The Prince’s Exile

Life can take us the highest peaks of life and bring us down in a moment. The following is a true story seldom heard off in the Western world of a prince that saw both and how it defined his legacy that teaches us how to manage change.

It was the night before his coronation as the king of the land, a moment of jubilation for everyone. 

The king, the ministers, and even the citizens of the land were impressed with Prince Rāma. He had been the perfect prince.

Patient and noble, generous and kind, fair and just. He traveled far and helped the kingdom prosper. He defended the weak when enemies tried to attack the further borders of the kingdom. He maintained diplomatic ties with neighboring rulers and strengthened peace and prosperity across the land.

He was also the oldest of the king’s sons. When the king decided to step down from his responsibilities, it came as a surprise to no one that the perfect Prince Rāma to become the heir-apparent.

Everyone except the handmaiden to the Queen.

The handmaiden to the Queen was a superstitious lady, nosy and bothersome. She had the habit of finding faults in even the best of situations, and in the best of people. Scheming was in her nature, even when it had nothing to do with her.

The Queen was excited about the coronation of her step-son the following morning. Despite being a step-son, they had bonded like mother and son. She saw him as her own son.

“But what of your son, my lady?” said the handmaiden as she helped the Queen prepare to attend the dinner that evening in the royal court.

“What do you mean?” said the Queen.

“If Prince Rāma becomes the King, your own son will live in his shadow. He will be subservient. And who knows? Perhaps the good prince may cease to be so good with the newfound power,” said the haggard handmaiden.

“Do not be so insolent when you speak of your Prince and your future King,” said the Queen firmly.

“Sorry my lady! I am just an old woman who knows nothing and just rambles. Of course. Don’t mind me,” and with that, she went about her business and left the Queen.

But the seed of doubt was planted.

Better men than him have gone mad with power. What if he hurts my own son? What can I do to prevent this?

The queen could barely eat dinner. After the dinner with the court, she went to the King and started talking.

“Oh King! You are my husband, and today I want to ask you of a favour the night before you step down. Do not deny me this wish.”

“Anything! Ask! I have never denied anything you have asked and today is a happy day for tomorrow my Rāma will take my place!”

The Queen was silent was a while, and the King looked at her expectantly.

“Say it! I will not deny you. I swear by my honor as a king and your husband.”

“Then hear me oh great King! If your vow to me right now is true, I wish that my own son be crowned the king and that Prince Rāma be exiled into the forest.”


It was an age with the word of the King was bound by honor. If a great man made a vow, upon his life he had to fulfill it no matter what.

“Ask anything else but this! What has come over you? This is the first I have heard talks of such madness!”

But the Queen was firm. She did not relent no matter how much the King tried to console her. No matter how much the King tried to show her reason.

He is the right person for this.

He will treat you well. He sees your son as his very brother.

Rāma has never hurt anyone unjustly.

No, no, no.

The Queen remained firm and the King was left without words. He fell to the floor and became like a ghost, unable to tell his son what he was honor-bound to fulfill.

Morning came and the kingdom did not know what was to come.

But the old handmaiden of the Queen had heard everything. And soon, the message went out.

In corners of the palace, and then the kingdom, the citizens were aghast! They thought it was a rumor.

Until Prince Rāma woke and received the message.

On the morning of his coronation, he received a message that changed his destiny. So close to the culmination of his power, he remained stable. Neither upset nor elated, he had taken his impending coronation with the same equanimity with which he took this message of his exile.

He went to meet his father the King and his step-mother the Queen to confirm the news. His silent father could barely speak, but the news were confirmed.

He immediately went to his quarters, removed all the finery he wore, and prepared to leave the Kingdom. His very home.

Before he left, he went to seek the blessings from his father and his step-mother as well. He remained unaffected by the dualities of honor and shame. When the fruit of his life was snatched before his very eyes, he dealt with the tides of fate with calm, with joy and happiness.

No, that is not my wedding photo. It is a still from The Rāmāyan, a serialized adaption from his life. This is a still that shows the actors that play Rām and his wife Sitā in garb.

I have been thinking a lot about Prince Rāma this past week.

When he faced such an extreme event (and many many many others) over his lifespan, he showed that it is possible to live a life of equanimity.

I’d like to make the case that it is this peace of mind that should be the very goal of our lives!

