On Your Marks, Get Set, Go

On Your Marks, Get Set, Go

“Giving marks? What are you evaluating?” Lulu, my parrot, asked me as he looked down. He was perched on my shoulder. These members of family Psittacidae are very observant.  

“I always give marks to myself after an event – be it a training or a speech delivered at some event or teaching in a classroom.”

“And what do you accomplish?”

“Introspection, Lulu. It helps me improve myself. It also gives me insights.”

“Well, it has not always worked. Many students just do not accept the evaluation – the marks. I do not know if there is any research supporting this but I feel students do not learn if marks are poor”

“That’s the difference, Lulu, that’s the difference. Here I am giving marks to myself. There is no ‘external evaluator,’ and that makes a huge difference.”

“Oh, Okay. I get you now. And what do you achieve by giving marks to yourself?”

“Introspection as I told you. And heightened awareness about what and why things did not go the way they should have gone. Things change with it”

“This is all theory for me. Does it really work in practice? Tell me, in what way it has changed you?”

Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor, used to keep a diary and he used to record the daily events, and also what he learnt from them ….”

“He lived in the 2nd century AD. And surely, he did not become an Emperor because he kept a diary. Tell me about you”

“When I delivered my first speech, I felt I had messed it up though the audience, courteous as it was, had applauded well. I went home and brooded over how I had made a fool of myself. Then I scribbled almost unknowingly, 2/10 on paper, and I realized that I had given myself two marks out of ten.”

“You thought that was the ‘performance level!’ Ha ha!!”

“When I looked at the number the next day, I could think more rationally and figure out where I had gone wrong.”

“That’s how one becomes one’s own critic”

“I think it is important for self-development. We are all ‘work in progress.’ Incomplete. Unfinished.”

“Everybody talks of self-development. You HR guys talk more about it than others! In what way it has helped you? I mean, I am not going to get carried away by your philosophical stuff.”

“I understand your aversion for the big words. Yet I would like to mention Charles Handy to you. He wrote, ‘It is the one great paradox of education that all the really important things you need to learn about life cannot be taught. You can only learn them by endless exploration’”

“Hmmm ….. I think he is right. George Orwell was once asked where he learnt all his wisdom, and he replied, ‘In the interval between terms at Eton.’ You are right, endless exploration is the key. That will lead to greater awareness and in turn to improve yourself. I see the point.”

(Lulu, My Parrot)

“I used to read out my prepared speech. A friend said, ‘No eye contact with audience, and that’s not good.’ He was right. Now I have corrected myself”

“There was not much choice, right? If you wanted to continue to accept such assignments, there was no choice but to improve.”

“There were other areas ….”


“Like while sketching, I hurried to complete it. Over time, I realized that art needs to be done slowly. It does not have a deadline. More so because I was a novice”

“Haste spoils art. That is true. What is the remedy?”

“I sit quiet for five minutes before starting to sketch. I picture in my mind how it should look on completion. Japanese painters, particularly those working on landscapes, keep soaking in the view for a long time. And they then begin their work”

“Lack of preparation is the biggest error for everyone. The Japs prepare themselves in such an unusual way!”

“And they complete painting with a swoosh! With a surge of energy”

“Spontaneity gives highest quality to work. How many marks you give yourself for spontaneity?”

“Spontaneity is not my strength”

“It comes only by practice. Like a batter facing a fast bowler. He has no choice; his response must be spontaneous. Mind you, never mistake spontaneity with impulsiveness”

“You said it, Lulu.”

“Spontaneity comes out of long time spent on preparation. It is then that you are at a high level of awareness, you draw upon your long experience and learning.”

“Yes, I have experienced it while teaching conflict management. Students ask deep questions and you must answer them on the spot. Then and there!”

“So true! Do you know what is the final piece of learning?”

“Tell me, Lulu”

“It is about when to stop! When to stop!! You must know when to stop talking, giving speeches, putting colours on canvas, advising people, expecting more from any relationship ….. I can go on … You must know when to stop”

“Hmmm ….”

“In final analysis, ‘learn to live skillfully with self-knowledge and a steady mind’ is the message of Bhagwadgita. There is no substitute for introspection. And constant improvement. Go, give yourself marks!”

“Oh, Lulu!” I shouted.

Lulu looked at me. A lot was exchanged when our eyes met.