So, what made you come back to the Industry?

I have been asked the question as to what prompted me to return back to the corporate world several times. The reference is obviously to me taking over a year off from the Industry to volunteer with the Art of Living Foundation teaching the Art of Living programs.

In today’s Mint, Sandipan Deb writes about this in his article “Breaking free from the mundane” Sandip begins by saying:

I don’t know whether it can be granted the official status of “trend” yet, but in the last few years, I have seen a fairly large number of executives give up high-paid jobs and choose a different life. I am not talking about successful managers who chose to turn entrepreneurs. The people I am talking about are ones who seem to have taken a sharp right turn off their career paths and opted out of the corporate rodent rush.

And he ends it by

 A lot more of us have become seekers. And the seeking is not stopping at the corner office.

I will be very delighted if this really becomes a “trend”. A lot of us in today’s corporate world can’t see life beyond our own noses. And I will stand up a give a huge cheer to those who seek to follow their heart’ calling. And a even bigger cheer to the “seekers”. More power to you guys.

To those who ask me, I point out that God never wrote one’s life story in resume form – so all your assumptions about your life should move according to an upward career graph is all bull. Life has a way of teaching that the assumptions will come to nought in no time and the quicker you realize it the better it is.

The “seeking” is where the journey begins.

But then life is also not running away from one’s responsibilities and I sincerely believe that seeking shouldn’t lead us to that point.

For those who are immersed in the corporate world and ask me this question, I tell them that there is indeed a beautiful way, of listening to your heart and continue to be immersed in the vocation one has.

Do you want to know how?

Stay tuned.

So are you happy?

Happened to bump into one of my ex colleague a couple of weeks back, it was about 4 in the evening and he was looking worn down, tired and exhausted. Long face and the worry lines all evident. During the course of an exact three minute conversation he turned around and said “……it has become even more hectic Raj, the clients have become more demanding…. and it is the same rat race”. The unhappiness was evident even without asking the utterly useless question, How are you?

How can one give one’s best to life when one is unhappy from within? How can you inspire people around you to give their best when you yourself are unhappy? How can you spread happiness at home, when you are unhappy most of your waking hours at work? As Gandhi said, our live is one indivisible whole.

It is no coincidence, that Guruji asks only one question to people whom he meets. “Are you happy?”

Today spent some time catching up with HBR blogs and came across this wonderful piece of conversation:

Ans: As I am very aware how boring is to hear about other people being happy, I say only this: I get up every morning at 5a.m. simply because it is more exciting to start working than to turn around and sleep some more. I do seem to have a lot of energy.

says Stefan Sagmeister, a design studio owner who takes a year off from client work every seven years to boost his creativity. Gina Trapani has two interesting posts on taking a creative sabbatical at HBR blogs.

Go spend some time reading the posts, get inspired and be happy……and whatever you do…..spread the happiness.

If you are still feeling sad, depressed, unhappy, take some time out and connect with yourself at a much deeper level – start with the Art of Living Program. If you want to bring about a change in your workplace, the APEX program is the place to start by.

Finding my way!

I wrote a few posts about my sabbatical and teaching the Art of Living program in the past one year. I continue to get one off requests from folks to write more about the break and most of the questions asked and unasked are related to financial security and as to how I am managing the same. Today morning I came across Philip Broughton’s blog via a post of Facebook. I read his post on “Finding my way” and then read it again and again and again, and then took a printout and underlined portions of it. Anyone with a passion for following his/her dreams should read this. There are several passages in the post that resonate deeply with me and I find so many similarities in what he writes and what I experienced. Marking a few sentences here, but do head over to his blog and read the complete post. I am sure it will answer some of your questions.

I wanted to be rewarded for my uniqueness, not for my ability to conform.

But it’s hard to hold onto that vision when you’re under pressure, when everyone around you says that with your background and qualifications, you should be doing a certain kind of work, when you have bills to pay and friends and family who unwittingly burden you with their own expectations.

Insecurity and freedom are not that far from each other. Some days I felt the former so strongly I would start looking for salaried employment. Others, I felt the freedom and knew I wanted nothing else. There were days when I’d be in a library at 11 in the morning, writing or researching and feeling extraordinarily happy. Other days, I was worried sick about money and the future. Every day I didn’t have a regular job was both a commitment to a freer life and a rejection of what most people regard as security.

There was a professor at Harvard Business School called Joseph Lassiter who gave us some great advice on entrepreneurship. He said that it wasn’t a choice of career, but a choice of life and you needed to think about setting your whole life up to give yourself even a shot at succeeding.