Perhaps your life has been turned around overnight. But like Rāma, we too can learn to have peace of mind.

I’ve been reading this book The Elephant in the Brain that makes a convincing case that close to 90% of the things we do in our life are to signal to others, improve our social status, and receive attention for it.

The schools we attend: we go for the most prestigious schools so that we can signal to others about our intelligence.

Our professions are often a way to showcase either how smart and capable we are based on the companies we build or the job titles we hold.

Even the charity we work we do is often fused with the thought of the recognition and social status we receive from it.

Our homes, cars, and many other parts of our life are often done to signal to others that we are smart, good-looking, successful, and capable people.

Rāma had all these things going for him already. But it was ultimately his ability to have peace of mind that makes hundreds of millions of people remember him, even centuries after he is no more.

It was his peace of mind, his ability to stay calm under the extreme dualities of life that makes us remember him.

It was his character that mattered more. It helped him then, and it makes us remember him now.

And this is the case with life.

We chase all external signals of success, status, and affiliation. Countless more people have done that already.

Status, success, affiliation goes up and down. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But is only peace of mind that can keep you still. Peace of mind can give you more than any status, success or failure can give you.

Unless you make a deliberate attempt at making peace of mind the ultimate goal of life, it will not happen. Until we make signals of status the main goals of life, we cannot find fulfillment and meaning.

Studying the life of great people like Prince Rāma can be more instructive on how to live life and achieve something meaningful in life.

I hope that you too will make attaining peace of mind your ultimate goal in life.

If you are interested in reading the story of Prince Rāma, popularly known as The Rāmāyana, I can recommend 2 versions:

  1. A shorter version with beautiful paintings found here.
  2. A longer version here.

Both are non-affiliate Amazon links.

It’s one of the greatest epics of the ancient world and I highly recommend it.

I hope you are doing well through these times and the story of Prince Rāma above will give you pause and give you something to think about as you start this coming week.

Please share this with others who might appreciate the message here and join our tribe.

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

I was catching up with a friend yesterday who has been worried about his job, his family, his spouse, and just the state of the world with everything happening right now. He is also a medical professional, so he has been seeing the CoVID crisis unfold in front of his eyes. He had the weekend off, but was not looking forward to taking the plunge again on Monday.

Perhaps you are in a similar boat.

We spent the next 1.5 hours talking and he started telling me about some of the things he’s trying to do to stay grounded.

Our conversation turned to philosophy and theology, and at the end of the conversation, he felt a lot better.

I wanted to share some of the ideas from it below. They come from The Bhagavat Gita, an ancient Vedic Hindu text that trickled across the world to become the basis of Stoicism. It inspired Emerson, Thoreau, and its ideas were incorporated into Buddhist teachings. It is the original text on Yoga as well.

The Gita is a conversation between Arjuna the warrior and Krishna his charioteer. The conversation is really a meditation that happens on a battlefield before the start of a war.

Arjuna asks to ride into the center of the battlefield to survey the land and the enemies. Krishna obliges. Upon looking at the enemies he has to face from afar, Arjuna loses heart. He feels he is incapable of fighting this war.

We too are warriors fighting our own daily struggles. In the face of all this, we too can lose heart.

He loses courage and wants to give up. But he asks his charioteer Krishna to tell him what to do. He gives up all of his ego in the face of the challenge in front of him and instead surrenders to the wise Krishna.

I believe this is the first part of any meditation (or prayer). Completely surrendering our mind so that we are open to receiving an answer, a response to the stress in our lives.

This means letting go of the ego that wants to control every thing. As smart, intelligent, driven & successful people, we are used to getting our way. We want to always be in control. It is hard to let go of control. But the process of real transformation happens when we surrender, let go, and trust so that a better answer can come to us. So that we can find a means of going on.

Sorry, there is no meditation app that can help you do this. And despite what people might think, sometimes they are more of a crutch (necessary at the beginning of your practice, but something you will eventually need to give up).

Read: Buddhism scholars: Meditation apps are fueling tech addiction, not easing stress

Ego will prevent us from learning and growing. Pride can prevent us from learning the right things. Arjuna surrendered unconditionally and opened himself up.

This letting go must come from a sense of knowing that we will be looked after, that our highest and best good is coming our way.

Krishna tells him to rise up and let’s Arjuna know that this “cowardice is unbecoming of him.”

