This was and is a season of anticipation, sudden increase in competition manifold, the final year and penultimate semester of Bachelors in Engineering. The campus recruitment fever was all dressed up to set itself on the campus soon with some people already having faced and emerging successfully out of the rather unpredictable process- GETTING RECRUITED.
To put it simply, it was a time where most things that seemed to be will not be. People on whom great expectations are placed may falter and rather those who seem to be the least of competition may prevail. Just accomplishments and reputation were not going to get anyone anywhere. This is exactly the time of the year that I discovered two things
1) The pattern of events that lead to one doing pretty well
2) The pattern of events that lead me to either “Good performance” or “Utter failure”
Both of what I discovered did not seem to be too well the news for me. I would have rather not noticed if it was not for the 296 page in-genius best-seller by Malcolm Gladwell- Blink.
“Why is the why” and “Who’s the who of what”
The only one who is capable of stopping you is – YOU
This year was a challenge to most of us for the simple reason that we did not have “Many options to choose from”. You could hit bull’s eye on a target you didn’t want to call yours and you may stage a flop in a place where you badly wanted to do well. Expertise, experience and skills were one set of things. There were other factors that played important cards on your life’s course here-
1 Ability to make quick and right choices
2)Ability to juggle different work under pressure
3)Ability to keep eyes and ears open and pick the “RIGHT FIT” for you
4)Ability to perform well no matter what.
There was one person whom I knew , whom I’d call “NK”, he seemed to me the only one doing all these things well. You ask him and he always shook his head saying “I am not doing much”. He handles praise well. Ok. Humble. Ok. But what would account for a consistently high graph and a very social nature with a sense of humor that would not put him under the don’t- touch- me- I’m the serious guy– category?
One explanation is that he sets really high standards for his work. But that does not explain his very social nature and never quenching thirst for doing things without over doing them and without making it look like he was doing big. The thing that draws people to attention is this one and only attribute that I felt was praise-worthy– the ability TO NOT let HIS SURROUNDINGS AFFECT HIM-BADLY.
Peer Pressure, as author Malcolm Gladwell puts is a big factor when compared to hierarchical pressure. All of us know what these are- time management, multi-tasking ability, art of saying no, balancing rest and work, aptitude to solve real world problems, negotiating, believing in self, making and keeping contacts. We all know it is important to keep our cupboard organized and files in specific folders, we all know overloading our phones with data can prove disadvantageous at times of emergency . But how many of us can actually put doing the right things in real practice? How many of us can say “these individual unique practices are addends to my success?” . But these are the tiniest habits or bunches of them in which the successful person becomes a step ahead of the ordinary man.
Every successful entrepreneur or techie or writer would have a habit they would follow/practice even if they were the only person on the face of the planet to do so. It’s The ability to find out what works for you and stick with the habit despite pressure-be it peer or hierarchical. But how all can you be under peer pressure?
1) Pressure of being too scrutinized and observed-negative feedback
2) Pressure of being expected a lot from-positive feedback
Failure has not spoiled men as much as success has.
What did I find wrong with me?
1) 2013, Training session, Seminar hall, A company I’d call RP, Mock Group Discussion.
Trainer calls me to the stage with cushion chairs set in a semi-circle expecting I’d do well because she liked that I dressed modest and formal and was also listening to her raptly. A feel good signal goes across my head, the kind of high you get when someone trusts your ability and I know I normally gather verbal data and present forth without a problem. I walk forward and find a seat. Topic- rather-very- simple- ‘Broiler chicken vs organic chicken’. She says “start” with the microphone in hand and steps back dramatically. I was supposed to start. The hall was not full. No scary people. Lots of friends there. Yet with a mild opening and few lines -I faltered . I suddenly became cautious that many eyes were on me. My own voice echoes in drowned itself in the new lines I spoke. My perception of space increased- the hall looked bigger, heartbeat rose. I was listening to others raptly but I could not come up with words. I was rather taken by the shock that I could not think well. The trainer “Ms J” later said it was because most of our hands lacked “animosity” so we did not sync well with words and became nervous.
