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December 2012

Handling downtime

-Karthik Gurumurthy

A crisis is a true test of character, my dad used to say. And given how several people find themselves in a crisis these days, it is useful to remember some basic lessons in surviving, and actually thriving in troubled times. Ups and downs are a part of business and of life but how you tackle the downtimes and low holds the key to the highs that might occur later in life.

A business you started could run into trouble. Or you could find yourself laid off. It happens. You may find yourself burdened with emotional upheaval. Or a health problem that lays you low. In such situations, it is important to ensure that you don't get petrified into inaction like a deer caught in a car's headlights. You must keep moving, keep trying, keep fighting. I am not saying just merely fighting hard in what looks like a hopeless situation would guarantee success. But remember, not trying and simply giving up- will only guarantee failure.

The greatest Olympian of all time would be Michael Phelps. He has won more Gold medals than some countries and the following story would teach you how he handled his downtime which paved way for his success.

Few months before 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps was involved in an unfortunate accident that seriously jeopardized his Olympics dreams. In October 2007, as Michael was getting into a friend's car in Michigan, he slipped on  a patch of ice and  fell, breaking his wrist. Michael is known for his swimming abilities but he was a lousy walker.  Well, if he was worried more about his walking, he wouldn't have been a great swimmer. Rather, he chose to focus on what comes naturally-swimming. Anyways, cracked wrist meant plaster and it was a big blow to his Olympics preparation. He could not swim for the next few weeks. He was shattered.

Michael was disillusioned but quickly picked himself up and was back in the pool. With his plastered arm, he couldn't swim but he could lie in the pool, kicking with a kickboard while his Olympics teammates were doing doing laps. He just splashed and kicked away furiously. While that was no substitute for swimming, it had one advantage. He added incredible strength to his leg muscles.

Fast forward to Aug 16 2008, in Beijing. Having won six Golds, Michael Phelps was on track on the eight Gold dream. Just two races to complete. In the seventh event, 100 meter butterfly stroke event, Michael was neck to neck with Milorad Cavic. He won by the narrowest of margins, picking up his seventh Gold by edging out Milorad by a mere hundredth of a second. That's right-it was 100th of a second. As expert watched slow-motion replays, they found out that in the last 5 metres of the race, while an exhausted Milorad dragged his legs, Michael used a strong kick to get his hands to the wall first, going head by that hundredth of a second. The strong final kick made all the difference!

Napolean Hill says, "Every adversity , every failure, carries with it the seed on an equal or greater benefit."

Let us all remember that and be thankful for adversities to create yet another opportunity to start intelligently again.

Lessons from Little Master

by Karthik Gurumurthy

Sachin Tendulkar aka God of Cricket declared his retirement yesterday.  World cricket would definitely miss this prodigy for sure.  I am thankful for having had the opportunity to see this legend in action.

The first time I had an opportunity to witness him in action was in the year 1989. He was just selected for the Indian team playing at that time representing MRF XI vs All India State Bank of India. My dad was the scorer for the SBI team and that is how I was able to watch all these matches.

I remember watching Tendulkar in close quarters paying very close attention to the game.  Unlike rest of his teammaters, he was not chatting or resting. On that particular day he did not play very well. As a matter of fact he scored duck. He got out  the first ball he faced to another hero of mine  R. Prabhakar (RP) who was known as the SBI Masterblaster and unfortunately didn't have the fortune of playing one day or T-20 as he would have been a tremendous addition to the team.

Anyways despite Tendulkar getting out,  I could not miss to see he was very serious , determined and  had eyes of a tiger and one could see the fire in his eyes to succeed. Never that  we knew at that time he would the God of Cricket breaking all records, setting new standards and taking the game to a totally different level.

I can talk about all the games I have watched  from this Little Master but my main focus is to throw light on what we all can learn from this legend. This is the story I heard from one of the commentators. I am not sure whether it was Harsha Bhogle or Shastri. While the world rises to salute a truly outstanding cricketer, this little tale probably explains, in small measure the making of a legend.

