Beware of the C – Word

As you work towards a great goal you will become restless, irritated, and impatient and inclined to take shortcuts and cut corners – all for the excellent reason that you want to see the project up and started as soon as possible. But in this urgency, there will be the tendency to accept compromises. I am writing this to warn you of the biggest danger to success. The C word. Compromise. For to compromise is to die a death without honor.

Those who have the courage to work for a great goal understand that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are terms that define your own standpoint – how you see yourself – they point to who you are – not to the goal at all. Soaring at 30,000 feet is possible for an eagle or for a man with a flying machine. It is not possible or impossible in itself. All it needs is for you to ask, ‘How can I do it?’ Not, ‘Can it be done?’

Differentiation creates brand. Brand defines identity. Identity enables influence. Influence inspires followers and loyalty. Without differentiation you are a grain of rice in a sack.

Excellence is an expression of self-respect. So is mediocrity. We strive for excellence not because someone is watching or because we are playing to the gallery but because excellence is about us – how we see ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we choose to define ourselves.

We define ourselves and the world accepts that definition and treats us accordingly. Think before you define yourself.  

Excellence requires sustained heroic effort – often in the face of great discouragement. Only who revel in the effort can excel. The adrenaline drives them. Paradoxically they are goal focused but take pleasure from the difficulty of reaching that goal. For them the journey is the destination; because the excitement is only in the chase and ends with the catch. Mount Everest is a worthy goal to strive for because its dimensions are measured in height. The same distance on level ground wouldn’t be worth talking about. It is the difficulty which adds value to the goal.

If you think success is difficult, try failure. To accept mediocrity is to accept failure at the start. Mediocrity ensures that your failure is permanent. That drug is called ‘compromise.’ I know that there are more mediocre people in the world than those who achieve excellence. But ask yourself who you would rather be – who would you like to emulate? Who do you choose as your role model? That is why Tipu Sultan said, ‘One day in the life of a tiger is worth more than a hundred years in the life of a jackal.’ Ask which life you would like to live – for in the end, both die.

Compromise is to attitude what cancer is to the body. The body doesn’t fight cancer but accepts it because it doesn’t recognize the threat. It accepts cancer cells until they kill it. Only those who hate mediocrity can excel. Not dislike, not be irritated by it, nothing mild. Only those who pathologically hate mediocrity, who can’t stomach it at any cost; those who are repelled by it, find it disgusting, abhorrent and hateful and do anything to get out of it; can pursue excellence passionately. Compromise, like cancer, destroys from within. But unlike cancer it is infectious.

Excellence takes effort. Few make it. Failure is painful. Nobody likes it. Mediocrity is the narcotic which makes destruction seem acceptable. So, people settle for less than what they can be. They get distracted by others and make excuses for their mediocre efforts as if that can change reality. They imagine that if they can find others who agree with them, their mediocrity will be acceptable. It will be – to other mediocre people. But to those focused on excellence, who look not at others but at their own potential and beyond it, mediocrity is despicable, no matter what disguise it comes in. To tell you the truth, the mediocre ones also recognize this in the dead of the night, when they are alone with themselves, that their efforts don’t even begin to approach the boundaries of what could have been if only they had not compromised. Failure is not the enemy of excellence. Mediocrity is. Failure is painful and drives effort. Nobody willingly fails or remains in failure. But mediocrity is anesthetized failure. It is fatal because the victim does nothing to counter it because he can’t feel the pain.

I remind myself about a basic principle that I have always followed in my own life – It is better to fail trying to achieve an extraordinary goal, than to settle for a compromise.  Why Extraordinary? Because good enough, never is. When you say, ‘Good enough’, you are looking at mediocrity. You are looking at cancer. Do to it what you would do to cancer. Or die.

The important thing for us to remember is never to compromise. No matter how difficult it seems. Remember, when weighing in a balance, it is only the last few grains which tip the balance. Until then you don’t see any difference, any change in the pans. There are two fundamental laws:

  1. The balance will not tip until the last few grains fall into the pan.
  2. The last few grains will always tip the balance.

Both laws are equally true.

Remember that if we compromise for anything less than what we dreamed of, then in the evening of our days we too will be forced to look back on our lives and say, ‘If only I had not sold my dream so cheaply!!’

Social change happens when a small group of dedicated people who believe in their system, live it, practice it with confidence and differentiate on that basis. They live their way assertively, not aggressively but never compromise or change their system to suit the majority culture

The British colonized the world. They never wore turbans, shimaqs, egals, mishlahs, sherwanis or any of the gorgeous and beautiful clothing of Asia, Middle East, or Africa. So, the world started wearing pants, ties, and hats.

The greatest damage to a cause is done by those who, perhaps in a well-meaning way, soften stances regarding principles. When that happens the clarity of differentiation is lost, and the message loses significance.

For a leader, the most critical thing is to differentiate from the rest based on his message. If the leader compromises his message for the sake of popularity, material gain, followership, or anything else, the uniqueness of the message will be lost, and it will lose its value as a clear standard on which to model all actions. This is naturally not easy to do, as there are a lot of societal and other pressures to conform to existing norms, values, and customs. To stand out as different, especially when this means to go directly against the existing system is not easy. But it is an essential criterion that distinguishes the leader.  For people to follow the leader, his identity, the goal he is leading towards and what the followers will gain because of following him, must all be clear, unambiguous, and inspiring.  A flag is a symbol but only when it is flying high. Not when it is drying on a clothesline.

It is critical for the leader not to be seduced with the promise of followership and never to change, dilute or modify the message to suit anyone in the desire to get converts. The message distinguishes the leader. If he compromises that message, then he has lost everything.  This is the biggest argument in favor of differentiation and against assimilation and losing one’s identity that I can place before you. Someone who does not have the confidence to differentiate and is content with being one sheep in a flock is completely unfit to be a leader. Being a leader means to take hard decisions and getting used to being lonely.

The tiger walks alone. Sheep have lots of company.

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