Reflect over the purpose of your life

August 17, 2020

A baby camel asked his mother, “Why do camels have humps?” The mother said, “We are desert animals. We have the humps to store water so we can survive for a long time without needing to drink.” The baby camel asked again, “Why our legs are long and our feet round?” The mother replied, “They are suited for walking long distances in the desert.”

The baby then asked, “Why are our eyelashes long?” The mother responded, “Those long thick eyelashes protect our eyes from the harsh desert sand when it blows in the wind.”

The baby thought and then said, “I see. So the hump is to store water when we are in the desert, the legs are for walking through the desert and these eye lashes protect my eyes from the desert sand.  Then why do we live in the zoo?”

This is the question we all need to ask ourselves. We all are gifted with skills and abilities that make us suitable for a specific purpose. This will help us find or rediscover the purpose of our life.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health researchers revealed  that if you have a higher sense of purpose in life — defined as having meaning, a sense of direction and goals — you are more likely to remain healthy and physically strong as you grow older.

Even though the purpose of life is different for each one of us, one common thread that comes across from a study of life of thinkers, philosophers and religious texts is that the purpose of life should be to help others.

We can identify the purpose of our life by asking ourselves three questions.

Am I making use of my skills and abilities?

This is the first question that we must ask ourselves like the baby camel. Think about what people appreciate you for, what you like to do, read or talk about. There is a possibility that you will find something you have the ability for but you never got the time to develop it or make use of it. During COVID-19 lockdown, we saw several people doing this.

Am I doing something that make me and others happy?

We need to do something regularly that makes us happy. I have made a few suggestions in one of my earlier posts: We need to be happy a lot more. We must set up our happiness goals and work on them. The key is in creating happiness in the present rather than seeing it as a future goal.

Am I living a life that is useful for others?

This is a bigger level purpose that gives meaning to our life. Human beings are blessed with the power to think. We must make use of this to go beyond our own lives and think how can we be useful to others. This is also linked to the previous two questions. How we use our skills for the benefit of others, how we make others happy and how we contribute towards making the world a better place are key determinants of a purposeful life.

A reflection to the above might make us realize that we are not at the right place yet. May be we are meant to be doing something that we are not doing as yet. It is never too late to make a change. We don’t want to be caged in a zoo. Don’t we?


The value of failures

August 29, 2019

In my previous post – The barriers that hold you up are not real – I had stressed that we should not get discouraged by failures.

Failures actually teach valuable lessons. The only problem is that we don’t realize them until much later.

“Don’t read success stories, you will only get a message. Read failure stories, you will get some ideas for success – Dr APJ Abdul Kalaam.

When I think about my own failures (and there are plenty of them!), I can draw the following three lessons:

1. I had tried but not hard enough:

Introspecting now I think in most cases my own effort should have been better. There are a number of aspects that contribute to success and we need to work on all of them. At times, our effort looks good but there are some loose ends. Therefore, be honest to yourself. Try to understand what was lacking in your effort and next time go ahead full stream.

2. I did not seek help as much as I should have:

If you try to solve all issues yourself, it may not be possible or it will just take too much of time and effort. Seeking help makes it easier but most of us are too shy to reach out to others for help. Asking for help should be a mantra for life. It could just be an advice from someone you trust.

3. I did not invest enough in myself:

We are all gifted with some talent or skills. If we identify them early and develop them further, we can achieve a lot. What complicates the matter further is that we are often reminded of what is lacking in us rather that what we are good at. We need to identify our hidden skills talents or hobbies. We should invest our time and resources in nurturing them. We are more likely to put in our best effort and get success if we pursue a dream that allows us to use our inherent talent and is something that is of interest to us.

The above three are my own lessons. True, they may not go with everyone. The point being made is that we all should learn from our failures.

Having said this, I would like to reiterate that we should learn from failures but should not get discouraged by them. They are part of life. Our passion for success should be so strong that it reduces the pain and disappointment that come with failures.

The barriers that hold you up are not real

July 30, 2019

A marine biologist once did an experiment. She placed a shark into a tank and then released several small bait fish into the tank. The shark attacked the smaller fish and ate them.

