Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Putting faces to names; and gamefaces to nameless fears;

In the last couple of weeks, I've started to communicate with some of the old-time bloggers with our real names, and also put some faces to the names. I met up with Mark and Jie for lunch at a new age Indian 'bistro' called Tamarind Bay in Harvard Sq. and the three of us met 3app for drinks over at John Harvard's the monday after. Good beer, good conversation, laughs, and an alround great time. 3app - good luck with your INSEAD intervew mate, I really do hope you make it to the January intake. Keeping my fingers crossed for ya.

I've also started to play regular squash at 7 am three times a week. I play with this friend of mine who is much better than I am. My goal has been simple - to win a single game. And I finally did - this morning, after two weeks of play !

As I was driving back to work, obviously elated, I realized that these squash sessions have actually been educational. In a life-lessons kinda way. I know, I know, I'm getting carried away by a simple game. But it isn't so simple.

Why did I set myself such a low goal ? I think it was because I had already prejudged my opponent as being much better than myself, and gave myself very little chance of winning.

Looking back, I realize that this attitude bore itself out on the court. My early games were disasters. I lost, as the scores will attest, but it wasn't about the actual points. I wasn't reaching for the close ones, not taking the T more often, not pushing him to the corners. I think I had reconciled to a sort of 'fear' that regardless of what I did, he would do it better because he was better. And, as ashamed as I am to admit it, fallen into the 'what's the point' trap.

And then, slowly, he started to make the occasional unforced error. There is something therapeutic about actually seeing your opponent mess up. Especially someone who you perceive to be beyond foibles. It humanizes him, just that little bit. And has the potential to energize you. Somewhere along the line, that's what happened to me. I realized that, at a minimum, if I stayed long enough in the game, he was bound to make mistakes and I could start to win points. To do that, though, I needed to stretch a little more, run a little faster, hit the ball a little harder. I tried and started to win a few more points, and along with it, my confidence. Confidence is an amazing thing. It frees you to take risks, and shrug off a lost point. You can always win the next one.

Game point.
Every game eventually gets there. If I may be allowed to exagerrate, I would say that this is a moment of truth, a test of character.
For the one standing there facing a serve, it's almost all over. Lose this point, and the game is lost. Anyone who has played a sport can attest to the sweet siren song of rest and a sip of water calling the tired, sweaty, beaten body. But again, the point is yet to be played. How badly do you want to win ? It's not over yet.
For the one serving, it's almost over too. Almost. The point still needs to be won. This is not the time to drop your guard. You have beaten the opponent to the wall. Can you find the concentration to finish the game and walk away the victor ?

There was this one game where I was just a few points behind and kept telling myself that I would not give up. The game went to a tie-break and I lost. But, it struck me that when you push yourself to play at that level, you ask much more of your opponent too. He has to bring out the best in him to win. You are not giving it away anymore. And if he does win, you don't really lose. And vice versa. Both of you smile at the fantastic game you just played, shake hands, and walk away better players than you were when you stepped out onto the court.

Isn't this application process of ours a similar game ? I must admit that squash is an infinitely easier game to play because you can actually see your opponents. They remain nameless in the admissions game. I see shades of the fear of this unknown when I am on the discussion boards and people are worried about adding 10 more points to a 740 GMAT. The 'opponents' are seemingly superhuman. No, they are not. They are human. Maybe they play a great game, but they will make mistakes. And the higher the level of your own game, the more obvious your opponents' mistakes become. Also realize that any game has several facets, some your strengths, some not. In some sports, you are able to capitalize on others' weaknesses. In others, you'll just have to play to your strengths.

When I think about my application saga of last year, I can see the similarities. My strongest applications were Wharton and London, which I wrote after my first application, Tuck, was rejected. It was hard, but I challenged the disappointment into something positive. The results weren't what I expected, but I can be confident that I did not give reason for these schools to summarily toss away my applications. I am sure I went head to head with the best, and those who were truly better won. I tip my hat to them. I am a better player for having played that game.

So, I step into the court again. Hopefully, I bring the lessons learned and use them to play a better game. Could I be up against better players and lose again ? Sure. Then again, like my game this morning, I could win.



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