Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Are we working FOR, or WITH, happiness?

( Note::  This article has already been published by e-magazine The Spark in their August, 2017 issue at   http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/are-we-working-for-or-with-happiness/)

Are we working for, or with, happiness?
Ask anyone, “What do you want in life?”, and the most common answer would be “I want to be happy.” Everyone seems to be on a perpetual quest for happiness in their own way. And everyone seems to be working for that happiness!

However, if we pause and reflect, we will realise how we ourselves have made it so tough to be happy! The truth is: happiness is meant to be our core state of being, having nothing to do with anything outside. But, when one works for happiness, he or she seeks it out at the destination, conditional upon achieving a specific goal. We keep telling ourselves that we will be happy if we get that luxurious car, that exquisite dress or if we top the class, if we crack that exam, if we get that promotion, if we marry, if our children land a high-paying job etc. – material goals that pop up endlessly relating to wealth, status, fame etc. That too, very often, it is not only about one achieving a goal personally, but also about our loved ones achieving targets we set for them! It is not wrong to want to achieve these things, or to enjoy our success in these fields. The problem is we seek joy in the outcome at the goalpost, not in our input along the way. So instead of being happy about how we are doing at the moment, we constantly worry about how to achieve the goal, and worse still, we sometimes even compromise on our values, neglect our relationships, if need be. In the process, we grow anxious and guilty while working towards our goals. If we fail, we end up unhappy. Ironically, though, even on achieving that goal, the happiness that we experience turns out to be very momentary and eludes us soon after.

And that’s because our goalpost keeps shifting, every time we achieve a goal!

Goals are never meant to be static in life as long as they have to do with our outer world. Our mind has an uncanny knack of picking on that one little thing that we do not have, thereby rendering useless all that we already have. So, unless we cultivate contentment as a core value, we can never be truly happy. With contentment, we are happy ‘now’ and we work with happiness for the next. If we achieve the goal, we are happy and keep working with happiness. Even when we fail (and we do fail several times in life), the fact remains that we have been happy doing what we had been doing! And this, in turn, empowers us inwardly to keep staying happy, fully understanding that we have done our best and there is always another chance! Since in any case, as a contented person, we are working with happiness, it never eludes us, whether we achieve or fail.

In fact, only with contentment comes the realisation that happiness is a state of being, and is not conditional upon anything external. 

So, it is very important to understand contentment, one of the most misunderstood terms! Understood in proper perspective, this one word can become the bedrock for everything right in our lives.

Very often, when we say or hear the one-liner “I am content”, do we mean, we are fine with the as is in the sense of not feeling the urge to crib and complain, and instead focus on working harder and better; or do we try to justify our laziness, inaction and lack of drive in the name of being contented, implying there is no more need for us to aim higher, or work smarter?  If your answer is in line with the first interpretation, you are definitely on the right track.

However, it is confounding to see how most of us commonly interpret contentment as passivity - being satisfied with what we have, not out of a sense of true acceptance, but more out of being resigned to what we have, in surrender to the status quo. No, it is not so. Contentment never means you be satisfied with what you have, and have no ambition or aspiration for the better. Rather, it means that when we are satisfied with what we have got now, we are not frittering away our energy in negative and/or waste emotions, thereby conserving our energy, our inner power that we will use to work for better and higher goals.

One doesn’t stop working further because he or she is contented and happy; instead one works better and on higher goals.

Contentment teaches us to work with happiness, as against, working for happiness!

And we can work with happiness, only when we are grateful for the things that we have.

How can we be happy now, if we focus on and crib about what we lack? When we have gratitude as a core value, even if we lose sometimes, we will always find out what we still have and what we still can create. More significantly, we would always look at ourselves for the person we are becoming through self-transformation by remaining grateful for everything or every lesson.

We cannot be happy, if we are not contented; and we cannot be contented, if we have no sense of gratitude!

Going a little deeper, it is truly enlightening to appreciate how the universal values, viz. gratitude, acceptance, contentment and abundance are fully inter-woven - feeding on & being fed by one another! Start at any point and we are eventually at abundance, from which it creates more and more abundance, happiness and bliss. When we are grateful, we accept situations and people with understanding. When we accept, we let go of expectations from others/outside, even own selves. we just be, and let others be. Once we do not really expect, we are contented. Once contented, we feel abundance, devoid of any feeling of envy or longing, or any sense of lack. Once we feel abundant, on one hand we work with greater energy to achieve more, and on the other hand, we become generous - sharing with others, out of our sense of abundance. Sharing brings with it abundant joy and happiness. This again creates another virtuous circle of higher positive energy, happiness, gratitude, contentment, acceptance, higher energy, higher achievements, greater sharing, higher joy and elevated energy exchanges…. And the process becomes not only self-perpetuating, but spiralling upward, continuously expanding.

For most of us, our natural tendency is to notice the nine bad things that happen to us each day. But instead, what if we make a habit of looking for one single thing that we are grateful for, every day? And express gratitude in writing each day? Then we will automatically look out for and focus on that one good thing that also happens to us during the day amidst the nine bad things!

This way, a habit of looking for the good gets formed. Over time, it gets into auto mode, and becomes a part of our personality and character. Not only that, something else too happens. When we are busy looking out for the good, our attention gets diverted from the bad things, and whatever is starved of attention, stops growing. Nothing less than a miracle unfolds here, in the process. Our mind-space for good keeps growing, literally pushing out the bad and the wasteful, which stops getting registered in our mind gradually. What gets registered in mind only leads to any feeling, and with the habit of looking for and at the good, only good gets registered and creates good feelings. And the process continues. Eventually, is not happiness about good feelings inside? You are happy; you work with happiness; you are content with the result; so undisturbed, you keep working with happiness and to your best capacity. Happiness then becomes your core state of being.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Things do not happen to us; they happen for us!

Everything happens for a reason; that too, to serve our own purpose.

When we live in awareness and reflect in depth whenever we find ourselves in an extra-ordinary situation – could be a challenging situation, or a traumatic situation ,or even a simply bewildering situation that we fail to make sense of, or too happy a situation, we see there is always an underlying design behind what happens to us.  

