What does holistic success mean and how can we attain it? What are the factors that govern it? Suma Varughese explores
Despite having pondered deep and long about the factors governing success, I only had an experience of what financial success felt like quite recently, in the early months of 2015 when I decided to hold workshops for writers.
I held a trial workshop in February 2015 for four friends and when they enthusiastically endorsed it, I announced it on Facebook. I was overwhelmed by the response. About 60 to 70 people from all over India eagerly petitioned to be part of the workshop. Being a brand new facilitator, I did not want more than 10 people for my first workshop in the second week of March. Sixteen stampeded in. The next week, I held it in Delhi and again was met with enthusiasm. Thereafter, I began to hold workshops almost every month. An announcement on Facebook, and a few Whatsapp messages would garner me a steady crowd of about 20 to 25 people. It has been two years since I started these workshops or courses as they later became known. And they continue to have enthusiastic takers. I have held them in Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. In October 2016, I held an advanced workshop and that too was well received. I have not advertised these workshops save for the half pagers that appear in LP through the kind courtesy of my publisher. I cannot speak for the future, but as of now, the Universe seems to have scripted a delightful success story for me.
For I know that marketing a workshop can often be heavy going. In what is a saturated market, even advertising will not fetch you enough participants. So what, if at all anything, did I do differently? I shall answer this later, but I can tell you it feels wonderful. To know that you have something others want is a terrific high. It is what all entrepreneurs, or indeed professionals, aspire to.
A runaway success
My friend Sundeep Waslekar, who runs a much respected think tank called Strategic Foresight Group, which advises governments across the world on numerous issues, has enjoyed remarkable success with a book he published in October 2010. Written in Marathi, Eka Dishecha Shodh (In Search of Direction) set a new record in Marathi publishing history by running to 20 editions in the last six years. The average time to exhaust one edition of 2,000 copies was usually two years, the publisher had explained to Sundeep, because the thrifty Maharashtrian rarely purchased books, but instead sourced them from libraries. In the event, the first edition was sold out in a mere 10 days! The book has been converted into a Talking book for the benefit of the blind and has also been translated into Urdu and Hindi. The Hindi text is in its 8th edition. Sundeep was flooded with more than 3,000 invitations to give talks. Of the 15 or so invitations Sundeep did take up, the audience numbered between 1,500 to 15,000.
Politicians ranging from Raj Thackeray to Prithivraj Chauhan and present CM Devendra Fadnavis made a beeline to meet him, goaded by recommendations from members of their constituency to read the book. RSS supremo, Mohanrao Bhagwat, was so taken with the book that at one meeting he devoted 25 minutes of a 45-minute talk lauding it, and comparing Sundeep to Swami Vivekananda. Many politicos urged him to stand for office and promised not to oppose him because people like him were needed in governance.
Most heartening of all was the response of the common man. “In the 2,000 days since the book has been out, everyday between two to 10 readers have contacted me,” says Sundeep. “From poor farmers to post graduate students and small entrepreneurs, all have told me that it has changed their lives. I don’t think it was the book. They were ready to change and the book provided the trigger. But I will admit that that the book created around 10,000 alert citizens.”
His two favourite stories about the impact of his book are as follows: Soon after reading the book, the Deputy Muncipal Commissioner of a place in Thane district, was visited by a corporator who brought along with him a builder. He nonchalantly requested her to sign papers to authorise some illegal constructions while dangling the key to a brand-new car he had parked outside her office. Quietly, the lady called up the police and had them picked up for bribery. “The shell-shocked corporator thought she had some political connections to withstand his machinations, but it was the book that gave her the moral power,” wonders Sundeep.
In the second instance, a young student wrote to him to thank him. For the last three years his father had been suffering from asthma so severe that all he wanted was to die. However, on the day the student sent Sundeep the thank you letter, he was astonished on returning home after school to find that his father had shaved for the first time in months, and was giving his wife a string of instructions on what he wanted to eat. He had decided he wanted to live for another 25 years and called up his daughter to tell her to stop her mundane work and take up higher education with his support. What had brought around the dramatic turnaround? His father had got hold of a copy of Sundeep’s book that the boy had accidentally left on his father’s bed!
