Prasanna Gunturi, 1995, BTech, Electronics, has walked a long path to where she is now. Her experiences in and beyond IIT have been typically atypical, and she peppers her story beautifully with quotes and little life lessons here for you.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman
A mixed experience
Those were the days when Engineering and Medicine were two mainstream fields most students aspired to get into.
Medicine was a no-no for me because I squirmed at the very thought of holding a knife or looking at a frog or a fish. Since I loved the subject – Maths, Physics, Chemistry – Engineering seemed to be the natural choice for me. Neither did I have to look far for inspiration. My dad was a EEE Prof in a REC (now NIT) and we were surrounded with Professors offering JEE coaching and students aspiring into one of the IITs/RECs. And the place I came from, a steel township in West Bengal, boasted of some high ranked students every year. So it was easy to jump on to the JEE bandwagon.
When the IIT results came out, three of us girls who shared the same bench in school ranked under 250. Wow! We were thrilled and excited and were on top of the world. It was certainly a momentous occasion for us and our families and a matter of great prestige to get into the nation’s top technology institutes. The general opinion was that once you got into an IIT, your life was made. Hmmm…a point to ponder over.
Based on the rank and counselling, Electronics & Communications it was to be. To be honest, I didn’t know much of one or the other discipline to really make a decision. I just went along with the flow.
“When I hear somebody sigh, “Life is hard,” I am always tempted to ask, “Compared to what?”” ~Sydney Harris
It wasn’t long after I joined IIT, that reality kicked in. Quizzes were followed by mid-sems and end-sems in rapid succession and there seemed hardly any time to breathe and assimilate the knowledge. Semesters whizzed by one after the other! When the branch subjects started, it got worse, it was like jumping into the furnace from the fire. It was about RGing and GPAs and CGPAs the entire time and trying extra hard not to catch a Cup.
The fun and joy in learning was no longer there. Even when I did decently well, there was no satisfaction, no contentment, because I hadn’t learnt anything. I felt like a misfit, totally clueless and lost. This wasn’t for me…I wished I was somewhere else altogether studying something that was more practical and less abstract. The acads part was a painful experience. Add to it loads of growing guilt – for having deprived someone else more deserving, for having let down the expectations of one’s parents and family, for having let down one self. Self-confidence took a beating and the spark within died…
Adding to all this, my aunt died when I was in my 3rd year at IIT. For some unfathomable reason, this event disturbed me immensely. I turned into a pessimist wondering at the futility of life and meaningless exams and a rat race with no end! When I looked around, all I could see around me was death, misery, suffering, unhappiness, poverty, problems and negativity. A zillion questions haunted me and I wondered and I wondered … about life and the purpose of living.
The pessimism continued for weeks before I finally snapped out of it. I learned one very valuable lesson though, a lesson I wouldn’t forget that easily. Life might be full of troubles, problems and suffering and it might be pointless and hopeless to achieve something but it was equally pointless to be sad, serious and miserable and view the world with negativity! Very, very, very fatiguing, depressing and lonely! Brooding over troubles never helped anyone and on top of it if the troubles were imaginary – well, that was inexcusable. And I thought why not spread cheer instead of gloom around me?
I was back to my normal, cheerful self but I didn’t know what to do with my future. I didn’t wish to pursue higher studies, wasn’t sure if I would last the 5-7 years of a MS and a Ph.D. Didn’t think I was made for a MBA either! So I was overly glad to grab the first placement job offer that came my way!
When the four years came to an end, it was heartbreaking to say good bye to friends and the campus, four years of friendships that would last a lifetime, four years of wonderful and memorable experiences shared and cherished forever…
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” ~Unknown
Determined not to be caught unawares by negativity and pessimism again (and be drowned by them in the process), I was more prepared for my IT career. I decided If I was going to work and earn a living, I might as well put in a 100 percent and learn to love what I was doing. I took up roles and work that I enjoyed doing rather than focusing on promotions and climbing up the ladder. And I did well.
Years went by. I traveled a lot, met wonderful people and enjoyed my independence. However, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in the IT world forever. Deep down, I felt there was something else I was meant to do. But I had no idea what that was! I was on a personal quest.
There was also family pressure to find a husband and settle down and that seemed like an equally daunting task. Friends who already found their life partners gave timeless advice – “follow your heart and you will know”. Trust me that was not easy either! There was too much clutter and noise in my head to figure out what my heart was saying!
So the search continued for the life purpose and life partner…and there was a constant downpour of advice from friends, family, relatives, colleagues and sometimes even strangers!
Luckily, one day, while browsing on the net, I stumbled upon coaching. I found an instant connection… and wished to find out more!
But life caught our family unawares. My father was diagnosed with cancer and we lost him after three months of chemotherapy. It was sudden and devastating.
Grief apart, I was battling to understand life and death, and determined more than ever to solve the mystery of life. Wasn’t there a simpler way to live life without all the dis-eases, atrocities on humanity, pain, the suffering, the struggle, the rat race, the stress…? Did we really have to go through all this? Why were our lives so dominated by fear? Why were we born and for what purpose? I had tons of questions…
And the biggest question of all was why did I have so many questions? Why couldn’t I just accept life as it was?
Family and social pressure intensified on the marriage front. Thankfully, my husband finally showed up, and we got married! That’s a long story, for some other time! On the pretext of marriage, I took a sabbatical from work and joined my husband in Switzerland, hoping the beautiful country would inspire me to find my life’s purpose. It wasn’t to be! I was more confused than ever. Within 12 months, we moved to US. My husband had changed jobs. I resumed work with my employer.
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” ~Sir Edmund Hillary
But my dissatisfaction and frustration with my job grew to strange proportions. We wanted to have kids and the work pressure, travel and long hours were taking their toll. I wanted to quit. Not wishing to leave a paying job and not knowing what to do next, I spent months battling my fears and blocks, feeling helpless and clueless.
Fears. Fear of moving out of the comfort zone. Fear of stepping into the unknown. Fear of not following my heart. Fear of non-acceptance. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of stagnating. Fear of missing out on opportunities. Fear of financial insecurity. Fear of being ordinary. Fear of not living up to my potential.
All kinds of fears. You name it and I had it. If they didn’t exist, I would make them up. I would defend them with sound logic and reasons. I complained and I whined – I didn’t have enough skills, I didn’t have any talents, I made the wrong career choices, I had messed up my life, life held no opportunities for me … and so on. I played the role of a tragedy queen to perfection! In short, not only did I drive myself crazy, I drove my husband totally nuts. Poor guy!
Prasanna Gunturi graduated with a BTech in Electonics & Communications from IITM in 1995. After a stint of 12+ years in the IT industry, she made a career shift into coaching. A mom, writer, coach, she avidly pursues her interests in science and spirituality, coaching, healing, metaphysics, ancient wisdom…synthesizing and simplifying the learning to find soulutions for everyday life!