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The success stories of ambitious people: Be careful! || Acharya Prashant, at BITS Goa (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
13 min
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Questioner (Q): My question is about ambition. What is ambition, and how can you create it within yourself? How to create such a force within that will help you tackle all the failures and obstacles in life? When we hear the so-called success stories of successful people, we find that they had a lot of pitfalls in their life, they had a lot of hurdles that they faced, but it was ambition that helped them reach where they are. So, how do you develop that force within?

Acharya Prashant (AP): We will take that. It’s a very, very important question; it’s a life-changing question. You know, you have your own life to live, first of all, and nobody can be fulfilled reaching a place somebody else has reached. You are born differently. What fulfills one cannot fulfill the other. What’s more, you do not even know whether the other is fulfilled.

You have somebody in front of you who is touting himself as a success story. “I am a success story. I had ambitions, and fueled by ambition, I braved all the challenges in life, and then I have reached this particular place, so I am a superstar. Come on, follow me. I present myself as a role model.”

How do you know, first of all, that he has really reached any place of any worth? He is showing you what he needs to show you. The video that you are watching is a heavily curated and edited one. Don’t you know that? All kinds of filters and edits; so much has been put into it. The video I am talking of is the person’s life story. How do you know how he is internally? And if all your role models have indeed reached worthy places, why do you hear of so many cases of suicides among those people? Why? And when they die by suicide, it makes big news. It makes big news precisely because so many people considered them their role models, right?

Now, if he was really worthy of being a role model, why suicide? Why so many other things? Why tax evasion? Why so many other kinds of crimes? He was a role model charged of murder, black money, money laundering, hawala, drug abuse, rape, illicit dealings. I am not alleging that all those you consider role models indulge in these things. I am asking you, what do you know of his inner life? Can you? Being a celebrity, will he allow the inner details to ever emerge out? He is living off his reputation. His reputation is his earning. Will he allow his reputation to be tainted? Then how can you be so ignorant, so gullible that you watch a video or read a story and think of it as true? Did you publish that video? Who published that video? Come on. He published that video. So, he is showing you what he wants to show you. He is doing what he wants to do. Why do you have to believe in what he is doing?

Get that thing off your mind. When something fancy comes in front of you on the screen or somewhere, you just feel compelled, and the visuals and the audios and the narrative, that just overpowers you, does it not? The eyes, they are gone; they are no more yours. The screen has captivated the eyes; the narrative has enchanted the mind. It’s all gone. You are enslaved. And can you question the screen? Can you pause the video and say, “Well, I have a question to ask”? Can you do that? You can’t. Even if that fellow is speaking live, chances are he will not accept live questions. Even if he does accept a live question, chances are he will not tolerate cross-questioning; he will not allow the real thing to emerge.

So, there is no need, as young people, for you all, to just fall for the stories. They are stories. They are very, very carefully written stories. Every single aspect of that story is minutely manufactured before the story is released.

Now, ambition. Basically desire, right? Small desire, you do not call it ambition. When the desire is big enough, you start calling it an ambition, right? You want a glass of water, a little tumbler; you would say, “I want it.” You want a bigger jug; you probably call it a desire. You want an entire tank; that’s an ambition. What has changed? Is there a fundamental difference? You want a little plot of land for yourself; you call it a desire. You want to win over an entire country, which itself is a plot of land, a bigger plot of land; you call it…?

Q: Desire.

AP: So, that’s desire, simple desire. And you know where all desires come from? Your animalistic, biological conditioning.

Have you seen dogs fight over their territories? Have you seen how one dog gets bitterly furious when another dog encroaches over its territory? And have you seen how they mark their territories? They just raise one leg, and the stuff that they do is actually a territory marker that’s to indicate to the other dogs: “This is the border, the international line. Don’t breach into my sovereignty!” But then a great king captures ten lakh square kilometers, and you say, “Oh, the Great! Mahaan !” He is doing what dogs have always done—capturing territory. That’s ambition—amplifying your animal nature. That’s what. What do ambitious people want? Please, tell me. More and more of the material, right? That’s what animals also want. What’s there in that?

You have a life to live. You are very young. Can you work for something rather worthy? Can your energy come from love rather than ambition? And when you are very ambitious, obviously that inspires energy within, right? If you have desire for something, you feel energized. Have you seen that? And when you are ambitious, you feel all the more energized. It’s just that all that energy is very cyclical: one moment you feel motivated, the other moment you feel demotivated, and then you run towards some motivation pill.

But anyway, a lot of energy comes from ambition. If you are ambitious, you will find spurts in energy. Can you live in the energy that comes from love? That’s the question. Ambition says, “I will be fulfilled when I achieve that.” Can you spend your life doing something that you do in fulfillment itself rather than targeting an imaginary fulfillment twenty years later? “I am starting up. Here is my new venture. Two years, it will break even, if I am lucky. Six years later, IPO, and then two years after that I will exit. And when I exit, I will have lots of money and sell off my shares, and then I will be fulfilled.” Is it possible instead to choose something to do that keeps you fulfilled all the time? That’s what I am talking of as energy of love. Is it possible?

