Life is tough. Success is hard. To make it through, you’ve got to find your inner strength and passion. You have to train yourself to watch for opportunities, and seize them effectively if you want to reach a higher level of success and happiness.
Every week, it seems, a new scandal of corruption erupts in the media – and rocks our belief system, our faith in everything.
The numbers grow bigger, more shocking, and frankly unbelievable. The 2G telecom scam cost the nation over Rs.100,000 crore. Hassan Ali is said to owe Rs.70,000 crore in income tax dues. And the Antrix-Devas S-band satellite scam will purportedly make the other two seem like peanuts!
To a nation whose populace struggles to wrap their heads around much smaller numbers, this creates mixed emotions.
Anger. Jealousy. Greed. And worse.
Many years ago, I strongly condemned the media’s tendency to focus on negative events at the cost of ignoring noble acts that inspire and energize.
INDIA TODAY’s editor-in-chief boldly published my letter to him as an editorial, along with a 1999 cover story that featured budding Indian heroes including Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, and Ramadorai (caveat: the now infamous Ramalinga Raju was in it too!)
More media needs to do that. But let’s stop dreaming that it’ll happen. Bad news sells. The badder the news, the bigger the sales.
That’s Economics 101 in the media world!
The danger is that our youth – yes, YOU – may grow fatalistic (“everything’s doomed to fail”), disillusioned (“everyone’s a crook”), and frustrated (“nothing’s worth doing”) by all that’s going on around us.
But it would be a sad mistake to believe that.
Would it matter how many billions you have stashed away if the next quake hit near your home instead of along coastal northern Japan?
Will it make the slightest difference how many pieces of property you own if a nuclear reactor core melts down within 30 kilometers of where you’re standing?
Does how many fancy toys, cars, houses, jewelry and expensive playthings you have bought have any influence on what you can take along with you when you die?
So why do we obsess most of our lives about earning more, having more, collecting more?
It doesn’t take a huge fortune to touch and change someone’s life. It won’t cost you crores, or even lakhs, to enjoy the simple yet deep pleasures of life
A beautiful sunset, a relaxing walk on the sea shore, a smile on an innocent child’s face, a wrinkled grin across the face of an old man you helped across the street, a grateful look of the desperately poor and hungry orphan you fed a meal… those are pleasures to live for.
To look forward to.
You don’t need much to enjoy them. You only have to look for opportunities to serve.
Youth is ambitious and daring. It craves the grand gesture, the bold venture, the paradigm shifting initiative. And certainly such change can happen only when passionate people join hands and say “Enough… Let’s change this!”
Yet by far the biggest change comes from within. From inside each one of us. And it has little to do with wealth, possessions or any material thing.
It comes from an awakening of our souls.
Carl Sagan’s short movie, “A Pale Blue Dot” shifted my perspective significantly. I urge you to watch it. It’s barely 3 minutes long.
It will leave you a better, wiser, calmer person – one who lives and hopes and dreams in a different way than before.
And that’s important today.
There are times where words just don’t matter, where minds grow numb, where emotion itself lies suspended and reality seems unreal. Watching helplessly as Nature’s fury wrecked thriving towns in coastal Japan was one such experience.
Events like this force the realization upon us that everything, even life, is transient and fleeting. That we must stay grounded in gratitude for everything we have. That we must reach out to try and make a difference, no matter how small. That we are all part of a collective humanity, sharing a tenuous existence on a shared planet.
That we all matter.
That we all must love and care for each other.
We should act. Because we are one. No act of help is too small to have an impact, no contribution too worthless to be dismissed.
And that realization will give you all the meaning and purpose you crave for your future.
A few hours before watching the memorial service to my favorite singer and entertainer, Michael Jackson, I was on YouTube seeing “The Making of Live Aid for Africa” – a musical extravaganza spearheaded by Michael and Lionel Ritchie that went on to raise over $60 million dollars in 1985 for fighting hunger in a famine-ravaged Ethiopia.
In addition to reminding me what made MJ special in my heart, the lyrics of the song also set off dormant, deeply buried memories – and set off a bright flash of insight.
“There’s a choice we’re making, We’re saving our own lives, It’s true we make a better day, Just you and me!”
The verse has echoed in my mind for years. For decades.
And with a little shock of surprise, I realized that it, at least in part, had been responsible for my choice of career and direction – one that has touched and healed 47 little hearts until now, and hopefully will help many more.
Yes, it’s a choice I made many years ago. And the reason I was bold enough to make it was, probably, from knowing that by making it, I was “saving my own life”!
Sound corny? Not to an idealistic eighteen year old, no. It held promise – of a brighter future, a happier one.
And guess what? That ‘possible future’ is my daily reality today!
While peers and contemporaries are getting increasingly stressed out running on an ever-speeding up treadmill and getting nowhere, comforted by little more than the regular deposits in their bank accounts, I’m finding deep joy and spiritual nourishment from “making a better day” for people in need. Children with congenital heart defects.
