Friday, August 1, 2003

We all stand on the edge of a vast greatness

When I was applying to Harvard Business School eight years ago, I remember an essay question that genuinely got me thinking: “Are you an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances? Or an extraordinary person in ordinary circumstances?”

That question stumped me. I was 26, living in London, hanging out at fancy watering holes, traveling to exotic destinations within Europe. It was all amazing to me. But for most Londoners, my circumstances would be considered ordinary. I don’t know what I wrote, but I got dinged.

I have talked, met, read about leaders in all spheres during the last ten years. Entrepreneurs. CEOs. Founders of Charities. Millionaires. Even a billionaire. Most of them started out quite ordinary. No child prodigies. Maybe a few flashes that indicated they were destined for greatness. But, slowly, gradually, or sometimes suddenly, something struck. They succeeded.

I’m sure we can all relate similar experiences, where we met ordinary people living out extraordinary lives. And once in a while, we’ve even met the truly extraordinary person. Leading an extraordinary life. I’ve been fortunate to have met a number of them this year. A number of extraordinary BITSians.

At the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership events this year, Diaz Nesamoney, Rajesh Hukku and Mukesh Chatter told their amazing stories. In each instance we came away marveling at their humbleness, their lack of egos, their gratefulness for having had one big idea that succeeded, their incredible sense of humor. However, none of them had illusions of this being their destiny, that they would do it one day.

They all did have one thing in common. An unparalleled focus. A huge appetite for risk. The lack of pretensions about their achievements. But if you ask them, they won’t think it was a particularly amazing idea or a particularly outstanding quality they possessed that made things happen.

I heard Deepak Chopra speak in Boston six months ago. He said that successful leaders all had one thing in common. These leaders called it Luck. Coincidence. Right place. Right time. Deepak calls this synchronicity. In his inimitable style he related this to quantum physics, the human body and ultimately, the soul. He talks about the greatness lying within all of us.

In the Fall 2003 edition of Sandpaper, we talk about 20 brilliant BITSians who run huge companies in India. All have achieved a measurable degree of greatness. The Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership hopes to sow some of those seeds within our juniors to reach for that vast greatness that lies beyond most of us.

I believe we all have it within us to achieve that greatness. To rise to and to reach, to experience the extraordinary. But if it hasn’t happened yet, if there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet, have patience. Spend time with leaders. Read about them. Talk to them. Learn what Vivek Paul says in his thoughts on leadership about that we must do. For the success that eludes us may be just round the corner.

But if we achieve no greatness, leave no legacy beyond our children, are not remembered by more than two generations of our family members, we’ll all still be able to answer the HBS essay that stumped me eight years ago. All 30,000 BITSians could fill pages and pages of that essay. We would all write about being ordinary mortals yet having an extraordinary experience in a small village 200 kms from Delhi. That experience lasted for years. And we didn’t even know it then.

During those years, we ate ordinary food in ordinary surroundings. Talked about ordinary things. Learnt from ordinary people (most anyway). Yet all those ordinary evenings, with an ordinary bunch turned out to be a pretty damn extraordinary experience.

So while you go about striving for the greatness, don’t forget, that you’ve lived through the extraordinary. Stop for a moment and think about it. Better, pick up the phone and call someone. Re-live those moments. Remind yourself.

Kya din thé woh. Those were the days.

Anupendra Sharma
Chief Editor (2003-2004)
Editorial, Fall 2003 Edition
BITS Pilani Alumni Association