Corporate Kurukshetra – Lessons from Arjun Part 2

Continuing with the corporate rendition of 12 lessons I derive from the life and times of Arjun, here is Part 2. This part will cover 3 lessons: 1. Embrace Realities, 2. Upgrade Skills and 3. Exploit Situations. For Arjun’s life story, please refer to “Life Lessons from Arjun”. Here, I will stick to the lessons for the Corporate Warrior.

1. Embrace Realities

You might often feel you have more work on your plate every week for the money that gets credited into your salary account every month. You might also feel that every two steps you think you take towards that much awaited promotion, the envelope moves three steps further. You might also feel the people around your cubicle get it a bit easier than you do. Did someone else end up getting that interesting project you were looking forward to? Did someone else get (or usurped) credit for something you put your heart and soul into? Do you think you have the messiest part of the job to do? Or do you think you’re being blamed for someone else’s created mess? And you’re of course expected to now clean up. Did someone steal the thunder out of your presentation? Do you also feel helpless in the middle of two strong opinions? Or you think you’re never heard? The list is endless and you might feel you’re not getting the recognition or rewards that you think your work makes you worthy of. Well, you’re not in Disney Land and this isn’t a fairy tale! I am sure you know you’re not perfect. Situations aren’t always either. It isn’t always fair and will never will be. Don’t expect things to always go the way you wish or plan. However well you orchestrate, you’re not playing all the instruments yourself. There are times you’re going to be hit hard. On the chin, below the belt and/or where it hurts most.

You might have on many occasions, thought of changing jobs and you would have also changed. I am sure you realize that realities are but the same. Realities will catch up with you, wherever you go. You run hard and they’ll run harder. The arena will keep changing, but the rules of the game will not change. Good if you already know all this but better if you truly embrace these realities and gear up!

2. Upgrade Skills

Your qualification(s) landed you in your first job you got. Its role is over. It was like the key to the main entrance of your office. It opened the gate for you and now you’re in. For you to make way ahead into cubicles, cabins and meeting rooms of different sizes, you need more keys – these keys are more Skills! Every specific task to be completed or every milestone to be crossed needs specific skills and no one has it all. Learning a new skill is actually the easy part. The difficult part is identifying the fact that you don’t have it and that you do need it. More often than not, people think they’re Arjun already. At times, you might be lucky if a colleague (can be a senior, peer or junior) comes and tells you that you lack a skill and you need to do something about it. That’s where their role ends. When you’re told that you suck at something, don’t let your ego play a bigger role than your ears. Don’t generalize feedback as criticism. Constructive feedback is good, but it doesn’t come when you’re in ‘the mood to listen’. You’ll be lucky if you get it when ‘you need it’ and when you can ‘still do something’ about it. You’re not in school and there is no curriculum in place. No one in office is getting paid to teach you. So you’ll definitely need to be of some help to people who can help you learn new things. You’ll be told once or twice and beyond a point, you’ll have to spend time assessing your current skillsets. Identify colleagues who you think are better than you and who would be happy to help you with things you’re not good at. In the pursuit of upgrading your skills, partner with someone who’ll help you overcome your weaknesses and reinforce your strengths. Follow a rule to do two things at work – one, keep doing more of what you’re good at and time permitting, help others with that skill. This will help you remain good at it. Two, do something you’ve never done before so you keep learning new skills. More skills will give you more kills, so when you to go for the kill, ensure you have the right skill!

3. Exploit Situations

When was the last time you did something which wasn’t a part of your key responsibility area or domain? The next time such an opportunities comes up, grab it with both hands. The next time you see someone in your team unable to do or not ignoring something that’s supposed to be done, do it yourself. But before volunteer, ensure you’re done with what’s assigned to you. What you volunteer for usually does not have an impact on your increment or bonus. It may just result in some nice to hear words in your appraisal. If you end up volunteering, ensure you do the needful because once you sign up, you need to own up as well. Ensure the right people know you did it. These ‘extra’ things you do will only take more hours, sweat and will be painful at times. These are a means to prove your worth in your team and exhibit how valuable you are to the organization. In fact, be on the lookout for more work. Scout for situations that demand some extraordinary effort. Don’t hesitate to take up something more than what you’re expected to do or paid for. Just look around, your opportunities are all over waiting to be plucked. You only need to keep your eyes and ears open to notice them. You’re lucky if you’re surrounded by colleagues who are laggards as they offer you opportunities on a plate and sooner than you think, the situation will be noticed by all concerned.

