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28 February 2013

The Karna Metaphor...

Let me tell you about a great mystery of life...
People with great potential are not able to use their potential at critical junctures. While persons with significantly lower potential are able to focus their potential and achieve great victories.
A classic example is Vijay Amritraj. During his peak he was considered to be one of the top 5 best tennis players in the world. He regularly used to beat top players like Jimmy Connors and McEnroe in various ATP tournaments, but he never won a grandslam. 
Or take the case of Ivan Lendl. Considered arguably the greatest tennis player in his generation, he never won a Wimbledon. He reached the Semifinals or Finals of Wimbledon 7 times in his career without winning even once. 
Take the example of South Africa. Leading up to multiple World Cup Championship, they were THE team to beat in One Day internationals. But in crucial, winnable games in the World cup, they lost their way, often ending up being considered as 'Chokers'.
Why does this happen?
I am reminded of the Story of Karna in Mahabharata. 
Karna is considered to be the greatest character in Mahabharata. Spending his early years as the son of a Charioteer, Karna distinguished in various forms of warfare and was the greatest archer of his time. Early in his life, Karna had the ambition of learning the 'Brahmastra' mantra from the great sage Parasurama. However Parasurama was a sworn enemy of Kashtriyas (warrior class) and had declined to give training to Kashtriyas. Knowing that Parasurama trained only Brahmanas, Karna disguised as a Brahmana and asked Parasurama to teach him the Brahmastra mantra. Thinking that Karna was a Brahmana, Parasurama accepted him as his disciple.
One day Parasurama was sleeping with his head on Karna's lap. At that time, a bee came and started stinging Karna's lower thigh. Though it was severely painful and profusely bleeding, Karna was afraid that if he moved his legs, his master would wake up, and hence did not move his thighs and continued to suffer the pain and bleeding.
When Parasurama woke up, he found out what had happened. Knowing that Brahmanas could not suffer such pain and only Kashtriyas could suffer so much of pain, Parasurama confronted Karna and asked him to tell the truth. 
Karna told him the truth that he was not a Brahmana.
On hearing it, a furious Parasurama cursed him that, at the most crucial moment in his life, Karna will forget what he had learned from him. All the knowledge that Karna learned would be useless at a crucial point in his life where that knowledge is absolutely required.
This happened in Mahabharata war. At the crucial moment when he was fighting Arjuna, Karna forgot the Brahmastra mantra resulting in him getting killed by Arjuna.
Most of us are like Karna. We go about absorbing enormous amount of knowledge but at crucial situations which matter, we forget the knowledge, we get afraid to take that final step and hence we get results significantly below our potential.
Wasn't it Ellen DeGeneres who said, 'Human beings use only 10% of our brain power. Imagine what we can achieve if we use the remaining 60%'
Why am I saying this story now?
I know of a person who is very intelligent, knowledgeable and full of energy. It is obvious to others that he has significant potential but he is not effectively using it. The problem is that he is oblivious to his potential and the way in which he is wasting it.
One day, we were facing an issue and he was owning the issue. He did a good job of analysis, he  came up with multiple solutions. But exactly at a time when he had to take a decision on the final solution he caved. The final solution was obvious to all. But he lost his confidence (I think) and said that he wanted further analysis. Immediately, someone in the team took over and decided that we will go ahead with the solution. 
At that moment, when he caved, he ceded the turf to someone else. All the good work that he had put in will be forgotten. The only thing that will linger is the knowledge that someone else took the final decision and he caved when it mattered. 
This is Karna in action. This person had the knowledge, but at the time when he should have taken a decision, he lost his nerve and lost control of this issue.
Isn't there some Karna in all of us?

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