My academic scores are not good – what can I realistically do?


This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.

Part 1 described the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.

Part 2 described  my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.

Part 3 talked about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

Part 4 (this blog) suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.

Part 4: what can I do

I am a smart person and I know that I can fix this problem. What I need is to examine all the options and determine the right one. For this I need to do the following:

1. Understand that I am not alone. Ask for emotional support.

There is no shame in asking for help. I cannot do it alone. Especially when I am in the middle of trauma and my emotions have taken over my brain. There is no way that I an capable of rational decision making.   

Many of us have similar problems. If not in one subject, then in another. All of us are traumatised but afraid to ask for help due to shame, ego, guilt and fear.

There are two types of help that I need:

  • help me handle my emotions
  • help me handle the actual problem in academics

There are a large number of persons who are willing to help. Let me examine who can help.

Parents are the last person I am willing to ask for help. This is because we believe that they do not understand what we are going through. We think that we will bring down their hopes and aspirations if we do not put up a brave and confident front. We also think that they treat us like children and give us the same advice which we have heard so many times and even tried to do. If we tell them what we have done to fix the situation, they will ask us to try harder. Anyway, they do not understand the subject, and therefore they are useless.

Having said that, mothers are better than fathers in terms of understanding and giving emotional support. Fathers tend to give generic solutions, mothers tend to understand the education. However, both tend to fix the problem by offering platitudes. To be fair to them, they have not been trained to be counsellors, and they too are learning to deal with my emotional ups and downs.

Peers will give us emotional support by saying the following things:

  • Don’t worry, this is not necessary for placement
  • It is not my fault
  • The teacher is a horrible one, and he has taken something personally
  • Students have cheated, and I was morally correct not to cheat
  • Let us distract ourselves by movies / sports / books / internet etc.

All the above help us alleviate our current emotional turmoil but do nothing to help with the future. There are other well-meaning peers who will tell me what to do by describing what they do in such situations. But I am not the same as them and this may not work.

I can form a group of like minded people who are bad in certain subjects and we can help each other. However, the spectre of relative grading comes up and such groups disband pretty quickly, specially if one seems to be doing better than others.

It is better to ask for professional help. Professionals are trained to help me handle my emotions and they are pledged to secrecy, unless I am a danger to myself or others. As I said before, there is no stigma attached to asking for help. Most educational institutes have counselling centres and guarantee anonymity. If they do not have such facilities, I can go to the internet and look for emotional counselling. Much of this counselling is free and it helps me  by having someone not connected to me look at my thoughts and challenge them. The fact that I have to respond to these challenges helps in dealing with the emotions.

Such professionals have also dealt with similar situations and therefore can empathise as well as offer me various alternatives that others have taken. Good professionals do not offer alternatives on problems that they do not know much about, but they can help me go through the process of finding alternatives.

In India, people think that if I am going for counselling, I am incapable or mad. That is not correct. I am unable to deal with a situation and am asking a professional (not an amateur) for help. I call a plumber to fix my taps, not a friend who has never done this before. Nor do I try to deal with it myself. I do not put my head under the pillows and hope the problem will go away.

If I am not comfortable with a counsellor, I can always ask for another reference. Most good counsellors understand that if a rapport has not been built, solutions will not be forthcoming. Therefore they will gladly refer me to someone else, without taking umbrage. If they get upset, all the more reason for me to get another person.

2. Run the numbers

When I am doing badly and am emotional, I tend to over-exaggerate my academic failure. When I do badly in one subject, I assume that I will do badly in all subjects. If I do badly in one exam or one assignment of a subject, I assume that I will do bad in all exams and assignments of that subject.

Sometimes I can be overly optimistic in the first term. I may believe that the first term is a hiccup, an aberration and that I can get very good grades in the second term. Maybe so. Sometimes we are late starters, sometimes we take time to adjust to the academic level, the language, the food etc. But if after the second term, I have not got good grades, then it is time to be realistic and realise that maybe the competition is such that I cannot get good grades, specially in relative grading. I need to do risk mitigation.