Volunteering is not the only way. New or more tasks can be assigned to you for three reasons. One, an important task has to be completed. You’re known to be good at it and expected to deliver the needful with finesse. So do it and delight your stakeholders. Two, you’re known to suck at something but you ought to be good at it. You’re expected to come out of your comfort zone. Make an honest effort and use the opportunity to be better at something you’ve never been good at. Three, you’re not good at it and expected to fail in delivering the right quality on time. People are waiting for that to happen and you should know why. Do whatever it takes, ensure you succeed. Shatter their plans, show them who you are and earn respect. Whatever the reason you land up with more things to do, you have but one choice in each situation –succeed.

Corporate Kurukshetra – Lessons from Arjun Part 1

Basis the 12 lessons I derive from the life and times of Arjun, I now have a corporate rendition of the same. This is the first part which will cover 3 lessons: 1. Start Early, 2. Exhibit Focus and Courage and 3. Get a Guru. For Arjun’s life story, please refer to “Life Lessons from Arjun”. Here, I will stick to the lessons for the Corporate Warrior.

1. Start Early

If you’re doing something in life that you originally didn’t plan, you’re fine. Even the best laid plans don’t work and you end up some place else. It’s normal. But only if you’re now really in love with what you do. You might only survive and not excel if you’re dragging yourself to work each morning. If you’re waiting for the working hours to end and if three out of four weeks in a month your Facebook status reads “TGIF” on a Friday, your work life is a mess. If the work you do doesn’t really excite you or give you a kick, I am afraid you’re yet to find your bow and arrow! You might say its too late in your career now and stakes are too high to start something you really love. its a normal thing to feel and say, but then, I don’t think Arjun was normal. Find something you love or start loving what you do. Master it so people around you can look up to you as the “go to” person and place their bets on you!

2. Exhibit Focus and Courage

You need to first have your own objectives and stick to them. I am not referring to yearly goals here. Not even your quarterly targets. I am talking about your daily ‘things to do’ When working towards an objective, how often do you digress or get distracted? For now, do not count, focus on reading. How often does something urgent or someone important or some great idea take your attention off from what you’re supposed to be doing? These ‘somethings’ have an agenda of their own. If these instances are frequent, you’re going to have issues with managing timelines and eventually going to be labelled as a laggard. Your agenda is yours alone and without focus, you’re only going to be doing disservice to yourself!

On any routine work day, peculiar situations can pop up from nowhere. If you’re not taking them head on and passing the buck you’re not helping your own case. You might not be expected to solve the problem singlehandedly. You might not even have the authority to take unilateral decisions. But, if do not show courage to be seen or heard in such situations, you do not exist. A “not my problem to solve” attitude will sooner or later become a problem. There are times when the effort earns you more chips than the results. You won’t need to search for opportunities to show courage – they’re all around your desk. Remember, you’re being watched!

