Endurance

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Photo Credit: rebekah.campbell via Compfight cc

A colleague recently told me of how badly his last one year had gone. He summarized it saying “I did so much in the last 12 months, that I can’t even talk about what I did anymore”.

It wasn’t that he didn’t do anything worthwhile – rather, he’d tried his best to save a project that was going haywire, and had stuck on despite adversities of all kinds and amidst colleagues who were quitting because they couldn’t handle the stress. His problem was that whatever he’d done in the last year weren’t his real responsibilities. He’d done whatever came across his table because there were many people who relied on him and he believed he had to plug the leaks in a sinking boat.

As I heard him out, a word crossed my mind: Endurance. And for a few moments, I wondered if I had the mettle to go through what he had, and whether I’d have survived like he did.

So yes, the year had been stressful for him and he’d probably hated each minute of doing what he didn’t want to do but had to. He also probably couldn’t put any concrete learning on his resume because it was difficult to articulate the situation, and a lot of what he did eventually to save it, didn’t gel with the rest of his profile.

Besides, “key expertise in fire-fighting” doesn’t look quite good on an IT resume :|.

But (I think) he could probably discover the benefits of the experience much later, provided he acknowledged it – acknowledged and understood that he had, over the year of immense stress, built his capacity to endure.

Life throws us a lot of opportunities to build aspects of ourselves. I often relate this process to constructing a building. We’re busy constructing the building that is us and while we’re at it, it helps to consciously take time to build in favorable characteristics into our structure – characteristics such as reliability, sturdiness, capability to weather difficult climes and (obviously) a rock-solid foundation.

A while ago, I wrote about the Patience Muscle. Endurance is an organ.

You create it over time through adversities and it becomes part of your body. And once it is in you, you can acknowledge it’s presence and breathe through difficult times.

Because you know you’ve been through worse and you’ve come out through it and you have survived. Because your endurance organ stretches and scales. And because your first baby steps in enduring and developing endurance will eventually help you sprint up the steepest slopes.

We’re all familiar with physical endurance and that physical capacity building develops mental endurance.

However, I also think it is important to look at experiences in life as building your mental and emotional endurance, even if they are just thrown at you and you react badly and flail and see yourself as an utter failure. Infact, I would think it is also important to seek out experiences that build emotional endurance, accept that it’s a work in progress and therefore, never give up or believe that it’s all a waste of time and energy.

You see, the thing with emotional endurance is that it surprises you with its ability to pop out in circumstances that you were not expecting it to make an appearance. It hones your skill in getting back to your feet after suffering a beating – you’re not just lying pulverized on the ground. There’s a certain power that gets attached to your intent, and that forges through your attitude, appearance and words.

Endurance shows. Endurance makes people rely on you. And it makes you rely on yourself.

So build it. And while you are at it, have fun :).

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Uniqueness

Uniqueness

Recently I happened to read some part of a talk given by Mr.Narayana Murthy, and linked it with something told to me by a top manager in my organization. Put together, it gave me some thoughts to ponder on, early today morning…

Here’s the gist of Mr.Murthy’s talk:

A team put together to execute any good idea should have members whose skills are mutually exclusive and at the same time is collectively exhaustive.

This is what the manager (in my organization) had to say:

If you are managing a team, and you have in your team a person who can do exactly the same work as you, then either of you is redundant.

Both are quite thought-provoking. In fact, the second one applies not just to managers, but to every team member. I believe that within a team, each team member should ideally contribute in his/her unique way, to his/her fullest capability. And no team member is an ideal and complete substitute for another; If he/she is, then that obviously means that at a time, only one of them is needed, and the other is a redundant resource.

Sometimes, I think the need for creativity and uniqueness in work, gets lost, as we scamper behind business, money and marketing. The need for each individual in a team to be a “unique contributor” is often undermined (Of course, needless to say that the unique contribution should be valuable and something that could make a difference), and people work mindlessly on tasks assigned to them, without putting their stamp of individuality on it.

Very often during our technical meetings in office, I have always been amazed at how each problem/solution evokes different responses from different people. While I have a very methodical approach to problems, and can chart out available aspects like jigsaw pieces and sew them together in my mind, another colleague of mine has an “attack” approach. He doesn’t try to spread out the existing information on the problem, but instead sees angles about it that the rest of us might not even have thought about, and attacks the problem by asking questions on those angles. And although some questions of his may not be relevant/may have an answer that a person like me can provide, there are always some questions of his which open up new dimensions that may not have been apparent till then. The approach he possesses is something which I can never gain completely, because it comes naturally to him, and is part of his own uniqueness. Similarly, I’ve often found that most people cannot chart out problems, and be able to visualize pieces of the puzzle falling together to form a solution as I can. And that is probably part of my uniqueness. Individually, my colleague and I contribute effectively to a team and are mutually exclusive, since neither can cultivate the other’s expertise.

It is important to know your area of expertise, know what your strengths are, and learn to polish and utilize them, to the best of one’s ability. It is equally important to recognize someone else’s strengths, and encourage them to polish it for effective utilization within a team. I believe the first is for any team member, and the second for any manager.

When, within a team, each member contributes in the way he/she knows best as an individual, works well with peer strategies and learns to interpret/bring out creative ideas, and when the manager of the team knows how to moderate within the team, utilize each individual according to their uniqueness while contributing with his/her experience and ideas, we have the ideal team environment.

I’ve stressed this out as the “ideal” team environment because in the real-world, concepts of “ideal” and “perfect” are relative, and never completely achievable. However, I do believe they are not impossible and can be achieved to some extent of perfection.

Strategies implemented at the individual level, extend to a team, which then extends to groups of teams and finally extends out to the entire organization – this directly implies that implementing strategies on an individual level can be finally extended to become a process for an organization, and with established processes, you get repeated success. And with the right kind of management models, correct and repetitive efforts and the right influences, successful teams coming out with creative,innovative ideas, and effective solutions to most problems, is no longer a dream.

The bottomline however is the individual. We must remember to be identify and utilize our uniqueness to the best of our ability. This also means putting in the right amount of hard work and being dedicated enough to ensure that everything you do has your individual stamp on it. Shun mediocrity, and start evaluating your own contribution to each moment you live in this world – it vindicates our run for the known parameters of success (money, fame) and makes every reward well-deserved. And more than applause or materialistic rewards, I think creativity/uniqueness comes with its own kind of reward – self satisfaction. There’s never a bigger reward than the satisfaction in a job well done.