This post is for the seekers of truth. No, no, not the cosy kind you discover by buying into some philosophy and only become more complacent (often, rigid too) in life. Instead, it’s the truth you face to crush your fears and insecurities. I am talking about the power of your mind to silence the naysayer in you. I am speaking to the dreamer in you, the one who wants to do something magnificent with your life. Allow me to take a slightly unusual example to help you see the truth. Your eureka moment, if you will (without slipping into a bathtub or running through the streets au naturel). 1 In simple words, I’m putting aside the scriptures and sharing with you an important lesson based on entrepreneurship. 

What would you do if you had five dollars to start a new business? More precisely, what would you do with just five dollars and two hours?

Tina Seelig in What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 talks about the first assignment she gave her students at the Stanford d.school. I quote (I’ve shaved it for brevity):

The rules were simple: each of the fourteen teams received an envelope with five dollars of “seed funding” and were told they could spend as much time as they wanted planning. However, once they cracked open the envelope, they had two hours to generate as much money as possible. Every team would get three minutes to present their “business” afterwards.

What would you do if you were given this challenge? When I ask this question to most groups, someone usually shouts out “Go to Las Vegas” or “Buy a lottery ticket.” This gets a big laugh. These folks would take a significant risk in return for a small chance of earning a big reward. 

The teams that made the most money didn’t use the five dollars at all. They realized that focusing on the money actually framed the problem way too tightly.

Here’s what the top three teams did:

One group identified a problem common in a lot of college towns—the frustratingly long lines at popular restaurants on Saturday nights. They paired off and booked reservations at several restaurants. As the times for their reservations approached, they sold each reservation for up to twenty dollars to customers who were happy to avoid a long wait. 2

Another team set up a stand in front of the student union where they offered to measure bicycle tire pressure for free. If the tires needed filling, they added air for one dollar.

Each of these projects brought in a few hundred dollars, and their fellow classmates were duly impressed. 

However, the team that generated the greatest profit determined that the most valuable asset they had was neither the five dollars nor the two hours. Instead, their most precious resource was the three-minute presentation time in class. They sold it to a company that wanted to recruit students from the class. The team created a three-minute commercial for that company and showed it to the students during their presentation time. They recognized they had a fabulously valuable asset—creative students who were looking for jobs—just waiting to be mined. 3

So here’s what I deduced from this: your truth and purpose in life will come from two crucial points. A, what is your most valuable asset and, B, what do you value the most? Capitalize on A to get to B. Yes, there will be hurdles and a mountain of challenges but, we need to approach the whole issue of constraints with a fresh mind to come up with creative solutions. Whatever it is that you wish to accomplish, there is a voice in you that is going to hold you back already. This patronizing sound inside you has persuaded you on countless occasions that you must not embark on anything adventurous that may rattle the cage of false certainty and safety you live in. It doesn’t want change, it wants control. But history bears witness to the triumph and glory of the human mind. Those people who changed the course of humanity did so because they believed in themselves when no one else did. And more importantly, they cared about what they valued. And what they valued was not the riches (or the outcome) but the sheer joy of the journey they had been on. 

To break free of the mold that has come to shape you and define you, here are four simple points to get you started. Each reflection has three fundamental questions:

1. Challenge your assumptions

What is stopping you? What are your constraints? But, why? We all have our reasons and excuses to not take that leap of faith or to maintain the status quo. More often than not, those are nothing but ramblings of a weak mind. If you don’t mind, it won’t matter. Whatever it is that you have assumed to be true by default, write it down and challenge it. Creative ideas will drizzle at first and then they will rain buckets. Your mind will come up with answers, solutions, and better questions.

2. Develop a thick skin

Does their opinion matter? Am I taking myself too seriously? But, why? There’s practically nothing to be gained by trying to be everyone’s sweetheart. Some people will dislike you, your ideas and work. And that’s fine. If you are serious about setting yourself free so you may go on to liberate yourself materially, spiritually and in every other way, you need to develop a thick skin. Thicker than a rhino’s. If must you choose something from a crocodile, take skin, not tears. (His fangs, you ask? Those are decided on a case-by-case basis.) All I am saying is that stop getting hurt at every little thing and increase your pain threshold. I think it was Steve Jobs who said, “If you want to make everyone happy, go sell ice-cream.”

3. Be honest about your intentions

What do I want from others (universe/customers/stakeholders/whoever)? Why am I really doing this? But, why? I remember many years ago a lady said to me that the *prime* reason she wanted to get rich was so she could help the world. That was the only reason she had started a business, she said. Stories like these are dangerous. They restrict personal growth and move you away from the truth. “If it’s just helping the world, shut up shop and start an NGO,” I said to her. As you inch closer to your goal, as you begin to see your truth, the purity of your intention is going to assume monumental significance.

4. Focus, focus, focus

What problem are you solving? What do you value the most? But, why? Get rid of everything that holds you back. Anything that adds to the clutter in your life, remove it. Annihilate every distraction. Focus on what matters. Shift your entire attention to what’s important. In the same book, Tina Seelig, talks about building T-Shape individuals. That is, having a breadth of knowledge of many things and depth in at least one thing. No matter how bored you may be doing the same thing, the truth is that your most bankable asset is what you know really well. If you are prepared to strive for depth and toil hard for it, you will come back to the surface with your hands full of pearls.

A woman traveling alone on an airplane spoke to her co-passenger who was traveling with two small children.
“I’d give ten years of my life to have a couple of fine, active youngsters like those,” she said.
“That’s just about what they cost,” the mother of the two replied.

Be prepared to grind seven days a week if you are really serious about chasing your dream. There are no shortcuts. You want fun? Stop complaining and work through the boring stuff with the patience of a tree. You want to fall in love with something? Invest yourself in what you value the most and devote yourself completely to that. Love is hiding under that boredom like a ladybug under the fallen leaves in autumn. The good news is that you do have a choice: hard work or harder work. Take your pick. This little boy’s mom told him to follow his dreams and in response, he went back to bed to get some more sleep.

The only way to get back into your dream is to be wide awake.

It’s perfectly fine if you want to marry your couch and binge-watch Netflix. I am not stopping you if you want to justify every act of procrastination by saying, “I deserve a break.” If you are happy to squander away your talents and brainpower on things that don’t matter, it’s entirely your prerogative and I am no one to judge you. If, however, you wish that life took a different turn for you. Or, that you could wake up from a dream only to live a more beautiful one, then reflecting on the four points (and acting on them) above will transform you in unimaginable ways.

You are only as limited as your beliefs. There are a billion things that cannot be taught, but there is nothing that cannot be learned. 

Go on, let life know that you have arrived.

Peace.
Swami

Important Announcements

  1. All Things Guru: I look forward to seeing you all in the Zoom Satsang on 24-Jul-2021 at 7:30 am IST. You can access the event on the Live page here. You can ask your question using this special link here.
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