In order to mitigate risk, I need to look at my subjects and analyse them. I need to know that some subjects have more credit than others and therefore impact grades more. If I make a spreadsheet of all the subjects, expected grades and then look at my CGPA, I may realise that by focussing on improving my grades on some subjects by one point, I can actually get a decent result. If I am in the second semester, and there are 6 more semesters to go, I can deal with each future semester at a time, and focus on those subjects / electives that can bump up my grade.

Within a subject, I need to see the relative weight of assignments, class participation, exams and group assignments. I also need to ask the right seniors (who did well in that subject) what is required to get a good grade in that subject. Armed with that information, I can figure out where I can do better and where I cannot control my result.

A relative grading means I need to to figure out who are worse that me, and ensure that I am better than a certain percentage of people. So instead of focussing on being the best, I have to start with being in the middle and slowly work my way to the top.

3. Focus on my strengths: academic or social

What are my strengths? That is determined by what my goals are. For certain goals like higher studies, good CGPA is a strength, for other goals it is not. For example, if I plan to go for civil services, or an MBA which is based on an entrance exam, the focus is on getting a good score in that entrance exam, not the CGPA.

The purpose of graduation determines how I look at academic results. If I plan to go abroad for higher studies, I have to know which colleges to target and the basis of getting admissions / scholarships. If the basis is purely academics, I focus accordingly. if it is work experience, then I get as much experience I can, while studying.    If the basis is an entrance exam, I focus from day 1 on scoring well in that exam. If the basis is recommendations, I focus on that. I need to be goal centric.

If I plan to get a job, I see that there are 2 types.

One is the cerebral type, which requires brainwork. These are jobs like programming or research. By the way, programming has been made into a factory and therefore may not require brains, as algorithmic creativity may not be important. It depends on the company I join.

The other type of jobs require social interaction. If I want to become a manager, it is not my technical expertise, but my ability to get things done that is important. For such jobs, evidence of leadership and project management are more important.

CGPA is not a goal. CGPA is the means to a goal. There are many paths to a goal.

If I make CGPA as a goal, it achieves nothing except ego satisfaction in the short term.

Note that I talked about strengths. Enhancing strengths take less effort that getting rid of weaknesses. If I know what is my weakness, I can work around it, or surround it with strengths. By getting rid of weaknesses, I may simply be opening the door for other weaknesses. Better to have familiar enemies around us and focus on increasing our friends.

4. Manage expectations of stakeholders

There are many persons who are interested in my success or my failure. They can actively help or prevent us from being successful. Sometimes they may be passive and do not give help when needed. They all want something. When we do not give them what they want, they become angry at us. I myself want a lot of things from myself. When I do not get it, I get angry with myself. Since so many entities are wanting different types of results from me, I need to juggle all these expectations.

It is important to list down all the stakeholders who want something from me and determine if they will help us or stop us. For example, a peer may help or stop us getting the grade I want.

For each stakeholder, I need to list down what they need from me. Parents may want us to study for many reasons. They may want to feel good in front of their peers. They may want you to get a good job. They may want to get a good life partner for me. I have to understand what they want and why they want from me. I also need to determine whether they will help me get what I want, or they can prevent me from getting what I want.

Based on this, I can make a list of the top 3 or 4 stakeholders who are important to me. With each of them, I need to understand and negotiate what they want and what I want from them.

If I know what they want, I can determine if CGPA is the only way to achieve that goal. If not, then evidently there other other ways to achieve the same goal.

I need to also remember that an agreement done today does not mean it is written in stone. All of us are subject to influence and all agreements can be changed, sometime without our knowing it. Therefore confirmation from the stakeholders is needed at various times.

5. Find choices

The goal is the most important thing. Once I know what the goal is, I have choices. For each goal to be achieved, some sub-goals have to be achieved. For each of these sub-goals, other sub-goals are needed. Once I have the list of sub-goals, I can determine many ways to achieve a sub-goal. When I have choices, I am not depressed, because I have action items.

For example, to get a scholarship, I think a good CGPA is important. So a good CGPA is a goal. In order to achieve a good CGPA, what do I need?

