Sunday, January 27, 2013
Look up, Buddy Holly
"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." -- Zig Ziglar
In honor of the occasion of ... nothing, it would be apropos to preface this entire process to which I am trying to commit myself. Instead of offering words of wisdom, why not offer words of... love? I will attempt to post at least once a day, reflecting on a piece of truth. In this fashion, I force myself to revisit my passion for writing, and then unburden myself of whatever it is that is troubling me at the end of each day. Let's see if I a) stay honest even just to myself as to what I am going to say and b) muster enough effort to see if I can actually do this.
I am in a bit of a classic rock mood at the moment, so I raise my glass to that pioneer of guitar-paced rock, Buddy Holly. So here goes.
I can't pretend I'm any smarter than the people who pour forth these words of wisdom, so I'll just offer my take on what these words mean in my context.
First off, I would like to give props to Novak Djokovic for winning his third consecutive Australian Open tennis title. This is the first time a man was able to do this in the Open era.
By no means am I a fan of Nole, but one has to tip the hat to him. He has kept himself consistent, fit, and focused for a long stretch of tennis competition, which in this era has become more highly competitive than ever. Perhaps only Pete Sampras or Roger Federer can claim to the same kind of consistency for a prolonged period of time. Well, there is the brilliance of Rafael Nadal, who has struggled with his fitness over the past three years. More on them.
Federer himself was a brilliant junior player who was little more than an afterthought to the dominance of his Swiss compatriot Martina Hingis exercised during the turn of the millennium. While known as a skilled ball-striker, he failed to take advantage of his natural gifts early on. Two of his contemporaries outstripped him in those days: Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick. The former is hanging on for dear life to stay within the top 100, the latter is already retired. The secrets to his success - a dedication to preparation and a renewed focus and enthusiasm for the game. After finally catching up to Roddick, he took over the number one and stamped his dominance from 2004-08.
He has cracked since then, age and the more able-bodied players chipping away and despite being called washed-up, he has played himself back to relevance.
From this perspective, Rafa is even more impressive, primarily for his precocity and his head-to-head edge over Federer. He started collecting French Open titles from his teens and though he is five years younger, he has collected an impressive string of titles. His intensity on-court makes him beloved among his admirers. I am not one of them - there is something about Rafa's style that puts me off. Nothing personal, just my reaction to them. Furthermore, Nadal's style of play draws more out of him. He is just turning 27 this year, and he has not been competing since August last year. I wish he would recover and get back to his old ways, but it is likely that he would not ascend the same heights, the way already blocked by Djokovic and Andy Murray. Assuming he gets by the other young and younger players, or Federer himself.
There are ways to conduct oneself with attitude - the "take no prisoners" approach, gung-ho and gunning for the win. There is the "for love of the game" way, wherein the result is not as important as the learning process of getting there. There is also the "let's have fun along the way" method, win or lose. Then there's "let's give it our best shot," and still more, "glad to be here." Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the wise person knows how to make the most out of each situation, whether taking on the task by oneself or with the cooperation of others.
It's very unfair for many of us to count success as the result and never the process. Sometimes getting there despite the many obstacles can already be counted as success. Many of my fellow expats belong to this category. They made the most of what they had, and ventured far away to find a more rewarding environment. Still, some are not as sanguine as others, often falling back into bad habits, as if the opportunity afforded them was something that can be easily discarded or thrown away. While it may work for a time to find some way to sugarcoat a difficult situation, being just fine with being here is not going to cut it. Oftentimes, this kind of attitude will swing over to bitterness of letting so many opportunities go past.
It's important to keep on going, keep on giving our best shot, and while we not win for the time being, just staying in the game is enough. Showing up even if it's not our best day is sometimes better than not showing up at all. We are here, so...
Winning at all costs is an ambivalent issue for me. In certain types of competition, it is essential to finish the job of winning first, and then the manner of handling the winning can be contemplated. In questions of survival, sometimes this kind of winning is essential. Stamping out opposition in setting the table in a new organization or environment would at times require setting new agenda, and those who cannot buy in should be expunged. It may not be the best thing right there and then, but it is a kindness to the others who stay that whoever's in charge means business.
Keeping a brave front in the face of insurmountable is also a function of the leader. If the boss man expresses doubts in front of his troops they are cooked. Stick a fork in them, because they are done. It is just a matter whether he wants them to go down with him or if he has the sense to sacrifice himself and go down in flames.
It's on a personal level that ultracompetitiveness has some of its pitfalls. Ambition is always a good thing, but at times hiding it or masking it does more help. I had my share of dealing with colleagues and team members who were like Energizer bunnies. Yeah, let's get this done! Choo, choo, here comes the train! Yeah, I'm done with my project! I'm in front with my workload! I'm getting in close with the boss! Woot! woot! I'm fine with that, especially if they can back up their attitude that they are actually getting things done. The stick that swings hard and hits often should be tough enough or else it is broken in half. We need more people like this.
On a personal preference, subtlety, not honesty, works best. No one hardly scores waving around a machine gun. But a small pistol carefully hidden will do the trick. The only downer to this is if I were the stated target of my colleague and he/she will do anything, including using my personal disclosures, for gain. Lack of remorse + ultracompetitveness = betrayals.
At this stage of my career, I'm more of a "for love of the game" kind of person. I've been around the block several times to know my limitations as an individual contributor or performer. I am now more interested in the process of getting others to appreciate the work, and to learn from it. Sure, achieving more goals and articulating a strong vision are part and parcel of this, but I am more concerned about the ability of my team members to develop and sustain themselves.
Right now I'd like them to be more adaptable, learn new skills, and gain more ownership over the work. And it helps my process in growing along with them. In the end, the quality of our contributions will boost our stock in the organization. In the worst-case scenario and we all have to jump ship, our preparation will keep us competitive in the job market. May that day prove to be far away.