If you learn well, you will live well – happy and peaceful

Life is teaching you something every moment that you are alive.
It’s up to you to learn or to discard or ignore the learning in that moment! And almost always Life’s lessons arrive at a time when you have no intention or interest in learning them! Yet we can’t escape the experience even if we don’t see the point just then to learn from it.
The experiences we have in this lifetime are our real education. So, clearly, our education does not cease with an academic qualification! And the more the experience, the greater your expertise. There’s no point in having all the academic qualifications that the world can offer, be brilliant with your GPA (Grade Point Average) but be a poor human being, who has no time for others, who does not see value in the moment, who merely exists, and who does not live! The tragedy with our world is that all assessments are materialistic. To most people, how much (wealth and material assets) you have is more important than how well you have lived. So, you are evaluated basis your income, your car, your clothes, your neighborhood, your club and such. And when some of these do get taken away, as they will possibly be, on one side you grieve their loss, but on another side you are discarded as worthless. The person who has seen Life’s upheavals, who has been battered and bruised by Life’s hard knocks, and who stays grounded, compassionate and humble when success comes calling, which it surely will, is far more evolved than someone who has made his millions and has seen only comfort and no pain.
One of the most important lessons that Life is teaching all of us is that each phase of Life is a guest, albeit an unexpected one, in our lifetime. If there is a lot of wealth in the beginning, know that it is a guest. It will have to leave you some day. If there is a lot of pain and suffering, it too is a guest. It too will have to depart. If there is a lot of debt, that too will stay for as long as it must and wants to. Then it too shall be gone. We must treat each phase with the same dignity and compassion that we accord to guests in our homes. Just the little extra we may like to do with Life’s guests is that we may want to learn from them. If we refuse to meet the guest and learn from the guest, there is no chance that this guest will leave. He or she will still be at the door – knocking. Don’t you think it is more prudent to just greet the guest, learn what you must and then see him or her off? This continuous inviting, greeting and learning (and unlearning) from each guest, from each phase in your Life, is what intelligent living is all about.
If you learn well, you will live well – happy and peaceful. If you resist, or refuse to learn, you will be miserable and agonize over the way things are! So, who’s your guest visiting you in Life presently? And what are you learning from your guest?

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Your pain is your teacher, your God

Pain is an important, necessary and sufficient pre-condition for your personal evolution. Don’t, therefore, hate any pain that you are put through.

Sometimes people around you put you through pain. A normal reaction would be to hate them. You may want to get even with them. Don’t. Oftentimes Life too will inflict pain on you. Don’t hate Life either! Because your hating Life is only going to make you miserable. What is the point? Who loses when you hate a teacher? Does the teacher lose anything? Or do you? Ultimately, if you don’t learn the lessons that the teacher is teaching you, you lose. Similarly, each painful event, caused by a fellow human being or by Life, is teaching you something. Don’t hate the teacher. Instead, learn the lesson and be grateful for the experience that taught you the lesson.
When you hate someone or hate Life, you are entrapping yourself in a quagmire of negative, debilitating emotions: anger, fear, bitterness, cynicism, self-pity. No event in your Life is going to make a difference to you as your Life comes to an end. Your awards, medals, successes, wealth, the career you built, all this and more will mean nothing. Your lost fortunes, the number of times you have been betrayed or let down, your lost health, your lost image – none of these will matter in the end either. When this lifetime is over, only your soul will prevail. And the soul thrives only when you are at peace. The more pain you undergo, in an accepting, non-resisting way, the more peaceful you will be. Peace is the grace that arrives when pain strikes you and you accept the pain. Most often, however, when pain strikes you, you recede into a shell, plunged in grief, letting the pain numb you. As long as you remain in the stranglehold of pain, you will feel debilitated. The moment you understand, accept and appreciate that pain is a great teacher, you will learn and you will grow. You will realize that you can live through pain, without suffering from it. You will find the world to be a beautiful place where you can be happy despiteyour circumstances.
You may sometimes wonder where is God when you are in pain? The truth is your pain is your God. Because the pain is in your Life to teach you the value of Life, the value of grace and the opportunity for your soul to grow into peace. What more do you want from your God anyway?

