If I told you that the final nudge to write this Medium piece was a Backstreet Boys song, you wouldn’t believe me. Or if you knew me, you’d ask, “What are you fucking high on?”
I think I can answer the latter. But before this goes there, please don’t judge me for the Latin title, it has a very valid reason behind its existence.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to come to terms with a few things. One of my character flaws is that I’m not a huge fan of change. But I graduate in 2 months, I’m expected to settle into a new city, and I’m expected to work for a living. I’ve been in denial so far, that I don’t need to dip right into adulting; that I will still have the same happy, chubby times with my friends. But the wave of reality comes and goes.
So, I’m going to start this story from where it deserves a start: the fucking bastard bat that tried to wreck my final year. And as depressing what I’ve said in the last paragraph might sound, it really isn’t. This piece will go about my year, in terms of my ambitions, my relationships with people, and my realizations about myself. This isn’t a piece of self-glorification, nor one of promoting “hey I got through all these struggles bro hustle culture max feelings are just a temporary state of mind” narratives. All this is, is letting out to whoever may read this.
Because it’s the first time I feel like I’m going somewhere.
July 2020. I was reeling from the aftermath of a horrible breakup that happened right at the cusp of the announcement of a nationwide lockdown back in March. I was also reeling from the loss of my summer internship. I was scrambling like a bird with an injured wing. I was scared, but I also knew I was in a position where I couldn’t have gone any lower. This is where it turns into a comeback story. One that takes place from one room, online. Oh yeah, total dungeon master.
Dungeon master without a magic stick or a beard.
As horrible as this start was, I was slowly figuring out what I really wanted to do in life. Months ago, I was contemplating taking a gap year, because I was done with studying for the time being. I also figured that I had always enjoyed every internship I had ever been in. I loved working. I didn’t know what industry I wanted to work in, but I knew I wanted to throw myself into work. But then again, I do need to have awareness of what I eventually want to work in.
Enter venture capital — the maddest thing to have gripped me in all 3 years of college. This was where I wanted to go. This was what I wanted professionally. I had never been so sure of anything else in my life. Ok, no, I didn’t want to be Peter Thiel (I have a disdain for the bad bod). But I wanted to be on this end of helping out India’s booming startups. And then I said, hey, let’s figure out the possible paths to it.
Path 1: I take an analyst (or even associate if I can be that good) role in, say, consulting. I make a good enough name for myself to be mobile between industries.
Path 2: I take up higher studies. Which was always the goal. And ideally not an MBA.
Figuring out either path involved coldly messaging people on Twitter, stalking people on LinkedIn to see their trajectories, and just reading. Boring, I know. But then-20-year-old me said that this will be it — Pranav Manie, you’re going to figure out either path.
September came. By then, I had interned at a very cool milk startup near home, which only furthered my ambitions to work in VC. Not that I knew yet how to slingshot that into a VC internship, but I felt a little better. At least I could tell companies who came for hiring that my lockdown wasn’t a total bummer.
September was brutal. I faced my first proper rejection from a financial services firm, where I didn’t even make the interview shortlist. I felt like my whole world was crashing. That I was nothing without anybody. Every single old fear, insecurity, came to haunt me. My problem is I get wound up about things pretty easily. “But, but I had a CV good enough to make that shortlist, Ma! Finance is my thing!” Shut up, you narcissistic clown. Only you would take something so personally. I wanted to shut out the world at the time, but obviously, I could only do that so much.
Then came the week of September 18–25. The second top-tier company to arrive on campus (or a tasteless, online version of it), a consulting firm. At this point, I sat for it with all expectations of being booted out at some or the other stage. I was ready to prime my plan for Path 2, because Path 1 didn’t seem feasible to me, because I thought I was an idiot (I still do). I barely scraped through their incredibly hard test, after which point I said that I might as well hand this week over to Jesus Christ’s hands. I was also intimidated by the others who cleared the test, because they really seemed like they’d prepared for this. I had, too, but I didn’t feel too confident about myself.
On D-Day — September 25, I interviewed for nearly 8 hours — I was the only person who had 2 more interviews than necessary. I said, “Yep, this is definitely an interview to find reasons to cut me.” But then, my gut had butterflies, good ones I might add. I had seen too many basketball clutch moments a day or two prior, imagining myself at a game 7 of some crazy series. I was in a fantasy world of my own, but too afraid to jinx anything. So I didn’t particularly imagine a scenario where my happiness knew no bounds. At 8:30 pm, I checked out, and called it a day to re-watch Almost Famous. Nothing like a bunch of people confessing their worst secrets to each other while the plane they were in is going down.
I was watching said scene, when a friend from the placement cell texts me, “Jesus, why can’t I add you to a group? The fun is gone!” I said, “What fucking fun? Why are you having fun at the expense of my anxiety, bitch?” [This is all paraphrasing, but it accurately captures my feelings at the time.]