December 1989, Pakistan. It was the fourth test I believe between India and Pakistan.  K. Srikkanth was the captain.The series was 0-0 after three tests. India was playing second innings and because of deadly bowling attack by Waqar and Akram, India was 38/4 and it looked they would lose the game and eventually lose the series. Sanjay Manjrekar, Srikkanth, Azharuddin, Shastri were already gone. Sachin joined Sidhu. Waqar bowled a nasty bouncer which hit his nose and he was bleeding profusely. The Indian physio came running to the field and requested Sachin to retire hurt and come out later. Captain also requested him to take a break. Despite that Sachin brushed them away and said, "I will play". That is the time, people got to see the real star in the making. Sachin could have gone into the relative comfort of the dressing room but he didn't. People watching would have understood but he knew his heart wouldn't understand. The blood was staining his gloves, shirt, his face, his spirit. But he would have none of it.  He went on to score 57 runs and that changed the whole game itself.

It is always easy to do stuff when things are going in one's way. But during the time of obstacles, who stands when the dust settles will determine where he will go. It is always like that. What separates champions from mere mortals is not just talent. It's attitude. It is mental strength. It is the willingness to fight when the chips are down. It is the spirit that made him say"I will play.". The spirit that puts the team's need ahead of one's own interest.

There are times in our lives when the pressure mounts and we feel like throwing in the towel and calling it quits. That's just the time when you need to put your hand up and be counted. Time to say "I will play".

Over the last two decades, Sachin has entertained us with his performances. We have watched with awe as he has pulled off incredible wins. And we have watched with anguish when he failed and with him have crashed entire nation's hopes.

Sachin's greatest contribution is teaching an entire nation to stand up and fight. To learn never to give up. Thanks Sachin for teaching all of us the valuable lesson of not giving up because it is hard. We salute you for showing and leading by example of how to fight and letting your bat talk.

What career should I pursue: Part III

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Perspective is more a question of how you view the world than how the world actually is. Just as it doesn't matter what has happened to you in life as much as it  matters how you deal with it, the art of getting what you want is the art of managing your own mind. So before going any further, I would like to talk about worrying and feeling overwhelmed, because they are..bad management!

"Worry is a form of fear, and all forms of fear produces fatigue"- Bertrand Russell

It is common to worry or feel a little overwhelmed  after college.Your life lies ahead of you and you're not exactly sure what form it's going to take. You may listen to other people's advice, and that advice may be helpful-but the value of such advice is relative, since even you may feel indifferently about yourself in a year or so.

Whatever the specifics of your situation, you have two primary assets to create a new life for yourself: your energy and your clarity of vision. And when you worry or feel overwhelmed, they are the first to go.

Think of pilots. They're trained, when flying in a dense fog or storm, to override their visual perception and trust the guidance of their electronic instruments-rather than staring down and insisting that the bad weather clear on demand.

In this kind of situation, pilots are taught to allow for their own cluelessness and shift to an alternate mode of perception..and ideally they all remain calm.

I used to watch cricket game more often before. I have noticed that when the captains of the teams are interviewed before a semi final or final, they often make the same remark: "We would like to go out there, relax and have fun."

I used to find that odd. These are the most important games in their lives. These performances would play a big part in determining the future course of their careers. Yet they spoke as it referring to some casual street pick-up games.

Then it dawned on me. The statement " I want to relax and have fun" carries a hidden meaning. When athletes are calm rather than nervous, they have more of their natural talents and instincts at their disposal. The same thing applies to all of us.

I speak from great experience. I used to worry all the time. In fact, I was very good at it.

Frankly, I thought it was a noble activity.


When I worried, I seemed to be industrious. After all, I was thinking about whatever it was over and over, so I couldn't be accused of slacking off- least of all by myself. Not only that, but my worrying implied that I was intelligent enough to know that there was a good reason to worry in the first place!

But I had it all wrong, as I came to realize. There was never a reason to sacrifice my energy. To say it differently, when you are in a situation that is causing you stress and anxiety, there is always another way to understand it.