3. Get a Guru

At whatever career stage you are you need a Guru. Learnings can and should come from anyone and anywhere but you need that one person who is your ‘holistic’ Guru. Who knows you in and out, your strengths and weaknesses, where you’re coming from and where you’re headed. Of course the Guru should know more than you do on the subject matter and should be worldly wiser than you are. Find someone who is a source of both strategic advice and tactical tips. A Guru will give you or vet your directions and plans, suggest improvisations. Your Guru will help you overcome challenges and also prepare you for bigger ones in future. The advantages are many, if you’re ready to grab them. Now comes the part of finding the Guru – which for most is the toughest part. No one is going to come to you with an invitation or an offer. If you think you have someone to look up to as Guru you’ll have to walk up and talk. You’re no longer in school and no one is being paid to teach you. You’ll need to show signs of inquisitiveness. You’ll need to be open about your weaknesses, anxieties and tensions – that’s where you need to leave behind your ego No one is also waiting to be your Guru. You will need to build your case by showing what you are, what you can do and what you wish to do. Share your ambitions. With all this in place and once you have a Guru to guide you, be ready to do two things. One, come back with tales of what worked or didn’t work for you. And two, be ready for reprimand if you fail to deliver on a plan. Remember, once you have a Guru the plan is not yours alone. By the way, nothing and absolutely nothing come free. There are no exceptions to this rule, not even your Guru. What you take today, has to be returned someday. You’ll need to payback. Plan for it. Even Arjun had to!

12 Lessons From The Life of Arjun

12 Lessons From The Life of Arjun

The Mahabharat is an ancient Indian epic. The story has Arjun as the protagonist and Krishna as his companion. Incidences from Arjun’s life teach us 12 valuable lessons as follows:

  1. Start Early

Arjun, since his early days in Gurukul, identified his interest in Archery. Of all the weapons available, he chose to go with his ‘first love’ – the bow and the arrow as his primary weapons.

We all need to identify our interests sooner than later. Identifying an interest helps channelize energies towards learning, exploring and experimenting. These convert interests into passions and become the stepping stone towards mastery.

2. Exhibit Focus and Courage

Having realized his passion for archery, Arjun showed high levels of focus. One day, Guru Drona tested the shooting skills of all his pupil by placing a wooden bird on a tree. Of all the warrior princes taking the test, Arjun & Arjun alone could see nothing but the eye of the bird – the ‘bull’s eye’ so to say – thereby exhibiting focus. In another instance, Guru Drona was attacked by a Crocodile. While his mates ran amok for help, Arjun was the only one who attacked the Crocodile with his arrows – thus exhibiting courage. The crocodile was nothing but a ruse used by Guru Drona to test the reaction of his pupil.

Focus keeps the unnecessary away and makes things easy & courage drives action which drives results. Focus helps us keep our eye on the target and courage fuels us in the direction towards the target. Also, when we exhibit focus and courage at the right time, we get noticed by the right people.

3. Get a Guru

Arjun’s focus and courage impressed Guru Drona. These qualities in Arjun got him special attention from his Guru who took keen interest in developing his skills as an archer. Guru Drona took it upon himself to train Arjun to be the finest archer the world has ever seen. Not only did he develop Arjun, he also killed Arjun’s competition at an early stage – having noticed Eklavya as a potential threat to Arjun’s supremacy, Guru Drona asked Eklavya to cut off his right thumb, thereby incapacitating Eklavya permanently.

Finding a Guru is a competitive advantage and the sooner we find one, the better. We need to exhibit the right qualities to get noticed by a Guru, who would then ensure we move ahead in the right direction and would help us hone our skills. Not just ensuring you get the right skills, a great Guru would also ensure you constantly upgrade. Your Guru would be your sounding board and a source of motivation.

4. Embrace Realities

Arjun and his brothers (together known as the Pandavs) never had good relations with their cousins (the Kauravs). The Pandavs demonstrated patience, righteousness and a firm resolve to sort issues amicably under the leadership of Yudhishthir (eldest of the Pandav brothers and known for this honesty) but the Kauravs showed no signs of reciprocation and left no stone unturned to make the Pandav brother’s life miserable. Being the finest archer and a prince, Arjun was subject to insult, injustice and deceit. Arjun never questioned the leadership of Yudhishthir who lost their kingdom in gamble and the brothers had to face exile and anonymity. Arjun took of all this in his stride and embraced cruel realities of life.

