From smack-bang in the middle of the bell curve

What are we really proud of?

In blah, life on November 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Before the oft-repeated cliches became those, cricket commentary used to have the occasional nugget of insight. One of those was when the batting team was cruising along at 114/1 and the commentator on air then said something along the lines of “it’s a good score right now but you have to add a couple of wickets to the score to see if it still looks good because that’s how quickly the game can change”.  And sure enough, more often than not, a clump of wickets would fall and 114/1 would become 118/3 and then 124/4 and make a seemingly impregnable position look decidedly precarious. Who said those words isn’t particularly important in the context of this post, because the cricket reference is only to draw an analogy.

The point is a simple mental exercise.

What are the elements that your sense of self-worth is tied to? And what happens if the most important ones are eliminated?

It’s a funny question to answer and depending who it is posed to, the answers are likely to be grouped into a few broad buckets; intellectual prowess (IQ, ranks on entrance exams, undergrad / grad school, post-graduate degrees),  physical prowess (physical condition, sporting ability), aesthetics (purely chance arrangement and proportion of features that denote “good looks” in the classical sense), professional status (not hard for most B-school grads to relate to), artistic talent and so on.  The buckets mentioned here are by no means exhaustive, just indicative.

Barring movie stars, scientists, professional sports persons who might have a large part of their “stock” tied to one of those axes, I think it’s logical to assume most people would ‘define’ themselves by two or three dimensions.

Like the radar graph illustrative here showing how two conventionally successful people might assess themselves. So, a large part of one’s sense of self might arise from his / her exemplary academic qualifications and the sought-after job they bagged and now potent amounts of money earned. For person 2, it might be the fact that they played national level volleyball , have run 3 marathons under 4 hours and possess the musculature of one of those Greek sculptures.

However easy it is to fall into the trap of classification, there are no “good” and “bad” axes. Sure Charlize Theron was fortunate to be born with those physical attributes but then it was just such a chance combination of genetics that probably enabled Stephen Hawking author his books. Similarly, it’s fair to say that a lot of what makes us tick is a combination of the raw material we were born with, some work and lots of luck. But exploring that is a digression as well.

Now, add a couple of wickets to your “score”. Meaning, knock off one or two of those high-scoring axes on your graph, or rather, the signaling mechanisms that indicate high scores. Let’s say all records indicating your performance on that entrance exam over a decade ago were lost or the bulge bracket investment bank that establishes your credentials is erased from the history books. Or if your cheekbones lowered themselves overnight, just enough to take you from an 8 to a 4. Or the skill you pride yourself on became irrelevant.

Would your interactions with the world change? The tone we adopt when introducing ourselves to strangers, when interacting with peers, with people in more and less fortunate situations in life? If yes, would it be for the better?

Is humility an externally demonstrable trait or an internal state of mind?

  1. Fascinating. And quite a scary thought exercise even for someone who isn’t maxing those axes you mentioned. I think and hope that it is about coming up with the right axes!

    Man, where does this come from?

    • I think the axes don’t have a maximum except in our own perception, and maybe some well-recognized benchmarks. Context was a comment I’d once made to a junior team member “If tomorrow, the logo on your business card was removed, how valuable a professional would you be?”

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