I tend to avoid writing on controversial topics, as there are usually two sides to it and while some might agree with me, some will inevitably look at me as their enemy from high school who begged to differ. Yet, I think it is important to put out your side of it and risk the eventuality of being vulnerable. Without vulnerability, there is no chance to change and if there is no change, then it is as good as dead. That does not mean one can spout out opinions block-headedly. There should be considerable thought process and resultant natural insight that should form itself into an opinion worth putting out there. Otherwise one is just a confident idiot. And we have many of them in the world without us adding ourselves to the category. Ok, so moving on to my opinion…
We know this truth like the back of our hand, but we tend to forget that it is there; a successful life is not defined nor can there ever be a definition for what a successful life is. The current definitions are woefully short.
My premise is simple: There is just Life. If you live it fully and completely, then that’s all there is to it. You can chase money, fame, stardom, respect, comfort; but you eventually know that it just doesn’t cut it for you. This chasing game sucks, and you know it. I mean it never ends. Not when you graduate, not when you get a job, not when you buy your dream car/house, not when you get Fare Exceeds Expectations at work, not when you are successful, not when you have successful kids, not when you retire, not when you have a fan following, not when you are 70. It only ends when you die, thank god for Death!
Someone came to your school and told, this is what it means to be successful and flashed his multiple degrees and cars and wives; you thought “That is the life I want”. Then came along graduate school, and you found someone who said give up everything and travel the world like a hippie; then you thought “Ditch the Audi, I seek myself”. Then came a fancy job with fancy bosses who holidayed on islands and tax havens and you thought “This is the f**king life”. Then you met an artist creating waves around the world and you thought, “Man, why didn’t I hone my creative shiz when I was younger” and think if there is a way to quit your bone-breaking job and go back to something simpler. Then I’m sure something else came up later in life and you desired that and so on and so forth. But that damn thing never ends. There are enough ‘successful’ people in this world to make you feel inadequate about your own abilities. But that’s what I’m imploring you to look at! That is their success. It is not your success. You have got to find out what success means to you first and what can you do on your own stead. It may not be those fancy cars, or holidays, or rock bands, or fame or whatever you think success is, but rather something completely different.
The first thing that one has to be aware of, while trying to figure out your ‘success’ is, is to stop importing advice on steps to ‘successdom’. It is a pitfall. Everyone talks about success only from their inner experience and trust me, each and every single person on this planet has a very unique inner experience. If I sit in a hall and narrate a story to 300 people and ask them to write the story down, you will have 300 different stories. This is because each one adds his own lessons, his experiences, his ideas and opinions to it. He will tell what works for him. And it may not work for you. There are loads of books on successful people and businesses and relationships and people are lapping it up, because they are looking for someone to tell them what this mess called ‘life’ is all about. There are multiple businesses created around feeding this desire. They have become successful feeding of the desire of people who want to reach success without understanding what it means to them. There is a hidden innate desire within you to understand what life is and what it means to you. This desire has been pulled and pushed around by many forces that are commercial and not necessarily for the best of your interests. Are you telling me that just by reading a book, you can be successful? Hell no! You know that and yet you go buy them. There are no definite answers and yet you go seek them. The first and foremost thing you must come to terms with is that there are no fixed answers for your life. And you can’t find it out there somewhere. You must start being comfortable with this ambiguity, only then can you start making sense of life and then later success.
Tell me one thing, if you desire to make your ‘life’ successful, then why look anywhere else outward when the very ‘life’ is within you? It is sitting right there within you, a wonder machine and yet you seek it from someone else. The advice given by any external person can only be taken as an indicator, as a guide and not as the ultimate truth in itself.
How the hell will you know if keeping post-its of important tasks works for you or not? It might work for you or not work you. It is an either or. It is not an absolute truth, as it is different for different things. For example, there is a lot of literature out there that one shouldn’t load your brain with daily dry information so that you can concentrate on the more important and creative aspects of work. But what if those drab dry things feed your creativity? After all, creativity is just looking at the simple dry and drab things in a different and beautiful way.
There are always two sides to every piece of advice. You will naturally know which side will work for you. That is the one you should adopt. There is no absolute true advice. Advice about life and success, especially, should be taken in a way that works for you.
Reliance on external advice is essential only if you are unable to generate the necessary momentum within yourself to create a life of meaning for yourself. You need the initial push. But once you are on the move, you will find that you will require less of outside help and you will turn more inward for answers. If you are already a person who looks inwards for answers and are quite comfortable with it, then way to go!
Right now, ‘meaning of life’ and ‘success’ are the hottest commodities being sold on the market. If you are seeking comfort in an idea of success that belongs to someone else, then you will always find more jealousy and disappointment at the end of this pot of promised gold. But the mainstream commerce that are selling these commodities will never let you reach that end and they will always keep you on the hunt, because they have it figured it out – there is no end to human ambition. And hence the idea of success can be ever changing and ever moving and they can keep creating products and ideas that make you keep chasing them. For example, two decades ago, owning a car was considered success for most Middle Class Indian families. Now, two decades later, that idea has moved on. No more is owning a car considered as being successful. Everyone has it. Now the idea of success has moved to travelling the world. And I’m sure something else will come up next to keep you always chasing the end thing. But the ‘thing’ never comes. Only death is certain to come.
So, to understand that it is all a sham takes a great effort, because it involves telling yourself that whatever you thought success was, was a stupid idea. It takes shedding of the ego. It is facing the truth, but I know that’s almost an impossible thing for many people to happen, because we are all too stuck up by our thoughts and we would rather give up our lives rather than agree we are wrong.
I think the only time when we are ready to accept that we are wrong is when we love. Because it makes you understand what is important in life and you are ready to shed your stupid notions about life. One time, when you are willing to let go of yourself and put someone else ahead. You are willing to shed your identity and give space to another identity within yourself. But then marriage happens and we are back to square one, because the fleeting love fades away and then the commerce of ‘success’ is back in business.
How wonderful would it be, if you could always feel that way? To look at your meaning of success and life does not mean you are selfish. But rather, it is giving up of the idea of self. Only then there is space for creating something in your life. If you are already full of stupid ideas, then there is no hope for creating something. If you could look at your ideas, shed them stupid ones, and then don on the glasses that show you what success really means to you, what life really means to you.
Then you would dance, drunk, intoxicated and madly in love with life. That my friends, is life. Only life, and nothing else.
About the writer - Vishal S Rao
An MBA from IIM Bangalore and a rank holder Chartered Accountant, Vishal is a deep thinker. A man of few words, Vishal more than makes up for it through his writings. His words are measured with intricate meaning hidden in them.
Vishal has worked for KPMG and was in leadership role at Aditya Birla. Currently, he is trying his hands at restaurant business.