Article: When milestones become millstones

Sports, Books & Movies

When milestones become millstones

Life changing experiences can cause people to either aim for higher goals or wither away after reaching the unattainable peak
When milestones become millstones

Almost nothing is won alone. You need people around you, people that you trust and people who will go the extra mile for you


Dream, but back it up with good old fashioned hard work – we haven’t quite yet found a substitute


Marion Bartoli sent shock waves through the tennis fraternity by tearfully announcing her retirement from professional tennis. Surprised? Well, Yes and No – yes,because it was unexpected, coming too soon on the heels of what she described was a dream come true; and no,because if we think hard enough, more of this happens around us all the time. Let’s look at what happened and link it to life at a broader level, more specifically, the corporate world.

So, a quick flashback shows us an unconventional ladies’ champion pocketing the famed silver plate during the hallowed centre court ceremony at Wimbledon this year. She was unconventional in all respects: The way that she played the game, the way that she plays the game, her quotable responses to not-so-charitable comments on media, social and otherwise, her physique quite unlike a tennis player and so on. She was, in no sense of the phrase, the iconic ‘Wimbledon Women’s Champion’ – lacking one or more qualities of arguably all the women champions in the past. So, she walks away into the sunset with something that most players would give their left hand forand the world of tennis will never be the same again. The truth is that we will never know, for we can’t peep into her mind – maybe she will fight demons in her head throughout her life. She is just 29 years of age.

We can’t say for sure what the real story is, for very little was heard about her before she shot into the limelight. Her body might actually be giving way; she might actually not be able to carry on the fight physically, but let that rest. Let alone the three matches that she played after the dream-run ending with the dream-trophy – matches where she could not match opponents less than one-tenth her newly acquired stature. What is important to know is what can cause this sudden withdrawal: Did the mind give up faster than the body?

There are two major factors that make people suddenly feel unnerved after an exhilarating, life changing experience. One could be momentary (but still needs working on), the other more damaging (which definitely calls for a plan of action).

The first refers to the mental state of intense satisfaction or gratification. The feeling has its genesis in the mind and is almost orgasmic, to draw a parallel; it can actually be felt physically. You might be used to playing five-setters (in tennis) on a regular basis, but you will never feel as physically drained at the end of each practice session as you would in a (short, three-set) tournament winning match, even if the tournament in question is Wimbledon. This is the impact of the intense ‘high’ that one experiences.

Almost nothing is won alone. You need people around you, people that you trust and people who will go the extra mile for you

The aftermath is a feeling of emptiness, exemplified by the expression, “it has not sunk in yet”. People go through the next some moments, hours, days, weeks, depending on the coping mechanism, almost in a daze. They often don’t remember the first few moments after the release of wound up tension and ‘greed’ in their minds – a greed that is satisfied with a feeling of accomplishment, of living the dream that they had. This release slowly converts to a feeling of “what next?”, and very often, “nothing left to achieve”. The person who has one overriding ambition that burns through her, driving her relentlessly to achieve it – scaling one mountain after the other, and finding herself at the top of Mount Everest one day – has a small voice that starts asking the question, “and now...?”

The second, more serious, problem is in the mind again – the pressure of repeating a stupendous feat, and the perceived burden of obscenely heightened expectations from the gallery. This has happened to all of us at one time or the other; some of us gather our wits, steel ourselves for better, bigger things ahead, while some crumble away in shadows of nothingness. There is a variant to this – exceptional performance at lower level, building pressure in our minds all the time, of what the world will expect from us when we reach the larger stage. Graeme Hick is a case in point of the second variant –prolific scorer in first class cricket but could never live up to the expectations at the international level. Many entrepreneurs, including Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail fame, are examples of the first.

So, what does it take for the normal folks like you and me to come out of this impasse, or prevent it in the first place?

Take a deep breath: The remedy for many ailments finds a place on this chart too. Whatever the situation, sit back and take a long, close, and yet,a detached look at life. You’ve done it! You deserve the break. Use this time to unwind, do the things that are non-competitive, non-tiring – go shopping, lounge around the house, play with the kids, learn the guitar, go out and play in the club, take long drives, eat at the restaurant that you always wanted/liked to go to, do something stupid – give your mind and your body a chance to ‘heal’ – you’ve been through a lot.

Don’t waste time: Don’t switch off the cells that crave achievement while you relax. Use this time to think about what comes next, keep it on the back-burner, but keep it cooking. A relaxed mind always throws up angles and thoughts that a preoccupied or focused mind cannot. Don’t ignore the voices that might be suggesting something different than what you are used to, or those that have consumed you till now. There is merit in drifting for a while… but only for a while.

Keep a goal in mind: Don’t let your mind and body get used to the ‘comfort’ that you have just provided them. Remember, if you have done it once, you can do it again, and maybe do better, bigger things. People who lose sight of a larger goal often drift away, both in their minds and in general public memory. So, the answer to the little voice at the top of the tallest mountain is, “maybe do it a little faster? Without Oxygen? Go down a little faster? Space walk? A trip to Mars… ?”

Don’t be afraid of trying: What people think does not matter. Darn yes, you’ve built up a reputation, you’re infallible, right? Wrong, no-one is, not even the best of them was successful all the time, every time. Most success stories originate from failure – bigger the failure, better the success, is the usual dictum. Learn from each stumble, and carry on to what you always thought you were made for – that glory, that accomplishment, that envy that you will generate in others.

Pick the people that you can count on: Almost nothing is won alone. You need people around you, people that you trust and people who will go the extra mile for you. Andy Murray looked all over till he closed in on Lendl. Quite an ungainly twosome, but that apart, they quite complimented each other: Lendl, with the unquenched fire that would have consumed him through life – a victory on the centre-court of the grass court tournament and Murray, looking at a might-never-come-again chance at becoming the British tennis icon of many generations either way. The duo was perfect, seamlessly joined in an all-consuming fire to conquer the greens.

Just dreaming is NOT enough: Everyone dreams…everyone. Many of us have withered away just falsely believing in what we can do, what we can achieve, the next earth-shattering move that will catapult humanity into the next orbit, finding its genesis in our garage. Yes, dreams are required but never ever enough to achieve glory. What’s required along with a dream are the sleepless nights, the planning, the execution, the training, the practice, the all-consuming zeal to prove it to the world. Dream, but back it up with good old fashioned hard work – we haven’t quite yet found a substitute.

Believe in yourself: It is very unlikely that your achievement was a flash-in-the-pan. Such things don’t happen to hard working people. You did it once…there is no reason why you won’t do it again. Believe that you will, and you will.

There are no shortcuts: Finally, understand that every success has a price, you’ve got to earn it. Every shortcut takes you further away from your goal in the sustainable sense. With the wrong means, your victory could last a few minutes or maybe even a few years – but if you’ve taken the wrong route, when the curtain will come down (and come down it will), it will come down hard. Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, listening?

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Topics: Sports, Books & Movies

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