To begin. If the way you understand a dilemma determines how easily you will work out, then if  you are having the problem, the important question is not only "What is the problem itself?" but also "How am I seeing it? What are the boundaries  it has in my mind? Am I framing this so that there's no possible solution, and so that effective action will be impossible? or can I find a way to understand this so that my perspective helps rather than hurts, and inspires rather than defeats?"

That is the goal.

Creating your own perspective suggests that you accept responsibility for the way your life is. That's a tall order and some people may not want to go there. After all, if they are responsible for the condition of their lives, it also implies that they have attracted the bad things that have happened.

What career should I pursue ?- Part II

-Karthik Gurumurthy

I consider myself very fortunate to interact with successful people from different areas because of my Dad. He had friends in the banking , Sports and the Movie industry. This gave me copious opportunities of observing and interacting with different personalities who were extremely successful in their arena.

One of the people I have had chance to observe from very young age was S.Ve. Shekher whom I used to refer him fondly to as Shekher mama (SM). My dad and him know each other for over 30 years and were instrumental in starting the drama troupe called Natakapriya. Now SM is popular and well known because of producing the best entertaining comedy plays, as well as an actor for several decades and his active involvement in politics. 

When you are around him, you will see his presence of mind and comic timing working in sync and there will always be people surrounding him with echoes of laughter. My dad used to tell me stories about how hard SM worked to earn this success when he was a nobody. I  distinctly remember him visiting us after the play in a scooter which had a registration plate TMX 552. Those were the days my dad and SM always had long chats outside our place. At that point of time, he was not recognized popular or a star. What my dad shared was, he always had an amazing work ethic and him being successful was  just the matter of time. It was clear that whatever else he may have thought about himself, he knew he was successful. And what did that mean? If he had plays that failed, he would still do the next play with the mindset that it will win heart and succeed -because he saw himself that way.

Of course- We'd expect as much: He's successful, renowned and wealthy artist. But it's important to factor in the one thing that changes the whole equation. People who knew him like my dad in the early days- before he was famous or successful- have reported that he had the same confidence when he was just starting out.

So what does this imply?

I used to think the prerequisite to having confidence is the knowledge. But it is not necessarily true. To be confident, you have to to act confident.

You have to "walk the talk" before the world responds. To put it another way, the most effective people are not only talented and persevering. They add one another essential ingredient. They have mastered the art of adjusting their inner frames in ways that allows them to succeed, in ways that allow them to be effective. 

"Success or failure is determined in your own mind"- Paramahansa Yogananda.

What career should I pursue?: Part I

-Karthik Gurumurthy

I get to interact with lot of students and that is one of the commonly asked question I encounter as to what career I need to choose?

My answer depends. Because it depends on what the person wants to do eventually. What are his/her long term goals and dreams?

One thing for sure is to set yourself in motion.

You set out to do something, and in the process you refine your concept of what is you really want to do. Life is an active feedback loop:  The path you take sends back information that help you adjust and revise..the path you'll take. Your career teaches you about your career: what it can be and also what you want it to be.

All you need to do now is to use the best idea you have about who you are and the direction you want to take, and then take the move. Balance action with reflection, but take action - even if you have limited knowledge of exactly where it will all lead. And of course, keep your eyes open.

Things have changed a lot from our parents generation. In the corporate culture of years past, people framed their lives of getting stuck. That was their dream! You work really hard and give 110% to one company and the company takes care of you. It was considered bad form to have too many job changes on your resume, and people hoped to stay with the same companies, in the same careers day in and day out until retirement.

Now the bottomline is that even if you wanted to stay in one job, the American economy doesn't carry the workers the way it once did, it allows for greater mobility. So wherever you begin, trust that you'll learn what you need to learn, and then surely move on.

To give you an example, when Tom Scott and Tom First graduated  from Brown University, they didn't want to enter the traditional workforce as their Ivy League classmates were doing. So they moved to Nantucket and started delivering coffee and supplies yachts that pulled into Nantucket harbor.

