Seek out experiences, not examinations - Mahima Vashisht, IIS Officer, IIMB

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    Mahima Vashisht is a Public Servant at Government of India in her capacity as an Indian Information Service Officer (Group A). She is currently working as the Assistant Director at Prime Minister Unit, Press Information Bureau. She did her PGDM from IIM Bangalore after scoring 99.98 percentile in CAT 2006. Mahima did an internship with ICICI UK PLC in London during MBA, followed by an exchange programme at the European Business School in Germany. She holds a BTech in Electronics and Communication from NIT K.

    I was a straight A’s student throughout school. I know now that the weightage that gets in our society is disproportionate and misplaced. But, at the time, my academic performances were getting me to all the places a “good student” was expected by society to get to. I joined IIM Bangalore in 2007 for the 2-year Post-Graduate Diploma in Management as a fresher right out of my graduation in engineering. After passing out of there in 2009, I joined a start up in change management. So far, my life had been running on auto-pilot.

    But the job with the start up changed that. My job involved a lot of traveling across the country (India). I worked with small communities – farmers, industrialists, SME owners, entrepreneurs, artisans, sculptors, saari makers – you name it. This experience did for me in 2 years what 2 decades of education had not been able to do – it gave me perspective. I saw the stories of disadvantaged communities in our country, and what educated people like us could possibly do for them. It struck me then that a bureaucrat is in a particularly privileged position to contribute to their lives. This inspired me to write the UPSC (Union Public Services Commission) exam in 2012, and I got lucky in my first attempt. I did not score enough marks to become an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) but I joined a so-called “allied IAS” service, one of the other 25 or so Central Civil Services that one can get into through the UPSC exam. I am still eligible to write this exam again and try for IAS. But I don’t want to spend another year of my life studying the same books and writing the same exams. I feel that my goal in writing this exam was to contribute to society and I still have a pretty good opportunity to do the same – even without the prestigious IAS tag. I am still not sure that my current job will give me the freedom to do the kind of work I want to do, the way I want to do it. There is a good chance that this will not work out – in which case, I will change gears again. If and when that time comes, I will still have grown by virtue of the experience and will hopefully have found new direction.

    My point was not to brag about my academic prowess. My point was this – I skipped from engineering to management to bureaucracy and I still don’t know what line of work I will be in a year down the line. One might call this a “lack of direction” or inconsistency. I call it “evolution”. My goal has been consistent throughout – I want to contribute to people, and hopefully leave the world a little less crappy than I found it. Each switch helped me grow as a person, and find what I thought was a better way to get there.

    When you have a clarity on your goal, the means you choose become incidental. IAS or IIM – this question is meaningless because all of these are means to an end. It is the final end – the goal – that one needs to figure out first. And in a confusing society like ours where pressures pound in from all directions – peers, parents, relatives, the neighbour’s new car – it is first important to spend some quiet time with yourself, and figure out what you want to really do. And I don’t mean in the sense of which company or sector you want to work for. I mean what would you like to think when you look back at your life when you’re 90 – what would you call “a life well lived” at that point?

    So my advice: Figure out your goal. And for that, seek out experiences, not examinations.

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