Measuring Success

In his book, “A Better India, A Better World”, the veteran Indian businessman Mr Narayana Murthy acknowledges that he has been successful to the extent that

“Back in the 1960s (Ed: when he was a youth), the odds of being where I am today would have been very small indeed. Yet, with every successive step, the odds kept changing in my favour, and these life lessons made all the difference.”

I am writing this post so that I don’t forget such an insightful way of measuring success but share it with so many people as I can.

And why is it insightful? It is because judging people relatively on the scale of success is an attitude shared by many. Mr Murthy’s expression tells us that such a judgement is always flawed because different persons begin their journey on incomparable starting points and proceed with contrasting turns of fortune. In other words, “the odds of success” at any point of time are radically different for different people. We can thus measure success only to the degree by which the subject has overcome outcomes of failure by his own choices and actions.

The idea is indeed very simple but so many of us fail to internalise it. For instance, many students with privileged background mock those who had to study in vernacular schools and are thus not conversant with the English language. The insult is very often covert, in the form of insinuations, side remarks and un-acknowledgement of ideas or sometimes of existence.

Take debates for example. So many debates proceed with one speaker using clever lines/sarcastic comments/flowery language but almost no substance in his arguments. The result is a hearty laugh, a distraction from the issue at hand and frequently a subconsciously collective assignment of lower status to the opposite party. The ‘eloquent’ party generally ends up gleeful and all the more convinced of his right to blabber and impress the world with his intelligence. He begins the process as a fool and ends up as a bigger fool. His pseudo-intellectual spree continues, sometimes indefinitely, punctuated by occasions where another more eloquent party gives him a most deserved kick of his own medicine. But otherwise, our silver-tongued hero lives happily as we can see from so many people around us who have made a career out of this sham, the sole purpose of their existence and almost elevated it to a rogue form of art.

But that was the funny part. The sad part comes from the inarticulate party who, unless he is an extrovert, slides into his cocoon and misses out on his rightful self-development through trial and error.

The example was just one of the many. The same thought process applies to rich students mocking (covertly, its always cloaked and underhand) the poor; city-dwellers mocking those from towns and villages; fashionable mocking the supposedly unfashionable; and supposedly intelligent mocking earnest and innocent students. We see so many cases of such victims recede into inferiority and miss out on their rightful honour. It’s almost a crime, a low trick by the perpetuators to create barriers to honest competition. But then as one of my friends suggests, it’s also a test of the strength of victim’s character. Whether it is strong enough to see the buffoonery for what it is and deal with it in the right spirit.

So coming back to Mr Murthy’s idea of measuring success – I admire him for the way he puts it. He did not give a list of the grand things he has done but decided to put it the way he did. Not that I would have hated him, if he had done the former. Just that his expression suggests a development of mind which is commendable to say the least. And it is also exemplary. I am sure many of us would do well to examine our “success” on the test of his expression and see things for what they are. But again, that would require brutal self-honesty which God did not see fit to give to a lot of us.

Nevertheless, examining positions on Mr Murthy’s statement would certainly help victims see the objective truth. If they can recognize the ludicrous psychological game which is played against them and see their criminal’s “success” and “superiority” in all its vulgar nakedness, if it can give them hope and confidence to let the dogs bark for all they may – the purpose of this post would be more than served.

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  • Mayur Mahrotri  On September 7, 2011 at 11:58 am

    You’re on a roll baby!
    It is amazing how people pick up certain words of great men and understand them in so many different ways.

  • Gaurav Singhal  On September 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks bro

  • Why do you need one?  On September 8, 2011 at 4:59 am

    I respect people who are fiercely independent, honest ( not with everyone but themselves) and selfish. Way to go dude :)

  • Anandh Sundar  On September 8, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Very well written. Reminds me of HG Well’s quote that “wealth, place and power
    are no measures of success. The only true measure of success
    is the ratio between what we might have been and what we
    have become.”

  • Gaurav Singhal  On September 8, 2011 at 11:42 am

    @Dhaka: Thanks dude

    @Anandh: Nice quote man..that pretty much sums it up

  • Anonymous  On September 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    But there can’t be any way to measure ‘What we might have been?’ and ‘What we have become?’ because many a times we just say that ‘I could have done that work or achieved that milestone only if I had tried.’ But they can’t be sure until and unless they have not tried. :-P

  • Anonymous  On September 10, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    “But otherwise, our silver-tongued hero lives happily as we can see from so many people around us who have made a career out of this sham, the sole purpose of their existence and almost elevated it to a rogue form of art.”

    Are you alluding to the Presidents of the United States over past few decades?

  • piyushpranay  On March 26, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Excellent post. I really liked the choice of words, expression, the logical construct of the argument and the supporting and contrasting sides of it. But, more than anything else, it gave me food for thought (having been party to similar offences as mentioned in the post, though more of a private crime than public). Overall, a great read.
    Keep them coming.

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