Neither Sundeep nor his publisher spent any efforts in marketing the book, except for an excerpt carried in Loksatha and Sakal, two leading Marathi morningers. No book launch, no interviews with the press, no exhaustive or exhausting book tours. And yet, the book is a marketing phenomenon.What lies behind that?
At 18, smarting from being the only one from her batch to fail in the foundation course of her study of commercial art and design at Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai-based Nina Lekhi began to design bags from the bedroom she shared with her brother in their Wori flat, pressing in the services of the liftman, security guard and zip repairwallah to help her.
Today, this bright and bubbly young woman is the brain behind the 100-crore company, Baggit, a leading name in bags and accessories. She has won several prestigious awards for her entrepreneurship from the Indian government and media, and has been endorsed by PETA for producing a cruelty-free vegan brand. She has no MBA degree, works only half the week at her office, while the rest of her week is in a village called Katarkhadak. She shares a wonderful relationship with her husband and daughter and is an enthusiastic cyclist, swimmer and member of the spiritual organisation, Siddha Samadhi Yoga. Clearly, hers is not business as usual. And yet her success is indisputable. So what sets her apart?
What is success?
Success. It’s time to redefine the term. If one is ragingly successful in one aspect of life and spectacularly dismal at others, can we call that success? If one has set up a business empire worth billions by throttling competition, destroying the environment, or by riding roughshod over one’s colleagues, does that really count as success? If, in hot pursuit of success, we have neglected our family, depleted our health, and become a horrible human being, does that count as success?
If one can trust Internet, Steve Jobs was reported to have dictated the following shortly before his death: “I have come to the pinnacle of success in business. In the eyes of others my life has been the symbol of success. However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed. …. I realise that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud have become insignificant with my imminent death.”
What a chilling obituary. Surely, this is not how we wish to go? A larger more spacious definition of success is available to us once we decide to step into the holistic space. Or even recognise that success has to factor in the fact that we will take nothing material with us when we die. And die we will.
Holistic success would mean being successful in all the important areas of one’s life, because it rests on the framework of being a successful human being. It would mean first and foremost a vital spiritual life which governs your values, motivation, priorities, and enables you to focus on the welfare of the whole, rather than on narrow self-interest. It means being physically healthy and emotionally stable. It means building and maintaining beautiful relationships with friends and family to sustain you throughout your life. It means cultivating the qualities and attitudes within you that foster success. It means being able to emerge at the end of the day as happy, enthusiastic, idealistic and optimistic as you were in your high youth, and a whole lot wiser. It means to have grown and expanded with each passing year so that you are progressively more loving, more compassionate, more selfless, more competent, more everything. It means to be soft as butter and firm as a rock, to have done justice to all your roles, to have realised your highest potential, and to have been a force for the good in the world. It means reaching the end of your years with a sense of fulfilment, contentment and peace. It means that on your deathbed, you will have a smile on your face, knowing that your life has been worthwhile and that God himself will say "Well done," when you reach the other shore. And it means that in the process we may achieve extraordinarily, or become billionaires or touch stratospheric reaches of fame and power, but only within the framework of being a successful human being.
Indian philosophy has a wonderful set of parameters on which to forge a successful framework of life. Called the purusharthas, they consist of dharma (appropriate action), artha (money), kama (pleasure) and moksha (enlightenment). It is no coincidence that artha and kama are flanked on either side by dharma and moksha. Thus one makes money and enjoys life on a framework of ethics, and in order to attain enlightenment.
Only such a success will be free of negative consequences and will bless the world as much as it blesses us. Any other success, like that enjoyed by many movie stars and rock stars, who soar to the stratosphere with the elan of a rocket only to self-combust in a welter of drugs, alcohol and ruinous relationships, cannot inspire anyone looking for sane and long-lasting success.
