The Soul of Success

Updated 18 March 2009:  Please visit part 2 of this post for more info.


We have had several discussions on this blog about Expertise, Passion , Talent , S Curve etc – what i would call Meta-Lifehacks. Although, these topics give us some ideas on what it takes to succeed, there is one aspect of success that has had me tortured for years (italicized for effect): 

How we think about our goals seem to make a big difference to whether we succeed or not.   

For example, when i started this blog i set out with the ambitious goal of becoming one of the top blogs on the Internet.  Today, it sounds ridiculous to me that i thought about our blog in that way.  God knows  what  i was smoking 🙂   Highly likely this blog will never achieve that goal.  And hence i did not succeed.  However, this blog has helped me in many ways beyond my wildest imagination.  It has taught me things that i would not have learnt in a million years and has had a significant impact on my career.   Still, per my goal  i didn’t succeed. 

How many times have we seen people that set out to make a lot of money but end up with a lot less money than they hoped? 

In the same way, i am sure we can all point to people that we know who wanted to become famous, but never achieved their goal. 

Does this mean that we should not have ambitious goals?  For example,  had i decided i want to be just another blog on the Internet, i would clearly have succeeded magnificently.  

Our ancient wisdom doesn’t seem to help either. If  I turn to the famous shloka from the Bhagavad Gita (One of Ancient India’s most cited religious scripture):

Same shloka transliterated for those that can’t read Sanskrit:

Translated into English:

In other words, your actions  cannot be dependent upon expected results. If the results don’t motivate us, what does? 

Does that mean that we should not have goals?  How can we do something without any goals?

I am happy to say I have found some answers to these questions and I will cover it in part 2 of this post.

Meanwhile, i want to know what you all think?


  1. Quote

    you nailed it man. This is brilliant – “winning the war” is a byproduct. Your example of the student was very apt. The difference between goal and byproducts is a key distinction. That is the point that has been not as well articulated in the comments so far. Hema has done a very good job calling it temporary results. Senthil also got it to an extent.

    I think with this, we are ready to tackle the topic in a much better way in the next post. Sibu has given me a breather with his post.

  2. Quote


    After reading all these perspectives of the sloka, I am also tempted to express my views

    we create the goals and we deal with its journey and results
    every goal is limited, but there can be unlimited goals
    there are only 2 possible results from each goal, success or no success. this is already given

    lord krishna is just reminding us that if you are dependent or attached to the results, either you are happy or sad. We always expect good results. But if we understand that there are two possibilities, then you are prepared to face the consequences. So to maintain our internal balance, he wants us to be aware of these possibilities of the results and be focused on the goals. But he is not saying that we should not enjoy the results. But just that we should not always be dependent or attached to one side of those results and suffer if there are bad results

  3. Quote

    Nice Topic.

    Reiterating some old things …
    Its the journey that matters and not the goal. If you make distant goals then u have to walk fast and miss some nice things on the way. Enjoy your life than chasing dreams 🙂

  4. Quote

    Got this poem in a SPAM mail 🙂


    Have you ever
    On a merry-go-round?

    Or listened to
    Slapping on the ground?

    Ever followed a
    butterfly’s erratic flight?

    Or gazed at the sun into the

    You better slow down.

    dance so

    Time is short.

    The music

    Do you run through each day

    When you ask How are you?
    Do you hear

    When the day is done

    Do you lie
    in your

    With the next hundred chores
    Running through
    your head?

    You’d better
    slow down

    Don’t dance so

    Time is

    The music won’t

    Ever told your
    We’ll do it

    And in your
    Not see

    Ever lost
    Let a good
    friendship die

    Cause you
    never had time
    To call
    and say,’Hi’

    better slow down.

    Don’t dance
    so fast.

    is short.

    The music won’t

    When you run
    so fast to get somewhere

    miss half the fun of getting

    When you worry and hurry
    through your

    It is like an unopened


    Life is not a

    Do take it

    Hear the

    Before the song is

  5. Quote

    Thanks. nice interpretation. i think you are right.

  6. Quote

    thanks. journey is no doubt important. having dreams/goals does not automatically mean that you don’t enjoy the present or that you have to move towards your goal at breakneck speed. Goals are a way to understand where you need to go. You can have a goal, enjoy the journey, not run at breakneck speed, meet the goal and still be happy.

