The compelling rationale for a BIG HEART!
“Life is a race!”
That is indeed one of the most memorable takeaways from the blockbuster Bollywood movie ‘3 Idiots’ starring Aamir Khan. And the race starts right from the moment you compete with 300 million sperm even to be born!
Moving on from that ‘first scientific lesson’, competition is a reality that you encounter at every step of your life, whether you like it or not. The uncomfortable questions start even before you are ‘supposedly celebrating’ your first birthday, because it is really the rest of the family celebrating it. You don’t even know what a birthday is, though you later wish you knew what was going on so that you could soak in those moments. Comparisons start doing the rounds on fairly silly issues, like when you first learnt to sit, walk or speak, or how well you take your meals, or even how you play! The weight of expectations is already on.
You would well remember how competition played a role – positive or otherwise – in school life. I am sure all of you would remember winning and losing as well. In the movie 3 Idiots, parents and teachers are blamed for spoiling our childhood by stressing us out with performance pressure all the time.
But I will not say that parents and teachers are the only people to blame. It is a highly debatable subject – how soon should we bring ‘competitive pressures’ into a child’s mind. But I am certain from my experience, that competition is necessary; students need to be graded on their performance, so that they are able to benchmark themselves, and see through their strengths and weaknesses and build character. So although it is highly questionable how effective schools are at achieving this, the fact that benchmarking is required is not questionable at all. Moreover, it is somehow in our nature to understand the ‘carrot and stick’ concept fairly early. Soaking in the admiration and adulation when you win comes fairly easy, but let’s face it – no one likes losing. And I have rarely seen the loser congratulating the winner like he/she really means it. There are precious few in the mould of Harvey Specter from the popular American legal dramedy Suits, who says, “I win… that’s what I do!” For the rest, losing early can be devastating. It could mean one or more of several problems – low self-esteem, poor career choices (driven by external influences), meanness, self-inflicted seclusion, persistent underperformance in work, unhappy relationships, depression – in short a scarcity mindset throughout life.
This is the point where I will lay out the crux of this chapter to you. Competition is a reality you cannot change, but you can certainly change how you respond to it. In fact, competition can be one of the most crucial drivers of your success. It is something that I learnt the hard way, but you may make the right choice here and now.
The year was 1997, when I graduated from IIPM, and had two job opportunities to choose from – Planman Consulting and Modi Xerox. Like most youngsters from across generations, I knew precious little about either my strengths or what I really wanted to do with my career. I went for the brand Modi Xerox, as that was the conventional common sense that my friends and family drilled into me.
The first shock that hit me was the fact that I was hired as a territory manager but in a lower band as compared to other fresh MBAs from more reputed institutes. In the initial days itself, I constantly felt the weight of comparisons with my peers, and they were genuinely better. I felt I was inferior due to my education, small town upbringing, language, communication skills, the list goes on. Soon, I started convincing myself that I would never be able to overcome my deficiencies. That had the predictable outcome on my performance, which was very poor at the time. Over an year and a half, I started getting better, but still not good enough for the big incentive and bonus schemes that really make a sales career rewarding. It literally stung both ways – neither did I have any success stories to share, nor was I willing to admit that I was being a failure.
Persistence is the first rule to success in any endeavour. Things picked up a little in 1998, when I started to push harder, and benefited from experience and the learnings I had got.
Another major development happened on the personal front when I met my future life partner Shalini, who I also regard as my first mentor. She told me two things that got me in the right direction. The first was that I should not worry too much about the things that do not come naturally to me as life is much bigger than that. Secondly, she told me to just go ahead and work hard without any pressure, since my success or failure would not change how she felt about me. This was the kind of confidence I needed to freewheelingly work and just give myself another shot. For the rest of my stint in Modi Xerox, my performance improved quite significantly – still not among the top shots but I was consistently bettering myself.
In the year 2000, I got married, and it was also the same year when I joined Planman. In the first year of Planman, I was immediately successful and delivered exceptional performance. That was when I realised how my experience at Modi Xerox had really moulded me to deliver. I was labelled a superstar by my boss and then complacency set in, giving me a hard landing the next year. The same superstar label was thrashed. And again, I was back to the ignominy of failure.
This taught me another valuable lesson. Attaining success is tough, sustaining it is tougher still. You only grow in life by consistently pushing the envelope, and taking your comfort zone a few notches higher every time. I also accepted something about myself; that I am a person of average ability and consistent hard work is the only way forward.
There are two sets of mentors that played a major role in my life thereon. The first set constituted the clients I interacted with; highly successful people who had studied from top institutions and working in leading organisations. These people were humble and never showed any airs. Most importantly, they were a source of inspiration for me.
The second set comprises the world’s best writers, since I also started taking an active interest in reading their books. They got me through difficult situations, helped me dilute my ego, gave words to my thoughts and also helped me better understand my own strengths. In short, books helped me evolve, and I feel fortunate to have acquired the habit of reading books.
Most of all, my ‘mentors’ taught me a very important life lesson – you must have a mindset of abundance to achieve success. Competition is something you can learn from, and in fact you must actively and if I may say, selfishly seek inspiration and guidance wherever you can find it. So instead of wasting your energy on excuses for coming short, spend it on trying to understand why x or y is doing better and what lessons you can emulate to improve yourself.
When you a leader, building an attitude of abundance becomes even more important. Celebrate your team’s successes much more than you would celebrate even your own. Recognise the best performers, be there and stand for them especially when they fail, because that is when they need you most. A true leader will treat success as a team effort and take personal responsibility for his team’s failure.
You must essentially believe in the abundance principle, but in a more empowering kind of way. It must not be an excuse for incompetence, but rather a motivation to consistently better yourself and also the lives of people around you.
View your environment – peers, competitors, mentors, family, bosses, juniors – as an ecosystem, of which you are the centre point. It is your prerogative to ensure that this system works in a positive way to help you achieve your goals. By choosing synergy over conflict and abundance over scarcity, you would have already made a vital first step towards making that happen.