But I knew it was more than just that –it was a mix of factors that scared me. I did not know what. To somebody to face an interview soon that was not bad luck-it means Disaster.
2) 2015, Final year, Final installment, My classroom, a company I’d dub “Favorite” ,Mock Group Discussion.
Trainer says “Now time for GD, bring armed plastic chairs”. He says, “Volunteer and come forward, I’m not going to force you”. A few of us look at each other, signal “Let’s go” and walk forth. Everything seems fine. Mildly nervous. All positioned. Everyone looks okay.Simplest of topics – “Effect of Cinema on today’s (Indian) youth”. Something chilly runs down my spine when I begin counting seconds to the start. Everyone scribbles down points. I’m not able to. Something tells me I can speak in the moment. Trainer says “Start” and moves away without scaring us. Somebody has to start. Seconds running by. I do. In the first few words that I speak, I discover to my shock that my voice is in the wrong pitch- the low tone that is not supposed to be. Same story in the past repeats.
I was told the reason was I was conscious of being watched. Yes. May be. I knew it was more than just that. This time losing all faith of figuring it out on time.
Did I ever do well?
Yes. I was not a veteran. But I had been on stage several times since childhood, made critical announcements, presented and left stage with people smiling at me. This is the problem with success, it leaves no room for retrospection. You pride yourself, you say, you practiced well, you say you were lucky. The truth may be entirely different. Nothing can make you dumber than fail at the very things you once prided yourself at. But let’s not get emotional. Let’s get to the details. Like I said, it was “Blink” the book that opened my mind to rather less-noticed but powerful factors- the subconscious and unconscious.
When did I do well?-
When did the perception of space, the vulnerability of going blank not undermine the time I did well? -When I was subconsciously motivated by the following.
1) Thinking I was doing this for the first time and hence it is very important to me
2) Desire for expression- “They have to hear me out and I will make them”
3)No time to draw comparisons- “I don’t care who is better than me and who is not”
4) Not conscious of expectations- “I don’t remember what others think or say of me”
Trying to be over-good at the first start
.Expectation- an image- a reputation you already have can dangerously undermine you at the wrong time. Not just the expectation others have about you but the high expectations and dramatic performances YOU expect of yourself .It prevents you to see things differently and puts your mind into a rehearsed stereotyped mode. It fails to weigh the dangers and make you analyze the arena. It makes you think, “Its just one of the many things I know well, I can’t possibly go wrong”. When you go into field thinking you are first-timer, you inevitably bring all your resources to conscious focus. You become alert. Alert in making you analyze the subtle details that form the frame-work of your delivery. Again, ALERT-not nervous.
To naturally do well without much practice we must let the subconscious and conscious to be conditioned to “fit” in the role you are playing. There are two ways-an algorithm of do’s and don’ts– You must know why you are there instead of someone else, what you have to convey, whom you are conveying to, what would be the expectations of those hearing you out, how you can convince them that you are fairly right. You must be able to be present in the moment and be conscious of “what you are saying” rather than “who is watching what about me”. This algorithm of “what to do” clearly was not present at those moments that I failed. I had a biased clouded judgment that I would do well because I had, before.
The other way is the NK way and powerful it may seem, not everyone can put it into practice.- Focus on the bigger picture
Why do we place high expectations of the self?
We bite off more than we can chew because we think we must. This happens when there is sudden great prospect of success and lots to choose from, that we feel lost even one opportunity slips by. For instance say– I live rather unnoticed for a long time. I decide to do something fine and gather skill, opportunity comes, another opportunity comes, I suddenly involve myself in lots of projects and obviously expectations are placed on me.-in results . Hence I place even greater expectations on myself –in efforts so I can put up with the first set of expectations. I face peer influence because I am suddenly working with lots of people.- people whom I have to convince that I am good at things, people whom I have to convince that I can work well with. Hence now I have two sets of expectations and two sets of people to convince that my natural-but averagely good working mode is rather buried. That is the foundation of all my good work. Now how do I do “really good work” when I have forgotten how to do “work”?. Bigger prospects can rain success or spell disaster.