Life isn’t all easy and fair, even you’re Arjun! The sooner we realize this, the quicker we’re able to plan ahead. There are and will be times when our capabilities and skills won’t help us. Circumstances tend to get the better of us at some point in time or the other. It’s critical to approach things that aren’t under our control in three steps: accept and assess the situation, assess our own strengths & weaknesses and lastly, plan and work towards getting our way.

5. Upgrade Skills

Arjun realized that the differences with Kauravs would only result in a war. Neither would Kauravs give in nor could the Pandavs live all their lives in exile. Having experienced and lived with the bitter realities of life for years, Arjun decided to make the most of the years in exile to upgrade his skills as an archer. He knew the war with Kaurav’s would be a tough one, with many a mighty warriors on their side, though only a handful could stand a chance in front of an archer like Arjun. Arjun, the finest archer who had now mastered all the skills of archery known to mortals, now set out on his quest for divine weapons – spending months in meditation to please the Gods! Arjun’s mediation bore fruit with Shiva and other Gods blessing Arjun with their special divine weapons. Arjun did not stop at that. He visited his God father Indra in heaven to get more divine weapons and trained further on their use. Indra asked Arjun to fight and eliminate demons as a fee for this training.

Even the finest need to constantly upgrade. Howsoever good we may be at what we do or know, we need to be cognizant of the bigger challenges that lie ahead and prepare to overcome them. Not only does this preparation take a lot of time, effort and sweat, it also comes at a price. The price of losing sleep, sacrificing our comfort zones and more often than not, giving something in return. In some cases being prepared also comes at the price of living with uncomfortable situations.

6. Exploit Situations

While in heaven, Indra asked Arjun to learn music and dance from the celestial artists, which he did. During his stay, a celestial nymph called Urvashi fell for Arjun’s looks and he rejected her advances. Urvashi took the rejection as an insult and cursed him to lose his manhood. Indra later reduced the duration of the curse from a lifetime to a year. Pandav’s last year in exile was spent in the kingdom of Viraat and each of the brothers assumed a guise. This is where Arjun implemented Urvashi’s curse and turned into a eunuch called Brihannala. He used his music and dance skills to train the princess of Viraat. That’s how Arjun used Urvashi’s curse and the music he learnt in heaven to his advantage. The Kaurav’s suspected the presence of Pandav’s in Viraat and waged war on Viraat. Uttar, the Viraat prince decides to take on the attack and Brihannala volunteered to be his charioteer. Noticing the might of the Kaurav army, Uttar decides to flee and that’s when Brihannala revels his real identity. Arjun then swaps position with Uttar and singlehandedly compels the Kaurav army to retreat – thus giving this foes a taste of his fierce arrows!

Life will land us in situations that we never anticipate or plan for. We head towards a specific plan and end up, whilst chasing our goals, in peculiar and undesirable situations. First, we need to exhibit high levels of flexibility to address the demands of such situations. Without being flexible, we might end up converting a mole into a mountain. And second, we should strive to convert such situations to our advantage. If we do not salvage the situation and do not get something out of it, we end up being slaves. Getting into undesirable situations, when not everything is in our control is normal but making the most of such situations is something extraordinary. 

7. Forge Alliances

A friendship based on mutual respect and affection with Krishna was the most important alliance for Arjun. Krishna played an important role in Arjun’s life by guiding and mentoring the Pandav’s through thick and thin, particularly Arjun. Arjun too reciprocated by demonstrating his strong faith and allegiance. When given a choice, Arjun chose Krishna over Krishna’s powerful army for the biggest war of his life. Vowed not to raise weapons, Krishna played Arjun’s charioteer. Earlier, when the Pandav’s decided to make the forests of Khandav their home, Arjun & Krishna teamed up with the God of Fire, Agni and the God of Rain, Varun to clear the forest and make way for their kingdom – Indraprasth. Agni burnt the forest to quench his thirst, whilst Varun blessed Arjun with his celestial bow. Agni also later presented Arjun his chariot with four white horses. Whilst the forest burnt, Arjun saved a demon called Mayasur, who later helped build the magnificent Mayasabha – the hall which became symbolic of the grandeur of the Pandav rule. Mayasur also gifted Arjun with a divine conch, the sound of which later became Arjun’s signature war cry. Arjun’s marriages with Ulupi, Subhadra & Chitrangada were a part of sealing alliances with powerful kingdoms.

