On how the competence of a human being can be condensed to a number

http://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/books/chetan-bhagat-tells-us-a-short-story/article1-436685.aspx

I read this story and while I don’t actively devour Chetan Bhagat’s literature, this piece resonated a little too deeply with being a prospective college student and wondering if scoring a 90%, or even 92 or 95% aggregate is ever good enough.

After I read this story, I reflected a bit on how far my life has come. I study in a prestigious Ivy League university now, yet I complain about my struggling GPA (which is still better than most), how difficult life is and how stressed out I always am. I forget that I have survived worse moments of uncertainty.

Today, I’m sensitive about the fact that my GPA is not 4.0. I forget that there was a time when I had scored 10/50 in a very important Math test. I constantly hear from my peers around me (blame me for being easily influenced) about how their GPA is at 3.9, 3.8 or even 4.0. I forget that there are many others among that privileged 3% admission rate who have GPA’s of 2.0. Columbia’s own Nobel Prize Winner had a GPA of 2.8 when he graduated. But I can’t seem to stop beating myself up for that fact that I’m not on the Dean’s list, even though I have two research projects and a hackathon victory under my modest belt.

The following paragraph summarizes the awful whispers I pick up from those who frequent job fairs and recruitment events and networking events.

“Jobs look for GPA and how good you are at what you do, combined with all your extra-curriculars and how well you present yourself and how essentially superhuman you are because you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Nobody wants ordinary. You’ll never get anywhere without a big name on your resume. Don’t hold back from writing your skills on your resume. Don’t be a machine. Show them you’re a human too. Laugh, smile, dress like so and flatter like so. “Network”. “Connect”. Know people and stay on their mind because that’s the only way you’re going to make money and be someone.”

Obviously, the fact that making it to Columbia is a difficult task for many and the hardships they may have gone to be there and the person who they truly are will never make it to that crisply edited, sharply formatted glossy paper that hides among a possible million more. So you’re applying to be a computer science researcher or technology developer? You’re from Columbia? Okay, so you’re good.  But that GPA isn’t 4.0. Like the protagonist of the story, being good is never as worthy as being good enough.

There were so many other subtle hints in this portrayal that stuck out to me. The indirect ways parents hint at their children, and the sometimes futile lies children have to maintain in order to preserve the social fabric. The idea of your classmates having girlfriends and/or boyfriends and wondering if the elusive and confusing process will remain as awkward as ever.

But maybe in the quest of trying to fit in and stand out and find multiple identities and be good at something, I’ll find the way to strike that balance. And maybe that will be more than a number, let alone in base 10 than in binary. Maybe that could be an elegant function whose solutions I still seek.

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