Today’s blogpost appears as a Podcast. Listen here: 4.44 minutes
In situations when success is elusive, work on making yourself useful!
Today’s blogpost appears as a Podcast. Listen here: 4.44 minutes
In situations when success is elusive, work on making yourself useful!
The human being is the only device capable of self-recharging, of bouncing back from no-go situations!
A reader got in touch with me saying he finds his job-search not taking him anywhere. He said that he was feeling frustrated, depressed and insecure. “It’s been two years. I can’t take the rejection anymore. I can’t go on. I don’t have it in me anymore,” he added.
I can understand what the reader is saying and how he feels. I have felt that way too in the past, for many weeks and months at a stretch. But in the last several years, I have learnt, from experience, that you must plough on, no matter what. And I have learnt to do this without complaining, without suffering.
To reach this state, a deeper understanding of Life is essential. Please know that Life is not your genie to give you all that you desire as soon as you start wanting something. Life has a mind of its own, a pace of its own. So, when you don’t get what you want or when you get what you don’t want from Life, feeling your lowest, hitting rock bottom, is very normal. When you feel that way, when sadness consumes you, examine your feeling very intensely. Are you enjoying that state? Of course, you are not happy with that feeling of heaviness, sadness, depression. Then why are you continuing to wallow in that cesspool. Snap out of it. Accept your reality – tell yourself that this is it; you have a situation that you don’t quite like. So, what? You can’t always get what you want. Understand this truth. And endure this phase of Life – without complaining, without resisting.
You must also understand that the human being is the only device that is capable of self-recharging. We humans are very capable of bouncing back when we hit rock-bottom. Let me share an anecdote from my Life. Sometime in 2014, all the gadgets at our home broke down – the TV, the microwave, our laptops, our phones, the washing machine and the last car we had. Every thing, and all of them were over 10 years old, conked off; we had no money to even repair them, forget replacing them! (Read more here to understand the context: Fall Like A Rose Petal) Materially, that was a very, very, very low point – a sub-rock-bottom phase, if you like. One day, after deep reflection on the deprivation we were going through, I remarked to Vaani, “I guess human beings are capable of enduring a bankruptcy; but machines obviously are incapable of such endurance.” This is so true. Vaani and I continue to survive this tumultuous phase of our Life only because of the indefatigable human spirit. And my point is – the spirit in us is the same spirit in you. In every human being out there. So, what works for us, can work for you too.
This is what I told the reader. I guess it’s also important, when you hit a low phase, to detach from your story and look around you. There are, at any given time, people around you who are going through far bigger crises, far graver times than you. When you understand their stories and learn how they are coping, you too will find the strength and the energy to keep going.
I have personally used music to help me get up, whenever I have been felled by Life, dust myself and move on. My favorite is this song from Imtihaan (1974, Madan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Kishore Kumar, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Majrooh Sultanpuri)…“Ruk Jaana Nahin Tu Kahin Haar Ke…” It means, “Don’t stop (when you feel) defeated by Life, keep walking…” This is how I recharge myself. And I can tell you, again from my own experience, that no matter how tough it is, no matter how dark it is, anything can be faced, anything can be overcome, if you just keep going.
Every once in a while, Life will hang you from the edge of a precipice. You will not know what’s hit you. You will be clueless about what to do. And you will simply lack the motivation to go on. You will be numbed by your crisis.
How do you deal with such a phase when you are depressed, lost and don’t know what to do?
I have been there and I have felt exactly that way. So, I talk from experience – of what I have learned from my own dark phase in Life!
If you look at it dispassionately, Life is pretty meaningless. You came with nothing. And you will go with nothing. So, all this drama over what is yours, what you want to achieve, what you have lost, what you want to control…all this drama is futile. Nothing really will stay on forever. Not even you. When your time here is up, and your number is called, you too will perish. It is only because we don’t realize and awaken to this truth about Life that we suffer. This is why, in some situations, we get so attached with our circumstances that we feel lost. For instance, you haven’t got a job and you are being rejected time and again. You don’t know what to do. Or despite your best efforts you are not able to communicate with or relate to your spouse – and you see the relationship withering away. Or your business is just not picking up no matter how hard you work or how creatively you present your wares. When things don’t go the way you plan for them to be, you will naturally feel lost – and often depressed. In such times, however depressed you are, however much you think it is a no-go, it is important that you last the tenure of the tough phase.
