I set goals for myself and do what it takes to reach them.
If I look back, I’d say that what worked for me was a combination of factors—my family’s support, my coaches, having access to a great training academy, and of course, my love for badminton and an acceptance of what the game demands of me. Waking up early is never easy, and even after all these years I need an alarm to get up in the morning. And yes, there are days when I am tempted to turn it off and bury myself deeper under the covers. But that never happens. There is a certain responsibility that comes with success and I have learnt that one is never fully prepared for it. I remember how, in the beginning, I only had to work on my game.
But with the years, other things were required of me, and that’s both part of being an adult and being a sportsperson representing the country. It’s something you cannot shrug off although at times, I confess, it’s not an easy load to bear. However, more often than not, it’s a matter of pride and I know I wouldn’t change the way things are.
Most of what I have learnt in life has been on court and from Papa and my coaches, whether it’s the way I speak, the way I think, or my attitude to life. Most of you must have picked up these skills within the school walls over the years, and by watching your peers and schoolmates. For me, it’s been the academy, the courts and the many games of badminton I have played since I turned nine. So yes, the way I perceive life is also a little different from the average schoolgoer, whose goal includes academic pursuit.
The dangers of reaching lofty goals early in life are very real. There is no time to control success and failure. Sometimes they come together and you have to balance it as best as you can. It would have been easy to let it go to my head, but I am acutely aware of what I have received and the element of luck in my life; I would never take it for granted. At the same time, I am also conscious of how much hard work I have put in. Parents of young children often come up to Papa and ask him if they should allow their children to pursue the game rather than academics. And Papa always says no. Given a choice, he would have liked me to have finished school, and perhaps even college. I too tried to pursue academics, but after a point it was not possible any more. Papa and I both know that things could just as easily have not worked out.
Admittedly, I am not the most talented player in the world or in the country, but I have made up for what I lack in talent with hard work, commitment, and total focus. I think this combination works, no matter what you do in life.
Mummy may tell me to focus on the goal and focus on success, but even if you don’t, I think finding something you love to do and giving it your all is a great life mantra to have.
When I look at my colleagues in the sporting world, I do feel that there is a bit of imbalance in our country when it comes to sportspersons. Of course, everyone’s grouse is that cricket occupies a pedestal and the other sports lag far behind. But going beyond that, every sportsperson’s career has a limited span. We begin our careers very early and at a stage when the average person is settling into success in his or her career, it’s already time for us to retire.
And not every sportsperson makes the kind of money that allows for a secure retirement. Most return to the jobs they have been allotted under the sports quota if they are lucky. Others seek jobs, but here a problem arises because most of them have barely completed high school, rarely managing to earn a college degree. It’s frustrating and upsetting to see that after years of working so hard and playing for the country, a sportsman or sportswoman has to struggle to make ends meet.