So Long, Farewell

It’s time to bid adieu to the first batch of the undergrad program at the Gokhale Institute. The next sentence in such cases is usually along the lines of “time flew by so quickly” – but not in this case. Time dilated, it froze, and came out of hibernation only after two excruciatingly long years.

There’s so much that I wanted to teach them, but couldn’t.

But for what it’s worth, I’ve tried to distill some points of advice that I would want to pass on to them – and to any student graduating this year. If you’re graduating out of college this year, I hope what is about to follow will be of some help:

  1. Life is a non-zero sum game. If I’m wrong about this, my entire approach to life is wrong, so take this advice to heart at your own risk. But to me, it is a fundamental tenet.
  2. Surround yourself with people who like to play non-zero sum games.
  3. But note that this is hard to do! No matter where you go and what you do in life, you will find that most people prefer to play zero-sum games.
  4. The worst kind of zero sum games are those involving status and hierarchy as end goals. Unfortunately, these also are the most prevalent, no matter where you go and what you do.
  5. Read. Listen. See. Reflect. Discuss. Debate. 
  6. Then speak and write.
  7. If you find yourself being sure about a thought, idea or concept, begin to worry. Certitude is the enemy, and doubt is your friend. Make peace with the fact that you will never know anything for certain, and learn to revel in this state of perennial uncertainty.
  8. “How can I help make this better?” is always a better question to ask than “But why does this suck so much?”. Hardly anybody ever does this, and you can corner the problem-solving market for yourself fairly easily.
  9. Never be afraid to ask very basic questions, no matter how complicated the problem. The more basic the question, the clearer your thinking will become.
  10. Never give up on a chance to travel. It is the best way to learn.
  11. Get mentors in all walks of life. Some of you have been mentors to me, and the reason I bring this up is because one should never assume that a mentor has to be older or more qualified than you. They just need to be better than you in one specific dimension – the dimension that you want to get better at.
  12. Mentor other people. There is no better way to learn than by teaching.
  13. When you build teams around you, optimize for passion. Everything else can be taught, but there is no cure for a lack of enthusiasm. In interviews, make sure you show your passion. If you don’t have that passion, maybe you shouldn’t be sitting for that interview.
  14. Curiosity is a magical thing, but it is also a delicate plant. Nourish it on a daily basis.
  15. Always make the mistake of being too enthusiastic. The other kind of mistake is an unbearable thing to think about.

Finally, a point that I have been thinking about recently. I have started to watch – but am yet to finish – Don’t Look Up, on Netflix. The movie is about a meteorite that will strike earth in about six months time, and the scientists who discover this fact simply aren’t taken seriously by everybody else they meet. I don’t yet know how it ends, but I have been thinking about the metaphor.

There’s going to be a meteorite in all of our individual lives – we are all going to die. That much is inevitable. In much the same way that the news of the meteorite galvanizes the two scientists who discover it, why does the certain knowledge of our eventual death not galvanize us? Why do we not have a sense of urgency about what we are going to do in what remains of our lives – regardless of how seriously or not the rest of the world takes us?

The pandemic has taught us the same lesson: we should make the most of the limited time we have in this course. I encourage you to apply the same lesson to the rest of your life: make the most of it.

Go well, do well and be well.

All the best!

6 thoughts on “So Long, Farewell

  1. inspired.. and inspiring as well! Not just for students but fit for everybody!

  2. […] I’m not trying to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude here. I’m guilty of this myself, and I struggle everyday to read about the world as objectively as possible. And I’ll be the first to admit that I do not always succeed. But I try and console myself with the fact that I try to get worried if I feel sure about knowing something for sure. […]

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