How to create your own path amidst chaos? ft. Varun Bajaj
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
The heart wants what it wants. Sometimes in life, we take decisions that people around us don’t understand. Maybe even our rational side doesn’t. But then again, the heart wants what it wants. You take decisions that are best for you. Even if it says to drop out of one of the most coveted b-schools in India.
What do you do after that? How do you forge your own path from all the chaos around you?
Today we bring to you one brave soul, Varun Bajaj, who dropped out of IIM B. He's a Strategic Analyst. He is a gold medallist (Marketing) at St. Xavier’s College, co-founder of the Let’s Talk Project and has a background in CFA and Actuarial Science.
Scroll to see what happens next in his life!
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We are used to having our whole lives planned: the courses we take, the career path that we decide on, the milestones of life that we create for ourselves. But what if we veer off this path? How does life and what we expect from it change? I had no clue what would happen and yet I chose the unconventional route.
Having a consistent performance record in both academics and extracurricular activities in La Martiniere, combined with the marketing gold medal at St. Xavier's College, I knew I had a strong profile! Surely, there was no turning back from the next logical phase of education - an MBA from a top tier business school.
That kick-started the process of dedicated study, polishing my reasoning and analytical skills, mock tests and finally the long-awaited CAT day. The 99.88 percentile was a great reward for all the hard work, but I knew that would only get me into the interview room. Cracking the interview would be a different ball-game altogether. After hours of GD-PI preparation, reading up on general knowledge and current affairs (as is the norm), and multiple mock interviews … I felt I was ready. Surprisingly, about a third of the thirty-minute interview was spent on a project I’d co-founded in college. That, I believe, proved to be a game changer for me. Finally came the coveted call from IIM Bangalore. I was thrilled! A crazy journey of two years was waiting for me, but then ... I dropped out a day before the start of the session.
The decision was made weeks back. Flying down to Bangalore just made me sure. The decision came straight from the heart. No doubt, had the mind been at play, I would have stayed. A mix of personal and familial reasons led to it, something that in itself would require thousands of words for me to express. But then I’d rather take this opportunity to share with you what followed and what I made of it. At the end of the day, a different set of reasons may put someone else in a similar situation, but the way to turn the situation around will remain the same.
It was, without a doubt, the toughest decision of my life. Before breaking the news to everyone, I was on a call with someone who had mentored me for CAT and the subsequent selection process. While he didn't dissuade me from my decision, I distinctly remember him telling me that there was no parallel to what I was about to give up. I might have to settle for alternatives that could be rungs lower than that. The opportunity cost was high.
I was aware that education sets the foundation to build your career on. Once I was back from Bangalore, the next two years were eventful in every sense. I dove headfirst into CFA and Actuarial Science. That exposed me to the basics of coding, and I started working on a game that I had conceptualised in college. I started building that on Microsoft Excel ... not the first developer platform that comes to mind. But then, you put to use the resources at hand first and then go for something bigger. During those two years, I also turned into a voracious reader, where I sought content that would be mind-opening, and even read about people who had been in similar situations as myself.
Those two years instilled in me two things: one, a sense of patience; and two, a willingness to go beyond my comfort zone, and try my hand at things I wouldn't have normally done. All these materialised over time into things of value. Designing and photography took me to Shutterstock as a contributor. Coding took my passion for gaming a notch higher, where I now have a small team working on the game I started on Excel. Gaming and reading got my skin in the game with YouTube and Instagram, to get first-hand experience of these powerful tools of digital marketing.
I remember watching a video of Steve Jobs, where he delivered the commencement address at Stanford. "... you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward," he said. I was starting to feel it! Perhaps that is how I got the Strategic Analyst role as my first job. A role I would've traditionally sought after an MBA.
The following two years broadened my horizon even further. Working with an entrepreneur and interacting with functional experts made me: one, look at things from a long term perspective; and two, look at a business holistically, rather than just from the job role's perspective. I also learned that knowledge can come from anywhere if we are receptive. This reminds me of a meeting that centred around Narcos: Mexico. It still makes me chuckle that I conveyed a potential business strategy taking a drug cartel as an example; but then there was another where the inspiration was Hitler. So it is what it is, inspiration can be found anywhere. Just matters what one makes of it.
With each interaction and experience, this understanding became stronger. That, in turn, opened more doors and I started applying myself beyond the workplace, to add value to people around me. From conceptualising a successful marketing & branding strategy for a friend’s perfume brand, to turning ideas into scalable solutions for another friend engaged in app- and game-development, to giving shape to the creative ideas of an aspiring author.
My decision and the experiences that followed had also put me in a place where I was able to disperse the clouds of confusion for others, and help them think more clearly. It reminds me of my college days where, instead of joining the most elite society of college, I co-founded the Let’s Talk project where the freshers were given counselling-in-disguise, to rise above peer pressure and inferiority complex. One of the participants came up to me and shared the news of cracking into that same society. That, to me, was bigger than being a part of that society myself!
While I’m not yet in a position to give any strong conclusion, what I can say for sure is that order can be found in the most chaotic times if one has the right perspective. I believe that, at the end of the day, a decision either gives us a win or a lesson. The decision I took led me to learn two important things: vision and endurance. If one is agile enough to pivot along the way, while staying rooted to the long term vision, success is a given! At a philosophical level, confidence within and faith without are crucial.
Reminds me of the Jason Mraz song "I'm Yours", something that's pretty close to my heart:
Before the cool done run out,
I'll be giving it my bestest,
And nothing's gonna stop me but divine intervention,
I reckon it's again my turn,
To win some or learn some.
I’m still on that unplanned journey, and can’t wait for it to turn into an unforgettable one, both for myself and those around me.
Before signing off, I would like to thank the Unconventional MBA for giving me this opportunity, because now whenever someone asks me why I dropped out of IIM Bangalore, I'll just have to share a URL!
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Interested in learning about how to approach the CAT? Check out our Strategise the CAT series here!