We are meant to be successful in the process of living, and every other success has to emerge from that. In the Bible, Jesus Christ put forth a simple but succinct formula for success. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
What he meant by this is, get enlightened and everything else will naturally gravitate to you: Fame, money, success, power, fun. All that we look at as the blistering goals of life are not goals, they are meant to be byproducts. Our attention is meant to be on our spiritual growth. And that is all. If enlightenment seems too drastic a remedy, at least get your ethical base clear. Do what is right, unclouded by the pulls and pressures of desire or likes and dislikes and that at least will give you a foundation upon which to build your success edifice.
More than a decade ago, I participated in a programme called Breakthru, run by the Vardiapalem-based Oneness University. The programme was oriented around success, but success that was holistic, which included a wholesome personal life and an arsenal of healthy relationships. Their definition of success too, was holistic. Their success formula was this: Intention+hard work+grace = success. What the common man would define as luck, is nothing but grace or good karma, obtained by aligning with the laws of life.
Going by the book
Most contemporary books on success recognise the importance of the spiritual/ethical domain and promote it. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, offers a splendid and provenly effective palette of principles that govern true success. It begins with the Buddha’s great insight. Between action and reaction, there is a pause. And in that pause lies our happiness, health, success and everything else. Thus, by using the pause effectively, we can learn to take control of our lives and move it in the direction we wish to take it. Other habits include beginning with the end in sight so we do not lose track of our desired path, prioritising so as to always put what is important ahead of what is not, thinking win-win which means that real and lasting solutions would only happen when both parties won, seeking first to understand and then be understood, synergising, which means arriving at solutions that are more powerful through brainstorming with others, and finally sharpening the saw, working on improving oneself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Each of these habits is based on spiritual principles that enable a person to go beyond their ego or selfish interests.
In the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra talks about the Law of Pure Potentiality (the universe is made of pure potential), the Law of Giving (when we give, we get) the Law of Karma (our actions determine our destiny), the Law of Least Effort (relinquish resistance and let success come to you), the Law of Intention and Desire (through intention you will achieve your desires) the Law of Detachment (only when you relinquish attachment will your wishes come true) the Law of Dharma, or finding your purpose in life. In the last he talks about the fact that each of us has something unique to offer and there are those who are in need of it. When these two intersect, we get success.
Another book, The Go-giver, reiterates one of Chopra’s principles, that only in giving do we get. Today, the new buzz in marketing circles revolves around spiritual selling, where instead of hard sell you simply create awareness of your product, offer a free sample, and by virtue of the quality of your product, eventually strike a deal. Instead of your going to the buyer, you get the buyer to come to you.
All these tell us that the climate is gradually changing and that evolution is inching us towards holistic success. Based on these parameters, how do the success that Sundeep, Nina or I enjoy, measure up?
Case study A
I shall begin with my own story.
It was 25 years ago that I first began to think about success. I had just had a spiritual awakening and I was now ready to live. But then I looked within and found that I had absolutely no qualities required for success. Focus, zero, discipline, zero, organisational competence, zero, memory, zero, self-control, zero, self-esteem, zero. Moreover, my deep and driving impression of myself was that I was a huge failure. It was a rude shock, but it also launched me as a seeker. I determined to overhaul my insides and change myself one hundred per cent.
During these last 25 years I have changed hugely. Today, at nearly 60, I leap out of bed with more gusto and enthusiasm than I have ever done so. I am ongoingly getting better at everything – from writing, running the magazine, editing, cooking, to becoming more patient, more loving, more giving, calmer, and so on. From the point of view of success, I took the trouble to change myself into a successful human being, a key success principle.
Furthermore, I followed the guidance of the inner voice. I have always wanted to be a trainer and facilitator, but my fear of public speaking, and reactivity stopped me from attempting it for a good 20 years. At the end of 2014, though, I got a nod from my inner voice that I was now ready, and only then did I decide to start holding the writer’s workshops. Following the inner voice helps access grace, because you align yourself to the Universe’s directions which will faultlessly lead you to your highest good and eventually to success. The more we let go of individual will and follow the Divine will, the greater our chances of achieving our goals easily, effortlessly and peacefully, another successful principle.
