Getting up at 5 am on a Saturday and in front of the laptop without even the customary cup of coffee? The wife was startled and wondered what’s gotten to me. That, I would learn for myself a few hours later, as I finished authoring a detailed analysis of the project situation along with some suggestions to mitigate risks. When I pressed the Send button, the email carried more than just the slide deck I had attached. It also took away the residual feeling of something I struggled to put into words the whole night: Why did these guys exclude me from recent discussions?
We all face situations where we have been left out. What we do in those situations determine who we really are. It tampers with our ego, causes a bit of anger and we take offence. Whether we are part of a team that builds a space ship or if we are jockeys racing horses, or simply playing a game together, sometimes the ingredient that stimulates us to produce an inspiring result is not the respect, trust, or love from others. It just might be an ounce of insult passed on to our side of the table.
Recently my (now “ex”) tennis doubles partner asked me to consider not turning up for the finals we were going to play in a level three tournament in a modest club in our small city. That way he can partner with a reserve player to increase the chance of winning. (The irony was lost on him that I beat him in a singles match just the previous night). I didn’t go and I still don’t know whether they won. But I knew that was the end of that strange “friendship”. Have I become more serious about tennis? Oh boy! I began playing more often and I even try that single-handed cross-court backhand shot once in a while, forgetting I’m still an amateur who is yet to learn how not to dance while hitting the ball.
I am not a saint, though. And this has to come out of the system today: I did contribute to someone becoming an inspired table tennis player many years ago by means of my disrespectful behaviour.
At the end of a relaxed day at work in the Hyderabad office, I was busy playing a game with another colleague. I didn’t pay attention to my friend as he appeared near the table. He was still learning to hold the racket and here I was already able to move the ping pong ball across the net. My colleague and I continued to play games without giving a chance to my friend who waited for an hour in vain. Six months later he surprised (shocked!) me by beating the blues out of me. And sixteen years later he is still a friend (I hope).
Getting rejected is an awful feeling. Not being given a chance is criminal. Alas, nature does that all the time. It also teaches us how to thrive.
As a year 10 student, with my eyes looking at an unknown future (I was caught looking outside the window regularly), I was intrigued by this question posed by our class teacher: what do we want to do next?. “I want to prepare for the IIT entrance exams” (the premier engineering institution in India). It was not the laughter from my class mates that put me down. The teacher’s discouraging words: “Son, I don’t think you can do it” pushed me down but only momentarily. Two years later, I eventually failed to get into IIT. But those two thousand hours I spent preparing for that exam, prepared me for the future. In the end, the good old man’s words only increased my appetite to aspire.
In the climax of the film Seabiscuit (name of the horse), the jockey is on his most important race of his career. The horse and the jockey are injured. They needed more than mere motivation to win. Then he comes with this trick: he asks his friend who is another racer to help by bringing his horse close to Seabiscuit during the race; close enough to tease and “give a look” at Seabiscuit in his eye. Those few seconds were just enough for the trailing Seabiscuit to get spurred and race to victory.
We all need a kick in the back once in a while. It is a cliché but it sounds nice in this context: when you fall you better try to fall forward. We don’t know why we react the way we do when we are pushed. We cannot describe much in words or convince our loved ones. We choose and avoid some of the battles. But the scars choose us and we remember. We then do the only thing that makes sense when slighted or insulted.