“There must be a mistake! This [ticket] says platform 9 and 3/4. There’s no such thing! Is there?” asks a bewildered 11-year-old Harry Potter. He was on the cusp of his first train trip to the School of Magic — Hogwarts.

Harry, like the rest of us, believed what he saw — platform 9 and 10. That was until he waded through the walls to the magical platform in between.

This blog is about such invisible, magical gateways in real life — the 9 ¾ that propelled my career in particular and life in general.

Gateways — I failed to connect until I chanced upon one particular incident in the recent book Option B, written in first person by Sheryl Sandberg.

Platform of Friendship

“Is there anything I can do?” are the words Sheryl often heard as she struggled to get back on her feet after her husband’s untimely death.

For most of these folks, she had no answer. She was not alone in her predicament.

Most well-meaning folks await on two platforms to console the grieving. Some step on platform 9 — they do not know what to say. They fear they will hurt the grieving person by saying something unintended. And they board the train that zooms away.

Diametrically opposite are others on platform 10 — they want to help but do not know how. They shift the burden to the grieving with the most common words “Is there anything I can do?”

Somewhere in between, a gifted few find the seemingly invisible option. Here is one.

Sheryl’s colleague, Dan Levy, was by his son’s bedside in the hospital. In those trying times, he got a text from a friend. It read — “What do you NOT want on your burger?”

When I read this, I smiled. Dan’s friend did something — that is magically in-between nothing and anything.

Best said in Dan’s words “Instead of asking if I wanted food, he made the choice for me but gave me the dignity of feeling in control.”

When I read the last few words, it was a light bulb moment. In Dan’s closing words, “dignity of feeling in control” — I found a balance that was eye opening.

The delicate balance of taking initiative and at the same time giving back control.

That made me reflect on my career. I connected the dots on a small act that had propelled my career — time and again. Something I was oblivious — until now.

The ‘9¾’ career advice nobody gives.

I was once seated in front of my boss during an annual review. He was pensive. Knowing him through the years, I knew he was about to say something deep. All he shared, “I like that you are among the first to venture to a white board.”

When I gave him a quizzical look, he elaborated –“I like that you volunteer as the first one to the whiteboard. It helps set the tone. Not everyone puts themselves out there in a group setting with a rough idea.”

What I understood then — he liked that I took an initiative even when the ideas were half-baked — sometimes quarter baked. I enjoy problem framing — rough drafts on paper, on whiteboards, even on napkins over lunch — with pens borrowed from the waiters.

What I did not realize until today — a rough draft gives control to the recipients to become collaborators. The art of editing and refining does something to people — they make the idea their own.

I now realize that rough drafts were my “what do you NOT want on your burger?” moments throughout my career.

It was a career advice nobody gave me — share rough drafts. I stumbled upon it.

Your stratospheric success does not lie in perfectly toned ideas concocted in your man cave. Instead, it hinges on socializing its origins. Rough drafts have a way of making it happen.

The question is — would you be willing to put yourself out there with embryonic ideas?

To each his own.

I share what has worked in my favor. If I ever have a bumper sticker, it would reflect a mindset that was marinated and grilled by my parents- durin my growing up years in South India.

Loosely translated from Tamil — “what you have learned is a speck of sand, what you do not know is all the sand, world over.”

Bringing it all together: The invisible 9¾

In life, you have options. The question is: do you know where to look?

There are many perfect 10s in the world. There are some invisible 9¾ — so close to the 10, yet they magically amplify the value many times over.

Here are a few from real life — across friendship, careers and more.

1) When a friend is grieving, you can earnestly promise him to do anything he asks. That is the ideal option for perfect 10. Or you can stand in line at a restaurant and call your friend ahead, “what do you NOT want on your burger.”

2) As you propel your career — you can trail blaze by taking all the initiatives. That is a remarkable option for a 10. Or you can socialize the origins of the ideas with rough drafts and torpedo it further.

3) Best of all, when guests visit your home — you can ask them if they are interested in having a cup of coffee. Or you can replicate a catch phrase of South Indian hospitality. Something I have seen my grand mom and mom ask every guest — “how many teaspoons of sugar in your coffee?”

Truly the epitome of taking an initiative and yet giving back control — right in our living rooms.

Hope you enjoyed this ride from the magical platform 9 3/4. Look forward to your comments. Please share as you deem fit through your social media channels.

From a dad who is easily influenced by his 8-year-old daughter’s summer habit — devouring the Harry Potter Series.

Karthik Rajan.

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