Words have power – to inspire dreams.
Music has power – to infuse them with energy.
I’ve always envied kindergarden teachers for their incredible potential to plant seeds in fertile young minds that, over years, will sprout, grow and bear fruit in rich multiples of what first went into them.
But now I also envy singers, musicians, artists, writers and just about anyone else who has skills, talents and desire to use words and music to create impact.
Impact that goes far beyond anything you can consciously imagine. Impact that touches every little corner of the connected humanity that is our collective consciousness. Impact that manifests in so many strange, unexpected and delightful ways.
A song, co-ordinated, planned and performed by 30 artists on a summer day in 1985, can save thousands of lives in starving Africa – and at the same time inspire a young, aspiring doctor in India to set out on a dreamy path.
“Heal the world, Make it a better place For you, and for me, And the entire human race”
That is impact. That is influence. That is what makes Michael Jackson a legend!
That is what the world celebrated in a fitting tribute to the ‘King of Pop’ on Tuesday, 7th July 2009.
It’s a celebration of the impact that words, music and memories made on millions of hopeful minds – over many decades.
India today is a very different country from the one I grew up in.
Youngsters in India have always been smart – but today, they also have many more opportunities to show off their intelligence, leverage it into tangible benefits, even monetize it in a way that wasn’t easy or intuitive a few decades ago.
But one thing still remains the same. Your average young Indian lacks confidence. Self-belief. The secure inner knowledge that what they possess will translate into success.
When I was a teenager, film stars, business leaders, best-selling authors and politicians were remote, famous figures one could only admire from afar, or at best, dream of gawking at from modestly close quarters. Limited access was indeed cultivated and nurtured as a symbol of fame and greatness.
Today, I count as personal friends, or have at least had the privilege of meeting in person, celebrities like Bollywood movie superstar Amitabh Bachchan, America’s foremost business consultant Jay Abraham, bestselling writer Seth Godin, and a British Member of Parliament, among many more of the ‘Rich and Famous’ club.
And I no longer view this with the same awe and disbelief as a typical Indian youngster would. I’ve learned that they too are people, like me and you, whom you can meet and get to know – if you want to and are persistent enough.
Much of this confidence stems from traveling to many parts of the world, meeting and interacting with well-known personalities in different areas (medicine, sports, movies, politics and more), and therefore realizing how friendly and down-to-earth many of these ‘super stars’ really are – when you get to know them.
I was excited about meeting and shaking hands with Jay Abraham at Detroit, having dinner at the House of Commons in London, and speaking with Frank McKinney on the telephone for half an hour.
Over time, success breeds confidence, and it just keeps growing in an upward spiral.
All this is a prelude to what I really wanted to write about…
How much more impactful would it be if every Indian youngster had this same confidence – early on in life?
Even to this day, I feel uncomfortable (and embarrassed) when someone calls on the phone, or emails me, or even tweets a note, and displays stunned disbelief and extreme excitement at actually communicating with ME – because they didn’t expect to be “talking to a celebrity”!
While I have seen star-struck behavior in other countries too, it is usually reserved for film stars and sports heroes. I’ve never seen pioneer heart surgeons mobbed at conferences, or folks queueing up to shake hands with even very popular writers or marketers.
Why do Indian youngsters have a relatively poor self-image, despite being equal (if not, as I personally believe, better than other nationalities) in competence, skills and education?
I suspect it is competition. Overwhelming, crushing, unnerving competition – that requires an outstanding effort to stand out and shine over a crowd of hundreds of millions of peers.
Many try and give up. Early, small success may help them start off on that upward spiral that never stops growing. And helping give that tiny boost is something I’ve focused on doing lately.
I’m funding a young college student through his physical education course – after which he will find a job as instructor in a high school, setting him financially free to support his elderly mother and family.
I’m mentoring a young man who is one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve taught – and in just a few months, I notice a significant increase in his degree of confidence and a more sure and secure note to his emails.
I’m helping a talented young blogger try and reach for the stars – by seeing if we can drive enough RSS feed subscribers to her blog and get her enough votes to win the ‘Blogging Idol 2’ contest.
I’m doing this because, in my heart, I believe that this confidence boost will completely alter their perspective and create the platform for their overwhelming success in the future.
Confidence – especially confidence in one’s own self – is often hard to gain… but once gained, is much harder to shatter.
Giving our youth this essential morale builder should probably be the responsibility and duty of every successful achiever.
It will change the world they grow up in – and make it a brighter place for all of us. Go, change YOUR world. Today.
I'm Dr.Mani, a pediatric heart surgeon and author. I raise funds to sponsor heart surgery for under-privileged children in India. On this blog, I'll share my thoughts, travel photos, fitness tips and book reviews.