I need to determine:

  • what defines a good CGPA (now the stakeholder here is no longer my parents, but the college I am applying for. So parents reaction is no longer relevant)
  • a list of all of the courses, their credits entered into a spreadsheet
  • a list of all the electives, their credits and how easy it is to crack that subject
  • the possible minimum target scores that is required to  get the target CGPA
  • List of those seniors who cracked the course
  • List of professors and their grading methodology (are they hard or soft, what weight on assignments, mid term, end term etc, what expectations in terms of answers)
  • Past papers by the professors on those subjects

This is only a partial list, but even by doing this, I suddenly have a lot of choices as to how to approach my studies. have a better strategy to focus my studies, rather than randomly reading lots of books and notes). My chances of improving my grades become higher.

6. Connect the dots

The above topic is also a url to the definition of connect the dots. I cannot determine the future as a certainty. Whenever we do an action and it impacts people, they react in unpredictable ways – sometimes to help, sometimes to prevent. Therefore, any action done to reach a goal creates a series of reactions, and we have no idea how that helps or impedes in reaching a goal.

Steve Jobs said in the 2005 Stanford commencement address,

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”

If I look at my past,I realise that everything that I have done ultimately brought me to this point. Therefore, everything that I do today will impact the future, somehow.  The question is, what should I do. And two answers  comes to my mind.

a. “Maximum benefit to maximum stakeholders”. This means that if good CGPA leads to something that will give maximum benefit to maximum number of stakeholders, I should focus on CGPA.

b. break down the goals to sub goals and connect the dots. If I want a good CGPA, I need to connect the dots so that whatever I do will lead to a good CGPA. So I need to look at all the actions I did as a reaction to a bad CGPA, and figure out if these actions helped in getting a good CGPA. If not, these dots do not connect.

7. Meditate

The benefits of meditation are numerous. Meditation is not connected to religion, but to becoming aware, at all time, of what is going on inside me and outside me. The more I know what is going on, the less will be my knee-jerk reaction. Meditation also improves focus. The benefits of meditation can be found in this article.


I have moved from short term solutions focussing seeking help to long term solutions of meditation to formulate a strategy for dealing with academic angst. I hope this set of articles has been useful. Please give me feedback as to what has been your experience in dealing with academic angst.

My academic scores are not good – I try to fix it and fail!!!


This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.

Part 1 describes the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.

Part 2 describes  my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.

Part 3 (this blog) talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.

Part 3: My reaction to the bad results

I start to deny that there is anything wrong. I assume that this is a fluke and I can fix this problem. I feel guilty about the parents who are funding my education. I put in additional effort in studies, sacrificing sleep, all social interactions, games and sports, etc. and give my 100 per cent to studies. But the results do not come up to expectations. I copy other successful students behaviours and mannerisms, study like them, make notes like them, look at their assignments, and try all means to do well academically.

I negotiate with everyone including myself. With friends to teach me and to give me support. With faculty to give me some hints on how to crack the course. With God to provide divine intervention and give easy questions in exams. I butter everyone, threaten who I can and try to use the stick and carrot approach on others and myself to motivate everyone to make me better.

I see others copying, doing illegal things and wonder if it is worth doing it. If I am afraid, I do not do it and hold them in contempt. If I accept the risk, I do it. Sometimes I get away with it, sometimes I do not.

I withdraw more and more from the support circle of well meaning but judging peers and parents, as I do not trust them to give good advice or support. They always seem to be judging me or making my life harder. I turn towards and seek the support of those who are similar to me, or worse off than me, or who do not judge me and who accept me as who I am, and use them as a standard to support my self esteem. I imbibe their attitudes and standards and deteriorate further.

Being alone brings negative thoughts in my mind, so I distract myself with friends and activities. I depend on these to stimulate me and keep me occupied.  If they are not there, I have the internet, the movies and the social media. Along with these, I do substance abuse, (cigarettes, alcohol, glue, soft drugs, hard drugs) which either make me feel powerful and socially accepted or make me forget my worries and grind my thoughts into oblivion.

I sometimes make an effort to pull myself together, because I feel guilty and I cannot see myself as a failure, but I do not know how to prioritise, as so many things have to be done and all of them seem equally important in my mind. So I try a few things,  without much effort or motivation, therefore fail and move into the same negative spiral. Ultimately, I give up and live life from day to day, doing the bare minimum to survive.

I feel ashamed of myself. Apart from parents, teachers and peers beating me up, I, too, beat myself up. I have conversations with myself about all my faults. I tell myself that I am no good, an imposter, a liar, incompetent etc.