When the snowy winter arrived, they yachts stopped coming and they realized they needed another source of income. First remembered a peach cooler he had tasted in Spain. Using a kitchen blender, he tried to recreate the drink himself.

What resulted was Nantucket Nectars, a multimillion-dollar business that the two have since sold to Ocean Spray.

Did making money motivate them? Yes. They knew the yacht-servicing business was limited to warm weather moths and they had to come up with something else. But what did they actually do?

Mixing the first Nantucket on a cold winter's day, recalling a taste memory from summer vacation to Spain, is a much different experience- from making an appearance at an office somewhere you don't really want to be.

To take another example.

Bill Bowerman was accepted to medical school but instead decided to become a track coach. When you examine the job characteristics of doctors and coaches, you'll find many of the same categories: Practitioners in both fields are "Helpers,", "Teachers" and  "Advisors". My best friend Sudarsanam whom we fondly call him Susi has the same job description. In that regard, both careers he had considered probably corresponded to who he truly was.Yet, he obviously made the right choice: He was very successful, coaching in the Olympics and leading his athletes to several national titles.

Interestingly, one area where the two careers seem to be different is in category "Science." Doctors are scientists of sorts but..coaches?

Well, one day at the track he noticed how heavy all of the running shoes were. He went home, and like a mad chemist he poured a rubber compound into his wife's waffle iron. What came out were the soles for the first, lightweight "waffle" shoes.

Some time later, he and one of his runners, Phillip Knight, put up five hundred dollars each to start a footwear company, intending to bring lighter weight running shoes to the world. They named their company after a Greek god Nike.

Just like Nike says...whereever you are Just Do it!

Doing the right thing: Lessons from an Olympics Champion

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Lawrence Lemieux? Have you heard of him?

Probably not. He is one of those Olympic heroes who never won a medal. And yet, his name is indelibly etched on the list of all-time greats. On the list of men and women who, in their own way, epitomize the Olympic spirit.

Lemieux, a Canadian sailor, grew up dreaming of Olympic glory. Years of struggle, sacrifice and sailing were finally rewarded when he was selected to represent his country in the Finn class sailing event at the Seoul Olympics, 1988.

The big day arrived on September 24 1988. The sailing events were being held in Pusan, about 280 miles away from Seoul. The competitors set sail in fine weather but conditions got worse as the race progressed, and wind speeds climbed from under 15 knots to nearly 35 knots. The waters got choppy, the boats wobbled, the crew was under threat..and the race was on.

Halfway through the race, Lemieux was in second place, doing rather well despite the adverse weather conditions. As he gazed into the distance, his mind probably saw visions of an Olympic medal. The realization of a lifelong dream seemed near, very near. Stay focused, push yourself that extra bit, go for it, this is the moment you have worked hard for..Lemieux was egging himself on.

But then, looking into the distance. he saw something else too. Across the choppy waters,  two men were struggling for dear life, clinging on to a capsized boat. They were Joseph Chan and Siew Shaw  Her, two sailors from the Singapore team who were competing in another sailing event. Their boat has gone  out of control, they were injured and their lives were in danger.

In an instant, Lemieux decided what he had to do, what appeared to him to do the right thing.

Quickly changing course, he headed towards the two sailors in distress. With considerable difficulty, he managed to rescue Joseph first and bring him on to his own boat, which itself seemed close to capsizing. He then rescued an injured and bleeding Siew, dragging him against the force of strong currents. With the two men on his boat, relatively safe, he waited for the rescue patrol, which soon came and took the two injured men away for medical attention.

Lemieux wasn't finished though. Not yet. He decided to get back to his race. But he had lost too much time in saving two lives. From his earlier second position, he had now slipped  to number twenty second in a field of thirty two competitors. Lemieux's dream of an Olympic medal was over, but at the medal ceremony, Juan Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, presented Lemieux the Pierre De Coubertin medal or the True medal of sportsmanship and said, 'By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice and courage, you embody all that is right with the Olympics ideals.'

