Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Misnomer called Failure

Any climber, however intrepid, insane and outrageous he or she may be who says has never felt fear of death is bullshitting. On return while laying our aching limbs next to a lumbering fire with a pint in our hand we may be pouring out boisterous songs and ‘devil-may-care’ attitude, but mark my words friends, up there when the elements were trying their best to nip our lives, we had forgotten all our cockiness and had only a silent prayer on your lips and thought only of surviving through the day and through the moment. It’s not so much as the fear of death as the familiar world of the living that we don’t wish to give up yet.

Do we ever actually fail or it is the pre-eminence of a failure that puts us in a quandary! Why is it that we can walk comfortably on a thin line of 6 inch in width on ground, without ever stepping out of it, whereas put a similar sized and equally sturdy plank 10 ft above ground and we would perhaps not find it that easy. Take that plank 100 ft up and perhaps only one out of a thousand of us would even dare to walk on it.

All our lives we are taught to cater for contingencies, for failures, for things that may never happen in the way predicted; we insure ourselves against the unknown future, safeguarding our interests in the eventuality of a failure. Isn’t this one of reasons why parents are often so cross with their kids if they don’t excel in the exams, since there is no insurance for exam. You either did well or didn’t. How the parents would wish that an insurance company would insure a child’s exam and who wouldn’t wish to insure a marriage! I remember a small anecdote that I witnessed towards the beginning of my submarine career. Till then we all had been trained and brought up in Russian origin submarines where there is a back up for everything, including that of a back up. So if something fails, another thing takes over, for an automatic system you had semi-auto, manual backups etc. So when we shifted to the German HDW submarines we suddenly found that they most often did not offer a second line of defence. There was a system and then that was all. So our senior commanders, grown through a staple of Russian ethos, before signing on the contract would hound the Germans, what if it fails, what then, where’s the safety back up. The Germans would guffaw to that and reassure that the systems would never fail, period. But we were stuck up with ‘What if’ syndrome.

Even before we attempt something why are we so concerned about the outcome, why do we wish to be certain first that we would succeed and since that certainty can never be assured, we are scared ‘what if we fail.’ One of the fundamental teachings of Gita comes to our rescue when it says, we should be detached from the outcome of our efforts and in our efforts we must be sincere and give in our best. Are we ever competing with others or with ourselves, our own limitations and often self-created or imagined boundaries? In a class full of incompetent morons I could be a half-wit yet stand at the top of the results, will that make me the brightest student or super intelligent, not in any intrinsic way surely; only in the relative terms. And every time we succeed in such a manner, where one eyed is the king in the land of blinds, we do not achieve even our own level best, our own capabilities. Since we are so hell-bent on winning, on becoming number one. Whereas if we do our level best, irrespective of the competition or any ranking, then we would always return satisfied but determined to do better, even when we do not finish first or at the top of the class. That’s something the mountains teach us so aptly.

When we begin a climb, we are already defeated; for we can never vanquish or conquer nature and it is not a race where we have to outrun someone else to the top. The route to the summit of a mountain only teaches us where we are, it shows us our true perspective in terms of will, determination, courage, physical endurance and above all our humility to accept gracefully that yes, there are things beyond us that we would never conquer yet we must befriend. A climb is always successful even when I don’t reach the physical summit, since wherever I reached is my true summit, my personal best, my own world beyond which under the given circumstances I couldn’t have done any better. From that point I come down humbly and completely content. In that way I never fail since when I started the climb I had no idea of the outcome, except a strong all-consuming determination to do my best. I did not know when or where my summit would be. Funnily enough each time my summit coincided with the physical summit (and this has happened nearly 350 times or so), I felt a sense of vacuity along with the happiness to know that my personal best was either not needed to reach the physical summit or it was just adequate enough. Physical summit concluded a journey, a tryst with that mountain since I had no further up to go and this is disappointing to me personally. I remember every time standing on the true tip of Mt Everest, where everything on Earth was below me, all I could think was – is that it? Is there nothing higher than this place on our planet? How wonderful it would be if tomorrow another peak was discovered that dwarfed Mt Everest above ground!

I have no fear of failing and no pressure to succeed since I am a complete failure in my mountains yet reaching my own true summit each time I climb. Now if this is not a win-win situation than what is.

This post is not a sermon, least of all an allegory for any of you. Just my random thoughts on something that is so universal and feared. Embrace the thought actually.


  1. A very different perspective on fear of failing. Life would be very different & easy if your thoughts are embraced.
    You would be my candidate for Ministry of Education. All kids & their parents would bless you.
    Jai Ho... Satya Baba ki!

  2. Interesting perspective and totally u!!! :-)

  3. three tumbs up to this post!!