I spent my childhood in the beautiful south Indian State of Kerala. My school was in the picturesque Katari Bagh area in Cochin (now known as Kochi), in the precincts of the sprawling Southern headquarters of the Indian Navy.
When I graduated from High School, on my last day in School my favourite teacher – the elderly Mr. Paul, who taught us English, wrote cryptically in my autograph book:
“What you must do it best !”
Mr. Paul – a brilliant teacher and an outstanding human being, meant doing things to the best of one’s ability. What he had in mind was self actualization and not competition.
That was about three decades back and since then life has moved on and I have moved around quite a bit – all over India and then almost all over the world. Mr. Paul will be in his eighties now and I wish him long life and good health. That autograph book, like many other precious childhood possessions, is now long lost. Memories too have slowly begun to fade. The human mind is after all a palimpsest.
I have however not forgotten my Teacher’s advice, for he had etched it into my heart.
When I examine myself, I know I have done my best and am happy about that. At the same time, when I look back and look around, I am humbled by my own mediocrity. But then mediocrity is absolutely fine for, not everyone can be exceptional or the best – nor is everyone expected to be so, for beyond a point we are all limited by our capabilities, how so hard we may try.
And then am I really mediocre? I might be if I compare myself with others; if I compare myself with the best. But then why compare myself with others in the first place? The question then is – am I mediocre when I compare myself with my own possible best? If I am not as good as I can be, then there would be an issue.
We should be happy in the knowledge that we have done our best and that should be the barometer for personal excellence and fulfilment, and not what we have achieved compared to what others have. And then, as a West African colleague recently said “we are all work in progress, some more than others .. the more we push ourselves, the more we realize our immeasurable potential”
I have now reached a stage where I am required to mentor colleagues and young professionals, not to mention my own delightful and bright ten year old daughter. I tell them that inaction is much better than doing sub-standard or poor quality work that is born out of indifference and indolence, engendered by a lack of conviction, lack of sincerity, lack of the sense of personal accountability and finally, the lack of joy in work. I tell them that it is okay to be ‘mediocre’, as measured by external performance standards and when compared to others, as long as they are convinced that they have put in their best.
And I have one mantra for them – the one my Teacher gave me so many years back.
“What you must do it best !” Push your own limits, realize your true potential and be happy with whatever you achieve out of that. Look around by all means, but more importantly, look within’.
Years have gone and in my memory, my Teacher’s face has now got largely blurred. But I do remember vaguely that he was tall and energetic; bi-spectacled, with a prominent nose, a paunch , a receding and greying hairline; always impeccably dressed, dignified yet engaging, passionate about teaching, polite and generous to a fault, humane and a thorough gentleman.
I might eventually forget everything about my Teacher – how he looked and how he taught. But his message will be there with me till the end and I shall pass it on to my daughter and all those who care to seek it from me. That will be me my lasting tribute to my teacher.
“What you must do it best !”