Stuck in the Middle

4 minutes


Updated June 8, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

If you’re lucky, you might feel the same about your field. You might already have a strong opinion of what you want to study and research on. If you do, feel free to skip this chapter. A lot of students do end up pursuing their graduate school in the same domain they pursued their bachelor’s in. From our personal experience, though, we know that is not always the case.

I graduated with a master’s in Management Science and Engineering, after completing my undergraduate in Chemical Engineering. Sai switched from Mechanical Engineering to Engineering Management. It’s a good story to share with people and motivate them to trust their gut feeling, now. However, when we were actively undergoing that conundrum, it was far from easy.

storyI spent months wandering the basketball court and empty roads inside NIT Trichy wondering if I was making the right choice. My parents certainly didn’t think so, but they supported me anyway, for which I’m eternally grateful.

I had spent two summers and a winter working inside laboratories at various universities (IIT-Madras, Indian Institute of Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison) on research related to renewable energy. I was also doing very well inside the class, securing the top rank consistently. This isn’t to flaunt; rather to show you just how confused I felt when what seemed to be the logical next step didn’t seem like the right one.

Back then, all I knew was that I wanted to move away from research and explore the world of business and management with no prior experience, except for serving as the founder and head of a social organization titled AIESEC in my university. Below is a passage from an essay I wrote in 2016:

The decision of pursuing a degree in management has been the biggest change in my life so far. Until a few months ago, I thought I knew exactly what to do after graduation. I had a strong background to apply for one of the top schools for a PhD. But what after that? Would I feel satisfied at the end of each day while I return back to my apartment? Would I be able to lie to myself for 5 years? These were questions that haunted me, every day.

It’s excruciating when what you want to do derails from what you should do. I began questioning if the past three years of my life were wasted chasing after the wrong dream. I’m positive my friends and peers thought I was committing a grave mistake. Some of them were even vocal about it. In hindsight, however, I could not have been more right. I have the utmost respect for doctoral candidates, but I know I would have made a very average and unhappy researcher if I was confined to a lab for five years. I’m still learning what it takes to build products and relationships with people, but I already know this is where I can eventually be extraordinary.

You need to find the area where you can be extraordinary. Don’t settle for being average.

Let’s be clear about one thing: it will neither be easy nor pleasant to make this transition. However, in the long run, you will be incredibly thankful to yourself. We still wanted to make this process slightly easier for you by introducing a renowned concept that can come in handy in these situations.

Finding Your Ikigai

Dan Buettner,* a three-time Guinness World Record holder and best-selling author, conducted a long experiment to find out how people who live to be more than 100 years old, called centenarians, manage to do it. His team spoke to the centenarians from four Blue Zones, areas where they found the most number of people who lived the longest.* One of the zones included the northern part of Okinawa, a prefecture in Japan made up of 161 islands. Aside from a plant-based diet and a tight-knit community, he found out that what set them apart was their practice of ikigai.*

Ikigai* (pronounced ee-key-guy) is a Japanese word that loosely means the reason you get up in the morning. It encompasses the idea that happiness is more than money and titles. According to a book written on this concept by Hector Garcia and Albert Liebermann,* “The origin of the word ikigai goes back to the Heian period (794 to 1185). Clinical psychologist and avid expert of the ikigai evolution, Akihiro Hasegawa released a research paper in 2001 where he wrote that the word ‘gai’ comes from the word ‘kai’ which translates to ‘shell’ in Japanese. During the Heian period, shells were extremely valuable, so the association of value is still inherently seen in this word.”

This intangible ideology is what gives you the sense of purpose and meaning that most people search for their entire life. It makes your life worthwhile, happy, and satisfactory.

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