The value of failures

August 29, 2019

In my previous post – The barriers that hold you up are not real – I had stressed that we should not get discouraged by failures.

Failures actually teach valuable lessons. The only problem is that we don’t realize them until much later.

“Don’t read success stories, you will only get a message. Read failure stories, you will get some ideas for success – Dr APJ Abdul Kalaam.

When I think about my own failures (and there are plenty of them!), I can draw the following three lessons:

1. I had tried but not hard enough:

Introspecting now I think in most cases my own effort should have been better. There are a number of aspects that contribute to success and we need to work on all of them. At times, our effort looks good but there are some loose ends. Therefore, be honest to yourself. Try to understand what was lacking in your effort and next time go ahead full stream.

2. I did not seek help as much as I should have:

If you try to solve all issues yourself, it may not be possible or it will just take too much of time and effort. Seeking help makes it easier but most of us are too shy to reach out to others for help. Asking for help should be a mantra for life. It could just be an advice from someone you trust.

3. I did not invest enough in myself:

We are all gifted with some talent or skills. If we identify them early and develop them further, we can achieve a lot. What complicates the matter further is that we are often reminded of what is lacking in us rather that what we are good at. We need to identify our hidden skills talents or hobbies. We should invest our time and resources in nurturing them. We are more likely to put in our best effort and get success if we pursue a dream that allows us to use our inherent talent and is something that is of interest to us.

The above three are my own lessons. True, they may not go with everyone. The point being made is that we all should learn from our failures.

Having said this, I would like to reiterate that we should learn from failures but should not get discouraged by them. They are part of life. Our passion for success should be so strong that it reduces the pain and disappointment that come with failures.

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The barriers that hold you up are not real

July 30, 2019

A marine biologist once did an experiment. She placed a shark into a tank and then released several small bait fish into the tank. The shark attacked the smaller fish and ate them.

The biologist then inserted a strong piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate partitions. She put the shark on one side of the fiberglass and a new set of bait fish on the other.
Again, the shark quickly attacked. This time, however, the shark slammed into the fiberglass divider and bounced off. Undeterred, the shark kept on trying but could not go up to the bait fish due to the divider between them. The bait fish swam around unharmed in the second partition. Eventually, after some time the shark gave up.
The biologist repeated the experiment a few times. Each times the stark tried to hit, got tired after a few unsuccessful attempts of hitting at the fiberglass and gave up. The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass divider and was surprised. The shark did not attack at all.

Why? The shark was trained to believe that a barrier existed between it and the bait fish.

The message is clear: the barriers that hold us up are not real!
We give up our efforts assuming the obstacles and barriers that stopped us earlier still exist, even when they have disappeared. Even if they exist or resurface in another form, with careful planning a never give up attitude, we can find a way to overcome them.

This is also a good example of the law of attraction. If you think of barriers, you will face barriers in your path to success. But if you only think of achieving your goal, you will be able to overcome any obstacles real or unreal. Don’t get discouraged with the failures and obstacles you face. Tell yourself repeatedly that you are moving towards your goal.


Three qualities of a leader

June 29, 2018

Some soldiers were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success. Their leader was standing simply watching as his men struggled. A rider passed by and asked him why he was not helping. He said, “I am the corporal. I give orders.” The rider went up and helped the soldiers lift the wood. With his help, the task was accomplished.

The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief. He quietly mounted his horse, went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”

The story brings us to three key characteristics of great leaders.

Leaders take actions: They don’t wait. They don’t just talk or order. The join their team whenever they feel the need. Imagine the morale of the team when its leader joins the team members and works with them to achieve something.

Leaders optimize resources: Leaders make the most of the resources – time, finances and human beings – that they have at their disposal. They keep an eye on all the three. Leaders are excellent managers in this sense. A leader has to be a good manager though the reverse is not necessarily true.

Leaders Inspire: This is the most important quality of leaders. They inspire people/teams with their vision, commitment and actions. Leaders trust their team members/followers. Their communication is inspirational too. They don’t just discuss ‘what’ is to be done, they discuss ‘why’ it is to be done and what ‘impact’ it would bring in. People give out their best when they know that their individual effort is linked to a bigger goal.

Ken Blanchard sums it well, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”


Three ways to developing patience

May 30, 2018

A young Japanese man wanted to learn martial art. He went to the best teacher of the time. Meeting the teacher he asked, “how long must I study in order to become the best in martial arts?” The teacher said a minimum of ten years. The young man thought it was too long. So he asked the teacher, “What if I studied twice as hard as everyone else? How long would it take then?” the teacher said, “twenty years.” Running out of patience, he asked again, “What if I worked day and night with all my effort, how long would it take then?” “Thirty years,” was the teacher’s response.

The young man got confused and asked, “ How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the teacher responded, “The answer is simple. With one eye focused on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

I shared the above well-known story to expand on the profound response of the teacher that actually tells us why we don’t patiently pursue our dreams. We want to achieve results quickly and that dilutes the focus on efforts.

Patience is the ability to accept delays, obstacles or challenges without getting annoyed or disappointed and persevering with the effort to achieve the goals.

How can we develop patience?

Identify the situations which make you impatient
It could be anything like prayers not being answered, efforts not yielding the desired results, delays in flights, being stuck in a traffic jam, delay in food being served in a restaurant etc. Identify the situations in which you normally lose your patience.

Recall how you behaved in some of these situations
Reflect on your impatient behaviour in different situations. And, then think of the outcome of that behaviour. You might regret your instant reaction out of anger, frustration etc. This realization would prepare you to respond differently next time such a situation arises.

