What is performance to you?

Once upon a time two friends were treading along in the forest when they saw a tiger running towards them. Even as one was thinking about what to do, the other opened his bag, took his running shoes out and put them on.

“You really think you can outrun the tiger even with those on?” his friend asked.

“I don’t have to outrun the tiger,” he said, “I just need to run faster than you.”

This anecdote, like many others, is based on reality.

Years ago, when I would come back home after getting my exam results, I was asked two questions – What marks did I get? What rank did I get?

While the first question was about my performance, the other was to check how my performance was relative to the others. School, college and then corporate life – the one thing that did not change was that performance was rarely looked at as an absolute. It was always relative. It was not about how fast you ran, but how many people you outran.

Given the competitive world we live in, this logic is reasonable. You might be doing well, but if everyone else is also doing just as well, then you need to up your game and perform better to stand out. Good is not good enough if everyone around you is good.

The danger though is when performance is all about only doing better than the others. I don’t do my best anymore, I just want to do better than the others.

I am reminded of a dialogue from a Bollywood movie, “You never won because you always thought about defeating me. And I never lost because I always thought about winning.”

What is performance to you?

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