Want greatness? Become selfless!

Because everyone gets thirsty in the line of duty ~ Img: imgur

No, that can’t be true. We were always taught to look after ourselves- everyone else is. “You have to FIGHT for what you want,” they said. “The competition is stiff.”

We took their advice to heart.

It served us to a certain age bracket. When we were babies, all we could think of was milk, food, and sleep. Our own needs. The moment they were unmet, we throw a fit. Enter teenage, it became about our education, our health and slowly our desires. We wished to explore the world, to consume what’s fashionable, taste the exotic, and to experience life in all its rich colours.

This carried on well into our adulthood and until then this behaviour was acceptable, even encouraged.

And then the tables began to turn. Almost suddenly, we are asked to take on Responsibility. We already looked and talked like adults, but now we are even asked to behave like one. It wasn’t a happy realisation for most. We learnt that being a grown up goes beyond wearing elegant suits and sarees and drinking alcohol on Saturday evenings (those are the few perks).

We had grown up wanting to become adults and take decisions for ourselves and now all we wanted was to go back to the sweet childhood days and let someone else deal with the mess of everyday life. It was a trap all along and we fell hook, line and sinker.

It doesn’t end there.

With every year, they add more responsibility on our shoulders. The burden of a project, of a department, of a life-partner. It goes heavier and heavier. Somewhere between all these activities, we realise that our parents are also growing old and fragile and the roles begin to reverse. They also become our responsibility.

I have been uncomfortable with the notion of being a grown-up man. I have resented the roles that were thrust upon me with no prior warning and skills to cope. What followed were a bunch of absurd and embarrassing choices (After, I was done trying to become a tennis pro, I thought may be a career in acting was my thing). It’s taken me a lot of time and effort to discover common sense. To take the responsibility of my family, finances and life. To know when to raise my voice and when to let it go.

Obviously we struggle. We struggle to choose between our partner’s desire to go out for dinner and our priority to watch football, for managing the needs of our retired-parents with our fresh-careers, for balancing the nurturing requirement of our children with our leadership tasks in multi-national corporations.

We have reached a crossroad.

Our choices in these moments will define us. Some of us will mark a premium on money, others on power and a few will choose to dedicate themselves to their family’s needs. It will be a toss-up everyday for the rest of our lives.

That’s where it will end for most, but not for all. There are individuals, few of them, who will able to reconcile these conflicting demands, absorb the pressure and take a leap towards greatness. They will lead lives of maturity and grace and inspiration, while others will stumble from confusion, to disappointment and remain forever discontent.

All the money, fame and influence in the world will not be enough for some. They will want more and more and more for themselves and the more they grasp; the more they will hunger. They are lost, beyond hope.

Meanwhile, those few who achieve a more benign version of success, will think beyond themselves. They will empower others to succeed and in the process ensure their own success. Because they will want nothing for themselves, they will be liberated to make a valuable contributions to their organisation, state and even nation.

Truly great characters like Teresa, Mandela, and King differ in their skills, ideas and stature, but they have something common. They stand out Because of their selflessness.

For their ability to put others (family, community, nation, humanity) ahead of themselves. They can’t stop giving and almost by some miracle they receive in abundance. All the things they don’t desire (admiration, spotlight, influence) follows them wherever they go. The more selfless they act; the greater they become. It is a strange notion to get your head around. Yes. It is against conventional wisdom. Yes. And yet such behaviour continues to inspire us. It lends a deeper meaning to life.1234

In Hitler’s presence, German jumper Luz Long’s advice American Jesse Owens that led him to win the gold at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 whilst Long settled for silver.  “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-carat friendship that I felt for Lutz Long at that moment,” said Owens. 

Does that mean we give up promotions and social mobility, perhaps not? But it can mean that we find a way that our progress doesn’t come at the cost of someone. That we carry people along on a successful journey.

Holes in the selfless ship

There is a variety of individuals who have lived their lives antithetical to this idea, of course. The all-consuming dictators, power-hungry politicians, and greed-obsessed managers. Their selfishness knows no bounds and sometimes yields good results, however, their journey causes more grief and spills more blood and destroys more value than it creates.

That kind of greatness comes at a cost to everyone around them. It causes suffering and pain to the world and it inevitably comes back to haunt these megalomaniacs. Meanwhile, the followers of altruism bring peace to the suffering. Their presence alone builds trust and creates an environment conducive of growth, goodness and productivity.

It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter where you are and what you do. The more selfless you are; the happier, possibly greater, you will become.

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