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that scene is the pivot where every single character dynamic changes. It’s a heart-stopper of a scene. I found out that I was added to a group called “Final Selects”. I went mental, not only because I realized what it meant, but also because the scene added to the jacking up of my heart rate. I legitimately fell from my bed, but I also knew I had to finish the scene. I didn’t care about the wildfire of “congratulations” texts that eventually followed — for some unearthly reason still unbeknownst to me, I needed to finish the scene. The idiot that I was (and am still), I did finish it.
Of course it was a beautiful moment for me. Till then, I was trying to not feel lost. I was looking for purpose in my life, which finally felt validated. I was navigating through friendships I thought I would lose but thankfully didn’t (and some I also lost and became okay with losing), friendships I always had but never truly appreciated until the lockdown, and friendships that I made totally out of the blue in that phase (thanks, Twitter). I felt less alone after that day.
Now, I had time for exploring Path 2. Step 1 for Path 2 was — give the GRE. But I had no idea how to. I didn’t want to travel to a different city altogether to give it, but I had also heard apprehensive things about the at-home test. If my internet went bust anytime in between, I would go into massive panic mode. So I had to think it through for a while. But, you know what happens when you allow yourself to, ahem, “think it through”, right?
Not procrastinate the studying part of it, that was going well enough. My perpetual fear of the test just prolonged when I should actually give the test. At the same time, the weirdest, wackiest part of my brain said, “Why don’t you take up another internship?” My life seemed like a never-ending cycle of work at that point. Call it a “just-for-kicks” moment, or whatever else you want, but I started aggressively cold-mailing and messaging VC firms. And of course, I was juggling my semester along with all this. I never learnt to take a break.
(But I fully recommend spending all-nighters for internal submissions you give at home, and then going for morning drives after the test.)
In that period, I was also watching Mad Men. I decided that the lockdown will be the time I watch all those long, huge, “legendary” shows. The Sopranos and Mad Men were completed with that goal in mind. They ended up saying so much about the human condition. I probably developed a little more empathy after completing them. But then again, I also decided that getting full-blown drunk is very rarely a good idea. Sorry, Don. I love your pitches, but you’ve blown too many accounts on impulse.
Towards the end of November, I said, “Fuck it, I’ll give the GRE from home.” Armed with hours of verbal prep, and comfort in quant, I gave the test with relative ease, to find out 4 hours later that I scored a 330/340. I screamed loud enough for the whole apartment to hear. And then a day later, I got an internship at a VC firm (again, a lot of interviewing and deck-making ugh).
Here’s where the career part of this piece ends, because for the next few months, I mostly felt like things were coming to an end, and I wasn’t ready for it. Enter, final semester of my college life.
The issue with me is that I don’t have a lot of friends in my batch. Most of my close friends today are either a year (or 2) older or a year younger. They’re excellent friends, but when they assemble in groups, I often feel lost. I feel like I can’t explain my situation well enough for people to understand. I don’t really want to say that they can’t understand me, because that’s a little narcissistic (correction: very narcissistic). Of course my head sometimes thinks that, but what do I do about it, eh? What this eventually translates into is that the people I know and love are in such different stages of life, that sometimes I feel jealous of those who I think are in the prime time of their lives. I don’t know for sure what their lives are about, because they could be going through a lot. But then social media and on-paper conversations add to that confusion.
I also realized that I haven’t been that good of a friend sometimes. People send me their music recommendations, and I tell them I’ll check them out, but I don’t. Not that I don’t do it because, well, I think I know it all. It’s only because I’m forgetful and sometimes too self-absorbed, but again, no excuse. And on the flip side, I take it a little to heart when people don’t check mine out. Add “hypocrisy” to the list of Pranav Manie traits.
Moreover, you suddenly start having regrets about all the things you could have done in college, but didn’t. You never thought too much about them at the time, but now that you do, you wish you were that mature/aware back then. In that respect, I wished I explored my sexuality a lot more. The brief period I had in that regard probably awakened something in me, and by the time it did, a bat in Wuhan said “It’s time to fuck things up.” Again, the regret doesn’t hurt as much, because, hey, I’m 21 and this might be my prime time, and I didn’t really think too much about it in college. I wished I had a relatively more active dating scene. That’s also where I blame dating apps. But then again, so many people work it out, so I could too, right? I felt a little more alone (read: single). While I knew my friends would always have my back, I couldn’t expect them to be around me all the time. They have their own personal lives and struggles to tackle. I had a pretty big fear of abandonment.
