This TEDx talk was given by Gunjan Virk at Mar Athanasius College of Engineering, Kothamangalam, Kerala in February, 2019.
Doing the right thing & having the right motive
Recently I got an email from a young lady who wanted to go to Italy to do her Masters, and she was asking me about the job market in Italy. She told me that her dream was to earn money and travel.
It reminded me of the time when I was 20 and when I wanted to go to Italy to do my Masters. I had never been abroad and my reasons for going to Italy, at least at that time seemed quite valid to me a. It would get me my dream job which of course meant a job with a handsome salary. b. I would figure out life and live happily ever after. c. And seeing how well I turned out, my parents would feel really proud of me. d. I would get to travel abroad. e. And I was also interested in fashion design.
So I went to Italy for a one year course in Fashion Design & Management to one of the top fashion schools in Europe. Everything was great. I was surrounded by an amazing group of students who came from all over the world. The course was fantastic. My school had some great connections in the fashion industry and we were invited to all the top fashion shows. We met designers, models, celebrities and also got opportunities to help backstage at the Milan Fashion Weeks. As a fashion student, I couldn’t have asked for more. And yet, at the end of my course, I felt so unhappy from within that instead of looking for my dream job, I came back to India.
In India, I started my own clothing line. I worked really hard for the next four years and started getting a lot of what people would call ‘success’. Celebrities were seen wearing my clothes, I was in the newspapers, I started giving television interviews and just when everything seemed to be going perfect for me, it happened. I quit. I gave up. I was so unhappy doing what I was doing that I could not sustain it any longer. And so I gave up.
Why did I come back from Italy? Why did I shut down my business? You know why, because both times I had been guided by the wrong motive. I went to Italy for all the wrong reasons - a great job, to figure out life, to make my parents happy, and travel. Then I started my fashion business again for all the wrong reasons - to earn lots of money, to become famous and to make my parents happy!! Both times my actions were guided by the wrong motive. I was not passionate about what I wanted to do, instead I was attached to the things it would bring me.
Now imagine a scenario where you are deciding what you want to do in life. You know what you are naturally good at but you ignore it and opt for say engineering. Your reasons seem quite valid to you:
A combination of engineering and MBA usually guarantees a great job. You want to go
abroad for your MBA and you visualize yourself as the future Vice-President of Citigroup,
working in NY and drawing a great salary.
Your parents think that it is a safe choice and you want to make your parents happy.
Because your friends are going for engineering and you do what they do!
We are so used to doing things guided by the wrong motive. We end up in wrong jobs, bad marriages, and we even bring children on earth with the intention that they will look after us when we grow old, whether we want to have children or not!!
Turn your frustrations into Service
The other day I got a message from somebody saying that even though he wants right motive to guide his actions, he is very poor and for him to get any job that pays is his bills would be great! And I totally get that. My answer to him was that if he didn’t like his job, he could still do it with a spirit of giving, with a spirit of service. A wonderful thing starts happening when we do things with a spirit of service - we start enjoying what we are doing, we start becoming happier and fulfilled, and suddenly new windows of opportunities start opening for us. There is a spiritual science in India that says our body is divided into 7 centers of energy. All the positive feelings of love, joy, happiness, fulfillment come from the higher centers of energy. So when we serve others, our energy gets transferred to the higher centers and we experience feelings of deep fulfillment and joy that come from the higher centers. We literally feel uplifted!
Be around people who motivate you
I remember an incident from Japan. I was shooting in Nikko, a small hill station close to Tokyo with a photographer I had connected with on social media. We had started our day at 5am and after shooting for a few hours, we are on the road driving to Tokyo. After driving for about an hour, we stopped for lunch. As soon as I got out of the car, I called the airlines to change my tickets so that I could go back to India immediately. I didn’t want to take any more pictures, I didn’t want to do any more blogging, all I wanted to do was give up! I was actually quite surprised at my own reaction because usually I am bursting with energy and enthusiasm while visiting new places. Later I realized what had happened. The photographer was a very depressed man and I got affected by being around him for so many hours. He had successfully transferred his feelings of sadness and discouragement to me, so that I also became depressed and wanted to give up what I was doing and just go back to India! Later I found out that he had gone through some very tough family situations that made him like that. As soon as he dropped me off at the Tokyo railway station, almost immediately all my energy and enthusiasm for life came back! This is the reason it is so important to surround yourself with people who motivate and inspire you.
Staying true to your motive
“Oh you know what, am so happy today! I hit so many thousand followers on my Instagram! Even Facebook marketing contacted me! They want to help me grow my account! Wow, now I will start getting free travels and free stays! And the Lord only knows what not!”
An interesting thing that starts to happen when you have the right motive that you start getting what the world calls ‘success’! And if you don’t watch out, you can loose sight of the original purpose why you started doing what you are doing. I have gone through it! There was a time when I was checking my Instagram literally hundred times a day just to see how my account was growing - or if I had any DMs from brands. I had completely lost sight of my motive for which I started my blog - I was constantly looking at what other bloggers were doing and the kind of photos they were posting and perhaps I needed to do the same to maintain and grow my following. The result was that I became unhappy, depressed and moody and I stopped feeling successful even though my instagram following was growing! Staying true to your original motive requires a lot of strength of character.
