The Apprentice: looking at circumstance & outcomes.

I’ve got a series of thoughts on the Apprentice that focus more on my emotional reaction towards the other contestants. I don’t want to write about any of that stuff for at least a year,  until I have more distance with time. But a frequent question I’m asked is around regrets and how I view the experience. So here goes:

There’s the saying that “as you make your bed, so just must lie in it.” I’ve always found the saying a bit empty and inadequate. I think a more apt analogy that describes many situations in my life and I think, my Apprentice experience, as well:

Life is about digging your grave.

In the broadest sense, we dig our graves every day, through the manner in how we live. Since each day we get closer to our eventual end, we need to ensure we’re making the most of our time so that when we’re laid to rest, we’re satisfied with everything that we did and didn’t do. The grave in this case is the life we’ve created (that we “dig” each day.)

In the specific sense (The Apprentice falling within), life is about our failures as much as our successes. After each failure, we look up and realize we’re in our (situational) grave. The details of ending up in that particular grave vary substantially. Here circumstance can play a great role: metaphorically, was the ground we were digging in hard or soft? Were we digging up a concrete foundation or soft recently tilled dirt? Were we using a shovel or digging with our hands? This is circumstance, and it can feel like a crap-shoot. Regardless, in everything that we do, we make a lot of mistakes. Some big, some small. All these mistakes are the pails of dirt dug up. So for every mistake, both big and small,  that’s one act of digging.

When we look up and find ourselves in a grave (our outcome), we have a couple of choices.

One, we can look back and complain about all of the things that worked against us: where we were digging, the hardness of the soil, whether someone was helping us, etc. But all of these don’t matter because often they are the random impact of circumstance.

Instead, I think it’s better to look at intent and action. What were all of the mistakes that I made, and how did each lead to me ending up in that outcome (in my brutally forced analogy, the grave). I look at the mistakes and then look at my intention. That’s it.

Did I have the right intention?  Was it smart based on the information that I had? If it was, I do my best not too beat myself up. Did I execute my decision well? If yes, I leave it alone. If not, I try and learn from it and think about how I could have done better. And overall, I try and see what other situations these individual mistakes could arise again. I’ll try to bang that into my thick skull for next time.

I do my best to ignore the fact that I ended up in the hole (grave) itself (that I failed). That happens. And it’s impacted by all the digging analogies above. That’s the impact of circumstance/luck and it could have broken in the exact opposite direction without the universe  hiccuping. So I try and leave that be. I don’t focus on the outcome that everyone else sees, in this case: not winning the Apprentice. It’s a multi-variable equation, so I leave it alone. “Winners win, losers lose” is a mentality I have completely abandoned in the old age of 25.

I do think about the individual mistakes. And in the case of The Apprentice, I clearly made plenty. I don’t consider myself a victim of circumstance. But that’s because, in a sense, we’re all massive victims and beneficiaries of circumstance. None of our successes or failures are entirely are own. Where we’re born in life, what we had for lunch, a butterfly changing course– all might dramatically alter what happens to us. So I think that cancels out. And that leaves us is with what we do: what we choose and what we learn.

That’s my take. I wanted this post to be more than about my individual mistakes on a TV game show. Because, really, how interesting is that? They weren’t business mistakes, they were game show strategy mistakes. I did find that how I dealt with the experience (both positive and negative) was much like how I handle other joys and sadness in my life, so there you have this entry.

3/28/13 – It so easy to know the right way to think about things, but far harder to follow through. I’m still a little surprised at how zen I was at my mistakes on TA. When I just read that I had abandoned the ‘winners win, losers lose’ mentality at 25, I couldn’t help but sneer at my younger self. If only that was remotely true. In the seven years since I filmed TA, I’ve regretted many mistakes and quite brutally revisited them in my head. While focusing on “process, never outcomes” is still a philosophy I highly value, I’m much more at peace w/the fact that it’s hard to abide by. To be human is to doubt and to regret. Being overly introspective, I especially suffer from this.  One of the most interesting things about reading my old writing (both on this blog and in my journals), is how consistent the themes and points are. It’s only occasionally that I’ll come across something and be surprised that I felt that way. Far more often, I’m struck that it’s the same struggle– just years later. It truly reminds me of the saying: “Where ever you go, there you are.” It’s why my current obsession might be that in many cases it’s not at all about changing our circumstances, but changing our processing of those circumstances.

11 thoughts on “The Apprentice: looking at circumstance & outcomes.

  1. It's great that you got national exposure on tv, but seriously, did you really want to work for Trump? You're probably better where you're at now.