Some situations test us and reveal US to OURSELVES. Our true character surfaces – whether the values we profess, the beliefs we propound are the ones we really live by, or merely lip-service.

The issue with having strong moral/ethical values is that you get tested for them again and again; and one of the best tests of your belief in certain higher principle is whether or not you can apply that in cases with which you have the least sympathy. For example, you think you value woman’s dignity and hence, treat prostitution as something condemnable in that context. But if you truly respect the dignity of women, then you shall also sincerely condemn all rapes- even that of a prostitute!! If you, instead, start creating the thought – “Well, why should she be sympathised? In any case, she has already been selling her dignity, so what more she has lost by getting raped??”, then are you the person you thought you are ?? If, in this case, you cannot bring yourself to look at her with the same pair of eyes as you would see any woman whose person has been violated by force against her wish, it only reflects that  you lack conviction in what you think you strongly believe. If you truly value women’s dignity, then you will never miss out on the crucial difference between doing something ( here, prostitution) out of own decision(or some compulsion) and getting raped(i.e. violated by force), notwithstanding the fact that that something( prostitution) is detestable! For all you know, she might have been victimised and forced into prostitution in the first place! Well, how she got into that is beside the point here. Point is: if you are true to what you profess, then, you will always uphold: every woman, even a prostitute, has a right not to be raped! Because, it is the act of rape that you will despise and condemn, not the victim, that too selectively!

It is said, and rightly so, everyone is honest till temptation knocks at their door! So if you can actually stare at temptation or adversity right in the eye and overcome them, then only you know that honesty and courage are the hallmarks of your true character. Not until then! Thus, difficult situations give us the much needed opportunity to see clearly at ourselves, our deep seated beliefs and values, and open our eyes to the splits and chinks in our own character, where we must work on ourselves.  

Some situations grind us hard, so that we develop our “muscles” – hone our talents and strengths towards our best potential, so that we keep doing better and better, until we do our best and be our best in any situation. Need no elaboration. Ever tried learning how to play a stringed musical instrument? Has anybody learnt playing it without hurting their fingers at first? Have you ever learnt to ride a bi-cycle without falling down a couple of times and most likely hurting yourself ? Without falling and getting hurt, we don’t even learn how to walk! What to speak of the higher and tougher things in life - acquiring knowledge, skills, talent, competence and great human qualities!!

Some situations strike us hard and torture us literally to make us learn the lessons that we need to learn; and teach us how to rise above pain to power, and ultimately leave us better and stronger, ready to evolve to a higher level of being. Especially, the two most important qualities for a spiritual transformation – gratitude and compassion- are best learnt in the process of actual passage through pain, intense pain!! 

All that happens to us happens because the Law of Karma is indeed reformative, not punitive. At each moment of the present, our past comes as a situation that gives us an opportunity to settle our past karmic debts, while on the other hand it is an opportunity to create good karma that will create our destiny in future! We go on settling past karmic debt, if we choose to gracefully accept responsibility for our current suffering ( loss, hurt, pain etc.) as consequences of our own past bad karma, without creating further bad karma in terms of resistance/retaliation. At the same time, these same situations give us an opportunity to create new good karma, by transcending the bad energy via creation of new good energy in return!! (Yes, it is possible, when we genuinely wish well for our tormentor moving out of the zone of revenge.). As we do that, we also grow stronger and evolve higher on our spiritual journey.

Yes! It serves us the greatest good to remember every moment that the ‘present’ is an opportunity to earn new good karma for fruition at a later date on maturity.  That is why it is so called – ‘present’, a gift! Past karma was our fate or pre-destiny, which we must face in the present and endure with grace to settle it once for all; but what we do in the present is our present karma which creates our destiny every moment that we are going to face as fate/pre-destiny in future! So every situation that we may find ourselves in the present because of our fate/pre-destiny is also an opportunity to create our destiny for future.

But whatever it may be, a common thread runs through all situations: Things do not happen to us; they happen for us!

Especially the so-called “bad” things! Because we learn a lesson the best when we actually experience it in our life!!

An anecdote from the great Indian epic “Mahabharat” goes like this:

The very first lesson the Pandava boys received from their Guru in the Ashram was: “Satyam vada, Krodham maa kuru !” which means “ Speak the Truth and never  get angry!”  All the brothers, except Yudhisthir, confirmed the very next day that they had remembered the lesson. But Yudhisthir said that he had learnt only the first half, i.e.“Satyam vada”  and not the other half  “ Krodham Maa kuru”.  The Guru patiently made him repeat the words “Krodham maa kuru”, “ Krodham maa kuru” a few times. Next day, when asked whether he remembered it, Yudhisthir gave the same reply – he had learnt “satyam vada”, but had yet to learn “ krodham maa kuru”. Though the teacher was taken by a little surprise, he nevertheless made Yudhisthir repeat the words multiple times to make him remember the teaching. And this went on for quite a few days. Finally one day the Guru lost his temper and shouted in anger at Yudhisthir: “Why is it that you can not remember three simple words Krodham Maa kuru, despite repeating multiple times for so many days, while your younger brothers learnt it the very first day? How can you be so stupid??” Only after a few moments, Yudhisthir clapped his hands in joy and declared,” I have now learnt the lesson!”.  Surprised, Guru asked, “How come only a moment ago, you were unable to recall the words, and now you are so sure that you have learnt them??”  Replied Yudhisthir humbly, “Guruji ! I always speak the truth; so it was easy to remember the first half of the lesson, which I have already mastered. But I was not sure of the second half that says “never yield to anger”, until and unless someone got angry at me and  in return, I remained calm. Today, I actually found that about myself. So I can truthfully say now that I have remembered this part of the teaching as well.”

Yes!  Life’s lessons are not to be copied from others, nor memorised; they are to be “learnt” and then only they can be remembered!!