I  become paranoid, and believe the whole ecosystem is conspiring to thwart my intentions and I withdraw from others as well as myself, and try to sink into oblivion or distraction. I extrapolate my academic failures, predict bad future scores and start fearing the bleak future I have created for myself.

I hide my scores from my friends and family and lie about them. I give reasons for the bad scores and promise that I will do better.

I focus only on those things that I can do well, be it academic subjects or extra curricular activities, in order to keep myself busy and to recover some semblance of self esteem. I justify the inordinate amount of time spent by saying that these activities make me a well-rounded individual. Gradually, I lose all focus on academics. I also use arguments like “Most entrepreneurs did not do well in school or college” citing examples of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

I look for support and answers on the internet, looking at sites that promise to make me smarter, that justify my failures, give me excuses, asking me to accept myself. I look at self help sites that promise to improve my memory, teach me time management and those that give me summaries of subjects. I look for instant solutions, since I have wasted so much time. Hypnotism, Visualisation, Meditation – all these promise great results. I try them for a time, but since they do not give me the results as promised, I ditch them all. I move from one experiment to another, and none of them work. I read motivational books, watch motivational movies (specially the Hollywood ones where one brainwave makes a difference to everyone’s life in 2 hours). Sometimes these give us some motivation, but for a short time.

I do not ask for support or help from real people near us. This is considered an admittance of failure, that I am not capable of dealing with my problems. It also brings to the notice of the administration that I have a problem or can be a problem. There is a social stigma attached to asking for help, either with the peer group or with a professional.

I reach out to anonymous people on the internet, asking them for solutions, and reading their answers, looking for something that will dramatically change my life overnight. Most of the answers seem like platitudes and none of them give the answer we seek. I have heard them all and read them all.

Nothing works. I swing between frustration and anger, anxiety and fear and depression, sometimes all these emotions at the same time.

Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. 

My academic scores are not good – The reality shock and the trauma


This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.

Part 1 describes the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.

Part 2 (this blog) describes  my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.

Part 3 talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.

Part 2: The Shock

When I come to the new institute, the following things happen:

  • The teachers are teaching a bigger crowd. Their focus is not just on teaching, but promoting themselves in the academic field. They are focussed on writing papers, doing research, completing their doctoral / post doctoral thesis, getting projects and being part of committees. I am not saying this is wrong. This is needed, as the professors have an academic career in front of them, and they need to do all the above to progress in their professional life. The teachers have neither time, nor the inclination to personally look after my needs. They do not behave like my school teachers (now I miss my school teachers!).
  • The subjects are all new, and the standard suddenly goes up by a notch or two. The method and speed of teaching changes. There is an expectation that I have to study a lot on my own. The number of courses go up, the type of assignments and exams are no longer mug-and-vomit and require a higher level of thinking and reasoning.
  • Instead of a subject being taught in one or two years, there is a semester or a trimester system, and each subject is taught in its entirety in this short period. Furthermore, each of these subjects become a building block for subsequent subjects. So incompetence in a subject may lead to incompetence in subsequent subjects.
  • The same subject, depending on our capability and the teacher’s capability, can become boring or tough. Either way, there is a tendency to avoid the subject and focus on others which are interesting or easier.
  • I am an young adult and do not stay at home. So there is no monitoring. There is complete freedom and I overdo the freedom. I spend time with friends, pursuing whatever catches my fancy. My habits change, I eat differently (read junk food), sleep later and less and get side tracked with other diversions. There is no one to motivate me by “Saam” (explaining), “Daam” (bribing and cajoling), “Dand” (punishing) or “Bhed” (comparing with others). Since I can escape all these methods, I gleefully run away from all methods of motivation. When things do not go as per expectations, I live in denial or in hope for a rosy future.
  • Parents are also not there to support and help in structuring my productivity. I am becoming an young adult, and I mostly refuse their support as I want to find my own path, and I believe that I can handle my own problems. Furthermore, parents treat me like a school child and use the same methods of motivating me. I can see through their strategy and do not like their attitude.
  • In school, a board exam means comparison with hundreds of thousands of aspirants. There may not be relative grading. So, in school, I do not have a tendency to compare or worry about my academic ranking. In college, I am compared with at most 150 other competitors and I know where I stand. If there is relative grading, there is an automatic comparison and hierarchy. Be it professors or parents or peers, everyone judges me  in terms of my academic ranking.
  • If the class is smaller, because of my specialisation or electives, then the comparison becomes more apparent. If the bottom rankers are automatically failed, I may get a “Failed” score, and I will be judged on this result by the entire universe, including the recruiters coming to campus. I will have to explain to everyone, why I am dumb.
  • I was a “frog in a well” in my home town. I compared only with my peers in school and I did not realise that there were people in the world who are smarter, who have been taught better, what have better strategies of studying, who are better motivated. Suddenly, I am not good enough. My home town thinks I am  brilliant, but here I am nothing.
  • A lot of changes are happening to me and to the environment and I am overwhelmed. I am going through adolescence, with hormones changing the body, and the emotions. The opposite gender has its attractions. Friendship change. Peers pull you down. Support comes from unexpected places.  Respect of the peers is very important to me, and I change my habits and my thinking to be accepted by them. I may get “bad” habits.
  • My time is not my own. At home, once I am home, my time is controlled. Here, peers can come to my room any time, distract me any time and force me to change my habits. They do things behind my back, and disturb me and distract me and make me do things I do not want to do.
  • I joined the graduate / post graduate course in the hope that this course will help me get a job or determine my future. I find that I am not doing well academically, socially, emotionally and therefore I doubt my capability to determine my future. I hear horror stories from my seniors about placement and the job scene. The professors and the parents add to the clamour by painting a bleak future if we do not study. My parents have a lot of expectations from me, they are paying for my education and they expect some decent returns on their investment.

