It is a common fallacy that pursuing a dream that you are passionate about makes you successful. Passion is short-lived and to be successful you need long hard years of effort. So what do people have — that allows them to persevere in the face of tremendous odds and pain?
Over the last 3 days, 3 interesting things happened to me. On Sunday I met a colleague who used to work with TWB about 8yrs back who has come back to work with me. A talented programmer, he lost pretty much everything other than the shirt on his back and he is consumed by the question – why did it happen to him? Then on Monday I was giving a motivational talk at a company when I talk about my own life experiences and “How to be an Entrepreneur on a Salary”. Many people cringed because it is difficult for them to fathom what I went through, and most importantly why? Then yesterday I was with a person who is a spiritual guide to scores of people. He spent a great deal of time telling me that most of the great upsets of my life had a reason and that it shows me I should not focus on dogs, only focus on myself and look for a lower ambition and quality of life.
All these made me cringe in turn. And I ended up asking myself why am I upset about someone finding a reason in their misfortune, or in mine? Isn’t this what pretty much everyone does — looks for a reason for any tragedy that befalls and then make this ‘learning’ into new normal? People who lose a fortune learn to live at a smaller scale, people who have lost in love vow never to love again, people who have lost a dog will never keep a dog again — even though in the scheme of life these are not even real tragedies but mere blips.
The reason for your misfortune
It is an evolutionary trait that people look for patterns in their lives and that includes in their own behavior and that of others. A lot of our responses, fears, motivations come from there. When you’re walking on a lonely stretch hearing footsteps but not being able to see it makes you wary of danger. On the other hand footsteps in the kitchen mean your spouse or kid is back home. By extension, we are trained to look for cause and consequence. What could the cause be of this extraordinary misfortune that has come upon me — this heartache that doesn’t go, this failure at work, this loss of business, this debilitating illness? The reality is that I have suffered not one but all these setbacks and it is not that I have not asked myself these questions. I have lost the person I relied on and loved the most, I lost a successful company and went from being wealthy to bankrupt, I’ve suffered the public humiliation of an arrest covered in newspapers for days and I live with not with one but at least 4 life-threatening conditions. Surely there was a reason each of these things had happened? Surely I could have avoided each of these and maybe I should be wary of trust and looking for contentment over ambition, peace over passion.
The problem looking for reasons
Since all these misfortunes did not come at the same time I have had a lifetime to think through some of this. I realized that there was actually no cause and effect, no reason for any of these things had happened. Most of these are purely random events. Life, for the most part, will not follow the script you wrote. Like someone said life is already happening to you when you are looking for it.
To begin with, we look for reasons for great misfortune in the wrong places — we reason it must be some greater purpose, or some omnipotent force of the universe or some preordained script of our lives. Loss of love and trust of the woman you loved must then mean that in the future you will not find that true love or all women are untrustworthy. The truth is entirely the opposite. The loss of love is a chance occurrence, there is no pattern and it does not point to anything for the future. Asking yourself the reason, therefore, is asking the wrong question.
The other danger in looking for reasons makes you keep revisiting the past to look and obsess with ‘why’ or ‘why me’. It makes you lazy in thinking if this would have not happened I could have been, say, as successful as someone else. It makes you accept reality as you see at the present. It saps energy and vitality from you. It was this what was making me upset – because I was being told there was a reason, there is a pattern and that pattern holds into the future. And I would not allow my future to be held hostage by anything.
I am not alone feeling that. I find that the people I admire most have 2 things in common (1) they have overcome tragedy and pain that would immobilize most people & (2) they rejected the notion of there being a reason for every loss and failure. They rejected it because it makes them avoid the responsibility of making hard choices, and they know that you have to take responsibility to create future success which must now be built on greater odds.
Looking for meaning
Not looking for a reason, but looking for meaning is the real question to ask. Now that this has happened what meaning does it have for me and what meaning does my life have? Irrespective of the reasons for your catastrophic failure, you do not control the past. But you do control the future. You can determine the trajectory of your life and give it purpose. If you look at the most successful people those who have invented things or discovered new worlds or created opportunities for others — they have all found meaning in great odds. The world is better because of people who have lost a child and created schools for orphans, or lost a loved one to disease and started a hospital to cure others of that disease. For the most part, the people who do these extraordinary things are not people with extraordinary means, but they have become people with extraordinary resolve. The resolve comes because suddenly that overwhelming tragedy has given them meaning.
I have found for myself that the reason bad things happened isn’t that it was some pattern in my life. They happened for reasons I don’t understand, or even accept. That also does not mean I am helpless because I have found meaning. Finding meaning is not like a light goes on in your head, it is not easy because it requires you to resolve many unanswered questions, it requires you to plan and act from a place of great adversity. Most of all it requires continuous and lifelong action.
