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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

down Up

I didn’t get to watch the final of the All-England badminton finals, saving myself the heartbreak of watching my country’s hero go down to an exceptional opponent. I didn’t see the match, but just by looking at the score line, it was obvious that it had been a closely fought encounter.

The thing about closely fought encounters is that you don’t often regret the way you played or strategised because you accept that you were just outclassed by your opponent’s extra edge. On the other hand, there’s plenty to regret if you lose out by a large margin or surrender a huge advantage and end up on the losing side.

At badminton, last night, I probably experienced just that. The first game I played was up against a mixed pair and I was paired up with another guy around my age. On the other side of the net, the average age was probably double of mine. The matchup was begging for a one-sided victory from my end, no? Two young guys against a much elder mixed doubles pair doesn’t sound like a fair fight.

It started off well, as much as I expected. We were nine points up, when I crumbled. The veterans started to rack up the points and they hardly had to work for it. My mind became totally clueless as how to complement my partner’s positioning, my feet were stuck to the court and the shuttle was always going back straight to to our opponents. To top it off, I actually clattered into my partner at one point, reaching for the same shot.

The loss soon arrived and I couldn’t help but walk off the court in some disbelief at what happened. It was probably the worst game I’d played ever since I’d joined the group. It was even more disappointing knowing that I’d been slowly improving in the past few weeks. A thought immediately came to my mind, “I only missed one week, and suddenly I’m like this?”

I tried to shrug it off for the next game against another mixed pair, who were younger. I remembered winning against the guy from the opponent pair when I played him in a men’s doubles match. Badminton is something that I do for fun, but while I’m playing, I’ve got that competitive mentality. Anyway, that distant memory was enough to put me in some confidence before it began. All that went out the window when five points were lost right from the start.

This time, my net shots failed me miserably and probably my insistence to keep playing them got us trailing helplessly. I started thinking, “This is ridiculous,” When you’ve lost one game and are well on your way to losing another, its very possible to get frustrated and angry with yourself. When that happened, I started to make simple mistakes like keeping my racket down instead of up that made me miss a couple of shots. Again, poor positioning also got my partner and I flat footed, and I was guilty of simply watching the shuttle hit the floor numerous times.

I sat down on the bench, rather disgusted at my own game. I’d played with my partner before, so why was I so poor this time? Two excuses came to mind. I hadn’t played for a week, so I was probably out of touch and the other being that I was seriously hungry the whole time. I told myself though, I didn’t even give that a thought when I was up nine points in the first game.

The break in play gave me a chance to sit back, reflect on the first two games and watch the other two pairs in action at the same time. It’s quite amazing how a little time off can make a difference. When you’re taken away from the action, its so much easier to observe and learn without being caught up in the moment. Fifteen minutes, and I was better prepared for the next game.

With a lot less impatience, better positioning and movement got us going again. The first rematch was up against the younger mixed pair. It wasn’t by any means a magical turnaround, because there were still mistakes. Nonetheless, the performance was definitely better than the last game and it would be enough to win that rematch. Finally, my partner and I had good reason to be confident and win the next one. Another loss would’ve probably killed all hopes for me.

The last game was the same as the very first, with us youngsters against the veterans. The beginning was hardly fairy tale material, careless mistakes came again and a third loss was looming in the background. The difference this time was that my partner and I were a lot more determined after winning the previous game. In perfect contrast, the last game played out totally opposite of the first. This time, we trailed behind, then picked it up and kept the momentum right up to the winning point.

Honestly, it was a really sweet way to end the night, after a huge lot of frustration then. Reflecting afterwards, there were a number of life lessons I relearned from the whole thing:

1. When you’re losing, making excuses is easier than breathing.

2. Brooding on mistakes produces more mistakes, so just stop.

3. When losing in life, its good to step back for a while to reflect and re-evaluate yourself, staying away from the chaos before stepping back in, better prepared than before.

