From Sydney to Sonipat (and beyond)
YIF has taught me that success is subjective, its definition is not universal, and that one’s success is not a certificate of one’s character, says Nikunj Maheshwari
Bahrison’s, a bright sunny day, Vietnamese cold brew, and thinking about YIF—that is my state of mind as I think about my journey at the Young India Fellowship. I joined YIF in 2018 after working four and a half years with Google in India and Australia. I had a near-picture-perfect life in Sydney, loving the mundaneness of walking to work by the water and chasing CSAT scores—but at the end of the day, it was all about Google and money and the arrogance that follows. Not the arrogance that comes with knowing too much, but the one that comes with knowing too little. As some time passed, I came to realise that I needed to challenge myself and do something that would shake the very foundation of my being. Google, after all, had become a part of my identity. My parents would usually introduce me to others as their son who worked at Google and why not, they had all the right reasons to. Overtly it was quite a big deal.
Having grown up in an environment where academics were of paramount importance, I knew no other way to rejig my life but to get back to studying. I was not the one for pursuing a conventional MBA. That is when Fellowship came to my rescue. I had known of it—I had known people who had been fellows but like most of us, I never understood it. Having said that, I was ready to take that leap of faith and after a rather gruelling interview experience, I made it. Maybe they took pity on me, but here I was, at the Young India Fellowship, Class of 2018-19. Straight from Sydney to Sonipat. Not to mention, one of the “older ones” in the batch. I was almost 26!
However, in 26 years of my life and having worked for one of the greatest employers, I still had not seen a place so diverse and yet so uniform. A place where coexisting with uncomfortable thoughts was key to one’s survival. A place where all my peers were in it together – confused and curious. As cliche as it sounds, I had to unlearn everything, every single thing I knew about the world—about morality, privilege, and myself. From reading Kabir to re-learning statistics, from trying to translate India to understanding queer theory, it was all too much and too little at the same time. Of course, this led me to drop the F-bomb countless times in a day. For my woke ex-Googler self, Kabir was a misogynist, but ask Prof. Purushottam Agarwal, and he will rightfully challenge your viewpoint. From considering kinks and BDSM as some sort of a closed-door exclusive concept to writing an entire paper on the spectrum of various fantasies—the contentious traditions of the Critical Writing class by Rahul Sen challenged my concepts of love, life, and sexuality.
Let me now tell you that after four years of graduating from the fellowship, how any of this is important. Currently an Associate Partner with Page Executive, I got placed at PageGroup via the Career Development Office at Ashoka University. I started as a Consultant at Michael Page. Four years and four promotions later, I can safely say that YIF has a significant part to play. If one asks me to point out specifics, I will probably fail. But for the sake of this piece, let me try articulating.
I have learnt how to charter into uncomfortable territories. I have challenged myself by leaving one of the most profitable practices at Michael Page, and joining a newly launched practice and trying to replicate the results I achieved in the previous practice.
This has only been possible because, at YIF, this is exactly what we did every day. We chartered into the uncomfortable, we did not take shortcuts. From doing a drag show as a part of my assessment to picking up a rather tricky ELM, YIF has taught me that success is subjective, its definition is not universal, and that one’s success is not a certificate of one’s character. This has kept me away from the arrogance that was once my biggest jewel.
YIF has made me understand that hypocrisy and purpose can coexist. Call me out for this if you have to, but we juggle between these every single day. That probably is also a mantra of survival in the corporate ecosystem. This is not to be confused with not standing against wrongdoings. What I mean is knowing what battles are yours to pick, and which are the ones that can do without your involvement.
As I look back at YIF, it taught me the most important thing in life—you will be loved, you will be overlooked, you will be praised and you will not matter. All of it can happen with you all at once and you have to be okay with it! You could be put on a pedestal one day, and on another – you’ll be just one of many. For anyone reading this and is aiming to get into the corporate ecosystem – hold this close to your heart- One has to be fine with the ebb and flow, one has to be okay with the fact that one is replaceable.
But as John Green writes in An Abundance of Katherines, “..And so we all matter — maybe less than a lot, but always more than none.”
(Nikunj Maheshwari is from the batch of 2019 of the Young India Fellowship. He is currently an Associate Partner at Page Executive (PageGroup). He co-established the consumer tech team for Michael Page, having joined there right after the fellowship. Last year, he internally transitioned to launch Page Executive, the CXO hiring arm of the group. Nikunj is also actively supporting the fellowship having been on the YIF interview panel for close to three years now)