Perhaps this is why the greatest achievers also happen to be the ones who have seen great failures; the most respected are the ones who perhaps have risen above the bitterest humiliations, and the greatest healers are the ones who have been through the most painful situations themselves!! Just remember, Jesus Christ, Gautam Buddha, Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, Dada Vaswani …to name only a few!

Life’s challenges, in the process of making us learn our lessons, strengthen and fortify us still further so that we can cultivate the right attitude to everything in life and be our best, notwithstanding the adversities.  Ever seen even a great saint not going through physical sufferings and other hardships? Success in the affairs of life often serves to hide one's abilities, whereas adversity frequently gives one an opportunity to discover them.

"All the adversity I've had in my life, has strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."
                                                                                                              Walt Disney

Ever looked thoughtfully at a lotus?  It is born out of, and surrounded by mud and muck and water; yet no spec of mud or water can ever settle on or stick to it!! What is more, it always, always rises and looks up to the Sun – the source of Light!  Similarly, our ultimate motto in life ought to be a progressive movement towards “light” – that is, end of ignorance and stepping into the realm of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. Adversities smite us and give us the much-needed awakenings towards this end.

A blacksmith, who loved God with all his heart and soul notwithstanding his poverty and many a hardship, once was asked by a non-believer in God: How can you trust and love a God who sends you so much of sufferings and sickness??  The blacksmith answered with a calm smile: I am a blacksmith and I know when I have to make a tool, I take a piece of iron, put it into the fire, and then strike it hard on the anvil to check if it will take temper. If it does, I know I can make something useful out of it. And if not, I just throw it away as a useless scrap!! Having been sent to this wonderful world, I wish to be of use and value; and so I always pray God: Please pass me through the fire of sufferings as much as YOU want, but pray, do not throw me on the scrap-heap.

Adversities are the best opportunities to make us learn to see the positives even in the heap of negatives and help us cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

There is this story of two people, whose ship wrecked and they found themselves on an uninhibited island. For temporary shelter, they built a cottage of branches and leaves of trees available there. Every day, both would go to the sea shore and shout or wave their hands or clothes for help in the hope that they would get sighted by some ship afar and get rescued. But no help came for quite a few days. One of the two survivors was a strong believer in God and always thanked God for everything, while the other one was a non-believer. As days passed, the second man’s complainings knew no bound. On the other hand, the first person always kept up his faith, counting their blessings: “We still have so much to be grateful for! We are alive; we could have drowned to death. We are on an island with some shelter at least. We are having our eyes, hands, legs and other body parts intact and still in our good senses, with which we are able to work toward our rescue. Thank you, God!” One evening, as they were returning, they found their cottage of branches and leaves burning and getting reduced to ash. The non-believer started cursing the God, even as the believer still maintained that there must be some good in this!  The next morning, they saw a small rescue boat waiting for them at the sea shore. The captain explained that the previous evening, he had noticed some smoke rising from the island and hence thought that there might be someone here who might need help.  The believer thanked God as usual, with stronger belief in Divine design. Did the non-believer see the good in the apparent negative incident of fire and change? Well, that crisis was certainly an opportunity for him to learn the lesson in positivity and gratitude.  

Yes, it is a story. But look around! Don’t you see many such people in real life all the time?? In fact, many of the so called common, ordinary people are like this, living with an attitude of gratitude which is why, we find them lead a “happy” life even in circumstances like poverty, sickness and daily challenges!! We have never bothered to look at them, or we evaluate their happiness quotient by our own parameters and so fail to assess it correctly; then show the audacity to pity them thinking: how miserable a life they are leading!

Even simple episodes of worsening situations/inconveniences teach us the lessons in contentment and gratitude for what we already have.  An insightful tale from Mullah Naseeruddin is in order here:

Naseeruddin’s neighbour one day lamented, “I am really having trouble fitting my family into our small house. My wife, three children, my mother-in-law and I, all share the same cottage. Mullah, you are a wise man. Do you have any advice for me?”

“Of course,” replied Mullah. “Do you have any chickens in your yard?” The man replied, “Yes. Ten.” Mullah ordered: “ Put them in your cottage.” “ But,” the man protested,” our house is already so cramped.” Naseeruddin urged: “ Just try it.”

Desperate to find a solution, the man followed Mullah’s advice, but the next day said,” Mullah, with the chickens in the house, things are even worse now.” “Don’t worry.”, replied Mullah. “Now take that donkey of yours into the house.” The man resisted, but Naseeruddin convinced him to do it. The next day, the man, more distressed than ever, grumbled, “This is terrible! Between the family, the chickens and that donkey, there is barely any room to move!”  “ Hmmm.” went Naseeruddin, “ any other animals in your yard?” The man hesitated, “Well…we do have a goat.” Mullah smiled: “Perfect! Take the goat in your house, too. ”The man was aghast and raised a fuss again. But Mullah, wise and clever as he was, once again convinced the man that it was for his best only. The next day the man virtually exploded, “ My family is really upset now. Everyone is at my throat complaining about the lack of space. Your plan is making us miserable.”  Mullah nodded, “It’s time to take all the animals back to the yard outside.”  The man was too relieved to follow this advice and did as he was told. Next day he dropped by Naseeruddin and declared, “Mullah, you are wise indeed. Your plan has worked like a charm. Our house now feels so spacious that none of us can help but feel pleased. No one complains anymore.”

Very often we tend to grow too discontent and forget to value what we already have – good health, decent means to live a life of dignity, stable relationships for support and emotional security etc., which we commonly take for granted. At these junctures, the Universe (or call it, God) plays a Mullah Naseeruddin  and sends us situations in which we lose even what we had till now, so that we are vitually shaken awake to the  value of what we had; and get driven not only to restore, but further work on them with a new-found perspective of value and loss!

At the other end of the spectrum of people living in gratitude are the genuine saintly individuals, the “mahatmas”, the enlightened ones, who also lead ordinary lives of simplicity and sufferings, but actually do extra-ordinary service to the humanity through their inspiring personal examples, teachings and compassionate action! Are they “suffering” ?  NO!! Their physical bodies only suffer, not their mind, heart and soul. Come what may, they hold their head high, spirit indomitable, heart full of love, peace and compassion!  Soul in absolute harmony personified!! So they never “feel” misery. Rather, they are the real wealthy ones on this earth at a peak level on their spiritual journey towards self-actualisation, or call it salvation ! 