Because I allowed the inner voice to guide me, my time was right. It meant waiting for 20 years, but it took me that much time to develop the qualities I needed to be a good teacher. There is tremendous wisdom in waiting for the right time, but it is possibly one of the success principles least followed because today everyone is in a hurry to get to wherever they want to go. Holistic success, however, is a long-term business, since it requires you to work on yourself, find your purpose, and heal your karma, in addition to any other qualification you may need for your goal. So pause. Connect with your inner voice and let it guide you to the next step. Act at the right time would be our next success principle.
Another point that worked in my favour was that the content of my workshop was unique. I designed it entirely on the basis of my own experiences as a writer and editor. Yes, I doublechecked my principles later on the net to see what the great ones said, and I was quite delighted to find they agreed with me. As Deepak Chopra rightly pointed out, each of us has a unique gift to make to the world, which is our life purpose. Instead of duplicating someone else’s route to success, why not design our own? Surely, we will have a greater chance to succeed?
I also allowed the design of the course to evolve by itself, following cues from the Universe. After the first workshop, I formed a Whatsapp group of the participants. I would send them a word and they had to form a sentence out of it. After about four or five days, it occurred to me that this activity was the perfect way for them to experientially get all the principles I had talked about in the workshop. I then incorporated this into the workshop and converted it into a course consisting of the one-day workshop followed by one month over Whatsapp. The Universe had guided me to create a unique workshop aligned to my unique gifts. Thus, in accessing and releasing our unique gifts we also find our purpose, both of which are important success principles.
Besides, without quite knowing it, I had tapped into a zone where there were few sellers and a lot of buyers. Positioned uniquely in the cusp between journalism and spirituality, I had access to many trainers, healers, therapists and facilitators in the holistic field, and all of them were looking to take the next step – write blogs and books in order to share their insights and experiences as well as build their reputation. They needed me and I was happy to support them. This again resonates with Chopra’s Law of Dharma where he talks about the intersection between having a gift to give and finding those in need of that gift, another success principle.
Perhaps because of all this, the Universe supported me hugely by bringing me mentors who helped me finetune the course, and supporters who gladly told others about the course.
Case study B
When it comes to Sundeep, the most important factors governing his success were the motivation behind writing the book, and the contents of the book.
It was written after a massive heart attack that gave Sundeep a desire to leave behind a legacy. He wanted to write something that could communicate his deeply held convictions and thoughts about society, and how it could be transformed. Sundeep was not looking for money or even for success, and that kept his focus on the larger whole. When the motivation is pure, the Universe will take over the marketing and craft a stunning success story without your having to enter the marketplace; one more success principle.
The paradox is that as long as we strive for success, success eludes us. It is as Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita. We have the right to work, but not to the fruits of the work. So when our attention is on the work, when we truly enjoy what we are doing and the work is benefitting the world, we are focussing on the domain to which we have been given access. This naturally brings about the success that we have not actively striven for, but which we have deserved.
Secondly, the contents of the book were rivetingly original, inspirational and thought-provoking. The book encapsulated Sundeep’s rich experience of travelling to over 50 countries and interacting with Heads of Governments, terrorists, industrialists, inventors, diplomats, and common people. Some of his observations have acquired the weight of proverbs and are frequently quoted. An example: “Jithe neta motha, to desh hota chota. Jithe neta nagarik samaan, to desh hoto mahaan"(When the leader is larger than life, the nation shrinks; when the leader is modest, the nation becomes great).
Among the questions that Sundeep raises are the following:
• The world is moving towards the fourth Industrial Revolution. India missed the first three. Can it possibly catch the fourth, by reinventing itself as a domain of creativity and inclusivity?
• A Third World War seems likely. Is India prepared for it?