Krishna tells him: “There has never been a time where you and I have not been. The body changes from young to old. In the same way, the life goes as well from birth to birth. You are not this. You are not these problems. But you are greater than all this. You are the spirit, the atma that brings consciousness to this body and mind.”

Modern science tells us that we are not just the body. We’ve gone up to “we are the mind” part.

“I think therefore I am.”

But there is a higher level still. Through all the changes when we had the identity of a baby, and the future identity we will have as we age, it has always been. This entity is the real you.

We are not the body, nor are we the mind. You and I still are even if we are asleep, when no conscious thoughts are in our mind. And we are certainly more than a physical machine with bio-chemical processes.

The body has changed. Identities have changed, but you have remained. This you is the real you. What we call in our culture, the atma.

What is this atma like​? It is not born. It does not die. Like a cloth is old, we throw it away, in the same way, we get rid of a body once its work is done. The atma moves on to another life. To know this is the mark of an intelligent person.

Otherwise, we see birth and death each day. If that truly is all that life is, then it is natural that we become overwhelmed when the slightest thing happens to our bodies, our minds. And when these things start happening to our loved ones. This type of excessive attachment is not love.

If we stay in that framework, than life will always shake us. Change will shock us. Aging will scare us. When we don’t get what we want, our minds will become unhappy, stressed. We end up fighting with the nature of life itself which is ever fluctuating and temporary. That is the root cause of unhappiness.

Contemplating about this is the real key. When we start thinking that our worries are not us, when our thoughts are not us, when our body is not us, when this identity that we inhabit of a doctor, entrepreneur, artist, writer, etc is not truly us, then our worries start to subside.

When we start thinking of our eternal natures, our stress and worries goes away. We feel freer to think and act in a way that helps us grow.

I believe more than at any other time, we need to meditate in this form.

First, we must surrender all ideas about who we are. Man or woman, our professions, our bank accounts, our employment status, our businesses, our intelligence, talents, and everything else.

Then we must contemplate on our own eternal natures that always is.

This goes beyond the meditation apps that makes you calm down in the moment, but leaves you ungrounded in the face of overwhelming life challenges. In the face of our own mortality.

And if we can introspect on this idea this Sunday afternoon, then we will be better ready for the week, and indeed our lives.

Further Reading

Over the last few weeks, I’ve written a few other articles that you might find interesting:

  1. Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times: For those feeling overwhelmed (hint: it’s all of us), the wrong thing to do is to impose our will on the world. The best thing to do is to find what’s certain in our lives.
  2. Love in the Time of Corona: In these times of great anxiety, we need something to ground ourselves, give us hope in our ability to get through this. Our relationships are the greatest source of resilience and strength.
  3. The President and the Monk: The remarkable story of two very different world leaders and how their experiences have the power to reshape the world. Powerful ideas if you are a leader in any capacity.

Corona Calmness: A free mini-program made by me

I made a resource: Corona Calmness. It’s a self-guided program that takes 15-30 minutes per session to help you deal with the anxiety of our present times.

I did it based on Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavior Therapy techniques. You can get it for free if you type in FULLOFF. If you find it useful, consider sharing it with others. I’ll keep it online for another week and if it isn’t used by anyone, I’ll take it down. It’s less philosophical, if you aren’t into that sort of thing.

Some Questions for you

Did the above make sense to you? Do you feel it is too extreme? Did I miss a subtlety that I should clarify?

What are you working on and where are you stuck? Personally or professionally. I’m here to help you.

Do share your answers!!

Finally, if you think there is anyone you think would enjoy this newsletter as well, please forward it to them, or share this link with them to get them to sign up.

Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times

For those feeling overwhelmed (hint: it’s all of us), the wrong thing to do is to impose our will on the world. The best thing to do is to find what’s certain in our lives.

For those feeling overwhelmed (hint: it’s all of us), the wrong thing to do is to impose our will on the world.

You see a lot of this happening on talk shows, on the news, social media, and elsewhere.

Everyone is trying to guess what is going to happen next, what the worse case scenario is going to be. We share that kind of material with others.

Except all of it is just manufactured. Everyone is just guessing.

And the most outrageous, apocalyptic the prediction, the more attention they will get.

There is a thick line that separates being informed and being obsessed.