Actually, we tend to mix up “suffering” with outward difficulties like not-enough riches, or physical burden and sickness. One truly “suffers” when one “feels” miserable at the deepest core of heart. It is never the “load” that breaks us down, but the way we carry it!  Every human being, good and bad, is given their share of “load” in this world. But a good person always carries the load rightly and hence, never “suffers” in reality.

Suffering is a good teacher to those who are quick and willing to learn from it. But it becomes a tyrant to those who resist and resent. Suffering can teach us almost everything. Its lessons urge us to develop discrimination, self-control, non-attachment, morality, and transcendent spiritual consciousness.
                                                                                       ---Sri Paramahansa Yogananda

This is a true story of Dashrath Manjhi, a simple, poor, low-caste( so called) youth in an obscure village in  Bihar who lost his beloved wife to illness and lack of timely medical treatment only due to lack of easy access to the nearby hospital. The villagers had to walk down about 70 km around a mountain to reach that only hospital in the vicinity. This tragedy, instead of crushing Dashrath’s spirit, impelled him to chisel away at the rock-hard formidable mountain, single-handedly, for long 22 years, even despite public ridicule till the result showed up, only so that his village could gain easy access to the hospital and no other fellow villager should suffer a similar loss of life. And he did it finally – unbelievable, but true! The tragedy only brought out his true mettle – a good soul with unwavering faith, grit and determination – a never-give-up spirit.

This is also exactly why we must never question, why bad things happen to good people. The correct question should be: what do good people do when bad things happen to them.  They continue to live in gratitude and go on doing good ! They emerge stronger everytime they pass through a storm. Similarly, never ask: why do good people suffer?  Because they actually do not “suffer”, as they have learnt to rise above the (physical) pain to (spiritual/mind ) power !!

Confucius is known to have said once: Life is really simple, but we make it complicated ( by not learning our lessons early). We may acquire wisdom by three methods – first, by reflection ( i.e learning from own inner compass) which is the noblest ( but the honesty required is often missing); second, by imitation( learning from others’ experience and examples) which is the easiest ( but almost rarely heeded); and thirdly, by experience, which is the bitterest ( but perhaps the most effective, as it gives us no option other than to reflect, evaluate, even look at others’ examples and develop insights that are necessary to learn the lessons we need to learn.).  But if, even after given an opportunity of learning from our real experience, we do not learn the lesson it had come to teach us……, then we stay in the same orbit of ignorance to face similar bitter experiences again and yet again.

Adversities clarify our true beliefs and faiths.  For example, there is a huge difference between telling “I believe in God” and actual faith in HIM. Ever heard this story?

The story tells about a mountain climber, who wanted to climb the highest mountain. He begun his adventure after many years of preparation,  but since he wanted the glory just for himself, he decided to climb the mountain alone. He started to climb but it began to get very late, and instead of preparing his tent to camp, he kept climbing until it got very dark. The night felt heavy in the heights of the mountain, and the man could not see anything. All was black. Zero visibility, and the moon and the stars were covered by the clouds. As he was climbing, only a few feet away from the top of the mountain, he slipped and fell into the air, falling at a great speed. The climber could only see black spots as he went down, and the terrible sensation of being sucked by gravity. He kept falling… and in those moments of great fear, it came to his mind all the good and bad episodes of his life. He was thinking now about how close death was getting, when all of a sudden he felt the rope tied to his waist pull him very hard.

His body was hanging in the air.. Only the rope was holding him, and in that moment of stillness he had no other choice but to scream: HELP ME GOD!!

All of a sudden, a deep voice coming from the sky answered: “What do you want me to do?”

“ Save me God!!”

Do you really think I can save you?”

Of course I believe You can”


There was a moment of silence; and the man decided to hold on to the rope with all his strength.

The rescue team tells, that the next day a climber was found dead and frozen… his body hanging from a rope. His hands holding tight to it… ONLY  10  FEET  AWAY  FROM  THE  GROUND…

Had he really had faith in God, he would have cut the rope  and landed on the ground hardly 10 feet below and had survived! Listening to God is nothing but listening to our own higher Consciousness. Had he heard that, he would have realised in a moment of surrender that if he stayed attached to the rope even after its full stretch, he would have had to suffer the freezing cold in any case and die; so why not take chance with the only other option of cutting the rope and allowing himself a free fall so that there could still be some probability of survival!!

Many of life’s trying situations are like this. They come to test what you say and what you do. If you are wise, you will observe the design, learn the lesson, if any, or just stand your ground with your innermost values and beliefs remaining unwavering and walk your talk. Again and again you would be able to do so, no matter how many times you find yourself in similar trying situations. Hanging on to your rope, or, cutting the rope would depend on the specific context. But it is sure that when staring at an adversity, you will first see your true self! Whether you would mind changing yourself for better or not is the second stage, and is your choice.  

Every significant situation contains a lesson that we need to learn on our journey of personal and spiritual growth. Until we learn it, it will keep coming back to us in some form or other.  Immediate reaction to a challenging situation usually leaves us without learning the lesson and that is why, we will have to face similar challenges again and again.  But give time to the issue and yourself, step back, think through the overall situation in its totality:  you will learn the lesson hidden in it!  In terms of Karmic Account, the debt gets heavier if not paid off when the universe gives you an opportunity. So better to settle it the first time itself.

As we go on learning lessons that we need to learn (i.e. do not repeat our earlier mistakes), we grow from strength to strength.

Once we realise that things really happen for us, and are in a position to see the “purpose” therein, will it not be much easier for us to maintain our inner stability and accept every situation with all its pain, pleasure and lessons with gratitude?


Monday, January 4, 2016

Walk the right path, ALWAYS!

Walk the right path, ALWAYS! 

