Choose not to run away from what you fear.
The other day, I had coffee with a friend who said he is scared and insecure of the future. His business has been struggling and he is not sure about what to do: “I am not able to function freely. My fear is chewing me up.”
Fear is a very natural response to inscrutable Life situations. Fear will arise when you are clueless or are dealing with the unknown. What will happen if I am not able to get an income? How will I pay my bills? What will people think or say about me? What if my Life ends up being this way forever? These, and more, questions are what my friend is dealing with. This is what I told him: “You can’t prevent fearful thoughts from coming up within you. What you can do, however, is to learn to reason with yourself about the futility of such thinking.”
Ask yourself, what is the use of being fearful in a situation? Any situation. Can your being fearful about a situation change it to the way you want it to be? Of course not. So the best response to fear and debilitating thoughts is to just let them be. Face them. Don’t run away from them. Focus all your energies on what you can do in that given situation. No matter how grave a situation is, you can always be useful, you can surely do something meaningful in it. Immerse yourself in doing whatever you can. The criteria for your thought and action must be that they must be constructive and useful. Clearly, worrying or feeling fearful is not useful. So, barring indulging in those two, do whatever else you can.
You will find that your mind amazingly adapts to whatever you focus on. Supposing you are worried stiff and you love painting, if you paint, you will find your worries either dissolving or receding to the background. The more you train your mind not to attend to fearful thoughts, the more it will immerse itself in the moment. This may appear impossible to do in the beginning. But you have to keep at it. Over time, the mind learns to follow your new direction.
Another important point to note is that it always helps, especially in a situation when fear is gnawing at you from within, to immediately prepare for the worst case. In any situation, just be prepared to face the worst – and, instantaneously, your fear will evaporate. This is how you learn, this is how you train your mind in fact, to face your fear. When you face what torments you, it becomes powerless.
Remember this – what you run away from, always comes chasing. If you run away from your fears and insecurities, without doubt, they will come after you. Instead if you turn around and face them, if you immerse yourself in doing what inspires you, in what you love doing, in what makes you useful or when you indulge in any action that can help you turnaround a situation that is scary or worrisome, you will find that your worries and fears don’t torment you anymore.
Clearly, you can’t prevent fear from arising. But you can make it powerless by taking it head on, by facing it.
Today’s blogpost appears as a Podcast. Listen here: 4.44 minutes
In situations when success is elusive, work on making yourself useful!
Being useful, than just trying to be successful, is very therapeutic, particularly when you are going through depression.
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!
Waking up each day to be useful to someone, somewhere, is happiness!
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!
Living a meaningful Life, and not a huge bank balance, makes you happy!
Two days ago Vaani was moderating a panel conversation on three interesting books that provoked management thought. She chose to talk about what she had learnt from management guru Jim Collins’ Good to Great. The other two panelists shared their perspectives from The 20 Minute MBA by Chip Walker and The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D Wattles.
The gentleman who spoke from his reading of The Science of Getting Rich, in my personal opinion, completely missed the core of this seminal work. Over a 100 years old (it was first published in 1910), The Science of Getting Rich preceded other books in the same genre like Charles F Haanel’s The Master Key System (1912), Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (2007). This gentleman tried to exhort the audience to believe that a ‘Massive Bank Account’ (his expansion for the ubiquitous MBA) was the key to Life. And clearly that’s not what Wattles talked about in The Science of Getting Rich. The book says that getting rich is important but emphasizes that financial success comes only when you live a full Life, driven and guided by a set of spiritual values which include gratitude, value creation, co-creation (vs competition), recognizing the futility of negative thinking, trusting the process of Life, being patient, playing to your fullest potential and letting go of worry. In trying to exaggerate his personal ‘Massive Bank Account’ theory, the reviewer, was, unwittingly perhaps, getting an impressionable young audience (most of them college students) to imagine that making money precluded everything else in Life. Whereas, the very book he was referring to defines the science of getting rich as the practice of simple spiritual laws that lead to, among other things, financial success too.
I believe much of our society today, like the gentleman in question, misses the big picture. Everyone wants quick success – name, fame, money and things. So people are always looking for short-cuts to get to the top. The truth about Life is that there is only one way and it is the way of inner peace and happiness. You are happy only when you do what you love doing, it is only when you repeatedly do what you love doing that you learn to be world-class at it and it is only when you are world-class at some thing that you become insanely financially successful. If you chase a ‘Massive Bank Account’ (bank balance, that is, as the gentleman propositioned the other day) instead, you may well get it, but you may not necessarily be happy. Life is a limited period offer and, sooner than later, everyone realizes and wakes up to the reality that happiness and inner peace are what matter the most. So, why not employ the science of getting rich properly by following certain undisputable, unputdownable, non-negotiable spiritual laws of Life?
I have nothing against people wanting, or making, money. But making money is not what Life’s Purpose is all about. Money is just a resource. Having more of it surely makes Life comfortable but not necessarily happier. If you can learn to be happy instead of only wanting to be wealthy, if you can serve before saying you deserve, then, you are living a purposeful Life! I look at it this way, inspired by the Prayer of St.Francis (the 13th Century Saint from Assisi); I feel each of us must urge Life every single day thus:
Make me useful in each moment,
Make me create value each day,
Keep me grounded, humble
And soaked in gratitude – for all that I have,
Make me always aware that true success
Comes only from my willingness to serve before I say I deserve
If this can be our daily prayer to Life, then we will surely be living intelligently and happily, instead of slaving away mindlessly.
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