Vedantic Wednesday: Your work is what you’re there for

If you are a reader of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) you would have noticed that there is a section beyond ‘Executive Summaries’. The section comes on the very last page of every issue. As though by habit, I now open the HBR issue that I receive from the package, turn it to the back cover and open the last page to see who is covered this time around. The section titled ‘Life’s Work’ has now become one of my favorite reads every month. And this time around (March 2014 issue) I found that it covered an artist. Artists are close to my heart as much as entrepreneurs and so I read the entire interview. She is 73 years, who reached the peaks in the 70’s, almost shut shop in the 90’s and is now making a come-back! Aren’t these people true inspirations? In the interview she offered some advice to entrepreneurs and I found that it was apt to what I wanted to share this week on philosophy.

Vedanta is an Indian school of philosophy. As I have shared numerous times in the past, it urges us to find what we are here for and follow it through till the end. It is said that in doing this every human being can aim and achieve liberation. It makes life peaceful and happy. I find that it is very much useful to entrepreneurs – the group that I tend to spend most of my work life with these days. Entrepreneurs seem to be finding and doing what they love in life and that is so much like an ideal path to also reach liberation (freedom) or whatever that may mean. In line with this thinking I found Zandra Rhodes share a key piece of advice to entrepreneurs. Here is the answer to that specific question from that interview:

“Keep going by whatever means you can. Don’t let people crush you. Have an inner belief in yourself. In the end, what you do will come through. We suffer today from people wanting fame rather than earning fame through their work. Your work is what you’re there for, and you should do it regardless. If it brings you something else, that’s a plus. You can be ambitious, but you have to be content with the fact that it might not make you a millionaire.”

While every question in that interview is amazing I found this response interesting. Even within that I found that her reference to “Your work is what you’re there for, and you should do it regardless” seemed like listening to what Vedanta teaches us. If only we can strive to keep this spirit up and living through life as an entrepreneur – there is no doubt that success will be ours, even if the world does not see it immediately. It will lead to a life lived fully. It will lead to loads of energy. It will keep us in peace and happiness. We will be part of that small group of entrepreneurs who are happy for being entrepreneurial.

In a lot of ways isn’t the spiritual path (if correctly understood) itself an entrepreneurial journey? Who said Spiritual Enlightenment is for the meek and the fearful?

Read the complete interview of Zandra Rhodes! Link:

Extract your lessons from it! If you are entrepreneurial think about this specific message!

Vedantic Wednesday: What should I do in Life?

Today I had lunch with a bunch of young minds from across the country and we were joined by a few from other nations as well. Among the many conversations, we had one short conversation on whether one should try to find what they should do in life and then go into it or figure it out along the way. This is always a debatable topic and so we did have numerous opinions. While I work a lot in entrepreneurship and encourage a whole lot of experimentation in business, I still belong to the school that one needs to find the direction in life before embarking in life. The earlier we learn this lesson in life the easier it is to make changes to direction in life. But how does one actually go about doing it? Even before that why should one even attempt this route?

In Vedanta there is a repeated mention across scriptural texts on the concept of ‘svadharma’ or one’s own nature. Every human being has an innate tendency. Every individual has an inherent interest towards certain activities or domains. However due to various expectations and attachments in life we are coerced into following what most of the world thinks is the right thing. Hence we find almost every student becoming an engineer and joining similar jobs. While all this seems like the best thing, most of the pleasures are short lived. Life becomes very stressful and strained due to not choosing the right vocation based on our inherent interests.

Why do we not choose to do what comes to us naturally? It is simply because we cannot make do with what our natural interests provide as returns. When we are born to be an artist we must understand that we cannot define timeline based outputs. If this is the case we cannot afford a lifestyle that is like the many who go to work or who go into business. As a result we give up on our interest or close to heart activity and go behind what provides the lifestyle that we want to match.

If we want to lead a happy life then we need to do what comes to us naturally, we need to practice what is our natural strengths and be contended with what that action provides as the result. To make this happen we need to align our lifestyle to enable us practice our natural vocation. Attempting to match what others have in the world is the beginning of giving up our deeply held talents. Over the long term this leads to discontentment and disillusionment. Sorrow, agitations and anger follows. Not recognizing the root cause of the problem we keep trying to solve the symptoms.

So why should one try this approach – for the simple reason that we can gain peace and stay in harmony.

Think about it!

