Focus only on the effort and leave the outcome to Life.
A young reader, who wrote to me on Facebook Messenger after reading my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal, asked me this question: “How do you stay motivated and retain that urge to succeed when you have been dubbed a failure by the whole world?”
That’s a very interesting question.
To be sure, for the longest time I would cringe when people called Vaani or me a failure. A friend, who is also a head hunter, once told me that no company will respect Vaani and me because we are “failed entrepreneurs”. A wealthy businessman has told me on my face that he wouldn’t want to associate with us in public because we have a “negative net worth”! These remarks used to affect me a lot. I would cook within – seething with rage, feeling helpless because all our efforts to fix our business were coming to a naught.
But through consistent reflection, during my daily mouna (silence period) sessions, I realized that success and failure, victory and defeat, win and loss – all these are mere social labels. They are imposters – they will come and they will go; they are not going to stay with us forever.
In reality, all of us have only choices, to act in a given situation or not to act. When we act and the outcomes match our expectations, we call it success. When the outcomes fall below our expectations we call it failure. But the truth is that our choice of action – or inaction, as the case may be – is far more important than the outcome itself. Which is why the Bhagavad Gita invites us to focus on our effort, on the action, and to leave the result, the outcome, to Life.
So, I would say that we must exercise our choice of action and learn from the experience that leads to the outcome. It is when you are attached to the outcome that you invite ego and suffering. You turn egoistic when the outcomes match or exceed your expectations. You suffer when they don’t. So why go through this up and down cycle? Why not simply be focused on the action and leave the outcomes to happen in their own way? And whatever is the outcome, the way it is, simply accept it – without qualifying it as good, bad or ugly. At the end of the day, nothing is good, nothing is bad, nothing is won, nothing is lost, no one succeeds, no on fails. Life is just a series of experiences that you learn from.
Whatever you lose or is taken away from you, simply, let it go!
In yesterday’s IPL X Final between MI and RPS, when MI’s Krunal Pandya dropped Ajinkya Rahane’s catch off the bowling of Lasith Malinga, it looked like the dropped catch would cost MI the match. While frustration was writ large on the faces of players and supporters alike, with MI’s captain Rohit Sharma apparently howling in disbelief, Malinga smiled. And that’s the way he is. Whenever he is hit for a boundary or when someone drops a catch off his bowling, Malinga smiles. There’s an evolved, detached quality to his response to a competitive, aggressive, often frustrating, sporting moment.
And I simply love that quality.
It always reminds me of the simplest way to understand, appreciate and celebrate the transient nature of Life. The point Malinga’s smile is making is, don’t take anything seriously. Definitely not what you fail at or what you lose. And don’t cling on to your success, your glory, your rewards, your recognition either. After all, you can’t take anything with you when you depart from here. So, why exult, why mourn?
People often tell me that bringing this attitude to Life is difficult. And I don’t think so. Whenever you are in the grip of a frustrating situation, your own dropped catch moment, just ask yourself if that loss, that frustration will matter some years from now. Ask if it will matter when you die. It most certainly will not. So, let that feeling of frustration go. Don’t attend to it, don’t cling on to it. Just smile. Bring the same logic to moments of personal achievement too. Life happens through you, for you, but not because of you. If you remember this truth about Life you can always be unmoved, non-frustrated, and like Malinga, smiling!
Only when you accept a situation can you go to work on it with clarity and focus.
“How do you learn to accept Life for what it is? Isn’t it very difficult,” asked a young man from the audience the other day, ahead of my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk at the Madras Literary Society. Interestingly, after hearing my Talk, he didn’t have that question anymore!
It is not just him, a lot of people out there struggle to accept Life for what it is. As I reveal in my Talk, I too have struggled with acceptance. The fundamental reason for resisting Life is that we think we can fight, we can out-think, we can out-smart Life. We think just because we are educated and think logically, rationally, we believe we can solve all the problems we are faced with. But there are some Life situations that are beyond our control. And those cannot be solved no matter how strong our intent may be or how capable we really may be. In such instances, acceptance is the key to avoid suffering and helps immensely with keeping the focus on what needs to get done and in keeping the faith that it will get done.
