INSEAD MIMentos: Three Epiphanies from Last Year

Akshat Kharbanda

I know what you're thinking: Epiphanies is a super fancy word. I have to say that I agree. Such sudden shifts in perspectives are also rather rare. How did I have so many then? I haven't had an epiphany on this question yet, but I hope that sharing my prior ones helps me out.

So, here are three epiphanies from my time at INSEAD and the tales of how they unfolded:

Epiphany #1: Equanimity (Focus on efforts)

Life at INSEAD, much like life itself, isn't a smooth ride. From the biting loneliness of harsh winters to the sting of rejection from job applications, setbacks were plentiful.

During one such setback (which feels ridiculously minuscule now), I was sitting in the office of our programme director, Thibault. My emotions? Gutted. Infuriated. Feeble.

But then Thibault talked about how failure often has nothing to do with you.

As much as we like to believe otherwise, there are few things in our lives that we truly control.

However, when we fail, our first thought is that we should have done something differently. But that's not reality.

We control only our effort. Hard work improves our odds of success but never guarantees it. Accepting this harsh truth frees our minds to focus on what truly matters: putting in the work.

I emerged from the room with a much more resilient and optimistic mindset.

Epiphany #2: Elasticity (Agree to disagree)

What happens when you put 150+ people with different backgrounds in the same room? Countless disagreements on everything under the sun.

One of our earliest disagreements had nothing to do with work or studies: It was how to wish each other on our birthdays.

My birthday is on August 24th, making it one of the earliest birthdays in the cohort. Consequently, the INSEAD MIM 2023 WhatsApp group overflowed with well-wishes. I loved it! But one of my classmates didn't - he raised a valid concern about information overload because of the flood of birthday messages.

What ensued? I received more birthday wishes in the next 30 minutes than I had the entire day. I can imagine my classmate did not find that as amusing as I did. Yet, this minor dispute led to a solution that made everyone happy: birthday wishes in the original group and another group for announcements.

Being flexible and adaptable leads to creative compromises.

Epiphany #3: Empathy (Give, give, get)

The chaos never stops at INSEAD. Classes, interviews, and parties always keep going. While it may seem like everyone had it all figured out, we all struggled in one area or another.

Almost everyone without a tech background struggled with a course called Machine Learning and Optimisation (MLO). Linear regression, principal component analysis, neural networks ... these are scary concepts. So, a classmate and I teamed up to start an MLO study club.

We would assemble every week and practice the material. Teaching my classmates, some of whom had never even printed "Hello World" on Python, was no easy task. Oh, and I had no personal gain or external obligation either. Why did we do it then?

We recognised the pain of MLO and the strength that comes from dealing with problems collectively. I shared my time and my knowledge, expecting nothing in return. Yet, I gained immeasurably, from concrete improvements in my machine learning skills to the intangible gratitude of my classmates.

The MLO club showed me the satisfaction, achievement, and confidence that stems from the power of empathy.

Still here? Impressive! However, chances are you've forgotten that I started this article wondering how I had multiple epiphanies.

Well, here's my answer:

INSEAD engulfed us in a whirlwind of challenges and opportunities, reshaping our perspectives like clay in the hands of a sculptor.

In this beautiful collective journey, these epiphanies emerged.

As I move forward, I carry with me the profound understanding that life's most valuable lessons lie amid challenges, courage, and connections. I suppose this realisation counts as a bonus epiphany, right?