Vedantic Wednesday: Being true to oneself

Being true to oneself means being true to one’s closely held beliefs. Putting this to practice has two inherent problems:

  • Finding your beliefs or values in life
  • Having the courage to be true to them

While many believe that they know the answer to the first point, in reality it is not so clear. Most of them time people don’t know what they believe in. A simple reflection of this is the fact that for most people values / beliefs keeps changing all the time! This means one has not really gone deep inside oneself and found who they truly are. If values/beliefs change, then how can you be true to something that is constantly changing? Hence it needs to be fixed. This needs to be done as early in life as possible. While philosophy provides enough tools and techniques to make this happen, no one other than the person individually can figure this out for themselves.

Don’t make the mistake of looking for soothsayers or astrologers to figure this out for you. Even the real practitioners of these fields can only provide a broad direction or suggest domains. Neither are self evaluation tests or type casting questionnaires going to help you resolve this challenge – for they are created to filter not point. They can again be used as cues, but definitely not as the solution.

This puts the onus on the individual to find this out for oneself. So make this your first exercise towards becoming peaceful, happy and successful. It is only when you find who you truly are that you can go on and be sincere to that person – that person called you. This is what is called ‘being true to oneself’.

Think about it!

Vedantic Wednesday: Why we can’t be true?

During the course of facilitating workshops for entrepreneurial leaders I have found companies stop short of delving deep into discovering values! The result is poorly identified shallow values. When values don’t mean so much to us, how can we be true to them? Hence this results in value breaches almost every day. Another big reason why this happens is because we are so worried about immediate responses. To ensure that we gain business in the short term we compromise on our deeply held beliefs. This is critical to reflect on considering the fact that the most important outcome of this is – agitations within the entrepreneur or leadership team.

Think about it!

Why is it so difficult for entrepreneurs to define their beliefs? It is because of a shallow purpose. Many times entrepreneurs are not entrepreneurial. They are not sure of what they want. This leads them to be kicked around like a football by all who pay. This will result in short lived, stunted and unsatisfied lives. Being entrepreneurial means not searching for success, but for living what one truly believes in. This requires every individual to figure out what they truly want to do with their lives. Once you decide and figure out what you want in life, write it down somewhere. Read it every time you feel confused over a decision point. If the opportunity is not in line with what you have always wanted to achieve don’t do it. This makes taking decisions in life easy. More importantly there is now at least a reference point to which you can be true.

Vedantic Wednesday: Ferociously defend Integrity

Many times we come across situations where we are puzzled over what is right and what is wrong? We tend to ask others what they think about this and attempt to seek consensus over the choice. In the process very often we become anxious and stressed. Asking others for what you should believe in, is fundamentally where we all lose perspective in life! Why do we keep changing our stance on what is integrity? Why is it that as a society we are trying to find what should be a common integrity standard for everyone? Why not create a larger framework which will enable individuals to figure it out for themselves? Discovering them is the correct way because deep down within every one of us is a voice that seeks to be listened to – it has the answers to this question.

In a recent roundtable that I had the pleasure of attending, I heard a senior Tata executive share his advice for emerging enterprises and the entrepreneurs who are building them – ‘ferociously defend integrity’. It seems to have come from his superiors, the leaders, the founders and his long association of having lived them. He kept sharing examples of how the Tata Empire has been built solely on trust. He also shared many examples of enterprises that had grown along with the Tata companies. They had done so simply because they aligned themselves with the overall value system. While many dropped along the way, the few who remained as vendors have built strong enterprises themselves. All this has become possible according to him because of a single factor – trust! But how does one build trust? It is by being true to one’s words. By keeping promises one makes! By walking the words that one speaks! By living the life that one proposes! This builds integrity. But this leads us to own up the responsibility of finding what our value system is and developing the conviction to live by them. This makes us live a life of integrity and trust gets built over time.

There will be some who may not think that your values make sense to them. You may have to lose some opportunities along the way. But sticking to one’s values and maintaining integrity keeps one peaceful, happy and also at one’s best at work. This will build trust. If we at any point in time bend to fit ourselves to others value systems for the sake of opportunity – that will be the end of living fully and trust is the first thing that leaves the picture.

Think deeply on this! It has some important lessons, not just for us individually, but for our entrepreneurial ventures as well.

Vedantic Wednesday: Take up One Idea

Today is the 1st of another calendar year – 2014. Every person is thinking of what the New Year resolutions should be! Many are drawing their new list of goals for the coming year! While this is not in itself a new exercise, even the way we do it doesn’t seem to have changed too much. Surprised? Ask yourself how you went about the same exercise last year? Did you set goals? Did you make resolutions? And also ask yourself if you stuck to them? If yes, go ahead and continue. But if you feel the approach has not worked for you, then try this new approach.

