Some of the greatest professionals (in any field) have always underlined the importance of preparation. How thinking about their work in advance helped them get in the right frame of mind and state of readiness. And one of the key techniques that many of them leveraged more often, was of Visualization. Cricket followers would recall the familiar sight of Australian legend Matthew Hayden sitting barefoot on the Wicket a day prior to the game (in the pic) and visualize the environment, the proceedings, the match, his game, his shots, his vulnerabilities. Rahul Dravid, the India cricketing great, was known to think and visualize his game in depth as he prepared for a batting stint in the middle. Many sports personalities (Golfers, Tennis players etc.) have over the years resorted to this method, to get “in the zone”.
So, what is Visualization?
It is the process of “proactively” creating a mental image of an impending activity or state – in which a player plays out the actual moment in its entirety in their mind. This helps them get into the “zone” of the game in advance and cut out surprises that may occur on the day of the game. Mind and body is warmed up to the climate of high intensity and once the reality kicks in, the readiness is heightened.
Importance of “proactive” is enormous. It helps the player to think about all eventualities in advance, thus figuring out a game plan for tackling the same. It helps is bringing a lot of composure to one’s approach, thus a healthier way to approach a rigorous task at hand.
Experts have long underlined the importance of Visualization as a method to create positive thinking. A lot of this is by thinking about the end state of success – How the world will be when we finally arrive there? How wonderful and energizing will that state be? And try and leverage that energy in influencing the process of achieving that goal.
Over the years, this practice has evolved and has been used by many practitioners in thinking about the process (to the end state) too – visualizing every step of the process, minutely detailed play out of actions, surroundings, mindset, climate etc. Aakash Chopra (Former Indian Cricketer) writes about it in this useful article about Visualization.
Is this applicable in business/organizations?
Absolutely. For any professional situation that has a lot at stake, one can leverage this. I have been leveraging Visualization (for some years now) to get myself psyched up before an important professional event – Presentation, Training, Facilitation, Conversation, Talk, Interview etc. Some of the key points that I have learnt over the years w.r.to Visualization are:
These are interesting times. Majority of our time goes in influencing others with our thoughts, ideas, POVs. Yet, the least amount of time is spent in preparing for the same. I see professionals ill-prepared for such “clutch” moments solely relying on their reactive instincts to come good at the right moment. A few people land it well – they are the geniuses. For the rest, it helps to do a little more. Visualization can do wonders, to “get in the zone” and hit the ball out of the park.
Recently I was speaking to a leader and discussing her feedback style. She was highly self-critical as she reflected on the same. Off late, she had been getting into too many conflict situations amounting to her feedback being rejected. As we spoke, we went over a few instances and she replayed the mental video tapes of those.
While listening I noted that she used expressions like “you were rude”, “what’s wrong with you”, “you need be show more technical depth”, “you never talk on calls”, “You have been a poor role model of being punctual to meetings” etc.… to surface all that was wrong. What followed these expressions were a bunch of refutations or negations, from the other end, as the recipients expressed their vehement disagreements. Majority of these conversations weren’t leading to any constructive result and ended adding to the increasingly deteriorating team dynamics and diminishing leadership credibility woes.
As we sat reflecting over this situation at hand, I scribbled a diagram (being the visual person I am) on the board to depict the visual depiction of the conversation.
The diagram showed that the information flow was between A (feedback giver) to B (recipient), with A identifying B as the issue – the overt use of the term “you” in the above statements. While from A’s Point of view, she has expressed her displeasure clearly, from B’s point of view, what’s coming is a barrage of personal attacks. And true to human psyche when there’s an attack there needs to be a defense. Thus, the refutations and negations.
Couple of things happen here:
Proposed Future state:
As we discussed more on how we can approach it differently and make the environment safe, I made a slight change to the above diagram by adding a third circle C.
The diagram shows a third circle – the Issue. So in this state both A and B stand together on one side of the table and look at the issue with the same lens. So instead of a statement like “You have been a poor role model of being punctual…” it may sound like “last 4 meetings/calls there was a delay in your joining in. How can we ensure you are there on time?”.
Couple of things happen:
Majority of the feedback that happens, isn’t one as there isn’t anything being fed. Most of the time the “giver” ends up expressing their dissatisfaction or anger (thinking they are delivering a feedback). A slight shift in the mental model and preparing the right language that separates issue from the person, can go a long way in boosting an inspiring culture of learning, listening and being respectful.
