How to make peace with mortality

Our body is like an apartment. We don’t know how long we’ll be allowed to stay in it but we tend to live as if we’ll live in it forever. We have the tendency to abuse it as if our mortality is far-fetched. We tend to accumulate so much, forgetting the fact that we can’t take anything with us when we die.

Photo: JerryStocking.Com/Blog

Photo: JerryStocking.Com/Blog

In life, we are faced with two choices: we either build our life on a solid and deep spiritual foundation or build it on worldliness. When we go for the first option, we cultivate the relationship between the soul and the Supreme Person. When we choose the latter, we allow ourselves to be governed by materialism not really knowing that it will bring us nothing but suffering as satisfying the material body can never satisfy the needs of the soul.

The material existence is like an ocean. You’re not safe in it until you see land. The Titanic was touted as unsinkable yet it sunk and the tragedy claimed more than a thousand lives. We could die anytime from diseases, disasters and from acts of our fellow men – accidental or deliberate.  News of tragedies and our own brushes with death change our perspective and make us rearrange our priorities. We suddenly get consumed with the desire to live life to the fullest. We make amends. We become more caring. We get reminded of what’s truly important in our lives and that our day-to-day moments are priceless and unrepeatable. We make the most of each day through our encounters with our loved ones so that we would have as few regrets as possible. We commune more with the Supreme Person.

When we see hale and hearty old people, we feel happy about their being able to live a long healthy life. We’re especially impressed when we see some of them still having the strength and the stamina for running. The thought that we don’t want to entertain is that they’re actually running away from death. We don’t like to dwell on such a topic because it’s morbid and unsettling and it incites fear of the unknown. But there’s nothing to fear about death. The fear of death only identifies with the death of the material body that wears and tears and which we tend to falsely identify the soul with. We are not our material body. We are spirit souls. The soul is eternal and death is unnatural to the soul.

How do we make sure we’re prepared to face our death anytime? We prepare by strengthening our knowledge of who we are as spirit souls; hence, we should not build our life upon worldly things. What we should build is our relationship with our Maker, the Supreme Person. We should make the conscious effort to revive, renew and re-establish our connection with the Supreme Person however and whenever we can. We should cultivate spiritual knowledge and reorient our life toward spiritual living.  Our choices in life should be directed by our answers to the question ‘What is the eternal value of what I’m doing now?’ We should upgrade our consciousness, not degrade it. We should practice meditation to find an inner joy and serenity that nothing, not even physical death, can destroy. We should be at peace with the thought of the death of our material body. There is no pain in leaving the material world if we have the inner peace, freedom and readiness to be with the Supreme Person.

 

Stress is Good

Photo: fbiedermann.blogspot.com

Photo: fbiedermann.blogspot.com

In any situation, the right amount of stress is necessary.

Stress is needed to build muscles. Body builders start with lifting light barbells then gradually increase the weights through the process until they are able to lift a 350 pounder. A gradual increase in stress for the muscles is what builds and strengthens the muscles.

People who are way too sheltered are the ones that easily break down in the face of stress. Kids who play too much video games are the first ones to be out of breath when playing outdoor sports. Adults who were brought up in a pampered lifestyle are liable to have a nervous breakdown in instances of extreme stress. Married couples who couldn’t cope with the day-to-day stress of married life eventually separate. It’s a basic human tendency to get distressed when confronted with physical, mental, emotional, relational and financial stress.

But, we see successful entrepreneurs who manage their businesses and take care of their families like they’re just dancing through life. We marvel at the way they carry themselves in sorting out business challenges, in dealing with both peers and detractors and in keeping a healthy and loving relationship with their spouses and kids. We wonder what makes them so different that they don’t cave in despite the enormous amount of stress in their lives. The difference is that they know how to manage stress smartly and effectively.

Stress builds your character. It makes you become a better person. It sharpens you like how friction sharpens a knife. All the odds that you’ve conquered; all the rejections that you got over with; and, all the contrarians whom you’ve either won over or bowed to, have in one way or another strengthened your ability to tolerate and manage stress and pain. Every life experience has made you become more patient and resilient, more introspective and more accepting of life’s realities.

The first step to managing stress is to understand that the world is fundamentally a stressful place. Day-to-day challenges are inevitable. We either complain about it perennially or manage it and enjoy the beauty and goodness that life offers.

When we manage life’s little stresses, we prepare ourselves to conquer the bigger ones. Joining the Boston Marathon entails at least a year of intensive training. Climbing the Andes or the Himalayas requires an extensive mountaineering experience. Entrepreneurial success comes from years of hard work and headaches and the ability to not lose sight of the goal no matter what. Building an unbreakable relationship needs an enormous amount of honest conversations, compromises and making amends – these are like the strands that make up a straw rope. The more strands the rope has, the better its tensile strength.

The Samurai sword, or katana, is a Japanese weapon renowned for its sharpness and strength. The process of making it involves heating a piece of steel in a furnace, forging it, shaping the blade, treating the blade with a special clay mixture, quenching the steel, tempering and polishing the blade and securing the blade on the fabricated handle. That’s the amount of stress the piece of steel is given for it to become a formidable weapon. In life, we need the same amount of stress and the ability to deal with it in order to become strong, pliable and polished individuals.