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life.” – this was Swami Vivekananda’s advice to live life. If you look at the many successful people in the world, this seems true. But why is it that the vast majority are not able to implement it? The answer seems to be in the way we organize our lives around our top priority. Even before that is to fix that priority. It is important to find that one idea that is essential for us. This is where many of us falter – we don’t take the effort to find that most important thing for ourselves. Once this has been identified the second point of error is that we don’t take the effort to organize all other activities around that singular goal or priority. If we reach a point where compromise is needed, then it has to be other aspects of life, not the singular priority. If we have not structured everything in their right places around the top goal, when decision points arise, we get confused and often tilt towards the side that provides the short term benefit. This leads us over time to compromise on our top priority – eventually making it look like it was not what we wanted at all in life. The side effect of this problem is that over time the top priority keeps shifting and this gives rise to dissatisfaction and envy.

To avoid so many problems in life, let us take the time needed to find our top activity or goal or priority in life. Once you believe that is the right thing, let us protect it with all our life. Let us give up everything else that comes along the way to live the cause of our life.

Think about this on this New Year Day and enjoy the benefit of clear thinking. Finding one idea for your life brings focus, energy and achievement. It fills our life with activities that energize us and inspires us to do more. Let us hope to live a full, happy and peaceful life.

Season’s Greetings and New Year Wishes 2014!

Vedantic Wednesday: Finding purpose of life – is it the question right?

Every once in a while all of us face this question: “What is the purpose of life?” But the speed with which we hear the question is the same speed at which we forget it. We get back to our daily operational hustle and bustle of life. We are always busy and the remaining time we are exhausted trying to be busy. There doesn’t seem to be an end to this tiring cycle.

When I was listening to a session on ‘branding’ recently I was startled that while people were asking many tips and tricks to build a brand, no one asked the fundamental question – “what should my company / product be remembered for?” Without that question we will end up creating brands anyway. In fact brands will get created anyway if we don’t create them – isn’t it? Does this question then apply to life as well?

The bigger question that Vedanta asks us is “Why should you be remembered?” And I think it is important to think on this very deeply before we appreciate the peace and happiness that can instantaneously descend on us once we reflect on this question. The quest to find meaning is life then almost immediately gets replaced by trying to find why I have an existence? What role can I play in fulfilling this great opportunity handed down to me? How can I make a contribution with whatever skills and knowledge I have to the ecosystem? How much can I give of what I have been given? These then lead us into action. Then it looks like the most important activity of life is figure what is our real nature and how we can put that to use – irrespective of how much it benefits somebody.

Vedanta exposes us to many ways in which we can find this out for ourselves. It looks like tests and other people are not going to tell us this. It is a very personal exercise and experience. We have to go through these ourselves and discover who we really are. This is also the reason why throughout the ‘Vedic’ knowledge base we have self realized people from all walks of life. Is there are clear and loud lesson for us here?

Is it then time for us to change the question? If we don’t change the question we may actually end up finding right answers to the wrong question and wondering why we feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled even after all the achievement!


Vedantic Wednesday: Teaching under a Tree

Yesterday I had the pleasure of conducting classes in a remote location of Tamil Nadu. This was part of a faculty development program on entrepreneurship and the only thing different this time around was the experiment of trying to conduct class at a location close to nature. We went there in the morning by bus and were soon in the midst of hills and thick vegetation. There was only brown and green all around. The air was filled with oxygen and silence. We had hens and goats roaming around, a little brook flowing behind and thatched classrooms. Our first session happened in the classroom. At tea break we sat on the benches under a tree and chatted. I proposed to the group if we could continue our session right there under the tree – the excited group (about 20 of them) agreed instantaneously. We moved a little white board and started.

That was my first ever class facilitated under a tree right in the open. No walls enclosing us, no technology like projectors, computers or speakers – just the 20 of us, a whiteboard, goats and hens.

We went on with our class till end of day. Since it started drizzling we moved back into the class for the closing session of about 30 minutes at end of day. Here are some interesting observations about the session and the experience:

  • Not even once did anyone feel sleepy or drowsy even for a moment
  • The whole class was discussion oriented without any technology distractions
  • There were no inhibitions and no limitations via walls – made us feel open both physically and mentally
  • Though the interactions were intense, they happened in a very light and informal setting

The validation that most of these were heavily influenced by the setting became clear when we found people becoming drowsy during the last 30 minutes when people went back into the classroom. No wonder then that our ancient Gurukula system happened in open spaces! Education needs to be as open as possible for it to deliver greatest value, and there seems to be no better setting to make learning happen than under a tree. Our ancestors (seers with great wisdom) had experimented and evolved these education methods. Hope we don’t lose out on our ancient wisdom.