The element of aligning with your business as a consultant/business partner, is an art, which works on the fundamental grounds of the Credibility that you build within the business. Over the years as I have worked with businesses I have experienced multiple situations which made me take mental notes on what works and what doesn’t. As we strive harder to earn and retain our seat at the client table, we do realize that it’s a combination of working hard and smart. It’s a combination of how deeply & systemically we understand our business, how efficient is our listening engine, how strong and authentic are our relationships and how effective are we as subject matter experts and solutions providers.
The following checklist captures all my Points of View on how to become credible and valued. I don’t claim this to be the absolute final list, but an exhaustive one nevertheless. As you read each suggestion, put a checkmark in the boxes that indicate practices you already do well. When you finish reviewing the whole list, place an asterisk (*) next to those items in which you want to improve. Your commitment will be even stronger if you include a future date for checking your progress in the development areas you picked.
Being a “Thought Leader” is a common phrase exchanged in the Corporate environment in the modern times. Especially in the modern social ecosystem context everyone has a POV. Sometimes just having an idea or POV is perceived or misconstrued to being a thought leader in the concerned space. In the space that I work, I often tend to get invited or my opinion / POV is sought at a certain recurring regularity, and I do hear the phrase “Thought Leader” being used (sometimes too liberally), as a prefix to my name. I have struggled understanding what it really means – What it takes to be a true Thought Leader? What correlation does it have to the concept of Personal Branding? Is there an investment that one needs to make to keep the Thought Leader brand alive…..
While browsing through Glenn Llopis’s blog I got an opportunity to download an e-book on this, and it a fascinating read.
<Excerpts from the e-book, Why a Personal Employee Brand will save your career – and your workplace, by Glenn Llopis>
1. Define and Manage How Other People Experience Your Personal Brand.
Before you can become a recognized thought leader, you must define and manage how other people will experience the following four characteristics of your personal employee brand:
a) What is your brand’s enduring idea?
b) How will your brand best differentiate itself?
c) What is the primary experience your brand will deliver? d. Who will your brand serve?
2. Identify the Methodology that Defines the Problems Your Personal Employee Brand Solves.
You may be knowledgeable about a particular subject matter, but have your experience and insights given you enough breadth and depth to earn the right to propose solutions to a wide array of problems in your area of expertise? As a thought leader, your personal employee brand must support a proven step-by-step methodology that defines the approach for the problems your brand solves. Your methodology must be able to show how to overcome the most challenging set of circumstances.
3. Manage Your Thought Leadership Profile.
A thought leadership profile is your management tool that keeps your personal employee brand, methodology and subject matter expertise updated, fresh and relevant. This profile should be a living document that you update on an ongoing basis. If your thought leadership profile becomes outdated, your content begins to lose its momentum and your community will lose interest. Your thought leadership profile is the tool that helps you start relevant, timely and sought-after conversations with your community.
The following are the primary elements to include in your thought leadership profile:
4. Write it Down! ShareYour Ideas and Experiences.
Seasoned thought leaders know that writing and sharing of experiences is a natural extension of their leadership role and responsibility. Convert concepts into practical applications that support your methodology. Be innovative in your thinking, yet simple in your writing style. Don’t limit your audience.
Be provocative, yet objective. Your responsibility is to start a conversation and propel a dialogue that will continue inside and beyond your community of readers.
Your writings should consist of blogs (250-600 words), articles (1200- 1400 words), white papers and case studies (2500-3500 words).
In your thought leadership profile, prepare a list of topics of conversation that you would like to share with your audience. Create a list of useful resources to support your writings. Demonstrate that you can articulate complex issues in terms that a broad audience can understand and apply. Show your audience that you care about the problems that it is trying to solve. Assemble a “knowledge vault” of materials that support your writings to further demonstrate your commitment to solve your audiences’ problems.
Finally, allow your community to connect with you personally in your writings. Share personal stories that support your content themes. People want to connect with your voice in ways they can relate to personally. Sharing your personal identity (within reason) allows for a more purposeful and meaningful relationship to blossom.
5. Speak and Speak Some More.
Writing is your starting point to speaking and articulating your thought leadership ideas and ideals. Identify trade shows and conferences that customers and industry influencers are attending and participate on panels or lead workshops. Find out about the local associations that host speaking events and offer to give a keynote or sit on a discussion panel.