 

The Ant and the Grasshopper

The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.

Indian Version

The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant’s a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering Grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the Ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

Read the rest of the satirical piece here.

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Happiness is Within Us

I would like to share my thoughts on how each of us can make this new year a happy one for ourselves.

Happiness lies within us. Wherever we are and whatever circumstances surround us, we always have the choice to be happy.  We have the intelligence to discern that our personal happiness does not and should not depend on other people or things. But, when we’re sad or upset, we tend to blame others, the world and even God for our misfortunes. We may have the best things in life but if we carry grudges, resentments and the unforgiven past, we will never be happy. Happiness should be from the inside out.
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Corporate Social Responsibility….What it Means to Me

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an initiative close to my heart and one I advocate very seriously.

If you’re not entirely sure what it means, it’s a concept where corporations give back to society usually through corporate philanthropy or volunteerism programmes. If done with the right intentions, it’s an admirable movement that can make a big impact to worthwhile causes. However, it is also a sad fact that some organisations do it mainly for the positive publicity it might bring. After the programme ends, beneficiaries are often forgotten. That’s a shame because with their resources, businesses are really in an optimum position to make a huge difference.

Most times, these programmes are aligned to a company’s corporate values which is fine. After all, as long as they do it with pure intentions, the initiatives still help society. However, to make a sustainable change, let’s get to the root of what’s troubling mankind.

You might have heard of the phrase, “What’s the value of saving the clothes of a drowning man but not the man himself?” It simply means it’s better to get to the root of the problem and solve it once and for all.

How does this phrase apply to us? In society, we’re all drowning, not literally, but with diseases, pain and suffering. Financial aid helps in the short term but does not get to the bottom of the issue. Monetary donations, for example, may help a poor family feed themselves for a month but do not eradicate poverty in the long term.

A truly sustainable CSR programme would be education of the spirit. This is going beyond traditional CSR so it might be a foreign concept to some of you. Let me illustrate what I mean.

Rich or poor, there are things everyone goes through. These are birth, disease, old age and death.

I’m extremely thankful to my friends and teachers who inculcated the spirit of charity in me since I was a boy. We spent a lot of time helping people and providing food for the poor. More importantly, we educated people both spiritually about the soul and who they really are, and mentally to help them create a better life for themselves. At the end, the key lesson they walked away with is, material things will not make them happy. They realise the truth – that we’re not the material body but the spirit soul. Suddenly, something trivial like not having enough money to upgrade our car will not matter anymore because you realise materialism is just temporary.

That is true CSR to me. After all, social responsibility means caring for others.

As they say, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. It’s all about empowering society with the right tools and knowledge to improve their lives. By society, let’s not forget to include the animals we share the world with and the environment we live in.

So let’s all do our part in caring and only then can we make real sustainable change.
Yours sincerely,

Joseph Bismark
Group Managing Director
QI Group

The Story of the ‘One Sack of Rice’

Much is being said in the news lately about the “fiscal cliff” and its potential negative impact on the world economy. Then, there is decreased manufacturing output that may spell the beginning of another recession. A lot of people I’ve spoken to recently have voiced their fears over losing their jobs, or having to scale back. While I understand their worry, my reply to them is there’s really no point in worrying. Good times come and go.

Let me share a story from my childhood that illustrates this really well…

When I was younger and living in an ashram, we had to look for means of livelihood. The best option was farming and selling the harvested crop for money. I remember, vividly, the first year we started farming.

Most of us had no knowledge of farming whatsoever and had to rely on the advice and guidance from our elders. Being first-timers, we started with planting one sack of rice on one hectare of land. We toiled tirelessly to ensure our crop would grow healthily – fertilising, watering our crop, weeding bad growth, and making sure our crop was pest-free. It was back-breaking work but we soldiered on, hoping to get a good harvest. The end result surprised us all. We harvested a record 126 sacks of rice! Of course, we were beyond ourselves with joy, this being our first time.

We had been so excited to farm that we never thought of a plan after harvesting. It never occurred to us that we would need a barn in which to store our rice. Not having built one, we stored the sacks out in the open. We were literally sleeping on the sacks of rice! That’s how much of novices we were.

Rearing to go after our success, we waited for the next harvesting season. Wanting to double our harvest, we put in even more effort this time. With hard work, we had gotten 126 sacks the first time. So, double the effort equals double the gain, right? It doesn’t take a mathematician to come up with that formula. However, that year, the Philippines faced one of its worst typhoons ever. Not only was our growing crop destroyed, the 126 sacks were all washed away since they were not protected in a barn.

We were absolutely devastated and almost gave up. However, as hard as it was, we had to pick ourselves up and continue planting.

You might wonder why I’m telling you this story. The moral is to never give up. After we lost our entire crop, we did not want to plant again. What’s the point, we thought? Do we not think like this at times? The fact is many things in life are beyond our control. We didn’t know what the season will bring but we could control the amount of effort we put in. In fact, that is the only factor we can control.