In our lives, we often find ourselves in situations like the one that Lawrence Lemieux faced. Our sailboats are different, the winds vary, the cries for help sound different, but the challenge is the same- conflict of personal goals versus the larger good. Can we tell what's really important? Will we willingly sacrifice personal glory for larger goals? Can we tell what really matters from what seems to matter?

It is often said that the road to the top in the corporate world is littered with corpses. Friends, colleagues and associates are quite nonchalantly sacrificed at the altar of personal glory. What is it worth? What would you rather be remembered for- getting promotion ahead of a colleague, amassing a fatter bank balance, winning the top job? Or for making a difference to someone else's life?

What would you like to be remembered for? What do you think you will be remembered for?

Lemieux, now long retired, is a successful and much-sought-after coach.  People from all walks of life want to hear his story. To remind themselves of a basic lesson in life, to be reminded about what being a winner is all about. 'Good thing I didn't win a medal,' he says. 'If I had, I would've been all but forgotten by now!'

Many, many people have won Olympic medal- an outstanding achievement undoubtedly. But few, very few have achieved what Lemieux has.

Perhaps we need to redefine true success for outselves.

What is your goal medal? How do we react when we see our own people-in-distress? The question is not what you would do if you were in Lemieux's place- the question is what have you done when you have so often been in that  place?

Medals don't matter. Mettle does.

The Science & art of decision making

Karthik Gurumurthy

The idea of making life decisions in arenas where we lack experience should put a little fear in all our hearts. But I don't run into too many people paralyzed by indecision. Instead of carefully analyzing the destinations associated with the various path options offered, our tendency is to charge down the path of least resistance, oblivious to the obvious.

I have talked to too many people who are trying desperately to backtrack down paths they wish they had never taken, usually in the financial or relational arenas. Some have acquired too much debt or in bad marriages. Others are entangled in business with people they wish they had never met.

I imagine you have had few of those conversations yourself.  When someone share stories like above, one is tempted to ask, " Didn't you see this coming? Wasn't there anything along the way that gave you a heads-up as to where this was going to take you? Weren't you even suspicious? Surely there were some warning signs. Something". Most of them pretended that everything somehow works out. Every decision has an outcome, and every path has a destination. and so they are, exactly where they don't want to be- but exactly where their paths led them. And now life is complicated. Unnecessarily complicated. Unnecessarily, because warning signs were all in place. Again they were oblivious to the obvious. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Few years back, I listened to an entrepreneur named Bill Britt. He once quoted a verse from Book of Proverbs which I didn't pay attention until few months back. This has empowered me and my family to avoid countless complications. The unnecessary kind.  Let me quote what he said.

"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it." (Proverbs 27:12)

I remember what Bill mentioned that day where he said the verse introduces us to two kinds of people. The prudent and simple. He meant they are wise and naive. Both are headed down the same path. Both "see danger" but they react differently. And consequently, they experience two very  different outcomes.

I understood it just few months back and when I paused and read my notes again. Follow me for a moment as we take a deeper look. Let's start with the first half:

"The prudent see danger and take refuge..."

Term prudent is used interchangeably with wise. So a prudent person is a wise person. The implication here is that a prudent man or woman understands that all of life is connected. He is aware of the cause-and-effect relationship between what he chooses today and what he experiences tomorrow, what he chooses during one season of life and his experience in a future season-for better or worse. Consequently, prudent people look as far down the road as possible when making decisions. Every decision. After all, they understand that today and tomorrow are connected. They stay on the lookout for signs of trouble up ahead. Today's decisions are informed and influenced by their impact on tomorrow. Drawing on their own experience or the experience of others, they anticipate the future and choose accordingly. They ask what I often refer to as the best question ever: "In light of my past experience, and my future hopes and dreams,  what's the best thing to do?" The prudent draw upon the wealth of data that life has already provided them and then take appropriate action when they see danger ahead.

The second half of the verse, we were introduced to a second category of folks: the simple.

"..but the simple keep going and suffer for it."

Simple is used interchangeably with the term naive. In contrast to the prudent, the simple or naive person lives as though life is disconnected; as if there is no connection between today's choices and tomorrow's experiences. When the simple"see danger", they don't take evasive action. They keep going.