Derive your goals from your purpose; not the other way round. That will ensure you end up doing the right things the right way!

Think about it. What do you value? Achieving the goal at any cost, or walking the right path? If walking the right path is not likely to lead you to the "goal", pause and introspect. Perhaps, it is not a worthy one that serves your true purpose. Have the courage to abandon or modify that specific goal. 

We do not really 'win' merely by achieving a goal that does not ultimately serve our purest higher purpose. Be absolutely clear: Serving lowly selfish interest at the expense of others/ other good causes is never a higher purpose. Look beyond self; clarity automatically dawns.
Many a times, our minds get bogged down by a severe doubt: "Will walking the right path, i.e. the path of truth, honesty and ethics, make me win always?" These type of doubts are common especially in the present day scenario replete with umpteen examples of corrupt and morally bankrupt people 'raising the cups'. But  remember, the very fact that you are walking the right path in itself contains your "win". And there are umpteen number of examples as well that bear out the ultimate success of perseverance by honest people ; but somehow we tend to look more at the negative examples, as that gives us much "justifications" to give up easily.  On the other hand, if you actually 'win" in the ordinary parlance of having reached the number one position, or having achieved some material goal, by walking the wrong path, i.e. adopting unfair means and walking all over others, then your very "win" contains your true failure. Think again: what do you value personally? Winning in public eye, or feeling a winner within??

The choice is yours; always!

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Keep calm, make a list and start doing!
If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Living the QUESTIONS

One of the most important things that shape us in life is the questions we ask ourselves continually. The ones we ask ourselves just about every day and the ones we ask specially when things turn out in ways not wanted or not anticipated by us – starting from simple upsets to grave, life-shattering adversities. It is interesting to observe what kind of questions we ask ourselves during these hard times and how we handle those questions. In fact, whether we emerge out of the adversity bitter-n- battered OR better hinges a lot on this aspect.

Yes, the answers do matter; but I think, the questions are as much important or even more crucial most of the time. If questions are wrong ab initio, none of the answers will help us make the right choices. Especially, the long list of whys that we ask when confronted with adversity that we consider as unjust and/or that jolts our self-esteem. Our professional lives usually make us confront such situations – and it happens to all sometime, at some level or other. It is na├»ve to think that a few fortunate ones have always had a cake walk. The issue at hand is not whether it happens to all or not; but how you personally take these calls – especially how do you handle when you are pushed out of your threshold limits for bearing what according to yourself is unfair treatment/injustice/ indignity.

The matter becomes worse and energy-sucking,when we do not find the answers – the true and cogent answers, I mean, to all our questions and that leaves us guessing.

And guesswork is nothing but creations and projections of our own perceptions and beliefs! Back to square one – we had started with ourselves ( why me? Why this to me? Do I deserve this ? etc.) and we end up with ourselves again with presumptions - not answers- framed through our own filters – coloured with our own perceptions and interpretations.

In such a scenario, what we ourselves believe shape our truth, like the pigmyllion effect. If we believe, we have been victimised, it becomes our truth: if we believe, there is a pointer inside for something beyond what meets our eyes… well, that is going to be the truth for us! That’s why, it becomes important not to chase the answers mindlessly with desperation – at least to the core questions that seek to explain acts of others or providencial justice.

So, during those times when we ask questions… ponder a lot… try to rationalise… try to emotionalise… try to fantasize….try doing everything to get an answer to our “why”; but the answer… the true answer… simply eludes us,  understand that this is the time to just live the question !!

Let us also understand that we can ask questions that make us feel more like a victim - questions that reinforce negativity and pessimism in our life. Or we can ask empowering questions; questions that open up the hitherto dormant and unexplored wells of positivity and opportunity in our world. Questions that enlighten us further … help us re-invent ourselves..  

Do not just keep on whining if you do not get answers to all your questions on action/behaviour of others – Instead ask yourself probing questions that draw out your own core beliefs, clarify your own core values.  Because the moment we start asking questions about what other person(s) did to us, we start dragging ourselves into a victim mould and become uncomfortable in our own skin! That amounts to virtually passing on control of our life to someone else. The moment you get an inkling of such feeling, do come back to yourself and regain control of your own life. 

At life’s critical bends, you just have to stop worrying, wondering and doubting. Have faith that things will work out eventually – may be not how you planned, but just how they are meant to be. It is said, in the end, everything is good; if it isn’t good, it is not yet the end!

Remember, smooth roads never make good drivers. A problem-free life never makes a strong person; so never ask life "Why Me", instead challenge it and say "Try Me".

And by the way, is anyone perfect in this world ?  I’m not, neither are you. It is a truism, which we somehow close our eyes to, in our crazy pursuit of being right always, at times chasing even worthless goals! Accept yourself fully—with your achievements, strengths, weaknesses, failures, flaws, follies and all. Once you do that with yourself, you will be surprised to find how easy it suddenly becomes to accept others in your life too … with all their flaws ( real as well as perceived by you)!  And once that happens, you will find yourself liberated, at least from the questions like ‘why he/she did this to me?’ . After all, ain’t others as human as you and might just have erred in judgement/decision? It is at this point that you realise the irrelevance of the answers to your victim-mode questions – you have truly lived your questions and with that, the questions expire in time. And strangely enough, answers to some of your core questions would still be revealed to you as you move on, in ways not anticipated by you. 

You don’t have to be perfect to realize your dreams, but you do need to be committed to personal evolution. You can only begin that journey when you accept yourself completely for who you are and believe in grace of God and worth of yourself.

Believe with all your heart and soul in the saying that the ultimate reward of your sincerity and perseverance is not what you get for it, but what you become because of it!! And perhaps this one belief contains the one and only answer that matters ultimately!  And sure enough, this one belief would see you through all your questions.

Above all, know that The Universe has heard your question and it will be handled!!