Explain what you are doing to the people who are most important to you. Tell them not just what you’re doing, but why you’re doing it. Why it’s important to you to do this kind of work. Why you are ready to take these risks. Don’t assume everyone will understand when you take a less conventional path.

You want the reward of fulfilling work, work which is expressive of who you are. Work which rewards your uniqueness not your ability to conform. Explain this to yourself and to others. Write it down.

Whenever you take a risk in life, whether anticipated or not, the audience around you seems to be shouting two things. One half is screaming “don’t”. The other is shouting “live the dream”, “do what you love”. Neither are being very helpful.

Paralyzing fear and blind optimism aren’t the only alternatives. There is a route through the middle which recognizes that with risk comes reward, that insecurity is uncomfortable, but then so is going to the office on someone else’s behalf. There’s no universal answer here, just a personal route to navigating between these two feelings, which can only be found by setting sail in the first place.

It is all about ME!

Oh dear oh dear! What does one say when only 8 out of more than a lac of Infosys employees chose to apply for a sabbatical and work towards contributing to the society and nation? Bangalore mirror reports:

Infosys’s offer of a one-year sabbatical to its 1.03 lakh work force does not have many takers. The IT major had announced in mid-November 2008 that it would allow 50 employees to take up a sabbatical and they would be paid 50 per cent of their salary during the period. Almost two months down the line, Infy has received only eight applicants.

When Infy announced the plan, it was to encourage employees to participate at the grassroots as part of its Community Empathy policy and Infosys Director, Human Resources, T V Mohandas Pai had said that, “More than an issue of paid labour, it’s a labour of love.”

Of the eight applicants, only five have met the norms. The IT major had hoped that more employees would take up the programme for which the company had set aside Rs 2.50 crore. This programme is part of Infy’s commitment to corporate social responsibility and involved NGO participation too.

I think this is primary due to one reason: FEAR

Fear of either losing money or job or experience or skills or maybe not! It may be just sheer apathy towards anything related to society and nation! But those interested in doing it, I  say go for it! There are so many advantages:

1) You get to build skills that a normal 9-5 job doesn’t provide you the opportunity to do.

2) You get to meet people with different view points of the world and if you are open to learning you get to learn a lot from them.

3) You learn to accomplish more with little resources.

4) You learn financial prudence, you will be surprised how a little money can be stretched further.

5) You become more humble and more grateful for what life has offered to you so far.

6) You learn to think “out of the box” solutions to problems.

7) You get to find out that there is more to life than IT, Programming, promotions, bank balance and land balances!

8 ) You get to realize that change is constant and is the nature of the world. We are seeing it already, people die and companies die too! A sentence Guruji says is the Royal Secret is what the Gita says “Anityam asukham lokam emam prapya Bhajaswaham”“.

9) You get to go back to work as a more mature and more rounded individual!

10)  If you are open to possibilities, who knows, what else may come your way? The sabbatical may be an opportunity for further growth and not restrict you as you think it might!

11) It is an opportunity to pursue your passion.

I have a series of posts on my experiences (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ), if you need to talk to me, I will be more than glad to do it.

Reflections on the Sabbatical- Growing on the path

Now to answer the second question I had posed in my previous post.  Am I growing on this spiritual path? Yoga, is not just the asanas that we do, when on the mat, it is also what we do when we are off the mat. On the mat, things are pretty easy, it is only me, my body, my breath and my thoughts. But once I step off the mat, then I am interacting with the world, in different capacities – as a husband, as a son, as a father, as a brother, as a friend, as a colleague, as a customer, as a supplier, as a teacher, as an employee, as a manager, etc. or whatever else. Every interaction provides me an opportunity for growth, if and only if I am aware.

The growth happens when I am aware and conscious of what is happening within me, during these interactions with the world. What feelings, sensations and thoughts are coming up within me during these interactions? Am I getting angry, fearful, jealous, exasperated, irritated, critical, worried, anxious, stressed, violent etc? Do I look down upon some people or am I in awe of others? Am I jealous of someone else’s success or happy for them? Am I present fully with the person with whom I am interacting with or is my mind all over the place? How do I react when someone says something that I do not want to hear? Am I able to forgive and move on? Can I be compassionate and kindful to the person in front of me? Am I able to exhibit my positive qualities of chosing joy, happiness, contenment, kindness, forgiveness and uplift the person in front of me? Can I continue the spread the message of peace and light inspite of the provocations? 