Consider some instances to understand the value in acceptance. What do you do in Chennai, and most parts of Tamil Nadu and South India, that are struck by drought? The day temperatures are closer to 40 degrees and there’s no respite from the merciless heat – with no signs of rain. Is there any point in fighting Nature? Or take the case of the Malaysian Airlines plane MH 370 – that went missing over 3 years ago. All the world’s forces and resources, technologies and experts, cannot trace the plane. Is there any point in resisting that situation? Is it worth at all to fight it? Or what do you do when you have a rare health condition that no doctor can really put their finger on it? Is there any point in fighting this situation?
So, when a situation is beyond your control, when you know you can’t solve it, the best way to deal with it is to go with the flow. This does not mean inaction or resignation. It means you must accept the situation, you must keep making your efforts to solve it if you believe it can still be resolved, but you must remain non-frustrated if the results don’t add up. So, acceptance is not failure. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is employing common-sense in the wake of an inscrutable Life situation and trusting Life to sort itself out over time. Only acceptance can help you to be non-suffering. And only when you don’t suffer can you get down to working calmly on a situation that requires to be changed.
Be ready and willing to go through any situation, experience everything, in Life!
“How do you console yourself when you don’t get what you want; when your Life doesn’t go the way you planned it?” This question came to me yesterday from a lady I met at the Help Yourself to Happiness Talk I delivered at a Rotary Club.
The answer I gave the lady is that you must not try to console yourself. Consolation has an air of mourning, of grief, inherent to it – that you tried for something, you did not get it, so it is ‘okay’! There is no ‘okay’ status that works in Life. The best state to be in is to be unmoved. There is no need to either exult in Life nor is there a need to brood or mourn. You must taste, you must experience, everything in Life – success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow – and eventually you will realize that they are all imposters. You will discover that neither the state when you are exulting nor the one when you are brooding is permanent. So, don’t credit yourself for creating contexts where you exult at your achievements and don’t discredit yourself just because the context is one where grief is gnawing at you, over what you lost or what you didn’t get. Just learn to be unmoved. If you can be unmoved, then everything, every event, calls for a celebration! Then every moment is a celebration!
The lady urged me to explain my point with an example. I shared this story from my Life that I had also recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve.
I took my first flight in my Life at the age of 10, in 1977, from New Delhi to Madras. I loved the experience. And resolved that I would only fly when I grew up; also I because I find train journeys very boring, very uninspiring. To date, I prefer a flight over a train! My second flight was the one I took at the age of 23, in 1990, from Madras to Bangalore. I was flying on work for India Today magazine and was on an assignment to report on Veerappan, the dreaded sandalwood smuggler. It was a big moment for a young, ambitious lad – flying on company expense. I saved the Indian Airlines (now called Air India) boarding passes of both my onward and return journeys from that trip. I reckoned that when I became ‘very famous, very rich, very successful’ I would display these boarding passing proudly in my office or home, as a trophy of where my ‘high Life’ had truly begun. Soon, I was traveling more and most of my trips were by flight too. And I started collecting my boarding passes. I extended my idea of the saved boarding passes to reflect the number of air miles I had logged in all my active Life. For the longest time, I had this vision of me sitting in my private study and bar, smoking a cigar, and having an entire wall done up with boarding passes from all my flights in my Life. Soon the collection grew. I now have a whole mound of boarding passes saved up – I don’t really think I have lost a boarding pass or missed saving one in my Life. At one time I was taking even three or four flights a week, and traveling 21 days each month. So the boarding pass collection really swelled in good time. Within India I was loyal to Jet Airways and was their Platinum Card holder for several years – in all those years, our family of four, always took vacations on free tickets purchased with my miles! My boarding passes collection reflected the Life I led – busy and flying around! For someone who came from a middle-class background, this was exciting stuff, a sign that you had arrived, in style!