The fact is simple: We all know what we need to do. We need to

  • maintain social distance.
  • Not hoard food and supplies (there is no real shortage as long as people don’t hoard) and work as best as they can.

Even on the economic front, there is hope with a bill that will give each adult in the US $1,200 and $500 per child.

In such times, the best thing to do is to find what’s certain in our lives.

What I’m leaning into

I wanted to share a few areas of my life that I am certain about that gives me hope and has significantly helped me reduce my stress. It has helped me deal with this situation, and find ways to help others (something I hope to share next week…I’m very excited about it!)


If you have your health, that is a blessing. If you have some wealth (savings), that is a blessing. If you have people around you that love you, that is another blessing.

If you look, you will find many areas in your life that you can grateful for.

It is tempting to look at all the things that are changing in times of uncertainty. It is much more useful to look at all the things that haven’t changed.

This doesn’t mean ignoring the lack, but you can address the lack a lot better if you can be grounded in what you have first.

The world is good

Gratitude helps and it seems into something that my faith and my guru have taught me that there is a higher power, and that this higher power is not my enemy, that whatever will happen will be for the best.

This idea has always been a source of tremendous strength to me throughout my life. Even in times of lack, in times of helplessness and desperation, I have tried to revive this thought.

The positive expectancy from this thought has helped me bounce back from any adversity.

If you have things that are lacking in life, thinking about the lesson, the gift, the blessing found within this situation can be very good.

Reflection and Faith

Ever since I was a child, I was taught by my guru to start off the day with a powerful meditation and prayers.

In this meditation, I reflect on the fact that I am not this body, and I am not this mind that I believe to be me. I am not Dhawal Tank. I am not my identity. I am not this person who was born in 1989, has had so many experiences, has all these relatives, has all these accomplishments and failures. I am not this situation, and I am not these emotions. I am not this intelligence, or my academic qualifications.

I am that which empowers and inhabits this body and mind. I am the eternal consciousness that has been through countless such bodies and minds. it is indeed the light of my consciousness that enables the mind and body to think, feel, move, and act. My source of misery, of being shaken in trying times (and getting too comfortable and egoistic during the good times) has been my false identification with the body and mind.

Instead, identify with this eternal self. The soul. The atma.

This insight is extremely freeing. It reminds me that death is certain at some point or another. This is not a painful thought. Death is only of the body and the mind, not of who I am, who is eternal and conscious.

And within my soul resides a higher power.

You may call this God, the universe, a higher power, Bhagwan, or anything else.

During my morning meditation and prayers, I solidify my faith in this higher power, and remind myself that I am being looked after, that my thoughts and prayers are being heard and being answered.

It is unfortunate that faith has become such a private and taboo thing that we don’t talk about publicly.

In my experience with senior leaders at major organizations, the majority of them rely on some form of faith and prayer to ground them and guide them through tough times.

This is a time to be public about it. Not to proselytize (something that is not promoted in my faith), but to make it normal and okay to do this and give others as well a chance to rely on this essential source of strength.

A rise in consciousness

People are waking up and realizing that their choices matter. Their consumption choices are directly related to the emergence of pandemics, climate change, and suffering.

That no choice is truly “personal.” Each choice creates demand for more of it.

READ: Bats are not to blame for coronavirus. Humans are.

It was humans encroaching into more land, trading live animals, that created the conditions where this pandemic spread.

In fact, the worst epidemics in recent history have all been related to humans consuming animals in some capacity or another and the animal agriculture and trade related to it.

Since the 1918 avian H1N1 bird flu, every pandemic has originated from animals.

In fact, the number one cause of deforestation is to clear space to raise animals for milk and meat. When forests are cleared, wild animals, often the vectors of disease end up crossing species and affecting us.

Over-fishing has similar affects.

Animal agriculture around the world is so outsized and concentrated, breeding grounds for the next pandemic exist wherever animal agriculture exists.

This is not just a Chinese problem. In fact, the H1N1 Swine flu originated in America.

And if CoVID-19 has affected us all so severely, imagine a world where antibiotics stop working! At the rate which we feed animals antibiotics in the world, we are setting ourselves up for the emergence of superbugs for which no antibiotics work.

This means a world where even routine surgeries, UTIs, and other diseases considered cured can kill us. This is not a work of fiction, but one of the World Health Organization’s top priorities beyond this ongoing pandemic.

