IIM Udaipur Alumnus’ Take on How To Be Five Steps Ahead of Your Peers, Starting Right Now

Darpan Saxena

You could be an MBA aspirant or an MBA student trying to figure out what the B-school journey would be like for you. This is, probably, the most career-focused that you have ever been. And that is why you look for answers to ‘how to make the biggest career impact’ and ‘how to truly take control of your career and the outcomes’.

Everyone around you says that the B-school journey will be awesome. But for somebody like you who has not been there yet or has just started to go through the motions, a sneak peek into the world could be what you need. And I see it as a responsibility on me to share somethings with you which, I think, can significantly impact your outcomes.

I am Darpan Saxena, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Udaipur, an engineer by qualification and the founder of Super Heuristics. Most of you would already know Super Heuristics as the Marketing Blog for the MBAs. Before plunging into it as my venture full-time, I have worked as the Product Head of MBA test prep products at CL Educate (Career Launcher) at their Head Office in New Delhi.

But why do you need to know about me, or about Super Heuristics?

Many MBA students and aspirants like you connect with me for their queries. Their question – “what are the exact steps that I should take to make a career in Marketing?” Replace ‘Marketing’ with Finance, Operations, Consulting and that would make 90% of the queries that I receive.

This question is extremely heartening to hear from top B-school students. That’s because it is reflective of the early awakening about the fact that your career is mostly in your hands and not entirely in your B-schools’.

And this question of yours was also one of the biggest reasons for me to compile all the answers, with research and examples in my first course for MBA aspirants and students – Five Steps Ahead. But let me take you through what I began to do when I decided to take charge of my career and not leave it to my college identity.

My Epiphany at IIM Udaipur – Challenge vs Motivation

I vaguely remember that this was a part of some exercise in a workshop at the start of my second year of MBA at the IIM Udaipur. We were told to write personal mission statements to get clarity about how do we want to shape up ourselves in the years to come. “Creating something that has some value for someone” is what I wrote.

This was probably just a couple of months after I had launched Super Heuristics back in 2018 in my first year of MBA.What unfolded in the next 2-3 years of persistence and hard work towards my venture was that I could switch from my first job post-MBA to completely managing my own venture, leaving myself financially, emotionally and socially in a much better state-of-mind than I ever have been.

Now when you are reading this, I can probably say that the mission is to make the mission statement I wrote down for myself in that B-school activity come truer as each day of the journey goes by.But if I have to break it down into the simplest components, for you to lay down a similar mission statement for yourself and to achieve it, you need to be mindful of the interplay between your challenges and the motivation that you have.

What it takes to break the shackles in your mind and take action to build a job, a career that you want lies at the cross-road of how motivated you remain irrespective of the level of challenges that you may face.

Read that last line again.

And to understand how you can make your MBA journey more meaningful, allow me to take you through the 2×2 of Challenge vs. Motivation.

What frame of mind you could be in right now

Being a marketer, I am surely a fan of frameworks and 2×2 matrices. That may be extremely stereotypical of me, but a lot of concepts and phenomena, both in marketing and in life, can be simplified (sometimes oversimplified) and be looked at using these frameworks.

But here is a 2 x 2 matrix that you shall never forget in your B-school journey. Two reasons for that.

  1. It is about how to make you and your career great
  2. If you are in a B-school already, you will know this is the truth

The frame of mind that you are in when you are going into a B-school is impacted by the challenge(s) thrown at you, or the challenge(s) that you take up, and how motivated you are from within. Both of these parameters significantly change across the following 3 stages of your life.

What are these 3 stages?

 

Stage 1: When you are an MBA aspirant

You are supposed to crack competitive entrance exams like no other exams in the country. These exams test you on much more than just your ability to learn and cram. The competition is upwards of 2 lakh students. And once you crack that, you need to get back to your cramming ways, mug up all the GK in the world, suddenly get self-aware and learn about what is happening around you.

That’s challenge max. For those who make it through the exam and through the interviews, let me tell you the motivation to do so was also max. Therefore, you are positioned in that top right corner quadrant that makes you produce your best results.

Stage 2: When you get into the first-year of the B-school

You have achieved what you had set out to achieve over the last one year. However, now the challenge of competing to get into a top B-school replaces itself with the challenge to stay at the top among the cream. But motivation drops as you have already ‘made it’.

You do have the all-important summer interviews coming up in no time, but you know that you will ‘make it’ somewhere. You’ve fought a bigger battle just a couple of months back. You slip to the quadrant where the motivation to achieve is lower than before. However, the high level of challenge compensates for that and still keeps you going.

That’s exactly one of the reasons why you would find yourself doing a lot of Digital Marketing and Data Analytics certifications right before your summer interview. But most of this course-taking would be just dragging yourself through the course for the sake of the certificate.

Stage 3: Second-year of B-school – the equilibrium position

You are back to the campus from your summers and your free time and freedom now knows no bounds. Your academic schedule is much chilled out than it was in the first-year. Soon you get ‘minions’ in the form of the new first-year students to do the legwork of the committees, clubs and events that you are a part of. Naturally, you suddenly find much more time to nurture your friendships (and the romantic ones) by hanging out across the city and taking the trips to the nearest best places.

