Before this website was blog-based, I promoted my coaching and consulting services through article marketing. I didn’t write a huge number of articles but when I did write, I spent at least 3-4 hours per article to ensure I was writing something very valuable.
Many people would contact me via email asking for advice or wanting to discuss personal growth/motivation.
There was one particular individual who was going through an extremely difficult time on his journey to fulfill his dream in India. From one article, email contact was made and now 3 years later, we still stay in touch. His name is SDG, well I have always called him SDG based on his initials, but that is what I will refer to him as today. Throughout our exchanges over the past few years, I have watched his life go from moments of emotion rock bottom to moments of pure triumph.
Last week, he shared his story of struggle and inspiration that he has experienced over the past 23 years. I have shared his story with you, unedited, in the space below. Please leave a comment for SDG and let him know what you thought…
The Light on the Lake
This is my story from the depths of mediocrity to the heights of excellence. Years back someone told me that to be brilliant, first you should be ready to be mediocre. In order to be a brilliant sportsman or musician, one first has to be willing to be a mediocre sportsman or musician first. The same is true of managers. In order to become a brilliant professional and a leader, one has to spent years steeped in mediocrity. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. It’s just that one has to be willing to go through the chores, be ready to be laughed at, be ready to be mocked and ridiculed, be ready to be called a good-for-nothing dud! One has to be ready to take the harsh criticism in good spirit and stick to one’s task and goals. One fine day life will change. This then is the essence of my story. I did nothing extraordinary or heroic. I just stuck to my task, chugged on like a vintage steam engine on a steep uphill track for years to reach where I am today. I share my story with you all now, hoping that it will inspire to you accomplish similar feats and you don’t give up your dream in face of moral shattering criticism.
My early years were very ordinary. My parents were conservative in their outlook and my family is a family of brilliant scientists. No one ever undertook a career in commerce and management in my family. My father is an accomplished scientist in his field and therefore when I chose to do a bachelor’s degree in commerce 23 years back from today, I faced a barrage of criticism from my family. At once I was written off as a good for nothing character. No one ever told me, what can be done after a bachelor’s degree in commerce, or what is the scope for further studies and career choices. I was a subject of laughter and ridicule in social gatherings. This was a time, when in India a degree in medicine or engineering was considered as the holy choice for goody goody mama’s kids. If one didn’t succeed in securing a seat in a medicine or engineering course, through a tough competitive examination, the second choice was a bachelor’s degree in science, eventually resulting in Ph.D. in science. Choosing any other discipline was equivalent to committing a social hara-kiri. Those who chose a career in commerce was considered to have no future at all! I was singled out for laughter and ridicule at every gathering, where my parents took me. Eventually I became isolated, lonely, confined to my room and the only thing that remained with me was my dream – a dream to excel, a dream to make one’s mark in society. That dream kept me awake at nights.
I was handed over a news paper clipping titled: “career choices for mediocre students” in 1989. I was in degree second year then. There was a beautiful lake within the campus of the international research institute, where my father was a scientist. I used to spend hours sitting in front of the banks of the lake, watch a fish jump out of the water, watch beaver birds busy making nests and watch cranes busy quarrelling in evening to secure a seat on a banyan tree for night’s rest. I went to the lake and started weeping uncontrollably. It was evening, the sun was setting and the setting sun’s rays fell on the lake creating a beautiful golden glow. In that glow that day I saw God. I heard God whisper in my ears: don’t worry! I am there! Talk to me! I am your friend! I shall solve all your problems! I shall clear all obstacles! Talk to me whenever you want!” I went back home, charged up. The light on the lake became my constant companion.
In final year B.com examination, in one of the subjects I secured the best marks in university. The subject was managerial economics. I topped the university with 80% marks. My college principle was stupefied! He called me in his room and told me this: “you! You never attend classes, always busy chatting and smoking on the college bike stand! How’s that you out of all people topped the university in this subject, what magic did you apply?” “Sir, the subject caught my fancy and I just read the text book very carefully twice” was my reply. “I suggest, you take up a career in Management Accounting, you can become a very good management accountant”. He blessed me very sincerely that day.
A degree in management accounting in India is awarded by The Institute of Cost And Works Accountants of India (ICWAI), which is a statutory body regulating the management accounting profession in India, just like the Financial Accounting profession is regulated by Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). ICWAI enjoys close links with CIMA of London. Both the courses of ICAI and ICWAI contains 16 papers divided in 4 groups and one has to secure 50% in aggregate to qualify in any group. Both the institutes are rather infamous for the pass rate they maintain – just around 3% and the 4 exams of these two institutes are considered as two the toughest professional exams to pass in the whole world. Therefore when I conveyed my decision to my parents, that I wish to join the management accounting course of ICWAI, the reactions were on expected lines.
