08 Apr 2019 19:54 IST

Your choices define who you become, says D Shivakumar

The Executive President, Aditya Birla Group, was addressing students at the IIM Kozhikode convocation

This evening, I am going to discuss ‘choices’ with you. Life is made up of many choices. Choices define our lives and all of us want to make the right choices.

As Edwin Markham put it, “choices are the hinges of destiny”. I agree with him; our lives hinge on some big choices we make.

The first question on your mind will be: do I have a choice?

There are choices where you have a say and some where you don’t. You had no say in who your parents were. You had no choice with your name. You had no choice over your mother tongue. But you made the most of it.

There are some choices which are taken collectively and there are some where you need to take the call. I am sure the choice of school you went to was a family decision, the choice to do an MBA may have been, and in some cases, the choice of whom you will marry, could also be a family decision.

On the other hand, the courses you took at this Institute and the job offer you have picked is a personal choice. Being happy or sad about today is a personal choice. Some will be happy that they are moving to a bigger stage and some will be sad about leaving this campus, a place that was home for two years.

Conscious choices

Choices involve many dimensions.

Your choices involve time — short-term, instant gratification or long-term delayed gain. They involve anticipation — proactive or reactive. They involve mistakes — do you repeat a mistake or learn from it and avoid it? They involve confidence — are you over confident or underconfident ?

Speaking of mistakes, there is a saying in cricket that goes, you can’t get Sachin Tendulkar out with the same ball that got him out once. The genius makes it a point to learn from his mistake and ensures that he never repeats the same mistake. Sachin is a great example of making choices. He chose to be a batsman and not a captain, to put country ahead of everything else whenever he played, to be a gentleman in a game that’s not very gentlemanly these days. He made his choices.

Your choices tend to go the right way when you know yourself, when you are self-aware and good at analysing your environment. Your environment will change significantly in the next few weeks as you leave this Institute. Here, many decisions were made by others. Now, you will have to get used to a new environment where you are forced to make many decisions.

Choices are about options and sacrifice, especially when faced with seemingly attractive choices. They are about deciding one way or the other, and realising that you cannot have both outcomes.

You do not realise that you make a thousand decisions every day based on the choices placed before you. So, you are making big decisions and small decisions, you are making good decisions and bad decisions, all in one day.

Good decisions are smart, healthy and positive ones. Bad decisions are stupid, unhealthy, arrogant and negative.

Big bad decisions

Let’s look at a combination of the good and bad, small and big decisions, and let’s start with the big bad ones.

A big bad decision, if you are not careful and sensible, could be about marriage and the choice of a life partner. This is a big decision and you must think this through. Through the ups and downs of life, your partner is the only person by your side and he/she has to understand you.

Another big bad decision could be taking on too much debt. This is a case of chasing hurried aspirations. Good things will come to you, have a bit of patience, you don’t need to be in debt to your eyebrows. High debt leads to other big bad decisions.

Another big bad decision could be having a child when you are not ready to be a parent. There is a certain maturity needed to be a parent. A child needs a lot from his parents, and you have to give your child quality time.

So, a bad decision is one where the returns are way below the risks involved and sometimes, a seemingly good decision becomes a bad one due to timing.

Small bad decisions

Let us look at the next box now, the small bad decisions.

The first small bad decision you can make involves money. Spending more than you earn is a small bad decision, it will not impact you immediately but it will set a pattern that will be difficult to get out of. Remember, neither life, nor a career is a credit card.

The second small bad decision you can make is about food. It is binging on fast food. Before you realise it, you are a calorie addict and you will be many kilograms overweight, buying the next size of clothes every year.

The third small bad decision is about learning — when you prioritise movies and television over learning. This one is difficult since you have to make a big shift from being taught by someone to learning by teaching yourself.

The last small bad decision is sticking to a job that you don’t like but are too lazy to make a change. This situation is a career derailer and you will lose your edge very quickly when you continue staying in such a situation.

Good small decisions

Let’s look at the good side of decisions, the good small decisions now.

The first good small decision is something that you have seen your parents and grandparents do — save some money every month. If you look at India, we save a lot. The question is whether or not the saving habit will sustain with the millennial generation. Every career has a rainy day, so, please save for it.

A good small decision is exercising regularly and managing your diet well. This combination will keep your energy level up through your working day. A fit person is fit for success.

The last small good decision is to say thank you to people who help you through the day. This is courtesy, but we rarely see that in today’s self-centred world.

Small good decisions have a long-term impact. They become habits that are second nature to you and your personality. Small, good habits will make you predictable and dependable, which are great values in an uncertain world.

Big good decisions

Now let’s look at the big good decisions.

Getting to IIM Kozhikode was possibly the best decision you have made so far. This institute was ranked as India’s fifth when it started in 1996.

The first big good decision for the future has to be marriage. A lot of you will marry a working spouse and managing two careers within a household is not as easy as it looks. It will require the two of you to have a clear understanding in terms of choosing whose career options look better in what context. This is very subjective and getting this choice right is possibly one of the most difficult decisions in a marriage. Trust me, this is not a rational decision but an emotional one.

The second good big decision will have to be about your choice of friends. You will need a lot of friends throughout your life. Friends will open many doors for you, so please nurture friendships.

The third big good decision will be about what you invest in. Investment is not just about money, but your time. Sound investments assure you a secure future.

I have made many choices in my life, some good, some not so good. I chose IIM Calcutta because many classmates from engineering were going there. I chose to be a business practitioner and not an academician. I chose to work in India and not outside. I chose to be a leader and not a bystander. I chose to be a giver and not a taker.

Similarly, you will make choices as well. I am sure you will choose listening over talking, speaking the truth over being silent, good over bad, gratitude over attitude, generosity over greed, loyalty over backstabbing a friend or colleague, discipline over lethargy, and humility over arrogance.

My young graduating friends, when you make such choices, you will make every one assembled here very proud and, more importantly, you will earn a reputation in society.

So, my dear special ones, go make the right choice, and be happy. Thank you, once again, for having me here on the prettiest IIM campus.

(The speaker is Group Executive President-Corporate Strategy & Business Development, Aditya Birla group.)