4. Confidence breeds confidence, not invulnerability. Confidence still needs ability and persistence to pull through.

5. Determination precedes victory.

Friday, August 05, 2011

mind Changing

About a month back, I wrote an entry about the town hall address of the PETRONAS top man, Datuk Shamsul Abbas. He talked about the need for mind set change, stressing that it was something that really needs to happen.

When confronted to change the way you think, the first questions to ask are what kind of mind set changes exactly, and why the need for this change? What’s wrong with the way things are now? These are very fair questions, especially if you’re in a pretty cosy place. In Malaysia, I think that apart from political fiascos that also seem to have infected the globe lately, there’re a lot of people that are pretty comfortable with the way things are.

I’ve seen it through the attitudes of the people that I’ve met every now and then. Honestly, there’s nothing glaringly wrong with these people. If you were a tourist and met them on the street, you’d probably make them out to be friendly, helpful people. Yet, if you got to know them over time, you might wonder why some of them are lacking in progressive thinking and maybe some who are outright lazy, shallow in their evaluations even perhaps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning anyone, but pointing out a real weakness we have sometimes as human beings.

To me,the mind set change usually has to do with being more progressive and less protective of our personal opinions, to be more receptive to the unfamiliar. The failure to do this happens when we’re right all the time and wrong only when someone points out our mistakes from a text book. We fail when we say the way we do everything is how everyone else should and doing anything different is a crime.

Where I was studying previously, religious tolerance was (and probably still is) an issue simply because certain people cannot accept others doing something differently, and go out of their way to impose themselves. What’s incredible is that they can even go on a witch hunt on people they feel should be a part of them even if its clear they have chosen something different. Even when they don’t, a spirit of condemnation clearly exists. Unfortunately one of the things Malaysians can be good at is silently hating somebody. Not much is said up front, but there’re plenty of stares, whispers and backbiting.

Its really sad when I see people like that, who are close minded, but in their own right could really be good people if they’d just lose the attitude. Its not really about religion though, cases of poor mentality in my country include the multitude of complainers that probably don’t lift much more than a finger to fix their own situations, always blaming circumstances. Accountability is missing, passing the buck and pointing fingers at things beyond their control.

Another situation, most relevant to people leaching on the success of others is being satisfied with the status quo. Subsidies and scholarships were always meant to help people, but the mind set of ‘I deserve it anyway’ make people take their blessings for granted. There’re sponsored students who complain when their pocket money isn’t banked in on time but hardly give thought to the fact their entire education fee is being taken care of. Its not uncommon to hear people of the older generation say there’re many people who want money fast but won’t work hard for it. There’re people that work at big companies but aren’t ‘inspired’ to work well because as long as they get their salary, its good enough for them.

I had the pleasure to meet with two friends recently, both of whom have studied overseas. One thing I’ve noticed about these two, is that they don’t strike you as the kind of people that you would need to change a whole lot about them to get them on their path to success. Simply put, they’re independent people, who aren’t lechers, who aren’t religiously or ethnically intolerant, responsible and open to what people have to say.

I am in no way suggesting that Malaysians who have studied overseas are automatically better than those who didn’t have the chance. What I am saying is, these two people learnt in an environment where they probably opened themselves up to a lot of new things, learning their world was a lot bigger than what they thought or knew it to be and it taught them to be different from several people I know. The biggest mind set problem I believe Malaysians and people the world over face is they only choose to think within the borders of their own little world.

Even with the internet that’s connected the world together, I think too many people still live in their own small world that they forget there’s a much larger one out there, with billions of people doing so many things in so many different ways and that’s reason enough to explore new things and change the way you think or do something if you find something better in the midst of exploring new things. It doesn’t mean I must compromise my moral stands to be open minded, but it does mean I shouldn’t be a judge and jury with extreme prejudice.

A changed mind set is always a more open one. Being able to look at a 360 degree angle is always better than a 10 degree one. You don’t have to take in the whole 360, but you’ve a lot more choice than just the ten.