    The poem is nice as well. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Quote

    /** In the case of Gita, I think Krishna tells Arjuna to set his goals right. It is that the goal should not be to win the war, but to root out evil. Winning the war is a by product (or means to the end) of rooting out the evil.



    I totally agree with your above points.. rooting out the evil was what krishna tells arjuna.. your point is really enlightening..

  8. Quote

    /** I think Elz (terrascene) also pointed out above, prior to you, that maybe we should not be attached to the goals. I think that makes a lot of sense. However, it still does not answer the question about what sort of goals we should have? whether we are attached to the goal per se or not, we still need to work towards a goal, right?


    I feel, we may be attached to the goal.. but we should not be attached on the results.. only result has the duality.. ie success or no success.. however, goals has only one path.. ie to achieve it.. ie to do the right work.. (pls correct me if i am wrong)..

    What sort of goals we should have? this is a trivial question.. it depends on various factor.. probably you may be dealing with larger goals.. but as i said earlier, for every action that we do have a short term goal.. if we do the cooking, the goal is to feed the hunger.. if we go to a mall, the goal is purchase.. so, life’s minute activities is driven by goal.. these goals are implicit by circumstances and the need of the hour/day..

    But for life’s larger goals, it all depends on how we are brought up and the mental make up.. for majority of the people in india, leading a family successfully & happily may be a life time goal.. for many, achieving something that others could not do, may be a goal.. for few, helping the society may be their ultimate goal.. (like kamarajar, who sacrificed even his family life)..

    But one thing is clear.. goals (whether short term or long term) give direction to our life.. when there is no goal, then we may end up in depression.. those who attach themselves with the results, may go through joy and sorrow.. and those who detach from the results, may cross over these things and attain the wisdom..

    So, for the question of what sort of goals, i will better leave it to the individual choice..

    Secondly, the question of detachment can be very well understood by the purpose behind it.. ie to overcome sorrow and joy..

  9. Quote

    i have an anology to the phrase “we should do our work always remembering the god”..

    a mother doesnt feel tired of caring the child.. its out of affection and the happiness of doing for her child.. similarly, when we do our duty as a dedication to our god, we may attain perfection in our work.. when we have the feeling of doing it to our belowed eternal god (krishna in most cases), our involvement in the work we do, increases multifold, just as a mother’s involvement in the work, if it is done for her child..

  10. Quote


    What i had meant to say was choose your journey and then your goals . Goals are just markers but are not dispensable as you said.

  11. Quote

    Senthil conveys the same idea as myself, but he is from a religious standpoint while i am from a worldly and practical standpoint 🙂

  12. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 1, 2009, 6:06 pm:

    Thanks Senthil.

    The more i think about it, i think you are right, we should be attached to the goal but not to the byproducts (Ganesh’s point).

    The problem i have is, with your assertionm that the goal should be left to the individual choice. That is traditionally how we view goals. However, the purpose of my post is to explore what could constitute a good goal? This is because of my observation that it is the goals that seem to determine we are successful or not.

    Ganesh again presents an insightful thought there – he says the goal should be abstract enough to allow us to enjoy the process. That has given me a great starting point for thinking about this. I will cover it in my next post.

    Ganesh also gave a good example of a student’s goals.

  13. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 1, 2009, 6:09 pm:

    I think for the religiously minded your thought about “doing it for God” would appeal. I am trying to figure out a way to explain without employing religion so that it is universally applicable.

  14. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 1, 2009, 6:12 pm:

    Thanks Rajesh. Interesting thought – you are saying choose the journey not the goal. Does Ganesh’s definition of an abstract goal fit the idea of choosing the journey?

  15. Quote
    gregorylent (subscribed) said March 3, 2009, 6:47 am:

    few commenters here know advaita, or do sadhana, it seems

  16. Quote

    Speaking for myself, i think i understand Advaita somewhat and i don’t do sadhana. I also don’t understand how these 2 fit with the topic of this post?

    The only reason i brought up the Gita is because it is one religious document that raises profound questions.

    My objective is to keep this discussion outside the purview of religion.

