Leadership Lessons - Bhagavad Gita

Leadership Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita 21 – Failure/Success


Chapter 2 Verse 37

हतो वा प्राप्स्यसि स्वर्गं जित्वा वा भोक्ष्यसे महीम् |

तस्मादुत्तिष्ठ कौन्तेय युद्धाय कृतनिश्चय: || 37||

hato vā prāpsyasi swargaṁ jitvā vā bhokṣhyase mahīm
tasmād uttiṣhṭha kaunteya yuddhāya kṛita-niśhchayaḥ

hataḥslain; or; prāpsyasiyou will attain; swargamcelestial abodes; jitvāby achieving victory; or; bhokṣhyaseyou shall enjoy; mahīmthe kingdom on earth; tasmāttherefore; uttiṣhṭhaarise; kaunteyaArjun, the son of Kunti; yuddhāyafor fight; kṛita-niśhchayaḥwith determination
Translation – If you fight, you will either be slain on the battlefield and go to the celestial abodes, or you will gain victory and enjoy the kingdom on earth. Therefore arise with determination, O son of Kunti, and be prepared to fight.

सुखदु:खे समे कृत्वा लाभालाभौ जयाजयौ |
ततो युद्धाय युज्यस्व नैवं पापमवाप्स्यसि || 38||

sukha-duḥkhe same kṛitvā lābhālābhau jayājayau
tato yuddhāya yujyasva naivaṁ pāpam avāpsyasi

sukhahappiness; duḥkhein distress; same kṛitvātreating alike; lābha-alābhaugain and loss; jaya-ajayauvictory and defeat; tataḥthereafter; yuddhāyafor fighting; yujyasvaengage; nanever; evamthus; pāpamsin; avāpsyasishall incur
Translation – Fight for the sake of duty, treating alike happiness and distress, loss and gain, victory and defeat. Fulfilling your responsibility in this way, you will never incur sin.

The link to the page is – https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/2/verse/38

My interpretation and learnings from these two verses –

Our happiness in life is suspended between the highs of success and the lows of failure, the highs of gain and the misery of loss. At work, failure is almost a swear word with most managers and leaders being scared of it and wanting to avoid it at all costs. My favourite interview question for managerial positions has been to ask about people’s failures and their learnings from it. More often than not, candidates shy away from speaking about it or share some inane failure, even the inability to get a promotion to an intra-grade is considered a terrible failure !!

These two verses beautifully bring out the need to deal with the highs and lows of life with equal ease. In reality there is no such thing as failure – either you succeed or you learn to succeed later. Every failure, every loss is a learning opportunity. Giving up is the true sin. Life is one big adventure and most of us just stand near the edge and with our backs to it and refuse to take the plunge. We also expect to see an unchanging landscape ! How terribly boring. Actually Bhagwan Krishna is also explaining about sin and gaining good Karma. Taking responsibility for one’s life, living upto one’s potential and extending the envelope of experiences is the way to earn good Karma – just sitting by the sidelines, doing nothing, refusing to take any responsibility and expecting that riches pour on you is a sure shot way to incur sin because life is an opportunity to learn.

We all know Abraham Lincoln and about his life of repeated failures till he succeeded in becoming the President of USA, but are we building the same resilience into our children? The pressure to succeed and become a trophy child is so huge that many children and young adults prefer to commit suicide rather than face failure. Parents that don’t say “no”, teachers who aren’t supposed to reprimand, and a child who is one tantrum away from getting whatever he/she wants – a lovely recipe for a disastrous adult life. And we are seeing examples all around us. Lets make amends and quickly.

Accept failure and success, enjoy moments of success and learn when you suffer a setback and teach your children that success and failure are two sides of the same coin.

Writing this blog at Bodh Gaya, a few hundred metres from where Prince Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha. May his light spread far and wide through his timeless teachings, just as the timeless lessons of the Bhagvad Gita.

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