Your ability to remain active as a speaker is critical to becoming a sustainable thought leader.
When speaking, focus on providing useful information. No one wants to listen to you pitching your product. You are there to inform and educate, to provide a unique perspective. Again, it must support your methodology and you must manage the experience you want others to have of your personal employee brand.
6. Create a Blog and Activate Your Social Media Tools.
Create your own blog and activate your favorite social media tools (ie. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.) to make it easy for your community/audience to follow your writings, upcoming speaking engagements, trade interviews, media appearances,
etc. As a selected voice that represents your organization, your blog and social media tools must be a prominent and visually appealing outlet that supports an interactive exchange of knowledge and ideas with your community.
Your thought leadership blog and social media presence increases in value the more people know about it and link to it. The more social media ready you are, the more visitors you will have and you will multiply the reach for your content. Your blog should feature all of your content to include:
7. Share Your Secrets and Build Trust with Your Community.
Make it simple for people to access your content. In the end, thought leadership is about building a trustworthy relationship with your community. You begin to lose that trust once you appear to be holding something back. No secrets allowed!
Though your community may not always be responding (in the form of commentary), they are reading and listening to your words carefully. Your content (regardless of format) is generating a two-way communication stream of thought, ideas and trust.
As you provide more content, they begin to expect certain things from you as they experience your personal employee brand. Don’t disappoint them. Share freely and encourage them to respond and provide feedback.
Empower your community through crowdsourcing. Share your voice and allow them to share theirs. You want as many people to know about you as possible. Create a reputation for being transparent and open. Share the harvest of your knowledge and be generous with your subject matter expertise. If not, the market will favor someone else who is.
8. Cultivate Relationships with the Media.
Don’t leave it solely to your PR agency. As a thought leader, you should have a list of 15 writers and editors who regularly report on your industry market. Journalists are very busy people, always on a deadline. So, when you call you need to give them something that they can use to make their life better and easier – a lead, a story, some insight, a quote, customers to whom they can talk for quotes.
Points 1 – 7 will help you earn respect and the opportunity to be covered by the media. Remember that the media’s job is to find relevant content that will appeal to their audience. The more relevant and time-sensitive your voice is, the faster you will be discovered and the media will find you. If you deliver when called upon, they will continue asking for more.
Don’t wait for the media to find you. You must be proactive in building relationships with the media. Research media outlets and key contacts that would benefit from your subject matter expertise. You can always hire a PR agency, but when getting started it’s best to get your hands dirty and learn how the media really works yourself.
9. Control Your Google Identity and Relevancy.
In today’s business world, people initially experience your personal brand identity and its relevancy as defined by Google. When you Google a person’s name you immediately create an impression of that person based on what you read
and its context.
So who is controlling your Google identity and relevancy? Is it Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Twitter? Or, is it your blog and its articles, video blogs, white papers and all of your original content that supports your methodology and what defines the experience of your personal brand?
As a thought leader, you must become best friends with Google. You must be accountable to manage how Google positions your personal employee brand and subject matter expertise. This inherent responsibility is important not only for your own personal benefit, but more so for your community.
How do you control your Google identity and relevancy? Follow points 1 – 8!
10. Make a Commitment to Thought Leadership!
The sharing of ideas and insights do not require your organization to have market share dominance or millions of dollars. In today’s new normal, content is a commodity and readily available. Thought leadership is a difference maker. Your generosity and transparency can help you outsell your competitor. It can lead to higher margins. In a world in search of trust, it’s all about people and your thought leadership will expand the breadth and depth of who you are as a person and how others interact with you.
We are transitioning from a knowledge-based economy to a wisdom-based economy. It’s no longer just about what you know, but what you do with what you know. It’s about trust, transparency, opening up your heart and leading with kindness.
Thought leadership is another form of corporate social responsibility. It’s about leaving a legacy and earning the respect of your community.
Darryl Howes (Courtesy, the IOD Channel), underlines the changing face of modern day networking. It is changing. From the days of “business card exchanging frenzy” to being en event where you make a few deep connections (Less is More) – it has certainly come a long way.
Quite a bit has been said and written about this subject, and yet it keeps coming up in various forums as topic of discussion and thought. My sense is people have an idea but they want to get more scientific around which one is more important. Get more perspectives and examples that will help them make better Talent or Capability decisions.
