Harish Hande and Sundeep Rao on navigating failure while overcoming the perceptions and expectations of society.
When Sundeep Rao was approached to be the closing speaker on Day 1 of the Impact/Failure Conclave 2022, he thought to himself, “Man, I’ve got a lot of failures to talk about. I’ve been in the space of stand-up for the past 13 years and it’s a very individual space if you want it to be, but at the same time you can make it a very noisy space if you choose to go down that path — one is an internal value system and the other is an external value system. If you want, you could also just take in the fact that I’m visually impaired and have had this eye condition for the past 30-odd years. Now you’re automatically seen as a failure by society, which is a great thing because the standards are really low and you don’t have to do much to succeed,” Sundeep Rao said with his tongue firmly in cheek.
In his conversation with Harish Hande, director, SELCO Foundation, he continues, “I think the internal value system of failure is such an important thing because it’s something that you can perceive through your reality and perceive through your sense of what matters to you. But the external value system is what we’re all conditioned to believe in. The success aspect is so damn gorgeous — it’s the fancy house, the Louis Vuitton bags, the pat on the back, the bonus or the boys club. Failure on the other hand comes with a sense of rejection, blame, shame, guilt, and fear, and it’s not an attractive place to be. In the external value system, someone else’s success is your failure, but in the internal system, it isn’t as black or white. It can be a learning for us to look at what we’ve done, rather than what we’ve not done well.”
Speaking from his deep experience and learning from failure, Sundeep says,
“Failure hurts, it makes us think and makes us spend more time with ourselves without the distractions that success brings. That time you spend with yourself is scary, it makes you look within, makes you ask questions about your way of looking at things and most importantly why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
He launched a podcast series during the lockdown called Life Gone Wrong, a show covering how people who’ve experienced adversity in some shape or form have taken stock of what they have and done something with it. It forced him to take a good, long look at himself. He added, “For the longest time I was looking at my life or things around me from a very different lens. I focussed on the things I can’t do like reading a book or driving or making eye contact. But when I shifted my perspective and started looking at the things I can do, like talking, being curious, meeting new people, making people laugh, and spending time with close friends. When you work from that premise, you’re not always feeling rejected and that’s something I enjoyed.”
This was also a process of unlearning for the comedian, unlearning the way he was, the way he thought, and the way he looked at things. He says, “You look at the friendships, the relationships, why you have them and the question keeps coming up. I also asked myself why I am doing stand-up comedy. Is it for the fame or for the laughs or for the satisfaction or the money? When I was young, I used to play golf and since my eyesight got worse, I was scared to play golf. But I shifted my perspective of the outcome from being a really good golfer or winning a tournament. I play because I enjoy going out and as of two weeks back we’ve introduced the concept of blind golf to India and that’s something that is really catching on.”
Harish in his genial, candid manner, asked Sundeep about the advantages of being partially blind. The comedian did not miss a beat as he responded, “The thing in India is that when you say you’re partially blind, firstly people think you failed at being blind. But what I’ve realised is that you have to find where you belong and that if you change the focus from partially blind to partially sighted, that changes the way you look at it and yourself.”