Thursday, August 20, 2009

Diary: Dealing with Wallenda Factor

I had this interesting conversation with a colleague yesterday, who was describing my state of mind being similar to one of being in an unhappy marriage - can not stay, can not go away. With a little reflection, I realized that is exactly correct. This blog trail, and many other conversations, will point to the fact that I have always talked about my responsibility to 'complete' the job at hand, but never looked forward or communicated my excitement about what I am doing. This has lasted very long, I would guess since early 2008, and particularly since August 2008, when I decided to leave and put myself in a self-determined long notice.

She indeed pointed out that I am not giving 100% to this job, which is indeed correct. I keep saying I am doing my best, a statement designed to confuse, and in every sense is a qualified statement. This is one of those statements in English which has an underlying mitigation - under the circumstances, as the qualifier - and funnily, I am doing my best indeed means I am not doing my best, I am doing what I can best do under the circumstances. And, the I-am-doing-my-best is indeed a bottomless statement, because one can very much use it as an excuse of not doing anything.

The point is, of course, why I am not at 100%. The discussion soon turned onto a list of things that could have been done. But, as she soon pointed out, that was also not the point. Things did not work out as it should have, okay. But what have I been doing? This is that can't-get-out part, which was being very rightly pointed out, that defies explanation. If everything was bad, why was I playing an waiting game?

My stated reason was that I had a responsibility and I did not want to walk away, leaving customers, partners and colleagues to look after themselves. This is absolutely sincere, and comes from the fact that I think I have walked out from my responsibility far too many times earlier on in my career. This time, I was determined not to be a quitter and leave at the first sign of trouble.

But, then, a question must be asked whether I am actually doing justice to all those concerned by staying on rather than going. Not that I am not trying hard, but the question is about the rather hypothetical situation - whether things will improve if I leave. I haven't felt so - at least till this point - and rather saw a real risk of implosion if I chose to walk out. And, this last bit, indeed, was exactly where I was wrong.

Incidentally, and trust me this is pure coincidence, I was reading Warren Bennis' Leaders on my flight back home and I discovered the Wallenda factor. Named after Karl Wallenda, the greatest tightrope walker of all time, who fell to death during his most dangerous tightrope walk in Puerto Rico. Bennis names this factor after him because, after his death, his wife, also an aerialist herself, explained what went wrong - Karl Wallenda focused on not falling rather than walking the tightrope.

Yes, we could have called it the fear of failure, but Wallenda factor definitely sounded more apt. This is exactly what I was doing - trying to avoid failure and not taking it head on and embracing the learning - which kept me dissatisfied, less than 100%, and made me ineffective. I came across a four-quadrant model eventually, with Wallenda Factor on one axis and the Self-regard in another. Looking at this, I knew immediately what we were talking about that morning - I do not lack confidence or self-regard, but I was too afraid to fail, and was not succeeding therefore.

So, whether I walk out or not, I need to stop sulking and start doing my job. If I am to ensure success, both in my life as well as in the business I run, I must do this by fully committing myself and by not being afraid of anything else. I was in this self-imposed shell since early 2008, as credit crunch hit us hard. I almost concluded, without ever trying, that I shall not be able to find a job if I try, and started looking around for an escape - an year at the university, perhaps! The point indeed is to take life head on and not fear the failure, which will surely come. What I am thinking is - failure is inevitable, but never irreversible - which is a bit of common sense, but never occurred to me before.

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