LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND AT THE PEAK OF HER CAREER
So why leave, especially when you are at the peak of your career? I get this question a lot. For me, I always knew right from the beginning, even before I started my film pursuit, that this whole thing was just going to be a short-term career exploration. It came at a time when I was taking a much-needed break from my studies to figure out what my long-term plans were going to be. Frankly, when I set out to try my luck in Indian cinema, I had no idea that I would become so successful in such a short time. I had carved out a national and International identity for myself. It was beyond gratifying and I’m always going to be extremely thankful to the industry for giving me such a great opportunity. In the long run, I didn’t see myself relocating permanently to India for that purpose, especially since fame and money were not the primary drivers for me.
In a nutshell, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I wanted to explore and I had incredibly supportive parents who let their only daughter have this experience. At the end of the day, I really missed my life back home in the U.S. I missed my friends and family and my dog. I also had this huge void in my heart about leaving academics midway. When I left Michigan State, I knew I would be coming back to finish my undergrad, but I wouldn’t have felt fulfilled completing it in something I wasn’t truly passionate about.
What happened was that one day I had this epiphany. It was an awakening: What if I could combine my experience in the entertainment industry with a business degree? I would focus on marketing and pursue a long-term career in a related field. That planted the seed of getting an MBA into my head. I can still remember the moment when I picked up the phone at 3 a.m. Michigan time to call my mom and share this “ah-ha” moment. I’d figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was 2013 and I told her, “Mom, I’ve been thinking for some time now …” And she laughed at me because she was thinking, “There was nothing that this girl could tell me that could be any more scary or risky than what she had already done.” It told me, “I think I want to come back and get my MBA.” She, of course, supported me — as always. She thought it was a great idea; she was just happy that I’d discovered a career pathway through this experience.
FROM CELEBRITY ACTRESS TO ANONYMOUS COLLEGE STUDENT
At that time, I decided that the best thing to do would be to leave on a high note at the peak of my career. So I guess it was a real-life business strategy event, and that was my “defining moment.” It was definitely shocking for everyone, for my fans and the Indian film industry; I’d become like a daughter, more or less, to many of my directors and producers. I’d become great friends with my co-actors. It was shocking even for my friends and family back home. They were thinking, “You’re at the peak of your career — why leave?”
For me, it was an inner calling that I’d had. It was the break that I’d needed to figure out my long-term plan. It was definitely an emotional time for me. I started off my transition by taking a much-needed three-month break. My dog at the time, Fluffy, was very sick. He’d been my best friend since middle school. He was like a brother to me and needed care; I’d really missed him when I was away for five years, so I devoted my entire attention to just taking care of him until his passing.
In the meantime, I was exploring the fastest way to finish off my undergraduate degree because I didn’t want to lose time. I first thought about going back to Michigan State. With changing majors, it would’ve taken at least another three years to finish that off. What I decided to essentially do was change my major. At Eastern Michigan University, I was offered a great package where I was able to complete a dual major in communications and theater arts. They were able to give me credit for my acting diploma and my film experience in India. It was a whirlwind, but I was able to fulfill my undergrad requirements in less than one and a half years.
APPEAL OF A SMALL, DIVERSE COMMUNITY LEADS TO OLIN
During my theater degree completion requirements, I was actually more intrigued by the behind-the-scenes aspects of theater. So I did get to involve myself in multiple theater productions at Eastern Michigan University. I worked in logistics aspects and I really, really like that. I was involved in set design, costumes, giving out scripts to the actors, marketing, and promotion — everything that goes on behind the scenes.
While I was taking my undergrad classes, I was able to do a three-month internship in marketing at the Henry Ford Museum, which was very eye-opening. The museum was a nonprofit, but it was the first time I had any real corporate experience. I got to know the ins and outs of the marketing department and it truly re-validated my interest in marketing. During that time, I also did a Google internship where I was a student ambassador who promoted their products and services on campus. On top of that, I was studying for the GMAT. So I was doing all of these things simultaneously. I completed my undergrad just two months before I was accepted into Olin. It was a super-fast track of a career change when I was taking this leap of faith for the second time.
I actually came to Olin to do my interview in person. That is what helped me narrow in only on Olin as my top choice. There is something to be said about the Olin community. It’s incredibly close-knit and there’s just this sense of camaraderie among the students and the faculty that really appealed to me. It has a real eclectic blend of students from different backgrounds. It wasn’t just different professional backgrounds, but different thought leaders as well. For me, an appeal was being able to share my unique experiences in a business realm as a film actress. I have a really divergent perspective to share through the practical learning opportunities that I had. I felt that Olin would really help me bring out my out-of-the-boxness (if that’s a word) and let me gain some critical business skills at the same time.
NOVELTY OF BEING A CELEBRITY WEARS OFF FAST IN CLASS
At Olin, from the very first week, you jump right into the deep end with a comprehensive set of courses. The faculty does a fabulous job of helping students overcome the huge learning curves that everyone naturally has from the beginning coming from the different backgrounds. They facilitate a great exchange of ideas.
Year one, you get your core team, which is five team members from various backgrounds, and you have to work with this one team for an entire semester. This whole experience prepared me well for real-life situations in the workplace. You have to learn to work together to tackle complex management challenges. It was through this experiential learning environment that I got to grow as a person during that first semester. We all had our own fields of expertise. We had a college professor in my group, a Korean student, an undergraduate student who was also completing his MBA, a corporate finance student and me, the film actress from India. We all had very different perspectives to share with each other. That’s what really helped us come together well as a team. You learn to collaborate on cases, group projects, and club activities. We had a chance to learn about the duality of roles, of being a leader as well as a team player. Essentially, it really helped me develop interpersonal skills, which is imperative to becoming a successful business leader.