Three essential questions that leaders at workplace must ask themselves

Even without an official title, and irrespective of your position in the organisational hierarchy , you can be a ‘leader’ in your own right through your action and attitude. True. But the story is vastly different  when you are a “leader” by title, i.e when you are ‘assigned’ a leadership position by your organization, and are expected to lead a group of people assigned to you to a certain goal. In this case, you are officially responsible for the outcome, not only of your own productivity, but more significantly for the outcome of your people’s productive behavior as well. You have to effectively convert a bunch of people to an effective and successful team, that owns a shared goal and achieves it together, following you as the leader.
Today’s workplace scenario – especially with knowledge workers and service sectors - clearly calls for a set of leadership skills,  that is more people-centric and less authority–centric. Positional authority no longer guarantees that you will be accepted as the leader by your people merely by virtue of your designation and will be able to ensure the deliverables through them by using command and control strategies. In fact, as gleaned from history, this had never really worked and people who delivered great sustainable results were inspiring leaders with some other key human traits that do not flow from one’s designation – a fact which is now being acknowledged more openly, as compared to in the past. With concepts like “Emotional Intelligence”, “People skills”, ‘social skills’ etc. gaining ground and almost becoming much-hackneyed terms, there is no need to elaborate on why positional authority alone cannot guarantee successful teams.

So, the next point is: how do you know whether you are the kind of leader that the modern workplace needs?  A leader today has to steer their people through ambiguities, uncertainties and challenges and make them want to give their best. Goes without saying, when people want to give their best,  that is evidence enough that they own the project and also that they are on auto-pilot to ensure the best results.

Ask yourself 3  key questions !
And honestly answer to those. You will be pretty clear on whether you already are a leader capable of leading your people to success, or whether you are currently lacking and where exactly you need to work on yourself.
Question 1 :   Do your people trust you?
Question 2 : Do you treat your team members as human beings, and not just as employees?
Question 3: Do you take active interest in the growth of your people?
Remember, you are being watched constantly by your co-workers/team mates/employees, even if you are not always told about it on your face.

Co-workers would trust you only when they see fairness and consistency in your action and intent through various situations. In addition, if they accept that you would always, and without hesitation, stand up for them whenever the situation warrants, they will trust you completely, and will be inspired by your integrity and credibility. Only this kind of complete trust in the leader brings out the best in each employee – courage to innovate, take risks and stretch out-of-box to reach the best results.   
Leaders, I mean true leaders, demonstrate a very high degree of credibility and that makes it easy for them to carry their people along without the need to “drag them along’ where they need 100% of their team to be on the new destination! So, be trust-worthy!!

No employee is your employee only-they are also human beings having highs and lows in their important personal spheres, at times may be just around the same time that the ‘employee’ in them is called to contribute. Do you, as the leader, see the worry on their face when they are going through a personal crisis; or just miss out on it , lost in tasking  your employees to meet  your official deadlines?
Showing empathy, sharing the personal joys and concerns of your employees, till recently, was not seen with favour in the context of tough, decisive leadership! But go through history and look around. You will be amazed to see just how many of the super- achiever leaders actually displayed this one quality, that made all the difference!! No wonder, with time and greater research into leadership, the concept of “ Emotional Intelligence” has come up since quite sometime now and this quality – i.e empathy for your people- has now been acknowledged as a key leadership quality- ranking on the top slot of the skills set!

Yes, when people know that their superior cares for them as human beings, they too reciprocate in terms of higher engagement and productivity in the job. So, the golden rule is: respect your employees as human beings first; most of the rest will fall in line.

The third crucial area that you, as the leader, have to take responsibility for is: growth of your people! It is easier to make people do things when you can make them see what is in it that is for them, not for you! In a workplace situation, no employee can stay engaged and charged without growth   in terms of growth in personal knowledge-skill-competence matrix, career progression, and both in combination. A superior  who keeps this in sight in respect of each of the team mates usually demonstrates genuine interest in the growth of all the employees, without favour or unjust discrimination, through a holistic approach of training-assigning responsibilities-mentoring-sponsoring for higher jobs. Such a superior not only properly assesses each employee to harness their potential, but also invests in growth of each, and makes it visible to the team asto what growth prospects are there for each of them when the shared goal is achieved! Undoubtedly,  such a superior would automatically inspire employees to give their best to whatever organizational goals they are pursuing, not only because they themselves stand to gain from it, but also for the fact that, their own superior becomes the face of the organization for them and they would walk any length of extra miles for such a leader!!

The above three are perhaps the most important human traits that tell a leader, whom people would gladly follow, from the rest.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Discover the “leader” in yourself

I wonder sometimes: why talks about “leaders” often invoke awe and mystique ?

May be, because when we talk of ‘leaders’, we think about “revolutionary” leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Lurther King, Nelson Mandela and the like; OR a few people who have achieved extra-ordinary visible success in their fields; OR those who adorn the positions of power by virtue of being in ‘leadership roles’.  Except the last category, there are very few people in the other two categories and more significantly, their accomplishments flow from their own super-ordinary personal qualities; hence, thought to be above the capabilities of an “ordinary” person. Hence, the high pedestal for them. As regards the third category, leadership roles come through some sort of organisational hierarchy – be it in Government or Corporate or any other formally assembled group; and therefore, it is not the cup of tea for anyone and everyone. Worse, the third category breeds huge confusion, as not everyone in a leadership role appeals to the heart as a true leader.

And this unnecessarily complicates our understanding and appreciation of some of rather simple and often-latent human traits associated with leaders,  making these out as complex and not-in-everyone type qualities!!

Semantically, to “lead” is to move someone or something somewhere. In other words, making a difference to the existing status – as simple as that! When we qualify that difference with elements of desirability in terms of improvement, expansion of horizon, human development and ethics, we get the term “lead” with a spirit.

Interestingly,while not everyone in a ‘leadership role’ comes across as a true leader,  the converse, i.e a leader is a person in a leadership role, is also not necessarily true. Yes !! A leader  need not always be in a leadership role. This world is what it is and still kicking despite all the negativities/constraints/challenges, because there are many “leaders”, without titles, at every level of society, who, in effect, lead themselves and others towards better and desired conditions, even without an official tag or being acknowledged or acclaimed in public.

