Success is a magic word, and I believe in it too. When people are given the opportunity, almost all will pursue some kind of success. But matching opportunity with success is trickier than one might suppose. If Bill Gates had had the opportunity to fill Mother Teresa’s shoes, or vice versa, what would have happened? We spend a lot of time testing out different choices, walking down paths that don’t in the end really work. Some people wind up with a misfit existence, and then the possibility of the worst kind of failure – being a failure in your own eyes – becomes a real possibility.
In India there’s a term for the life that leads a person to the right path of success: Dharma. The word comes from the Sanskrit verb “to uphold,” implying that the universe will support you when you find the path that is right for you. How do you know if you are in your Dharma? It’s a delicate matter, because everyone is complex enough that mind, personality, interests, education, and background pull in different directions. Even in India, where the concept of dharma is commonplace, the traditional way to follow your dharma was to do whatever your family always did, whether it was making shoes, farming, or ruling a kingdom.
Modern life gives far more latitude for choice, and yet external opportunities, important as they are, don’t solve the question of how to find your dharma. The whole issue quickly dissolves into confusion. If the universe or God or destiny wants me to live the best life, why doesn’t it send a sign I can follow? Actually, it does. In the midst of everyday life, the signals that direct us toward the best existence are constantly being given.
Positive signals – “You’re on the right track”
- You welcome the next challenge.
- You feel confident that you can meet the challenge.
- You enjoy what you’re doing.
- You feel freer today than you were a year ago.
- There’s a potential inside you that’s blossoming into reality.
- There’s something new to discover and explore.
- You are being true to yourself.
- External rewards are secondary to inner fulfillment.
- When you look around, your surroundings fit the life you want to live.
For many generations, these signals didn’t pertain to the work a person did, they fit retirement. After holding down a job that brought only a fraction of personal fulfillment, one looked forward to getting out of the rat race, leaving the grind behind, and really living. The baby boomers, and even more so their children, refused to accept the traditional model, however, and now it’s fair to say that given the opportunity, most of us want everything on this list today, not somewhere in our distant “golden years.” On the other hand, contrary forces still pull the other way.
Negative signals – “This is where you have to be.”
- You can’t wait to go home from work.
- You feel underused and under-appreciated.
- You work for the paycheck.
- You find it hard to motivate yourself in your job.
- There’s pressure to conform, and you give in to the pressure.
- You don’t want to be here, but you can’t figure out how to leave.
- External burdens and duties severely limit your choices.
- Your surroundings contain a good deal of stress.
If you consider the difference between the positive and negative signals coming to you, it’s obvious that you want to move in a direction that takes you closer to the one and away from the other. This needs to become your project, something you take very seriously. The following elements help:
- Respect your own feelings.
- Don’t accept the values and opinions of others.
- Be open to change.
- Don’t define yourself by how much you earn.
- Associate with people you admire and who can teach you something.
- Express your aspirations instead of hiding them.
- Minimize the behavior of a victim (gossiping, complaining, stewing in your own resentment, listening to the voice of self-pity and helplessness).
- Join the team that offers you the most challenge.
- Don’t coast.
- Don’t settle.
- Don’t expect too little from life, which is a field of infinite possibilities.