In short,

  1. I have doubts about my capability
  2. The environment is more competitive and no longer conducive
  3. My attitude towards academics, peers the teachers and the future is not positive.

Part 3 talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

My academic scores are not good – What were my expectations when I joined?


This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.

Part 1 describes the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.

Part 2 describes my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.

Part 3 talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.

Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.

My Expectations

When I join an academic institution, be it undergraduate or post graduate, I expect the following:

  • If I were good in academics in the past, I expect that my previous academic excellence and habits will continue to help me in the subsequent years
  • If I were NOT good in academics, I expect that I now have an opportunity to start with a clean slate, and not allow the past to determine the future.

If I were good in academics:

  • I had good teachers / tutors. I maybe lucky to have a teacher who could explain concepts very well, have patience and understanding, sometimes force and sometimes cajole me to give my best. The teacher created a scaffold and gradually removed the scaffold as I became more competent. I was therefore motivated.
  • I liked the subject and found it easy or not boring. Therefore, I gave more time to the subject that I found competent to handle.
  • I had good parents, who motivated me, pushed me, cajoled me, gave me structure and showed the future. They also held my hand
  • I had good peer support, who did not pull me down, who gave me respect, accepted me as I was and did not compete.
  • I had good genes, and I was able to think well, grasp concepts, have patience, could strategise and plan my academics.
  • I could see how academics would lead to a rosy future, and I believed that I could achieve it

In short, I had

  1. the ability and capability
  2. a good environment and
  3. the right attitude

If I were bad in studies,

  • I could blame myself, the teachers, the parents, the subjects whatever.
  • I could accept that I was good in sports, socialising, but not in mugging for exams.
  • I know that my history of academics in my home town, possibly the same teachers and the same school, same peers and their beliefs about me also determined how I was treated and examined. Now I can create my own persona, without any past references.
  • I believe that since the new college is a different location with different friends, and since I am not stifled by the environment, I can do better and start afresh.
  • I can develop new abilities, I can adapt to a new environment and can motivate myself.

Part 2 describes  my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact on my performance.


On the loss of a child…


Today is a tragic day. One of my favourite students messaged me in the morning that he lost his month-old son due to internal seizures. And I have been crying since then. I feel for his wife; for his pain and helplessness watching a month-old innocent boy, who has not harmed anyone,  a baby that they have brought into this world, for whom they had envisaged a future and a life of togetherness, some one who made their family complete, leave them after 30 days of joy.

This post is more an outpouring of my grief and an attempt to put myself together.