All of us need partnerships with people who would add value to our lives. We all need strong alliances which create win-win situations and when based on mutual respect, the alliances tend to sustain over a period of time. All alliances come at a cost and that’s how they need to be so that they are valued. You would need to give something to get something. Your true allies will watch your back when you get on with your act and if the need arises, would also fill in for you. Identifying, winning and maintaining strong alliances end up giving us a strong edge.

8. When in Doubt, Ask

After all peace making initiatives failed, the mighty armies of the Pandav and Kaurav cousins, along with their allies, headed towards battle ground Kurukshetra. Arjun, sat on his four horse chariot he got from Agni, equipped with his celestial bow, divine arrows and with Krishna as his charioteer. His heart sank at the thought of fighting the fiercest battle of his live with none other than his grandsire, gurus, cousins and friends. He thought to himself if a kingdom would be worth the bloodshed of his very own and a though of retiring from the battle before it starts crossed his mind. He shared his doubt with Krishna. What followed was a conversation between Krishna & Arjun with the former speaking of the world, one-self, supreme-self, senses and action.

Never approach things half-heartedly. It’s a recipe for failure. Seeking guidance from someone with an objective of clearing your mind of doubts is not something bad or a sign of weakness. Ask, seek and show inquisitiveness to someone who can guide your path and obviously who you thinks knows more on the subject than you do. It will ensure you single-mindedly focus on execution of your plans, rather than concentrating on the ifs and buts.  

9. When in Need, Seek Help

Having his doubts cleared and realizing the purpose of life, Arjun got on with the fierce battle in Kurukshetra. The toughest to face for all of Pandavs was Bhishma – the great grandfather of the warring cousins. Bhishma had the boon to decide the time of his death – making it impossible to kill him. He was also a warrior par excellence – making him unstoppable. Bhishma was bound by his own oath to protect the Kaurav’s till his last breath – which made him go all out on the Pandav forces. Bhishma’s wrath was something the Pandav forces could not handle. The only thing that could be done was to make him drop his weapons and incapacitate him. Arjun could do the latter, provided someone compelled Bhishma to do the former. Shikhandi, a general in the Pandav forces was seen by Bhishma as a woman reborn in a man’s body. Krishna & Arjun realized that Bhishma, being a warrior with high principles, would never attack someone he sees as a woman. Thus Shikandi’s presence with Arjun in the battlefield became necessary, so Arjun could do the needful. Arjun, walked up to Shikandi for help. Shikandi, a less celebrated warrior in the Pandav ranks, was delighted to help. Before dusk the next day, Bhishma lay on a bed of arrows. Far from the battlefield.

Even Arjun couldn’t achieve everything on his own. How so ever strong you are, you will need help and you can’t shy away from the reality. Help need not always come from people at par your capabilities or greater. Help also need not always come from someone with credentials as strong as yours. Situations and circumstances tend to put everyone on the same pedestal making each one of us equal and important under given circumstances. Help also never arrives on its own, it needs to be called for. We need to first realize the need for help, very objectively scan the potential sources and leaving our egos behind, and seek.

10. Bear Losses

The war in Kurukshetra was not a one sided affair. With each passing day, warriors on either side kept falling. Arjun too was subject to the grief of loss of his allies and relatives. The loss that really shattered Arjun was the death of his son Abhimanyu. Having barely crossed his teens, Abhimanyu was a brave heart. Trained under Krishna himself, he was a mirror image of his father when it came to archery. On the thirteenth day of the war, Drona lead the Kaurav army into a circular formation with the objective of capturing Yudhisthir. None on the Pandav side except Arjun and Krishna could tackle such a formation but they were engaged in another fierce battle. Abhimanyu knew the way to break into the formation, but lacked the know how to come out of it. Aware of the fatal consequences, the boy volunteered to lead the Pandav counter attack, but was left alone inside the circular formation. Facing the mighty Kaurav warriors, Abhimanyu fired a barrage of sharp arrows. None were left unhurt as Abhimanyu showed his mettle. The best of the best bled fighting the brave son of Arjun and were so frustrated that they pounced on him together like hungry wolves. There was a deafening silence in the Pandav camp that evening. Abhimanyu had saved the day for his side but never returned to meet Arjun. It was the saddest day of life for the wailing father!