And then, as I recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve, 2016 has turned out to be the year of no flights for me. No flights taken in an entire year. Even in the past decade, owing to our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) my flying has shrunk considerably. But I never bargained for a flightless year, that too in what should have been the 28th year of an active, professional Life!
So, that’s my example, a story from my Life, I told the lady, who asked me to explain my point about being unmoved. Surely, I am not citing that I have traveled more than anyone else in the world. In fact, my story showcases how such a personal collection of boarding passes appears so vain now in the wake of Life’s larger design and Purpose. I am not even suggesting that I will not fly again or that I will not have that wall in my private study and bar. All I am saying is that I am no longer impacted by whether I am flying or not. It has ceased to mean anything beyond a data point to me. In the last quarter of a century, I flew a lot, then I flew less and last year, I did not fly at all! Simple!
The essence of intelligent living is that you must experience everything in Life. You must be ready and willing to go through any situation. Don’t ever expect Life to only be a particular way. Recognize that what goes up comes down. And what goes around comes around. Life is always flowing and you must learn to go with Life’s flow. This is the way to be unmoved, to celebrate Life’s every moment, no matter what you are faced with or are going through! This is how I celebrated my flightless year – 2016!
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Winning is not about a acquiring a title, reaching a position or being feted with a reward or recognition. Winning is the ability to enjoy – and trust – the process of Life!
Last evening (IST), in a last-ball turn of events, West Indies defeated India, in the T20 game played in Florida, USA. Had anyone else been the cause of India’s defeat, we cricket-crazy Indians would have perhaps shrugged it off. But the man that fell to the wily Dwayne Bravo was MS Dhoni, our Captain Courageous, Captain Cool, World’s Best Finisher….and the Mr.Infallible! A Twitter post that surfaced within seconds of the game finishing, read: “Is it the end of the Dhoni era when he causes an Indian defeat?” And this morning’s Times of India led with this headline: “India done in by Dhoni!”
Very uncharitable, avoidable sentiments, I thought.
The reactions to this game’s outcome reflect how culturally unforgiving we are as a nation, as people, and how obsessed we are with winning and success that we find it difficult to be graceful in defeat or failure. It is this attitude that’s evident in all that we do – we are so driven by wanting to succeed, wanting to win all the time, in whatever we do, that we are quick to pounce on anyone who slips, stumbles, falls and make them feel incapable and incompetent. And because we see so much of this happening to so many people around us, when we do fall, we are very harsh on ourselves too. Such rabid stances are totally irrelevant and uncalled for in Life.
Life, like cricket, is just a game. In cricket at least you can go on appeal to a Third Umpire or a Match Referee. In Life, there is no appeal possible, no review possible. You simply have to keep on playing the game, keep on living with what is – no matter what happens! Over their lifetimes, everyone gets their share of glory, their share in the sun, their moment in the spotlight. In fact, after you journey through Life long enough to have seen success, money, name, fame, love, loss, sorrow, shame and awakening, you come to a conclusion that it’s the process of Life that makes it interesting. The process only involves living Life well, enjoying each moment by living it fully, thoroughly. In the end, it will not matter what you won, how much you won, who you defeated and how you lost or how much you lost. The only regret that you may find meaningful enough to review – and perhaps traumatic to handle – is of the Life that you did not live. So, our only focus and priority must be to live the Life that we want to live. And live it very, very well – each day doing the best you can in whatever you love doing. If you are an actor, be the best actor you know – it doesn’t matter if you get an Oscar or not. If you are a gardener, be the best gardener that just immerses herself in her plants – don’t worry or bother whether others think highly of you and your choice of vocation. We must have the spirit that Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet spoke about: “I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying who listens or what they think.”
