Most people are surprised to hear that I have an MBA, and I can see why. Yes, writers don’t necessarily have backgrounds in the liberal arts, but an MBA – especially the cutthroat Indian version – is pretty much the opposite of artistic. People go to Indian B-schools to get the highest-paying job they can get their hands on, and for that you need a variety of qualities, but art isn’t one of them. Art, in fact, is one of the first things people give up while at B-school, along with fitness, sleep schedules and any chance at sobriety.
Truth is, I wasn’t there by choice. It was something my parents wanted me to do, and in most Indian families, kids of my generation are expected to shut up about personal dreams and go fulfil their parents’ dreams. My two years there, in fact, led to several mental health issues that took ages to cope with and come out of – needless to say, I was glad to see the back of it. (Excepting, of course, a few amazing friends I continue to love and grow with – here’s to you, Swati and Shivani!)
One of the side effects of adulthood, though, is deriving lessons from every experience, however crappy. Which means that I can look back now and see that there were in fact things that the MBA taught me – things relevant to my life today as a literary fiction writer. And I acknowledge those learnings and respect them a lot, even if I can’t necessarily be grateful for the MBA experience itself. So, as a response to everyone who’s curious, as well as an accept-your-past exercise of sorts for myself, here’s how my two years of B-school have helped me be a better writer.
I focus on fiction
When I was first deposited at campus, I took to writing poetry as an outlet for my emotions and imagined them profound enough to qualify me for fame. Two years of writing, rewriting and rereading later, I had established beyond doubt that I am not, in fact, the next Pablo Neruda, whereupon I went on a semi-break from writing and didn’t return in earnest until June 2020, which is when I took up short fiction. And it didn’t take me long to see that fiction is my forte. The lesson? I didn’t have to waste time trying to figure out which genre(s) to focus on, which saved me so much time and mental effort. That’s not to say I won’t try poetry or nonfiction in the future, but it’ll be a while before that happens. (Also, I need to grow out of equating poetry with rants about cigarettes and sex and whatnot.)
I take a project management approach
My exposure to business practices, especially one or two Project Management courses I took, encouraged me to seek out content on how to complete projects efficiently. Techniques like defining SMART goals (an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timely) setting up milestones, having deadlines, doing daily progress reports, tracking time spent on each project and so on are typically things one associates with a business setup – but they’ve helped me so much with my fiction! In fact, my habit of chalking out a complete short story outline (more on that in a future post) before commencing the actual writing comes from these practices.
I’m more inured to rejection
A big part of the MBA experience was going through the placement drive, a harrowing experience where you are dragged out of bed at 4am to appear for an interview in a business suit, expected to talk over a crowd of your peers as you put forth your recently Googled views on the group discussion topic you have been assigned, and then be informed loudly of the people who made it to the next round instead of you – or, if you make it to that round, be dressed down by the red-eyed interviewer for not knowing whether their CEO grew up playing cricket or kabaddi. You do that kind of thing for long enough, and a Submittable rejection is like a gentle tap on the back with a feather. Well, maybe not a gentle tap always, but it’s still a feather. It’s endurable.
I can empathise deeply
I know what it’s like to have your personality crushed beyond recognition. I know what it’s like to be so broken that it isn’t just about picking up the pieces, it’s about finding them all first. The MBA did that to me, and it took me nearly three years to put myself back together and move upward from there. The positive effect of that – I tend to be highly empathetic towards people and give importance to their feelings and experiences, even if they aren’t what I agree with or they happen to cause friction between myself and the person. This empathy also lets me imagine complex situations and reactions to them with greater understanding, which is something you need in order to do justice to a short story – or any type of writing, for that matter.
So, do I recommend doing a wrong-for-you degree in order to learn important life lessons? Absolutely not. No one should have to go through that kind of disorientation and mental turmoil if they can avoid it. But, having been through it already, I’m at a point where I choose to not disregard the lessons in humanity I learnt simply because the experience was a bad one. It took me a while to get to where I am – in terms of both mental health and my readiness to invest full-time in literary fiction – and I’m grateful. And who knows? Maybe I’ll make a novel out of this someday.
How have your educational and/or professional experiences shaped you as a writer? Did you pick up unexpected lessons along the way? Over to you.