It’s the same in business – there will be good and bad years but we never know when. The more pertinent question is, should we stop trying? We’re all like farmers – planting seeds of opportunity, weeding out bad growth and continually harvesting. Now the storm may be coming. This might be a bad year economically. However, complaining and worrying isn’t going to get us anywhere. Good and bad times are a part of life, like day and night.

What happens is not in our hands but one thing we can’t do is sit around and speculate. Just as farmers don’t stop planting, businessmen shouldn’t stop investing in an idea just because they’ve lost once.

Happy New Year!

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Bismark
Group Managing Director
QI Group

The Importance of Innovation

Innovate or die. I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase. It’s advice I agree wholeheartedly with. Why is it so important though?

The market now is constantly evolving. Not only do businesses need to survive and thrive with advanced technology, they need to ensure they are always ahead of the pack.

An example of a good innovator is Steve Jobs. He did not invent the computer or the mobile phone but he definitely revolutionised technology. It’s almost like being a chef. You mix and match raw ingredients and invent a brand new dish. That’s my mantra in business. I don’t think it’s necessary to create something new, but rather reinvent something that is unique and fresh.

When we founded QNET, there were similar companies around. However we took on the very powerful concept of Network Marketing and adapted it. QNET’s offering initially was just a few simple products. We increased and refined our product range every year, adding one or two products each time. Every six years, we conduct a thorough market analysis and trend forecast to ensure QNET remains ahead of the curve. Before we take one product off the market, we produce new and innovative products as new offerings. In terms of marketing, our team is proactively seeking ways to engage with our customers.

An example of that is V-Con. Would you believe that our first V-Con had only 98 participants? Compare that with V-Indonesia this year which attracted 10,000 of our distributors. Throughout the years, V-Con has gone through many changes. It has grown to become an all-encompassing entertainment extravaganza with an adjoining product exhibition area and musical performances. In 2010, we decided to leverage on social media and technology, and bring the V-Con action to all our customers who couldn’t attend. Anyone from the furthest ends of the world can keep abreast with the goings-on at V-Con as long as they have access to the Internet through the QNET blog and social media sites. I see this development as part of innovating.

No one knows what the future holds but we keep looking for things that would excite our customers. Most times, it’s based on a gut feel. There are no experts in business, in this day and age. There are products that did not do as well as expected. On the other end of the spectrum, there have also been products that I didn’t like, that ended up being really successful. Hence, I’ve learned the key is to have an open mind. It’s all about trial and error.

Isn’t that the way most things in life are?

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Bismark
Group Managing Director
QI Group

The Mark of a Leader

What makes a good leader? Are leaders born or made?

I get asked these questions often.

My reply is, “Everyone has the potential to be a leader.”

There are many opportunities to lead. It’s all about taking responsibility.

These opportunities are not only found at work, but also at home. As a spouse, we lead our significant other. As parents, we lead our children. If you’re a stay-at-home mother, your children look to you for guidance. You would also be responsible for leading your domestic helper.

The question really to ponder is, “Are you taking on the responsibility to lead?”

To be a good leader, there are two things you need to know and understand.

1.      Know your end destination

The first rule of leadership is to know where you’re heading, and ensure that is the right path. The right path would be the path of goodness, morality, kindness and compassion. A good leader would not lead people to danger.

2.     Walk the talk

Secondly, good leaders practise what they preach. For example, we would advise our children not to pick up smoking because we know it’s harmful. For them to take us seriously, we shouldn’t be smokers ourselves.

True leaders don’t contradict themselves. People choose to follow a leader if they trust and believe in that person’s mission.

A modern example of a common leader is Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. He has always espoused the importance of hard work and passion in achieving success. Gates is one of the richest men in the world but has donated a significant amount of his wealth to charitable causes. Who can forget his pledge to donate all of his fortune to charity? His passion in contributing positively to the world led him to start the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the world’s largest private foundation.

“If you want to become a leader that people admire and respect, you must become a person of significance. People don’t follow you because you take from them; they follow you because you give to them,” he says.

His passion in giving back to society compels people to respect his leadership.

Let’s ask ourselves if we are that kind of leader. Would we want to follow our own leadership? If the honest answer is no, let’s change that. If we do not have faith in ourselves as leaders, others would find it hard to have faith in us.

Leadership is about doing what needs to be done. Responsibility comes when you truly care about something. That sense of ownership and responsibility is the mark of a true leader.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Bismark
Group Managing Director
QI Group

 

Criticism

“Let the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

This phrase is one that I heard often during my childhood.

Criticism is part and parcel of life. There will always be dogs barking at us but we shouldn’t let them affect us. Like the caravan, we should move on, instead of trying to stop them. Continue reading

Simplicity in Change

Things were simpler in the past. Global warming wasn’t as pressing an issue as now, the air wasn’t as polluted and life wasn’t as hectic.

It’s no doubt that creature comforts like modern technology and cars have made life more comfortable. It’s very easy now to keep in touch with loved ones, or drive anywhere you fancy.

However, to every positive, there has to be a negative. Modernisation and industrialisation has brought about adverse change to the environment. The more modern the world becomes, the more polluted it also becomes. Continue reading