Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 : A Phenomenal Year

For a lot of pple the year 2008 has been a phenomenal year, for the right and for the wrong reasons but there is no doubt that its been a phenomenon. For instance, let’s take Indian sports as a whole and not just cricket, I believe its been the best Sports year ever as far as India is concerned, be it the Bindra, Vijender and Sushil in Olympics, Vishy in Chess, Saina in Badminton or even our much loved superstar Dhoni in Cricket (ya, when I mention Dhoni, I mention Indian Cricket, quiet a synonym you know). Ofcourse, Tennis has had a quiet year with Sania falling out of the top 100 but lets forgive her this time, after all she has been our most googled person for the year, ahead of the likes of Sachin and Dhoni, so in a way its been a phenomenon for her too. But please don’t even think of Hockey, I would suggest that we watch a ‘Goli Gundu’ game instead of a game of Hockey, I really don’t know who the hell made it our national sport.

At the other end of the spectrum, it could be the worst imagined year for the financial markets and the economy in general. The year started with the stock markets on its peak and ppl going crazy with their unrestrained equity investments supported by the much hyped decoupling theory. But the honeymoon didn’t last long as the market came crashing down for 2 consecutive days on Jan 21 and 22 and the Sensex plummeted to 15,000 levels from its 21,000 highs. From then on its been one bad news after another and all of a sudden ppl realized that the Indian markets are infact coupled with the global economy and its corresponding markets, the decoupling theory, all of a sudden, was thrown out of the window.

For the next 5 to 6 months (i.e, from Jan), there was hardly any hue and cry around the markets as the ppl stayed away from the markets citing a bear run, while the Sensex kept hitting new lows and as such creating lower support levels, if at all there existed one. For the last 6 months, the financial sector came crashing down, starting with the lehman brothers declaring bankruptcy, Morgan Stanley being taken over by Bank of America and the rest of the investment banks all over the world just followed suit. The Sub prime crisis theory indeed became a reality and had a cascading effect, as the economy in all over the developed countries officially fell into recession.

Quiet a phenomenal year for quiet a lot of ppl, recessions and gold medals don’t happen every year. For me, its been quiet phenomenal as well but of course not for the right reasons, infact there is a chance that I would fit into your ‘amazingly bad loser’ and ‘how not to be someone’ books. It all started with my desire to clear CFA level 1 without even having a faint idea of what it was or how tough it was, way back in February. I was getting a bit pissed off with the routine trading job in kotak and wanted to push myself a level higher in my professional ladder. That being the case, I had booked for the level 1 examination of CFA, which was quiet a costly exam mind u, amounting to about 45,000 rupees. Luckily, I had saved the required amount working in kotak and used up all I had to book for the exam.

CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) is a recognized institute in USA and has been in existence for about 5 decades and is the epitome of finance related examinations till date. So for anyone with the desire to be recognized in the field of finance, CFA was a step towards that direction. Rightly so I took that direction not knowing or even foreseeing the repercussions of that decision.

The materials arrived from U.S, in mid February only to bamboozle my parents back home as they were flabbergasted as to how I would ever finish off those 6 thick finance related books to clear the exam. But for me, I was just a bit excited to know what its all about. When I started i was even unaware of the schweser material which is considered ‘God’s own material’ for all CFA aspirants.

As days passed, I realized the gravity of my decision, as even to get an orientation about all the materials would take a couple of months and it was already end of February with the D-Day being June 8, just three full months left. On the other side, work was consuming quiet a big chunk of my time resource and I was left with just the evenings to prepare. On trying to be rational and optimist I thought I would push off till April and request for a month off from office to aide my preparation. The request was considered by my group head but was not approved, instead of giving me a clear cut answer, he just insisted on buying some time from me.

By that time, my patience was running out and it was already 3rd week of March with a couple more months to go. From the last week of March I got a bit desperate for the leave approval and was pushing my group head to make a decision quickly so that I can plan my preparation accordingly. Finally, by my constant pressure, I had him open up his mind and he said a clear cut no for the leave approval. That made me quit the job in a week’s notice and I decided to give my all for this exam and then join a B-school by mid June in Mumbai.

I had never been a great student but there were times when I had faced the exams with really good preparation. This time it had to be better than the best since I was taking a big chance to scale up my career. I crammed for about 11 to 12 hours a day for the next 2 months and finished all the materials before the D-Day. Unfortunately I had little time to focus on the application front which proved to be my Achilles heel later on.

On the other side, there was an ongoing tiff between ICFAI (which was an Indian version of international CFA) and CFA, a court order was issued that made it illegal for CFA to conduct exams in India and so I had to fly to Singapore to take it. Luckily, I had some good company with Aravind (who is my cousin), Burange and Anuk (who were Aravind’s friends) who took the exam along with me in Singapore. However, there was a huge contrast in attitude between them and me, while I took the exam as though my life depended on it, these ppl appeared to come all the way to Singapore to just have some fun.

