5 Steps To Be The Best In The World
The year was 2003 and I was facing the first big decision of my life. I had passed two different entrance tests and was trying to make up my mind which one to go for. A little bit of background about me to better understand this story. I come from a middle class family in a small town in Bengal, India. Although we were not strictly poor, my parents were both teachers in Government High Schools in India. At the time, teachers earned a measly Rs 5600 a month. Which meant that there was no way I would be able to appear for the SAT and get into a college in USA. I will not lie, I felt betrayed that I could not appear for the test which most of my friends in Kolkata were aspiring for. It meant a new world, it meant great things and I was missing out.
I appeared for a few entrance tests for engineering colleges in India. Although I passed all the tests, the scores varied which meant that I would not always get the exact courses I wanted. On that day I was standing with two letters in my hand. I had passed the IIT (Indian Institute of Engineering) entrance but with a low score which meant that I would not really get into any prestigious course. The IITs are the premium engineering colleges in India. Think MIT but a little less research and the best brains of India. I had also passed the NDA (National Defence Academy) entrance which meant that if I chose, I could join the Armed Forces as an officer.
I chose the Armed Forces and spent the next 10 yrs of my life in the Indian Navy, learning many skills, most of which are not really relevant in the civil world, but the most important ones are more relevant than any you will learn in any normal job. In 2003 I had made a decision to go with my instincts and, although there were many occasions when I repented my decision, in retrospect, I could not have chosen better. IITs offered me a brilliant education and great brand value. The Navy offered me a steady job and a pension when I retired. IITs offered me high paying salary and a great career, the Navy offered me camaraderie and lessons for life.
I chose the Armed Forces not because I played safe, but because I embraced the change I wanted to see in myself. I had a soft, artistic bent of mind, winning laurels for stage performances, becoming the editor of a national newspaper, etc. However, all my life I have lived on the very edge of my abilities, always looking to test myself more. I could slip into extreme academic discussions as easily as I could play hookey, smoke cigarettes and while away my time with company that most kids would not dare keep. Which is also kind of the reason I passed both the IITs and NDA as the skill sets required to pass these exams are drastically different. Since then, I have taken major risks with my career — left the Navy against everyone’s advice, built successful businesses and left them for a MBA, joined a good company and left good roles to startup.
The lessons I learnt from my first big decision have always stood me in good stead. These are also the 5 rules that I have devised to become the best in the world.
- Always dare to dream big. Most of the time, we grow up hearing we can do anything under the sun. Once the harsh realities of life start pushing us down to the ground, we start realizing that we are not as fantastic as we thought. It is precisely when you are down, when you are just about to give up, you will find within you that last gasp of breath that will take you over the edge. All you need is to believe that becoming the best in the world is not impossible and if anyone can, you can too.
- Do not second guess your decisions. We tend to second guess our decisions. If you thought hard enough about anything under the sun, you will find enough reasons not to do it. My recommendation is go with your guts. Theoretically speaking, you will fail 50% of the time. Practically, you fail much more but the successes matter more as they have a cumulative effect. Don’t keep thinking, just do it.
- Have great mentors. This is more important than you can imagine. Great mentors can raise your morale, show you the path and completely change your life. I should know. I have had people pick me up from the depths of depression, people back me without a second thought and people who showed me the way when I had almost given up hope. If you find that right person, who is positive enough, has the right experience, stay close.
- Surround yourself with winners. I have been lucky enough to always find the best people to surround and guide me. When I was in school, Shaunak Mukherjee was around to guide me in my studies. He topped in his stream at IIT. Later in the Navy, I had Shreesh Dandekar help me when I found the training too rigorous by counselling me. My wife, Archana, who is a successful entrepreneur herself, has always stood by me when the world turned its back. You need such people who are positive and believe in you.
- Lose the comforts of life. This is the clincher. you do not become the best in the world without extreme sacrifices. Sometimes more than one. You have to be ready to lose you money, friends, career, sanity. The sole objective should be the pursuit of becoming the best you can be. You are your competition first. Only when you have managed to best yourself, will you be ready to best the rest of the world. Lose the comforts that keep you happy and go swim in the deep end.