Whatever you do, do it for the joy it gives you – don’t do it to be the first or the only one or to be famous!
Yesterday a young man remarked to me that I needed to become more aggressive, and perhaps commercial-minded too, to stay in sync ‘with the times’. He surely means well – dealing with a bankruptcy and trying to put a business back on track for several years can perhaps take the steam out of you. So, I did take his perspective in its spirit. But what he said got me thinking.
Last night, as I lay in bed, I thought of the younger me, from just 15 years ago. I was not just aggressive, I was rabid at times as well. I could never take ‘no’ for an answer. If something was not prying open – a lead, an opportunity – I would gatecrash, barge in. If someone was not willing to listen to me, I made sure they did – I literally dug myself in, often in their face, until I got them to hear me out. And, above all, I was intensely, fiercely, competitive. Times have changed. In the last 8+ years, I have faced so much rejection and seen so many closed doors (I have talked about my experiences and learnings from this phase in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal – Westland). But I am no longer impatient. While I still don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, I don’t stick myself up in people’s faces anymore. And though I don’t enjoy competing anymore, it’s not that I have lost my aggression or ambition. It is just that I now value the journey equally, if not more, than wanting to get to any destination!
Our education system is such that it forces us to be competitive even before we understand what it means to compete. The whole social environment of a child (particularly in India) is focused on a skewed sense of academic excellence. Memory, not knowledge, is rewarded by our system. What a child knows is irrelevant in the context of how much the child remembers. And that is measured not by how much the child has learned and imbibed, but by what grades the child has got. So, naturally, there is anxiety among young, impressionable children – they all want to be the first in class – even if not for themselves but to do their parents proud! However, the nature of any competition is such that there can only be one first. Everyone else will have to follow. So, the ones who do not get to be first in class, continue to compete, often vainly, rabidly. And the one who stood first is competing to protect and so becomes possessive of her or his first position! This continues through college. At work. And in society. Look around you. You will find this evident in all walks of Life – even in a queue in India, where people simply have to push and jostle to get into a movie hall or a plane!
Let me clarify. I am not against competing and winning. But if competing is going to make you miserable – thinking about winning all the time and feeling depressed if you don’t win – then what’s the point in doing whatever you are doing? A constant state of urgency and the often-avoidable aggression, takes away the joy that any activity can deliver, especially when the focus is only on winning, on coming first, on being hailed, on becoming famous!
Whatever you do in Life has to fundamentally give you joy! If you are not feeling the joy when you are doing something, it is simply not worth doing it. Good coaches will always inspire people to strive to be the best, deliver what they are truly capable of, while enjoying themselves in the process. If what gives you joy also gives you wealth, fame and recognition, great! But if you work with only wealth, fame or recognition in mind, if you play the game only because you have to be the first – it may just not always be possible. Because, chances are, someone may be better than you are on any given day. That doesn’t mean you are worthless. But your hunger to win and your lusting to be Number 1 will make you believe you are good-for-nothing. The Bhagavad Gita explains this simply, beautifully. Krishna says: ““Don’t focus on the result at all!” – just make sure the “motive is pure” and the “means are right (ethical)”. Offer whatever you are doing to “Me”.”
Look at any great artiste or sportsman or actor or business leader. You will find one trait common in all of them. They simply lose themselves to whatever they are doing. They are not bothered about what people are thinking or about winning or losing or about coming first. They are offering themselves, and their craft, to Life (cosmic parlance for the “Me” in the Gita!). When the doer becomes the deed, when the singer becomes the song, when the painter becomes the art – magic happens. If the magic delivers a world-class performance, and with it material rewards, fantastic. But even if doesn’t, a truly great professional will not bother. Because she or he has enjoyed the process of doing thoroughly!
How you live your Life and are you enjoying living – these are far more important aspects to consider than what you won and who you defeated! So, the next time you are placed in a competitive context, compete by all means. But do so only so long as you don’t lose the joy of living, or your sleep, over wanting to win or be the first or the only one!