It is becoming increasingly clear that our demand for animal products has led to this state of affairs.

There is no alternative but for all of us to abandon animal products and switch to plant based lifestyles that significantly reduced negative externalities.

(Before the sleuths here say what about e.coli in lettuce, you should know that this bacteria was transferred onto the lettuce from infected animal manure used as fertilizer).

People are waking up to this fact, and I believe this rise in consciousness is great. We are likely to see a more vegan world in the future. Of course being vegan will not only significantly reduce the emergence of such pandemics (plants and humans are just too different as species), but will increase overall health markers in us meaning less heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc. Of course the tremendous reduction in animal suffering is the cherry on top as they won’t be bred in the first place as demand falls.

I think this is a very positive development. People are already stocking up on beans, pasta, rice, bread, corn, potatoes, and other staples that they would eat as vegans. Many of them will find their health improving as well.

Now more than ever, being vegan is the most impactful thing you can do for your health, the health of the planet, and to reduce suffering.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. If nothing else, it is a way for me to express that I am doing okay and I hope are as well. But if not, do reach out to me, even if it is just to talk!

Love in the Time of Corona

In these times of great anxiety, we need something to ground ourselves, give us hope in our ability to get through this. Our relationships are the greatest source of resilience and strength.

The man came to see the woman, a long lost lover.

He came from the town into the big city, without much money. Withering away in his small town, as the local businesses slowly and painfully died.

He had held on to what little opportunity he could find in his town, until he couldn’t. Until the debts piled up, and the opportunities dried up.

He wanted to see her again. And hope that he could find a fresh start again. Fix his life again. He came with what little he had left in his wallet and a briefcase.

He called on the woman in the big city, arriving unannounced.

Taken aback, but glad to see him again, the woman let him in.

They stood awkwardly at the front porch, a dash of unsaid things running through both their minds.

But soon they went inside and started talking. First the usual small talk, until it wasn’t.

It looks like it will rain. Yes, so-and-so is still doing that. No, I haven’t gotten married yet, but congratulations to you! No, I’m just visiting.

They talked and reminsced about the past. The minutes turned into hours as memories of the past came flooding back.

The skies shattered and heavy droplets of rain drowned the city. Even though it was midday, it became dark.

She was married now and lived well, he thought.

He felt ashamed to ask for what he wanted. Her love, a chance to start again.

The doorbell rang, and the man decided to leave.

It must be her husband. I’m a huge fool to even be here.

“No, stay,” said the woman.

The door was left unanswered.

They spoke some more. Until there was nothing left to say, except of course that which actually mattered.

What if I had showed up then?

What if I had said that to you?

What if life had played out just slightly differently? What if we had loved more deeply? What if we had said what was on our minds, our hearts?

She asked to leave for just a few minutes to go buy some food from around the corner. The man was hesitant to stay any longer, but agreed on her insistence. She borrowed his raincoat and dashed off.

A few minutes later, the door bell rang.

The man opened the door, surprised to hear her come back so soon.

But instead, there was an old man standing in the door way.

Is the woman in? I am the landlord. They have not paid their rent for yet another month.

And it all started making sense to the man.

What seemed like luxury suddenly looked different. He saw the damp walls, the empty pantry, the unlit and unheated room.

The landlord left, disappointed at not meeting the tenants of the home.

Soon, the woman came back, breathless from the rain.

They ate in silence.

He thanked her for helping him relive shared memories, and told her that he must be getting on. And with that, he left.

As he made his way back to the train station, disappointed by the turn of luck, he reached into his raincoat, and pulled out a beautiful pendant that came with a note.

I read the letter in your pocket that laid you off. I did not know you had lost your job and you came here with nothing. Here is something to help you get by.

And as she cleaned up the scant meal she had served her guest, she saw a small stack of bills underneath the cushion.

He had left what little he had, save the fare he needed to go back to the town.

I hope this can help you keep your home.

Both the man and the woman gave, and gave deeply.

That was the gift that only love can provide.

In times of uncertainty, when our own mortality becomes abundantly clear, the only thing that can ground us is love.

There is a lot of panic right now. Panic for our health, the economy, our livelihoods, our families.

Life can seem out of our control.

