Last year, when I visited my old school I got a chance to have a chat with the new principal of the school.
It was a nice, casual conversation, but then she asked me to stop by later to speak as an alumnus to students.
I fantasized about the glee of students as the teachers would try to take me down like a swat team and rip the mic out of my hand as I cried revolution and about school being a meaningless cesspit that you’ll glad you left once you’re in college.
My first thought was, “I’m not sure you would enjoy that.”
Fortunately for her, I didn’t go there again before leaving for uni. But it did get me thinking. “what would I really tell them if I had the chance?”
I came up blank. “School is meaningless” is the only coherent thought that came up in my mind, over and over again.
I never invested actual time into this, it was always consigned to the machinery running in my subconscious.
But the idea was definitely developing. I was slowly fleshing out my reasons for calling school meaningless, searching within my own experiences as to why I felt that way.
Fast forward to a year later with my family at dinner. We’re talking about what my younger brother would like to do when he’s older, all the while he’s stressing about his eighth-grade exams like they’re the most important things in the world. He wasn’t interested in things like “careers”. Hell, he wasn’t particularly interested in anything except school and gaming.
That’s when it all came together. I knew everything I wanted to say to him, and by extension, would be useful to others of his age.
So here it goes.
1. What do you really want??
This sounds basic, but it’s a pretty tricky question. I don’t mean in the sense of “what profession do you want to enter into when you grow up?”
That’s a really tough question. “Do you want to be a doctor?” Is a lot to ask of a child who’s never dreamed of anything past his vacation. If you already know what job you want, good for you. But still, ask yourself, why do I want that? If you know the answer to that as well, then feel free to skip this one.
But in my experience, most aren’t like that. They want to be a doctor or an engineer because that’s what their parents want of them.
“I wanna be an engineer and then later join IAS (Indian Administrative Service)” was something I said every time someone asked me because that was my parents’ dream for me. Why bother thinking about something else?
I don’t blame them. I didn’t dream about what I wanted and so I didn’t object to their ambitions of me. To this day I’m still not sure what an IAS officer does, aside from making money and doing boring government stuff.
So that’s why you should probably start with something more foundational, and definitely more important. Think of it as a scene from Lucifer where he asks you, “Tell me, what is it you desire?” How would you respond?
Avoid superficial and materialistic answers. Yes, I want a PS5 too, yes I want a private island and a fleet of supercars. Give me (and yourself) something real here. What do you want in life? Fame? Money? Power? Control? Do you want to help people? Do you want to create something? Create art? Create words? Create machines? Do you want to make sure no one ever bosses you around or tells you what to do?
That’s a good starting point, but still very vague. You can get money as a politician, or a thief. (Not much range there but you get my meaning.)
Now is the opportunity to develop your dream further. How do you want that dream to materialise? It could be something as heroic as “I want to negotiate with terrorists to save the lives of the people they have held hostage while also figuring out how to take them down.” It can be as unconventional as “I want to sit in my room and play video games for 8-10 hours a day while streaming it to millions of people wearing my sponsored Nike shoes as their brand ambassador.”
Now THAT’S a dream. We all need one to live life with purpose, rather than just drifting in the current. It’s time to find yours, by finding out what you truly want in life.
2. School is Meaningless
That’s right. However, this comes with certain terms and conditions.
If you have a dream, you have one part of a plan, the ending. Now it’s time to chart the rest of it. What course will help you get to your dream? What university will put me in the best position to get there? What does that university require of me to apply? Do I need some relevant skills beforehand?
Having that plan will show you exactly what part of school is useful to you. Do you really need excellent grades now? Do you really need to put in anything but the minimum for topics that are no longer relevant to your purpose? Wouldn’t your time be better spent learning skills you might need to be a better movie set designer and get hired by Christopher Nolan?
As for your 10th-grade score? That’s the dramatic climax to a 16-year long saga that your parents, your relatives, your neighbours, your teachers, and the security guard in your apartment building have all been waiting for. The best performing student in my school would have the honour of having their name engraved on a plaque kept front and centre for everyone to see.