It is hard to look for meaning when you are in shock or grieving but it is creating meaning that has guided me through failure and loss. Each time I’ve suffered a life-threatening condition I have trained myself not ask why or how long do I have to live, but what to do with the years I may have. Indeed from all my own catastrophic failures in loss or money or trust or love, I’ve had to create meaning. It has meant the difference between being a victim of my circumstances or creating my own future, the difference between despair and hope, of living with failure or creating success.
Looking for meaning in great tragedy has taught me not to look at how unfair life has been but to look at it with gratitude. Not to look at betrayal but at trust. Not to look at the loss of love but at love. Not be a victim of the past but value opportunities it has created. Looking for meaning I realized life is not meant to be fair, it just is. And it is beautiful if you find meaning in it.
Can you really find purpose and meaning in work? Dreading work is common. That’s why weekends were invented. Ah, it’s the weekend! Oh, it’s Monday!! Or you have a new assignment or a new boss or a restructuring is going on or maybe you’re simply bored in your role. And you ask yourself the question: Why am I doing this? Does my work have any meaning? Read the full article on TWB_
“The one great advantage of losing everything is that it gives you great clarity on what are the essentials of your life. Once you have a real baseline, that few have, you can go anywhere you want from there” – Rakesh Shukla, The ANZ Bangalore talk on July 4, 2018.
What happens when a large organisation is in the throes of change? It requires everyone to participate — down to the last (wo)man. But change is hard. Most of all because we don’t want to change. We want status quo. That is where we derive our comfort. I’ve had phrases such ‘get out of your comfort zone’, ‘change in the only constant’ … thrown around all my life. Most of the time from people who I knew to be status quo-ists. What they meant was ‘it should change for you — it should not change for me’. How many CxO’s tell you that we will transform this organisation but I will be made redundant? People see change with an opaque lens and that lack of faith starts permeating the organisation. It becomes toxic. The uncertainty it causes can be paralysing. There are few managements that recognise that, and fewer do something about it. ANZ clearly in wanting to be better and faster but is focussing not just shifting its bottom line but shifting its people and culture.
As I headed to ANZ – I saw this mass of humanity in a headlong rush. This rush to get to the place of work. Just that stretch of the road employes a few 100,000 software engineers. I remembered my own time on the same road 16-17yrs ago. On that whole 10km stretch Hughes Software Systems (HSS), now Aricent, was the first large office complex that came up and we had the road to ourselves. I remembered being in the same headlong rush. And I was thinking about their fears and uncertainty. The whole talk about automation led efficiency. Change is coming to you, whether your company chooses or not.
That headlong rush has 2 motivations, success and happiness. The paradox is that we confuse these 2 otherwise very different things. Success does not bring happiness and happiness is not success. The second paradox is that we fail to define either for ourselves. If you can’t be sure what success is for you, you will keep chasing a changing goal post. A goal post that is comparative — compares your selfies against mine, your car against mine, your designation against mine. I would never say to anyone do not be competitive — on the contrary. But real competition drives excellence — it makes all parties better. Real competition is about learning what someone else does better. Real competition is about making substantial differences to any status quo.
When I arrived at ANZ it was not as a motivational speaker or someone who knows all. I only hold up my own experience, and as I have dissected it. It is a man who has had many painful falls, made many mistakes, but has had the presence of mind, the courage and fortitude to listen and adapt and play with the hand he had. I am the first one to say that all those qualities were not ones I was born with. Over years I have taught myself to be brave. And now I teach myself to let go. I know I can’t change the past but I do control the future, and not letting go is that overhang that would control my trajectory. Over the experience of the last 3 yrs I’ve had to go back to the core of me being me, something that I lost in the many ‘compromises’ that TWB_ brought, the foremost being to live with mediocrity. But as I roll it back I’ve had to let go of some things that were also me — the foremost being unable to let go! No one can be the same, or indeed should be the same, if they are going to undergo a big change. If forgiving is a new balance then I’ve had to learn that, even though painfully reluctantly.
At ANZ we also talked about defining success and some of those things that one needs to do to get there. Once you know what you want. We also talked about how no matter how you define it the illusion of perfect balance between Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness & Friends is just that. Those that we admire or envy being successful have always had to give up something to get there. So the question is if you are wanting that no holds barred success, and if you do what do you bring to the table, what are you willing to give up?
We looked at how to create your ‘Map of Life’ so you can focus on what’s important for you. We talked about learnings from falling down. And the skills required to get up and run again.
From my early years I have firmly believed that each man must experience life on his own and learn from his own. I do not focus on either correcting someone’s or talk about something I read in a book. As I said, I only hold up my own experience, and as I have dissected it. So others can identify these patterns for themselves. If some of the folks yesterday could see that for themselves, as the many who came and spoke to me later said, that’s one step toward ANZ’s change.
- Business & Strategy
- Communication is the key
- Dealing with depression & mental illness
- Dealing with stress
- Developing a growth mindset
- Developing mental strength
- Developing physical strength
- Finding meaning in life & work
- Lessons from catastrophic failure
- Success & Happiness