But in times like this, the only thing we can rely on is not our bank account, although that is necessary. It is not our businesses and jobs, because they can turn for the worse at any time.

It is love.

The crisis we face today reminds us to latch onto the things that matter. The things we forget, the people we take for granted, the gifts we have received over our lifetime that we have ignored in the pursuit of more. They can never be taken from us.

It is hard to do this sometimes. I believe it is often because we do not feel we have done enough to prove that we are worthy of it all. So we must do more, achieve more, impress more. But none of that gets us there.

The only pre-requisite to be grounded in our relationships is to accept the gift of love that we have received and freely give others from the same bottomless well.

The crisis is an opportunity to become grounded in the unchanging things of our lives.

Love in the Time of Corona is the cure to our anxieties, our worries, our panic.

In my last post (The President and The Monk), I wrote about Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Hindu guru who became the “ultimate teacher” in the life of Abdul Kalam, the Muslim President of India.

Later on in Abdul Kalam’s book, I read a quote by Pramukh Swami that resonates deeply with me.

He said, “In the joy of others lies our own.”

And I think to myself, what an apt expression to guide us through trying times (or even not so trying times).

He not only said this, but lived it his entire life. He himself visited hundreds of thousands of homes, guiding families on how to resolve conflicts and bring people together. He answered close to a million letters from people with questions about their families, their businesses, their worries and anxieties about health, and of course deep spiritual problems.

Perhaps that is why when people met him, they couldn’t help but feel completely at ease. Why he felt at ease no matter what the situation was.

When he was diagnosed with a severe blockage in his heart, he acted with complete equanimity. This was not a stoic coldness, a metallic indifference to the world and the body. It was a deep inner spring of joy that always bubbled. That is true equanimity, he taught.

As a leader, when there was major difficulties that threatened the very core of his position and his organization, he took it in stride. Those who closely observed him noticed that he remained light and unaffected as ever.

I hope to write more about lessons from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life and what I’m learning reading Transcendence, the final book by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in the coming months.

Today of all days, as anxiety, fear, and panic overwhelms us, we must dig a bit deeper to give the gift of gratitude, of love, and of hope. More than ever, we need the lessons that Pramukh Swami taught Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

Update from my life: My wife and I will be moving to Houston this summer. At the same time, I have decided to go deep into healthcare as the sector to build my career. Many of you who know me well know how passionate I’ve been about health from my days of going vegan. I’ve recommended books, documentaries, etc to many of you. I’ve also done some writing, and had volunteered for many years for NYTimes Best Selling author Dr. Michael Greger and his organization

I now want to go deeply into it. I’ve decided to start a weekly publication to share the things I’m learning about the healthcare world and use that as a marker of credibility to get work in that field. You can follow my journey here as a complete novice below:

And of course, if you feel like this resonates with you and you can think of others who would be good additions to our tribe, do share this with them.

Aside: Special thanks to O. Henry’s short story The Gift of Magi and Rituparno Ghosh’s film Raincoat for inspiring the short story above.

How are you feeling?

I believe in building a tribe. And a great tribe helps each other out. We check in with each other. How are you feeling during these times? What are you doing to keep yourself buoyant, hopeful? Do share below! It matters!

The President and The Swami

photography of mirror building
Ivey Business School, London

It was a cold November evening in London. The sun had started to set by 4 PM.

Our days would start at 8 AM when the sun was barely visible. By the time the day would end, it would be dark again.

But on this particular day, after a hasty dinner, a group of fresh faced business school students were crawling back to the school. Dressed in suits and heels, their legs and ears were shivering in the subzero temperature as they walked across the campus to the session, ready to impress.

The big firm was coming today. One of the most prominent management consulting companies was over to recruit today. They had driven a few hundred kilometers to visit this campus, and find the best and brightest of Canada to join their firm.

It was an informational night. Their goal was to talk about their firm (but everyone already knew all about it of course). But really, their goal was to get a feeling of the people and get an insight on who might be the right material for their firm.

The presentation ended, the cocktail hour began. And everyone immediately swamped the one partner who was there.

Everyone started asking questions, hoping to impress and leave just enough of a mark to be memorable and make their odds of getting the job more likely.

What’s it like to work as a Partner? What are some of your biggest challenges? What do you look for in a candidate? How do you progress? What’s the most interesting challenge you’ve faced?

