Friday, December 26, 2008

Seasons' Greetings to Ye All!

So, here's wishing you all discerning readers a Merry Xmas and a very happy, prosperous 2009!

For everyone, the new year brings with it memories and milestones, regrets and resolutions, and criticisms and change. The same for my blog too, so I thought I'd spruce it up a bit. So here are a few new features, the Labels Cloud on the top right, a new link list on The Popular blogs that I follow, and I've also added links to some great financial blogs/ sites that I regularly visit to get a handle on this crazy world! Do check them out and let me know your feedback...and of course, if you visit any great interesting, novel blogs, DO DO let me know! After all, isn't the festive season all about sharing?

And I've finally embraced the blogging-tech-geek-culture and familiarized myself with RSS feeds and the likes- high time I guess. I actually sat up last night and pored through reams of online research on effective blogging, and decided that, come 2009, I'm going to be more techy! So now you can, with 1 click of your mouse, subscribe to my blog FOR FREE! (Find it hilarious? Read somewhere that the "subscribe" word has monetary connotations to laymen and hence scares them away, so smart bloggers actually specify that!) . But if you are as bad as me and had to be explained how to know whether your internet connection is wireless or not, then worry not, you can subscribe to my blog via email and I'll send to your inbox my blogs!

Take care and see you soon :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A SOP Story

The mention of those three letters still give me nightmares. Together, they represent the one nemesis common to every aspirant of higher education or employment- whatever it may be it that the young hopeful may be pursuing, an MBA, MS or a PhD, his/ her journey isn't complete without the final literary hurdle- the S.O.P aka Statement of Purpose.

It appears in different innocuous forms, some universities nonchalantly mentioning the 3 letters and thereby killing the faint-hearted, while others opt for the more subtle, creative approach, "Describe your life in sixty words", "How will doing a [insert degree] help you in your chosen career?" or worse, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Face it, there's no escaping it, you've been SOPed!

And you cringe, because, nothing makes makes you feel more purposeless in life than being asked pointedly about it. Its almost like an allegation of a crime, an unbearable burden of proof, "What do you mean, what's my purpose??? Are you out of your head? OF COURSE I HAVE A PURPOSE!! And I'm not going to @$%%" tell you about it!!!" Selling oneself already is a hard task for the young ego, but nothing hurts as much as when your individuality is threatened. Because a SOP does just that, with its unsaid pressure on you to show yourself as different- you know that you are, but just can't put it on paper.

My first encounter with a SOP was in my MS applications. Perhaps a bit carried away by someone committing the folly of asking ME to talk about MYSELF on an open canvas, I gave the right hand a free hand, waxed eloquent on everything imaginable about my life and even peppered the script with a liberal handful of my favourite grandiose words such as "quintessential" and "instrumental" (pity they didn't like my autobiography). And then I ran into it during applications for MBA school, wherein I hastily concocted a story around my favourite characters of Soft Skills, Business Acumen, Networking and Perspective (It turned out to be a suspense tale about a missing Point).

But if I thought I had seen the last of them, I was heavily mistaken, because a few months after joining, there was I, besaddled with yet another goddamn application form for summer internship, with the $$$$$ question staring at me, "Explain the reasons for your decisions in life". *!:@:{:!- I could see through the wolf's clothing- here was another SOP virus.

The stakes were a bit higher this time around, so I sat down seriously to mull over my life. The gaze was turned inwards and the mind was subjected to a 3rd-degree interrogation, but all to no avail. I grew cynical, for my genuine answer was that I had no clue, and that I wasn't sorry for it. What the heck, I was all of 21. Skill sets? I was aware of my strengths and weaknesses but honestly didn't know what my "skills" were. Maybe I was yet to build them? Decisions? I didn't have any career counselling priveleges and took up engineering simply because the brightest in my times took it up. Sad but true for 90% of people in my time. Future plans? I genuinely didn't believe in a 5-year plan for my career (and still don't) , and I liked my cluelessness about what I'd be in 5 years time- it displayed something called flexibility. Why should everyone conform to rationale? And why is there no place for chaos?