The biologist then inserted a strong piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate partitions. She put the shark on one side of the fiberglass and a new set of bait fish on the other.
Again, the shark quickly attacked. This time, however, the shark slammed into the fiberglass divider and bounced off. Undeterred, the shark kept on trying but could not go up to the bait fish due to the divider between them. The bait fish swam around unharmed in the second partition. Eventually, after some time the shark gave up.
The biologist repeated the experiment a few times. Each times the stark tried to hit, got tired after a few unsuccessful attempts of hitting at the fiberglass and gave up. The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass divider and was surprised. The shark did not attack at all.

Why? The shark was trained to believe that a barrier existed between it and the bait fish.

The message is clear: the barriers that hold us up are not real!
We give up our efforts assuming the obstacles and barriers that stopped us earlier still exist, even when they have disappeared. Even if they exist or resurface in another form, with careful planning a never give up attitude, we can find a way to overcome them.

This is also a good example of the law of attraction. If you think of barriers, you will face barriers in your path to success. But if you only think of achieving your goal, you will be able to overcome any obstacles real or unreal. Don’t get discouraged with the failures and obstacles you face. Tell yourself repeatedly that you are moving towards your goal.

Three qualities of a leader

June 29, 2018

Some soldiers were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success. Their leader was standing simply watching as his men struggled. A rider passed by and asked him why he was not helping. He said, “I am the corporal. I give orders.” The rider went up and helped the soldiers lift the wood. With his help, the task was accomplished.

The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief. He quietly mounted his horse, went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”

The story brings us to three key characteristics of great leaders.

Leaders take actions: They don’t wait. They don’t just talk or order. The join their team whenever they feel the need. Imagine the morale of the team when its leader joins the team members and works with them to achieve something.

Leaders optimize resources: Leaders make the most of the resources – time, finances and human beings – that they have at their disposal. They keep an eye on all the three. Leaders are excellent managers in this sense. A leader has to be a good manager though the reverse is not necessarily true.

Leaders Inspire: This is the most important quality of leaders. They inspire people/teams with their vision, commitment and actions. Leaders trust their team members/followers. Their communication is inspirational too. They don’t just discuss ‘what’ is to be done, they discuss ‘why’ it is to be done and what ‘impact’ it would bring in. People give out their best when they know that their individual effort is linked to a bigger goal.

Ken Blanchard sums it well, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

Three ways to developing patience

May 30, 2018

A young Japanese man wanted to learn martial art. He went to the best teacher of the time. Meeting the teacher he asked, “how long must I study in order to become the best in martial arts?” The teacher said a minimum of ten years. The young man thought it was too long. So he asked the teacher, “What if I studied twice as hard as everyone else? How long would it take then?” the teacher said, “twenty years.” Running out of patience, he asked again, “What if I worked day and night with all my effort, how long would it take then?” “Thirty years,” was the teacher’s response.

The young man got confused and asked, “ How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the teacher responded, “The answer is simple. With one eye focused on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

I shared the above well-known story to expand on the profound response of the teacher that actually tells us why we don’t patiently pursue our dreams. We want to achieve results quickly and that dilutes the focus on efforts.

Patience is the ability to accept delays, obstacles or challenges without getting annoyed or disappointed and persevering with the effort to achieve the goals.

How can we develop patience?

Identify the situations which make you impatient
It could be anything like prayers not being answered, efforts not yielding the desired results, delays in flights, being stuck in a traffic jam, delay in food being served in a restaurant etc. Identify the situations in which you normally lose your patience.

Recall how you behaved in some of these situations
Reflect on your impatient behaviour in different situations. And, then think of the outcome of that behaviour. You might regret your instant reaction out of anger, frustration etc. This realization would prepare you to respond differently next time such a situation arises.

Anticipate delays and challenges
Things don’t always go as planned. There are unforeseen situations or some other facts that can cause delays and irritate you. It will be good to think ahead and plan for at least those factors that you can think of. For example, while learning a new skill, tell yourself repeatedly that everything is difficult before it is easy. For avoiding traffic jams, see if you can factor in some extra time in your schedule.

