Nearly all of us want to be successful. How do we define success? Many of us think of success as that of being like someone we know – a movie star, an entrepreneur, a politician, or that rich uncle of ours. However, success that is built on external factors – money, position, fame and material possessions does not bring satisfaction in our lives. Therefore any definition of success built on external things will leave us empty and unfulfilled. We see this in movie stars and musicians who seemingly have everything and yet they are miserable. Robin Williams, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe. They took their own lives despite having it all. These are indeed extreme examples, but underline an important fact. External things do not bring you peace and joy in life. And therefore, it is prudent to define success purely on internal terms. Success can be roughly equated to well-being. This means a state of peace and joy in life, coupled with external dynamism. The word external dynamism is the key here. Most people think that peaceful and joyful people are unproductive; people who do not add anything to the economy. This need not be true. On the contrary, a joyful person would bring such beauty into his or her profession. They would be lighthouses of hope and joy to the people around them. External dynamism is inevitable in those people who are content being themselves. Defeatists i.e. people who have given up on life can appear peaceful, but all you need to do is scratch the surface and a bundle of misery and regrets tumble out of their mouths. Successful people therefore are people who, as the great American Psychologist Abraham Maslow says are ‘Self Actualized’. Self Actualization “refer[s] to the realization of a person’s potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. Maslow (1943) describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be” (Simply Psychology. https://bit.ly/2PRciek). In simple terms ‘Self Actualization’ is achieved when humans bring out the best in them. This state can be defined as success. A purely internal and non-comparative definition.
But how does one go about being successful? Obviously, success is the internal feeling of well-being that one achieves when our actions yield results. What kind of actions? It doesn’t matter. You may want to prepare the best dish possible for the guests who are coming home. Not because you want to impress them and garner “Wah. Wahs”, but because there is a joy in bringing your best to the act of cooking. You may want to write a poem about your experience of being in love – not to post in on facebook to garner likes – but because you love writing and expressing yourself through poetry. Whatever, the action, the act of bringing oneself totally into it, irrespective of who gives compliments or what you gain is the the key to action. This does not mean that results do not matter. Yes results matter – but only so far as to give us feedback to improve upon our work. A failure improves our resolve to wrack our brains harder on that problem, or to give more effort to accomplish that task. A successful result gives us the satisfaction that our efforts and plans yielded the results. Notice that the result has nothing to do with the external world – it is deeply subjective and internal only.
To understand this, we can think of the path to success as described in the figure above. I call it the ‘Pathway to Success’. This involves understanding four key elements. Lets begin to look into each one of this in detail.
- Desire: Nothing happens without desire. Desire in the birth of all activity in our lives. We desire money and we get a job. We desire a family and we get married. And so on. Unfortunately, our desires come and go like trains on a railway platform. They are usually unrestrained. They come unasked and go without heed. Bringing awareness to who we are and what motivates us, helps us filter out those desires that are affected by society from those desires that burn deep in our heart. Many of us do not know what we want in life, because we have not begun the arduous task of self-introspection. This takes time, because we have to deprogram years and decades of social conditioning. Most of us are lost – we have no idea who we are and what we want. We begin by dropping those things that we are sure we do not like – friends that we have kept only for the sake of being liked, activities and memberships that we do not use but thought we would, possessions that we haven’t come around to using for years. Start dropping all these unnecessary stuff. And begin by asking yourself earnestly – what is it that I want? Ask ask ask. And then experiment by trying your hand in various activities. Do not expect an answer overnight. But as time goes by, the unnecessary things in our lives begin to slowly drop away by themselves and eventually the core desire – our passion remains. It is like refining gold. You cannot remove the impurities by extracting the gold out of them. You heat the gold – time and heat plays wonder and the impurities burn away on their own. Our journey of self-discovery is very similar. The heat is the tapas or practice of intense inquiry and over time the unnecessary things in our lives drop off. All we need to do is focus on inquiry. Therefore, knowing what desire is fleeting and what desire is recurring in our hearts is the first step.
- Intention: Intention is solidified desire. What does that mean? This is known as Sankalpa in the Indian tradition. Before any auspicious activity begins, like a prayer or a ritual, or even one’s university education, one takes a sankalpa. An example of it is, “Let me do well in my university. Let me work hard and gain as much knowledge as possible”. This is the act of setting a concrete goal. A goal is necessary to provide direction to one’s activities – to life itself. A life led without a goal is like a boat cast adrift in the ocean. It is subject to the vagaries of the sea’s currents. Goals are not results. These two things should not be confused. A goal is “where do we want to reach?”. Result is “what happens in future?”. They are fundamentally different and yet confused by most of us. Intentions must be watered like growing plants. They need to be constantly fed and nurtured. This is important because several times when we are faced with disappointments, we tend to give up the action. At these tough times, our intention and only that will keep us going strong. Intentions are vital. The stronger our intention, the stronger the action.
- Action: The action usually involves tools, techniques, contacts, networks and the physical and mental strength that is necessary to manifest the intention in the heart. Action is the translator between the inner world and the external world. In today’s culture, action is given prime importance and the previous two steps are often neglected. You want the child to do well – enrol her into the best school. We think that by taking action we have obtained the desired goal. This is never the case. Action only gives shape to the inner intention. And it is important. If we fail to act, we can never manifest the intention. But often, as my experience suggests, action comes easy when our desires, intentions are aligned. As a wife, it is my intention to take care of my children and my home, then no matter what the external challenges are I will make sure this gets done. The intention automatically translates into effective action. Yes, we need the right tools, the money and the right knowledge to perform it. But when the intention burns so brightly in us, then we gain the ability to get the right tools, money and the people who can aid us on the path.
- Results: Finally comes the result. This is totally out of our control. This happens usually when our desire, intention and action are aligned in perfect harmony. And yet sometimes, things do not happen. The universe is random and often we have obstacles in the path. I had to go to Europe to defend a project in April, but because of the coronavirus, the presentation was cancelled and the funder withdrew the project. My intention was perfect and I took all the actions I needed to and yet we must accept that there are things beyond our control. For this, we surrender. Surrender is a deep acceptance of randomness. Our ancient people attributed it to God. Whether we believe in God or not is secondary. We do, however accept randomness and our inability to do anything about it. In order to save the mind during these times, we surrender and learn to accept things the way they are. Most importantly, if the result matches our goal – we will not go over the moon in elation. And when the result is contradictory, we do not sink. Why? This is because the motivation of the action was never the result. It was the entire sequence. The beauty in concretizing one’s intention. The beauty in employing planning methods, tools and action. The beauty in giving oneself totally into the action – there were all valuable lessons that shaped our hearts and minds. And when we fail, we take feedback and improve. When we succeed it validates our efforts. Both are extremely valuable.
These four elements are the Pathway to Success. We can begin by examining each of the four steps and examine our weak points. Do we lack the intention? Are we unclear about our desires? Are our actions inadequate? Begin by asking ourselves:
- [Desire] What motivates me? What are my innermost yearnings?
- [Intention] How badly do I want it? Am I reaffirming this daily?
- [Action] What do I need in order to achieve it?
- [Results] What can I learn from the successful or failed outcome?
These four steps present us with a framework to order our lives so that we can begin to be successful – both internally and externally. I do hope you find it useful. Let me know.