My son, when 2 years old, was once in the hospital with ITP, and my family and I stood there helpless as he was hooked up to drips and immunoglobulin. This feeling of helplessness, when we see something happening and we are powerless to control it, reminds us of the frailty of our control in the scheme of things we call life. We dream of a future, and in one snap of the fingers, that dream vanishes into thin air.

Each time I stand in front of a class and beg them to wear helmets and not go joyriding when drunk, I remember my feeling of helplessness, and the burden of a father who is supposed to be all powerful, whose duty and joy is to provide happiness to his child and who is sitting far away, trusting his child to do the right thing. And I envisage that same father, frail and wrought with emotion, carrying the body of his child, the child that he carried in his arms when alive, the child that a mother carried in her stomach before it came into this world. And I see that first jouney – carrying the child to his home and then I see the last journey, carrying the same child towards a fnal resting place – his new home.

No child can ever understand  that fear, that helplessness and that futility that a father feels when he finds that all his requests, pleas, admonitions and shouting is in vain. When the child is alive he communicates with the child, when the child is sick he communicates with God. He requests, bribes, pleas, admonishes and shouts, to either the child or to God, but all this falls on deaf ears, resulting in a tragedy.

But when the child is dead, who does the father communicate with? Himself.

A father thinks, “Could I have done something different? Did I do something wrong? Could I have prevented this? If only I had done this! I am not fit to be a father!” A father blames himself, because it was his responsibility to make his child safe. He was supposed to protect his child. Every father promises this at the birth of his child, holding a frail life in his hands, knowing that he is now responsible for this life forever. And when the child dies, a father feels guilty that he failed his child, somehow. “How can my child die before me…I was supposed to take care of him. I was supposed to die earlier than him”

When parents leave their child in my care, I as a teacher, am supposed to teach that child life skills. When the child does not learn those, I feel the same sense of guilt and failure, that I could have done something different, that I have done something wrong, and maybe I am not fit to be a teacher. I also feel that I have broken a parent’s trust, who believed that I would help a child make his future.

Unlike death, in class, the child is present. Anger can be directed at the child. When a child is dead, who should the anger be directed to? It is mostly directed at self. A father is angry at himself, and at the world. Even in class, if a teacher does not direct his anger at the student, he has to direct on himself, as he considers himself a failure.

Here I sit, thinking as a teacher about this student that I could not teach him fortitude, and as a surrogate father to this student feeling helpless in his grief, feeling empathy for his feelings, and extrapolating that feeling as a father to all my children seeing a dismal future based on irresponsible behaviour, and I weep anew.  I think about the senseless loss of life and opportunities, the sense of helplessness and powerlessness to determine a child’s future and I wonder what to do.

As a counsellor, I am supposed to hold my feelings in check and help a counsellee regain emotional balance. But how does one counsel someone who has lost a child when I too get emotional, imagining the loss of any one of my children, including my students – past, present and future?

I feel so helpless.

The sins of the father


Today, I read this article – “In the name of the father” The gist of the article is that our parents want to cast us in their mold in order to perpetute their view of the world.

If they were happy with their world, they wished the same to their children. It also perpetuated something familiar so that they can continue to help and guide and not feel useless as age crept on.

If they were not happy, they decided what else you should do – based on the success of relatives and friends. A proven path was better.

So it is the limited knowledge of “good” choices that govern such decisions. When a young person expresses a desire to do something a parent has not heard of, the parent casts far and wide to figure out the success of such a venture. If he cannot, he discourages his child.

Can this knowledge and therefore decision making be improved? Yes. By reading more. Books carry scenarios and experiences of people we have not met and can give us more information and may create additional beliefs,  beyond the parochial set of beliefs created by our life and the lives of our friends.

When we live in a hostel,  we learn from others and their past. When we read, we cast our net wider, beyond our shores.

When we convey our new beliefs to our parents,  they are confused because our view of the world is now different from their view. We should have compassion for them and help them understand this new view, instead of fighting with them. Remember,  both of us have my interest at heart. It is simply two views of the same interest.

I deplore the advent of social networks to the extent that it does not create in-depth relationships that may result in experiential learning.  Such network also foster fake profiles, which is nothing like reality. It also takes time away from people – time better spent in reading fiction and non fiction that add vicariously to their experience and help in creating more beliefs and better decisions.