• Hope of education and employment is denied to millions of rural youth because of the absence of a high school in thousands of villages. Is the elite prepared to introduce radical reforms in the education department to permit hope for the poor?
• The world is moving beyond success, sectarianism and sovereignty. Instead of success and failure, the parameters are around right and wrong. Can India follow suit?
• Instead of wanting to be a powerful nation, can we aspire to becoming a great nation?
These informed and searching questions touched a deep chord in the minds of the common folk looking for inspiration and hope. Let’s face it. No matter how holistic our approach to life may be, it is excellence that will eventually bring us success, provided all else is right. An ongoing strife for excellence alone will help us retain the edge, another successful principle.
Case study C
When it comes to Nina, she too went by the spiritual book. In her prologue itself she outlines some of the things she did right, by the rules of holistic success. “I was never an obsessive businesswoman. I simply enjoyed my work and the process of creating trendy products. What I enjoyed the most is working with people who are my family and who have become my family. The attrition rate at Baggit is practically zero.” She adds, “This success has been the outcome of an inner journey.....My Guruji, Shree Rishi Prabhakar, the founder of the extremely powerful SSY programme, transformed me from a ‘party animal’ to a loving and giving human being. This, in turn, has transformed my business.”
There you are again. Focus on becoming a successful human being and success will permeate all areas of life. Her final take: “Life is very simple if you believe in yourself, and in others. This faith is more vital to a business than having strategic investors, an MBA, or a limitless marketing budget.”
Nina's commitment was also on the welfare of the employee and on the larger society. She made it possible for every member of the organisation to go for SSY retreats once in two months, the cost of which was picked up by the company, which also gave them comp offs for the days spent at the retreat. She instituted fixed meditation slots for all those who wished to avail of it and strove to develop healthy eating habits by serving every member of the team with nuts and salads twice a day.
Motivated by a deep desire to provide employment for villagers so that they would not have to leave their beautiful surroundings, she opened a manufacturing unit in Katarkhadak and Mann villages. In the next five years, Baggit grew 14- fold! The more she gave, the more she got back, another key success principle.
Nina also followed the principle of originality. Says she, “While I learned a great deal from international brands, I have never had any reason to copy them. Instead, what worked for me was to focus on gaps in the market in terms of features and material.” She went further. At a time when leather was the only material classy bags were made of, she decided to stick to synthetic leather, which she worked with and experimented until she got the leather finish she wanted.
Excellence was another principle she followed from her earliest days. Says she, “I was uncompromising towards excellence in quality. During the initial years, I bought the best material I could afford and put every product through strict quality control checks at every stage of manufacturing. We had, and continue to have, 100 per cent quality inspection of our fabrics, trims, zips and accessories.”
Nina also adopted a long-term perspective in formulating employee policies or other vital links. When she found that her workers would only be motivated by timely payments and good wages, she dispensed with the credit advantages the company had earlier enjoyed and gave them their wages on delivery; wages that were the best in the market. She believes that it worked out to the long-term advantage of the company because it enabled her to win their loyalty forever. Thinking long-term alone will help us to operate from integrity, honesty and ethics, without which there is no chance of holistic success.
And finally, we can best attract success when we are passionate about what we do. Passion can convert drudgery to joy. It will give us the creativity to move forward. It will enable us to hang in there as long as we need to, for we are having the best fun. All three of us, Nini, Sundeep and I pass the passion test. Nina is passionate about making Baggit an interntional brand, Sundeep is passionate about the country and the future of its youth, while I discovered that I was passionate about books, writing and teaching. This was perhaps one more ingredient of our success soup, and another success principle.
And if despite abiding by all these principles, success still eludes you, never mind. Perhaps this lifetime was not meant to be about success. Perhaps it was meant to be about learning your lessons instead. The Law of Karma will have the final say. And obey her dictates we must. But why despair? We are all on the path of evolution. Sooner or later, we will achieve the goals that truly resonate with us. If not in this lifetime, then in some lifetime. For immortal beings, time is not a consideration.
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