To be an Icon the mantra is ‘I Can’

— Bhushan Kulkarni

We recently attended a musical fest organized by an academy where my daughter goes to learn Kathak dance. We knew that the program was going to be a feast for the audience since the dance performance was by none other but Pandit Birju Maharaj, who is an iconic figure when it comes to Kathak dance. He is the recipient of Padma Vibhushan, one of the civilian honors in India given only to those who significantly and extraordinarily contribute in any field.

So here we were watching the exemplary performance by Pandit Birju Maharj at his age of 77 years.
The important question I had in my mind was this. What makes him or any one in any field for that matter an Icon? Be it music, sports, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, literature, politics or take any discipline that you and I can think of. Series of words started crossing my mind. Is it skills, is it liking for a field or subject and hence quest for knowledge, is it consistency, is it sheer luck or is it the ‘I Can’ attitude?
“Keen observation skill and consistency of work are critical” said Pandit Birju Maharaj while revealing some of his secrets.

I recall a striking story of Arunima Sinha, a volleyball player who was pushed off a running train by thieves and could not get any immediate assistance. Finally when she was rushed to the hospital, doctors had to amputate her leg. A promising sports person’s dream was shunted with one cruel act. Someone with such a situation would have been bitter towards others and would have lost confidence in living a positive life. But Arunima was different. She chose something unthinkable. With one leg amputated, she decided to climb Mount Everest. Think of this situation for a moment. Just a thought can bring in shivers in our body. Arunima, with her strong will power, determination and consistent practice under tough circumstances went on to become the first female amputee to climb Mount Everest.

Take another case of Rupa. She bore an acid attack in 2008 that deformed her face. This heinous act would have been sufficient to destroy some ones confidence. However, Rupa chose to respond to the situation differently. She never allowed this incidence to shadow her dream of becoming a designer. Today Rupa creates and supplies some of the finest designs. With her grit, gumption and ‘I Can’ attitude, she is back in the game. She is an Icon. Online news magazine ‘news minute’ wrote about her saying ‘they stole her face but her dreams are intact’.

So what are Icons really made of? Does one need to go through some dramatic experience in life, most of it may be unpleasant or uncomforting to become an Icon?
One needs a trigger, say experts. Trigger can come from interest or any event. What follows thereafter is disciplined efforts and great consistency.
Swami Vivekananda once said “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life. Dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, the muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success and this is the way great spiritual giants are produced”.

Look at any Icon around and we see that they have taken one idea and made it really really big. In fact they made it their life. If we flip through history pages, we understand that the seeds of any change or revolution were sown in by one individual, his conviction and his ability to instill the ‘even I can’ attitude in people. Some examples are Martin Luther King Jr for Civil rights and peace movement; Abraham Lincoln for Slavery eradication; Mahatma Gandhi for non-violence movement and many such personalities.


When individuals make an idea their life, it does not necessarily guarantee success. All of them face difficulties and hardships. Many a times there are situations where nothing seems to work. Kind of a dead end. A situation what the Intel ex-chairman Andy Groove in his book ‘Only paranoids survive’ calls the ‘Inflection Point’.

The important question is what do they do differently under such situations that get them the iconic status?

Here are the 5 things they do differently.

1. Transmutation :
Sometime back, I saw an advertisement of a machine that processes decompose and transforms it into a fragrance. Icons are somewhat like that machine. They build their mindset in a special way. While pursuing their goals or objectives whenever they have positive experiences they draw energy from that positivity and continue with their work. When they get negative experiences, their attitude or unique mindset converts it into more energy and their intensity of action around their purpose enhances. They have an uncanny ability to transmute any experience into desired velocity.

2. Seeing the big picture :
Napoleon Hill in his famous book ‘Think and grow rich’ writes persuasively about the art of visualization. Stephen Covey in his book ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ writes about begin with the end in mind. People who continue with their resolution demonstrate these qualities quite often. My friend lost 17 kg and got in shape last year. She has set her target on a particular weight she wanted to achieve (end state) and visualized being their every day. You speak to any such person who we can consider an Icon; they will always talk about the big picture. What’s the final outcome going to be? How will it look? What will be the great benefits of these outcomes? These thoughts and conversations give them and others great strength to carry through the hardships on the way.

Is it possible for you and me to visualize the end state of our objectives or goals? Here are some simple steps that will help us greatly in Visualization. a. Believe that you have already succeeded. b. Whatever is your goal, close your eyes and see yourself achieving it. c. See it in as much detail as possible. d. Add colors, movement, smell, taste, sound, emotions – make it seem like a live memory rather than something you are imagining.

3. Consistency and commitment :
There is a difference between Interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something, you do it only when it is convenient. When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results. The commitment to be consistent at a particular thing comes from what Napoleon Hill calls the burning desire. And burning desire comes from their ability to visualize the end state.

4. Resilience :
“I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits the bottom” said George S Patton Jr. How do you approach failures and handle them is more important than our ability to handle success. It’s easier said than done. Watch any sports. Especially watch the losing team. Those teams who demonstrate a composed and matured demeanor have better chance of positively channelizing their energy and focus on practicing the game to improve the probability of winning. All of us have the ability to bounce back. The ability can be deepened by observing sports and people.

5. Rituals :
A ritual is a series of actions or type of behaviour regularly and invariably followed by someone.
A specific time allocated to perfecting an activity is the hallmark of almost all successful or Iconic figures. In one of the live concerts famous table maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain said that if he does not practice Tabla for 15 days, perhaps the audience may not notice the difference but he does and that’s what he said matters. Badminton player Saina Nehwal once said in an interview that if she leaves practice for a month, the difference of her class of game is quite visible to her and to her coach. Icons make their work a ritual. They follow an uncompromised regularity so that they are able to perform as per their standards and outperform others.

At the heart of these 5 things viz Transmutation; seeing the big picture; Consistency & Commitment; Resilience and Rituals lays the mind-set. A mind-set of ‘I Can and I Will’.

About the Author
Mr.Bhushan Kulkarni has18 years of experience. 6 years in Sales and 12 years in Training. Specialise in designing learning architecture for Organisation and skills & behavioral training.

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