“You! You are a good-for-nothing donkey!” “Your son wants to become a management accountant?” “Is he crazy?” “Is he out of his head?” ‘Show him a psychiatrist!” “You will never pass even a single group in your whole life!” “Crows should never dream of becoming peacocks”. The comments came from all quarters. I was told to not go and submit my registration form and instead look for a career as a junior clerk. Then one fine evening, a management accountant, who worked in the finance department of the institute met me by chance in a gathering. He found out my score in managerial economics and was surprised. This subject is the foundation stone for a career in management accounting and this gentleman was surprised to learn my score and the way I was discouraged. He took up the issue with my parents. Even today I thank him sincerely. Without his intervention, I would have never become a qualified management accountant. He convinced my parents, that I can indeed pass this course.
I have talked about my early years in detail, so as to give you the idea of the atmosphere that prevailed in my home, the amount of ridicule and discouragement I faced and how uphill was my task. To cut a long story short, I was engaged in a fierce struggle for next six years from 1990 to 1995 to pass these tough exams. During this time, I was constantly interrupted in my studies, was frequently asked to go to the market and fetch groceries, since I was still considered a good-for-nothing fool, sitting idle at home! These exams require 8-10 hours of regular study everyday to have any decent chance of securing 50% marks in first attempt and top class guidance from experienced accountants. In my case, guidance or tuitions were ruled out, my parents were just not willing to invest any sum after my tuitions. The interruptions and criticisms continued, to the extent that whenever there was a party in my home (the parties were very frequent during weekends), I was often asked to vacate my room, so that the guests, who were smokers could come and smoke in my room!
These things obviously took a toll on my preparation and I took a longer time than expected to pass the groups. The failures exacerbated the criticisms and ill treatment further, thus creating a vicious cycle. With great luck and with god’s blessings (the light on the lake, was still my constant companion in evenings) I cleared three out of four groups by 1995 and secured a decent job in a top class financial services firm.
During these six years I learned a vital lesson, which I share with you all today: – when you decide to do something tough and out-of-the-way, every one you know will pass their judgement on you, discouraging you every way. But for every 100 people who discourage you, it’s tough to find even one single person who will pat on your back and ask you to get going. For me one such person was Mr. N.V.Venkateshwar Rao, who first convinced my parents to allow me to do ICWA, the second such person was my boss in the financial services company I joined in September 1995 : Mr. Vishwanath Prasad, who interviewed me and decided that I have fire in the belly (to quote his own words) and despite the fact that I still had a group to pass, he gave me the salary and position of a fully qualified Management accountant:- Financial Analyst. The third such person was one of my father’s friends: Mr. Mirza Yawar Baig, who is an alumni of IIM-Bangalore and is one of top management consultants in India today. He met me one evening, in one such weekend party and egged me on:- “You will make it big, you have it in you, never give up!”. These three persons shaped my personality and I am what I am today because of them.
The success of passing 3 out of 4 groups of ICWAI and the subsequent job in a prestigious financial services firm, silenced a thousand foul mouths. People who ridiculed me for nearly ten years watched silently, as I left my home crisply dressed in a formal shirt and an expensive tie, with the identity card of the firm proudly hanging from my trouser belt loop in morning. During this time I met my wife and she changed my life. Now at last I had someone, who encouraged me for 24 hours a day!
I eventually went on to pass the last and remaining group of ICWAI and joined a manufacturing firm as a cost accountant. It was a small firm, but a good one. I started living separately by now from my parents with my newly wed wife. One fine day I took my wife to the light, I first saw the light in 1989, this was 1998. 9 years passed by since first God whispered those words in my ears. That day I once again heard the whisper: “Boy, you have ended one journey, another starts today. You have crossed one level of mediocrity, many more to climb, you have every right to rejoice, at the same time you have the added responsibility to work harder, AS YOU ARE NO MORE A GOOD-FOR-NOTHING DUD! Today you posses one of the best degrees in India.”
I often used to remark to my wife, that although I work for a small firm, one fine day I shall join a big MNC. She used to laugh at the idea, although not exactly criticising me. I endured criticism and mockery for ten long years and went on to become a sharp management accountant from being an ordinary commerce graduate, therefore she was aware of the fact that I shall pull it off one day. Finally when in January 2000 I got an offer from an American MNC giant to join as a costing-manager, she was not surprised. This firm had two plants in Hyderabad in south India and in Faridabad in north India. I was asked to join the north India plant after the interview and I shifted with my family.
My father still worked in the research institute in Hyderabad and one morning in 2001, I was asked by my boss to fly to the Hyderabad plant for some work. I came to Hyderabad and after a hard day in office, came back home to see a party was on! I was in my company uniform and the identity card, bearing my designation and company name was hanging from my shirt pocket.
