“I have never seen a more dedicated cricketer than Rahul in the nets. He was able to simulate a game situation, not just by going through the motions but by making every ball count. It was like he didn’t want to get out even in the nets. In a situation when we had three or four bowlers going at him, he wanted to compete. He was always testing himself ...”

— John Wright, coach of the Indian team

Rahul Dravid must have been told a million times, if not more, that his equanimity and his commitment to calm toughness and perseverance have left us cricket- lovers awestruck. Still, I noticed the shy smile creeping up his face when I said it. In this interview, I asked this magician about his magic wand. He said, matter-of-factly, that there is no such wand: just a set of skills and passionate perseverance, and a relentless drive towards excellence.

Rahul is a family friend and my entire family adores him. Our discussions on excellence and life’s goals have always been extremely fulfilling and insightful. Even though I have met him countless times, every time I meet him, he elevates me with the sheer positivity of his energy.

VM: What does excellence mean to you?
RD: To me, excellence is the constant effort to get the best out of myself. To begin with, one has to recognise the skills one possesses for the chosen pursuit and then figure out if a huge reserve of passion accompanies it. For me, I was fortunate to have a skill set suited for the game of cricket. I had tremendous passion, even as a child, to pursue the game. Though it started out as a hobby, it became the largest part of my life pretty quickly.

Excellence is a continuous journey. There are no rest stops. You have to keep evaluating your progress and improving. You need not compare yourself with others all the time, but review yourself against your chosen goals. Hence, set your goals in clear and unambiguous language.

Excellence is also about being introspective. You need to look deep within – without wearing blinders or coloured glasses. You have to be brutal about where you are lacking and need to improve.

VM: What was the most important part of your journey towards excellence?
RD: There were many high and low points in the journey, but what mattered to me most was that, at the end of it, I could walk out of the stadium with my head held high and without any regrets. Everyone needs to create a process and plan that keeps him or her on the path to excellence.

VM: What’s the hardest part in the path to excellence?
RD: I’d say it’s the constant perseverance towards seeing challenges as opportunities and the passion to improve. Even when you are at the pinnacle and enjoying a fair amount of success, how you can still be focused on improving further is the key. The pursuit of excellence is not a part-time or some-time investment, it is an all-the-time thing. Commitment, discipline and drive are needed in good measure. And, of course, a deep love and passion for what you do.

VM: Was there a turning point in your journey towards excellence?
RD: Yes, getting dropped from the one-day team in 1998 forced me to introspect, recalibrate and relearn. I was out of the one-day team for a year, during which I spent a massive amount of time developing new skills and adapting my game for the one-day arena. It took a lot, beginning with a deeper awareness of the finer aspects of what I lacked and, subsequently, the hard work to improve. I was able to play ten years of one-day cricket after that and score over 10,000 runs in over 300 one-day matches.

John Wright noted that: “He never made the same mistake twice. He learnt hugely in one-day cricket – which probably was an area he had to work at a little bit more than others. He had been dropped from the Indian one-day team and then went on to come back and have a very good World Cup [in 2003.”

VM: What is the recipe for excellence?
RD: Apart from what I described earlier, it’s also in the little things. All of those little things that come together to shape you. For a sportsperson, it could be the practice, the introspection, the attitude and the diet, to name some. And how one can be honest about these things even when no one is watching. It is in the sacrifices that you make during your pursuit, even in small things such as how much sleep you are getting. Those give you that extra 5 per cent edge over others. I have found that honesty is so important, that is, the kind of honesty one needs with oneself. So, be honest with your own self!

You need clarity of thought – every decision you make comes with its pros and cons – it’s important to evaluate and “own” each decision. Spend time to introspect on what you want in life. It’s not always about what you can achieve but also what makes you happy, like you and I have often discussed, Vivek.

VM: How have coaches helped you in your journey towards excellence?
RD: Keki Tarapore was my first coach and a true inspirer. He had great passion and love for cricket. But, as you move ahead in your journey, you play for different team compositions and under different circumstances. So, your coaching needs change. Having said that, one cannot discount the importance of having different mentors and coaches at different phases of one’s career. They are the extra pair of eyes you need to help you learn more about yourself and improve.

VM: What’s your advice for a balanced life?
RD: As a sportsman, I was travelling eight to nine months in a year. So, it was far from balanced, but I was aware of it and did the best with whatever family time I had. However, I realigned my goals after retirement and made some difficult choices, let go some lucrative contracts, to make sure I compensated for it. One thing I did throughout was that I did not let my success or failure determine who I was as a person. I stayed “balanced” for the family. Having a good family and friend environment helps release pressure, it helps one stay sane in tough times. I strongly believe in investing in relationships.

VM: How does one demonstrate excellence in a team situation?
RD: Begin with being excellent as an individual. Cricket is an individual game within a team game. When you give the best version of yourself to the team, it raises the bar for others too. You also need to recognise that in order to be the best version of yourself, you need other people. If I am practising in the nets, I need a bowler, for example. You need to recognise and contribute towards creating healthy relationships.

VM: What is your message to readers on pursuing excellence?
RD: Each one of us needs to realise our potential and become the best version of ourselves to do well in our careers and life. So, it is worth putting in your best effort to pursue excellence.

Achieving Meaningful Success: Unleash the Power of Me!

Excerpted with permission from Achieving Meaningful Success: Unleash the Power of Me!, Vivek Mansingh, with Rachna Thakurdas, Penguin Business.