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Chetan Mahajan: CEO of HCL Learning, draws five lessons from his 'interesting' life

Firstly, be a perpetual student. I think life is about constant learning, and I think of myself as a lifelong student. Whether it was a diploma in advertising after a full-time MBA, or the decision to go back to Kellogg, or learning how to play the guitar (for which I decided I have no aptitude — but only after 5 attempts) or paragliding, I am always challenging myself with something new.
And now with The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail out, I have also become a student of the art of good writing. And once we decide to become students we find our teachers. Sometimes these are formal. My teacher for writing non-fiction was another book titled On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I just chanced upon it in a store, but its lessons helped me make my book worthy of publishing.
Second. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Always look at what is the best you can make of a situation. Even in the darkest cloud, look for the silver lining. It isn't always easy. When I was arrested suddenly, and for no fault of mine, I was terrified. After my arrest, when my employer — whom I had joined just 2 months before my arrest who was the reason for the arrest — took a month to get me bail, I was very frustrated. But by then I had the notion of this book. And through all the trauma and frustration, I kept writing. It was my way of keeping the hope alive that this experience can be turned into something positive. And now that the book has been published, it has come true.
Thirdly, find and follow your passion. Often, it is much simpler than you might think. I try and fit in every single passion I have — running, motorcycling, spending time with my kids (yes, that is a passion for me), writing and so on. A small extract from the introduction to Stephen King's "Night Shift" illustrates this beautifully.
I quote: "I am often given the big smiling handshake at parties (which I avoid attending whenever possible) by someone who then, with an air of gleeful conspiracy, will say, 'You know, I've always wanted to write.' I used to try to be polite. These days I reply with the same jubilant excitement: 'You know, I've always wanted to be a brain surgeon.' They look puzzled. It doesn't matter. There are a lot of puzzled people wandering around lately. If you want to write, you write."
The moral is simple. A lot of us wait to do things. Run. Bike. Play music. Sing. Travel. Write. And mostly we don't because we think we won't be good at it. Or simply that we're "too old". Well, both those things are in our heads. We have to challenge our mindset. Most of us walk around with our limitations in our heads.
The ultimate inspiration in this respect has to be Fauja Singh. The man started running at the age of 89. He has run multiple marathons since, including a full marathon at 100 years of age. Sure he is extraordinary. But what is truly extraordinary is to even think of starting running at 89. That is where his mindse comes in.
  Fourth. Lighten up. Don't take yourself too seriously. No, this is not a contradiction to point 3 above. I am not saying don't have passions, or don't take them seriously. Nobody can do justice to a passion — run a marathon, make a great painting — without being serious about it. What I am saying is don't be too serious about yourself. Too many people I know are. Make fun of yourself. Every once in a while put yourself outside your comfort zone. Don't be afraid of embarrassing yourself.
There is no problem in letting your hair down. Whether it be speaking in public or Karaoke - anything else that puts you "out there", always remember the worst that it can get isn't actually as bad as you imagine.
But you may be hugely rewarded. Just relax and worry less about what people think of you. Have fun. Laugh. Make jokes. Stop thinking of yourself as the centre of a very serious cosmos. Honestly, with such an attitude, even people around you will enjoy your company.
Fifth, and most important: humility. I always remember that I am to a large extent a product of my circumstances. This thought was first shared by an economics professor at Kellogg, and reinforced at Bokaro jail by personal experience. In jail one is surrounded by people who are disadvantaged by their very birth. That plays a very large part in shaping them, and then potentially leading them to jail. If the very same child had been given the influences I had as a child, many of them may do as well or better than me.
Sure, take credit where it is due. Your hard work was critical in you reaching where you are today. But there were many other things — including fate — which have led you here. So understand that you are where you are in large part because you were born lucky.


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