Growth is in the awareness, when the awareness goes away, none of these come to mind. Then the whole thing becomes like sleepwalking, going through the motions of living with slightly more awareness than one who is dreaming!

Spirituality is not just sitting in a secluded place and meditating. It is a dynamic process of living life to the fullest, by being aware of what one is doing and why? The striving is to transform the character,consciousness, and conduct. 

How do I measure if I have grown? I believe that this is quite simple, I have grown when I am able to put in practice all that I teach – acceptance, taking unconditional responsibility, living in the present etc. – when these qualities become an integral part of my character, conduct and consciousness and does not remain with me as concepts or intellectual knowledge. It is inevitable that we interact with the world and not suffer criticism, or be the butt of jokes, or be looked down upon or even picked on either deliberately or accidentally. There are enough opportunities for me day in and day out to see if I am living the knowledge or not.

And how do I know if I am learning these lessons? Or in other words, how do I know if I am on the right path? The answer for me lies in meditation.My meditation practice allows me to go beyond the surface level of the mind into more deeper realms, where all the latent tendencies that I have gathered over the years – tendencies such as fear, greed, anger, jealousy,resentments, obsessions etc – lie waiting, ready to explode, during any small interaction with the world. Just observing what lies beneath, and becoming aware of it, has brought a qualitativ change in my interactions.

I believe that Spirituality is looking at one’s ownself in the mirror – everyday and being absolutely comfortable with the reflection that one sees in the mirror. Except that the mirror is not a physical mirror but my own conscience. Spirituality is being absolutely in harmony with what I see in the reflection. If I have done actions that go against my values and against the spirit, I cannot absolutely look at myself in the mirror and be content and happy. Those days, when this happens, I observe that the meditation too stops at a superficial level, I am unable to go deeper and something starts gnawing at me. Indications that I have swerved from the path.

This path is being brutually honest with oneself. I cannot look at myself in the mirror and be untruthful!

There are no shortcuts – absolutely none at all!

At the same time, this path is such a beautiful one, whatever little I have experienced it to date. Each day, an opportunity to deepen my practices, to observe the play of my mind and self will, to learn, and to radiate the peace and spread the light of knowledge and wisdom.

Blessings come in many forms, for me this opportunity of being able to live this knowledge and spread the joy and peace has been an incredible blessing for which no amount of gratitude would suffice. 

As Guruji says, “The path is very long – the goal is in every moment; the goal is where you are”

More mundane Stuff and other FAQs about the sabbatical, some other time.

Reflecting on my sabbatical

Six months have passed since the time I have taken a break from my job to do seva full time with the Art of Living Foundation. There is a lot of curiosity amongst my friends, ex-colleagues, neighbours, my local Art of Living Sangha, relatives and as well as Meena’s friends too about the sabbatical and how things are going with me.

When I had resigned from my previous job a lot of my ex-colleagues had expressed that they too want to take a sabbatical and do something for the society, but couldn’t because of <you_can_insert_any_excuse_or_reason_here> Most of my conversations with ex-collegaues and friends are around the sabbatical. So I thought maybe I should have a post talking about my experience out here and it coincides well with the midway check point.

I can understand the curiosity. It is but natural. I personally do not know anyone within my circle of colleagues and friends who have taken a sabbatical to pursue their dreams and so I can imagine the curiosity and the questions that follow. Probably if I was in their shoes I too would have been asking the same questions. 

I will not be able to cover everything that I wanted to write in one post and will divide things up and write maybe a short series of posts relating to the sabbatical and my experiences. 

Reflection: This post also coincides with the year end. For the last 15 years or so, I have ritualistically taken time out to reflect on how the past year went by and what would be my plans for the upcoming year and to reflect on where my life is heading. Not to forget buying a new diary every year, if I didn’t get one as a gift 🙂  This past year, I have started destroying some of my old diaries – and when I look back at the goals that I had set then, they look so meaningless today; the challenges that I thought would have been unsurmountable, look kiddish. Life as we all know, doesn’t work out of a script. However much one plans, there is always, always going to be a twist. That’s why someone rightly said “career planning is an oxymoron”. 

Now all through these years the typical year end questions I would end up asking would be – If I was doing well at work? What technologies/tools have I learnt that would help my career progress? Where is my career headed to? Would I move up the ladder? What did I learn and what mistakes did I commit? What skills would I need to add? Have I handled my team well? Did I let them down? Where do I improve? and so on and so forth. Most of them related to job, work, skills and career. Life pretty much revolved round work and no wonder that the questions too were from the same space.