Before we move forward its critical to define Talent. There are several definitions of talent. The simplest one, being – “Skills or abilities”. Some people like to add the expression “innate” as a prefix to that definition. The one definition that really stuck with me was “A recurring display of a skill or behavior or ability” is Talent. That kind of makes sense, because the term Recurring rules out the “flash in the pan” factor and underlines a degree of expertise “displayed over a period of time” in a certain skill/ability/behavior.
If that is the definition we hang on to, then we do realize there are several examples in our ecosystem where people tend to exhibit recurrence in display of skills or abilities, which make them talented in those disciplines. Several of these, abilities are inborn. For example, an infant starts walking and all of sudden surprises people around with the speed at which she can move from one point to another. That Inborn Attribute of speed, which as the little one grows up tend to get displayed on a recurring basis in various informal or formal events and thus get recognized as a talent. Similarly, we all demonstrate our innate talents at various stages of life. The question is, what do we make out of it?
When I was growing up I had a natural talent to run in and bowl fast or hit the ball hard with bat. I did exhibit this talent fairly regularly amongst my friends (Picking wickets or hitting sixes in the neighborhood park), yet I never achieved excellence. Many young people are blessed with the gift of language i.e. they have a way with words. Not all of them are accomplished writers or orators. So what is it that is between Talent and Excellence / Peak Performance?
Harsha Bhogle, is his recent book The Winning Way describes this under a sub-heading “Resources vs Resourcefulness”. Many individuals have the penchant of collecting books on Leadership and Management. (I do!). Their bookracks certainly resemble a treasure chest of deep knowledge. One look at that rack and one would wonder, how well read the person is and how much knowledge the person would have. Yet, not every Leadership Book collector is a Good leader, let alone Great. This is the physical manifestation of the Resources vs Resourcefulness debate. You may have all the talent / promise in the world – the question is what did you DO with it?
The curious case of Vinod Kambli will be a great lesson in this topic, for generations to come. A splendid talent (even better than Tendulkar – as per their coach), had a glorious future ahead of him. Got his breaks at the right time, arrived at the international scene making the right noises, and then calamity struck. Success brings along with it many distractions and at the top level apart from talent, one requires the ability & attitude of self control, composure, determination and an impeccable work ethic. If that’s compromised, its dooms day! Kambli will probably be the most talented “has been” of World Cricket. As Harsha points out “Talent can open the first door of opportunity, in some cases the second. But by the third if its only talent it starts getting difficult”.
Conversely what do champions do? Lets take Sachin Tendulkar. Kambli’s mate. Growing up together, playing for the same school, training under the same coach. Similar or slightly less talented. Gets his break and has a modest beginning. But with every passing day works harder at his game, his focus, determination, discipline, dedication, work ethic, hunger to reduce his flaws etc. add to his overall profile making him the champion he is. Had it been only for talent Tendulkar wouldn’t have lasted 22 years.
When we think about the 2 stories above, and connect back to our professional lives, we will see there are several successful individuals – Sales, Service, Engineers, Software developers, Accountants etc. who did not succeed just because they were good at their work. They had that something else – the right attitude to go with their talent. A Sales person with outstanding ability to pitch, negotiate and close, without the attitude of hard work or relationship creation may just be a great closer but will never be the champion sales person. A developer with greatest of coding skills, and negligible attitude to be a team player will always find it difficult to work as a team and contributing to a larger project charter. A good leadership talent, will never be a great leader if she doesn’t have the attitude to listen, include and respect others.
In the movie clip below 1980 USA IceHockey coach drills this message into the bunch training to represent US in the 1980 winter olympics. This is one of the best depiction of “how for being a champion, one needs to rise way above the threshold of Talent and bring out that “Something Else”.
So, what is Attitude? Out of the several definitions doing the round the one that I found interesting is “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation”. I like this definition because it captures the choice that an individual makes w.r.to the positive or negative response in a given situation. And this choice separates the Mortals from the Immortals. Did you see the recent movie 127 hours (Starring: James Franc0, Directed by: Danny Boyle)? The film is a simple story of an adventure freak suffering a freak accident and getting stuck in the ravines with his right hand stuck between a boulder and a rocky wall. And what starts as a minor incident gradually unfolds in its enormity with the protagonist stuck in the position for 127 hours. Without divulging much there, all I want to point out is the Talent-Attitude interplay. While he had all the talent in the world to conquer those ravines, that situation needed him to bring out the right attitudes, which will make him think clearly and do the right things. For example: not to panic, which will help him regulate body heat, he will thus perspire less and he will consume less of the limited water. At no point does the thought of NOT returning home cross his mind. Its this positivity that keeps him going, making him try creative outrageous ways to get out of that hole.
