Your plans may not work out. That could bewilder you. You might seek a
scapegoat, whether someone else or yourself. You may blame circumstances
and wonder why fate is victimizing you. You could feel paralyzed and invent
reasons why you should not attempt anything else at all. If so, think about the
eight million Indians who visit the Himalayan shrine Vaishno Devi every year.
Pilgrims ascend more than 5,300 feet as they walk more than seven miles
from Katra, a city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This arduous hike can
take eight hours.
The trek can go spectacularly wrong. Visitors must not carry any items made
out of animal skins. They must leave their leather purses behind. If you are
prudent, and tuck some money elsewhere, you’ll be fine. Imagine you visited
the shrine, left your purse behind and find yourself stranded in a little town
with no idea how to return to Delhi. Agonizing about your predicament and the
unfairness of it all will not help.
If your return flight is delayed before you can reorganize yourself, you could
be in serious trouble. “They’ll never tell you a flight is canceled. They’ll say
that it’s not operating today – I guess because ‘canceled’ is very definitive and
nothing in India is ever definitive.” Your only hope is to jump in and make
friends with local people and the staff at the airline. More often than not,
people are willing to help.
Lonely in a Virtual Crowd
You live in a “hyper-connected” society, in constant contact with others via
instant messaging, texting and videoconferencing. Yet you might yearn for
“face-to-face” interactions. To feel connected and satisfied with other people in
the real world, begin “accepting people as they are.” Try not to “fix,” “control”
or “judge” your fellow human beings. “Accept the person” you find, not the one
you hope to find. Retreating into yourself is difficult in India, a compulsively
social country. You are expected to attend celebrations like marriages, naming
ceremonies for children, birthdays and funerals. Such togetherness, while not
perfect, helps you cope with an increasingly unpredictable world and replaces
more ritualized religion. Indians are comfortable with open displays of affection
– men often hold hands with their male friends.
Most Indians are not afraid to tell their friends and family their innermost
hopes and dreams. Such sharing builds strong human connections that give
people resilience and persistence in the face of the most trying circumstances.
You learn that “it’s OK to be pushed outside of your comfort zone.”
Stop “overanalyzing,” overplanning or trying to predict what will happen
tomorrow. Not even a genius can foretell the future. Even making good
guesses is hard, because the world changes so quickly and is so
interconnected. Your search for more data can actually do more harm than
good, leading to decision paralysis. Refusing to act until you find an optimum
solution can bring you to a standstill. Instead weigh one option against
Constantly trying to plan your next move reduces your consciousness of the
present. That may lead you to miss out on the best parts of life. Don’t
excessively ruminate about other people. Apply that energy to what you can
control – your own actions. Trusting your instincts and judgment will lead you
to make better choices. As you rely on your instincts, they will fine-tune
themselves and lead you to your goals more easily.
Indians learn to “adapt and improvise” because they live in unpredictable
circumstances with few resources. Most Indians have arranged marriages.
Relatives and friends select a suitable bride or groom. In the past, the two did
not even meet until their wedding day. Arranged marriages work because
younger Indians grow up with the knowledge that life is difficult. They believe
they can sort out their differences with other people and they don’t expect a
Society teaches you to believe that you must work hard to provide your family
with comforts without which they cannot be happy. This notion is false. What
you work so hard to provide may not guarantee happiness. Instead, you could
be blind to far simpler things – a shared moment of hilarity, a carefree dance
or a simple treat that you and your family enjoy together.
Indian weddings are chaotic. No one ever holds a dress rehearsal, yet
everything falls into place. You must accept minor imperfections like a missing
horse, tardy caterers and relatives who decide to stop to enjoy a drink though
everything is woefully behind schedule. The bride and groom get married and
everyone has fun in the meanwhile. If you focus on things going wrong, you’ll
miss out on the magic and unexpected pleasures.
Every morning, most Indians spend a few minutes in prayer. They recognize
the essential uncertainty of life and believe in a greater power. Many Indians
visit a temple during the course of the day. Indians encounter as much
anarchy and complexity in temples as they do elsewhere; India has many
gods, and people worship them in different ways. When you visit a temple,
you must purify yourself and participate in a number of rituals. Numerous
other worshippers are there with you. In India, praying is individual rather than
collective. Indian meditation and prayer almost force you to cease conscious
thought and get on with doing things.
“Navigate the Chaos”
To work your way through confusion, you must act. Taking charge of your
intentions – how you think and react to situations – provides greater certainty
than trying to control everything around you. To be more confident, stop
thinking excessively and start doing. Take Tushar, an Indian pharmaceutical
representative in Mumbai who faces a competitive market where products
may not vary widely – except on price. No amount of traditional sales analysis
can change his market or his harsh working conditions. When Tushar
attempted all the prescribed sales methods, he ended up more frustrated. He
has to manage a situation in which he has little control. The only way he could
cope was to stop worrying about things he could do little about. As he says,
“Rather, it is better to fix yourself and your mind than to try to understand other
people. You can get lost in trying to think about what others say, think or do.”
He learned from his “guru” that being too concerned about what other people
said or did was pointless. Rather, the guru suggested, he must focus his
energies on trying to become a better person.
Most people have a problem with timing and want it to be precise. Yet, they
wait for the right partner, right job or the right home. Recognize there is no
perfect anything. One way to learn that is to visit Delhi and try to board a local
bus. The Delhi Transport Corporation runs hundreds of buses. They are
always heavily overloaded with, apparently, no space for new passengers.
Their drivers never come to a complete stop. When a bus approaches, you
have to start running alongside and jump on. This is scary, but once you’re
safely on board, the sense of achievement is immensely uplifting. “There is
real joy and freedom in seeing something coming and, no matter how
imperfect it seems, reaching out to take action, and in having some
assurance” that when you begin to run and “grab on tight, helping hands will
often help those who help themselves.”
A Higher Force
You may face problems so overwhelming that you want to give up. Deep
within you is something that can help you through: your ability to help
someone else. External disturbances may sometimes drown out this
understanding. Dr. Thakor Patel retired from the US Navy. While in the Navy,
he worked on ships that provided disaster relief. He created a program to
provide basic health care to villages in India. The program trained health care
workers, like Prakash, to conduct simple medical tests and to spread
awareness about hygiene. Prakash does not make much money – the
program pays him about $100 a month – and he has little security, because
the program’s funding depends on the generosity of donors in the US.
Prakash placed the needs of others over himself and that drives him to
Many people visit Indian gurus for answers to questions that plague them.
One such guru lives two hours outside the Indian city of Pune. He will ask you
if God answers you when you worry about a question that perplexes you. If
you say God does not answer, he will tell you that is God’s way of giving you
the time and silence to look within yourself. What you seek is not somewhere
out there – in India, for instance – but within you.
No Straightforward Path
You cannot follow some smooth, straightforward path to your goals and
happiness. Life more closely resembles walking through a great web of
“chance” and “coincidence.” Don’t obstruct the flow that got you where you are
today. Given life’s “sheer luck, randomness and chance,” you didn’t reach the
present “in a straight line” and the path forward won’t be straight, either.
The Butterfly Effect
No one has mastery over life. When circumstances force you to a standstill
and you give up wanting control, things will change. If you see yourself “as
more than human and feebly attempt to make predictions, to cast aspersions,
to scheme and overplan,” you will “get stuck, because chaos spares no one.”
You can reach your “fullest potential for a fulfilling and happy life” by
relinquishing your egotistical efforts and “accepting the unpredictable nature of
About the Author
Bob Miglani, whose family moved to the US from India when he was nine, is
at a Fortune 500 firm and the author of several books.