It’s been almost a decade since my 12th exams. But every year when I read about the exam dates or about the results being declared, I’m gripped by a sense of fear. I would then have to wait for my mind to register the fact that I’ve successfully (I’d like to say so), completed my 12th and I’m far away from schools and exams.
The 12th standard exams are the most hyped-affair throughout our childhood. Even if our parents are cool about it, those around us ensure we are constantly reminded of how “life-altering” they are similar to the become-a-millionaire-in-one-song phenomenon. At school, anything and everything you do (even if your white canvas shoes aren’t that white on a Monday morning) is somehow linked to the final exams. I do agree that these exams are important as the right scores are necessary, in many cases, for us to proceed with our choice of course in a college. But I wouldn't agree that this is a make-or-break event, which if not carefully tackled would meddle with our lives forever.
There is a popular saying that people around the world decide what they want to do in high school, whereas in India people finish their high school and college (mostly engineering) and then decide what to do. I guess people who opt for other streams at college are pretty much focussed on what they want to do. I, like thousand others, did follow the School-> Engineering College-> IT routine, but 2 years after spending days and nights furiously typing code, one fine day I just decided to throw it all away and I told myself I would never touch a piece of code again. I thought I’d have to take my words after a week or so, but then thanks to a few good samaritans, I found work that was remotely related to what I liked doing and what started as, I-will-do-anything-but-coding turned into something more than just a temporary escape route. Luckily for me, it wasn't that difficult to start all over again and I knew that in the long run, the two years spent following a boring routine wouldn't matter. But for many streams one has to start very early because switching midway might not be a viable option.
Many people ask question the relevance our school and college syllabus in our day-to-day lives. Those days of learning where iron ore deposits and sugar cane mills in India were, to getting the location of Delhi wrong every time on an India map, to logarithmic tables and calculus to getting the right shape of a frog’s legs and remembering the punctuations in sonnets, I’m still waiting for the day I would apply the concepts learned in a practical way. I would definitely not say everything was a waste of time, but its relevance in our career might not be as much as one would have imagined at school.
At school it might seem too early to decide what we want to do, for which keeping our options open is a wise step. Having said that, unless we do our homework properly it might be too late to start over and move to a completely different area of interest. So instead of blindly following parents or what your peers are doing, take a step back and find out what you really want to do, speak to experts (Google!) and then choose your course and college. Always keep your options open unless you’ve found your true calling (which for an average adult changes every 2 to 5 years!) so that it would be easy to switch over or multi-task.
For a long time, I thought it was customary to cry after seeing your scores. I grew up in an environment where people expected 97% and cried their eyes out for scoring 96%. So I was preparing myself to handle that situation, but for certain things in life you can never be well prepared. Well, I did cry too because I fell short of what I’d expected. But I knew it was not all over, and that it was just the starting point. That is when I realised that there were two kinds of people in the world - Some who spend all their life waiting for the right cards to fall from the skies while some try to play well with the cards that they have in hand. I’m sure many of my batchmates too must have gone through that phase. And I’m still sure many of them, like me, would laugh at those memories and smile happily for where they are today — for believing they were capable of doing something, following their heart and making the best use of what was available.
Marks are important yes, but they do not come before your belief and your passion.
When people ask me why I pursued a different path that is of no relevance to the 4 gruelling years of engineering (for the uninitiated, engineering is not that difficult but clearing Anna University exams without arrears and revelations is one hell of a task!), I smile and say that I’m happy with what my school taught me. When people immediately assume I’m a maths wizard and I politely clarify what has been helping me in my career, they find it tough to believe my words. I save the trouble of making them believe what I said. Thank god for all my English teachers at school, my copy of Wren & Martin and of course, Shakespeare!
I’m happy I choose a different path, because I believe in what Mark Twain has to say about this. He said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do than by the ones that you did.” I’m sure nobody wants to live a life a life full of regrets, so why take that chance!