Notice, I said they live as if life is disconnected. They don't necessarily believe to be the case. If you were to ask them, "Do you think there is connection between the choices you make today and what you will experience in the future?" they would in all likelihood answer yes. Again, it is not that they don't believe life is connected. The point is they don't live as if it is.

"Who would be so..naive?" you ask. Pretty much everybody at some point. Everytime you eat something you know you will regret, you fall into this category. Everytime you talk yourself out of exercising, you talk yourself out of preferred future. Every time you light up a cigarette, lie to your spouse,or spend money you don't have, you act as if today is in now connected to tomorrow. You "see danger". Yet instead of "taking refuge", you "keep going". You know life is connected. You just live as if it is. You make decisions today as if today is isolated from tomorrow.

The primary difference between the prudent and the simple is not what they see but how they respond to what they see. The prudent see danger and take refuge. The simple see danger and keep going. The prudent see danger and change their course. They act on what they see. The simple simply do not.The prudent act as if then is now; as if the future is the present. The simple respond as though tomorrow will always be tomorrow. The prudent respond now.

When the prudent identify behaviors turning into habits, they do something while they can. The simple keep going. When the prudent sense a relationship moving in an unhealthy direction, they do something. The simple keep going. When the prudent see trouble on their financial horizon, they do something. The simple keep spending.

The proverb closes with a very specific prediction. "..the simple keep going and suffer for it."

Suffer "for" what? For being oblivious to the obvious. The simple suffer for refusing to act on what they see. They suffer because they live as if there is no connection between the choices of today and the experiences of tomorrow. They overlook the fact that every path has a destination.

This is a truth many people have difficult time accepting -for themselves, anyway. But like it or not, decision have consequences.For some behaviours, there is point of no return. There is point at which it becomes impossible to sidestep consequences.

Few people use this opportunity to remind the world that nobody is perfect. And if all else fails, we play the fairness card: it's not fair that is happening to me!

When we are the ones facing the inevitable consequences of our decisions, it really doesn't seem fair."How could God let this happen to me?" Some people ask for forgiveness to God.

You warn people you love. The proverbs was a warning. And experiencing the outcome of your decisions has nothing to do with forgiveness. If you don't believe me, think about how your Math teacher would have responded if you had dropped on your knees at his/her desk and begged for forgiveness after flunking an exam you didn't study for. To avoid an awkward moment, he/she may have extended their hand and pronounced it is alright. But that wouldn't change your grade. It may help your relationship, but not your GPA. Forgiveness and consequences are two different things. One does not override the other.

Here's why.

God often works through principles. Principles make life somewhat predictable. The cause- and effect nature of principles creates the potential for predictable outcomes. Without principles, life would be completely random. Principles are what enables us to plan with some element of confidence. Just as you dare not ignore the principle of gravity, you would be wise not to ignore the principle of cause and effect. At the end of the day, direction, not intention, determines destination. You can't pray your way out of that. You can't talk your way out of that. And you can't repent your way out of that. It is the way God designed the world to work. You can pick any religion and they all say the same thing .

Here's another prayer Bill mentioned that I practice it on a day-to-day basis.

"Lord, help us to see trouble coming along before it gets here. And give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it."

Praying this everyday would really help in identifying possible risks and make strategies to mitigate them. Life is short. The seasons of life pass quickly. And each season is connected to the one that follows. Today's decision create tomorrow's experiences.

My hope is that as you transition from season to season, you will do with a sigh of relief rather than the pain of regret. For that to be, you must pay attention to what's out ahead of you. When you see trouble coming, take refuge. Change direction. Because it is the direction of your life what will determine your destination.

Where should we focus on?

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Having the right priorities can make or break one's life. It is a good habit to have the priorities straight and that can make a world of difference. Sometimes we all get caught up with the fancy stuff and the bling, bling, we do not take a moment to pause what is important.

It reminds me of the story which my friend narrated few years ago.