For this, you must shift the focus from feeling lost to working to last the phase – often just lasting one day at a time! This is not as difficult as you imagine it to be. Whatever be the circumstance, Life is not over until it really is over. So, why fret about a Life challenge incessantly? Yes, when the challenge first strikes, you will feel clueless, you will not know what to do, you will feel lost. But then remind yourself that, like everything else in Life, even this phase is impermanent – it will surely pass. So, focus on having to last! Start living Life meaningfully. You may not have everything the way you want it, you may not have everything in your control, but celebrate what you have and train yourself live in the moment. For instance, even if you hate your job, serve your customers selflessly – it is because of them that you even have a job and are paid a salary! Or even if you and your spouse cannot relate to each other, be compassionate to your spouse – after all, you did have some great times together! Or even if your business is not picking up, offer something of value that none of your stakeholders cannot refuse – because unless they see value, no one’s going to prefer your business over another product or service. Or, simply, make it a point to watch a sunrise or sunset daily – learn to enjoy the magic and beauty of Life.
Know this: no matter what has happened to you or is happening to you, every moment has to be lived through in Life. Instead of merely surviving and lasting the course, imagining Life to be dreary, depressive and hopeless, why not celebrate and live it meaningfully, happily?
A common feeling you encounter from time to time, when what you plan doesn’t work out, or when a particularly disgusting phase in Life has to be endured, is the feeling of being “worthless”. You wonder if you have been created on the planet only to endure pain and to suffer. No one likes to be in that place. But sometimes you do end up there.
Vaani and I felt that way, one day, almost 8 years ago, as we sat in our bedroom reviewing our broke situation. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). We were so hopeless. So clueless. We were trying to do multiple things to get our business back on track. And when our efforts didn’t quite meet with success, we ended up feeling frustrated. That’s when we decided to flip the paradigm. We stopped wanting to only be successful. We asked ourselves how we can be useful. And so, Vaani cooked a nice hot meal. We packed the food in disposable casseroles and we went round our block finding people who were homeless and hungry. As we served them the meal, we thanked each of the people who received it for the opportunity they gave us to be useful. It was a beautiful feeling of being “worthwhile” when we really could have been moping and mourning over our “worthlessness”.
We have learnt that in any situation, however grave or however physically debilitating or emotionally challenging it may be, you can be useful to someone in a small way. Yes, even today, we do feed people whenever we have the means and the opportunity. But we are doing something equally powerful – that costs us no money (as we often don’t have enough these days to spare; our business is still plain broke) – we are curating non-commercial events in Chennai, in public spaces, Inspiring Happiness. Vaani and I believe that success, in a worldly sense, may be elusive at times, but being useful is always possible. There’s always someone, somewhere, who can benefit from what you have to offer – you can surely be of use to that someone in your own small way.
Over the past several years, we have always encouraged people who are faced with tough, seemingly no-go situations, or those who are in the throes of depression, to engage in some kind of community work. You sure can take out an hour to read for the blind or work in a community kitchen or offer your craft for needy people who can’t afford your fee. The joy of being useful, particularly when you imagine the whole world is appearing to conspire to label you as “worthless” is unparalleled. It is therapeutic. It is healing!
A friend’s timeline on Facebook reads: “Telling a depressed person to have gratitude is like telling a person with cancer that ‘see, you have a car, no’?” The import of the post was that you can’t talk about abundance and gratitude to someone who is depressed. Even if my friend meant this only in jest, I believe this post was avoidable.
The comparisons are irrelevant and flippant. A person who has a cancer does not need – or care about having – a car. She or he needs chemotherapy or a similar medical process to help deal with or cure the disease. And someone who is depressed does need to be awakened and inspired to be grateful and see the abundance in their Life. Here, gratitude and abundance are not just philosophies, they are coping devices that help you deal with, and over time, climb out of depression.
Interestingly, even as I was mulling over my friend’s post, on our morning walk, I noticed a lady push her bicycle with two pots of drinking water on the street. She must have been fetching the water from some distance and must have been on her way home. Because she could not balance herself riding the bicycle, with the water pots filled to the brim, she must have been pushing it. An hour later, as I filled water in my bath, I decided to restrict myself to just one bucketful. I sent out a silent prayer in gratitude to the Universe for having flowing water in my bath when the whole city and state is beginning to reel under the impact of a grave water shortage. To me, this ability to see the big picture, to count your blessings, in any context, is gratitude! Gratitude is always about displaying an abundance mentality.
