Life is not an exam and other such hacks

My dear students,

I envy you. By the end of this year’s admissions season, you would have entered one educational track or the other – engineering, medicine, design, architecture, law, business, management, and others. You enter higher education with bright eyes and a bushy tail, in a world that is both terribly and wonderfully different from the one you are used to. There will be challenges and heartbreak, but there will also be plenty of opportunities to have fun, wonder, play, interact with interesting people and make lifelong friends.

But whatever you do, try not to focus only on your domain. There’s nothing more boring than just doing what you’re supposed to do. Our entrance exams tend to turn us into educated hacks, with a laser-like focus on the multiple-choice hustle that will serve us best. But life is not an exam, not yet, anyway. Try to broaden your interests. Read fiction, even if it’s boring. Play a musical instrument, learn a new sport or paint. Or even read widely beyond your topic. Yes, read, don’t watch. Your Instagram algorithms have convinced most people that images and videos are the best way to convey information. They are not. They will fill your brain without filling it. A good fiction or non-fiction book will exercise your imagination and make you more interesting. Watch Netflix when you’re exhausted, but don’t exhaust Netflix.

Try not to take your life seriously. The world is full of serious men and women. Avoid them. They will tell you to work hard, take your responsibilities seriously, and improve your grades. Avoid listening to them. Asking someone to work hard never made that person work hard. Grades are important, but I know far too many people who have had low to mid grades and made a name for themselves in the outside world to believe in grade heaven. What is terribly important is to know what you like to do. It will take time for you to get to know yourself better. A good university will help you understand and work towards the best version of yourself. At the same time, remember that no one can do what they love all the time. Boredom is part of life. Follow the 80/20 rule. If you are happy doing what you do 80% of the time, you are in good shape.

Don’t let your mistakes get in the way; learn from them and move on. Believe me, you are young and therefore prone to enthusiasm and stupidity, often at the same time. You will mess up, fall into the wrong crowd, ignore people who might want to help you, hesitate when you need to seize opportunities. As long as you’re honest with yourself, you can learn to live with mistakes, and if you’re lucky, you can even learn from them.

Never miss any class trip, especially if it is labeled as educational. No educational trip to India is ever just about education. Class trips will help you see your friends in a different light, away from their characters in the classroom. Some lasting friendships have been formed on school trips, as have lasting romances, but that’s something you probably already know.

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Speaking of friends, be sure to keep your friends close and spend hours with them aimlessly. I’m not being sarcastic here. College is the only time in your life when you can spend hours with your friends without worrying about the world. When I go to the canteen of my university, I have nostalgia for the cups of coffee that I drank there endlessly while conversing with my friends on certainly futile subjects. I am now at the same university as his registrar. When I visit the same canteen, my attention is elsewhere. I want to sit down and talk to people but I’m distracted. The coffee is still weak but instead of drinking buckets of it, I’m thinking of talking to the salesman. Just hanging out with friends and shooting the breeze seems like a episode from another life. I envy you.

The author is Registrar, National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

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