  2. Hi Brother

    I am Ramana from India. Hope the Apprentice show you were in was recorded. If so, please courier it across. All the web sites, articles say you did great. You were featured in The Hindu, a national news daily of high reputation along with Sanjaya Malakkar on 31st March. The article has highly positive things said about you. The photo copy of the article is posted to all our other well wishers. I have mailed the scan copy to Tirumala, Jag.

    Bye

  3. Surya,

    Definitely an interesting perspective, and a useful rule of thumb to use when learning from one's experiences–I've got a couple of cents to add, if you don't mind.

    I've been reading Gareth Morgan's "Images of Organizations" for a class in organizational dynamics, and there's a very wisely written chapter in the book where he talks about the pluses and minuses of metaphors– metaphors are highly useful for being able to find patterns in a sea of events, and can be very helpful at helping one gain insight into needed areas of growth. On the other hand, metaphors are limited by design– when viewing life through one particular lens, one can miss important information that the lens has filtered out.

    It's clear that you learned valuable lessons from your Apprentice experience, and in revisiting the successes and mistakes for our benefit (and thanks for that!!) and your own education. It also makes sense to view the whole experience in a linear way, especially since we all saw the episodes rolled out in serial fashion, and there was a discrete beginning, middle, and end. On the other hand, how much of life can be understood when viewed in a linear fashion? If you look at The Apprentice as a series, there were so many different personalities, random logistical factors, competing and parallel goals, and myriad shifting roles and external forces operating on each group that it might take years to get to the bottom of what actually happened!

    I guess what I'm suggesting here is that the 'process of questioning the process' might be the most important part of the equation– and it makes sense to explore not only what you did, but how you dealt with it.

    Thanks for the blog entry!

  4. I agree with "R" above. Mr. Trump is a great businessman, but he should have recognized what a great talent you are and what an asset you'd be to his organization. I lost a lot of respect for him after you were fired. Regardless of how the show was edited, any idiot could figure out that you were more dedicated to getting that job than a lot of the other contestants. You might not have won the game show, but judging from this posting you've obviously learned a lot from it and you're better off. Good luck with everything!

  5. You lost, but I still think you came out a winner. You got national exposure, and you may get an offer or two out of it. I'll admit that I'd probably get a little annoyed if I were working with you, but that's because we have two different styles–you're all business, while I'm an academic. I think that's the exact same thing that happened with Team Arrow. Your styles were different, and no one really knew how to deal with it. Yet, your presence did help the team restructure. I haven't decided whether that's good or bad, but maybe your presence was the needed shot in the arm. It's hard to believe you're only two years my senior, yet you're accomplishing so much. It makes me wonder how being in graduate school will affect me in the long run.

    Speaking of Arrow, Tim could really use your "lie in the bed you made" advice, but I'm sure everyone else has gotten into that.

  6. Surya,

    you gave us your method of analysis in looking back at this experience in retrospect. What conclusions did you come to about the apprentice. I am interested in knowing the results of your self-audit. Where do you feel you made mistakes? What will you take from it as you move forward? You're a process-oriented guy I gather, I'm sure you've analyzed this from many different angles. I think your methodology is right, though I must say, I was a bit confused with all the grave digging analogies. Certainly you must look at your own hand in creating the situation rather than seeing yourself as a victim of circumstance. So what conclusions did you come to?

  7. Even though the tv show says you lost, you turned a dying team around and helped them to win – some of which are still in the running. And it is better to try and experience things in life than to just sit on the sideline wishing one tried and experienced life!

  8. Surya,

    I think we may have read the same literature. Your writing brings to mind Game Theory, Six Degrees, Eastern Philosophy, and a certain level of contentment that is only possible through meditation, good reading, and good company.

    Trump wouldn’t be able to work with someone as smart as you – he actually needs followers, not leaders. I think your deepness may intimidate some, so be careful when expressing your self. This was most evident when your teams reacted negatively to your methodologies; instead of saying they weren’t up to your level (or needed you to simplify things), their egos kicked in and said that it was you, in fact, who was out of touch – classical.

  9. Surya, What if by being on the apprentice, you became known to someone that you would not otherwise have come in contact with, and that your integrity and ideas influenced them in a positive way – to go on and do other things that influenced more people?

    Don't spend a minute analyzing 'mistakes' you think you may have made on the show. Look beyond the show – way beyond the show, and you will realize that there was a reason for you to be there that Mr. Trump and many other people do not know.

    That 'butterfly' effect is more powerful than we think. Everyday we influence people and do not even realize it.

    That is 'reality' – not some television show that purports to be 'reality.

    I for one want to thank you for being one of the people that opened my eyes a little wider and made me realize what I could and should do.

    I have not had to snap the band so far, but I do pull on it once in a while 🙂

  10. think the saying has been said already, the whole life is about preperation for death. No new saying there mate.

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