But those who are depressed don’t see Life this way. They see it as a dark, black hole, and see themselves gripped by hopelessness, cluelessness. The last thing on their mind is gratitude and the need to celebrate the abundance, the blessings, in their Life! Our task then is to work with them, by holding their hand, walking alongside, being there for them, having conversations with them to make them see their Life differently. This process often takes time. Sometimes, even years. This doesn’t mean we write off gratitude-speak as a coping device or therapy for the depressed. In fact, if there is one process that can help someone who is depressed it is making them realize the value of being grateful and celebrating abundance! That’s why I found my friend’s post particularly jarring.
In Life’s journey, each of us have to go through what we have to go through. No amount of intellectualization of Life can help you deal with it. Acceptance of what is, gratitude for what you have and celebrating the abundance around you, that’s really how you get through Life. Interestingly, today is Vishu – a festival that reminds us of this beautiful opportunity that each of us has – to be grateful and celebrate abundance!
Last evening while watching M.S.Dhoni play the IPL match between Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) and Mumbai Indians, I reflected on his choices in Life. He quit his Indian Railways job to pursue his struggling cricket career with an unwavering conviction and belief in himself! After conquering every possible peak in the game, he quit test cricket at the right time. He quit his ODI and T20 captaincy too when he was least expected to. At his current level of form and fitness, he certainly has a few more years of cricket left in him. He has always played with detachment – victory or defeat, fame or the obscurity from where he rose, neither seem to have ever affected him. But now there’s more depth in the way he engages with the game – he plays with total freedom. He is as comfortable playing for his state Jharkhand in the domestic circuit, as he is playing for RPS, under a new captain, Steve Smith.
MS’ most inspiring quality is to always treat – and respect – the game as bigger than him. Which is why – and how – he has been able to handle, with ease, all the pressures and stakes of superstardom in cricket, his surprising decisions to step back when no one was asking him to and his choice of continuing the play the game in the domestic circuit, like just another ordinary player!
Indeed, the game of Life is always bigger than any of us. It is, in fact, beyond us. You can only live it fully in the moment that you are currently in. Saying steeped in the past is of no use. And you can never quite say what lies in store for you in the next moment. So, we must train ourselves to respect Life, to go with the flow and live it for what it is.
MS obviously is not the first person to be living with this awareness and this detachment. Intelligent living is as old as the hills – or possibly more. But MS is the most visible, superstar, practitioner of intelligent living. My heart goes out in admiration for him. Not just for being the great player and leader that he is, but for being untouched by “worldliness”.
I learnt this art of being “unmoved and untouched by worldliness” the hard way. In the phase from 1996~2002, when my business did very well, I imagined that I was its author. I felt my success was being scripted by my integrity and hardwork. I was right – but only partly. Results for my efforts were coming through me, for me, but not entirely because of me. This is a realization that came to me only when, in the past decade, I have discovered that despite my best efforts, results are not happening. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). So, back in time, since I thought I was the be-all and end-all of my Life, and when things didn’t work out as per a plan, I quickly concluded that I was a failure. It is only through deep reflection that I discovered what young MS knows so intuitively – that success and failure don’t matter; what matters is playing the game! In fact, success and failure are human inventions. They are wasteful social labels. If you allow them to stick to you, either way, you are doomed. If you imagine you are successful, you will be struck by hubris. If you conclude that you are a failure, you will be drowned in depression. I have been in both places, so I talk from experience.
The simplest way to live is to be “untouched and unmoved” by either by fame and glory or by fall and failure. This is the secret of Life. If you recognize that everything is transient, that every phase will pass, including success and failure, you will be unmoved. Then you can only be happy.
If we can’t understand the concept and value of just being, we will never be happy.
A manager wrote to me asking he is often steeped in negativity. “Worry, frustration, anger, disappointment, guilt, envy, regret – these are my constant companions. I am always complaining about something or someone. What must I do,” he asked. “Just be,” I replied. To be sure, millions out there are unhappier than most others and, unfortunately, they remain unhappy almost perpetually. And the reason these people are this way is because they have not understood the value of just being.
Fundamentally, happiness is a personal choice. No one – or no thing – can make you happy unless you learn to simply be – be with yourself, be with your true Self, be with what is, be yourself, be in the moment. And to be, you must understand Life. You must realize that Life does not happen because of you. It happens in spite of you, in spite of what you do or don’t do. You cannot control the Life that’s happening to you. All you can and must do is to accept the Life you have, do the best in any circumstance and again be accepting of whatever outcome or result your efforts may generate.