The partner was quick in answering all these questions. There was a practiced manner in his answer, as if he had encountered these same queries dozens of times before.

It’s very challenging but very interesting…

Yes, this one time I advised the CEO of a major auto firm…

Of course, here’s my card. Good talking with you…

He was polite, to the point, and cordial.

The crowd cleared away. I was convinced that this wasn’t the job for me at that age. I decided I could just be me (something very hard for me at the time) and have an actually meaningful conversation.

I wandered over to the partner as the hour came to an end, and all the business cards were handed away to the eager b-school students, who would undoubtedly send him an email the next day saying what an absolute delight it was to talk with him.

He looked exhausted. Turns out, he had just flown in from Europe the day before, and he had to come here for recruiting. No one had asked him about that. We had a good conversation about that.

But there was a genuine question burning inside of me that I wanted to ask him: “All these years you’ve been at the firm helping others turn their businesses around. You’ve worked with Fortune 100 CEOs. You’ve traveled the world…”

The partner got ready to give a rehearsed answer to a question he was anticipating. What do you enjoy most about all this? was perhaps the question he thought I would ask.

“…in all this time, what have you learned about yourself?”

He paused. He looked away for a while, staring into the space. He turned to me and said:

“You know, I’ve been doing this for 10 years now. No one has ever asked me this question. I…don’t actually know.”

This is the real question that I am obsessed with. In everything we do, what have we learned about ourselves?

I think this is the real challenge of leadership at the highest rungs of corporations, governments, non-profits, and even start-ups. Leaders are obsessed with creating a great company, serving customers, serving their employees. They constantly upgrade their skills, their tools to make them more productive, more informed, more ready.

And perhaps that’s you too. Relentlessly trying to change everything that the world throws at you.

And it’s never enough. The world moves forward. The day ends and each peak conquered becoming unfulfilling after a while.

Of course this is unfulfilling. There is a lot of criticism of capitalism that asks the question: how much is enough? We expect Wall Street to change, to not demand such expectations from companies. We expect businesses to stop marketing to us, making us desire things we don’t really need.

We criticize a culture that is bent on shopping, binging on TV and movies, and being in a perpetual state of adolescence.

And nothing changes. It is unfair to criticize the system without looking at the root cause of all this.

I believe this outwards orientation is at the heart of everything.

This doesn’t apply just to corporate CEOs, government officials. This is not just about leadership at the highest levels, but it’s about you and me. Those who are trying to live together everyday.

But there is a different model of leadership, of being, that also exists. One where “enough” is a natural byproduct. One where it is much easier to get into action, work, and have the wisdom to stop.

That’s what this is about.

Few Americans have heard of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. But for more than a billion people, he was the most popular President of India. A rocket scientist, an inventor of low cost stents, an author of books, amongst many other things.

He was a humble man. When he won the most Presidency by the widest margin in the history of the country, he had barely 1 bag of clothes to pack as he moved to the Presidential mansion.

He was loved deeply. His mission was to put “Wings of Fire” in children to make them soar beyond whatever circumstances they faced.

He himself came from a humble background. Born to a fisherman’s home in a Muslim community in a corner of India, it was his curiosity and focus on his work that helped him climb up to the highest ranks.

But this isn’t about his accomplishments.

It is about his realization in the last decade of his life that inspired him to make a radically different set of choices. This, more than anything, became the final calling of his life. Sharing this insight became the most important project of his life, more than launching rockets and inventing medical devices.

What realization was this:

“Who am I really? Am I so-and-so with a certain past and a certain body and personality and certain roles, talents, weaknesses, dreams, fears and beliefs? Others may define me in these ways, but that is not who I really am. Who I really am can only be discovered through deeper questioning and exploration, and through a subtler experience of that which is beyond all ideas about myself. It can only be revealed when the mind is quiet and no longer telling me who I am. When all the preconceptions about myself are stilled, what remains is who I really am: consciousness, awareness, stillness, presence, peace, love and the Divine. You are that which is nameless, and yet has been given a thousand names. “

Since that moment, his work became to talk about this vision about how to manage in the unprecedented changes that we face.

It was his experiences with the great Hindu teacher Pramukh Swami Maharaj that brought him this realization.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj (left) with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam (right)

The outcome of this?

He wrote in his final book, Transcendence:

“No maneuvers are required anymore, as I am placed in my final position in eternity.”