On June 8, the D-Day, all four of us completed our mission and were destined to have the fun of our life, the next 4 days. I had been a teetotaler so far and had no desire to drink even though some of friends were pretty much drunkards in college. But here I thought I would be spoiling the party if I appeared to be goody goody boy and so I decided to throw out the abstaining habit atleast for the next couple of days. As such my decision triggered the best drinking habits all these 3 guys as we jumped from one pub to another, to have the best time of our life, atleast that’s how these three guys perceived it, as I was pretty much unaware of what’s happening around me most of the time. I still remember that these guys ordered a tower in one of those pubs, which was a tall Jar like thing containing about 10 litres of beer. I almost fainted at the site of it, I thought these guys were crazy to have ordered one but still we finished every drop of beer and I hold the distinction of drinking most of it. Phew, I am the new found drunkard.

By the end of the Singapore trip, Burange and Anuk managed to get close to me and said that I made all the difference in the Singla trip to be remembered as an awesome one. Infact they even nicknamed me as ‘bhai’ because back in Singapore, I had lost these guys in the Mustaffa bazaar for about 3 hours and these guys kept saying ‘array bhai kahan gayi’ and so I had become a bhai for these two guys. Wow, hail the nicknames for all the irrationalities that it brings in. However, I knew I was more of a clown than a friend to these ppl, they were all of a different league altogether and I still had quiet a distance to travel before I could be considered on par with them.

On the flight back to India, these guys convinced me to take Cat one more time and then take a call on b-schools next year. That being the case, I discarded my initial plan and joined TIME in July with about 5 months to go for cat 2008. I was banking on the momentum that I had obtained by preparing for CFA and I thought if I could carry forward that momentum for the next 5 months I could atleast manage to get to the 90 percentile range.

In the meantime the results for CFA had come out and it was the first stroke of disaster for me, I wasn’t able to cross the line this time but the other three guys who had come for a picnic made it through. Now there is nothing more worse than failing to get through a exam giving your best while your friends get through as though it were a school level English exam. I couldn’t imagine a much dumber picture that I could possibly cast on myself, I wonder what these guys thought about me.

The result didn’t upset me as much as I expected it to but my parents weren’t much comfortable to know about it, after all it was about 80,000 for the whole trip. Already I was regarded as the dumbest person ever to have born in the history of my family and now am just adding proof to their theory. But still the proof was not proof enough, there was much more to follow.

I decided that I was going to see the failure in a rational manner and not take it emotionally. I realized that I was not prepared on the application of the concepts and that if I just screw in that area of my preparation next time then I would probably make it. Somehow my optimism was still undeterred and I booked for the exam again in the December slot.

But from then on the decisions that I took had only one result written on it – ‘FAILURE’. Let me just list them with little explanation.

In the meantime, which was in mid July i wanted to clear the bond market module of NCFM and booked for it. I wont say I was exceedingly prepared but I did a decent prep only to get 40% in the exam when the pass grade was 60%. Here it goes again ‘failed’.

In about August, I heard about the SP Jain institute which was conducting international MBA programs in Singapore and Dubai, the course was to start in December. I thought I would just get done with all these preparations, if I could get a 650 plus score in GMAT. I had promptly booked for gmat on September 30 with about a month and a ten days to go for that date. I had prepared for the exam and took 3 tests before the actual gmat exam and scored 620, 650 and a 610. I thought I would score above them on the day that mattered but things panned out rather differently. I got a horrible score of 490 on the actual test, puncturing my confidence like hell and putting me on an emotional turmoil for quiet a few days.

Well, yes, ppl can say that I was not up to the task, I had never been a great student and so what’s happening to me was only a reflection of what I had been in the past. Tough exam required top notch preparations and my run-of-the-mill preps just won’t do. Whatever the reasons maybe, I had some hard times to follow.

Let’s forget about the exam for the moment, my bro in US was having a great time and had just brought a house for 3 lakh dollars. I thought it would great to stay there for a month before I join some b school back in India. That being the case, I had booked the U.S Visa interview date for my mom and me on October 24th for a tourist visa. But when times are bad, things don’t pan out as planned, I was rejected a tourist visa on grounds that I was a potential immigrant. One more blow, one more dejection but this blow was like adding insult to injury.

I was preparing for about 5 to 6 hours everyday, right from second week of July but after the gmat debacle, the focus was just not there. I knew my state of mind was an ideal recipe for failure but still I wasn’t able to do anything about it. When I tried to put things behind me and try further, I was only getting dejected. What was happening to me was too bad as my subconscious mind was registering myself as a failure, I was getting scared to try again with all my josh.

Days passed by and cat arrived, the paper can be rated anywhere between moderate and hard with a significant weightage given to verbal section. I just decided to attempt the questions that am sure of and not take a chance on everything. I had attempted just 23 questions, thinking that a score of above 85 plus would put me atleast in the 80 percentile range. I was quiet sure of the answers that I had marked but a shocker was waiting for me in the answer key, I got most of them wrong and had a total score of just 42. That score brings in a percentile of a horrible 59.17. Even in my mock cats, I havnt scored so low, infact in the last few mocks I was getting above mid 80 and 90 percentiles.

Clearly, the year 2008 has not been the year for me, infact its been a phenomenal year of failures when whatever I touched turned only to disappointments and disapprovals. The good thing is that when you hit the bottom of the cycle, the only way forward is the way upwards and I hope the coming year brings in a fresh stream of luck.

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