Perseverance vs instant gratification
There is a story of Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the greatest artists of all times, that somebody told me at the time I started my blog. A lady once asked him to draw something for her and he quickly made a sketch on a piece of paper and handed it to her asking her for an extraordinary price! The lady was shocked but Leonardo said that it took him only 20 years of hard work to be able to draw like that in 5 minutes which is why the extraordinary price! In other words, there is nothing called overnight success. You may work very hard for ten years or twenty years and then get overnight success but it usually takes that long!
We live in an instant gratification society and if we don’t get things immediately, we become unhappy. Take for example, a man who works really hard for ten years. Money is not his goal. His work is his passion. Because his work is his passion, he is happy and he gives it his best, and because he has the right motive, he also starts making money and buys himself a luxury car and rewards himself with a five star holiday. Another person who is only just starting out in life, yearns for that kind of lifestyle, takes a loan to buy a luxury car and uses his credit card to stay in a five star hotel. Soon he is broke and he is using his life to pay easy monthly installments! He can’t pursue his dreams because he needs a job, rather any job that pays his EMI’s every month! He feels frustrated, dejected, hopeless and extremely unhappy. His dreams are destroyed and at what cost? For a stupid luxury car and a five start hotel stay?! That is what instant gratification does to us!
I get so many messages all the time from college students wanting to travel the world like immediately but what they don’t understand is that it took me 20 years to be where I am today! One needs to work patiently day after day, not just for one or two years but for years to achieve their goals!!!
Persevere and persevere!
When I started my blog, I did not even know what a hashtag was, leave alone Instagram! I actually did not even know what a blog was! A friend of mine had suggested to me that I should start a blog, and when we discussed it further, I really liked the idea! It looked like something I would enjoy doing very much. I launched my blog on 13th May 2015 and for the the first year I had only two or three visitors only my mom and sister read what I wrote. But it didn’t matter to me at all! I was learning new things everyday, growing my skills - and I was all doing it for the right motive - I was doing it for myself - for my own personal growth - not for money or fame - and I was very happy - I felt successful and content. When your motive is right, perseverance is really not a negative thing. It is not only a very important period of growth for anybody who has ever done anything of worth in his or her life, it is absolutely essential.
I remember when I had just started my blog, I met a social media marketing guy who offered to help me. As soon as he said that the reason your blog is not a success...he put me off immediately and I did not even listen to him after that! What did he mean by saying that I was not a success! I was already feeling successful! Of course I still had goals to achieve but the feeling of success was already there! And it came from the fact that I was doing something not for money but for my own happiness! And I knew beyond doubt that this feeling of success would help me achieve my goals! This is the kind of clarity ‘right motive’ gives. At that time I realized that success is actually a feeling that comes from within and does not lie in the accomplishment of outer goals. The feeling that comes with the achievement of goals is actually quite short-lived and it can’t be called success. It’s like a high that passes away quickly and then we crave for more. I remember when I had got my first brand sponsorship with a clothing company in Denmark. They were giving me free clothes to take with me on my trip to New Zealand! Boy, was I excited! I could order anything I liked from their website! This was a dream come true! But very soon, I got bored of the clothes and gave them away to my sister.
Scope vs passion
Once I was at a spiritual retreat in the Himalayas and I met a young girl from Bombay who was a small business owner and she asked me what I was doing. I told her I had just started a travel blog and the next thing she asked me was, “So what scope does it have?”, to which I answered, “I have no idea!” Honestly, her question made me feel quite sad... scope in terms of what...in terms of money or position or both?! That we use the word ‘scope’ to decide how we want to spend our lives is utterly ridiculous to me! No wonder people are so unhappy everywhere...!
Another time I was in Norway and was having coffee with a local tourist guide when he asked me, ‘Why did you start a travel blog? There are already so many blogs out there!’ Again, I was taken aback by his question! I told him I did not start my blog for anybody - I started it for myself! Because it helps me achieve my bigger purpose in life which is to know who I am. Because it tests my faith, it helps me develop courage and endurance. Because it gets me out of my comfort zone and real growth can happen only outside the comfort zone.
When you do things that are guided by the right motive, you do not compete with anybody. Your only competition is yourself. You don’t look to others for inspiration, but you create inspiration for others. You don’t copy people’s work but you end up creating work that people start talking about, because when you do things guided by the right motive, you are in touch with your higher self, the source of all creativity and power!
So it really hurt me when I got this email from this young lady who wanted to go abroad and study so that she could get a great job and earn lots of money and travel. She totally missed the point and you know what, we all the miss the point. Sometimes we waste precious years of our lives doing the wrong thing and sometimes we even waste our whole lives! Remember that we don’t become a flight attendant to travel but to serve, we don’t become an author to earn money through book sales but to share what we have, we don’t marry because everybody else is getting married or for money but we marry for love, we don’t choose professions simply because our friends are choosing them but because we are suited to them, we don’t become a travel blogger to become rich and famous but to travel, and we definitely don’t get on social media to accumulate followers. All this is only a by-product of our main goal in life which has to be guided by the right motive. Only then will our lives can become successful and happy not otherwise.