Raina Mehta, 21, is tall, beautiful, articulate and a little conscious about coming across as fat on camera (she shouldn’t be, as you can see). A stranger would take in her hip handbag, iPhone clutched in one fist, her casual confidence, and dismiss her as one of the affluent few who’ve always had it easy. But, Raina, an equity research analyst, has learned the hard way that self-worth is more valuable than any blue-chip investment. “Until I was 19 or 20, I didn’t even know who I was,” she says.
That’s because she was busy trying to become her sister, Akshina. “We’re twins. I’m two minutes older. But she was the assertive one. I liked the way she knew what she wanted; following her seemed easier – she’d be the one to take the fall if things turned sour.” The way it was Things never turned sour for Raina, because there was less and less Raina as the years progressed. She slowly abandoned her identity for her twin’s: “I copied her ambitions, her hair cut, her favourite restaurant. She was interested in Western music and fitness, I took guitar lessons and running. She read books on psychology. I read them too, even though I could never understand them. The world knew me through her – I was ‘Akshina’s sister’.”
When the twins went to college, Akshina picked science; Akshina’s sister did too. No one suspected a thing, least of all Akshina, but it took its toll on Raina. “I gained nothing from junior college but an exceptional amount of weight – my body was taking the brunt for my mistakes.” Raina didn’t pose for a single picture in those two years. And, oddly, decided to become an engineer, taking IIT tests every other Sunday. “I’d fare so badly, I’d look for my name in the marksheet from the bottom up.” Eventually Raina says she stopped trying, smiling or believing. “I was ready to give up on life itself.”
And then came change. “I realised in my head what I’d felt in my bones all along: that the choices that were right for a person who looked just like me, were entirely wrong for me,” Raina says. One day, her hands trembling over the keyboard, she googled her career options. “I abandoned the ones I didn’t like and was left with what I hate the least: economics and finance, of all things! This might sound absurd, but I actually started reading newspapers and blogs to learn what opinions sounded like. I answered in class, I asked questions. It was a terrifying new feeling and I loved it.”
Raina graduated, found a job valuing companies, took classes in becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst, and is enjoying it. Her twin, Akshina is still a role model – she’s completing her Masters in immunology at Oxford – but “I no longer want to become her,” Raina says simply. “A lot of us don’t take the risk early on to learn what drives us. Ask yourself this: If I were to die tomorrow, what would I want to achieve? It was heartbreaking to realise that, at 19, I’d spent my life chasing what I didn’t want. No one dies from a bad career. But not knowing who you are is the worst that can happen to you – you die a little every day!”
From HT Brunch, February 22
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