I, unfortunately, came second. Lost that honour by 3 marks. My mom still brings it up sometimes.
But let me tell you, those marks stop being relevant 3 months into the next year. There you will the hard truth, there’s no difference between you, a guy with 95% and that guy with 75%. You’re both idiots. At least guy probably didn’t put in as much effort as you did to get some numbers on a report card.
The only time you should grind at school is if you don’t have a plan. Then those good grades will make you more versatile and better equipped to handle anything you decide later in life. This is when you can be a jack of all trades, master of none.
Good grades are a safety net. But if you’ve listened to my advice, you’re now an expert acrobat who knows that a pool of fire, or sharks, are infinitely more spectacular than a safety net. But you also know that you can’t take that leap until you know you’re good enough to handle.
When I say school is meaningless, I mean more than grades are meaningless in the long term. As long as you’re doing something to reach your goal, school isn’t nearly as important as what university you get into. Unless that university wants you to be good at school and get 95%, then tough break kid. Get to work.
3. Fire up that CV
Seriously. The way school systems and society in India devalue work and experience is criminal.
A few weeks ago I was catching up with a friend of mine and I spoke to him about my new job. After listening he goes, “huh, should I start making a cv then?” The man is nearly 21.
But no he isn’t stupid or lazy. I know him well. He’s a driven engineering student and I’ve seen him be passionate about his work. Our society thinks that work is something you only need to even begin thinking about in the final year of your university. Even then you should just be staying with your parents the whole time.
My brother, now a teenager didn’t know what a CV is or why he should have one. Again, not his fault. No one taught him otherwise. I can’t entirely blame schools here because I don’t know if it’s their responsibility to teach you that.
But no one taught me so, and when I went to London was miles behind everyone else there because they tend to start working wherever they can when they’re as young as sixteen.
I took any jobs I could. My first job was lifting and selling 8-10 feet tall Christmas trees in the cold winter rains in London. A job where my coworkers were grown men twice my size. I was cold, I was damp, and my arms were sore. I hated it, but it gave me a start. I’ve had four proper jobs to date and I can confidently say that every job I’ve worked at was better than the last.
Since no one taught me, I feel like I should warn you. I admit that I may be coming from a place of privilege by speaking on this from experiences derived in a country where a working culture is respected more than it is in India. But on the flip side, it just means that you have less competition if you actually start working.
Make a CV. Then start filling up the cv with whatever you can find. The smallest internship or job is more valuable there than any grade you may feel is brag-worthy. No employer will look at your 95% and think “Woah that’s a hire right there”.
“Menial jobs” may not be relevant to your career, but employers will feel better about hiring you because they’re confident that you have a certain amount of work ethic. You take a job, you’ll be respected more as an adult than a 21-year-old child acting clueless in an office space.
It’s not as hard as you think. Use nepotism to your advantage. Go help your dad fill forms or stamp paper in his office for a fixed number of hours during your vacation. Make sure he draws up a contract. Congrats, that’s your job.
Finally, use your connections. Your teachers are your best connections. I assure you your teacher knows at least one of their former students who are now in the profession you’re looking at. DJ? Actor? Model? They probably do know someone.
Reach out to your teachers and I’m sure they’ll patch you through to her students. Talk to them, be nice, listen, and learn. Find out what they did to get here. They’re probably only a few years ahead of you so the memories will be fresh in their brains. Heck, they might even be able to get your internships in your relevant job if you’re lucky. You’ll never know until you take your shot.
Hopefully, these tips will help give you a greater sense of purpose. One that drives you from within. They say “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s bullshit. Work will always be exhaustive. But doing what you love helps make that exhaustion feel worth it. Having a drive gives you a sense of satisfaction in the work itself.
Lastly, it’s not a race. I know I said these will help you gain an edge. But having friends and helping each other is really the best way to grow and succeed.