A profound feeling of satisfaction and completeness. But not one that makes one inactive, unengaged from the world. But a freeing realization to engage more deeply in life and strive to make a greater impact.

I believe that is what we need more than ever. This newsletter is really about the vision that Dr. Kalam had while holding the hand of Pramukh Swami Maharaj:

“In a revelatory flash, I realized that the struggle between happiness and unhappiness that had so far been the story of human existence–and the struggle between peace and war that had been the history of the human race–must change. I heard in the silence of his grip on my hand ‘Kalam, go and tell everyone that the power that would lead us to eternal victory amid these struggles is the power of good within us…The vision would be greater than any other goal ever aspired to by humanity.’ “

This is what we need more than ever right now. It is not an abstract aspirational aim, but a real state to cultivate.

Please join me as I spend the next year going through this theme. It is this vision that we want to explore.

It is not about religion or meditation or mindfulness, but something that engages the whole intelligence, body, emotions, and soul. This vision will take us down many paths. It will take us through the fields of psychology, business, economics, culture, spirituality, history, leadership, and a whole host of other disciplines.

This is about becoming the complete person. And this has massive implications for our economic systems, how we lead businesses, organizations, our families, and our communities.

Join me as I try to understand the pieces of this vision and how to put it all together. And please do share with other friends, colleagues who might be interested in this. It makes a difference.

How do you think the world would look if this is how leaders led? If you led your life from the place Dr. Kalam writes about?

How to Lead: Empathy, Trust & Respect

Our models on leadership are broken. We know a lot about WHAT it takes to be a leader. We know good leaders are meant to have a vision, motivate others, forge a path, and take their team there.

There are also many truisms related to leadership. For example, Simon Sinek says ‘Leaders Eat Last’. They lead by example, etc. But what’s often lost is the HOW behind it. Behind the lofty words and intentions, there’s a big void where practical skills are ignored.

Continue reading “How to Lead: Empathy, Trust & Respect”

The Secret Spirituality of Leaders

At the top of the tallest sky scrapper in the city, we were sitting in a cozy executive lounge. I was meeting with the CEO of a major national bank, a chance encounter where I was not his employee nor interviewing him for anything. I was not there to sell him anything either.

The conversation we had there was a conversation I saw repeated over and over again. Whether it be in homes of successful entrepreneurs or in late night conversations with powerful government officials in Switzerland. 

I was trying to grasp and understand what made them unique. Often coming from nothing, these incredible men and women have started large organizations: startups and corporate behemoths. They carry considerable influence and power. I have always been curious to know how do they handle life, the tough decisions they face daily.

Leading anyone, let alone yourself can be exhausting. Startup founders, entrepreneurs, and real change-makers face a lonely journey to the top. We see short-sighted thinking, we see mental breakdowns. We see politics and drama play out. 

But in many cases, we also see resilience. We see incredible strength of character. We see growth and progress, and real empathy to do the right thing, even in the face of ridicule. We see values and principles.

In speaking to me candidly about their ups and downs, they have confessed one thing that we barely ever talk about in any of the thousands of articles that are being churned out daily about success, productivity, entrepreneurship, pop-psychology.

It is this: Faith in a Higher Power is the ultimate source of strength.

They have all admitted to prayer as a source of strength as well. One CEO of a major global fashion brand said: “Everyday, I pray to God to give me the strength to do this work. Because I alone am not capable of doing this myself.”

This person is worth $200+ million dollar.

I’ve seen this played out so often. And yet, most success literature doesn’t talk about this at all.

It almost seems that we are hiding from this truth in trying to be secular. Mindfulness and meditation are safe placeholders for spirituality, but they are incomplete. They are aids in deepening your faith, but not an end in themselves.

The true lessons of spirituality are not tied to one particular religion either, they are universal. And these lessons can help us be better leaders. Either for our teams and organizations, or in our private lives as we lead our families and our lives.

That’s what this publication is about.

It is about embracing faith. This is not about proselytizing. For true spiritual principles are timeless and not bound to any particular religion.

The only thing required is faith to move forward and deepen a relationship with your true self and a higher power.

Everything else follows from that.

Has Faith Played a Role In How You Lead?

If so, share your thoughts below on how exactly faith and spirituality helps you lead yourself and others better.