A learning from the “L” tag

Each moment in Life is teaching us something. Only if we are willing, as students, to look for the learning in it.
Even a frustrating drive through traffic can be a learning experience. For instance, the alphabet ‘L’, in red, on a vehicle ahead of you, on a day when you are behind schedule and are rushing to your destination, is the last thing anyone wants to see. Instead of getting irritated and showing our angst on the vehicle or on the road or on fellow road users, we will do well to reflect on what the ‘L’ sign can mean to us. Very simply, ‘L’ on a car indicates that the driver ahead of us is still learning. Our impatience with this person is because we believe we know driving well and don’t need to be tailing a learner driver. On a spiritual plane, consider the way we journey through Life. Aren’t we still learners; still learning (read struggling) to live!? The only difference is that the learner driver has the humility__apart from having to meet a legal requirement__to acknowledge that she/he is still learning. On the other hand, we don’t ever want to acknowledge that we are learners, because we think we know it all or imagine that it would be below our dignity to wear a learner tag.

When we get down to being humble, we will discover that the learner tag is not a liability but an asset. When we accept we are still learning, and don’t know it all, people make way and time for us. We move faster – onward, higher and wiser….in Life!

People are teaching you all the time – are you a good student?

Everyone teaches you something about Life. It’s up to you though to learn from them!
It takes all kinds of people to make this world. Some of them we instantly connect with and vibe very well. Some of them we can’t understand. Others we intrinsically feel uncomfortable with. When we categorize people based on how we feel about them we miss a great opportunity to learn from them. We must learn to treat everyone, including our detractors, in Life as a teacher – that way there will be less strife between us and other people surely; besides, we will evolve into better individuals.
Some years back we worked with a client with whom we then had a decade-long relationship. We had begun working with this client when they were a start-up, less than a million dollars in revenue. And in the time that we worked with them, they had grown to be a 300 million dollar multi-national company. The company’s founder, Chairman and CEO was very close to me. When we started work with them, he and I had spent countless hours building and executing their internal experience (culture) and external visibility (brand) strategy. As the company grew, the CEO got obviously more engaged at a vision-level and a team of professionals took charge of executing the growth strategy. One of the professionals was mandated with leading the reputation strategy for the company and we had to work closely with him. He was a young, aggressive manager with a finance and investor relations background. For some reason he disliked me from the very first time we met. He made it clear to me that he had heard that I was very “close” to his CEO and that, going forward, as an external partner, I had to route all interactions – strategy, ideas, communication – only through him. Being a stickler for process and protocol myself, I complied. Over the months that followed, I interacted with the CEO only when I was called out by him. Which, of course, happened with amazing frequency, much to the young manager’s chagrin. This only made his dislike for me personally grow into outright hatred. He started to harass me and my team (which was owning and servicing the relationship). It came to a point one day, when he demanded that we ‘show cause’ why there was a “typo” in one of the research papers we had prepared for him to present to the CEO. I saw no point in arguing with him, as I knew where he was coming from on his vindictive mission, and instead wrote him a mail saying we were surrendering a month’s retainer as compensation for the “typo”, and per our contract, we were serving a month’s notice to the client to disengage with them. I had taken a high moral ground. And even though this news shocked the entire company, particularly the CEO, I refused to reconsider our decision to disengage from the client when we are asked to.
The young manager too was shaken up by my decision. He requested me to meet him for coffee on the afternoon that we were exiting from the company/relationship formally.
He asked me: “I can understand the basis for your decision. But what I fail to understand is why did you not fight me? Why did you not complain about me to your close buddy, my CEO?”
I replied: “I don’t believe in fighting unequal battles. Had I complained to the CEO, you would have been asked to move to another function for sure. But it wasn’t as if the CEO did not know of this. Of course it was evident to everyone that you were brow-beating us. Besides, I am nobody’s buddy. Your CEO is a good business leader and if he wanted to he could have always stepped in. That he chose not to, means he was okay with it. I too was okay with the relationship, despite all the pain you were inflicting on me, as long as we were able to create value at your company. The moment you stooped to being petty, I realized it was time for us to step out. No hard feelings my friend. I learnt from you. Thanks.”
He hid his discomfort while he heard me explain and asked me: “What could you have learnt from me?”
I replied: “I learned what happens when people don’t evolve despite their education, experience and intelligence. I learnt what it means to be immature. I also learnt patience and forgiveness.”
I met this gentleman some years later in New Jersey. We talked shop and wished our families well. I still wish him on his birthday each year. And Life goes on for both of us.
People teach you not just from what they know but through their behavior. Some people teach you, like this manager taught me, why you can’t get along with everyone or why some people’s behavior can never be understood. The key is not to let hatred and resentment set in. And instead let forgiveness flow. When you can’t make a relationship work – whatever it may be – because of someone in the relationship, such people teach you the power of walking away. I have learned to be grateful to people for all that they do to me – good, bad, ugly, I see every interaction as a lesson in living and an opportunity to grow and evolve.  
People are teaching you all the time – through their interactions with you. You are a bad student if you are not learning from them!

