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Cracked IIT & IIM and JK still loves to be a model!

When she was in school in a small town in Punjab, Jaskirat Kaur did not imagine being a model even in her distant dreams. But she always backed herself by achieving great things, so the target at every point in life was to do best in whatever opportunities were available and possible. On her march ahead, she aced both IIT and IIM and along with a robust career, she loves to pursue modelling, her passion. As she says if you want, you can have it all.

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Sometimes we need to find motivation in the least conducive conditions.

I was like any other school girl who was satisfied by scoring an average percentile every year. I didn’t know any better. One day, I overheard a typical conversation between a few Indian women comparing their kids’ performances in school, including mine. Of course, my mother was among them. They concluded that I would never be able to ace exams like other “brilliant” girls in my class. Hearing that obviously made me sad, but if I think about it now, it served as a big motivation to score well. I was school topper for the next five years and in twelfth grade, I managed to top the district.

My twelfth-grade professor once told our class, “Getting through IIT is very tough, nobody from our school has ever cleared the exam.” This was enough for me, and I was in IIT next year!

And I wanted to try out modelling as a hobby, but it was not as easy as I thought. Nobody wanted to photograph me for portrait shoots at my college as I was fat. Actually they were right, I was 70 kg. I was not very good looking, according to their standards, so I became a victim of body shaming. Also, how can an engineer be a model? And that too an overweight one!

That was a big push to change myself, not because I wanted to impress others but because I wanted to see if I could do it. Actually, it was more about proving them wrong. Believe it or not, after 18 months, I was the second runner up of Gladrags Megamodel pageant.

During the placement session at IIT, I got placed on the second day of placement week. This made me one of the top 100 students who got placed in the first two days in some really good companies.

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It is generally assumed that it becomes difficult to study after 3-4 years of experience, so many myths around one should do MBA just after 2 years of experience, I knew I might have to make extra efforts but I believed in myself and cracked CAT and was admitted to IIM Bangalore in 2019.

Therefore, if we have the right eye to see the best in the worst, we can achieve whatever we want. We must believe in it, even if the whole world thinks otherwise.

It’s okay if you are from a small town, you can achieve great heights too.

When I was in school in a small town in Punjab, I could not imagine being a model even in my distant dreams. But I always backed myself by achieving great things, so the target at every point in life was to do best in whatever opportunities were available and possible.

IIT gave me a big exposure to a lot of things which I would never have been able to do if I had not studied well in school, which was the best thing to do at that point of time. The experience opened new gates for me and I realised my interest was in modelling. I learnt we should never concentrate on what we don’t have that others do, or let the fact that we are from a small town affect us. Instead, we should put in all our effort and hard work in whatever way we can at that particular moment and it will open more opportunities for us. People might treat you differently considering you are from a small town, might look down upon you for speaking Hindi, might judge you for your dressing style, but rather than feeling bad about where you come from and how others treat you, translate the criticism you receive into the motivation to do better. Trust me, if I did it, so can you.

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We need to explore things to figure out what we want. It’s okay if figuring it out takes time.

Why did I choose to do a job after college rather than pursuing modelling full-time? For two reasons. One, coming from a middle-class family, it was my responsibility to take care of myself. It was impossible to survive in a metropolitan city by doing modelling assignments, which too were uncertain. Second, the glamour industry is worse than what we all have already heard. I realised it wasn’t worth it, when I could achieve the same goals, perhaps, by choosing a different path. Hence, I did a full-time marketing job for a year in a typical startup. However, I wanted to try my luck in the fashion industry. So I worked as a content producer for a year at a media house. Next, I designed fashion games for teenagers internationally. I was trying to figure out my comfort zone which was somewhere between marketing and glamour. Due to the exposure to both the corporate and fashion industry, I got first-hand experience of struggles of women and how they are exploited. I decided to found LeanIn Mumbai under the affiliation of Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) to empower working women. Nevertheless, I haven’t stopped exploring or looking for better. In fact, that should never stop, because I think that is what keeps me going.

Having said that I am an MBA student at IIM Bangalore, I still do part-time modelling, make YouTube videos, conduct makeup workshops and work in short films, simply because I love it. I believe I don’t have to give up any of it just because I can’t find all of it in one job.

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Why MBA?

I made the decision to do an MBA after exploring a lot of things and when I became sure about doing any further studies. It became important for me to grow more and take on new opportunities. I wanted to give myself time to take the next decisions for my personal and professional life. After doing the return on investment analysis of various options in front of me, an MBA became the wisest option which would give me a platform to further enhance me. I prepared for CAT while doing my job and was admitted to IIM Bangalore in 2019.

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If you want, you can have it all.

I expected people around me to support my unusual choices (like modeling) but nobody did. Those who did were very critical. I did not know how to handle such criticism at that point of time. But they could not have reacted any better as it was unusual for them and their reaction was quite normal. It is best to not set such expectations from others as they cause disappointment when not met. Nobody (except your parents) is going to help you during your downfall. Deep down, you must find an inner strength which can help you rise again. Like a phoenix rising from its ashes.

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Removing the word “kash!” from my life.

Before taking a gap year to prepare for my JEE exam, I had an option to enrol in Punjab Engineering College to study Aeronautics, which was my favourite subject then. I was very confused between the two choices and was afraid of not getting into IIT in spite of taking a year’s gap. One thing helped me in reaching a conclusion – I never wanted to say “kash” in my life – ‘Kash IIT ke liye try kar liya hota…’ – ‘I wish I had tried to get through IIT’. So I was ready to take a chance and face the consequences if I failed, but I was not ready to have regrets. I had quite a few good reasons to quit a pageant once but it was something that I liked and I didn’t want to give up without trying.

These were some situations of my life where I didn’t have to face failure, but I have failed too. In fact, more often than not. But failure either teaches or opens other doors for you which you would have never otherwise imagined. If I had not failed at becoming an institute body representative at my college – fighting for it, took most of my time during the initial two years of college, affecting grades and internship opportunities – I would have never decided to explore modelling.

Women, let’s support each other.

Being a girl in India is a little challenging. Not just because of a hypocritical male-dominant society, but also because most women do not support each other – unintentionally portraying women as the weaker sex. I know that not one of us was lucky enough to not participate in the Me Too campaign. However, I think strengthening ourselves is more important than analysing how men treat us. I had female managers in most of my previous jobs, and I am deeply saddened to say that they weren’t very supportive when I needed them. We are the ones who would gossip with our male friends about other women and then blame them for treating us the way they do. This behaviour is caused by insecurity. We are objectified all the time.

While men must start understanding the real meaning of equality, women should also put conscious effort into supporting each other. Only then will we be able to achieve true equality where we are not only equal to men but also capable of being our best selves. Through the ‘Lean In Mumbai’ group, we are trying our best to achieve such goals. To further fulfill the dreams of empowering more women while leveraging the support of IIM Bangalore, I am working on a business model where assistance towards molestation survivors would be provided and self-defence devices would be designed.

Finally, my advice to young readers: If you want, you can have it all. Stop having expectations from anyone but yourself.

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