No Rights, No Wrongs, Only Learnings!

Don’t struggle with making Life decisions – career or relationship choices and such. Go with what you want to do the most and what you can do the best! You will either pull it off. Or you will not. Either way, you will learn!
A young friend is a brilliant musician. But his parents wanted him to pursue an academic degree. So, he parked his music career aside and completed a Master’s Program. Now, he’s employed and is looking to re-start his music career but his folks – and extended family – want him to apply for a better-paying job in the US and migrate as soon as possible. The young chap is vexed. He believes next they will insist that he gets married. “And that will be the end of my music career,” he bemoans.
I asked him why he didn’t think it was possible that he could just do what he wanted to do. “I am not sure I will be successful with music initially. There won’t be money in it as I begin. And my folks warn me that if I realize later that I cannot be a successful – and well-earning – musician, my professional career too, which is starting-up smoothly now, may stand derailed,” he confessed.
I asked him if he enjoyed his “professional job”. And he replied that he didn’t quite: “It is dull and monotonous. I know I will never be happy working at it.” And what about his music, did he enjoy playing and making music? “Oh! Totally! I don’t even know it when I am playing. I just lose myself. I am happiest when I playing or composing music,” he exulted.
I did not force my opinion on my young friend. I simply suggested that he must pursue what gives him joy, what he’s deeply passionate about – which is music. And that he must focus on becoming a world-class player. Money, I said, will come on its own when his music touches lives and creates waves!
Undoubtedly, there are many in my young friend’s shoes. Maybe not all of them are faced with a career dilemma. Some are dithering on relationship decisions as well. All I have to tell anyone who’s torn between “what’s right and what’s wrong” – as a decision – is to do whatever they feel is the best for them. Which again is defined as what gives them happiness. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is right. What we call as a great decision that resulted in us getting or doing something valuable, is really an amazing confluence of place, time and opportunity. So, when a decision works for you, you learn what to do! And what we call a mistake is the same__a combination of place, time and opportunity__this time to learn about what not to do.
When we let go of our fear and insecurity that our decisions may be wrong, and let go of our need to be right every time, we will find inner peace, happiness and success – in that order!
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Don’t try to control your Life – you simply can’t!

Wanting to control Life is like trying to hold on to water in your fist. However hard you try, the water will always slip away…leaving your hand wet, but empty!
I met a friend yesterday who said he was perhaps facing a mid-Life crisis. He had started off on his own some years back. Then, when that venture didn’t do well, he took up employment again. He had changed a few jobs in the last five years, he wasn’t earning enough money, his kids were growing up and he was clearly insecure about his future. He lamented, “I have this feeling that I am being led. I am no longer in control of my career and Life. I don’t think I will be able to put my kids through college at this rate.”
I explained to him that there never is a thing called a mid-Life crisis. “You feel crisis-ridden because there’s a turmoil within you. Your wants are in conflict with your reality,” I said. My friend wants a more challenging and well-paying job. He wants to save money for his kids’ higher education. And the reality is that he is having a mediocre job, that pays him just so much that he can make ends meet. Which means the reality is that he is unable to save any money. His insecurity, his gripped-by-crisis-like feeling comes from his wants. His reality is perfect as it is. His wants are what are disturbing him. I said that the only way he could change his reality was to work on it instead of worrying about it.
This is so true for each of us in our own Life situations. Our upbringing and education make us believe that we are in control of our lives. To a large extent it just appears to be so. You study hard, you graduate, you get an employment, you start earning and saving. When this pattern of progression is uninterrupted, it soon becomes predictable and also makes you believe that you have caused and controlled your Life and career. But ask those who have seen a series of interruptions early on in their lives and they will tell you a different story. Someone’s been dyslexic or someone’s been orphaned or someone’s had an accident leading to a disruption in academics or someone’s just not found a job despite good grades! Ask these folks and they will tell you that nothing is really in our control – that we are merely being led by Life. So, there’s really no crisis and definitely no such thing as early-Life or mid-Life or late-Life crisis. There’s just Life happening in its own unique way for you – all the while. Whatever’s happening is your current reality. Period. As long as you are focused on that reality and acting from that point of view, you will be fine. The moment desire steps in, the moment you start wanting the reality to be different or starting thinking of a future reality, misery will set it. You could feel anything – from anxiety to suffering – and all of them will be debilitating. 
This does not mean inaction at all. I am not advising my friend to live with his mediocre, low-paying job forever. All I am telling him is this – please look for a better opportunity, but don’t pine for it. Keep trying, but stop lamenting. Keep the focus on what you must do, just don’t concentrate on what you don’t have. Accept the Life that you have rather than trying to control it.
Life has been going on, is going on and will go on not because of you but in spite of you! This is the truth. When you awaken to and understand this reality, you too will learn to be peaceful and to go with the flow of Life!