Being best friends with your young adult children

The relationship between parents and children, especially with teenaged and young adult children, must be like that between good friends. There must always be honest conversations, mutual respect and the freedom for both parents and children to make informed choices.
A young friend who is in a relationship is pregnant. She has been carrying on with her boyfriend without her parents’ knowledge because she is certain of her father’s disapproval. Now, with the pregnancy coming up, she’s at a loss on how to handle the situation. She’s all confused and depressed. She’s not sure she wants to marry her boyfriend. “At least, I am not ready for marriage just now,” she says. And she’s fearful of her father’s reaction should he come to know of her pregnancy. She’s thinking of aborting the pregnancy but is apprehensive of both the process and her ability to deal with it. She’s the only child of her parents and feels guilty that she has perhaps let them down.
My wife and I advised her to take one step at a time. Since she’s clear she doesn’t want to get married immediately, she has to think only about having the baby or aborting the pregnancy. If she chooses to have the baby, she will have to keep her parents informed. And if she wishes to terminate her pregnancy, she can choose to be transparent with her parents and seek their support or she can go through the procedure with her boyfriend by her side. Whatever she chooses to do, our young friend has to own the outcome of her choices. She can’t escape it. That’s what we told her. We also helped her understand that there was nothing immoral about being in a relationship or having premarital sex or even getting pregnant. All these experiences are part of growing up in Life! What is important is that she treats everything she’s going through as a learning experience and simply moves on, without imagining social stigma and being ridden with guilt over letting her parents down. In fact, we advised her to have a heart-to-heart chat with her parents. She’s old enough (she’s 26) to be able to tell them what she wants to do with her Life. Even if she chooses to continue be in a relationship, without a commitment to marrying her boyfriend, we felt, she must keep her parents informed. The key is to be able to convince her parents of her ability to live with consequences of the choices she makes – whatever they may be. Well, if her parents remain unsupportive and unconvinced, she can still go live her Life the way she wants.
I think all of us parents who have young adult children have to understand that we cannot expect our children to necessarily toe our line. Not anymore. They are independent people in their own right, and they must be allowed to evolve into confident folks who lead their lives on their own terms. And all young adults who are beginning to explore Life through relationships have to realize that it is perfectly alright if they choose not to take their parents’ advice on any subject – be it relationships, marriage, career or investments or anything. However, they must have the courage to stand and live by those choices. And if their decisions backfire, if they fail at something they try to do or if they get into an emotionally messy situation, they must have the option to share their experiences with their parents. This is not so much to do a post-mortem but to help distil and imbibe the learnings better. This calls for an open, nurturing environment, a great friendship and mutual respect – not fear and reticence – in the relationship between parents and their young adult children.
Life is a continuous learning experience. Every choice you make leads you to an outcome. Both the experience and the result teach you something. It is through these learnings, often coming from failing and falling down, just as they do from succeeding and flying high, that you grow and evolve in Life. I don’t think any parent, however caring and experienced, can ever simulate a learning for a young adult child by substituting a Life experience with (sound) advice. Further, what happened to you – a relationship break-up or divorce or a business failure – need not necessarily happen to your young adult children. Each person has a Life path that is unique. So, don’t try to come in the way of your young adult children. Teach them however to be strong and to face their realities and own their outcomes. And tell them they are welcome home even if they should come back battle-weary, bruised and battered. Never tell them “I told you so” when they fail at something, instead tell them to get up, dust themselves, take it easy and move on. Being your young adult child’s best friend is a privilege. Don’t lose it by trying to be an over-protective, over-zealous parent!

