What you take away from the table..
Randy Pausch says, “Be good at something. It makes you valuable. Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.” I think its a great quote and I live by it. But is this true in general..?
1. I failed the IIT-JEE in 2005. The ‘why’ I had failed was very clear to me. I wasn’t prepared. But the ‘how-to-get-back-up’ part was very sketchy. I mean, If you have ever failed in your life, you know what I’m talking about. Firstly I was scared shitless. Secondly my confidence felt as if it had taken a leap from the 11th floor window and lay splattered all on the pavement, an open invitation for every stray dog to take a piss on. And thirdly I had no idea what I could do better. So I began by simplifying my life. By removing ‘excess baggage’. I gave away my cell. I gave up my laptop. I sold all the novels and comics I owned. I gave up my chair too. Hell, I decided that from now on, I didn’t deserve to sit. I would do things standing up. So, either I would be vertical (working) or horizontal (sleeping). There would be no middle-ground. Life would be binary from now on. Stand or sleep. Success or failure. Live or die. I’m not saying this is the ideal strategy, but, hell, it works! This taught me a very valuable lesson. That sometimes we need to know how to take away things from our table.
2. I have to decide my research advisor in less than three weeks. Its a tough choice. And a big commitment. Its a little bit scary to think that this one decision is going to decide what I do with my life for the next couple of years. There are so many variables to consider. Whether the projects are industrially important or are just exploratory science ones. If the professor gives enough time to his students. If the group is too large or too small. If its experimental or a theoretical.. and so on. After talking to a bunch of professors and grad students, I realized the the most important question to ask was this. Does choosing Prof. X, help me realize my dream? Which took me to the next question. What is my dream ? Well, put very abstractly, my goal for my Ph.D. is to develop a tool or technology which helps in solving a relevant problem. Which in some way, even if its a tiny way, helps in un-cluttering an existing system. A technology which, instead of adding new things, removes couple of messy old ones and helps keep this system running. Faster and better.
3. I have a wild dream. I wonder to myself, man, there are so many things going on in my life. And its such a challenge to keep everything synced and running. Not to mention, doing newer things. And thats true for everybody around me too. And every new person I meet, adds something new to my life. Brings something more to the table. But.. but.. what if.. what if, I were the guy who simplified things. What if I were the guy, you’d meet, and exclaim, whoa, that makes things so much more simple. Or wow, that solves my problem. Or I’m less stressed out now. That would be so awesome I think. That would be my super-power. I’d be “The TroubleShooter”. Hell yeah!
“In my contact with people I find that, as a rule, it is only the little, narrow people who live for themselves, who never read good books, who do not travel, who never open up their souls in a way to permit them to come into contact with other souls – with the great outside world. No man whose vision is bounded by color can come into contact with what is highest and best in the world. In meeting men, in many places, I have found that the happiest people are those who do the most for others; the most miserable are those who do the least. I often say to our students, that the longer I live and the more experience I have of the world, the more I am convinced that, after all, the one thing that is most worth living for – and dying for, if need be – is the opportunity of making some one else more happy and more useful.”
~ Booker T. Washington