Anticipate delays and challenges
Things don’t always go as planned. There are unforeseen situations or some other facts that can cause delays and irritate you. It will be good to think ahead and plan for at least those factors that you can think of. For example, while learning a new skill, tell yourself repeatedly that everything is difficult before it is easy. For avoiding traffic jams, see if you can factor in some extra time in your schedule.

Patience is key to success. It is an attitude that we all must develop. Problems of life are like the red light on a traffic signal. If we wait, light becomes green. Let’s learn to wait.


Find relevance in your work

May 28, 2017

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, in his book — Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike — shares some invaluable insights on success.

Knight’s first job was to sell encyclopaedias. He did not have much success. His second job was to sell securities. He did not do well here either. Just when he was beginning to lose faith in his ability as a sale person, he set up Nike and started selling shoes. According to Phil Knight, he succeeded this time because he was selling a product he believed in, and liked.

Knight had been an athlete on his college team. He loved running. He knew how important a good pair of shoes was to a runner. This made him a credible shoe salesman, and the rest is history.

Knight’s personal life story reinforces the point that secret of success lies in doing what you like doing. Knight was not failing as a salesman, he was just not selling the products that he was interested in, or had the passion for. The moment he got to sell shoes, he excelled.

Everyone is not as fortunate as Knight to find a job or a career of his liking, though it is worth trying. Not everyone is daring enough to make a career transition either.  As a result, there are people who have the aptitude for selling shoes remain stuck in selling shampoos. They struggle to deliver the results and don’t reach their peak. And, this affects their self-esteem.

No one likes all aspects of his/her work. We have only two choices: Either dare to change or find relevance in the work we do. Finding relevance means we should see the connection of our work with a higher level goal. Pursuing a worthwhile goal most often gets the best out of us.

In one of my earlier posts – Managing Self-Esteem at Work – I had made a few suggestions. Contentment comes in finding relevance in things we do; and in pursuing goals that give a sense of satisfaction. Since Knight had been an athlete himself, he did not just sell shoes, he believed in making shoes that would help sportsperson achieve their dream. This led him to constantly work on improving the design and features of his products.


Ideas that help in achieving a goal:

April 29, 2017

I have a friend who runs for 5 kilometres a day, seven days a week. Weather does not affect his schedule. It may be too cold, too hot, raining or snowing, he finds a way to go out and run. And, he has been doing it for 23 years.

People like him who strictly follow a schedule to achieve their goal are few. We see a much larger number who start something and then give up. Drop out rates in gym and fitness centres, hobby courses, sport and training courses are always high.

Why is it that some people follow a plan of action and achieve their goals but most don’t?

I asked my friend what keeps him going. His answer was simple, “I enjoy it and actually look forward to running every day.” This sounds too simplistic but if you think it is a profound idea. If we are pursuing something that we look forward to doing, we are more likely to do it. For example, in a weight loss programme, there are several options. A person who likes to socialize will not enjoy running alone on a treadmill. He might be better off playing a sport of his choice, walking with a friend, and doing other group activities.

Most of the physical activity programmes fail because their goals are too ambitious. They are often results-oriented rather that task-oriented. When expected results are not achieved, people get frustrated and give up. In my view, ‘walking 10,000 steps in a day’ is far better than setting a goal of ‘losing 3 kilograms in a month.’

A key point that we often miss is that every success comes after a long process of continued failures in our chosen path. Short and task-specific goal like walking 10,000 steps a day is better in this context as well. It reduces the chances of failures. Even if you do less on a few days, it does not matter. You don’t feel the same sense of failure as you would if you had set yourself a goal of losing 3 kilos in a month.

The final point: we should not allow ourselves exceptions and excuses like not finding time, having too much of work etc. I worked with a consultant recently. We had an important meeting to prepare for and worked till 11 in the night. When we finished and I was looking forward to go to sleep, he told me was going to the gym because he did not want to miss his workout. That should be the spirit.


New Year Resolution: Do make one!

December 29, 2016

The countdown to 2017 has begun. It is time to wish each other a happy new year; and make resolutions.

Making New Year Resolutions is an ancient tradition. Ancient Romans used to begin each year by making promises to Janus – the God after whom the month of January is named. Over time the concept evolved and the resolutions moved into the mould of self-improvement. Now, we find them in the arena of enhancing knowledge or skills (like learning a musical instrument, a new language etc.); doing things for family/improving relationships (like going on a family trip, spending time with children/parents, forgiving someone); and taking care of health (like quitting smoking, going for exercise to loose weight) etc.

A 2007 study from University of Boston found that 88% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions fail. Top two reasons for this are: setting unrealistic goals; and not keeping track of the progress.

Why should one make New Year’s Resolutions when they are more likely to fail?

The fear of failure should not stop us. There is an inherent element of failure in all plans. Isn’t it? A successful person is the one who sets realistic goals, makes plans to achieve them and executes them as best as possible. So, go head and do make a New Year’s Resolution for 2017. Instead of being overwhelmed by the majority, get inspiration from the 12% people who did succeed in achieving what they had resolved to do. Be with the achievers.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-10-01-41Make a new beginning. Don’t let the failures of past affect your determination to succeed. Forgive those how have hurt you. Forgiveness will not only improve relationships, it will free you of bitterness and negativity and you will be able to pursue your dreams with full energy.

I wish all a very happy and successful 2017. May it open new doors for you and bring peace in the world.