What, then, is leadership, or at least the crux of leadership?

By far, leadership is perhaps one of the most researched and written about theme in social science, that has engaged and intrigued thinking minds since inception of human civilisation.. Yet, it becomes so difficult to define leadership in brief, unambiguous, straight-jacketed, fit-for-all terms, like any other scientific concept. Leadership is about human traits; and hence subject to interpretations. Further, even though almost all studies/reseach/interpretations of ‘leadership qualilities’, point to  at least a few key qualities like vision, courage, compassion, creativity, credibility etc. as the top-on-the-list traits, it is quite fascinating as well as intriguing to note that most of the so-called leaders ( i.e. people in leadership roles) actually lack all/most of these qualities and yet, have most of the times been riding on success waves. In time, they do crash on land, no doubt and the audience gets disenchanted; but by then, a lot of damage is done unfortunately. That’s why, instead of trying to list out traits that one has to possess to be a true leader, I find it makes more sense to me, when I look at leaders, I mean true leaders who make positive differences and say, leadership is what a leader does, and that includes getting done, in any situation.

So for me, the shortest-ever, position-neutral, situation-neutral definition of a “leader” is one who demonstrates what it takes to do what is needed to be done in any situation.

Here go some stories. Personally, I find these not just stories, but situations that illustrate what indeed leadership is and how an ordinary person can act like a true leader.

Story 1 : 
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked,”What are you doing?” The boy replied,”Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they will die.”  Surprised, the man said,”Son, don’t you realise there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference !”
As the boy listened, he bent down again, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said politely… “ I made a difference to that one .”
I am sure, the message is loud and clear. It does not matter whether the difference you make is small or big. What matters is: if you are truly concerned about a situation, whether you take those tiny steps to make a difference – without bothering whether your action would totally change the situation or not. Does not matter if the boy could not save all the starfishes affected. It is important to note that by his positive action, he could save at least a few starfishes out of hundreds about to die, and it did make all the difference to those few, who were saved by the boy .
Leadership is all about making a positive difference to someone, to some situation in the environment, which, you think, should not remain the same, without getting cowed down by the enormity of the  problem.

Story 2
Three hundred years ago Christopher Wren, who designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London, wrote about three men he spoke to who were building his creation.
He asked the first worker what his job was, to  which the worker wearily replied, "I'm laying bricks. Can't you see that?" Wren moved along and asked a second worker the same question. "I'm just earning a living," the second worker snapped back. He then asked a third worker the same question, who was engrossed in perfecting a statue that he had already completed and got a very different response.   "Ohh, I'm building a Cathedral”, he said proudly.
While for the first two workers, it was just a ‘job’, for the 3rd sculptor, it was something entirely different – he took his work as a part of the whole – the cathedral. He was passionate about the fact that he was contributing towards building of a cathedral. For him, everything he did needed to be perfect, so that the cathedral could be built perfectly as envisioned.
This is how true leaders view their role in a bigger act; they see the larger whole much beyond their specified roles and work towards being a part of it, unleashing their best potential pursuing excellence and perfection in doing their bit. Because, in essence, they own up what they are a part of!! They show up not as a mere cog in the wheel, but as a valuable part that moves the wheel!
Each of us in the society, each employee in an organisation irrespective of organisational hierarchy can be a leader in one’s own right - title or no title.
Does this interpretation bring back memories of people in various roles and strata – from top management functionaries to menial workers, who show this exemplary quality and how much love and genuine respect they earn from people coming in contact with them ? Well, personally I have seen quite a lot and that keeps alive the hope and faith in leadership in simple, so-called ordinary individuals.
Leadership is owning up the bigger whole and showing up at your best, as a part thereof.

Story 3
Once Sharu Ragnekar, a renowned Management Consultant, visited the Wagha Border near Amritsar. The unique thing about this border is that there are Indian soldiers and Pakistan soldiers on the two sides of the border. At sunset, both sides lower the flags and there is a drill. This is very interesting to see as the drills are identical on both sides of the border and looks like a mirror image.
Ragnekar saw on our side of the border a teacher with 20 students. She was telling them, “ When the flag moves in the evening, all of you sing Sare Jahan se achchha Hindostan hamara.. ” Curious, he asked her what she was doing. She replied, “ It is my practice to bring a batch of my students here on the first day of every month so that they can see the moving flag and sing. I do it every month – although this month, this was very difficult for me.” When asked why difficult that month, she explained how she bears the busfare of some children whose parents can not afford it and how that particular month being the month of transfers, she had also to pay(bribe), out of her humble salary, for staying in the same place.  
 “ When this is what is happening to you, why do you want the children to sing Sare Jahan se Achchha Hindostan hamara?”
She asked spiritedly,“Who is going to improve India? I have not been able to improve India; you have not been able to improve India. I have no influence over the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister, but I have some influence on these children and I am going to use it. These children believe in me – so I bring them here, let them look at the flag and let them sing Sare jahan se achchha Hindostan hamara. When they grow up, at least some of them will be proud of India and try to improve India.”
To me, this teacher is a true  leader. From the problems in her own circumstances, she has taken a decision that things must change for better  and she is committing herself through personal action to bring about that change – using her own resources – i.e. her own humble salary and her influence on her students, the future citizens. She is able to see a goal, much bigger than anyone in her position would see and is navigating through constraints – but towards the goal .
Above all, notwithstanding the fact that she herself is a victim of an undesirable situation(corrupt bureaucracy), she is spreading,  not cynicism, but HOPE that things will change for better !! She is making a difference, trying to instill patriotism in the future citizens of the country.
Leadership is spreading hope and enthusiasm, undaunted by personal conditions of despair.