You have to get into that question. There are no easy answers. But that’s a question that you must ask yourself. These are the golden years of your life, right? Do you want to spend these years doing something you cannot even tolerate doing but still continue doing because you feel desirous of the future? Do you want to do that?

Think of your courses. How many courses have you in a semester? Six? Nobody loves all the six courses, at least I never did. How do you live through the courses you don’t love? It was very difficult for me; I don’t know if that’s easy for you. Don’t you have an attendance requirement or something? No? Okay. Lucky! Seventy-five percent attendance requirement, and seventy-five percent means seventy-five percent. Living through the semester was not an easy job, because it’s just impossible to appreciate all the courses that came your way. But that was a requirement.

Once you are out of the campus, there are no requirements, there is freedom. Do you want to spend your life—let’s say the next five years, ten years—as if you are enrolled in a course you are just waiting to come to an end? “Let the semester end; let me be relieved of this particular course, even if with a C or D grade.” That’s how most people spend their lives. They just have no relationship with the work they are doing. All that they have is ambition, desires; no love.

Tell me, if you love your work, would you ever think of selling off your company? But your role models, they are all serial entrepreneurs, are they not? If you really love what you have created, what you have brought up, would you simply sell it off? Would you do that? Please. Is there any love in what they are doing? I am asking you. There is just opportunism, and that opportunism gets them money. But what does money get you?

That’s not the way to live; that just leaves you very, very poor within. And that’s what matters. And you become a curse not only to yourself but a bane to entire humanity, because you earned a lot of money, and that lot of money is now in the hands of a foolish person. So, what will that foolish man do with that money? Not just consume—destroy. He will fund all the wrong kinds of things. He will buy a living enterprise and turn it dead. Do you have a recent example?

That’s what happens when a foolish man gets to have a lot of money—the entire planet is destroyed. And because money can give you a lot of reach, all your nonsensical concepts will become household things. You will start saying, “Well, climate change is not a problem at all. Well, the Earth actually needs more kids. Come on, go reproduce! What if the Earth is burned to ashes? We will go and colonize another planet.”

Ambition is a very stale thing. It’s a dead thing. Do not forget where it comes from; it comes from your past in the jungle. You are conditioned to be desirous, and social forces just encourage you to be even more desirous of the same things that you have been wanting since a million years. The same things.

Let’s do something new, as young people. Or do you want to live the same life that your ancestors in the jungle were living? The monkey wanted a fruit, you want an orchard—is that a fundamentally different thing? Please. They were running after female monkeys then, and even today you are running after the female monkey, maybe in a Ferrari. And the female monkey was attracted towards the alpha monkey then; even today the female monkey is attracted towards the alpha monkey. Who is the alpha monkey today? The one with the Ferrari and the money. It’s all so monkeyish. Can we live fresh lives, new lives? Or do you want to continue that same animalistic tradition?

Q: No. The new one.

AP: Then tell yourself that you are free to not believe, to not be influenced. Freedom must be your most important value. The world wants to steal away the most important thing that you have, which is freedom of mind, liberty of consciousness. Do not allow the world to do that. And the world is not just outside of you; it is also inside of you. Your own thoughts and emotions—be very cautious of them. They are not yours; they belong to the world. They belong to this body, and this body belongs to the world. This body is a heavily conditioned body; this brain is a part of this body and is equally heavily conditioned.

So, if an emotion arises in the brain or a thought wave is there, do not just quickly accept it or identify with it. Know that it is coming from the jungle, or it is coming from the marketplace. “It is not mine. So, I will be cautious. It is not mine. These emotions are not mine. Even the dog has these emotions. How can these emotions be mine?” Look at dogs and cats; that will tell you who you are. All of us are just dogs and cats. There is hardly anything in human life that does not belong to the life of a dog or a cat. Then how can this life be ours? Which means that no life has been given to us by our physical or social tradition; they do not give us any life. Life has to be created afresh. You have to write a new script of your own. The old script is not yours; it’s a borrowed thing, and it’s a very bad and dangerous thing. Do not live by that script.

Ask yourself these basic questions. Are you doing anything that is fundamentally different from what your grandparents were doing?—fundamentally different, not just superficially. You want money, your grandpa also wanted money—how are you different? What’s new? He also wanted more money compared to somebody else. What’s new?

We are not saying that newness is not possible, it is definitely possible; definitely a new life can be lived, definitely. But not if you do not discard the old life. And you cannot discard it if you do not know that it is old. We keep thinking of the old as the new. We keep thinking of all the old stuff as brand new. “Oh, I have fallen in love. I am the first man in the world to fall in love!” It is happening all over the place, son. “I have fallen in love for the nth time in life, not the first time!” What’s new? Can we have something new?

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