Inspire your children to come alive

Give your children the power of choice. Allow them to experiment, fall, fail, learn and decide what they want to do. Don’t let your experiences and your insecurities dictate your children’s career or Life choices.
This morning’s Times of India reports that 769 seats are still vacant in the famed Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) for the current 2013~ academic season. This is unprecedented in the glorious history of the IITs in India. This can mean two things: that the IITs have lost their sheen or that engineering as a field of study is no longer a (forced) preferred option. I would like to assume and believe that the latter is true and that the vacant seats reflect a very teeny-weeny shift in the conventional Indian parental mind-set which has primarily been, for generations, oriented towards driving their children to pursue careers in either engineering or medicine. The Aamir Khan-starrer, Hindi blockbuster, 3 Idiots (2009, Rajkumar Hirani) held a mirror to Indian parents when it showcased Farhan’s (Madhavan) plight: of a brilliant wildlife photographer-to-be who was caught in the rat race to become a mediocre engineer just because his father (Parikshit Sahani) always dreamt of Farhan becoming an engineer! I am not sure if the response to admissions to IITs this year is any reflection of the central, core message of 3 Idiotsbeginning to percolate and causing parents, and their children, to focus on what makes the children come alive than what makes the parents feel secure!

As much as Life is unpredictable, Life is also often times a long journey. Many of our experiences and learnings, often from misadventures, direct us towards our destiny. I for one, after being a salesman, a journalist, a strategist, a CEO, a project manager, an executive assistant to a tycoon and a consultant, (in that order), over 17 years, discovered what I wanted to reallydo in Life only when I turned 35. Obviously, I was doing many things after college. I was working my butt off and earning good money. But while each experience I had was exciting, I was still searching for something. There was an incompleteness that I could not describe. It was only when I was faced with a Life-changing crisis that I found out what really gave me joy. That’s when I felt completely at ease and peace with myself and was able to say with certainty and conviction that “this” is what I want to do for and with the rest of my Life. So, the import here is that people, especially children, need to be allowed to make their choices. They must be allowed to experience Life and choose what makes them come alive. The world needs people who are alive, not nerds who have got the grades but whose souls are dead long, long ago. A great musician can heal the world many times over than a mediocre doctor ever can. A fashion designer may pack more precision and creativity into a piece of work than a bad engineer can ever even conceive.

An interview in the same edition of Times of India is worth referring to here. It was with actor Prakash Raj, who lost his 5-year-old son to a freak accident, 9 years ago. Raj, one of India’s most accomplished and famous character actors, had this to say about memories of his son and Life: I can’t forget him, even though I have removed all photographs of his. I am a non-believer and wanted to bury him in my farm. I just go, sit there many times. He is the one who made me realize how helpless I am and how unpredictable Life is and how small it is and how weak you are in front of nature. I love my daughters, but just miss my child, even though it’s been nine years since he died. He was just five when, while flying a kite from a one-feet-high table, he fell on the ground. For a few months after that, he would have fits, after which he died. Nobody could understand what was the reason. His death was more than any other sorrow for me. I don’t take Life for granted anymore and live in the moment.
As it is that crucial time of the year for admissions to colleges, perhaps you are a parent who’s grappling with just the same issue I am sharing here. My unsolicited advice is this: enjoy your children as long as this lifetime lasts. Inspire them to come alive. Ask them what makes them come alive. And give them the freedom to pursue it. Support them in whatever manner you can. More than your money, they need your conviction in them. More than making yourself feel secure about your children’s future, strive to make them more happy by allowing them to do what fills them with joy! Life’s too short. You might as well watch your child being truly happy than watch her or him be unhappy while being financially and professionally, and given the inscrutable nature of Life, vainly, secure!