Whiplash Lessons in Self Management

On Frankaffe, Sushrut Munje shares how Whiplash (2014) is abundant with self management, leadership and strategy lessons for a learner in pursuit of excellence.

Better late than never to watch good cinema. I regret missing Whiplash [2014] in the theaters, but then, 2014 was as stormy for me as it was for this passionate drummer. Caught it on television, finally, with my Dad and it was an experience to behold.

A pursuit of a musician explained, who aspired for greatness. It is not easy to relate to this level of focus, for our life is filled with fancy dinner with friends and good times spent socializing. It is not easy to ignore a sugar rush, and carnal cravings which this drummer conquered, in his feverish rush. We celebrate victories of super achievers, we do not know what went behind the 10,000 hours of practice. I felt wrung, twisted and left out to dry as the movie ended.

Focus

When we set out on this path towards the peak, it is necessary to know that focus is crucial. We are tested at every corner. The temptation to sway, though for a moment, is real. You almost reach out to instant gratification. Like a sailor being lured by a siren, then plunging to death. Like a distracted storyteller, stretching tales beyond purpose. Like a drummer who gets lost in the daily buzz of life.

You cannot force yourself to focus, when on a pursuit. You end up being consumed by the hunger, and everything else fades in comparison. You breathe your goals, and identify yourself with successes and failures associated with them. Clothes do not matter, neither do people and what they say. If you are working towards something you can be breathless about, you need to focus all your energies on achieving it, without compromises. Drums might give in, drumsticks might make you bleed, but you got to meet the tempo.

What also fascinates me is the razor sharp focus maintained by the storyteller. The movie does not delve deep into a potential romance, it hardly focuses on the applause the kid probably gets. What do the people say about the road accident? What do people say when the drummer tackles his teacher to the ground? To what measure do people applaud his exceptional performance at the end? We are not supposed to care, for the story is drummer’s and drummer’s alone. It’s your life, and that’s all that matters.

Easy to be Busy

Armed with fiery focus, our young drummer asks to break out of a nascent relationship with a pretty lady who, quite unlike our driven Archer, isn’t really sure where she is going in her life. He suggests that since drums is all he is going to think about in the near future, why try a relationship that might distract him from his goals? Why attempt to ruin their two perfectly happy lives? He would be a busy man, without any time for a relationship.

It’s easy to be busy. It’s hard to take time out for your loved ones, and be understanding and respectful of who they are as people. My Dad once explained how to understand whether it makes any sense to take it ahead with a delightful lady. In a conversation between you two, seek an intent from her side to understand what you’re trying to say. Because you might take two years to fully know each other, but presence of an intent alone shows the tip of a promising iceberg.

While working hard and putting in 10,000 hours to master an art – we often shell ourselves up and self justify the isolation. However, we need to understand that without love and laughter, we are only lonely trolls. Insights often come with analogies, and they pop up when we are relaxed and joyful. Life seems fulfilling when we hug a loved one after a hard day at work. Happiness makes the world go round.

Stress, anger and helplessness seep away when we are with family. There should always be a home to go back to, no matter how hard you work, no matter how busy you are. There ought to be ears who want to understand what you are saying, there ought to be eyes which you seek to know well. Getting lost in the whirlwind of self created work has helped no one, for love truly completes our being.

Our drummer screws up quite a bit, just like you and me. And it’s his Dad who always has a supporting word, and a warm pat and a comforting hug. Parents hold their kids close, no matter what the world is saying. Your better halves complete you, feel the love when they hold your hand and squeeze it gently. Give them time for they would only accelerate your pursuit for greatness.

Assign Roles to People

This one helps when you are dealing with people, and some difficult ones. The trick is to focus on your task, and create a list of people associated with the task, and their personalities. This allows you to view people around you either as a thing to be happy about, or a thing to work on. Criticism stops hurting you at a personal level, and becomes a stepping stone instead.

Each of the good people around you would have one unique personality trait that supports your task viz. moral support, technical support, guidance, resources, additional bandwidth, etc. People being difficult need to be viewed constructively, and should be used to deal with your weaknesses.

Understand that foes attack the weakest gate of your castle. The ‘difficult people’ for you would be poking at the chinks in your armor, something that you have probably ignored in your enthusiasm. As a result, they are effectively a blessing in disguise. Use their focus and insistence on your weaknesses to understand and undo, thus emerging stronger than ever. Roles to be assigned to difficult people include lacking motivation, lacking attention to detail, lacking pursuit of excellence, etc.

Our drummer has a difficult teacher, who in turn believes that his style is helping create mastery. Role to be assigned is that of pushing oneself beyond what you think is possible. Drummer has a Dad, the warm hearth, clearly. And he has a sweet lady in his life for a brief period, the much needed ear for what he has to say. Holding them all together can help him sail through. Focusing on the roles assigned to them helps him work better, instead of brooding over how and why people behave.

Be Great

It all boils down to greatness, which ought to be the goal behind your every pursuit. What’s the point of spending your life doing something if you do not excel at it? Make it through the grind, or let it break your back. Fail once, go out and fail again. Try again till you succeed. Once you are committed for the long run, there is no looking back. Our drummer braved an abusive teacher, bruised hands, a romantic interest and public humiliation due to thoughtless actions – all to be the greatest drummer in his circles.

The best part? Public applause ceases to matter once you have your inner self convinced.

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