Between 2000 – 2008 Australian cricket team never thought about “what if we loose”. The only question that occupied their mind was “How do we win from here”. Even in the most hopeless situations they were known to talk of winning ..not even a draw. It wasn’t a surprise that they were the invincibles.
Once in my school days, I was approached by my house-captain to participate in the Hindi debate competition. I dreaded Hindi and hence was reluctant in accepting it. I went home and told my father about my reservations and he quite coolly looked at me and asked me “why not?”. He said if you don’t do it, you will never have an experience to look back and if you do it, you will have a lesson – good or bad. And that to me was one of the simplest lessons of developing attitudes. “Why not?” Two simple words – just two words – yet have the ability to convert thick walls of pessimism into blue skies of optimism. I have used this “Why not?” at significant inflection points of my career – moving from sales to Marketing to HR, were all moments of powerful “Why nots”.
So attitude is a choice that one makes. And this choice is an exponent of our beliefs that we derive from our life experiences. A kid standing on top of the bed eyeing the ground for a leap for the first time, will have many thoughts and fears. He makes a choice and jumps. If he hurts himself badly, there is a tape that gets recorded in his brain. Next time he faces the similar plight, promptly the Tape plays in his mind – now if the words of the tape is “Why not go ahead…” – he does. That’s a Winner tape aka Positive Attitude. And if the Tape says “No, don’t! Don’t you remember what happened last time?” well, that’s a loser tape. Life experiences tend to get recorded in tapes in our mind and over a period of time have considerable effect on our belief system. It is this belief system that we can work on to impact our attitudes. And for that to happen we need the right people/environment/habits around us who/which can help us experience the right experiences that will alter our belief to positivity.
A Person with all the talent in the world without the right attitude will not be a winner in the long run (We do see instances of very talented individuals not very successful with a lot of arrogance or ego whining about the life in general). On the contrary a person with less talent but loads of the right attitude can achieve unthinkable heights of excellence, because the attitude will push the person to overcome the talent gaps, with the right work ethic and dedication. Who better than Mahendra Singh Dhoni to exemplify that point? A player with very limited talent in terms cricketing skills, but very high application mindset, and attitude to use his limitations to maximum effectiveness. It is no surprise that he is so successful as a Captain, Batsman, Wicket-Keeper and most importantly team man, in all formats of the game. You never see him going through a bad form, because he works hard to get the best out of whatever he can manage. That is hallmark of a champion.
Talent can be acquired, but it is difficult to do so to a drastically high level. For example: A person with limited design skills while making presentations can work hard and enhance the ability to some extent. But the innate sense of design and aesthetics, requires certain natural inclination, to have the required proficiency. So figuratively a person with 50% talent in something can work hard and make it 70% but not 100%. However, attitude can be built quite drastically. As we established the correlation with belief, it implies that if belief is changed using right experiences attitudes can be changed drastically, almost 100%.
To put this argument into a scientific framework, here is an easy expression that will help us look at the Talent vs Attitude argument more in the right perspective:
(IA + AA) X A = PPP
IA = Inborn Attributes
AA = Acquired Attributes
A = Attitude
PPP = Predictable Peak Performance
IA : are the innate / inborn skills or abilities or qualities that we possess. For eg: ability to run fast, write well (handwriting), sense of colors and art, singing, love for numbers etc.
AA : are those experiences that we gain as we grow, which add to our arsenal of abilities for example: Good Excel skills (to go with love for numbers), mastery in various types of music (to go with love for singing) etc.
(IA+AA) = Together the Inborn and Acquired Attributes represent the overall talent profile of an individual. A Talent decision made only on the basis of this two will give a lot of “What” they can do i.e. Promise on Paper. (How many times have we looked a agreat resume and said, wow! This person is a surefire rock star! Chances are we may just land up with Rocks !!).
A: are the “Hows”. How have they used their talent to deliver great work? How did they make the difference? How did the deal with failure? How did they come out of tough corners? How did they plan for stiff targets, and how dis they conquer those? Its these “Hows” which bring the hidden “X-Factor” of the individual and differentiate the “Can Do-s” from the rest. Hence the usage of Multiplication instead of addition, as the presence of right attitude at the right time can have a multiplier effect.