Last evening as I sat thinking about how the past 12 months have passed, my attention was on the past 6 months. At this point in life, these 6 months matter a lot, much more than the preceding 6 months and I have been thinking as to what questions should I be asking of me today in order to review the last 6 months! So questions relating to job/career do not apply and suddenly I am left  with a big void in the place where I used to have a hundred questions that I have regularly thought about and answered in the past years. The Career Guides, the “What color is your parachute?” and reams of books and articles on career guidance etc. suddenly don’t appear to have questions that could be relevant.

This time I am spending now, was a dream, a pursuit that I and Meena had planned for well over 2 years. Not a knee jerk reaction. Meena and I have been fortunate to have experienced the Grace and the wisdom of Guruji and it did touch us deep inside somewhere and have transformed our lives forever.  All I wanted to do was to take some time out to spread the light of knowledge and wisdom and bring as many people as possible to this beautiful path! 

I recall Guruji saying “Go free and spread light. The world needs you. You are here for a purpose; each one of you is on a big mission to bring the age old traditional knowledge, wisdom and light to the world” and as recently as in the Teachers meeting in September, he reiterated “Go home….spread the joy and peace” and that’s all I wanted to do.

When I had met Guruji before starting off on the sabatical, all he said was “Haan, come!”

So, that is a big difference from a normal 9-6 job, no KPA, no KRAs, growth is measured not in terms of how much you have contributed, but in terms of how much have you grown as an individual? How much responsibility have you taken? Given this, all the traditional management metrics go straight out of the window. The 90-day metrics plan doesn’t work either! So have been thinking and thinking whether I should be doing this exercise at all or not and how do I measure myself? Against what yardstick? Yes, I can measure the number of courses I have taught, number of people reached, etc. but then these are meaningless measures. If I ask myself a wrong question, it is only but natural to get a wrong answer.

And then it stuck to me, the questions that I ought to be asking myself are:

a) If I have touched peoples lives and have made a difference in their lives?

b) Have I grown on this spiritual path? 

Touching peoples lives: For me, these 6 months have been a truly enriching and rewarding experience in more ways than I could have imagined and I am so very thankful of being able to do this.

I definitely think that I have contributed my bit towards making a difference in others lives – teaching and assisting several courses, taking introductory talks, working on Bihar Flood Relief etc. The feedback from the courses is instantaneous and thats what I love about teaching. You can see the results for yourself. You know it instantly when you connect with the audience and when you have lost them. But the Art of Living courses are so very different. Apart from the teaching, there is something else at work – Grace! One of my first course participant was having a tough time with depression and panic attack episodes. It was with great difficulty that she was even able to come to the class…she had to be dependent on someone dropping her to the class…and she had panic attacks twice in the class as well…..towards the end of the course she seem to be much more relaxed and the stresses seemed to have dropped away ….and a few months down the line I hear that she is perfectly fine and back at job! I have several such instances…..just today morning one of the course participant was sharing his trauma of having lost both his parents in a short span of time earlier this year and how much relief he felt after doing the Sudershan Kriya….I listen to many such incredible experiences with hardly an expression, except a smile, on my face, but deep inside, I am dancing with joy, I know that they have been touched by Grace and all I am, is but, just an instrument for the Grace to flow. 

I have just started on this path and have had the privilege of bringing this knowledge to maybe a few hundred – and that is not even a drop in the ocean – there are millions and millions out there who need this knowledge and probably have not even heard about it.

I look at Guruji for inspiration- for being such a wonderful teacher and setting an example for the rest of us by walking the talk. He works tirelessly for 18 hours and more a day, no sundays, no holidays and no breaks. He travels like no one else does. Just look at his travel schedule, he was in Paris the other day addressing the Rabbis and Imams, from there onto Jordan and then 3 days in Iraq. All to spread the human values, peace and taking the message of “One World Family”  to nook and corners of the world and then I look at the above question – Have I made a difference? – and the answer comes back with a resouding NO! How can I even think that I have made a difference? So much more remains to be done. So many more people to touch and so many more miles to traverse!

This is a life long journey for me. The sabbatical just an excuse to do it full time till the time I could afford to do it. Three birthdays back, I had told Guruji, that “let my life be His message” and today I am privileged and delighted to be living it! 

Up next: About Growing on this path and then all other FAQs relating to sabbatical!