My own awakening has led me to believe that in Life, the journey, the adventure is the reward. Success, failure, win, loss, victory, defeat, these are just social labels. They, without doubt, come in the way of happiness. And so these labels must be expunged. Only then, to quote Rumi again, can we “enjoy the pure wine being poured without complaining about the dirty cup!”
Be ‘unmoved’ by both failure and success. For they are mere imposters.
Last evening we were at the Gollapudi Srinivas Memorial Awards ceremony where debutant director Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan won the Award for his multi-lingual film Lens (2015). It was a nice, warm event that, well, could have been shorter. For me and Vaani, it was Bollywood actor Boman Irani’s straight-from-the-heart talk that made the evening memorable. He shared his journey so far in Life and cinema. It was the simplest and most meaningful speech I had heard in a long, long time.
Boman talked about starting off as a child with dyslexia, discalculi and dysgraphia. He said everyone has to struggle at some time in their Life. Then they have to establish themselves with ‘the establishment’ in their chosen field, then they have to be free (and wary) of corruption (hubris, actually) and finally, when they perhaps realize themselves, there is a home-coming. It was touching to hear of his personal journey. But the most powerful takeaway for me was a deeply spiritual one. At 56, and now a grandfather, Boman believes he stays grounded because of some sage advice he got from a senior unit hand, Ikram Khan, during the shooting of Munna bhai MBBS (Rajkumar Hirani, 2003; Boman’s first Hindi film). Khan told Boman: “You will go very far, you will touch great heights, you will win many, many awards, but never lose your innocence. Because if you lose your innocence, you have lost your art. Then you have been corrupted. So, stay innocent.” Boman signed off with a flourish saying he was very happy and at peace for being an ‘innocent, old man’!
I am sure a YouTube link to the speech will be up soon. And I hope many people will listen to what Boman shared last evening. It is a very significant message he delivered.
I think all of us are corrupt to a large extent. Not in the conventional sense of the word, in terms of taking and giving bribes, alone. But in a far more prolific sense – all of us are corrupt to the extent of our material attachments – money, fame, recognition, property – and even of our not-so-material opinions and beliefs. We are constantly tormented by the fear of failure and the desire to keep succeeding, winning all the time. That’s corruption too. I believe the innocence that Ikram Khan talks about is the ability to enjoy the process of living, the journey of doing something. In Boman’s case it is the joy of acting. In someone else’s case it could be baking. Or in a waiter’s case it can be simply serving. Whatever profession or work it is, your inner devotion to it counts more than what material benefit you get out of it. Of course, money is important. But not beyond providing for your basic necessities and helping you save up for a rainy day. The problem with success is that it is both heady and fleeting. So, when you start getting what you want, when you start winning, even if you have struggled a lot for it, you begin to imagine you caused it. You fall into a mind-trap, believing that you are infallible and you will now stay successful – in a worldly sense with name, fame, money, power – forever. So, when the phase of success you are seeing evaporates and you taste failure, you can’t handle it. You become bitter. And depressed. This is why Khan recommends that you stay innocent. And I completely agree with him.
This is the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna tells Arjuna: “…Be unmoved by both failure and success, by victory and defeat…for they are mere imposters…offer whatever you do as an offering to Me…” Being ‘unmoved’ is a great state to be in. I have seen success and I have been corrupt, of the kind Khan and Boman warn us against. I have seen failure and continue to be a failure, per a worldly sense, having lost everything material and still having a mountain of debt to clear; so I have been plagued with anger, grief, guilt, self-doubt and self-pity in the past. But not anymore. I internalized the ‘stay innocent’ learning some years back and it has helped me immensely. Most important, it has led me to this ‘be unmoved’ state. So, this is my two-penny worth: if there is only one lesson you want to keep in mind about Life, let it be this one. Because, through retaining your innocence, when you realize that everything is impermanent then you will attain the highest level of human evolution – detachment.