PPP: When right attitude combines with the talent, the possibility of Peak Performance is highest and when this happens consistently, one can predict peak performance with a considerable degree of consistency. (Again Indian Cricket in the 90s vs the last 3 years – the Predictable Peak Performance is higher than ever. No wonder we consistently figure in the top 1/2 in all formats).
Talent decisions, are increasingly becoming the most crucial set of activities in the Organization decision making agenda. Post the financial meltdown, organizations are investing in more and more quality systems and processes to make these decisions more effective. The world is gradually making the shift from pure Talent based selection to a more balanced Talent + Attitude based selection. Its becoming imperative by the day to focus not on “Whom we have” but to focus on “What can they do? And How?”.
This one is for all you sales people out there !!!!
When we give a presentation to a future client not only do our appearance, visual aids, and body language relay a message, but the words we use create pictures in their minds. When we hear a word, we often picture a symbol of what that word represents. We may even attach emotions to some of these words. For example, let’s consider the words, SPRING, SUMMER, AUTUMN, WINTER. Depending on your particular experience, each of those words can generate positive or negative emotions in you, right?
The same applies to the words you use in your contacts with customers. You don’t know in advance which words will generate positive feelings in your clients about you, your product and your company. That’s why people in selling must become extra sensitive to the use of words if they want to have successful careers or businesses.
One of the most commonly used words in sales is the term “contract.” What type of mental image does that term bring to your mind especially when you picture yourself as a consumer? For most of us, it’s negative. We have an image of fine print, legalities and being locked into something that requires legal action to get out of. For this reason, I recommend that salespeople stop using that term, unless your particular line of business requires it. Instead, use the terms paperwork, agreement or form. Think about each of those terms for a moment. Do they bring to mind threatening images? If they do, I’ll bet those images are a lot less threatening than those created by the term contract. Do yourself a favor and eliminate that term from your vocabulary. Use paperwork, agreement or form instead.
What about the words “cost” and “price?” What pictures do they bring to your mind? If you’re like me, I see my hard-earned cash leaving my pocket. Substitute the terms investment or amount in place of cost or price. When most people hear investment, they envision getting a return on their money which is something positive. Now, there are products for which the term investment would not be appropriate so let’s use the term amount for them. That word has been proven to be less threatening to most consumers than the terms cost and price.
The same idea goes for the next terms, “down payment” and “monthly payment.” Most people envision down payments as large deposits that lock them into many smaller monthly payments for a considerable time period. They may see themselves receiving bills and writing checks every month. Not too positive a picture, is it? Replace those phrases with these: initial investment or initial amount and monthly investment or monthly amount.
The next terms I’d recommend you change are “sell” and “sold.” Many salespeople will tell prospective customers about how many units of their product they have sold. Or, they’ll brag about having sold the same product to another customer. What are the mental images here? No one likes the idea of or the feeling derived from being sold anything. It sounds as if the customer didn’t really have much say in the matter. Replace sell or sold with helped them acquire or got them involved.
Another term I feel is over-used by salespeople is the term “deal.” What does this bring to mind? Something we’ve always wanted, but never found. Top salespeople never offer deals to their clients. They offer opportunities or get them involved in transactions.
The last, but definitely not the least important term I recommend you change is “sign”. Never again ask a customer to sign your agreement, form or paperwork. We’ve all had it drilled into us from early childhood never to sign anything without careful consideration, haven’t we? So, why would you want to create that emotion in anyone you were trying to get happily involved in your product or service? Instead of asking them to sign, ask them to approve, authorize, endorse or OK your paperwork, agreement or form.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission” and I agree because I have lived it.
I was born in a family where it was a matter of fact, being talented. My father, a government employee by profession, had talents of being a good orator, had excellent command on languages like English and Bengali to the extent that he used to read, write and discuss literary works, being an accomplished playwright, an ardent poet and a voracious reader. My mother, a homemaker, has expertise in Drawing, Painting, Handicrafts, Singing apart from being an accomplished cook. My brother, who is 6 years elder to me, used to be a competent Cricketer (which he gave up in due course), is a voracious reader, a very versatile actor, a columnist and is actively participating in Debates. And all three of them had excellent handwriting.