There are times you will be on the receiving end. Nothing in life, worth to be called an achievement, will come without bringing losses and blows. Whilst we do our bit, things will go against us and we will need to sustain stressful situations. In the war zone, no one is immune to losses. With the joy of gains, also comes the sorrow of losses. Situations come in packages and not everything that comes in the package is desirable. A loss can lead to learning and can lead to a stronger resolve. What we make out of our losses, howsoever sever they may be, is in our own hands.

11. Never Forgive, Never Forget

Abhimanyu was cremated with full honours privileged to a brave warrior. Arjun’s sorrow was overpowered by anger. His blood boiling with rage and veins throbbing, Arjun vowed to avenge his son’s death by killing Jayadrath, who did not let any help reach out to Abhimanyu as he singlehandedly fought trapped in the battle formation. Arjun also announced that he would commit suicide by self-immolation if he failed to avenge by sunset the very next day. Arjun’s suicide would lead to a Pandav defeat. No one slept that night with the Pandavs tense and Kauravs planning. With the whole Kaurav army standing between Arjun and Jayadrath the next day on the battlefield, Arjun’s rampage was epic! Flanked by other Pandav warriors, Arjun tore apart the protective formation. With help and good advice from Krishna, Arjun fired a divine arrow, knocking off Jayadrath’s head. Arjun not only avenged the death of Abhimanyu, but in the process also demoralized enemy forces to a great extent.

We forgive once and we have to forgive always. We forget and there is no lesson learnt or taught. We cannot be on the receiving end always. In the war zone, forgiving and forgetting is like adding to the enemy’s armoury and sowing seeds for bigger losses in the future. We must convert anger into energy for action. Our foes ought to know we’re going to give it back.

12. Strike at the Right Time

The fiercest of duels in the war was between Karn and Arjun. Sworn enemies since the day they first saw each other, both were hell-bent on killing the other. The fate of the warring sides depended on the result of the duel between these two as the victor would seal a victory for his side. If Arjun had all divine weapons at his disposal, Karn too was no less even if not equipped with those. On some occasions, Karn had Arjun at his mercy and on others, Arjun left Karn flabbergasted by his salvos. With such a fierce fight in sight, everyone on the battlefield watched awestruck. More than Arjun’s blows, what actually went against Karn were the curses he was subject to. Some, a result of his own past doings, some a result of sheer misfortune. Karn was cursed by his guru that his knowledge would evade him when he needed it the most, thus Karn could not evoke his most potent arrows against Arjun. As a result of another curse, a wheel of Karn’s chariot got stuck in the mud and he dropped his weapons to free the same. Seeing Karn armless, Arjun, on the insistence of Krishna, fired a choicest arrow beheading his dreaded foe. The last hope of the Kauravs lay dead and with this, Arjun completed his part in the Pandav victory.

At times, even the toughest nuts are not as tough to crack. We need to be quick to spot such situations where things can be relatively ‘easier than usual’ to achieve. First we need alert senses of our own and/or a network of trusted of allies, which will first help identify opportune situations. The more the eyes and ears at your service, the better! Once we’re aware of such an opportunity, we have but two ways of dealing with it. Either we do nothing about it and keep going the hard way or make the most of the situation by showing action and getting our way. What we usually won’t get is the luxury of time hence the need would be for a quick decision.

Note: Arjun’s story has been picked from information available in the public domain. The interpretations and lessons derived therefrom are my own.