Patience is key to success. It is an attitude that we all must develop. Problems of life are like the red light on a traffic signal. If we wait, light becomes green. Let’s learn to wait.

Find relevance in your work

May 28, 2017

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, in his book — Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike — shares some invaluable insights on success.

Knight’s first job was to sell encyclopaedias. He did not have much success. His second job was to sell securities. He did not do well here either. Just when he was beginning to lose faith in his ability as a sale person, he set up Nike and started selling shoes. According to Phil Knight, he succeeded this time because he was selling a product he believed in, and liked.

Knight had been an athlete on his college team. He loved running. He knew how important a good pair of shoes was to a runner. This made him a credible shoe salesman, and the rest is history.

Knight’s personal life story reinforces the point that secret of success lies in doing what you like doing. Knight was not failing as a salesman, he was just not selling the products that he was interested in, or had the passion for. The moment he got to sell shoes, he excelled.

Everyone is not as fortunate as Knight to find a job or a career of his liking, though it is worth trying. Not everyone is daring enough to make a career transition either.  As a result, there are people who have the aptitude for selling shoes remain stuck in selling shampoos. They struggle to deliver the results and don’t reach their peak. And, this affects their self-esteem.

No one likes all aspects of his/her work. We have only two choices: Either dare to change or find relevance in the work we do. Finding relevance means we should see the connection of our work with a higher level goal. Pursuing a worthwhile goal most often gets the best out of us.

In one of my earlier posts – Managing Self-Esteem at Work – I had made a few suggestions. Contentment comes in finding relevance in things we do; and in pursuing goals that give a sense of satisfaction. Since Knight had been an athlete himself, he did not just sell shoes, he believed in making shoes that would help sportsperson achieve their dream. This led him to constantly work on improving the design and features of his products.

Ideas that help in achieving a goal:

April 29, 2017

I have a friend who runs for 5 kilometres a day, seven days a week. Weather does not affect his schedule. It may be too cold, too hot, raining or snowing, he finds a way to go out and run. And, he has been doing it for 23 years.

People like him who strictly follow a schedule to achieve their goal are few. We see a much larger number who start something and then give up. Drop out rates in gym and fitness centres, hobby courses, sport and training courses are always high.

Why is it that some people follow a plan of action and achieve their goals but most don’t?

I asked my friend what keeps him going. His answer was simple, “I enjoy it and actually look forward to running every day.” This sounds too simplistic but if you think it is a profound idea. If we are pursuing something that we look forward to doing, we are more likely to do it. For example, in a weight loss programme, there are several options. A person who likes to socialize will not enjoy running alone on a treadmill. He might be better off playing a sport of his choice, walking with a friend, and doing other group activities.

Most of the physical activity programmes fail because their goals are too ambitious. They are often results-oriented rather that task-oriented. When expected results are not achieved, people get frustrated and give up. In my view, ‘walking 10,000 steps in a day’ is far better than setting a goal of ‘losing 3 kilograms in a month.’

A key point that we often miss is that every success comes after a long process of continued failures in our chosen path. Short and task-specific goal like walking 10,000 steps a day is better in this context as well. It reduces the chances of failures. Even if you do less on a few days, it does not matter. You don’t feel the same sense of failure as you would if you had set yourself a goal of losing 3 kilos in a month.

The final point: we should not allow ourselves exceptions and excuses like not finding time, having too much of work etc. I worked with a consultant recently. We had an important meeting to prepare for and worked till 11 in the night. When we finished and I was looking forward to go to sleep, he told me was going to the gym because he did not want to miss his workout. That should be the spirit.

New Year Resolution: Do make one!

December 29, 2016

The countdown to 2017 has begun. It is time to wish each other a happy new year; and make resolutions.

Making New Year Resolutions is an ancient tradition. Ancient Romans used to begin each year by making promises to Janus – the God after whom the month of January is named. Over time the concept evolved and the resolutions moved into the mould of self-improvement. Now, we find them in the arena of enhancing knowledge or skills (like learning a musical instrument, a new language etc.); doing things for family/improving relationships (like going on a family trip, spending time with children/parents, forgiving someone); and taking care of health (like quitting smoking, going for exercise to loose weight) etc.