Macaulayism and Lessons in Marketing from the British Raj


The virtue and risk of segmentation

We have heard of the saying, “Divide and Rule.” In Marketing, we call it segmentation, wherein we break up our target market by Demographics (who we are), Attitudes (What we think and believe) and Behaviour (What we do).

Segmentation is risky and expensive. We need to ensure that we have created the right target segments, and we need to ensure that we are hitting each segment with the right marketing message.

A marketing message has two parts.

  1. Identification of an existing need or creation of a need leading to a dissatisfaction with the current state
  2. That this need can be satisfied by purchasing our product.

When the British segmented India, they fomented competition between various rulers. They catered to a need of one-up-man-ship, playing on the self esteem of the rulers and and their need to feel superior to others. The recognition and reward system (Raya-bahadurs etc., supply of guns, cannons, soldiers, training, preferred customer status) was used to foment dissatisfaction.

After 1857, the princely states were downplayed and there was a need for another segmentation strategy. This was done by using the caste system, the religions and by the promotion of a new ruling class like the Zamindars.

Look at the trend. The cost of creating and maintaining the earlier segmentation of 500 odd princely states was exorbitant and therefore control was inadequate. Each state had different problems and therefore different needs. The French, the Dutch and the Portuguese, therefore, were able to maintain a stronghold in certain parts of India. The 1857 revolt happened because of this lack of control.

After 1857, the segmentation method was pan-India. Demographics using religion, caste and class was more cost effective, as the needs were more homogenised, and  the cost of creating the right marketing message was easier. Penetration into these segments by outsiders was difficult as these segments were not open to outside influences. The religious leaders determined the actions of their flock. A Brahmin did not listen to any one but a more superior Brahmin. Although the cost of maintaining a segment was low, the effectiveness of the segment was also low.

The cost of creating a new segment like “class” was high. The British originally created a ruling class and a ruled class. The focus was on the ruling class, and it was hoped that the ruling class could determine the behaviour and buying pattern of the ruled class. This did not happen.

Homogenisation of a market (de-segmentation)

The management dilemma is evident. Segmentation allows for better penetration, but the cost of segmentation is higher.

This is where Thomas Babington Macaulay came up with a masterpiece of marketing strategy of creating a large segment that:

  1. Could be controlled in terms of behaviour
  2. Has a common communication strategy so that the marketing message is not lost in translation
  3. Is large enough to impact revenues and profits.

His strategy is called Macaulayism. Wikipedia says, “The English form of educational instruction was directly imported to India under Macaulay’s watchful eye and the English language was established as the main vehicle of instruction. It was hoped to establish a new cultural elite in the colony and that the ideas of this new English-speaking and British-educated group would refine the vernacular dialects of the country, enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature and render them fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”

Look at the underlined phrases and you will realise that all the 3 needs mentioned above are fulfilled.

  • By creating the English speaking middle class, the British created a market for products of Industrial Britain.
  • The British created a society mirroring its own social norms and therefore gained acceptability in India. To penetrate religious strongholds, it created reformers from the middle class that over-emphasised the evils of religion and therefore promote a milder and more “enlightened” form of religion and society.
  • The common language allowed the British to use their superior command over the English language to control knowledge dissemination and the marketing messages.  It allowed other Britishers to communicate directly with the masses.
  • By creating a need to strive towards British ideals and norms, a new dissatisfaction was created, which could only be satisfied by British products, British rewards and recognition ((Knighthood, Rayabahadurs, inclusion in the Indian Civil Service).

In one shot, Macaulay created economic and political control by controlling the attitude and behaviour of an influential mass that cut across most demographics.

Even classical music can be reinvented and sold


I has posted on monetising our passion. I gave some examples too. Here is another such example of how Western Classical music can be monetised.

“How Category Creation Is Reinvigorating Classical Music” from chandu

Another reason for following your passion


You ask “what career should I choose”. Any one who is an entrepreneur,  or with more than 7-10 years of experience will invariably tell you “Follow your passion and the money will follow.”

The logic here is that you should enjoy what you do or do what you believe in.

Both are sometimes not practical due to financial and social pressure.

For example, when I left corporate life to teach, I heard a lot of comments. Preachy ones – “Men should not stay at home”;concerned ones – “How will you survive?”; and sarcastic ones – “”Could not cut it in corporate life, eh?” or “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach!”

