Before You Take a Bow.
I come from India and the culture there has always stated the importance of good education, good rankings, good job, good income, and success in all chosen endeavors. There is this undercurrent always, to perform and excel. There is the additional responsibility, to make my parents proud. There is this pressure, to stand out. And hence we choose to burn the midnight lamp when studying or do the overtime with no complaints.
Many of us go through our studies, despite not liking the career chosen. Many of us continue to stay in our careers, despite it not fulfilling us anymore. Many of us willingly do the daily grind, since it brings food to the table and respect in society.
This culture has many perks i.e. reputation for being hard-working and competent in our work, dependable, accountable, ambitious. No wonder Indians % of MNC workforce is touching very high double digits i.e. Microsoft — 33%, Cognizant Tech — 67%, NASA Scientists — 36%.
But there is a drawback to this competitive culture too — you get hooked on to standing out in a group, being put on a pedestal, being recognized as better than others, being no. 1, being applauded, and looking good in front of others. It becomes an innate commitment to experience this pleasure and hence begins the fool’s errand to achieve these at any cost.
This tendency is so aptly shown in the new Netflix series called ‘Bad Boy Billionaires’. It’s a series that covers the rise and fall of a few of the most respected Indian tycoons. In less than an hour, every episode tells a tale of someone with simple beginnings and his race to reach the top, and then even further, where no one had dared to go.
I would take one story from Vijay Mallya's episode that made a huge impression upon me. He had hired a western expat with expertise in low budget airlines and this expat did his job well. The airline was launched, it was good quality service, beautiful cabin crew, Kingfisher was making a bold statement and was on its way to growing the business profitably.
Until, someone in their audience i.e. press, paparazzi, gossip columns, etc started commenting (trolling in today's parlance) that Kingfisher is a “cheap budget airline”, “it’s a public bus in the air” and some other statements that Vijay Mallya may not have liked. Either it didn’t go with his reputation or it hurt his ego or he disliked his airline being called cheap — could have been any of these or all of them.
And it’s there, around this time, the seed of self-destruction begins for Kingfisher and Vijay Mallya. He turns around and starts spending insane amounts of money on upgrading the service standards, food, drinks, size of airplanes, and all of this needed money. Loads of it. And hence enters bank funding which entails interest costs, which eventually broke the camels back.
But who exactly was this audience that Vijay Mallya wanted to please? Who did he want to impress? Whose attention was he seeking and whose appreciation was he missing? Was it the newspapers? Was it the industry magazines? Was it the Janta? Was it their own families? Was it their children? Was it their shareholders and business partners?
He was a Billionaire, with a princely lifestyle, with all the money in the world but his urge to impress and look good and be spoken about never stopped. Kingfisher became more about his ego and his fantasies instead of about the business itself.
The almost same story repeats with Sahara & Nirav Modi and many fallen angels in the world of business and outside.
Whoever it was, it surely wasn’t the right audience to go after. This wasn’t the audience whose applauds mattered in the long run. It wasn’t this group of people who would save the man in troubled times. It wasn’t this group of people who will applaud a value system to live by. It wasn’t this group who would take note of the non-sexy but profitable business.
This group would prefer to write about and appreciate the extra-ordinary stuff, the out of the blue performance, the experience never witnessed before, the lifestyle and perks enjoyed under the UB Empire. And it’s seeking this particular group’s attention and respect that bankrupts people, financially and morally. Because it is unattainable, it is never-ending, it is a loser’s game, it’s a mirage.
“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t know.” — DAVE RAMSEY
Steve Cutts made a profound video 3 years back titled “Are you lost in the World like Me”. It's a simple animation video of around 3 mins. But it speaks 1000 words. It hints at the culture of an attention grab that is pervading all of society.
And this attention grab is all about looking good amongst others. It reveals insane/irrational behaviors from various actors around us e.g.
- Mallya's of the world losing their business sense to live up to their images in society
- Ordinary working people spending beyond their means for fancy cars/bags/holidays
- Business Analyst cooking their Valuation Models to justify the price targets they have in mind
- Journalists turning mundane things into sensational stories
- Consumers lining up outside Apple to upgrade to iPhone 12 5G, despite having bought the previous version less than 6 months back
- Sales staff mis-selling or misrepresenting so that they are on the top of the Performance List
- Investment Bankers turning duds into Hot IPOs or turning a sound business into an over-leveraged operation burdened with debt
- Entities indulging in unnecessary mergers and acquisitions because others in the industry are doing so
And you can never escape this behavior, even if you want to, even if you know it is futile, even if you know it doesn’t make sense. UNLESS you seek an audience that is above the rest in their value systems, in their principles, in their demeanor, in their impact on society.
If you seek an audience that is just about everybody, you might be trying very hard to please everybody all the time. You will struggle to speak the truth as that may make you look bad. You might refrain from expressing where your opinion matters but it comes with the risk of looking like a black sheep. You will struggle to live a simple life where everyone around you splurges on the perks money offers. If you seek an audience of everybody — you could land up becoming the slave of the very audience you seek attention from.
What if the audience you seek is Benjamin Franklin, you may choose Work Ethics & Frugality instead of lazing around & indulgence.
What if the audience you seek is Mahatma Gandhi, you may choose Patience & the Long Game instead of restlessness & short cuts.
What if the audience you seek is Ratan Tata, you may choose to deal with your challenges & fears instead of running away from them or avoiding them.
What if the audience you seek is Richard Branson, you may take risks in Business instead of settling for life which doesn’t excite you at all.
What if the audience you seek is Chris Bloomstran of Semper Augustus or Prashant Jain of HDFC AMC, you may choose to do the painstaking research on companies instead of plagiarizing other’s content/output or just doing a shoddy job of company analysis.
What if the audience you seek is Warren Buffet, you will choose to spend only on a cash basis instead of using leverage for building a fancy lifestyle.
What if the audience you seek is your family, you may choose family time over parties or Netflix binging.
Spending beyond a modest level of materialism is mostly a reflection of one’s ego. One of the most effective ways to increase your savings is to raise not your income but your humility. A friend once asked me, “Why make all that money so you can save it?” to which I replied, “Why spend all that money so you need to earn it again?” — From Joys of Compounding by Gautam Baid
It’s not greed that drives the world, but envy. — Warren Buffett
So before you take pride in your accomplishments and collect all the awards and trophies, do ask yourself — “Whose the audience whose appreciation I seek? What would my audience expect of me? How would I live up to the standards that my audience has set in life?”
Without these questions, your accomplishments and accolades can fill up your ego and puff up your chest. And when pride and ego take over, you may start looking like Mr. Bean. Though no one will tell you that, many may feel that about your beefed up overconfidence and sense of bravado.
If you did laugh looking at Mr. Bean trying to fit into the church choir, take a step back and ask yourself — “Where am I trying hard to fit in ?”, “Do I need to fit in?” “Does that serve my ultimate purpose?” and finally “Who is the audience I seek?”
Wealth, in fact, is what you don’t see. It’s the cars not purchased. The diamonds not bought. The renovations postponed, the clothes forgone and the first-class upgrade declined. It’s assets in the bank that haven’t yet been converted into the stuff you see. — Morgan Housel
Wishing you a fantastic day ahead !!!