th boards, so that I could time my “big JEE push” such that I peaked at the right time. Or when I decided not to care about grades in courses that I loathed (as long as I passed, of course) so that I could spend more time and enjoy the courses I liked. In short, I loved being my own boss.
5 years of work in 4 different places has been largely unsatisfactory, as the more perceptive of you might have inferred from my posts. The biggest challenge so far has been in motivating myself to do something that I don’t just care about, only because I’m being paid a salary. And thinking more about it, it might be because I never really grasped the full import of what I was signing for every time I signed for a job. And I must admit there were times I lied, though not consciously. I tried to convince people I was good at getting things done (something I absolutely suck at). I told them I’m a decent programmer (I’m an excellent programmer but a lousy software engineer). And so forth.
In essence I realize that over the last five to six years I’ve failed miserably at managing myself. At getting myself into things that I enjoyed, at taking routes that I enjoy rather than one professed by someone else, at doing what I really want to do rather than what someone else wants me to do, and so forth. Essentially, by mortgaging my time to someone else, in exchange for a salary four times, I’ve actually lost the right to manage myself. And for someone with unusual skills and weaknesses (as I think I am), it is no surprise that things haven’t gone too well at all.
I do hope I can make a career in a way that I don’t mortgage my time in entirety to someone else. To be able to work, and be paid for it, but to do things my way. In other words, I don’t want to take up a full time job. To paraphrase a line I read in an extract of Aman Sethi’s A Free Man I need to recognize that I need my azaadi also, and shouldn’t give it up for kamaai.