I was a straightforward second-year college student in 2017, leading the ideal college life. I had many of friends who adored me, teachers who thought highly of me, and parents who supported me. Everything was as perfect as I could have hoped for.
One lovely morning, I was suddenly summoned to the Principal’s office. Do you remember the distance from the classroom to the principal’s office? It’s a small distance but seems like a path to hell. With every step you take, millions of thoughts, both positive and negative fill the mind about an uncertain future.
I worried that she may suspend me or restrict me from taking exams because I hardly attended class (22% attendance for the semester). I considered all the different ways I might apologise and reassure her. I had plenty of excuses and apologies ready.
And I reached her door. Took a deep breath and asked her permission to come in.
I started by saying “I’m sorry ma’am, you know me, I’m an excellent student and I assure you I’ll definitely maintain my attendance from next semester.”
“No, I didn’t call you for that,” she chuckled. “We’ll absolutely talk about this more now that you’ve drawn my attention to your attendance, but for the time being, I need something from you”.
Something from me? I was shocked because what could a Principal need from an 18-year old student who has no idea what subjects he’s going to pick the next semester.
I asked, “Me? But, ma’am, what can I do for you?
“I need you to organize a state-wide student festival, and it should be YOUR concept.”
“Okay ma’am. I’ll do it, but when do you want it to be?”
“After 30 days, on November 11th. Would you be able to gather a team and organize it?”
“Sure ma’am. 30 days is good enough for us to organize an event. I’ll gather my team.”
Laying the foundation
I was thrilled since it was a great chance for me to finally demonstrate my leadership skills. I ran to my best friend Ashish and asked him to join in. He assumed the position of CFO and I was made CEO.
The event was to be called the “TACO Festival,” combining Talent+Connect, a place where talented people could network and form meaningful relationships.
Great! We had a concept but now we needed a team of at least 80-90 volunteers to organize such an event.
I quickly prepared flyers using Canva, got them printed and pasted in all the classes inviting students for a meeting at 4PM on the same day.
160 people showed up for the opportunity at 4 o’clock. We had twice as many as we needed, but we couldn’t let them go because they were eager to contribute.
So, while knowing that managing a large team would be challenging, I chose to accept all.
We created teams the following day, had the budget approved, and got to work!
After about five days of everything going according to plan, some of the teachers abruptly suggested cancelling the event.
Why? Because we were BBA students and only MBAs were permitted to organize events.
The event had to be cancelled as a result of teacher pressure.
Students vs Administration
We were devastated because the event’s promotional materials had already been distributed, and half the universities in Andhra Pradesh were aware of it.
For the next fifteen days, I fought the administrative committee valiantly in an effort to persuade them to give BBA students an opportunity to show themselves.
They gave their approval on the nineteenth day, which meant that we had just eleven days remaining to organize a state-wide event.
I went back to the team room and asked them if they’d be willing to clock in extra hours to organize the same event in eleven days? Thankfully, all 160 members of the crew agreed.
I decided to give up!
After six days of strenuous work, I decided to give up. This was due to the fact that neither the team nor I felt sure that we could organize this event in such a short amount of time.
I announced the cancellation of the event, quit and sat down on the floor. I looked at everyone’s faces and all I could see was disappointment. I failed as a leader. I wasn’t who I believed myself to be. I lacked the courage or ability to stand up and give it another shot.
While I was mired in my own inner chaos, I saw a volunteer who was still working.
It was my best friend, Ashish.
I went up to him and said,
“Bhai, why’re you working? It’s done, and we failed”.
“It’s not over until it’s actually over,” he retorted. “Even though there’s a good chance we might fail, but I won’t give up without a fight”.
“Bhai, but we have four days. What is possible in 4 days? For this event to be well organised, we need at least 8–9 days. It is simply not possible”.
“Anubhav, you once said destruction is necessary so you can construct yourself again. You may feel as though you lost, but the outcome of a race is not known until all competitors have crossed the line. You still have four days left to cross the line, and you want to stop now?”
I stood there quietly as I looked into his motivated eyes and realized we still have 4 days left.
If working 8 hours a day wasn’t enough, we had to work twice as hard by delivering 16 hours a day.
Best thing? Before I could even ask, the team was ready to work as much as it was needed.
But why give up without a fight?
For the last three days, none of the volunteers even went home. Everybody worked day and night.
We slept under the class benches at night, had quick 5-min meals, took bath in hostel bathrooms. Nobody even thought of quitting in the last four days.
It was a race against time.
Four days later, the event turned out to be a HUGE HIT! We bagged double our projected profit and attracted double the audience.
We had to make an entire “Security” department because the crowd was way beyond what we expected.
I learned the most important lesson of my life on that day, which was:
“The only thing that differentiates winners from losers is the ability to try one more time”.
We tried one more time and we WON!