Sunday, February 29, 2004

When talent merges with discipline
Taru Bahl

SAARTHAK felt he had missed out on the joys of childhood. From a lower middle class family, he had taken over the reins of his brood early in life. His father had a government job and had barely managed to make a house, marry off his daughter and give him a passable education. His mother, for as long as he could remember, had been ill and survived on pills and syrups. Sarthak’s sister was so plain-looking that marital alliances never went beyond the first couple of meetings. Finally when she did marry, it was into a demanding family. Saarthak remained caught in the quagmire of domesticity.

A software professional, he doubled up as a private tutor and taught young professionals and students in the evenings. This substantiated his income and gave him an excuse to stay away from home.

To accommodate his commitments, he chose not to have a social life. He denied himself the fun and succour of having friends his age, of undertaking outings and movie jaunts. In fact, he had a perpetual harassed look on his face. His shoulders were bent in a permanent stoop, his mouth curled downwards in a scowl and eyebrows knotted in a frown. The few times he did smile, his face lit up, revealing an innocent boyishness which was endearing. However, for the better part he looked every inch the martyr he
truly believed he was. Unfortunately, after all his sacrifices and gruelling work hours, he still managed to antagonise people. His bosses complained, family sulked, students he tutored nursed silent grievances, clients grumbled and girlfriends refused to take the final decision of walking the aisle with him.

The pressures of his personal life, coupled with the self-imposed taxing routine, made him a juggler of sorts. He kept shifting appointments, commitments and deadlines trying to somehow fit in everything on his day’s agenda. If he made a commitment to a student to take lessons five days a week, he could barely manage it three or four times. The time he ‘saved’ by skipping the odd class was devoted to another emergency assignment. Similarly, he would start his mother on a medical treatment plan and thanks to another engagement cropping up fail to take her for the final surgery. The resultant loss of time owing to the doctor’s full diary would lead to his mother’s disgruntled look for the next few weeks. This sulking would discount the fact that it was he who had insisted on taking her to a specialist, standing in queues filling forms and taking half days off from work.

He was not a shirker. On the contrary, he took his responsibility too seriously. It is just that he could not balance his priorities and discipline himself accordingly. He had the desire to be serious but somewhere there was a lag in the way he performed his duties. More often than not, people remained dissatisfied with his efforts. Besides, he too felt as if he was a candle burning at both ends. Dashing from one place to another, apologising for being late, feeling guilty for missed appointments and then dealing with the embarrassment by avoiding the person altogether, he often felt he was sinking into a bottomless pit.

The goodwill and promise which was seen in the beginning was replaced with exasperation and a relief that the two need not work together any more. The kind of discipline he needed to inculcate in his life would have come had he learned to be realistic about the things he could do and to accordingly go about setting his targets. That awareness would have given him the confidence and strength to say No firmly. By taking on more than he could chew and by believing that he could keep everyone satisfied he made life difficult for himself. Ideally people should have renewed their contracts with him and recommended him to others. What happened instead was their being relieved at seeing him go. Although they did not doubt his potential, they were clear that they could not match his erratic hours and long stories of how he got caught up in yet another problem. They were prepared to settle for a more mediocre guy but one who was regular, disciplined and consistent in the hours he kept, the promises he fulfilled and the kind of work he delivered on a daily basis.

Unless Saarthak decided to prune his life, cut down his commitments and take on only those things which were essential and which he could do well, he was likely to continue being in countless catch-22 situations where in spite of putting in effort, happiness and satisfaction. The reminder 40% came from maintaining the high quality output with unwavering attention and a discipline which was operative on both the personal and professional front, for somewhere one did overlap the other. He had to target being more than just efficient. He had to be effective and for that he had to combine his talents with discipline.