I’ve known Vikas* for a few years now. We roll in similar social circles because we went to the same grad school program though at different times but we don’t see each other all too often.
The last time I talked to him, he had been struggling with a job he didn’t like so I wanted to see how things were going for him. As it turns out, he’s in a new job that he loves. He leads an accounting team at a company in San Francisco. Since my knowledge of accounting is limited to 1. something that I know I suck at and 2. something that I remember a company called Enron being very ‘special’ at, I started asking a bunch of questions about it. He knew a ton, and I was curious what got him into it.
Monty: So how did you get into accounting to begin with? What about it appealed to you?
Vikas: So I’ve just always loved numbers. When I was like 8 or 9, I started doing math equations in my head. Or I would just do things like calculate… like… 59 times 59 in my head.
Monty: (after some pause and me staring at him oddly probably) Uh, so was this like a Beautiful Mind kind of thing or what? And should I be worried?
Vikas: Aaah no, not exactly. I mean not complex equations or anything. I don’t know, I just like numbers. Actually, I was terrible at studies until about 10 standard.
I should point out that Vikas went to school in New Delhi, where he grew up. 10 standard is equivalently 10th grade. I asked what changed at 10 standard and Vikas told me that that’s the year all students in the state and perhaps the country as a whole (he wasn’t sure) take a standardized board exam that has an impact on what their future careers will be.
Vikas: You pretty much decide your career based on your exam results.
Monty: REALLY? 10th grade? You’re making career decisions then?
Vikas: Yeah, pretty much.
Monty: Holy shit, I’m 38, and I’m still making career decisions now. And y’all are doing it in 10th grade?!?!
Vikas: Yep. And actually I wanted to be a doctor at that time. Well, I thought I wanted to be a doctor.
Monty: Oh, why a doctor? And clearly, this whole career decision thing is a little flexible then.
Vikas: Yeah, well being a doctor is just a really respectable profession and it seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. My dad was in pharmaceuticals, so I had some idea about it, but it was more that I just didn’t think about other options. Anyway, I did well in math and science on the board exam, so I focused on medical college during my last two years of standards (high school). Then in 12 standard, I sat for the USMLE (similar to MCAT). But right before that, something happened.
Vikas: I took my first biology class, and I HATED it.
Monty: Oh, so you’d be a doctor who hates biology. I can see that being a notable problem.
I was confused how Vikas had gone so far in his education without taking a biology class and he couldn’t quite recall either. Clearly, he had enough science instruction to do well on the board exam but for some reason, he hadn’t yet taken a full biology class yet. Anyway, Vikas then took me on a whirlwind tour of his career from there. Since the education system in India forces you to specialize quickly, he felt like he wasted his last two years in standards on medicine when he had no interest in it. He ended up not doing well on the medical entrance exam and really didn’t care much about it. He enrolled in a nearby college and transferred around programs until he landed in commerce (similar to business school). He enjoyed it and did so well that he graduated at the top of his class. When focusing on medicine in his final two years in standards, Vikas felt intimidated by the brilliance he percieved in the other medically inclined students. But it in business classes, when he was doing something he really enjoyed, he paid no attention to that and just kicked ass.
After college, he got a job at a local accounting firm. Then, a couple of years later, Vikas and his family moved to Southern California. He was able to get a small job through a family connection, but he had a rough time with language and communication when looking for full-time jobs.
Vikas: I had a tough time in interviews because my accent and language didn’t seem like a fit for what they wanted to put in front of clients. And then my confidence just started dropping and then it kind of all spiraled down together. I eventually did get a job at a major accounting firm that I really liked, but my confidence was always rattled. It’s a really hard thing to do adjust to. You know, you’re good at some kind of job and craft and you’re educated in how to talk and communicate well and then all of a sudden, you’re doing it wrong, and it’s not good enough.
I knew that after this job, Vikas went to business school, so I asked him why he went in spite of having a good job that he enjoyed. Part of the reason was why anyone would go: it looks good on the resume and it’s a standard career move and all that, but for also for Vikas…
Vikas: I went because I was insecure. I felt like an immigrant who had issues with looking “executive enough.” I wanted to see if I could hang with the white people and kind of compete with them.
Monty: Did it work?
Vikas: I think so, I feel a lot more confident. But, you know, I’m still working on it.
Where he once felt intimidated by other pre-med students, he had now taken that head on. Neat. Anyway, Vikas graduated into a shitty part of the economy so had a hard time finding work that interested him but he persisted and ended up where he is now, which he’s really enjoying. I asked what he enjoys about it now as compared to the previous work he didn’t like.
Vikas: I’m making an actual impact now. It’s my purpose, I think.
Monty: Really, what exactly?
Vikas: Yeah. I think my purpose is making sure everything is just working right. That all the numbers add up right. I love making all the processes and making sure all the information is setup correctly so that everything is exactly right and so that everything adds up right. Everything has to be right.
Monty: Wow, so you’re super hardcore OCD?
Vikas: Oh, most definitely.
Monty: Well, I think it’s pretty awesome that you’re doing something that’s actually connected to something you loved as a child. I don’t think a lot of people can say that.
Vikas: Yeah, I guess I hadn’t thought of it like that. Yeah.
Monty: I mean, it’s super nerdy.
Vikas: Right, thanks.
Monty: You’re welcome.
*Changed his name for this post.