Story 4 :  A short story that probably I had read in my childhood .
Once a boulder was lying in the middle of a  roadway, much to the inconvenience of the passers-by. Most of the people who came by saw the boulder in the middle, uttered angry words, cursed the “someone” who did that mischief, loudly blamed the Government for not keeping the roads clear and simply passed around it. None stopped to clear it off the road. After sometimes, a farmer came along carrying a load of vegetables. On seeing the boulder, he stopped and tried to move the boulder from the middle of the road to the road-side. After much pushing and straining, he could move the big stone some way to the side, but it was getting strenuous for a single man to do this job. Slowly some of the people coming along the road started joining him one by one and finally, the boulder could be moved off the road.
The farmer, like others, could have just walked around the stone. But he chose to think about the others’ inconvenience and took pain to move the stone. Is not he a leader in his own right? He did what was required to be done in that situation rising above one’s own limited interest alone. Moreover, by his personal action, he inspired others to join the cause – to follow him.
The doers are the leaders. It is easy to preach; it is easy to blame others. It may take a specific skill to shirk and shift responsibility to avoid taking action. But true leaders are those, who act as necessary, not just preach or blame others! And inspire!
Leadership is solving a problem if it exists, even though it directly does not affect you, and inspiring others to join in.

Story 5
In 2002, a high caste school teacher in Odisha’s Brahmagiri area, Baghambar Pattanaik, quit his job to fight against a sysyem of compulsory servitude under the bartan system, bonded labour by another name, which permits the upper caste people to force lower caste barbers and others to work for them, often at menial tasks, in exchange for 15 KGs of rice a year. The system was so rigid that if the lower castes refused, they faced a debilitating social boycott. For example,  a 65 yr old lower caste person faced the ire of the whole village when he bravely decided in 2002 to stop working for one upper caste master under the bartan system. As a punishment for his defiance, he was made to serve 200 upper class families in the village. Stories abound involving similar oppressive inequity, against which the lone school teacher started fighting persistently, later garnering support from Human Rights Commissions. After nine years of persistent fight, the state govt. finally issued a notification abolishing bartan.

Leadership is displaying extra-ordinary courage of conviction in standing up for a cause even against a mighty opponent with determination to change the situation for better for the exploited !

Story 6
A few months back, a horrific act of terrorism occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School ( Connecticut, USA), that claimed 27 lives, 20 of them childen. Victoria Soto, 27, a class teacher, managed to hide her pupils in cupboards and closets, as the gunman was on a killing spree. She was then confronted by the gunman, who asked where the kids were and she convinced him that her pupils were elsewhere- in the gym. The gunman then shot her dead and went away. But her action of hiding the kids and lying to the gunman led to the survival of those kids. Faced with the most horrifying experience of her life, she chose the heroic path of love and responsibility for those entrusted to her care, rising above her personal safety.
In crises, leadership is also about heroism – supreme sacrifice and courage emanating out of love, compassion and a complete sense of responsibility !!
Story 7
Most of the greatest innovations begin with a simple idea. Paint lines in the highways is one of such great ideas, which was a safety innovation conceived in the year 1917 by Dr. June McCarroll, after having a narrow escape from an accident on a highway. Without lines on the road, there was no clearly delineated lane separation to help regulate the flow of traffic and avert side-swiping and collisions. McCarroll came up with the idea to paint lines on the road, separating lanes with a centre line. When she first told her idea to the local authorities concerned, no one listened, as is typical with a bureaucracy. Finally, she took upon herself to hand-paint a white stripe down the middle of the road.This later helped the drivers easily see the actual width of the lane and keep accidents due to sideswipes from happening.She took her idea to the local Women’s Club and with their help as well as campaigning by many similar groups for long 7 years, finally in Nov, 1924, the idea was adopted by California Highway Commission and highways got painted with middle lines. It was not long before the concept was accepted world wide – known as McCarroll lines.

So, leadership in many cases is also about innovation and persistence. A leader not only thinks out-of-box, but also displays persistence and perseverance to act/get others to act on the idea.
In our daily lives-both personal and professional, there are many instances in which we, the common people, solve problems innovatively. But once the implementation of our new or innovative ideas requires involvement of/owning up by others, it loses steam as many of us lack the needed persistence to go the whole hog. And there lies the difference.
The foregoing 7 stories are among innumerable such stories about true leadership. If you are conducting yourself this way, you too are a leader, whether you are acclaimed in public or not.
Yes, the life stories of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and the like exemplify some of the rare leadership qualities like time-defying vision, time-less values, mass following and ability to bring about iconoclastic changes, which we all know as they are always talked about and find place in literature. But such revolutionary leadership does not belittle the small differences that each of us can make in the lives of all we touch directly or indirectly. So, let us also ‘read’ our own book of life stories – our own life experiences as well as that of the people we know. We will understand that “leadership” is actually not something for a privileged few. We all have it in ourselves.
Many a renowned persons have said, to be a leader, you must have followers. Very correct. But do the “followers” have to be a visible gang? How about people, who lead their own self to higher levels of evolution and thereby ‘inspire’ many a souls whose life they touch-directly or indirectly? How about the ripple effect that an innately good & simple individual creates in the society through his personal actions ! Are they not “leaders” in their own right? Yes, they are. They may not be having their followers in a herd – but I am sure, here and there, without they themselves knowing about it, they are creating their followers in some way or other – through personal example, inspiration and sharing of ideas/ insights!!

I come back to where I started. There could be a million ways in which you ‘lead’ if you do whatever is needed to be done in any situation – in regard to your own self, others, the surroundings – any one or some or all of them. The more we try to comprehend the term ‘leadership” in simple ways without unwarranted awe and mystique, the more visible it will be in people.  The more visible leadership becomes, the easier it will be to harness and groom it for overall, all-inclusive development. And harnessing leadership is another big leadership quality. As is said, good leaders create great followers; but great leaders create greater leaders.
At the end of it, leaders inspire and leaders make a difference!
Mahatma Gandhi (one of the best examples of leaders without a title ) once said, “We must become the change we seek in this world .” Very true. Titles may support your efforts – but not necessary for leading in a true sense .
What about us? Are we simply giving up whining ‘I am not in a position to do this’, ‘How can I alone change this’ etc.  or taking committed action saying, ‘ Let me do whatever little I can’ and making the small & big differences to our world that we are capable of ?

Yes ! There is a leader in each of us; we just need to discover and act.