Why to play natural?
To play natural means to play by what methods that work well for you. Anything learnt new may or may not let you down. But what methods have already worked for you are already in your conscious, subconscious or even the unconscious aspects of your mind. They offer backup. When bigger opportunity comes a Tennis star can’t forget Tennis and completely immerse himself only in Product promotion. That is highly unlikely but forgetting your own roots, not admitting what you are bad at and becoming something you are not will not make you any better. It is like throwing away your degree(with all the good and bad) and starting up with something new all over again. Remember to love yourself with all the flaws and embarrassments you had. They are things only you can put to good use. I didn’t play natural there, I suddenly wanted to “Prove myself”- Did I?- Not at all.
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes
What goes on with nervous people?
How did my friend NK perform in the similar GD situations? NK is motivated by the “Bigger Picture”. While I sit here reverse engineering the entire performance aspects, he would rather see the Group Discussion as- A TICKET -“ I need to do this well, so I can get where I want”- SIMPLE. That reduces the anxiety of performing and puts it practical and straight- JUST GIVE YOUR BEST IN THE MOMENT. We, as kids would do things when motivated by incentives or “rewards”. He saw career as a REWARD for whatever he did now. He was not analyzing something too much that did not need analysis. So whether he did five things or ten things, all of them were tailored towards THE LARGER GOAL. The Bigger Picture. This would help you prioritize everything that you do. Once he hit a hot streak, he kept up with it. Nervous people(like me) would sit basking in the newfound light and miss consequent opportunity. If there were setbacks the NK kind would change route but not the destination. They keep things simple.
The socializing and balance between rest and work?- Goes into WORK mode when WORKING, NORMAL mode when work is done. This is not too hard if you are not pushing yourself hard in every direction. He takes heuristic decisions and does not wait too long to make a quick jump where necessary. Why do we wait too long then?- Because we wait for the perfect opportunity/ solution that never comes. We become a bit too scared of the consequences that we do not generate results at all. We are all too scared of the unknown. So we pick exactly what people around us pick. We are afraid of risks. People like NK are afraid of the unknown too, but they plunge forward to face it. We try avoiding the unknown.
Peer pressure- the problem of generalization
Everyone in your life who give you pressure face peer pressure themselves. Even the grinning ,over-confident kind. The Pareto rule being 80% of your happiness comes from 20% of the people in your life- we give too much importance on the remaining 80% insignificant people in our lives imagining and worrying about what goes on in their minds about us. There are people who just cross our day once and make a lasting bad impression. We get stuck with that. We forget the remaining 20% important people. We generalize that the world is a bad place. We drain our own energy. We imagine and hypothesize what we don’t know. We get trapped in their “opinions” which we imagined ourselves. We think people think too well of us-though we don’t know that and try fitting into the peer expectation than focusing on the job at hand.
All those times that I failed, I was living in the minds of everyone else except my own. I betrayed my own mind that needed attention so it could tell me what it knew- be it about Broiler chicken or the effect Cinema had on youth. When my mind finally took my focus back to itself, it took a few seconds to analyse the vast space and the seat I was in, the silence rushed in more adrenalin with heart rate up. Normal thinking – now scrambled. The 20% time of willful thinking that would affect 80% of my performance was then drowned in adrenalin rush. I knew I was done.
The same can be generalized for a good work- rest balance. 80% of the results come from 20% of your work. This helps greatly when studying. 80% of the answer is contained in 20% of the studying material given and if you master that pattern- you understand the lot. (This cannot be generalized to exams though).
It’s the few of our choices that lay foundation to bigger results of our lives. The challenge is usually to find which is the which and who’s the who, sometimes we need deeper analyses , when the details given are lesser to us. And sometimes (As in Blink, Malcolm Gladwell) , when you have to process lots of information to make a decision, going through all of it and making an instinctive decision often works best. Sometimes we fail in picking out the 20% side of the Pareto rule by drowning in over expectation of the self, peer pressure and not being yourself like what I did. And I’d never want to do it again, ever.