Most likely a pre-placement offer/interview (PPO/PPI) is also already underway. Even if it is not, you have by now learned how to ‘game the system’ (trust me, you never can. You will realize you only ‘gamed’ yourself). For the first time in the last so many years, all challenges disappear. And your motivation comes down crashing.

You move to the quadrant 3, the equilibrium quadrant of Low Challenge-Low Motivation.

 

Stage 4: The rest of your life

Here’s the alarming part. You are likely to spend your entire life in this Low Challenge – Low Motivation quadrant! If you understand it from the viewpoint of physics, that’s how equilibrium position works. A position where the body remains in a stable state due to no external forces (challenges) or internal forces (motivation) working on it.

You keep moving wherever life takes you and much later, maybe when you are in the job that you always wanted to do, you realize that this is probably not what you wanted to do.

And that’s okay. You may now not want what you always thought you wanted. But what pinches you is that you don’t have much control over what kind of a job you can do. Because, what’s available out there in the industry is what’s available for you.

In fact, when you introspect, you realize not all of the jobs that you want now at this stage are actually available for you – because you never built the right skills for that.

But how to take that control right now when you are in the B-school and build your skills and your career in the right direction?

What frame of mind you should be in right now

This is the frame of mind of creation, action and making the things that you imagine happen. All of this can happen when you are extremely motivated to excel even when the challenge is low.

Most students who are getting into to B-school or are already in there ask me what would be my advice to them.

  • If you are someone who is unsure about what turn will your career take during and after an MBA and,
  • If you are unsure whether you will get the things from the MBA program that you expect.

Then the solution is to take control and start doing the things will lead you to the job, life or success that you have in your mind. This is exactly what I have also covered in my course Five Steps Ahead, but let me just give it away to you by telling you what I did.

Here is what I did in my Low Challenge-High Motivation Zone

Right at the end of my first-year at MBA, when the summer placements were also done 3 months back, I was slipping down from quadrant 2 to quadrant 3. That is, the Low Challenge – Low Motivation zone.

I could have had the most relaxing next year. I was placed at a company that was likely to give a PPO/PPI and I was at IIM Udaipur. Amidst the hills and the fort-like architecture, IIM Udaipur gives you the feeling of a resort and I had a few decent friends to pass my time with.

But that was exactly when I started Super Heuristics in February 2018. Writing almost 3 articles per week to a ghost-town is not easy. The blog truly was a ghost-town because no one comes to your blog organically for months when you start it off.

To pull this off, I had to be in the Low Challenge-High Motivation zone at all times. The challenge was low-to-nothing at that time. I could have left it right there and could have had a great time. But the motivation was too high for me to leave it. All of it from within.

Cut to 3 years later when I could quit my first job post-MBA and focus on Super Heuristics fulltime. Most people around me think it was a courageous decision. Well, it was not.

It was simple mathematics. If I the sum total of my financial, social, physical and mental well being is better off pursuing this venture than what it was at my job, then it is almost a no-brainer as to what I or anyone else would have done.

What was courageous was to spend almost every minute of those 3 years to build the venture and get it to a stage where mathematical equation could be such.

How can you take control on your MBA journey

Soon after I did what I did with my career, I got down to creating my first course, Five Steps Ahead. And I made sure that in it I talked about exactly this. This is knowledge less common. No one talks about it. No one would talk about this in your top B-school because its much more fashionable (and practical) to talk about that big brand coming to the campus next week.

And rightly so. You have worked and have paid that much money to finally get into a position of comfort. But for those who don’t yet want to get into that position and those who want to keep building their career journey themselves, your journey could vaguely resemble mine.

Most likely you will be able to do it much faster, much smarter and create something better. But the principles are likely to be the same and that is what I have covered in my course Five Steps Ahead.

Let me also tell you a little about the course.

What is the Five Steps Ahead course?

Five Steps Ahead is a course that gives you a 360-degree view of what is the correct methodology to proceed with building your brand and making you stand out from the crowd. I created the course after getting a diverse perspective from the audience that you would want to listen from. Some of them are Industry experts in the domain of marketing while others are recent B-School graduates, students who are currently pursuing MBA and even the ones who are looking to get into MBA programs.

To be frank, I developed the course for those of you who have an interest in marketing, but my framework that I recommend through this course- BASIC Framework is a single fit for anybody who looks for progressing in their management journey in a planned manner.

Who Can Benefit from this Course?

The course can prove to be of great help for students who are currently in their 1st year in B-Schools, those of you who are giving interviews to get into your dream colleges and the ones who are aspiring and preparing to get into B-Schools someday.

Students who are currently in their 1st year are in the process of deciding whether marketing is a calling for them. Even if the answer to that dilemma is affirmative, they are seeking to learn the right skills that will make them an asset for any organization that they dream to work in. I have tried to systematically give answers to all their questions.

I am sure that at the end of the course any recipient is going to feel two emotions- First, a sense of contentment for knowing the direction to proceed towards your dreams. And second- Ignited to learn the right skills and create a Brand for yourself that is Five Steps Ahead of the others!

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