I Failed..?

As a kid, I was never really among those who would suffer from stage fright or public speaking. Rather, I was one of those who would go to the microphone and bare my heart out, speak really fast and in a pitch as high as possible. (That’s when I was advised to stand a few meters away from the mike 😉 ) As I grew older with a sense of self-awareness, I became more confident about my public speaking skills and really looked forward to such opportunities in school. A trait that came in very handy during my business management (MBA) days in countless presentations and till today.

Notwithstanding, even I have had my share of embarrassments and bad days in oration and elocution. At one of such instances, I had prepared well in advance for a debate contest in school. I had gone through my points and remembered my lines by heart. All my supporters – friends and some teachers – were rooting for me (Yeah! I was quite popular back then). There was no way that I could let them down and more importantly, it was a matter of pride for myself, as well. On the big day, I found myself unusually nervous about the whole thing, given the fact that it was not my first time and I had faced such occasions multiple times. I thought may be the pressure is more because of the expectations and the big event. Now when I look back at the incident, I think that I expected a lot from myself at that time. The final day came and I found myself forgetting my points and fumbling while practicing my lines, and the last take was an absolute disaster. In front of the mike, I totally freaked out seeing the huge crowd, forgot my lines, stood for nearly five minutes totally blank and just could not believe this was happening to me because I had worked too hard on it. Somehow I finished my speech and came back. Suddenly, to me it seemed like the whole world was crashing upon me. That was one of my first rendezvous with FAILURE.. and I knew what failure tasted like.

Few weeks back I was reading an article titled “The Art of Failure” in the Newyorker by the very famous Malcolm Gladwell, wherein he describes two types of failure.

Choking is a type of failure caused when pressure and situation gets the better off a person and he/she simply freaks out on account of worrying too much about his/her performance. This generally happens to people who are a pro at what they do or atleast have enough experience to know the basic rules of the game, and the particular situation is considered a big one by the performer. For instance, sporting events where huge crowds gather to witness the matches and watch every movement of their favorite players. Many performing players can just freak out due to pressure and underperform.

Panic is something else altogether. Panic is when an individual fails to perform under a given situation due to lack of sufficient prior experience of such instances. Such a person may be aware of all the rules but fails to apply them due to lack of experience.

Choking is a central part of the drama of athletic competition, because the spectators have to be there—and the ability to overcome the pressure of the spectators is part of what it means to be a champion . But the same ruthless inflexibility need not govern the rest of our lives. We have to learn that sometimes a poor performance reflects not the innate ability of the performer but the complexion of the audience; and that sometimes a poor test score is the sign not of a poor student but of a good one.

Panic, in this sense, is the opposite of choking. Choking is about thinking too much . Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about loss of instinct Panic is reversion to instinct. They may look the same, but they are worlds apart. People who choke fail because they are good at what they do: only those who care about how well they perform ever feel the pressure of stereotype threat. ~ Malcolm Gladwell

As they say, “Nothing is impossible” and it requires strong willpower and determination to over come any type of failure – choking or panicking. In the movie Top Gun a choking-like situation occurs with Tom Cruise’s character “Maverick” after he loses his co-pilot and best friend in an accident and succumbs to pressure everytime he flies again afterwards due to the guilt of not being able to save his friend. It takes him quite a while to regain and restore his self-confidence. Even in day-to-day news we encounter choking-like instances of sportsperson who would just buckle under pressure of the event, scared due to the crowd.

In one of his recent best selling books “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell describes how even the extraneous factors – like place of birth, decade of birth, surrounding situations and people, etc. – are sometimes responsible for the success or failure of a person. A very simple and plain example to clarify this point – students all around the world finishing their graduation or post graduation before the recession (i.e. the boom years 2005-2008) had better chances of getting jobs than those finishing their courses post recession (2009-2010). At times no matter howsoever hard you work, failure becomes simply inevitable due to the uncontrollable forces.

Not undermining the significance of hard work but the next time you think of someone as a loser and yourself as more successful, do keep in mind whether the situations around that person are to blame, or just that you have been plain lucky!

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