Look forward to learning and teaching more in such natural settings. Think about it!

Vedantic Wednesday: Feeling BIG by Making Others feel SMALL

The world seems to understand the concept of relativity. It is one of the finest fundamentals to recognize the magic of life and living. But a big part of this understanding which distinguishes our level of maturity depends on where we place our reference point. Where is your fixed point, with reference to which you are moving?

Most of the time when we engage in conversations we find everyone wants to speak! There are hardly any listeners. Even more startling is that all of this talking has nothing other than how one is better than most others. Almost without exception most of us will respond with a bigger act of achievement as soon as we hear one in a group. I have found most people can’t stand listening quietly without speaking about their achievements.

It is becoming extremely difficult for anyone today to let go of an opportunity to feel bigger than most others around, if not everyone else. We go to great lengths to make sure this happens. If we are not able to do this in absolute (which is the case in most average human beings in society), then we try to establish this feeling by putting others down. By putting down institutions and people around us we make ourselves look big. This need to feel good and bigger at any cost is the source of most agitations that we experience. The recognition of this fact and questions thereof initiates us into spiritual advancement. But sadly even in spirituality we find there is tremendous competition to prove who is more spiritual than the other! There doesn’t seem to be any end to this madness, at least in the way we understand relativity.

There is a substratum on which the movement is happening, but that cannot be in the world. Now that’s plain logic. The truth is that all changes happen on something that is unchanging, but it takes effort and courage to go beyond our comfort zones and delve deeper to find it out. If we do our life will be full of peace and happiness. But why are we not even making the attempt? It is because of this misguided thought that we can feel peace and happiness once we achieve and live up to our dreams. If we possess and experience, peace and happiness is a given. Bigger, Better, Richer seems to be the mantra and today happier is also getting added to that list. Some people even showcase this in a relative sense and this entices the ignorant.

Truth is fairly obvious. We ignore it just to align with the larger herd of society. The woman (men included), who doesn’t fall prey to this illusion, evolves. Is that not the reason why every prophet in some way was a revolutionary figure?

Don’t put down others in conversations, it is actually hurting us in the long term and making us agitated. Every time you hear even a small achievement, simply acknowledge and encourage. If you feel the urge to showcase your greater achievement, just remain silent. It is fine if the world does not hear it just now. The best part of this is the resulting peace within us.

Try it!

Vedantic Wednesday: Nature of Likes and Dislikes

One child says she loves chocolates. The other immediately responds saying she hates them. Why these opposing feelings towards the same object, in this case, a chocolate? Where do these children learn what to like and what to hate? Who taught them these?

Adults teach and children learn. Adults act and children learn deeper and faster. Yes, that’s the truth. Every time a child sees their well wishers do something, it makes an impression on their minds. They learn that this is right or wrong and this creates a deep impression on their minds, which almost never changes. The problem is not in learning that a particular object is good or bad, and should be liked or hated. The problem turns into the bigger learning that we must learn to sort things into two compartments – that which we like and those that we hate. As children grow up, you can see these impressions taking enormous forms even while in school. It is not uncommon for us to hear children say, they like someone and they hate someone; someone is on their friend list and there are a few on the enemy list! Can you imagine small primary school children talking about enemies?

This grows and becomes a permanent feature in almost every adult. They all (including all of us) have likes and dislikes. We have them with foods, clothes, music, books, and more importantly people. This division is simply a figment of imagination. Just like the chocolate in the case of the children we discussed in the beginning, the goodness / badness are both not in the object (chocolate) in their case. Similarly as we grow up, this lack of understanding makes us feel that our likes and dislikes are always in the objects and beings around us. Hence we get affected by the nature and actions of the objects and beings that we come in contact with. Either we are happy that they align to our worldviews and like them or we are unhappy that they are not the way we want them to be, and hence dislike them. This constant stream of likes and dislikes makes us happy and sad alternately. We are not even aware that it is our misunderstanding which is actually causing this constant change in our state of mind. If we even get a doubt, we can reach out to philosophy to help us understand how to start walking out of our problem. If we do, our life becomes more peaceful. Vedanta is one such school of philosophy that explains this ignorance.