But I guess, when firms ask these questions, what they dig at is deeper than mere clarity of mind. Everyone knew these questions are always a fair bit of spin-doctoring, and yet they are the rules- so they are followed, irrespective of whether they agree with your morals or not. And so what actually is tested is your practicality and your EQ- are you level-headed enough to do what's asked of you, without getting cynical about it? In some ways, I find that synonymous with professionalism or corporate discipline- it's like politely leaving only after your boss does- he knows you are idle but can't leave because its only 6, and you know that he can see that too- but you both still duly play your parts. (Some of us are lucky to break that mould though!)

And thus the sense was imbibed into my revolting head, and I resolved to ridden myself of the vexing question, polling friends and seniors on "What is a cool purpose to have nowadays?" "Entrepreneurship!!", roaring came the answers back, from all quarters, and so I mixed the flavour of the season with a few toppings of fact (my dad is one), cut back on the flowery prose and explained to the firm, with a deep sense of pride, how honoured was I to be born into a Marwari business family, how my parents imbibed in me a strong sense of initiative, and how ambitiously I planned to grow my father's chemical engineering business after gaining a management skillset from my MBA followed by a few years of hands-on experience. Unfortunately, so did everyone else :)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Yet Another Write-down

Conference room, HR, letter, handshakes, relief. Years of dedication and moments of trepidation, starry dreams and insomniac nights, CAT* calls and rat races, Finance 101s and HR one-on-ones later I'd finally been anointed as an Investment Banker, a member of that elusive coterie that resides in the highest percentile of human achievement!** This moment would change me- the stride became triumphant, the swagger precocious and the head skywards. The suit now resided familiarly on my frame as if it had always been there, the cab was nonchalantly hailed and the eyes assumed the permanence of an intellectual look.

But no no, I wasn't just a mere investment banker, the icing on the cake was the appellation against my name- Interest Rates Exotics Trader. I revelled in it, mulled over it and doted on it- it sounded so interesting, so.....exotic! Rarely does this happen, but the job title had taken precedence over the name: my business card could well have read Interest Rates Exotics Trader, Sumit Mehta.

Which I would have dismissed as an unthinkable, 6-sigma event 18 years ago, when I had fallen in love with my name, etching its preponderance into the house walls, school desks, sister's certificates and- Freud, summoned! - my history textbooks. Or in the summers of adoloscence when I romanced over how different girls pronounced my name differently and broke the suspense by announcing my support for the eeeee version. The name has always been for me, more than mere identity- it represented my identity.

But for now, it was resigned to the support cast as the Exotics thingybob took centrestage, at alumnous rivalries and banker parties, and even at family functions and pick-up lines! You might say I was towing a dangerous line, but cmon! I wasn't a Convertible Equity Sales ("What's the hottest car model you are selling nowadays?"), Commodities Trader ("So basically you peddle oil? Why do you need to wear a suit for that?") or a Vanilla Options guy ("Naah, defo not my flavour"), so I was unfairly confident of being greeted with an agape mouth (the figurative entry point), followed by a whimper of a "Wow". Get in!

Credit here must be given to the esoteric image of banking, its magical money-making ways unknown to the populace, its entry-barrier jargon too overpowering in this information-crazy age. But don't blame us, we were only inspired by lawyers (atleast some good came out of their exorbitant fees!), those Masters of Jargon, who added several letters to every word so that the reader ran out of patience, who, when Legalese was deciphered, sprinkled tons of Latin into it! @"£*&! You see, we only followed the law.

But the law of winlose was soon to follow us. For Credit and Crunch were to tag-team us into recessionary submission, and it is testimony to the virulent success of their publicity-seeking, that we stand where we stand, which is in a precarious position, our magic revealed, our prestige spotted, our benefit-of-doubt in serious doubt.

For we are now part and parcel of mother-,father- and grandfather-tongue, of worried "Hope your son is ok with all this subprime nonsense" exchanged between mothers, of Breaking "More writedowns to come!" News and stage comedian scripts. We have entered the dictionary and spread through it like wild fire.

And hence nowadays the business card is hidden away carefully, the name is back in vogue, and when asked "What do you do?", it is inferred as a pleasant inquiry of your hobbies....and Exotic, Structured and Derivatives while being freely available on everyone's lips are confidently absent from mine. :)

*Common Admission Test- the entrance exam that is the gateway to get into India's top postgrad institutes the IIMs.
**Meant to be very sarcastic- don't get your daggers out!