  17. Quote
    gregorylent (subscribed) said March 4, 2009, 7:57 am:

    sorry .. i posted that after reading the entire comment thread .. and upon reflection, should not have been surprised .. in any ashram library will be about two meters of gita translations, commentaries, interpretations, etc … enjoy

  18. Quote
    Rajesh said March 6, 2009, 4:31 pm:

    I wouldnt say abstract goals. Choose your journey and then make concrete markers of your goal.

    Most of the problems in this world are attributed to holding on to your goals without considering the means to it. Americans wanted to push the communists out of Afghanistan by encouraging the radical groups and now they are paying their price. LTTE has a noble cause of freeing the Tamils from oppression of Srilankan Govt but the way they do it has bred hatred for them.

    Gandhi chose his path first – ahimsa and then he achieved the one he wanted for South Africans and then Indians. Gandhi may not have achieved a truly non racist community nor an undivided united India but he did reach out to the whole world with his ways and left a hope. Mother Teresa may not have eradicated Leprosy or poverty from Calcutta but she has left behind her noble ways of serving the poor with a heart rather than money. You and me can never be like those people and even if we do set Goals to become one we may never achieve it but we can contribute something if we manage to follow their path.

    Coming down to our simple life, we run after degrees, promotions,posts and popularity but we never enjoy the journey we take towards achieving it nor giving importance to it. I have heard a lot of old people say that they missed the journey and want to run again and this time not for the goals but just for looking at the way they took.

  19. Quote
    Kannan Nagarajan said March 12, 2009, 8:36 am:

    When you set out to perform something, you may have an expectation of what your action WOULD yield ….. However, you cannot have a fixation on what it OUGHT TO yield.

    I think the emphasis should be on ‘attachment’

    You do your duty with a sense of detachment towards its result ….. else, you end up doing something LUSTING towards the end result, which can possibly lead you astray.

  20. Quote
    Kannan Nagarajan said March 12, 2009, 8:49 am:

    When you set out to perform something, you MAY have an EXPECTATION of what your action WOULD yield ….. You CANNOT have a FIXATION on what it OUGHT TO yield.

    I think the emphasis should be on ‘attachment’

    You choose to do your duty with a sense of detachment towards the result ….. else, you end up doing something LUSTING after the result, which can possibly lead you astray to a case of ‘the ends justifying the means’.

  21. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 15, 2009, 6:57 pm:

    What a surprise to see you visiting the blog. You are right, attachment to the goal may not be appropriate. Please read the second part and comment.

  22. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 15, 2009, 6:57 pm:

    Thanks for your clarification Rajesh. Please read the next part of this post.

  23. Quote
    Nimmy (subscribed) said March 17, 2009, 10:33 am:

    Amazing! Simply amazing! First of all, I must congratulate this whole community on for the mind-boggling variety of perspectives and sincere discussion/debate. Sukumar: I must say I am almost jealous. Not everyone can find and motivate such a community to engage in such a wonderful discussion. While I blog – most of the time – for myself…there are times when I know that only a conversation/discussion will throw light. This blog has what it takes to generate knowledge! 🙂

    Now, to the post. I am pretty late to the ‘knowledge’ party. Saw the post only yesterday and couldn’t respond immediately for I wanted to run through all the comments and that took me some time. So, unfortunately or fortunately, most of what I might have said had I read the post earlier has been said by many others. I, nevertheless, want to use the opportunity to write down what *I* think…as it would be a good idea to summarize my own thoughts especially taking all the comments into consideration. If it happens to generate some more discussions and ideas, all the better.

    1. My first thought on reading your post was: But…a goal is different from the results of the goal and the Gita Slokha you refer to talks about the *results* and NOT the goal. Someone has already explained that. So, I guess I must not waste everyone’s time repeating that.

    2. The Gita Slokha only talks about being detached from the results (whether we finally succeed or not). From what I’ve read (books on the Gita) it simply means that we’ve got to be emotionally intelligent. We must not let the results (temporary or otherwise) deter us from either pursuing the goal (never give up) or modifying the goal (get more intelligent and change the methods/processes/tools). Being attached to the results will shake us up in the wrong way – we get emotional and may even lose sight of the goal ultimately. Someone has already mentioned this as well.