At the same time, I know I don’t want to come back to campus once I left. One thing I knew for certain was that I was so not pursuing higher studies in Delhi University. No fucking way. I will keep the friends I made here, because I have a gut feeling they’ll last extremely long no matter what. But I sure as hell didn’t want to come back to the place. I’m grateful that for at least 2 years, I made it my second home. But I am making sure that I’m not carrying any terrible emotional baggage from here. I’m leaving this place, satisfied with my trajectory, knowing that despite making a few mistakes here and there, I eventually played my cards mostly right. I’m replaying “Nice While It Lasted”, and Diane’s telling BoJack similar things about living in LA.
2020 was the year I became emotionally more open, and much more sentimental. I valued moments, memories, conversations, and gave more compliments to people. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew that if I didn’t become more open, I’d always regret it. Up until first year of college, I always felt like I was suppressing things. I was shy and reserved, and I didn’t tell my secrets to anybody. That changed slowly in second year. In final year, I discovered who I could truly confide in, and told them more about myself.
I thought through all of this while working on Path 2. Earlier, the plan was to apply to some 6 universities abroad. I ended up only applying to the best 2 out of that list. It was a feeling like I never had before, because for the first time, I was confident enough that I’d land one of those. I have often thought about whether that was a cocky move. But I also knew that I wouldn’t have been happy with anything lesser. I’d get it, and I’d be happy, but all it would have meant was another 10000 bucks gone in the application, and bragging rights that I got into a place abroad.
And here’s where things got trickier — Path 1 started messing up Path 2. I loved my internship, to the extent that I was ready to pursue it full-time. I loved reading about venture capital. That may or may not have messed up my statement of purpose, because in retrospect, it lacked an academic bent of mind, which is what universities prefer if it’s not an MBA you’re applying for. But if my mistake was that, then it was unavoidable. Maybe, I was always meant to work at this stage of my life.
Funnily enough, I was planning on taking a gap year back in February 2020. Me getting placed turned that plan on its head.
I felt a little lost. It wasn’t depressing like 2020, but I didn’t like the subtle, sinking feeling it entailed. 2 months into being 21 years old, and adulthood made sure I felt its complexities. There was this one time I went on a self-destructive bender, stalking the LinkedIn profiles of people who got into Oxford’s financial economics program, to constantly tell myself that I didn’t stand any chance. While I didn’t get in anyway, I would highly recommend not doing that. I know in my heart that I could get in someday.
This year involved a bit of introspection, and two traits about me stood out to myself: I’m a control freak, and I often attach my worth to my productivity. Both traits were on full display at the time. I often hate it when things or people don’t go my way, which isn’t the best way of handling stuff. Apparently, that’s also a very Diane Nguyen trait. Is BoJack Horseman really this all-encompassing a show?
I wanted to let go. I wanted to be okay with change, even if it was negative. For once, I wanted to not be defined by work, or an achievement. I knew that I had to learn to do so. I am far from the biggest fan of the “hustle culture” narrative, but I felt like I had been working non-stop for a year. And I liked it, until I got tired to the point where I didn’t want to work, but I’d also feel worthless without it. I had to learn how to be okay with not having things go my way all the time.
I love sports, and lately, I’ve been watching tons of basketball. I wanted to see what team I fit the most. I identified with the 2015–18 Cleveland Cavaliers roster — when LeBron James said that he wanted to bring the trophy back to his home state. That was a team full of tension. They still ended up winning a championship in 2016, after coming back from a 3–1 deficit. What a beautiful game 7. But they always had their downer moments. Troubles in the team, ego clashes, battles of control. One horrible moment of absent-mindedness (looking at you, JR).
I decided to go to Delhi, to meet who I could, to feel less lonely, to hopefully have my own moment of reckoning. I decided to set a final date to my internship. As much as I loved working there, I needed a period of peace where I wasn’t doing anything close to “profile-building”. I needed time off, especially to write a piece like this.
As lovely as Delhi has been to me, I continued to feel lost. For one, I was effectively going to remain in the same city, with the major change being that I’d shift to the extreme south of it. I met people, I loved every moment of that. We shared moments of laughter, togetherness, and even silence when nothing needed to be said. But I knew this was all going away. I had no idea if any of this would remain. This thought remaining constantly in the back of my head didn’t always allow me to communicate to the best of my ability. Finally, I had to take care of myself again. Entering a totally new phase meant that I had nobody to back me up. You’d think you’d be used to this feeling after having done it a couple times, in school, in college. But I doubt the corporate world is that kind of social setting. The playing field is level again. You leveled up, but you got to start from scratch again.
The issue with all of this is….it’s also largely a non-issue. In retrospect, it’s not bad at all. I am in an incredibly comfortable position, I finally know what I want to do and where I can go from this point of my life, and for all I know, my prime has just begun, and I’ve made sure I haven’t wasted a day of that. Sure, it’s going to be harder now than ever, but then anything worth doing is. I think I’m just generally uncomfortable with my life being at a standstill, which speaks volumes about why I need a period like that before I jump into the ocean again.
