"Getting by on My Own Invention" By INSEAD Insider

Below is an interview with Sid Ram, a 17J from South Africa

It’s the end of P1 and exam season is in full swing. A cloud of nervous energy and puffs of cigarette smoke engulf the tropical Singapore campus. Most students wouldn’t stop for more than a panicked smile, but Sid has kindly volunteered to sit down for a long and probing interview.

He is calm and composed, and even puts me at ease as I fumble with my phone to find the record button.

During the past two months I’ve gotten to know Sid as the reserved yet unmistakably sharp and insightful team lead of our small study group. But as our interactions are frequently formal, I’ve been wondering who Sid really is behind the stoic manner he presents in class.

Here are his thoughts on some of life’s most urgent questions.

How do you live your life?

I am Hindu and a big part of the culture is karma. Motivated by its tenets, I try to live my life by giving positive energy into the world and not have a poor influence on others, with the idea being that it is reciprocated. I try to have positive interactions as much as possible and be considerate of others and their perspectives. This core tenet of my life translates in to being a vegetarian, which I have been my whole life.

Which are your chief characteristics?

There is tension between my two sides. On the one hand I’m a bit of a clown. I like to joke around and not take things too seriously. I pick apart ideas and concepts, sometimes being a bit sarcastic about things. On the other hand, I do try to seriously reflect on life a lot and look for what it is that drives me and what I want the impact of my life to be.

Ideas of happiness? / Ideal day?

An ideal day consists of landing in a country I’ve never been to before with just a backpack, not knowing where I will sleep that night, getting by on my own invention. It is extremely thrilling to navigate my way through a new environment.

A couple of years back I changed jobs and had a month off. It was the month of my birthday, making it great timing. I took the opportunity and along with a friend went backpacking through Central America. These places were relatively unknown to me, the language was unfamiliar. One day we crossed the border from Mexico to Guatemala on foot and on the other side we got on a chicken bus - one of those old American school buses, elaborately painted with decals, stuffed way over capacity. We were squeezed in there with old ladies holding crying babies, and dozens of other people of many different walks of life, all in the same boat, hurling down a bumpy road, trying to get somewhere. This is my ideal day - especially if I’m experiencing such moments with people I like.

Most miserable day?

My most miserable times have been the nights where I’ve sat at my laptop at 2am making slides, wondering whether what I’m doing is having a real impact or whether I’m just ticking a box and going through the motions. I really want to be in a work environment where I can feel the meaning and impact of what I do. In fact that is one of the reasons why I am here - an INSEAD MBA gives a good stepping stone to have the best possible choice amongst opportunities to find that kind of role that will avoid these most miserable days.

Favorite fictional character?

One of my favorite fictional characters is Steerpike, from the Gormenghast novels by Mervyn Peake. Pike is a young up and comer who lives in a very rigid establishment. He comes from small means, but eventually gains significant levels of influence. I don’t agree with the way he got to the top, but I can appreciate the interesting journey. My personal takeaway is that getting what you want is one thing, but you have to do it through good means.

Any favourite leader of an organisation?

It is a bit of a stereotype these days, but I really admire Elon Musk. His thoughts on leadership and boldness in trying to move humanity forward are really incredible. He is also from South Africa and went to my high school, and it's really inspiring to see that someone who walked in my shoes is this amazing global figure now. He inspires me to push myself.

What has been most surprising since you’ve gotten to INSEAD?

Coming here, the expectation is that you will meet people who are extremely different from you, but amazingly, there is a common thread – a desire to grow and become a better version of yourself through learning and interacting with others. Not sure whether it’s a self selection bias or the fruits of the admission committee's labor – but the result is that despite the incredible diversity, INSEAD society is very fluid – one can easily talk to everyone.

Thank you, Sid, for your time. And the best of luck finding the next chicken bus!