Or, to be more precise, “An Tan Tiri Mogo Dan, Cara Cara Si, Princi Pa Ta Morin Go. Tan Go!”
In case you didn”t live in the Romania of the seventies, chances to know the meaning of those words are close to zero. Ok, it’s a “countdown”. You don”t know what a “countdown” is? It”s a sequence of apparently bogus words, spoken in a certain rhythm, almost like a song, each word being assigned to a certain person. Or, to be even more precise, to a certain kid, because this countdown is actually one of my strongest childhood memories.
Let me explain how this countdown thing worked: suppose we were 7 kids, and we wanted to play “hide and seek”. We had of course to pick one of us to be the actual searcher. For that, we gathered in a circle and one of us started the “countdown”: “an” -> the first one in the circle was tagged, “tan” -> the second one was tagged, “tiri” -> the third one was tagged, and so on, until we reached the final “go”. The kid that was tagged with that final “go” was out of the circle, sparred from the tedious job of being the searcher. Now there were only six kids left. So, we started to countdown over the circle again, until only one kid was left. That was the searcher. As simple as that.
Above All Doubt
We used “countdowns” in many ways. Whenever we had to pick someone for something, and all of our rational selection processes were ineffective, we resorted to the “countdown”. It was our universal selection process. We used it when we had to pick soccer teams for our afternoon soccer games in the school yard. We used it when we had to pick the teams for the ping-pong matches on the concrete table in front of the block. We even used it in school, to pick the one that had to be on duty for the week.
I don’t know who invented that specific countdown and I’m pretty sure the words were completely random and meaningless. Maybe they had to be meaningless, otherwise the magical power of the “countdown” was weakened. I think it was more like an incantation, a borderline magical stuff.
Once we finished a “countdown”, its results were above all doubt. Nobody could contest them. It was final. In a subtle and unexplainable way, the “countdown” was the glue that was keeping us together. Eventually, all our conflicts were solved with a countdown. And nobody would ever contest it.
The Collapsing World
But, as we grew up, we noticed that some of the kids were somehow luckier than others. They seemed to be surrounded by this magical chance: never picked to be on duty at school, always in the best soccer team, never the searcher at “hide and seek”. Hmm…
It didn’t take long to find out that, if you were doing a fast mental calculus, you could actually “predict” which kid will be the last one tagged. So, the “luckier” kids were just doing these mental calculations and they were starting the countdown each time from the “appropriate” kid. Like that, they knew how to manipulate the countdown, so they were the first ones out, if the task was tedious, or the first ones in, if the soccer team was the best one. Think of counting cards in a casino, but much simpler than that.
When I first realized that, I was shocked. My entire world collapsed. What once was above any doubt, now was questionable, to say the least. My small and simple universe was literally shaken apart.
The Modern Countdown
But I survived. It wasn’t the first nor the last perfect image of my childhood universe that was trashed away. Time passed by and I soon had more interesting adventures to pursue than the soccer in the school yard, the ping-pong at the concrete table or even the all mighty “hide and seek”. Among these new adventures: girls, getting into college and finding my first job.
But, in some remote corner of my unconscious mind, the mantra of the “countdown” was still very powerful. I think I was well into my thirties when I realized that. Only now the mechanism was a little bit changed.
Now, I realized that every time I was in a situation which was unsolvable by rational processes, I was always resorting to my own personal mantra. For instance, when I was having heavy problems in my own business, like clients not paying, stretching the business beyond my means or employees leaving for better salaries, I was always resorting to some sort of personal mantra. Sometimes it was “everything will be allright, I just know it”. Sometimes it was “you gotta hit the bottom if you want to bounce higher”. And sometimes it was “I’ll go through this, no matter what”.
I was repeating those mantras to myself, the same way we were doing countdowns as kids. I was just expecting it to work, because it had to. Like the countdown, my unconscious mind invested that mantra with universal powers. It was above all doubt.
But I wasn’t a kid anymore. And the realities surrounding me were now far more complexes than a soccer game in the afternoon or a short shot of “hide and seek”. Mantras, as much as I wanted them to work, were useless. They had this power to keep me going for a while, just like the countdowns did until I realized they can be manipulated, but in the end I had to surrender. Just like my childhood universe collapsed when I realized that other kids were playing us because they knew more or they were faster at calculus, each of my mantras were trashed away but the existing realities.
In the end, I was able to overcome pretty much every adverse situation (except the ones which are still unfolding as we speak, which is, of course, another story). But I did this outside the mantras. I did this by facing the facts, accepting the outcome and weighing my odds, in a cold and calculated way. I manipulated the countdown in my favor, starting it again and again, until I found the favorable positions.
There is no magic mantra. There is no lucky shot at your command. There is nothing except your own strength and honesty. There isn’t even this post. Don’t believe it. Don’t make a mantra or countdown out of it.
Because I wrote it only to manipulate you. I counted all the words in such a way that it puts me in a better position. I’m out now ;).