    3. I also belong to the school of thought that believes that the journey matters more than the destination. The means are as important as the end if not more. So, focusing on the results of the goal (as opposed to the goal per se) means we lose the joy that is embedded in the *journey*. And it is the journey that makes us what we are…not the goal or the achievement of the goal. [I think that’s really important]. It is the journey that gives us the strength, the values, the skills, the contacts, the experience, the learning etc. The goal is what the society gets to see (as opposed to the journey that we went through). But the goal does not make us what we are – deep within. It is journey that allows us to achieve another goal of the same order. If we were to have achieved the goal without concentrating on the journey, I suspect that we will never be able to achieve another such goal. It becomes a flash in the pan. It is only a matter of time before the society forgets that we exist.

    4. Regarding the type of goal we must set for ourselves, I believe in Dave Pollard’s repeated talk about the intersection of three aspects – what we love doing, what we are good at doing, our calling/purpose in life. I am not sure I’ve understood your query on the relationship between success and the goals we set. Isn’t success what we think it is? How can it be only related to the goal we set? How can the goal determine we are successful or not? Isn’t it you who determines whether you are successful or not? Let me explain…You may have a goal XYZ. If you think you’re successful only if you achieve XYZ, then you’re letting the goal control your perception of yourself. On the other hand, if you think you’re successful even by setting such a goal and enjoying the journey and experience of moving towards it, then that’s it! But continuing on the topic of setting huge goals, why do we have to limit ourselves? Why can’t we dream big and believe we can achieve anything and everything? Are all geniuses and prodigies only born and not made? I don’t think so. The law of attraction says we can achieve just about anything we desire from the bottom of our heart! I think it takes a spiritual person to determine what goals to set….to get away from this maddening world and look within…introspect. Many of us are far away from that state…we are caught in this routine whirlpool and find it hard to take off the black cloth that covers our eyes. Do we believe that making money and leading a good family life is all that is needed? Are we looking at what’s happening around us? Do we see the big picture and what’s happening to the environment we live in? Do we think long term? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like many of us are thinking these thoughts! We are mostly in a mad rush….setting temporary and materialistic goals for ourselves. But, apparently, the world does not discriminate. It allows us to achieve all our goals provided we want it very badly.

    5. Taking the completely opposite direction, spirituality also advocates just being! Like Gregory points out. This school of thought asks us to spend time in just being…stop doing, thinking…try just being. I am not sure I understand the implications as yet. But, ironically, something tells me that it is a great way to arrive at a goal. To stay silent and watch the world…step aside…..and think about what needs to be done as opposed to following the herd.

    6. I am fascinated by two other perspectives that this post has generated. Not looking at results because they are “temporary”! Wow. Nice way of putting it! And the other perspective – understanding what the goal is – it is not about winning the war…it is about rooting out evil! That should teach us not to focus on temporary results but keep the ultimate aim in our minds. But can rooting out evil be a goal??? Think about it….it cannot be….! Why? It is actually not something you can achieve at a given point of time and then sit back and relax!! It is a journey! It is something we must work towards every minute of our life…it does not have a destination point. It is a way of life!!! That makes it a value…not a goal!!! So, there is a difference! In our endeavour to lead a life which denies a place for evil, we aim for temporary goals…small steps…throughout our lives….and that is what give us the satisfaction! Eternal satisfaction….for we do it every minute of our life and there can be no situation when we feel bored that we have achieved our goal!!

    Whew! I am not sure how to thank you for such a wonderful post and how to thank this community here for such a sincere and brilliant discussion! You folks rock!

    [Thanks for the patient reading and I am hoping I find the energy to respond to your second post as well…very soon] 😉

  24. Quote

    Wow, Nimmy – thanks for your thoughtful summary & additions.
    Sukumar, thank you again for holding space for this on-going conversation & the insights & growth being triggered.
    Thanks to all – for sharing the journey – and I haven’t even commented on part II yet!

  25. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 17, 2009, 10:38 pm:

    Thanks for your kind words. That is a brilliant comment. Wow!

    1 and 2 – yeah, a few others have said that.

    3. yes, the journey matters. a few more people are in that camp.

    4. Interesting point. Yes, if one defines success by the meeting/beating the goal, then the goals do determine whether you are successful or not. I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact, i started this line of thinking based on my observation that the nature of the goal seemed to determine whether we succeed or not. To me, it seemed like if you do decide to have a goal, it may help to understand what sort of goals one should have. People like Gregory have said that you really don’t need goals and you can be who you are and just be. Like you said in 5, i am not sure that level of maturity is common yet. And yes, we can dream big and we should, please take a look at the 2nd post.