As for the people in my life, I like to think they’ll make efforts to keep our dynamics intact (as would I). That shouldn’t go anywhere, no matter where I go, or where they go. And I think I needn’t worry about getting into a serious relationship too much. If it has to happen, it will happen. I just have to go with the flow on that one, that’s the best way.
I’m not sure why I’m writing this. It’s definitely not to gain any sympathy out of anyone. But I think I needed to be honest with myself, and it has been a while since I’ve been this honest. The easiest way to do that, and hopefully feel the biggest relief, is to go as open as I could. I realized this 2 months back, and since then, I’ve been making a playlist. It’s possibly the weirdest playlist I’ve ever made by the looks of it, but I couldn’t be happier as to how accurately it captures me in this span of time.
I’ve also been watching/re-watching movies and shows that are about the end. End of an era. End of a dream run. I re-watched Rock On after quite a while on the suggestion of a friend (we were on a Zoya-Farhan Akhtar repeat run). It took me a while to realize that if I took out the music aspect of it, it encapsulated so much of what I have been going through. And despite highs, lows, and sides, the movie ended on the only note it deserved to end. But yeah, even I’d admit that I wouldn’t belt Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” that horribly while drunk. What a moment that was. I always loved Purab Kohli’s hairdo in the movie.
I’ve been riding the Delhi Metro very randomly, too. Back, forth, like an amusement ride. It’s always been the most comforting place to me in the whole city. And, of course, the best source of free air-conditioning I could possibly ask for. I have been writing the last 3 paragraphs of this piece while listening to “Tum Ho Toh”, on a train. There was this one time that I misused my metro privilege a little bit by not dropping off at a terminating station, and letting the train carry me the way I came. And then vice versa, to drop me home. I had the most peaceful nap time.
I have a feeling that come April-end, I’ll see the culmination of this standstill period. Coming to Delhi for a brief time, to see through the natural end to the most explorative, carefree phase of my life, has been helping me to come to terms with me feeling lost. Life and people will go on, and there’s no point in me acting aloof because of it. And on top of all of this, I’m cribbing about absolutely nothing. I gained a lot of perspective by talking to people, because I had zero idea what people were going through. It’s entirely possible some didn’t even get to experience the kind of joys that I had/have the privilege to.
And this piece was partly an exercise for myself to see if I could be grateful to myself. A very close friend suggested journaling as a coping mechanism, but I’m a lazy panda. I also happen to be in front of my laptop screen often. Those two saw a beautiful intersection, and I decided to let it all fly on Medium.
I’m writing this in a different metro ride. Sometimes, I don’t want these things to end. I randomly played “seven” by Taylor Swift, and it’s the first two lines that hit me like a brick (also damn, what was I doing not listening to this song):
“Please picture me in the trees
I hit my peak at seven”
I’ve been obsessed with peaks and primes. I’m always worried I passed it, and I didn’t make the best use of it. But there are times when I feel like I can conquer it all, and the only thing stopping me is this weird standstill period. You worry if you peaked too early, and whether that kind of thing only happens once in a lifetime. One season wonder and all that.
But then it’s also evident to you that from here, there’s only one way, and that is up. Too many seasons left to play, too much left to see. Too many sport metaphors also, sorry!
So, to answer the title of this piece, I don’t know where I’m going, but for once, I feel sure about the path, and I feel sure about who I am.
To anybody younger who’s reading this piece and will be entering this phase soon— please don’t beat yourself up on failures like I keep doing throughout this piece. Ideally, you do not overthink like I do, and even if you do, know that it’s normal to do so. Everyone has a different timeline of working things out. If all that you wanted does work out for you, excellent, and congratulations! But if it doesn’t, it will have to some time or the other. It may not be now, it may not be 6 months from now. But it just will, and then you can go chill in the sands somewhere, sip a latte, listen to music, and forget the world. Actually, you can do those things in between work, too. Take a break.
And if you’re a friend and you know me well — thank you for being in my life, especially the 12 months, even in the smallest way possible. And if you were there for the big ones, I’m speechless for you.
And lastly (now this has reached maximum levels of cringe, this isn’t a research paper, dummy): thank you, Daft Punk. For the title of this piece.
This monster has reached 4000 words. If you’ve read it till the end, thank you, you’re way too nice, and you believe more in me than I do. Nonetheless, I’ll duly make an exit by sending my playlist: https://open.spotify.com/track/6KJqZcs9XDgVck7Lg9QOTC?si=ZtMKo4_IT-O36aZ3BljXdQ&utm_source=copy-link — I’ll keep updating it as long as I’m 21, which is another 7 months.