Having volunteered with a few NGOs in the past, I have learned that donating food and clothes provides only short-term benefit to a small group of people. If you want to create significant and sustainable change, you have to focus not just on those who need help, but on those who can provide help.
Everything begins with a thought. By changing the mindset of those who have the resources to create impact, you change the lives of those around them. This thought prompted me to write a book aimed at improving the thought process of urban Indians.
Like many other young Indians, I initially wanted to pursue an MBA from IIM. When I had my IIM Ahmedabad interview two years ago, the admissions team mocked me for saying that I had started writing a book. They didn’t believe me, and it was pretty evident from all the theoretical questions they were asking that they didn’t care either.
Only those who excel in academics and receive a 99+ percentile score get an interview call from IIM (excluding quota students). I’ve never understood why, even in the interview, they just ask about academics, instead of getting to know your skills, goals, and ambitions.
I was eventually rejected by IIM-Ahmedabad, but was later accepted into IIM-Bangalore.
Taking the biggest risk of my life, I decided not to go. I realized that the IIM brand represented a very conventional and career-centric education.
My friends and relatives could never understand how anyone could be “smart enough to get into IIM, yet stupid enough not to go”. I thought to myself, “It took a lot of effort to get through IIM. The only people who reject IIM-Bangalore are those who get into IIM-Ahmedabad. But I did not get accepted into IIM-Ahmedabad. Did I make the right choice?”
After some introspection and research into IIMs as a whole, I was confident that I made the right decision. IIMs are great, of course, but the reason why people consider it to be so prestigious is often because of how difficult it is to receive an admission offer, rather than the quality of education they provide. We Indians equate “hard” with “useful”. The more difficult something is, the more people run after it.
I don’t believe that credentials necessarily lead to credibility. I don’t believe that something which is difficult is necessarily useful, which is why it made sense to turn down the IIM offer and focus on creating impact with my book, Selfienomics.
Since I was based in New York back then, working in a typical Wall Street job, I wrote the book on the weekends and during my commute to work.
I sent the first three chapters to 18 publishers based in the US. Most of them ignored me. A couple of them were brutally honestly and replied, “Your book sounds great but to be honest, no American is interested in a self-help book written by an Indian unless it’s about yoga and spirituality.” At first, I found it racist, but then it made sense to me. If you think about it, all the biggest self-help books by Indian authors are yoga- or spirituality-based (The Monk who sold his Ferrari, books by Deepak Chopra, Sadhguru, Yogi Paramahansa, etc.).
My book was not at all about spirituality or yoga. While I was passionate about my work, I was practical about it too, so I rewrote the book with an Indian context. I Indianized all the examples, so Brad Pitt became Shah Rukh Khan, basketball became cricket, and Donald Trump became Rahul Gandhi. Retrospectively, it helped make the book better, since it’s my first instinct to think of Indian examples before American examples.
I then took my second biggest risk, and left my Wall Street job and came to India to get the book published.
Very soon, I learned that most things in India work not according to what you know…but rather who you know. But I had zero contacts in the publishing industry. So I had no clue what to do. I Googled “how to publish a book”, and all the links that came up were self-publishing links, where you had to pay to get your book published, and your book would never reach the bookstore (and would only be available on Amazon).
Wanting my book to be available in bookstores, I went to the top ones like Crossword and Landmark. I had noticed that in the acknowledgements section, authors typically thank their agents and editors. So I read the acknowledgements section of more than 100 books over the course of a few days, and noticed certain names that kept coming up.
I made a list of these agents and editors, and got their email IDs from the internet. I sent the top ones a personalized email, praising their previous work. One thing led to another, and I eventually signed a contract with Bloomsbury (the publishers of Harry Potter). They liked the “AIB-style” of writing, and the concept of introducing memes and #hashtags in books.
The entire process of writing and publishing the book has taken over two years. Now that Selfienomics has launched, I have been receiving daily messages from readers. They share personal stories about how the book has inspired them to take action towards their passions. Nothing is more rewarding than hearing that.
Interestingly, an IIM professor also wrote a long blog post praising the book.
I have also spoken at two TEDx events to discuss ideas to increase India’s gross national happiness and progress. There, I became the first speaker to bring a sanitary pad to the TEDx stage.
Over these two years, I have seen the IIM students graduate and find top banking and tech jobs. Writing the book instead of going to IIM may have turned out to be a mistake. But if I had gone to IIM, and not written Selfienomics, it surely would have been a huge regret. I prefer making mistakes to having regrets.