Back in school, did you ever wish to take a break from the tedious classroom sessions and explore what the world had to offer? Sagarikka Sivakumar, a 17-year-old girl from Trichy, Tamil Nadu, is no different. Like all of us, she too wished to get away from textbooks. The only difference is that she actually did!
Taking a year off after completing her tenth standard, Sagarikka turned all her desires into reality and made memories to last a lifetime. Through the course of the year, she blogged about all her experiences and now, she is out with the book ‘My Unskooled Year’, which chronicles the journey she embarked upon during her entire year away from school.
Looking back at how it started, she says that it was all thanks to her average performance in the tenth standard. “I cried a lot on the day of the result. I scored 8.2 and many people told me that it was very less.” However, Sagarikka’s parents, Savitri and Sivakumar, who run an institute called Trichy Plus, were extremely supportive. “My father consoled me and said that it’s a part of life. But I was really low and also confused about what to study the coming year. At that point, I don’t think I even knew what commerce meant! When I asked my parents what I should do, they said I needed to decide as it was my life,” she says.
A detailed discussion later, her parents asked her if she wanted to take a year off and like anyone her age, Sagarikka was elated at the thought. “I could travel and watch many movies as that’s what I had done during the summer holidays. What more could I have wished for? So I decided to go ahead and take a break.”
But it wasn’t at all like how she had imagined it to be! It started with her parents handing her a time table that she had to strictly follow during the year. “I had to get up at 6.30 am and do a series of things like go to the gym and read the newspapers. My day would end with a three-hour-long session in maths and science with my father and I could only go to bed at 11 pm. It was very hard to stick to the time table but my father was very particular that I did,” she says.
Slowly, Sagarikka discovered a whole new world beyond the walls of a classroom as she worked in various companies, attended conferences, made films, did social work and travelled. “To gain financial independence, I also invested in stocks and went door to door to sell Amway products thinking that it’s easy money. But when I underwent a loss at the stock market and was unable to sell the products to even close friends, I learnt the value of money.” However, with experience, Sagarikka managed to be successful in both endeavours.
Bitten by the travel bug, Sagarikka also went to places like Leh and Kailash Manasarovar and learnt the art of filmmaking to document her experiences. One day, she met traveller and blogger Siddharth Joshi, who suggested that she blog about her experiences and as they say, the rest is history. “I started writing everyday and would make it a point to write at least 100 words a day. By the end of the year, I took print outs of every blog that I had written, made corrections and we thought why not turn the entire thing into a book? And that’s how ‘My Unskooled Year’ came about.”
An important aspect of her growth was also rubbing shoulders a range of powerful personalities. From meeting top-notch CEOs to movie stars, Sagarikka even interacted with former Finance Minister P Chidambaram who bought her book with a lot of interest. Speaking of some of the memorable interactions, she says, “I met Shashi Tharoor at the Hindu Lit Fest last year and was pleasantly surprised when he tweeted about me last year as well as this year. He even invited me and my family to have coffee with him whenever we are in New Delhi. Another memorable experience was meeting Kiran Bedi in Pondicherry, who spoke to me at length,” she informs.
She also found a close friend and mentor in CK Kumaravel, CEO and co-founder of Naturals Salon & Spa. “He is a godfather to me and has helped me in every possible way. He also taught me a lot about setting goals and made me read books and watch videos on the same.”
Now Sagarikka is back to school and studying science. But she is also busy promoting her book and speaking at conferences in India and abroad. She has also co-founded ‘The Youth Eco Club’ in Trichy, which is into collecting organic waste and composting. Ask her about the future and she says, “I have many plans. I want to own a start-up and have a few ideas for that. I also want to pursue a mountaineering course in Darjeeling and go on a bike trip from the North to the South of India. Another dream of mine is to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”
Since she spends a sizable amount of time reading marketing and motivational books, a habit she developed during her ‘unskooled year’, we ask her which are her favourite books and quotes. “My parents chose the best books for me like ‘The High Performance Entrepreneur’ and ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ and I enjoyed reading each one of them. I have so many favourite quotes but I will sum up my experiences with my own quote – ‘I chose not to run in the race but create my own space’.”
Three takeaways from Sagarikka
- Be open to experimenting with new things.
- Every adversity carries some benefit. One only needs to identify it.
- Dare to dream and it will surely pay off.
‘My Unskooled Year’ is available on www.amazon.com and www.flipkart.com