So I was born, under some huge shadows of highly talented individuals at home. And it took no time for anyone to realize who the black sheep was in the family – I wasn’t good in any language, I was miles away from anything remotely similar to the act of reading, I used to play cricket but loved to play it in an unorthodox manner, so no question of being a master at that, I was acting in plays but got the roles of a tree, a mountain, a king who was mute etc etc. Outside home in my friend circle I was prominent; I did accomplish a few negligible feats like winning a debate competition occasionally, winning a quiz competition once, being the school captain for a couple of years, being a compere in a school orchestra and at home each of these feats generated a lot of surprise as if they were never expected of me. I had grades that only I could have been proud of because I was aware the Herculean effort I put to get them, for others it was just about average.
Now, I did not have a lonely ridiculed or troubled childhood, as it may come across. On the contrary I had a wonderful childhood amidst loving parents and a very caring brother, but even though it was never made clear, I could get the feeling that I wasn’t as good as anyone else at home. …..Or maybe that’s what I told myself. I didn’t worry too much about it though. It was just there in the back of my mind.
And then one fine day my worst fears came true. I was out of the comfort zone of my home, my parents and had to go to a newer and bigger city for my college. I had to meet strangers who spoke in a strange language i.e. English and that too with amazing fluency. They even cracked jokes in English!!! They saw English movies and listened to English songs. It was a completely utopian planet for me. I found myself to be the most lost alien in this planet. I was increasingly quiet during friendly conversations; in fact I never initiated conversations because of the fear of using wrong language with people. I never spoke in a group because I didn’t know anything about western music (which was the most common topic of engagement) or MTV or Star TV and M.A.S.H. To top it I started finding newer avenues of making myself feel like a misfit, like I didn’t have a great dress sense, I didn’t have a hip hairstyle, I didn’t have a good pair jeans and all these emotions made me increasingly silent and clumsy and most importantly severely under confident. And it never got easier. I went for movies – English ones, and didn’t understand a word and could never participate in the post movie analysis. I had to even chicken out of a date (can you believe it) because I got scared. All in all, I had myself in a hole and I was making it bigger and deeper by the day.
Dramatic it may sound, but its true, that I do not recollect my college days with any fondness or nostalgia. When I completed college I had grown down rather than growing up. And it took a humiliating experience for me to realize that I was not going anywhere. I went to Mumbai for attending the Group Discussion and Personal Interview for getting admission for MBA in one of the reputed colleges. And in the Group Discussion I just kept quite, because I was scared. All my fears were in full splendor. I got completely bottled up and finally (as if this wasn’t enough) I was asked to leave the room. I knew it was all over.
During my journey back from Mumbai, in the train I did some thinking. I realized that the reason I was in this state because I had let myself into it, in fact I had forced myself into it. No one had ever told me anything derogatory like I was clumsy, or I was bad or I was incompetent, it was me who did that continuously to myself.
I knew I had to change.
I got into my first job. This was in year 1993 and without being bothered about being right or wrong I started speaking. It was a sales job, and I had no option but to speak. My bread and butter depended on it. And I tried hard. It was painful, to think in Hindi and speak in English. But I kept at. Closed myself in a room and kept giving fictitious interviews as if I am the Indian Cricket Captain, or I am the next Bollywood Superstar, I even tried being an Oscar recipient once. Thankfully I met some great people on the way who would go onto become some of the best friends of my life, who made me realize that I am extremely talented – That I am a very gifted singer, I have a good voice, have a good sense of humor, I can mimic people, I am creative, I write well, I have a good taste for music, and I cook well. I realized how much I have, yet I was ignoring. All of a sudden I realized I wasn’t a loser after all, it’s just that my perspective was flawed.
Today, I train hundreds of people in English. Have worked for close to 14 years and have been a winner as Sales, Marketing, Strategy and Training professional. I see English movies, without subtitles and understand western music from Beethoven to Bon Jovi. I read literary works which are as abstract as Occult and as normal as Frederick Forsyth. I talk to people without any hiccups, in fact the impression people get is that I am a complete extrovert. I paint, design, make PowerPoints (have been awarded internationally for that), act (both in theatre and movies), write (blogs, columns, am even trying my hand at writing a book), do calligraphy and of course I don’t chicken out of dates anymore, though they are only with the most precious person of my life, my wife, who everyday makes me feel proud of myself the way I am.
Today the monsters have gone. They have been put to rest. But I thank them that they were there, so that I recognize them well. I can see them in other people and that today enables me to walk upto these people and say “Hey, no monster can make you feel inferior, without your permission!!!!”