However there is one more logical reason that you should encourage your passion.

Your job is at risk if you can be replaced by technology, a cheaper person or your work can be consolidated under someone else. Your rank does not matter. You may be a fresher or a vice president.

I just received a mail from a friend with 22 years of experience who has been downsized. His skill set is so specific and special that there are not more than 20-30 jobs available in this country.

Most of you are at risk unless you are the employer. There is always someone willing to take your job for less pay. Technology is replacing intuition, experience and brain power. Outsourcing is accepted as a better way of managing by numbers and better operation efficiency.

How do you de-risk this? The same way as financial planners de-risk. By having a portfolio of products that you vary based on market conditions. So we invest in debt,  equity, commodities and their derivatives; monitor the overall value and move investments around to maximise returns.

You need to do the same with your portfolio of skills and traits. Let me give you an example:

I know software, around 16 programming languages and have a background in electrical engineering and computer science. I am also an mba, and have experience in a variety of jobs.  So I can utilise any of these to get a job or teach subjects in an mba or engineering college.

I can be a corporate citizen or a freelancer.

I keep updating my knowledge and skills.  I am a certified counsellor and can capitalise on that. I am a certified NLP practitioner and again use that during counselling.

I am a woodworker and I make gifts to give to people or if I want, sell them.

I have 13 years experience in campus infrastructure management and can start a company to provide this service to educational and residential campuses.

The point is, sacrificing corporate life allowed me to invest my time in other skills which allows me to have a cash flow the way I choose.

A friend of mine is a programmer by day and a guitar player and teacher ny evening. He monetised his passion. He has decided not to take a promotion or a salary hike. He mentors other programmers in the office and he can, later, monetise those skills.

I have students who have done the same. I see potential in some of the recent batches. Two current students are passionate about Hindustani and Carnatic music and they can create a fusion school. An ex-student is passionate about dance and he can do both sales in the day and monetise his dance ability at night. I see another ex-student in FB participating in a dance competition and I am very happy that she has a monetizable skill.

To summarise, corporate jobs have become riskier. Specialisation makes you an expert but creates a risk similar to investing in only one stock. You need to have a portfolio of services that you can monetise. Your passion is a monetisable skill.

Why do suicides outnumber any other form of death?


My discussions with people of my generation indicate that they believe this to be very low or ignorable. Joiner believes (and shows by statistics) that self harm is one of the most common causes of death. I believe that in India, (as in other places), people downplay this as they do Sexual Abuse. And we probably do that because we do not know how to handle both.  As a matter of fact,both are increasing alarmingly.

Thomas Joiner, in this article, postulates a few reasons for suicide. Please do read the whole article. It is well written.

To summarise, “People will die by suicide when they have both the desire to die and the ability to die.” (quote by Joiner). The desire to die has two components: when I believe (a) I am alone and (b) I am a burden. This is shown by the following diagram:

The interpersonal theory of suicide

The three conditions of suicide, when looked at separately, are conditions that we suffer each day. We repeatedly have

  • feelings of loneliness,
  • feeling of inadequacy and being a burden and
  • suicidal feelings.

But only when the three come together that it becomes alarming.

It starts with loneliness and a need to belong. With the advent of facebook and social media, theoretically, it would imply that we have a lot of friends. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are,” says John Cacioppo, a professor at the University of Chicago and the world’s foremost expert on loneliness. The more face time you have, the less the loneliness.

The second is the need to be useful and more importantly, the need to provide. With the growing unemployment, this is becoming important. For the younger generation, who have the need to provide for their parents, this can become deadly. Comparison with peers about  salaries and savings coupled with low self-esteem can add fuel.

The third is the capability and the means. I will not dwell on this as it is too painful.

If you feel you need help, or someone around you needs help, please reach out. Other things that you can do:

  1. Create face time. If you need to talk to a counsellor please do so. Smile at friends and strangers. Make them feel that they belong.
  2. Learn additional skills that will help you get a job in a different career. I started as a software guy and ended as a teacher, and now a coach.
  3. Do not compare with others.Parents may talk about needing your support, but typically it is not financial support (most parents can fend for themselves), but they need emotional support. as do all of us.