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TM Speech 14 – The pursuit of excellence

February 24, 2014

The objective of this speech is to inspire the audience. I am giving this speech as part of our local club contest in the International Speeches category for the year 2014.


Empty handed I entered the world, barefoot I leave it.  My coming, my going – Two simple happenings that got entangled” – Kozan Ichikyo.

When I first heard this poem by Kozan Ichikyo, I felt a sense of calm after a storm that engulfs a helpless victim.

It was almost four years ago…I was working hard – to establish my place in corporate America, to prove myself and meet the expectations and standards that we, immigrant professionals have set for ourselves. I was grabbing everything coming in my way with both hands with utmost aggression. I was fiercely ambitious, and I craved…I craved the three Rs – Remuneration, reward and recognition, so much that not only was I putting extremely long hours at work but also getting upset that others were not matching my intensity. My blinded ego got inflated to an extent that I started believing in falsehoods about myself – that I was the best in my group and I could do anything, any time of the day,  better than anyone else in my group. My arrogance almost fired me.

I managed to survive with a reprimand from my vice president and the head of HR. It was a moment to introspect. I started seeking advice from some mentors on how to deal with work place conflicts. However, the best advice I got was from an unusual quarter in a totally different context that changed my conception of work, personal growth and life. My mother told me the story of a simple lady, pride of our ethnic community.

It was about a hundred fifty years ago, when the British control on India was almost complete, and frequent droughts plagued the landscape of India. There was this simple lady called Sitamma, in South India, who decided her mission in life was to cook and serve food to any hungry person that knocked on her door just like a mother would to her child. Not one single person was refused food anytime of the day in her entire life time. Her name spread far and wide and she was often called Annapurna, the Goddess of nourishment.

The then emperor of India King Edward VII,  wanted her to be his guest for his coronation anniversary celebrations in Delhi in 1903.  He sent for the governor of her region, to bring her to Delhi in full honors.  Sitamma was pleasantly surprised to see the governor and politely declined the invite. She said that whatever she is doing is very basic human. She has not been doing this for recognition or reward from the king and that she sees no reason to deserve such an honor from the king.

Such was her commitment that none of the three Rs mattered to her. She set herself a mission and strived to do it to its perfection.

It then dawned on me.  Like a satori moment taking over my consciousness, I could see the truth instantly.

We come empty handed, we leave barefooted. The three Rs – recognition, rewards, and remuneration do not come with us. They are not to be pursued but  they are a natural, eventual and inevitable outcome in the pursuit of excellence.  If the pursuit of excellence in whatever we set to do be the goal, the outcome naturally follows. Let our pursuit of excellence begin, let it begin now. 


PS:-I won our club contest. The next step is semi-finals and then if I advance, to Belgian finals. Well, lets see how far Sitamma can take me to :-). Video of the speech here (note the sound quality isn’t that great. But while speaking in the Hall it was ok…

PS PS:- I won our semi-finals as well and now advancing to the finals.

PS PS PS:- I did not win in the finals. But it was worth the effort. 

In same category I won my last year contest as well:


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