Fifteen years of professional life

I was supposed to begin my first job on the 1st of May 2006. A week before, I got a call from HR stating that my joining date had been shifted to the 2nd. “1st May is Maharashtra Day, and all Mumbai-based employees have a holiday that day. So you start on the second”, she said.

I was thinking about this particular job (where I lasted all of three months) for a totally different reason last night. We will talk about that sometime in another blogpost (once those thoughts are well formed).

The other day I was thinking about how I have changed since the time I was working. I mean there are a lot of cosmetic changes – I’m older now. I can claim to have “experience”. I have a family. I have a better idea now of what I’m good at and all that.

However, if I think about the biggest change from a professional front that has happened to me, it is in (finally, belatedly) coming to realise that the world (especially, “wealth games”) is positive sum, and not zero sum.

The eight years before I started my first job in 2006 were spent in insanely competitive environments. First there was mugging for IIT JEE, where what mattered was the rank, not the absolute number of marks. Then, in IIT, people targeted “branch position” (relative position in class) rather than absolute CGPA. We even had a term for it – “RG” (for relative grading).

And so it went along. More entrance exams. Another round of RG. And then campus interviews where companies came with a fixed number of open positions. I don’t think I realised this then, but all of my late teens and early twenties spent in ultra competitive environments meant that I entered corporate life also thinking that it was a zero sum thing.

I kept comparing myself to everyone around. It didn’t matter if it was the company’s CEO, or my boss, or some junior, or someone completely unconnected in another part of the firm. The only thing that was constant was that I would instinctively compare myself

“Why do people think this person is good? I’m smarter than him”
“Oh, she seems to be much smarter than me. I should be like her”

And that went on for a while. Somewhere along the way I decided to quit corporate altogether and start my own consulting business. Along the way I met a lot of people. Some were people I was trying to sell to. Others I worked with after having sold to some of their colleagues. I saw companies in action. I saw diverse people get together to get work done.

Along the way something flipped. I don’t exactly know what. And I started seeing how things in the real world are not a zero sum game after all. It didn’t matter who was good at what. It didn’t matter if one person “dominated” another (was good at the latter on all counts). People worked together and got things done.

My own sales process also contributed. I spoke to several people. And every sale I achieved was a win-win. Every assignment came about because I was adding value to them, and because they were adding (monetary) value to me. It was all positive sum. There were no favours involved.

And so by the time I got back to corporate life once again at the end of last year, I had changed completely. I had started seeing everything in a “positive sum” sort of way and not “zero sum” like I used to in my first stint in corporate life. That is possibly one reason why I’m enjoying this corporate stint much better.

PS: If you haven’t already done so, listen to this podcast by Naval Ravikant. It is rather profound (I don’t say that easily). Talks about how wealth is a positive sum game while status is a zero sum game. And to summarise this post, I had spent eight years immediately before I started building wealth by competing for status, in zero sum games.

JEE Rank, branch position, getting the “most coveted job” – they were all games of status. It is interesting (and unfortunate) that it took me so long to change my perspective to what was useful in the wealth business.

PPS: I’ve written this blogpost over nearly two hours, while half-watching an old Rajkumar movie. My apologies if it seems a bit rambling or incoherent or repetitive.

 

 

Relationships and IIT

So the basic premise of this post is that being in a romantic relationship is like studying at IIT.

Everyone wants to get into IIT. They do thipparlaaga to try and get in. They join expensive coaching classes. Some of them even move cities. They wait for several years giving multiple attempts. People work extremely hard. Still, success is not guaranteed. There is that luck factor. There is the day’s performance that matters. Some days are important than others. Cracking the JEE is a “discrete” job.

While preparing for JEE, everyone thinks that if they clear the exam, their life is made. They come under the impression that after JEE, life will become smooth. That they won’t need to put any fight for the rest of their lives. That all that matters for their future is their cracking the JEE. And so forth.

