Back in April 2010, on one fine school morning, I was standing on the stage during assembly in front of all the students, giving my speech as part of the campaign for the upcoming school representative elections. I was nominated for the “Head Boy” for which I was supposed to give a speech to convince the students why I should be chosen. To be honest, I knew it was just a formality and all I had to do was make my speech slightly unconventional, include a few jokes here and there and that would have been it. I was already popular and therefore did not need to put much effort. And so, all I did in my speech was make fun of the previous Head Boy and Head Girl for not doing anything, and made a politician-like promise to the students that I would install electricity backup in school. People got really happy, some of them shouted my name, and had a good time. They too wanted to just have fun. And needless to say, with my “Getting-Generator-in-School” campaign, in the next couple of weeks, I was voted as the Head Boy.
The Head Boy of the school was from 12th and wasn’t expected to do much because of the board exams. The Vice Head-Boy from 11th definitely had a little on his plate. And so, me being the Head Boy was one of the easiest responsibilities to handle. But in a couple of months of wearing the black shiny badge, I felt incomplete because of not utilising my position as the Head Boy to do what I had promised. I really wanted to do something for the school and be remembered as ‘that Head Boy’ who actually made a difference. I knew I could do a few major things for the school but first evaluated the feasibility of the generator idea with the decision makers. After a couple of conversations with them, it seemed like too long and complex a process to actually install generators which forced me to explore other ideas. I had a discussion with my English teacher regarding installation of a “Rain Water Harvesting System” which was a simple but a really noble and meaningful plan. And this was one idea which I pursued the most but definitely not as much as I should have. Because it was my 12th class, I was really focused on my academics and so, this idea too merely remained an idea.
After graduating, my close friends made fun of me for not living upto my promises and doing pretty much nothing whenever we discussed about it. I too laughed with them and tried to defend myself in a friendly banter, but deep down inside, I felt incomplete for having missed the opportunity of being remembered as ‘that Head Boy’.
This one chapter in my life taught me one of the most important learning that I now relate to everything I do. And that was –
“Opportunities Don’t Happen, You Create Them”
I describe opportunities as the right setup of environment around us that facilitate us to achieve our goals. Now setting up of the right environment doesn’t happen by itself (life is not so kind) but we have to make a conscious effort to do so. And that’s what I mean when I say – “We have to create our own opportunities”. For ex. I was made the Head Boy and the school did not expect anything more from me other than to lead the school during the March Past and invite the Chief Guest for the Annual Day. However, I realised I wanted to do more as the leader, but the school did not facilitate the right environment. If I wanted to make that “doing-more-for-the-school” happen, I would have had to take charge and create the right facilitating environment on my own. And though I had some initial thoughts on how to go about it, I could not really convert them into any real opportunity. But who knows, it could have been done had I pursued my ideas more strongly to convince the decision makers to initiate my projects.
Looking back into the past and living in the present, I realise that this happens to all of us pretty often. Be it in our professional, academic, or extra-curricular life, we all wish to have better opportunities around us to excel. Better opportunities can be as small as getting the authority to bring a new coffee machine in office to as big as being given a chance to lead that new project that our company bagged and prove our worthiness of becoming the next CXO. It could be as small as getting a chance to sing at our school function to as big as becoming the new singing sensation on YouTube. It could be as small as crossing the 90 mark in the next Math test in school to as big as becoming a guest speaker at Harvard some day. But the problem is, none of these opportunities will be offered to you on a silver platter. You have to create them for yourself. And how often does this happen that we are not able to do so? I’d say it happens pretty often, won’t you agree? Just take 2 minutes right at this point before reading any further and think about the opportunities you could have created for yourself in the past to achieve something you really wanted but could not.
Couldn’t you come up with at least a couple of them? I’m sure you could. Could you figure out why you missed them? Do you think you could have been a little more focused and proactive in creating that opportunity for you to excel?
