Excellence is a habit, not a destination

Excellence is a habit, not a destination
Today was one of those “the rubber hits the road” moments — when the world is going by at 200mph, you suddenly come to a stop.

There was a function at Kamani auditorium and awards were being given for excellence in different fields of work. December 19, the invite read. At 6 pm there were almost 20 of us being felicitated followed by a hindustani vocal recital by Shubha Mudgal. It is always a wonder to me when I receive an email informing me I am being given an award. It is because artistes work so close to the ground, you rarely notice that others could be watching you. You do what you do... but like the compere nicely put it, “excellence is doing something well, good and wonderfully. It is a habit...you cultivate the habit of raising the bar.”

Ahead of me climbing the stage to get the award was none other than Pandit Birju Maharaj. I was in hallowed company. I said to him, “You are deserving, but I don’t know about so many of us.” I must say in all fairness his humility and smile reminded me of a lovely quotation I read somewhere: “The best way of showing your power is by sharing it with others.”

The front row of Kamani was bedecked with stars. Pandit Bhajan Sopori, Prathibha Prahlad, Rajesh Bedi, Rohit Bal, Shallu Jindal, Shujaat Husain Khan, Vir Sanghvi, Shubha herself and so many others. I said to Nalini Singh who went up after me, “The only angrez in our midst is William Dalrymple. Quite befitting.”

The ceremony was solemn and dignified, the award given away by Shrivatsa Goswami. What made me stop and think was when the public acknowledges the work you do, one becomes accountable. If an artiste is lucky enough to have options they must keep them open. They must accelerate and move forward, not put on the brakes and land up in a dead end. Keep your foot on the gas pedal and keep moving. Raising the bar is always stressful and demanding, and you are no longer accountable to yourself alone. That is the rubber-hits-the-road moment. Accountability.

I am reminded of something I read on Facebook, “Done is better than perfect.” I try to get things done, if something is unattainable better to let it go. Keep moving, in small steps if large movements aren’t happening. If one aims for perfection all the time it can cause frustration at best and paralysis at worst. My dad used to tell me: “When you stretch yourself you can land up in messy situations. In complicated situations. Embrace the mess. Surprises are good, failures are better and success follows the brave.”

The only thing to look out for is to control bad habits, because those make demands on you that burn you out. Each and every one of them, laziness, excessive drinking, excessive smoking, passing the buck, back stabbing, lying... often long-term sucess at work only depends on perseverance and consistency. Setting limits and assuming responsibility. It’s not the work in our life that matters, its the life we put into our work that matters.

(The writer is a theatre director and novelist)

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