The story goes that a group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress at work and in life. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went into the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups: Porcelain, plastic, paper, some plain looking and some quite exquisite. He then asked them to help themselves to hot coffee. When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: 'If you notice, all the nice-looking, expensive cups are taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is but normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and your stress. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup but you consciously went for the better cups and are eyeing each other's cups.'

'Now , if Life is coffee, then the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just the tools to hold and contain Life, they don't change the quality of Life. At times, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee in it.'

It is something that all of us should remind ourselves consciously to slow down and smell the coffee.

Attitude of Gratitude

by Karthik Gurumurthy

Few months back in one of the training, my friend Subbu Viswanathan shared how important it is to have attitude of gratitude in our routine. He mentioned that from the time we get up in the morning, it is a good habit to have list 15 things we are thankful for. Once we start the day with that attitude, the day goes well.

It reminds of the story of Captain J. Charles Plumb which I heard few years back. For people who haven't heard about Charles Plumb, Charles Plumb is a decorated US war veteran, a navy fighter pilot. He is an example of the indomitable human spirit. He flew the F-4 Phantom fighter aircraft on 74 successful combat missions over North Vietnam. With five days to go to his return home, on his 75th mission, disaster struck. His plane was shot down. Luckily Captain Plumb managed to eject out of the aircraft and got out with his parachute. That saved his life. Unluckily for him, he was captured and jailed, confined to a tiny cell- 8 feet by 8 feet. He spent about close to 6 years-being tortured and humiliated as a prisoner of ware before he could finally return home.

Captain now spends his time sharing his story with others, helping people discover the strengths they need to tap into to overcome challenges in their own lives. My favorite of his story is set in the earlier part before he suffered six years of misery. Actually several years later the tragedy, Captain was enjoying his dinner when he noticed a gentleman seated few tables away. The other gentleman was staring at him and walked up to him and said. ' You're captain Charles Plumb?'. 'Yes' replied Captain Plumb, standing up and extending his hand in greeting.

'You flew jets fighters in Vietnam. You were on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy lands and spent six years as a POW', continued the stranger.

'How in the world do you know all that?' asked Captain.

He replied back quietly saying, 'I was the guy who packed your parachute.'

Captain was left quite speechless, a sense of  shock mixed with awe, even as the man continued with a twinkle in his eye, ' I guess it worked!'

Captain thanked the man again, and again. Later that night, as Captain tossed about in his bed, his mind flashed back to his days as a fighter plilot. He wondered how many times he may have passed by the 'parachute packer' without even acknowledging his presence. He wondered if he ever said 'Good morning!' or 'How are you?' to the man. After all Captain was a fighter pilot and the other guy was just a sailor. He couldn't have cared less.

What did I learn from the above story?

We may not all be fighter pilots but we all have our parachute packers. People who build our safety nets, encourage us, and in their own small ways, make our successes possible. They remain unsung but somewhere inside, you know they made a difference. It could be the teacher from elementary school, your neighbor, your friend's mother, your dad's friend, your mom's colleague who always seemed to have the information you urgently needed..Through life's challenges, through the take-offs and crash landings in your career and life, they were the people who made it possible. When the going get tough, they kept you going. They just did their jobs- but boy they sure made you look good. Who do you turn to when the chips are down? So who is packing your parachute?

Unlike Captain Plumb, we aren't always fortunate enough to come face to face with our parachute packers. So often we don't get the chance to say thank you. Good idea then to think of the parachute packers in your life, and pick up the phone to thank them. Today. Now.

It is also very important to ask the question: Whose parachute are you packing? Who are the people you provide strength and encouragement to? Which people will put your name in the list of folks who made a difference to their lives? Real success and happiness often emerge not from the personal glory of winning but from the joy of having helped someone else win.

And finally, it's hard to miss a trait in Captain Plumb that's the hallmark of all great Leaders. In their biggest triumphs and greatest victories, they always, always turn the spotlight on to the unsung heroes. The ordinary folks who made a difference. The parachute packers.

The next time you are basking in glory, celebrating an accomplishment or receiving an applause, please take a moment to think and thank your parachute packer.