Monday, June 18, 2012

Rejected speech from Toastmasters Ice breaker

This was supposed to a humorous speech, but ultimately thought it was too dark and pessimist.

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I am XX and I am plagued by self-doubt. What a topic to choose for your ice-breaker speech.


For the last 9-10 months, I have had a no of serious challenges thrown at me, some I managed to navigate through, others have left me dazed. They have raised a number of fundamental questions about who I am, how others perceive me, and if anything, what do I need to do to remediate it.

Let’s start from the beginning. I was born in Bombay. Bombay/Mumbai is a great place to grow up. Back then, India was still a closed economy, so growth in all parts of India had not really kicked-off. If you had to make it in life, as an Indian, your default destination would be BOmbay. There are about 22 millions people in the city. With so many people around, it is difficult to get through. In fact, you have to fight for everything – space on the road, seat on the train, admission in a good college, just about everything. In fact, when I was talking about seat on the train, I was kidding. You don’t get a seat on the train. The way to get into a train is stand on the edge of the platform till your nose just about misses the train. If you have positioned yourself such that the train stops with a door in front, then you just stand there. The mass of humanity will sweep you and pack you up into the nearest tiny crevice. You forget about your limbs till you get down. You just can’t see them. You stand with your rib cage crushed, your foot trampled by your other foot, sweating and trying to stay sane as few others who have lost their sanity from the daily inhuman torture shout and argue with others. It is the easiest place to get frustrated.

In school, I was fairly good, but there are hundreds around who were far superior. But I didn’t quite do well during my time studying engineering as an undergrad. But it was the first time, I started seriously doubting myself. It went away during my grad years and then at earlier jobs where I excelled quite well. I picked up new skills, worked in new business areas, and travelled to UK.

Here, I found that self-deprecation, not giving oneself credit is an intrinsic behaviour. In fact, to say anything nice about yourself is frowned upon. Add to that, the general pessimistic, cynical but still humorous disposition of the people. Remember, I told you some time ago. I was planning to cycle at Isle of Wight with my family. Yes, we did. in pouring rain. We were greeted with “What lovely weather!”

Also, with less no of people compared to India, places like UK also offer you space to develop and grow. There are less questions asked of you. I was/am inspired folks who excel at and give their all to hobbies like gardening, cycling, running, DIY, juggling. I started to passionately follow some of these. I became good at things other than acads and work.

I got into consulting. I had been primarily a IT focussed beast all this while, there were challenges at work, but nothing of the nature you face in consulting. Because consulting is not about what you are or what you know. Consulting is about what others think you are or what others think you know. This is no way a criticism of consulting, that’s the nature of the game. It’s almost like a hyper-realistic simulation of life itself where all stimuli, responses, emotions, and rewards are magnified manifold. There is only so much you can influence what opinions others form of you. You are solving complex problems for large organisations where you have not worked before; you are interacting with so many people for brief amounts of time. In spite of no of hurdles - your lack of knowledge, and time, you have to convince people to trust you and go with you. People who are delusionally confident about their abilities succeed generally.

It’s also very cutthroat. People forget to be nice to others. Its almost being back in the crowded Mumbai train, but now it happens in the garb of civility. Terribly disconcerting that is.

I am middle-aged now (middle aged for an Indian- we die sooner unfortunately) I am married with a daughter. I don’t look it though. While buying alchohol, I got asked my id card twice in the last 5 years. Now, you will say that’s a good thing. Definitely not! Especially at work, where people immediately assume that they have been short-changed with someone fresh from college. So, I am just dying to get some wrinkles and grey hair. I already sound like a grumpy old man. I better look it.

I have learnt you can’t win all the battles in life. In fact, trying to please them all is a perfect strategy for failure. Consulting is an awesome place to learn. Because it makes you ask fundamental questions about your identity. The key is for the doubts not to overwhelm you. The key is not to give up. After all, success is the ability to go from one failure to another without losing enthusiasm. Till there’s nothing left. No failure, no success, only your indisputable self.

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