The guests were familiar faces, for nearly 10 years these were the very same people who made my life miserable and confined me to my room. Therefore there was a pin drop silence, as I entered the room, the I-card hanging from my shirt pocket, telling them the name of the $ 5 billion MNC firm, where I worked as a manager. I ignored the looks, the greetings, feigned as if I am totally unaware of their presence and walked into my room. My parents came after me and remarked:- “how uncivil of you!” The 5 minute long and hard stare that I gave back told them all, all that was done in those 10 years. I just threw down my office bag and walked to the light on the lake. 12 years had passed by. I heard the whisper for one last time again:- “Do not be complacent and do not stop! This is perhaps the last time we are meeting, from being dubbed as a donkey, you have gone onto become a MNC manager today in this 12 years. Yet! Complacency is a man’s biggest enemy. You have bigger feats to accomplish.” My father retired after that last meeting and left Hyderabad, so I never saw the light again.
Yet, the words whispered in my year time and again: “you have bigger feats to accomplish”. In 2005, I decided to give up my cushy MNC job and do a doctoral degree in management. Joined a small institute in a small desert town in Western India as assistant professor. How will I do my Ph.D.? Where shall I join? How will I arrange the finances to pay the fees? What will be the topic of my research? How shall I publish papers in international journals, mandatory in any good institute for completing the Ph.D. course?
I didn’t have answers to any of these questions. Although the institute was a small one, but the director of the institute was a highly learned person, being a MBA from Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad and a graduate of IIT-Delhi. He encouraged me to join Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences – Pilani, which is considered as one of the finest educational institutions in India and their doctoral degree course is one of the toughest in India. At first I baulked at the idea of joining BITS-Pilani and the course was also very expensive at Rs. 24,000 per year. My salary was small, I was working at half of my last industry salary and was insufficient to pay the fees. The institute conducted an entrance examination to join the Ph.D. course, where only 10% passed. “Still better than 3% of CA/ICWA final examination!” remarked my wife and laughed. “You shall pass the Ph.D. qualifying exam in flying colours”, she remarked. I closed my eyes and remembered the light on the lake and once again heard the whisper: “You have taken the decision, now don’t worry about passing the exam or about arranging the fees, leave that to me”
I joined the doctoral degree program of BITS-Pilani in 2006 January and eventually managed to publish 3 papers in three international refereed scholarly journals. I did my doctoral thesis in strategic management. There’s a saying: “When the pupil is ready, the teacher arrives”. I met Dr. Debashish Sanyal of MDI-Gurgaon in 2000 August for the first time, when I attended his program on Strategic Cost Management. I was working for the MNC firm then.
In 2006, Dr. Sanyal became my guide, my friend, philosopher and mentor and God father. I obtained a bank loan to pay my fees, and 2010 July I completed my doctoral thesis after another 4.5 years long struggle, often the study hours extending deep into the night, after I came back exhausted from college. During this time I often followed a quote downloaded from HYPERLINK “http://www.motivateus.com:-” www.motivateus.com:- “if you want to make your dreams come true, then don’t sleep”.
21 years have passed since I heard the whisper in my ear. In these 21 years, I went on to obtain two premier degrees, publish 3 international papers, went on to marry a beautiful and intelligent girl, who holds a first class master’s degree in mathematics. Today I am just awaiting my turn to join one of India’s top B-schools, such as the IIMs, which will happen in due course of time. Right now, I have an offer from a prestigious publisher to write a book in strategic cost management, on which today I am considered to be an authority and I am in the editorial review board of two international journals in strategy. I shall eventually go onto publish many more books and papers in reputed international journals and be come to be known as one of the top scholars in strategy. I am very sure of this.
Yet the whisper continues in my ear: “You have crossed one level of mediocrity, another just has began, never be complacent and I am always there to remove your obstacles, provided you are willing to take the risk”. My steam engine still chugs along on the steep uphill track, enjoying the scenery and ignoring the jibes from faster engines who overtake it.
Is it like the classic story of the hare and tortoise? Not quite so, I think today. To succeed in one’s aims, one has to play the hare at times, tortoise at other. There were times, I just chugged along, yet there were other times, when I had to take quick and decisive action, just in time to avert a major failure. Immediately after I joined the Ph.D. program of BITS in 2006, BITS changed its rules of admission, a 3 months delay on my side would have closed the doors of this premier institute for me forever. I was quick to take the decision and plunge head on, guided by the WHISPER. The Whisper guided me to take up management accounting, it guided me to choose my wife, join BITS as a Ph.D. scholar, write papers for international refereed journals. This Whisper was my inner voice, my belief, it continues to be the LIGHT OF MY LIFE, ALTHOUGH I LAST SAW THE GOLDEN GLOW ON THE LAKE IN 2001.
New Delhi, India
Shiladitya_2003 (at) rediffmail.com