November 2011 was when I played my last competitive tennis tournament. It was an All-India Men’s Tournament played in my hometown. I still vividly remember that moment: I won my singles final 67(4) 64 64, after having won the doubles title the night before, and then called quits to competitive tennis. After 18 years of playing the sport I grew up with, that I dreamed to make my profession, I finally hung my rackets that day. I knew sooner or later, it had to happen. Tennis is an expensive sport, and I knew I did not have the resources to run through that marathon. Moreover, with some medical issues creeping in, health was also not on my side. Those moments weren’t easy. At that time, I did not know what the next few years would hold for me but I was positive that 18 years with tennis had prepared me well for whatever was in store.
My time with tennis had introduced me to my penchant for excellence. If not athletically, in the years to follow I wanted to touch it academically. That was when my deep desire for an academic career in OBHR rose to the surface, and I decided to work towards that goal. But, soon I realized there was a problem: I had no academic foundation. Time invested in tennis had debarred me the opportunity to go deep into forming an academic foundation. I realized that I had to start from scratch and build everything from the first hay-stick. Like the decision of quitting tennis, it wasn’t easy either. I knew that after training myself to absorb the academic rigor, MS in Human Resource Management, was the next most logical step, followed by a PhD. To execute this plan with strength, character and perseverance, my larger lessons on the tennis court came in handy; they walked me step-by-step to the place I sit today.
"My time with tennis had introduced me to my penchant for excellence."
I have often been asked if my athletic background has served any advantage as a student. There has never been an easier YES. The fruits I’ve tasted have been a lot more than the clichés associated with a professional athlete: determination, dedication, focus, winning spirit etc. From my perspective, the greatest advantage I received from my experiences as a tennis player was to understand what it is to be a ‘student’. My experiences made me believe that, ‘there is no forest dark enough to build a path in and that every tree, bush, fern lining that path has a valuable story to tell.’ Let me elaborate.
‘There is no forest dark enough to build a path in’
Just as a traveller avoids the dark spots of the forest, many students avoid the ‘tough’, ‘uncomfortable’ areas of their growth outside their comfort zone. Abandoning the tennis achievements that I worked very hard for 18 years to build and starting from scratch in an area I was not very familiar with was one such ‘dark spot in a forest’ for me. However, even though it took time, today I believe I am on track to build a smooth path. How did it happen? For that I need to tell you a quote of one of my coaches. My coach once told me: “If you learn how to win, you’d be a winner. If you learn how to lose, you’d be a champion. I want you to be a champion.” I have trained myself to make that statement part of my character ever since it resonated in my ears and, I believe, it has been this statement that has helped me win over my fear of failure, for the most part. It has inculcated in me the strength to take calculated risks and approach each situation with positivity and passion. Over the years it has developed me as a student: I learn from my experiences, not fear them.
‘Every tree, bush, fern lining that path has a valuable story to tell.’
Having competed at the international level, I have had the privilege to travel to more than 15 countries and interact with players from across the globe. Conversing with a wide variety of people with different experiences, I realized there is so much to learn. The ‘frog of the well’ in me was introduced to the pearls of the ocean. Every single one had a unique story to tell, with each story having valuable lessons hidden. Every story I heard polished my character. Every story I told helped me introspect. In every conversation I became more attuned with myself. The experience taught me the art of ‘networking with honesty’, and not only ‘networking for purpose’. I don’t know how advantageous it is for someone to become a business hotshot but it has helped me embrace studenthood. It changed my perspective towards learning and I can’t be more thankful.