I distinctly remember that day. It was a Saturday – a non school day. I was in 6th grade. The school bus was not available, so my dad dropped me at school. He stayed back to cheer me up for my ‘public speaking’ competition afterwards. The theme of the competition was global warming and I was to speak for 2-3 minutes on a related topic. It was a nice enough day, slightly cloudy. I remember thinking that the world is too beautiful and I could die, without any regrets. Anyway, I digress. I and my dad followed the signs and reached the auditorium. There was a decent crowd – parents encouraging their kids, supporting them and fussing over them. My dad just let me be and took a seat in the second row, since the first row was reserved for judges. It was kind of dark, with some lights dimly illuminating the huge space. Students who were presenting were asked to line up for their turn at the podium. 

I remember being nervous, slightly anxious, but overall I felt confident. Probably too confident. I rehearsed my lines in my mind and waited for my turn. We were not allowed to read from a paper or carry any type of notes, so I was just fiddling with my speech, mentally searching for opportunities to trash it away. The 1st participant was called on stage.  He was fine. Nothing spectacular, I thought. I could easily ‘beat’ him. The second one was a bummer. He spoke for a minute or two and then forgot his lines. What a mess, I remember thinking. Why can’t people prepare before presenting. I was the next one. I threw my speech in the trash can and walked up the stairs. I was standing behind the podium, the microphone staring at me. I remember seeing the judges (there were three of them), and my dad seated behind them. I remember introducing myself and then suddenly, going … blank. This was a foreign sensation to me. I tried to recall my lines, but somhow, words had deserted me. They just would not come back. 

Right then, what I felt was not fear. Somewhere deep inside, I felt this huge sense of relief, that my friends were not around to witness my public humiliation. I remember thinking my dad would be okay, he won’t rat me out to my mom (who had pushed me into this ‘public speaking’ thing anyway). And I planned how I would be spending the rest of my day (reading a story book was at the top of my list). After what seemed like an eternity of standing there, I felt a teacher gently suggesting that my time was up and that I should let the next participant come in. I thanked everyone and – left. 

I took that day off,  pretending to be my usual self – bullying my sister, eating all the snacks, and reading story books. What I was masking was this deep sense of failure. It took me a while to process the whole thing. Why had I failed? It was a surprise to me given that I was a good orator, I had won many competitions, beating others. And I was not afraid of public speaking. I regularly spoke at the school assembly and was quite confident of my capabilities. I tried to forget the unpalatable event, labelling it as ‘one off’ . But, it would lurk somewhere in my unconsciousness, chiding me, reminding me of my failure. However, a rationale conclusion was still alluding me. 

I wish I could tell you that this event was a turning point in my life. It was not. It took a series of setbacks (subpar class X scores, coasting along 10+2, last minute struggles during engineering – stories for another time, promise!), before I realised where I was going wrong. But, as I look back. I think that perhaps there did was a turning point – a ‘before’ and ‘after’ situation. There was this girl in my class that I envied (envied because she was someone I wanted to be, but couldn’t. I am still figuring this story out, but I will save it for another time). She and I were both supposed to speak at an event. I was my usual non-chalant self, trying to downplay my sense of doom.But, I looked at her, and I remember her being very serious about the speech. She had written the speech about a week back, and had showed it to multiple people for their feedback. She had revised her speech, until there was very little room for improvement. She had memorized it well, and had rehearsed it multiple times ‘out loud’. She was so thorough, that if I had woken her up at 3 AM, and asked her to deliver the speech, she would have done it without a pausing for breath. I know all this because I had grilled her about her preparation process after her spectacular speech that day. 

It then dawned on me. I thought she and I were not that different. We had the same capabilities, and the exact same resources. Why was it then that she was successful and I was not? And my mind answered – she was just better prepared! She worked harder than I did. She was way more focused about the task at hand than I ever was. I remember zooming back into that ‘public speaking’ event of my school days, and asking myself these questions – Had I prepared well? The answer was ‘no’. I had written a half baked speech the night before the competition, relying on some random essay book. Had I rehearsed my speech? No. I hadn’t memorized it at all.  I remember just glossing over the speech, thinking that I would just make up something in case I forget a line or two.  If I was being honest with myself, I was plain lazy and way overconfident – a classic recipe for disaster. And the streak had continued. Some days I could fake it, other days, I would just succumb. There never was a consistent performance. 

After this very humbling realization,  I sobered up. It took me a while, but I got over myself. I took a long and hard look at my schedule (yes – I was kind of busy doing too many things, even at college) and tried to devise a strategy to give my best shot at anything that I was doing. It was never easy. Preparation takes work! Anyone who has cleared a tough exam, or completed a difficult hike, or ran a marathon would know. Success is never just ‘luck’. There are just these few people who are so well prepared that when life throws these challenges at them, they are ready. And then, they crush it. Its never a surprise. Its just plain ‘work’. 

Over the years, I have noticed that if I put my mind to something, its only a matter of time before it materializes, more or less. I just feel that when you are pouring your blood, sweat, and tears at something, the divinity holds your hands and tides you through. Things become effortless. You feel lucky. And you just perform at a level, where you had never ever thought you were capable of. Others suggest that this is supreme focus, or flow, or deep work or whatever jargon is in vogue, but I feel its ‘grace’. Its like you have been trying so hard, that the divine energy decides to give you a helping hand. And you achieve what you set out to achieve.

And that’s it. Thats the story. I wrote this story as a reminder to me that whenever I slack off, there is a not-so-great consequence. But when I am doing my best, going above and beyond, its just not me, but the universe’s energy coming together to make it happen. Thank you all for reading this far. I hope my story resonates with your own life experiences. Please leave a comment with your thoughts. It would mean a lot to me. 

Until the next post.