Per ancient Roman philosophy, the Goddess Fortuna, rotates the wheel of fortune, rota fortunae, of our lives. The wheel has the picture of a king on top and a picture of the same man as pauper at the bottom. So when the wheel of Life turns, as it surely will, you are pushed down if you are on top and you are pushed up if you are down. But we as people, as a race, we have all been conditioned to cling to the periphery of Life, holding on to the material aspects of our lives – power, wealth and assets. This basically means that as long as you are on the periphery of Life you will have to deal with the ups and downs, with the highs and lows, with gain and loss, with success and with defeat. But if you move inward, to the center of the wheel, you could be unmoved by all that happens to you in Life. In a way, at the center of the wheel is where the opportunity to move beyond mortal and material abundance transcending health, wealth, power, pleasure and fame is available. This is where you are in a state where you just accept what Life is offering you at the moment. Which is, the kahbi khushi, kabhi gham state; the K3G state – sometimes joy and sometimes sorrow state! The nub is this: when you are accepting of the Life you have, of what is, you may feel the pain, but you will not suffer. You will learn to be in this material world and yet be above all the attachments that lure you and want to hold you hostage!
There are only two ways to live Life. You can enjoy it. Or you can endure it. Enjoyment comes easily. When what you want comes your way, you enjoy it. But how can you enjoy death, separation, illness, misunderstanding, hatred, conspiracy, break-ups, loss, penury? These you simply have to endure. If you learn to just be, you can indeed be happy, even while you are enduring the Life that you never wanted, never wished or never expected.
To be happy, you simply have to be. When you are, accepting of the Life you have, no matter what the context or circumstance, you will find that all the negativity in you has evaporated. Or better still dissolved. When you are, you are in the moment, in the present. All your negativity stems from living in the past – anger, grief, guilt over what happened in a period of time that is dead, is gone – or from living in the future – worry, fear, anxiety over what may happen in a moment that no one has really known or seen. In the present moment there is no negativity. In the present, there is only one way, and that way is to simply be. When you simply are, you are happy!
Just stop feeding your “fears”!
Someone I know, a young man in his late 20s, is petrified that he will have a heart attack soon. Reason: he has been having a nagging pain in his chest and back regions; on the left side. He’s been through a battery of tests and nothing alarming has been reported except a suspected orthopedic condition which is being treated with regular physiotherapy. He wanted to know how to get rid of his “fears”?
This is a favorite human hobby: to conjure up worst-case scenarios and live in desperation and despondency. We must all remember that the worst that can happen to us, absolutely the worst per a worldly view, is that we will die. But this is known to all of us. So why live fearing our inevitable death?
I told the young man to stop feeding his fears. He’s done what he can. He has got medical advice. Now, he has an option to trust the doctors he is seeing or see another set of specialists. Or he can cower in fear and live a Life that’s full of suffering. His choice. But the one thing I will recommend is to let go and live free.
Negative thinking will lead you to depression. To flip your thinking switch and to break the negative spiral, you need to elevate your thinking. And the only principle that works is this: simply don’t connect the dots forward. Instead, rise above and see things from a 30,000 ft-level. When you fly in a plane and look down at the ground, you will find the tallest of structures looking like specks from the sky. Similarly, the gravest of our problems, as we perceive them, are but pimples, when seen from an elevated, zoomed out, perspective of Life! They will disappear just as they appeared. And if we don’t give them attention, they will not bother us. Only if you are anxious about them all the time will they seem like something grave and serious.
In Life’s grand theater, things will sometimes happen that you least expected or wanted and when you are least prepared for them. Such is Life. Don’t try to connect the dots forward or interpret each event and imagine the worst. What you fear most seldom happens. So, live well. Live happy!
A friend called me this morning. She said she was grieving over her inability to convince her mother-in-law that she (my friend) is a dutiful daughter-in-law. My friend has been married into the family for over two decades now. She rues the fact that her husband too has been unable to talk “some sense” into his mother. “I feel worthless, stupid and wasted,” lamented my friend.
My friend’s case is yet another classic example of people trying to desperately control everything in Life that’s beyond their control. 20 years is a long time for someone to be married into a family. If she has not been accepted by her mother-in-law as a worthy daughter-in-law, why must she waste time trying to prove her goodness out there? Why crave for something that is not coming to her in the natural, normal, course?
This is the tragedy of our lives. We try, all the time, in vain, to control Life. We try to control people, events, relationships, careers…everything…and, quite simply, all these are beyond our control. And so we grieve. That’s why we suffer.