Creating better opportunities is one of the most common trait of highly successful people. No matter what the situation, there’s always scope for creating the right environment for facilitating your growth towards your goal. And more often than not, it is not even as big a problem as it seems. The solution many times is merely either talking to the right set of people about what you want to do, or just taking that first step towards execution. Let’s say instead of blaming our bosses for not giving the responsibility of the new project to us, can’t we look at the positive side and genuinely talk to him about why we think we should have been a part of it? More often than not, your boss will understand and include you in the team and the problem will be sorted. Let’s talk about how to create opportunities for becoming the next singing sensation on YouTube. Half of the problem is solved when you actually put in effort and create and upload your first YouTube video. The other half of the problem lies in the execution and persistence of your efforts. Finally, let’s talk about the Harvard dream I mentioned. Isn’t it possible that to become a Guest Speaker at Harvard, we work on being as competent and credible in our fields as possible, and then finding ways of increasing our chances of getting in touch with Harvard? I think it is. All the above solutions are very generic and you have to find the best-fit solutions that work in your case to facilitate your growth to reach the goal.
This entire philosophy that I believe in was further reinforced when I achieved something exactly in the same way I talk about. I had always been interested in teaching and am extremely passionate about changing the flaws in the education system. I had enjoyed teaching right since my 12th grade when I used to teach Math and Science to a few of my classmates. Even in college, I really enjoyed delivering lectures for the Entrepreneurship Cell. I wanted to continue my passion for teaching after graduating but didn’t really create any opportunity for myself during my one year in Delhi while I was working. When I moved to Bangalore in 2016, I said enough is enough. I do not want to wait any longer to become a teacher. So I got up and went straight back to my school, got an appointment with Principal ma’am, met her and talked about my vision of changing the education system (this can be entire discussion in itself, I will talk about it another time). She was so happy to see an ex-student (and the ex-Head Boy) come back to school with a great vision. And before she could say it, I snatched the words right out of her mouth and told her I want to give a talk to the 12th standard students. She was so impressed with this that she said she would be really happy if I could deliver my talk on the very first day of the new 12th standard session. And so it happened. A few days later, I gave my talk to the students about the education system and its flaws and how we can still thrive inspite of it (again another discussion altogether), and it went really well. Really well! Students not just got motivated, but it gave them an entire new perspective about the objective of education and how to survive in the flawed system to get the most out of it.
I went back to principal ma’am after the talk and told her that I didn’t want this to be a one time thing but would like to take classes for the students every week, on Saturdays. And she was really supportive of this. I immediately caught hold of a student and told him to make a Facebook group the same evening and add all the students. I conducted a poll on the group to find the most suitable time for conducting the classes and after going back and forth in the discussion a couple of times, we finalised a time. The coordination about the timing with the students, principal ma’am and the administration wasn’t easy, but I found ways of quickly going around the administrative work. For instance, I found myself texting principal ma’am at night when she was out-of-town for holidays like she was my best pal, just to get a go-through for the decided plan. It required courage and confidence. But I knew I had to quickly get started and so I did it.
In just a week after the day I decided to get up and meet ma’am, I had met her, impressed her, conducted a talk for the students, established my credibility, managed the operations of the plan of teaching students every week, and took my first class as well. And as I write this very sentence, I have taken 4 classes for the 12th standard students and preparing for my next one.
I have a long term goal of solving the flaws of the education system and for that, I need a lot of facilitating factors, one of them being hands-on experience as a teacher. And so, I created this perfect opportunity for myself where I could get that. And this new opportunity is already helping me to understand the intricacies of the system which in turn will facilitate to achieve my final goal. I have to say that I’m super proud to have created and executed this opportunity all by myself.
I hope that you could relate to this story and are motivated to push yourself to create new avenues that help you in your endeavours. And so the next time when we find ourselves in a situation where we have a goal (and that’s almost every time), we should jot down all the facilitating factors required to achieve it and then plan to create them. This approach makes almost any complicated endeavour simple. It requires us to be proactive and focused in our efforts. Even though sometimes, it’ll be a long result-cycle, but if you develop this habit in you, you’ll constantly see yourself 2 steps ahead of where you’d have been otherwise.
“If an opportunity does not knock, build a door. Because it is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs too.”
With this role of a teacher, it is helping me to reach my ultimate goal of solving the flaws of the education system. And I think I am doing a wonderful job by helping the 12th standard students to understand not just the subjects I teach, but much bigger values for life. And you know what they say – if your heart and intentions are pure, life does give you a second chance. And I got mine. Because, though not in the way that was originally planned, I’m sure I will still be remembered as ‘that Head Boy’ who made a difference.