It’s only after people come to IIT that they realize that life is not the cakewalk they assumed it to be. It is only after they get there that they realize that life after JEE is quite hard. That it is necessary to work hard. That if they don’t work hard, they will do very badly, and might flunk. It is only when they get to IIT that it hits them. Some learn quickly but others get disillusioned and give up in life. Several people do badly. Some even drop out.

So it’s similar with a romantic relationship. Everyone wants to get into a romantic relationship. Everyone looks only about the “entrance examination”. Everyone believes (before they get in) that life ban jaayegi after they get into a relationship. And getting into a relationship is a “discrete” job. It’s about how you “perform” during those blading sessions. It takes that bit of luck. It takes those set of fateful events to happen together in that precise coincidence.

And it is only when you get into a relationship that you realize how hard it is (provided you haven’t been there before). It is like being in IIT all over again. You know that you will need to work really hard to keep it going (applies to both parties). It is a continuous job, and you need to continuously “perform”. The randomness is much smaller than it is during the “relationship acquisition” phase.  However, you necessarily need to work hard. There is no “stud way out”. Some people give up when they find this out and break up (drop out). Others understand and put in the requisite effort and sustain the relationship. And continue to work hard.

The thing with arranged marriages is that you are typically forced to commit as soon as you’re done with “evaluating” the other person. You don’t get to test the counterparty on their ability to work hard and keep things going. It is like offering someone a job as soon as he has cleared the JEE.

And I wonder if one can draw an analogy between marriage and (academic) tenure.

An old delta hedge

I learnt finance only in 2005. It was around that time that I first came across the concept of delta hedging. However, I now realize that unknown to me, I had indeed used this concept to great effect in 1999.

That was the year when I had started preparing for the JEE. I had joined BASE, the best JEE factory in Bangalore. I was having a hard time since I hadn’t studied one bit in all of 11th standard when my friends had dilgently solved Irodov and other books. I had missed one whole month of prime summer holiday JEE prep thanks to the Math Olympiad Training Camp. I knew I needed to be focused. I knew I didn’t want to be distracted. However, I also knew that I would be under tremendous pressure for a year, and any means of easing a bit would be welcome.

During our monthly counselling sessions at BASE, the Director would call for us to create angst. “You need to have the fire in the belly”, he used to say. “And be able to channel it in the right direction in order to fuel your effort. Without fire in the belly, nothing can be done”

I must mention here that this was one of those unintended consequences things. I didn’t plan out this delta hedge. I realized the hedge only in hindsight. I had just followed my instinct in doing what I eventually did. Looking back 9 years down the line, I think it was a fair idea. Only, that like in everything else that I do, the implementation was horrible. Nevertheless, I think the learnings from this are going to be useful, and are going to have a net positive impact on society.

I put blade like naayi on a classmate, who is perhaps the most brilliant woman I’ve ever known. She was a good friend back then, at the point of time when I started the blading process. As you might have come to expect of me, I did a pretty horrible job. Disaster would be an understatement. It was depressing. I lost many nights of sleep to this. If I were less informed, I would’ve classified it as a blunder.

If you noticed, I had slipped in a little para where I mentioned the need for creating fire in the belly. This failed blade would fire it. This failed blading attempt would provide the angst, which I could channel in the right direction if I so wished. This failed blading attempt would make me angry, would make me upset, and would help me focus on my goals. And the sleepless nights this failed blading attempt gave me – I used them for mugging for the JEE.

I don’t know if I’ve told this particular bladee about it (I probably have), but I’ve always internally dedicated my success in the JEE to her.

However, this story was not to end happily. The delta was hedged, but the gamma would come back to bite me at a later date. The angst and the anger and the pain was fine when I needed them, but now (after I joined IIT) that I didn’t, it led to NED. Terrible NED. This would go on to be one of the biggest causes of NED during my life at IIT. As Shah Rukh Khan says in Baazigar, “kuch khaane ke liye kuch pona bhi paDta hai”.