To be sure, you agonize in myriad ways over why you can’t get things under your control. Your child’s in her teens. And she has a mind of her own. You are unable to control why she’s on the phone, on Facebook, and aloof from all the household chores she used to help you with. You grieve. The person who you once loved deeply, married, and thought will be your companion for Life, is now estranged. You want to control him. But he’s moving further away. You are now wallowing in self-pity. You are just not able to understand why you are not finding a job. You are qualified, experienced, talented and intelligent. You have double degrees, but no job. So, you desperately try to control the situation. Offering to work for even half the salary you were drawing. But no. It just isn’t happening. You are devastated. You have always had a strict health regimen. And you now have an arthritic condition. You are unable to run your marathons. You want to, you try to…but you land up in a bigger mess with your back and knees. You are depressed.
You may resonate with some of these situations. Or you may have some other. The point is that each such instance reminds us that we can’t control Life. We can’t really control what’s happening to us in Life. Life is about phases. When your Life’s going through a particular phase that you dislike, it is not tormenting you, as you often imagine. It is inviting you to challenge yourself, to endure and to overcome the phase. Unemployment is as much a phase as romance is. Bankruptcy is as much a phase as parenthood is. When we allow ourselves to be consumed by grief, when we are being tested by Life, we miss the opportunity to live fully, to live happily! So we suffer endlessly – ending up becoming depressive and morose.
Remember that the way you respond to Life is (the only thing) in your control. When you respond with grief and sorrow, imagining your Life to be a tragedy, you miss the opportunity to be happy. Instead if you respond saying you will live through any phase, no matter what, you may go through enormous pain, but you will not suffer. To be happy, irrespective of what circumstance you find yourself in, is a personal choice you can exercise.
A manager wrote to me saying he found our story (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) irrelevant. He said, “If you have repaid your debt then there is something to learn from you. But you say you have not even started repaying anyone. And it has been 10 years. After a decade of trying, you are still a failure. I don’t find anything I can learn from you.”
I smiled at his perspective. Vaani and I are often asked this question – on how we carry the “burden of our failure”. We are also asked why we believe we what has not happened in 10 years will happen now. People wonder, only half in amazement, but mostly in a veiled cynicism perhaps, how can we still be hopeful.
I told the manager that while he has the luxury of choosing not to see a learning from our experience, we do not have that option. We only have this experience to live through. And what this experience has taught us is that it is never over until the last ball is bowled. Also, we can’t afford to lose faith in the process of Life. We can’t hide behind history and say that if a turnaround has not happened in 10 years, it will not happen in future too. That would be being irresponsible towards the people that we owe money to. And third, what we have learned is that it is possible to be non-worrying in our state; it is possible to be non-frustrated when your efforts don’t deliver the results; it is possible to be non-suffering when you don’t get what you want and are saddled with what you don’t want. We have learnt these lessons. We have learnt to live this way, happily, despite our excruciating circumstances. So we can tell you it is possible to live this way. We have deployed the power of reflection, resilience and resourcefulness in our Life. Now, if you don’t see a learning here which may be useful for you, so be it. But your choosing not to see it, doesn’t either dilute the experience or take away the learning! Most managers, because of their intense – often erroneous – conditioning see high-performance as only something relating to their KPIs and KRAs at work. But to us, as we see it, high-performance is the ability to face Life no matter what you are going through, what you are dealing with!
In a society where success is measured by what you have, than what you have learned, what you have faced, just because you don’t have material evidence to show, it is likely that you will be billed a failure. But any label that society pins on you need not stay stuck. You have a right to discard it. In fact, you must discard it. Clinging on to a label that society has stuck on you is a sure way to invite suffering and plunge yourself into depression. Understand that just because you have failed at something, you are not useless. In any context in Life, however difficult or hopeless the circumstances may be, you can be useful. Your worth is not determined necessarily by how much assets you own alone. It is also a measure of how useful you are, how many lives you have touched and how much value you have created for other people.
This is the paradigm shift Vaani and I made. We did not stop with trying to be only successful in Life; we worked on being useful too. This shift is what awoke us to a Higher Purpose of Inspiring Happiness. This is what helps us wake up each morning and keeps us going day after day after day – however hard our material Life gets. So, we have learnt that success and failure are both impermanent and are imposters, in fact. And no matter how much of a failure you are in worldly terms, it doesn’t mean you are useless. There’s always something that you can do that can benefit someone, somewhere. Doing this consistently, which is being useful, regardless of what we gain, to us, is happiness!