Certain people have the ability to demand excellence of you by virtue of the clarity of their purpose, the integrity of their character and the sheer energy that permeates all barriers. Benjamin Zander who conducted Boston Philharmonic Orchestra for 20 years describes it very prescriptively in his talk “giving an A”. He gives an A to all students in his class at the start of the academic year on one condition. They have to write him a letter in 2 weeks time which starts like this “I got an A because…………..” , explaining all the reasons why they deserved it and they need to start behaving like the person they described, not the person they are. Thus in 2 weeks he transforms his students into a class of “A” students . I remember a quote which says ” A lion has to be a lion all it’s life;a dog has to be a dog. But a human being can play with and bring about a huge number of different identities; the one he finally chooses will be determined by neither reason or common sense but by imagination”
Manjubash Sir, who was the Principal of S.N. Vidyabhavan School Chentrappini, where I got the chance to study for a year in 10th standard, as part of their first C.B.S.E batch, is one such soul who has that ability to awaken your imagination and enable you to chose to be an “A”, with his mere presence. I got to meet Sir again after a 10 years hiatus and interact with his current students at Indian Public School, Erode. One of the questions his current students asked me was “what quality in him inspired me the most”. All of us are really lucky if we are able to identify what we really want from life at an early age. In most cases it is not the money, fame or the social standing but a sense of fulfilment that fills up your soul, when you do what you love. Sir starts his day at 3 A.M in the morning and goes on till about 9.30 P.M in the night doing what he is passionate about, demanding excellence from people around him, giving them an “A” and unlocking their imaginations. Making that choice of what kind of person you want to be and building up towards it, not just trusting your instincts but obeying them, believing in the transformative power of stories that we tell ourselves which we eventually become,makes all the difference.
Steve Jobs mentions about his experience of getting fired from Apple “the heaviness of success was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. Less sure about everything” . Likewise when things work out, a certain sense of invincibility sets in till you meet with a humbling experience. This time when I met Manjubash Sir he mentioned that he would not have given me admission, had it not been for the strong recommendation from T.K Sarangadharan Sir (secretary of the trust which owned the school), whom me or my parents did not know personally. But he pulled all strings to convince Manjubash Sir to take me as a test case. I sill don’t know what prompted him to do so and he does not remember an incident which happened 20 years ago. Sometimes the unseen influences in our life are unexplainable , but humbling when you come to know about it and you feel grateful for that soul who gave you an “A” not because of you, but because it is in his nature do so.
Like Mr Zander says “Giving an A” transforms people, transforms relationships
Let us start “Giving an A”
Some experiences linger like jewels in your mouth, they last forever, replenishing and fortifying you. There must have been moments in your life when everything you found so alien, difficult and insurmountable suddenly became effortless and you wondered when did I master this.
Sometimes in life you get that feeling, all the pieces are coming together and you can read into the future, how this is going to pan out, the moment or opportunity you longed for is coming through and all you have to do is just let go. The light that guided you and the unseen forces that made it happen, the work of art, the presence, humbles and fills you with gratitude. The heaviness of success gets replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. You shed a lot of baggage, you feel the wind, the earth, the chirping. You clinged on to the belief that some day this is going to make sense. Some day, the magical touch will come back to your fingers. They will start dancing and the creation will become effortless again. And after a while you suddenly realise, that moment has past. Your spirit is soaring high and you can look inside your looking and realise the interconnected depth your vision has unraveled. You have found the sanctuary within and a spring is emerging, which is going to gently flow through, encompassing, enriching and helping countless seeds to germinate, dream and soar high.
Every single day of your life is a result of the curation that you did in the past,the choices you made, actively taking a life its own, creating a world for you to inhabit
Jerry Maguire, the movie, discusses what truly connects the players with their self. Above the multimillion dollar contracts, celebrity status and attention, it is the love of the game. It is the love of the game and the joy they experience in spending thousands of hours in practice, in perfecting their skills, mastering their art. It is like the “mountain experience” of Moses, Jesus and Muhammed, away from the masses, in solitude, in perfect synchrony with their selves and nature, seeking out the true meaning of their existence. They chose to spend their lives doing that act of joy, above everything else. They may have given up hours of TV, time with friends, family, school , books to chose that act of joy
Vailopplilly, a malayalam poet wrote, like the children who come to get a piece of the magical coloured paper, please don’t come into our lives to cut and take pieces of it with you. But the poet gave away his poems. He was seeking to be left alone in order to create them for humanity. You can call that selfishness, but that selfish motive enabled him to make endless choices, which resulted in sublime poetry. Solitude may be only one among the endless choices he made. Choices are an integral part of turning pro
Apple Revolution is a great read. The story of counter culture enthusiasts and hippies writing the future of the world, Apple’s positioning of its products to resonate with the rebels, people who want to rock the boat and declare themselves different (Think Different Campaign)
The book is not just about Steve. It is about a group of people coming together for a larger than life mission, at times even to negotiate and influence Steve to take the right direction and eventually what started as a counter culture becoming the culture.
It takes you into the details of product development, passionate people, their frustrations and celebrations and an amazing will to transform the world around them.
The art of not accepting life as it is and co-creating the future you want to live in and thus shape yourself and history…the calling all of us have but few listen to.
Today morning listening to TED spoken word fireworks playlist talks of Sarah Kay and Shane Koyzcan, I stumbled upon the thought of making choices again. Society asks you to chose what you want to be at the age of 14 and shape a career path around it. If you say some thing off track like I want to be a monk or I want to travel around the world, society asks you to be realistic and picks an approved choice for you. When you behave according to the norms of the society it gives you the tag of a matured person. If you chose to go by the road less travelled by you are labelled as immature
Now looking back I am pretty sure how unprepared I was to make a choice at the age of 14 and I made the right choice of not choosing. By choosing to study philosophy, I was buying time. When choosing to study something that would land me a livelihood, I was choosing to buy time again till I find the right choice. Over the course of a career also, I was waiting for the project that would consume my heart and soul and leave me wanting more. But during the wait, I kept on adding skills and visions and continued the search, and still do.
At the age of 35 I still can’t say I have made a final choice, but I can say I have a built a brand, a personal brand that people value and trust, a brand that has the promise of challenging the status quo and delivery, a brand that stands for continuous learning, a brand that stands for meaning and depth, a brand with strength of character.
A brand that adores Steve Jobs, Seth Godin, Bernadette Jiwa, Economist, Amazon, TED and Google.
A brand that promises itself, self-renewal every year
A brand that seeks out life changing experiences in any shape or form
A brand that is not afraid to be afraid
A brand that would stay hungry and stay foolish
A brand that is quick at decision making and making it work
A brand that recognises its limitations and collaborates to form a melting pot of possibilities
A brand that enjoys exploring itself for meaning and
A brand that enjoys exploring new markets for itself
George Leonard wrote about learning to love the plateau in his book Mastery.
Every learner goes through a progression followed by a plateau before the next progression.
There is never continuous progression, whether you are playing tennis or learning piano or progressing your career. There is always a plateau, which can be frustrating if you are ambitious.
The whole education system and commercials celebrates the shortest path to glory, very rarely do they celebrate the hours and hours of gruelling practice.