Don’t label Life’s experiences; learn from them

Defining events as “good” or “bad” or “ugly” is a human trait. The truth is that there are only experiences in Life – irrespective of what label we stick on them!

Everywhere that you turn, every social media platform, all newspapers and magazines, all over television and on FM radio – there’s so much review of 2013 as it winds down. Events and memories are being categorized as good, bad and ugly.

I don’t think that’s a very productive exercise. In fact, at one level, it’s entirely pointless. Whatever has happened is over. It’s dead and gone. Why review? Why analyze? And, more important, why label what has happened? You come across a fortune. So, it is good? You get laid off, so it is bad? Someone you know dies, so it is ugly!? Life is just a continuous set of events. Or happenings. Each of them teaches us something more, something new about Life. It is up to us to learn from them. This is the essence of Life. There’s nothing ahead of or beyond this. Period.

So, when you can learn something from Life, from each moment, from each experience, how can you label such an event as bad? Which is why you often hear the older people in your family say, with alarming equanimity, when they are faced with a grave situation: “Whatever happens, happens for the good.”

People, including my children, often ask me how can something painful – like the bankruptcy we are going through – be something that’s good? And I direct them to what the experience of being bankrupt has taught me. It has taught me Faith and Patience, it has taught me the value of money, it has showed me how kind and compassionate people are in this world, it has brought me closer to my wife and children, it has made me feel grateful for all the abundance (integrity of purpose and the powerful intent to rebuild the business and repay all our creditors) in my Life in the face of apparent scarcity (lack of money)! So, the truth is that while the events in Life may be painful, ghastly and numbing, experiencing Life through pain can teach you a lot. Provided you are open to learning from it.

But how does one learn through pain? That’s, undoubtedly, a fair question. When you are socked by Life, when you are down in the dumps, when everything you held close to you has been snatched away, the last thing on your mind is to seek a learning from that experience. But in its apparent impossibility lies the opportunity. Now, you can’t do anything – in most Life-changing situations – to put things immediately back. So, the only opportunity available is to ask yourself what you can learn from the experience. When you seek to learn, you gain. And that learning makes the experience of enduring the pain worthwhile!

I remember learning long back that Life is a great teacher. Because she always gives the test first and the lesson later. Each experience in Life therefore is nothing but a test. In this test, there’s no GPA (grade point average – in any case, no one bothers about your GPA once you leave school!). You neither pass nor fail in Life’s tests. You only learn. The faster you learn – and internalize – the faster you graduate to the next test and to the lesson it has to offer!


We are all works-in-progress!

Everyone who comes into your Life is teaching you something, somewhere, all the time.The learning may not be always packaged as one, but if you are tuned into Life’s experiences, you will pick up the learning nevertheless.
Yesterday, I had to request for a service to be delivered to my home by a reputed brand. The company sent me a service representative who was impolite, impudent and, to top it all, was inexperienced. He was a young man who had little patience to understand the problem that he had been sent to solve, let alone solve it! Predictably, I had to turn him away. But the urgency to find a solution to the problem we were facing and my own desire to provide feedback to the company’s management, led me to escalate the matter to the brand’s senior management in my city. The person who took my call was apologetic and immediately sent me a more diligent and experienced representative. The man, in his mid-30s, fixed my problem in some time. And when he was taking my leave, thanked him and I narrated my unfortunate experience with his younger colleague. He apologized, and then, sheepishly smiling at me, he said: “Sir, to be honest even I was like him. I was very ineffective with customer service. But I guess you learn from each experience – good or bad – in Life. As long as you learn, you are growing. I take your compliment as a sign of my personal evolution. Thanks!”
His mature and profound articulation blew me away completely. He was the most unlikely candidate to extol the virtues of learning from Life. Or to be honest about his own learning curve. Yet what sets him apart are precisely those two factors – that he is a learner, and he is not afraid to either make a mistake or own up one!
We are all works-in-progress. No one’s born perfect or experienced. As long as we can learn from each experience in Life, we will grow. Our personal evolution is truly a function of how much we are learning – no matter who we are learning from!