    5. Agreed.

    6. This is brilliant stuff. You are right. Some goals can never be met, the goal posts are shifting all the time – like eliminating evil. Great point. However, one can have such goals. For example, i can have a goal saying i want to be the best in a particular profession. That is always a shifting goal post. I need to think about how to factor this in. Maybe a part 3 is needed 🙂

    Thanks again for your kind words and a brilliant comment.

  26. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 17, 2009, 10:38 pm:

    Thanks. It is a brilliant comment from Nimmy indeed. Thanks for your kind words about our blog.

  27. Quote

    Hi All,

    Thanks All!! Good food for thought..

    I believe the essence is in practicing what I call “compartmentalization of mind”.

    Here what I mean.

    When you set a goal, you always have some factors that are in your control ( to greater extent) and some are beyond control. One sets goals as per her contextual understanding (which determines motivation, honesty to self), aspirations, assessment of self-potential, risk-appetite (ambitious/realistic..hubris), estimation of hurdles etc.
    So your goal is an earnest call taken by you.

    you move to the next ‘Compartment’..leaving past compartment closed to the extent permissible in given circumstances…in dynamic scenarios sometimes difficult to close past compartment completely..but one should always seek definitions of “start-objective” and “end-state” (positives/negative)…..

    Move on with process of achieving your goal…try your best….leverage all resources (i.e. intellect, muscle, political, social, economical, management etc) to achieve it. Immerse into the process of building your success…enjoy it to the hilt. there is immense joy in working towards what we set out to achieve. Leverage your strengths to play best to the unfolding ‘uncertainities’…keep trying despite failures….put your heart & soul to reach to the ‘end-state’

    move to the next compartment of enjoying success

    if you are able to over-achieve or achieve, feel pride in your success, take lessons. ..move on without hangover
    if you are under- achiever, analyse dispassionately what went wrong…take lessons..move on without baggage

    Lessons of compartmentalization::

    Practice to build air-tight compartments in mind…..

    – live in the present…do whatever is in hand to the best of your potential & commitment..enjoy it…
    – detach from an event or process as its gets over
    – if you are caught up with past mistakes or future worries, you can’t enjoy what is in hand…unless you enjoy it, you can’t excel it…

    So the Shloka of the Gita are Guru Mantras for achieving excellence in whatever you do in life…only excellence satiate a mind

    As an excercise try this; capture each & every thought that crosses your mind for an hour and count what fraction belongs to the present moment in real sense……the answers will be clear in your mind…Don’t be surprised if your wavering mind turns out to be your biggest roadblock in your success….

    So, in conclusion; Gita is about training your mind to earn a peaceful life full of extraordinary success..

  28. Quote

    Much needed topic Sukumar. Nice link to Gita site. Thanks.

  29. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 18, 2009, 9:13 pm:

    Interesting thoughts Manish. Thanks for visiting and sharing.

  30. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 18, 2009, 9:13 pm:

    Thanks Vinu.

  31. Quote
    Karthik (subscribed) said August 28, 2009, 1:56 am:


    I am new to this blog. Thanks to Sulumar for thought provoking post and thanks to entire community for great comments.

    I am yet to dig into the archives. I got link to this post from another site(Thanks to Nimmy).

    As everyone said, I also had the confusions with goals and results. I do strongly believe in this sloga from Gita and it worked out to me very well in the past and present.

    In my mind, Goal is something like what we need to accomplish from our view point and results are something which happens on attainment of Goal.

    There are some actions which will not contain any goal but might contain results. Say a help we do to others might not contain any goal, but as a result we are expecting some help from the others in future. To me, we should do our action without any attachment to results. As results may be either positive or negative.

    As Nimmy pointed out, some are short tem goals and the goals shift. This holds good for actions like meditation, physical workout or Yoga.


  32. Quote

    Thanks for the kind words Karthik. Yes, we all understand the shloka and try to practice it. But the question is more, how is it connected to success.

Leave a Comment



Formatting Your Comment

The following XHTML tags are available for use:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

URLs are automatically converted to hyperlinks.