A 2007 study from University of Boston found that 88% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions fail. Top two reasons for this are: setting unrealistic goals; and not keeping track of the progress.

Why should one make New Year’s Resolutions when they are more likely to fail?

The fear of failure should not stop us. There is an inherent element of failure in all plans. Isn’t it? A successful person is the one who sets realistic goals, makes plans to achieve them and executes them as best as possible. So, go head and do make a New Year’s Resolution for 2017. Instead of being overwhelmed by the majority, get inspiration from the 12% people who did succeed in achieving what they had resolved to do. Be with the achievers.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-10-01-41Make a new beginning. Don’t let the failures of past affect your determination to succeed. Forgive those how have hurt you. Forgiveness will not only improve relationships, it will free you of bitterness and negativity and you will be able to pursue your dreams with full energy.

I wish all a very happy and successful 2017. May it open new doors for you and bring peace in the world.



Break the ropes that hold you captive

July 30, 2016

When faced with a problem, you have two options: do something to solve it or do nothing. Everyone will agree that we can’t let it go and do nothing. We need to do something to get out of it but not everyone does it.  Why?

Let me share a known story:

A man once saw elephants that were held by a small rope tied to their front leg. He wondered how such huge creatures can be held only by a small rope. They could break the rope any time but, for some reason, they did not do that.

He asked their trainer, who said, “When they are very young and much smaller we used the same size rope to tie them. At that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away, so they never try to break free.”

Most of the time, we don’t even make an effort to do something because we are conditioned to believe that this is the way our life is destined to be. We need to change this fatalistic attitude. We need to break the rope that holds us captive.

The real challenge is that the ropes that hold us captive in our life are not visible. In most cases, they get developed as a result of life’s experiences, circumstances, setbacks, broken relationships etc. As time passes by, we get “conditioned” to accepting the life as it is; and stop making efforts to improve it.

We need to find and break the ropes that keep us captive, without even thinking about failures. Failure is part of learning. We should never give up the struggle in life. Theodore Rosevelt sums it up well, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

Success is a by product of delayed gratification

April 26, 2014

Success is not about what you achieve. It is about achieving what you are capable of achieving. But does anyone know what he or she is capable of achieving? Not really! This is the concept that Joe De Sena presents in his book – The Spartan Up! The book is co-authored by Jeff O’Connell.

Spartan warriors of ancient Greece have inspired generations. They trained hard for years. Their motto was: never be satisfied with what you achieve. In 1972, Walter Mischel, a Stanford researcher, gave his child subjects their preferred treat—a marshmallow, cookie, or pretzel but with a choice: They could eat the treat right away or wait 15 minutes, at which point they could receive two. The researchers found that those kids who were willing to postpone gratification became more successful adults than those kids who couldn’t. Joe puts it well: success is a by product of delayed gratification. This is so true. When we look around we find so people who look successful, yet they are not happy. They are not happy because they have not realized their full potential. They felt satisfied too early in life, stopped running after achieving a milestone.

True, going to the next level requires one to try harder, face discomforts and cross hurdles. According to a racing proverb, “You run the first half with your legs, the second half with your mind.” Joe says his book is really about the second half of the race. When I asked him to illustrate this point further, he said, “No matter how fit I was at any point in my life, I have hit a wall with my body and endurance… when I do my mind needs to take over. I was doing the Iditarod by foot and at mile 300, I was done. I did not want to take another step…then my partner collapsed and wanted to be left in the snow…I tied him to me and pulled him through the snow to the next town. I didn’t have the energy to this but my mind did!”

You may not win every race or overcome every obstacle but each attempt can be a profound learning experience. Joe’s ideas are not just tips from a self-help guru. As he relates his own adventures of Spartan races, his ideas are more inspiring. It tells you the recipe to success and emphasises the importance of hard work. The Spartan Up! – is not just to be read- its concepts are to be applied in life – by all.